Daily News-May 11- 2001- Friday

  • Burmese continue their second day for Hunger Strike
  • Burmese on fast,demand asylum
  • Bush Trade Plan Seen Boosting Role for Labor Group
  • ASEAN urges international labour body to lift sanctions on Burma
  • ICFTU and FGTB opposed to the entry in Belgium of Burmese Junta official
  • Thai F-16s Fly Along Border With Burma To Show Strength
  • Burma Urges ADB To Resume Lending Program
  • Burma Says Thailand Launched 2 Airstrikes, Injuring 6
  • Unocal Shareholders Call For Worker Code, No Impact On Burma Operations
  • Asians Vow To Fight Drugs; Burma Urges Local Strategies

  • Burmese continue their second day for Hunger Strike

    New Delhi, May 9, 2001
    Mizzima News Group (www.mizzima.com)

    The Burmese asylum-seekers who are demanding the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) to grant them refugee status continue their hunger strike for the second day today. The total 24 Chin nationals from Burma including eight women started their protest yesterday, claiming that the UNHCR is not taking their plight seriously.

    Meanwhile, UNHCR officials in New Delhi have informed the protestors that the office will look into the pending cases of the asylum seekers and for those whose application were already rejected can submit fresh appeal to the office. The UNHCR officials, led by Ms. W.M Lim-Kabaa, Deputy Chief of Mission of the UNHCR in Delhi met the two representatives of the protestors yesterday evening and informed about the response of the UNHCR.

    Why we are having hunger strike is that we want the protection from the UNHCR. However, UNHCR has not given any positive response to our request. It has not granted us the refugee status and the monthly subsistence allowance. We will continue our hunger strike. Our demand is that UNHCR grants all of us the refugee status as we all left Burma due to the brutal military repression, said Mr. Van Hnin Thang, representative of the protestors.

    The hunger strikers appeared fit although most of them are lying or sleeping under the tree’s shadow in front of the UNHCR on Lodhi Road. Amongst the protestors was a six-month old baby whose mother’s application for refugee status was rejected by the UNHCR.

    Burmese on fast,demand asylum

    The Asian Age (New Delhi)
    May 9, 2001

    New Delhi, May 8- As many as 30 Burmese asylum seekers on Tuesday began an indefinite hunger strike in front of the United Nations High Commission for Refugees here demanding refugee status in India.

    They said they should be collectively granted refugee status and given subsistence allowance. A representative of the asylum seekers, Mr Van Hnin Thang, said:We left our dear and near ones in Burma, as we could no longer live in the country due to continued repression by the military junta. We hoped that we would get shelter in India, the world’s largest democracy. However, we are losing hope about our safety and security as the UNHCR and the Government of India are not according refugee status to us.

    A large number of Burmese, mainly youths, have come to India since the 1980s seeking asylum. In almost every case, the asylum seekers have been granted refugee status in India by the UNHCR and the Union government.

    This time, Mr Thang said, about 50 Burmese applied for refugee status at the UNHCR about one year back. Among them, 30 applications were rejected by the UNHCR. Following this, the asylum seekers had put up fresh applications with the UN agency. The asylum seekers have said that they have not heard anything from the UNHCR over their petition.

    To draw the attention of the UNHCR as well as sympathies from the Indian people, we the asylum seekers are sitting on an indefinite hunger strike in front of the UNHCR office.

    The strike will continue till the time some positive response comes out from the UNHCR, Mr Thang said. Relating their plight, the refuge seekers said their very survival is at risk as they have no financial support for themselves.They have to fall back on the meagre resources of the fellow Burmese people, who receive subsistence allowance from the UN body being refugees.
    Bush Trade Plan Seen Boosting Role for Labor Group

    Wednesday May 9
    By Doug Palmer

    WASHINGTON (Reuters) - In a bow to Democratic party concerns, President Bush is expected to propose boosting the role of the International Labor Organization (ILO) in governing trade, congressional aides said on Wednesday.

    Bush will make the recommendation as part of his much-awaited ``set of principles'' for crafting trade legislation this year, the aides said. The U.S. Trade Representative's office is expected to release those principles by the end of the week.Many details of the plan are expected to be vague.

    ``It touches on a lot of issues, but not in any kind of definitive manner,'' one congressional aide said. A number of Democrats and Republicans have proposed strengthening the role of the 175-nation ILO in enforcing international labor standards as a way to break a seven-year deadlock in Congress on new trade negotiating authority.

    U.S. labor groups complain current trade agreements offer workers little protection against unfair foreign competition.Republicans traditionally have opposed including labor and environmental provisions in trade pacts.That view is shared by developing countries, who view the provisions as a form of protectionism by wealthy nations.

    Bush is expected to propose increasing the role of the ILO in enforcing core labor standards, including the right to associate and prohibitions on forced labor.

    Along those lines, U.S. Trade Representative Robert Zoellick told a House Ways and Means Committee on Tuesday he had considered imposing sanctions on Myanmar, formerly known as Burma, for forced labor violations.The ILO recommended that action last year.

    Zoellick said he decided against sanctions after Myanmar's pro-democracy opposition leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, said they would not be helpful. But Zoellick also said he was willing to reexamine the issue in the future.

