Daily News-May 10- 2001- Thursday

  • Burmese banned union to protest at Tokyo's possible resumption of aid
  • Air strikes possible as Wa troops hold ground
  • Two helicopters to be enlisted next year
  • Six Asian nations begin anti-drug talks in Yangon
  • Amnesty Asks SE Asia To End Drug Dealers' Death Penalties
  • Thaland slams U.N. for inadequate help on drugs
  • Myanmar Endeavors for Reducing Foreign Trade Deficit
  • Chavalit says Incursions were a very small matter
  • Thailand said Verbal attacks to be avoided to save ties
  • Thai firm loses millions in Burma bushfire
  • Wa Fighters Retreat From Hilltop After Heavy Thai Assault
  • Massive Burma's Buddha to Be Ready by End of May

  • Burmese banned union to protest at Tokyo's possible resumption of aid

    BBC Monitoring Service - United Kingdom; May 9, 2001
    Text of report in English by Japanese news agency Kyodo

    Tokyo, 9 May: A Myanmar [Burmese] pro-democracy group based in Bangkok will protest the resumption of official development assistance (ODA) to Yangon [Rangoon], currently studied by Japan, in their address to an annual conference of the International Labour Organization (ILO), a group source said Wednesday [9 May].

    The "Federation of Trade Unions-Burma", which is outlawed in Myanmar [Burma], also plans to raise forced labour practices by the country's junta and ask for further sanctions at the annual conference slated to open 5 June, according to the source.The federation considers the resumption of ODA premature and would only support the military regime, the source said.

    The outlawed group has been reporting to the annual meeting of the world labour body in recent years about the labour situation in the country, but it decided to focus on Japan's possible ODA resumption this year, the source said.

    Tokyo has begun studying resuming ODA to Myanmar, which it halted in 1988 after the country's junta took power, because of what it perceives as a softening of the junta's stance as evidenced by its meeting last October with pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi, for the first time in seven years.

    Japan has provided technological aid and grants for humanitarian purposes since 1995 but has so far held off resuming ODA that could include new yen loans. Japanese officials said Japan is cautiously studying resumption of ODA as it would not only signal a major Japanese policy change but could also invite protest from Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy and some Western countries who continue to have economic sanctions on Myanmar. Human rights groups in the United States and Europe have already criticized Japan's study on ODA resumption.

    Regarding the forced labour issue, the ILO has already adopted a resolution to impose sanctions on Myanmar. The final decision was left to the group's governing body, which decided to go ahead with sanctions in mid-November.
    Air strikes possible as Wa troops hold ground

    source : The Nation

    The Army yesterday continued its cat-and-mouse strategy in an effort to dislodge some 50 Wa rebels from Hua Lone hill, but could change tactics if the latter refuse a total withdrawal.

    Army chief Surayudh Chulanont said ground troops backed by artillery and mortar fire were able to retake some ground where the rebels had retreated, but were still a long way from driving them off the hill, some 400 metres inside the border of Fang district. Surayudh said he was confident his troops would eventually retake the hill.

    Col Chucheep Srisomboon, chief of the Pha Muang Task Force civil division, said the army had to switch from using infantry to retake the hill as the insurgents held the higher ground.

    The Air Force, meanwhile, has put jet fighters on standby in case an air strike is needed."At this stage we believe that the ground troops can handle the situation," said Royal Air Force commander ACM Pong Maneesilp. Pong said that, if necessary, jet fighters from Chiang Mai-based Wing 41 will be used, supported by F-16s from Wing 4 from Nakhon Sawan, and Wing One from Nakhon Ratchasima and F-5s from Ubon Ratchathani, Surathani and Lop Buri.

    The Army has lodged a protest over the incident with the Burmese Township Border Committee and the Burmese military attache in Bangkok but has not received a reply. Foreign Ministry spokesman Norachit Singhaseni yesterday urged Burma to take responsibility for the insurgency at Hua Lone Hill.

    Norachit cited the agreement, reached with Rangoon during Foreign Minister Surakiart Sathirathai's trip last week, that the two sides would abide by the facts in resolving any border flare-up.He said Thailand had a legitimate right to use force to repel any intruders.

    The Pha Muang Task Force started to shell the rebels, who have held the hill since Monday.In a joint operation with Burmese troops last week, they successfully retook nearby Hua Nok hill and other two bases from the Shan State Army (SSA). No casualties have been reported in the area, which is about 780 kilometres north of Bangkok. The Army has accused Burmese troops of using artillery to support the Wa fighters on Thai soil.

    In Rangoon, Lt Col San Pwint, a senior military intelligence officer, said Burmese troops had only fired warning shots. He claimed that the "ethnic militia" occupying the hill had retreated on Tuesday night. He did not identify the militia. The Burmese side also said the location of the hill was disputable as the two countries use different maps of the border.

    "The incident has clearly shown that Burmese troops are supporting the Wa, because the Wa rebels do not have such heavy artillery," said Col Somkuan Saengpattaranetr, an Army spokesman.

    In a related move, another group of Rangoon-backed ethnic rebels clashed for a second time with Thai troops at Molithai village. An initial clash last week resulted in the deaths of three civilians on the Thai side.

    Border authorities said eight fighters from the Democratic Karen Buddhist Army had entered the village in the Phop Phra district of Tak and headed toward the military outpost.The firefight lasted 10 minutes before the rebels retreated into Burma. No casualties were reported.
    Two helicopters to be enlisted next year

    source : The Nation
    Piyanart Srivalo

    Tensions along the border with Burma are the result of Rangoon's inability to control drug trafficking by Burmese minority groups, PM's Office Minister Thamarak Isarangura said yesterday.

    To facilitate its war on drugs, the Army has earmarked a special budget to procure two helicopters next year. The helicopters will be equipped for night navigation and rapid deployment in drug raids, Defence Minister General Chavalit Yongchaiyudh said.

    While stepping up drug-suppression activities, the Thaksin government will seek to reassure Burma of its non-interference policy regarding Burma's ethnic groups, in return for assurance from Rangoon that it does not condone drug trafficking or production aimed at the Thai market, Thamarak said.

    "The drug problem and Thai-Burmese border affairs are intertwined," he said. "The exchange of gunfire along the border is often the result of drug raids."

    Thamarak, scheduled to attend an anti-drugs conference tomorrow in Rangoon, said he would raise the dual issues of border security and drug trafficking with his Burmese counterparts.

    "I want to reiterate our policy of non-interference regarding the Burmese minority groups and I also want clarification from the Burmese government that it has no role in drug trafficking, which often spills over to Thailand," he said. Thamarak said he planned to propose the opening of drug-control offices in the countries' respective embassies to facilitate cooperation on narcotics suppression.

    The minister said the Thailand-Burma border situation remained tense as Thai soldiers tried to repel intruding United Wa State Army (UWSA) forces. About three of the UWSA's eight or nine leaders are implicated in drug trafficking and are acting beyond the Burmese government's control, said Thamarak, who attributed the border tension to the Wa's involvement with illicit drugs.
    Six Asian nations begin anti-drug talks in Yangon

    YANGON, May 9 (AFP) - Senior officials from six Asian nations Wednesday began mapping out strategies to improve cooperation in the war against drugs, against the backdrop of a brewing row between Thailand and Myanmar over the illicit trade.Representatives from Cambodia, China, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand and Vietnam are holding preparatory talks before their home ministers meet on Friday to approve new inititives to close down the narcotics industry.The Myanmar hosts will then torch mountains of heroin and methamphetamines on Saturday in a ceremonial burning.

    But even as the officials completed a round of bilateral talks and began evaluating the progress of cross-border drug control projects, fresh salvos were being fired in a months-long wrangle between Thailand and Myanmar.

    The neighbours have been trading accusations over who is responsible for rampant drug trafficking along the border since February, when rival ethnic militias in the region sparked a rare clash between the national armies.Renewed fighting has flared up in recent days as the Thai military attempts to dislodge the Yangon-allied United Wa State Army -- widely accused of being deeply involved in the drugs trade -- from a position it took on Thai soil.

    Myanmar's ruling junta Wednesday lashed out at Thailand for helping the rival Shan State Army (SSA) overrun Myanmar border outposts, saying it was giving succour to drug dealers."Regretfully, all these groups are now being given sanctuary and refuge inside Thailand ... Thailand is being unbelievably quick and active in defending these groups as freedom fighters cum drug busters," it said.

    Meanwhile, Thailand's minister attending the meeting, Thamarak Issarangkun Na Ayutthaya, said he would press Myanmar to agree to three-way cooperation with China on drugs suppression."Tripartite cooperation is necessary. If the three countries exchange information, the problem will be solved easily," he said.Thamarak said he would be careful to acknowledge Yangon's anti-narcotics efforts, but "Myanmar must show that they are not involved with amphetamines so that the drugs problem can be solved successfully."

    The six nations attending this week's talks are signatories to a 1993 agreement which bound them to work together in the war on drugs by reducing demand, boosting law enforcement and encouraging crop substitution.They meet at a ministerial level every two years to evaluate the progress of cross-border drug control projects and to approve new initiatives devised by the United Nations Drug Control Program (UNDCP).

    The United States has played an increasingly important role in the regional fight against trafficking through its support of Thai anti-drugs units and cooperation with Myanmar in cross-border investigations.A Bangkok-based representative for the US Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA), William Snipes, said this week's meetings would boost cooperation in combatting the drug problem that has spread throughout Southeast Asia.

    "There has to be cooperation. These bilateral meetings are important. The drug problem is a regional problem," he said. "We're not going to be as effective (by ourselves) as we could be (working together)."Snipes said that while this week's high-level meetings were a step in the right direction, cooperation also needed to reach down to street-level investigations."At the DEA, we would like to see regional cooperation on a working level also. We're trying to organize a working meeting ... for investigators," he said.

    UNDCP officials have said that during this week's meeting they will present two new anti-narcotics projects -- on cross-border law enforcement cooperation and drug control advocacy and capacity strengthening in East Asia.The second project "aims to present a common strategy for raising awareness about the danger of drugs in the region and (to help) governments produce public information materials and campaigns," an official said.
    Amnesty Asks SE Asia To End Drug Dealers' Death Penalties

    BANGKOK (AP)--Amnesty International urged Southeast Asian governments Wednesday to stop using the death penalty against drug traffickers, saying that capital punishment isn't an effective deterrent.

    The call came before ministers of China, Myanmar, Cambodia, Thailand, Laos and Vietnam were due to hold talks Friday at a United Nations sponsored meeting in Yangon on cooperating in fighting illicit drugs.

    "Tackling the illicit drug trade in Southeast Asia is a huge challenge for governments in the region. But it will not be solved by executing drug traffickers and wasting more human life," the London-based rights group said in a statement received in Bangkok. Southeast Asia is a leading source of opium and its deadly derivative, heroin. In recent years, the Thai-Myanmar border area has also become a big production center for methamphetamine stimulant pills.

    Amnesty said that in the past month it had written to the governments of Thailand, Laos and Vietnam urging them against executions. It said there was no evidence the death penalty curbed the drug trade, noting that more than half the world's countries have abolished capital punishment in law or practice.

    "Imposition of the death penalty is especially dangerous when trials are not fair, and may result in fatal miscarriages of justice. This risk is compounded by the use of torture and ill-treatment by police to coerce confessions," the statement said.

    Responding to the drug scourge, Thailand recently vowed to show no mercy to drug offenders. It executed five people amid great publicity last month and said six more executions are imminent. On April 10, the National Assembly of communist Laos approved an amendment to the penal code to allow the death penalty for drug trafficking and possession offenses for the first time. In Vietnam, more than 90 people were sentenced to death for drug offenses in 2000. Executions are only rarely publicly reported. China routinely uses the death penalty against convicted traffickers.

    Using incomplete public records, Amnesty International recorded at least 483 death sentences passed in 1999 for drugs offenses.

    Myanmar, the region's leading drug producer, also sentences people to death for drug trafficking, including two Singaporean nationals last year, Amnesty's statement said. But no executions have been carried out in Myanmar for years. Cambodia does not have the death penalty.
    Thaland slams U.N. for inadequate help on drugs

    By Tanawat Suayaem

    BANGKOK, May 9 (Reuters) - Thailand, struggling to curb an influx of illegal stimulants from neighbouring Myanmar, criticised the U.N. anti-narcotics agency on Wednesday for not doing enough to help it fight drugs. Thammarak Isarangura, minister in charge of narcotics affairs, said the U.N. International Drug Control Programme (UNDCP) was not worried about the use of methamphetamines in Thailand because the problem was not so serious in the developed world.

    "They (developed nations and the UNDCP) are not concerned by methamphetamine because the drug is not (widely) used there," said Thammarak, who will visit theMyanmar capital of Yangon on Thursday to attend a UNDCP-sponsored drug control seminar. "They only care about heroin, opium, and marijuana," he said.

    Jean-Luc Lemahieu, representative of UNDCP in Myanmar, last week called on multilateral agencies and nations, including Thailand, to engage ethnic minoritydrug-producing groups in Myanmar in a bid to stop their activities. He said the international community needed to offer both carrots and sticks in establishing a dialogue with ethnic minority groups, similar to a UNDCP's crop-substitution programme for the Wa, an ethnic minority group from northeastern Myanmar.

    Thammarak said the UNDCP wanted Thailand to follow its example because it was afraid Bangkok's tough stance against the United Wa State Army (UWSA) militia group would jeopardise its development projects in the Wa areas.

    "They (UNDCP) have given the Wa some development funds and they don't want us toattack the Wa heavily. They want Thailand to help the Wa develop," he said.


    The UWSA, which operates out of bases in Myanmar's Shan State near the Chinese and Thai borders, has been accused by international anti-narcotics agencies of being a major producer of methamphetamines and heroin.

    Thai officials have said the Wa is flooding Thailand with hundreds of millions of stimulant pills each year. Thailand, which has two million drug addicts out of a total population of 62 million, estimates that some 800 million methamphetamine tablets, known in Thailand as "ya ba" or "mad medicine", will flow into the country this year. This compares with about 500 million tablets in 2000.

    The UNDCP says the widespread use of the amphetamine-type stimulants is not confined to Thailand, but is seen across Asia. A UNDCP report in February said a boom in the use of an amphetamine-type stimulant (ATS) in East and Southeast Asia was the "most striking" drugs controlissue in the last decade.It said the region's share of global seizures rose to 41 percent in 1998 from 22percent in 1990, reflecting increased production, trafficking, and consumption.

    Thammarak said Thailand would only help the Wa only after the militant ethnic group stopped producing the drug."If they stop the drug production, we are ready to help them develop their area," Thammarak said.

    Thailand has sought Yangon's cooperation in stopping methamphetamine production in areas controlled by the UWSA, a pro-Yangon ethnic group.But Myanmar has responded coolly to Thailand's requests, accusing its eastern neighbour of supporting other ethnic groups that oppose the military government in Yangon.

    Thammarak said he would raise the border issues with senior Myanmar leaders during his Yangon visit and follow up on an adoption of trilateral cooperation among China, Myanmar and Thailand to help fight drugs across the region.
    Myanmar Endeavors for Reducing Foreign Trade Deficit

    source : The People Daily (China)

    As deficit in foreign trade has become a major economic problem puzzling the Myanmar government for a longed period, the government has in recent years made great efforts to solve the problem and scored some achievements to certain extent.

    According to the latest figures published by the country's Central Statistical Organization, in 2000, Myanmar's foreign trade totaled 4.086 billion U.S. dollars, of which imports amounted to 2.567 billion dollars, while exports were valued at 1.519 billion dollars, the trade deficit being 1.048 billion dollars.

    The first measure taken by the government in bringing down trade deficit is that it adopted the "sell more, buy less" and "export more, import less" strategies, encouraging its people to use home-made goods, use less foreign goods and substitute imported goods with domestic products as much as possible.

    Secondly, it greatly supported enterprises engaged in producing export goods, providing privileges in accordance with its policy.

    Thirdly, it added more border trade points, simplified related formalities, appropriately adjusted its standard of charge collection, strictly controlled the import of high-grade consumers goods and luxury ones.

    Fourth, it strove for the promotion of production, ensured goods supply and tackled the phenomena of shortage of locally-manufactured commodities.

    The main reasons for Myanmar to cause foreign trade deficit for consecutive years could be as follows:

    Myanmar is an agricultural country. The majority of its required capital goods including machines and equipment depends on import, whereas such goods mostly contain high degree of technology and highly-added value, and the prices are relatively costly in comparison.

    In 2000, Myanmar imported capital goods worth of over 600 million dollars, accounting for 28.2 percent of the country's total imports.

    In addition to relying on import of capital goods, Myanmar still has to spend much foreign exchange annually, importing a large quantity of consumers goods to ease the phenomena of shortage of locally-manufactured consumers goods.

    In 2000, Myanmar's import value of consumers goods took up 44.2 percent of the country's total import.

    Myanmar's main export goods are primary products such as agricultural products, marine products and timber. The prices of these primary products in international market are low, constituting a great contrast against capital goods which contain high degree of technology and highly-added value.

    For a long period, the structure of Myanmar's export goods has been unitary and commodities available for export has also been much limited.Besides, Myanmar products lack good quality and competitiveness in the world market.

    Total settlement of the deficit problem could not be brought about overnight. The realization of the target is up to the adjustment of the structure of Myanmar's export goods, improvement of products in quality as well as the uplifting of the degree of industrialization and level of science and technology.

    The number of countries and regions having trade links with Myanmar is only over ten, of which the main trading partners are Singapore , China, Thailand , the Republic of Korea and Malaysia.
    Chavalit says Incursions were a very small matter

    Source : Bangkok Post

    The defence minister confused and frustrated front line troops yesterday, saying repeated incursions by Burmese and Red Wa soldiers on Thai soil were a very small matter and should not be taken seriously.

    Gen Chavalit Yongchaiyudh said insurgents who occupied Hua Lone hill saw it as a vantage point in the defence of Takhi outpost in Burma against the Shan State Army, and should be allowed time to withdraw.

    Soldiers along the border said they did not understand how the defence minister could even suggest Thai soil was not worth fighting for.

    Army chief Gen Surayud Chulanont insisted the military would force the intruders off Hua Lone hill and back across the border.

    "The hill belongs to Thailand and we have to push them out regardless of whatever reasons they might have [for the intrusion]," he said.

    "We have a duty to fight, while our superiors have a duty to negotiate and take diplomatic action. "Fighting can take place while negotiations go on," he said.

    Gen Chavalit said if the intruders did not retreat, the township border committee in Burma would be notified. If they remained on Thai soil after a given period, then Thai soldiers could open fire and drive them out-after notifying the nearest Burmese military unit.

    Gen Surayud said a protest had already been passed to Burma's township border committee and to the Burmese military attache in Bangkok.

    Burmese and United Wa State Army soldiers have occupied Hua Lone hill near Ban Norlae in Fang district of Chiang Mai, remaining put despite an artillery bombardment.

    Following Gen Chavalit's remarks, an all-out attack to drive them out, planned for yesterday, was put on hold and the shelling of the hill came to a halt.

    Gen Chavalit said there was no doubt the army was ready for combat. But the intrusion by 20-30 soldiers a couple of hundred metres into Thailand was of little significance because relations between Thailand and Burma had considerably improved.

    "People became excited after reading the news and seeing pictures. In fact, it was nothing," he said.

    Asked if the repeated intrusions by ethnic minority soldiers, allies of Rangoon, was with permission from Burma, Gen Chavalit said: "With such permission or not, no matter what, we have to try to prevent such occurrences. We have to resort to negotiations."A settlement could be reached in just a few days, and the tensions that had arisen since Feb 7 might just go away as if nothing had ever happened.

    On Feb 8, Burmese soldiers moving against Shan State Army rebels seized a Thai ranger outpost near Ban Pang Noon in Chiang Rai's Mae Fa Luang district.

    The military responded by shelling the outpost and dislodged the Burmese, inflicting heavy casualties.

    The Burmese retaliated by shelling Mae Sai border town with mortars, killing three Thai civilians. Following the incident, border checkpoints in Chiang Mai, Chiang Rai, Mae Hong Son and Tak provinces were closed.

    Gen Chavalit recalled a Thai-Burmese dispute over Hill 419 in Chumphon district many years back. The two sides exchanged artillery fire for nearly seven days for nothing, he said-implying it was not worth it for both sides to resort to violent action.

    Third Army soldiers yesterday expressed frustration at Gen Chavalit's comments.

    One officer said he was disappointed with Gen Chavalit. He was surprised that the defence minister, who was once the army commander, could make such remarks. It would certainly demoralise soldiers on the front line.

    "We've not fired a single shot today because we are professional soldiers and are taught to obey the orders of our commanders," said the Pha Muang task force officer.

    The Third Army's planned offensive against the intruding forces at Hua Lone hill was called off yesterday pending further instructions from Bangkok.

    The Pha Muang task force, which is in charge of security along the border area opposite Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai, had planned to launch a full scale offensive to dislodge the Burmese forces from the hill.

    Another junior officer said it was his duty to protect the country. He said he and his men were disheartened by Gen Chavalit's comments.

    "We were taught we must sacrifice our lives for the country if need be, and not to give an inch of our land to the enemy," he said.

    "But our defence minister is trying to convince us that the seized territory was not worth fighting for.

    "As a defence minister how could he make such a remark?"Col Chucheep Srisomboon, the Third Army spokesman, said the intruding forces were still occupying Thai territory.

    It was the army's duty to dislodge them.

    He declined to comment directly on Gen Chavalit's statement.

    "What I can say is that Red Wa soldiers who are supported by the Burmese military are still occupying our land and we have to push them back," Col Chucheep said.
    Thailand said Verbal attacks to be avoided to save ties

    Source : Bangkok Post

    Thailand will not trade verbal attacks with Burma to prevent relations from plunging further, the Foreign Ministry spokesman said yesterday.

    Reacting to fresh Burmese allegations that the military was aiding the Shan State Army, Norachit Sinhaseni said the two governments had agreed to let the township border committee serve as a main forum for settling border problems.

    So far, he said, Rangoon has made no response to a proposal by Foreign Minister Surakiart Sathirathai for a joint study on the possible environmental impact of a coal-fired power plant to be built in Burma close to the Thai border.

    The proposal was made during the minister's visit to Rangoon two weeks ago following protests in Mae Sai, Chiang Rai, by local people who feared emissions from the power plant, to be built in Burma's Tachilek town, would damage the environment.

    The proposal was made during the minister's visit to Rangoon two weeks ago following protests in Mae Sai, Chiang Rai, by local people who feared emissions from the power plant, to be built in Burma's Tachilek town, would damage the environment.
    Thai firm loses millions in Burma bushfire

    Source : Bangkok Post

    A bushfire in Burma destroyed a thousand logs worth millions of baht owned by a Thai firm, border sources said.

    The fire spread across the forest opposite Ban Mae Ngao in Khun Yuam district and burned down timber owned by Polpana Co.

    The commander of the 337th battalion, told to guard the timber, is under investigation. The logs were among those left stranded in Burma after the Salween logging scandal.

    Polpana Co, FA Pharmaceutical, B&F Goodrich and Thai-Korean Veterans' Welfare Co have been trying to haul back the timber since 1996.

    The fire is another financial blow to log importers who have already lost more than one million baht from the delays.
    Wa Fighters Retreat From Hilltop After Heavy Thai Assault

    BANGKOK (AP)--The Thai army said Thursday it has driven out a group of Burma's guerrillas from a disputed strategic hilltop at the Thai-Burmese border after heavy bombardment.

    Fighters of the United Wa State Army withdrew from Hua Lone hill late Wednesday, spokesman Col. Somkuan Saengpattaranetr said. Thailand officials have said between 30 and 60 men had encroached on its territory.

    It is the latest spat at the border between Thailand and Burma, whose relations are at the lowest point in years after their armed forces clashed at the border in February.

    The United Wa State Army is a pro-Rangoon group, which reached a cease-fire with Burma military junta in 1989. It has virtual autonomy in a swathe of the country's eastern Shan State.

    According to Thai and U.S. narcotics experts, the Wa army is the leading producer of illegal drugs in Southeast Asia's Golden Triangle. Burma denies Thailand's contention that it uses the Wa army as its proxy and does little to stop the drug trade.

    Thailand had said the Wa soldiers were on Thai soil, 500 meters inside the border, but Burma said the location of the hill was disputable as the two countries use different maps.

    There were unconfirmed reports of Wa casualties from the fighting in which Thailand fired dozens of artillery and mortar rounds at the hill, located about 780 kilometers north of Bangkok.

    Somkuan said soldiers have to make sure the area doesn't have land mines before they reach the hill, "so I can't confirm the casualty report."

    In Rangoon Wednesday, Lt. Col. San Pwint, a senior military intelligence officer, told reporters that the "ethnic militia" occupying the hill had retreated Tuesday night. He didn't identify the militia.

    Bilateral disputes over demarcation of the frontier are common, but relations have become severely strained, principally because of the trafficking of methamphetamines and heroin from border regions of Burma to Thailand.
    Massive Burma's Buddha to Be Ready by End of May

    Rangoon (Reuters) - A massive white marble Buddha on the outskirts of Rangoon, which Burmese officials call the biggest of its kind in the world, will be completed by the end of May, officials said on Thursday.

    Volunteers have been working around the clock to finish the statue, which weighs more than 400 tons and is 37 feet tall, in time for a grand opening ceremony planned for next month.

    The military government has built an enormous temple to house the Buddha, carved from a single block of flawless marble, on a hill overlooking the Burmese capital.

    ``The finishing touches to the image will be completed by the end of this month,'' said one official working on the project.

    ``Work on the chamber and the decorative gateway to the temple will take another two months,'' he told Reuters.

    The rare chunk of marble was discovered by a Burmese sculptor on a mountain north of Mandalay about a year ago and transported with great difficulty to Rangoon where it has been carved into the Buddha.

    ``We had to make a specially crafted barge because this image is very unusual,'' said Burma's Director General of Religious Affairs, Myo Myint.

    ``It's so heavy...the road couldn't withstand the weight, nor the bridges. So the only possible way was to carry it on the river,'' he told Reuters.

    Two temporary railroads were also 'custom-made' to carry the huge slab, he said.

    A crowd estimated to number 100,000 turned out to watch the marble slab being raised from the mountain in Mandalay.

    The Buddha, given the name ``Lawka Chantha Abhaya Lanha Muni,'' is now being polished by dozens of craftsmen while others paint the intricate lattice that adorns the open temple's corners.

    ``The title of the Buddha image...means happiness, it will make people happy...it also means there will be no danger, for us or for anyone. Also it will bring good luck to all the people of the world,'' Myo Myint said.

    One local man, 87-year-old Kyaw Zan, said he has been up to see the sculpture three times since it was mounted on the hill.

    ``When I come here I pray that everybody will be free from war...I pray for peace and prosperity for the entire mankind,'' he told Reuters.