    Some Democrats doubted Bush's commitment to increasing the role of the ILO. ``It doesn't ring true given his funding priorities,'' said a congressional aide.Bush has proposed cutting funding for the Labor Department (news - web sites)'s Bureau of International Labor Affairs (ILAB), by more than 50 percent to $71 million in fiscal 2001. ILAB coordinates U.S. activities with the ILO.
    ASEAN urges international labour body to lift sanctions on Burma

    BBC Monitoring Service - United Kingdom; May 10, 2001

    Text of report in English by Japanese news agency Kyodo

    Kuala Lumpur, 10 May: The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) urged the International Labour Organization (ILO) on Thursday [10 May] to lift sanctions imposed on Myanmar [Burma] last year because of the country's use of forced labour.

    "As a member of ASEAN, we hope that can be done," Malaysian Human Resources Minister Fong Chan Onn told reporters at the end of an ASEAN Labour Ministers Meeting that he chaired in Kuala Lumpur. "Our appeal is for the ILO not to take any punitive action," he said.

    Myanmar's ruling junta, represented by Labour Minister Maj-Gen Tin Aye, briefed the grouping on "legislative and administrative" steps the junta says it has taken to end forced labour. The general also touched on two ILO technical missions that came to Myanmar to examine labour conditions there.

    According to Fong, the junta assured ASEAN that it will "strictly enforce those laws so that (forced labour) does not become an issue again".The ILO called last November on its 174 members - governments, workers and employers - to review their ties with Myanmar and take the appropriate measures to ensure Myanmar ends the use of forced labour.

    European nations, the United States and Canada as well as workers' and employers' representatives have backed the decision, but ASEAN wants the ILO to be more "understanding and appreciate" the actions taken by Myanmar's military leaders.

    The Southeast Asian ministers will meet with senior officials from the group's dialogue partners China, Japan and South Korea on Friday to further discuss the issue. The Friday meeting will be the first to include labour officials from the three countries.

    Malaysia wants to see a common stand reached on labour issues, especially on Myanmar, before the ILO next meets in Geneva in June. "We will try our best to explain, as a friend, and hope the ILO will reciprocate. We are an influential bloc, but there are many other countries that need to be influenced," Fong said.

    A separate joint communique on Myanmar will be issued after the ASEAN meeting with Japan, China and South Korea.
    ICFTU and FGTB opposed to the entry in Belgium ofBurmese Junta official

    Brussels May 09 2001 (ICFTU OnLine): The International Confederation of Free Trade Unions has learn from reliable sources that a member of the Burmese junta, U Soe Tha, Minister of National Planning and Economic Development, has applied to German consular authorities for a Schengen visa (Belgium does not have an embassy in Rangoon). His intention is to attend the Third UN Conference on the Least Developed Countries scheduled to take place from May 14-20 in Brussels.

    For the ICFTU and its Belgian affiliate, the FGTB, it is unacceptable that the Junta member, who is blacklisted on the European Union list against Burmese official, be given a visa to enter Belgium.

    For this reason, the FGTB addressed a letter to the Belgian Minister for Foreign Affairs, Louis Michel to call on him to use all the resources of the Schengen procedures available to him, to request the German authorities to refuse the Junta member’s entry. Mindful of Belgium’s access obligations as the host of a UN Conference, the ICFTU and FGTB insist that these obligations must not overrule the ethical principles included in the European Union Position of April 2000 (1).

    The FGTB pointed out to the Minister that Burma could still send a delegation to the UN Conference that did not include blacklisted Junta officials.

    Moreover, the ICFTU, in its edition of May of its monthly magazine, Trade Union World, provides details of the secret misinformation campaign operated by the Burmese junta to attempt to avoid pressures applied by the ILO, on its widespread and continuous use of forced labour.

    The copy of an SPDC memorandum, exclusively in the hands of the ICFTU, labels the ICFTU, along with several western countries, as enemies of the junta for their continuous pressure on Rangoon to make democratic changes and to end forced labour practices.

    (1) Council Common Position Point 5 (b) amended 26 April 2000.

    in order to prevent the entry into, and transit through,
    the territory of the Member States by senior members of
    the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC),
    Burmese authorities in the tourism sector, senior
    members of the military, the Government or the security
    forces who formulate, implement or benefit from policies
    that impede Burma/Myanmar's transition to democracy,
    no visas for entry or transit shall be issued to any persons,
    whose names are listed in the Annex and their families.
    (the name of U Soe Tha appears)

    Thai F-16s Fly Along Border With Burma To Show Strength

    CHIANG MAI (AP)--In a show of strength, Thai F-16 fighter jets flew along the Thai-Myanmar border after the army said Thursday it had driven out a group of ethnic guerrillas allied to the Myanmar regime from a disputed hill.

    Thai army officials said that jets flew sorties at two sensitive areas on the more than 2,000-kilometer land border as a warning to Myanmar.

    "We did this to warn the opposite side not to intrude onto our soil," Lt. Col. Peeranet Kethem of Pha Muang border task force told the Associated Press.

    The Thai military denied reports that they had launched airstrikes, describing loud noises and shaking felt by local people where the sorties happened as sonic booms of the F-16s.Myanmar did not immediately comment.

    One F-16 flew two sorties near where fighters of the United Wa State Army withdrew from Hua Lone hill, about 780 kilometers north of Bangkok, late Wednesday after coming under heavy bombardment from the Thai army.Thailand claimed that between 30 and 60 men had encroached on its territory. Myanmar said the location of the hill was disputed as the two countries use different maps. The Wa army reached a cease-fire with the Myanmar military junta in 1989. It has virtual autonomy in a swathe of the country's eastern Shan State and is widely believed to be a major producer of illegal drugs.

    Two other F-16s flew over Tak province, about 400 kilometers to the south, where pro-Yangon ethnic Karen guerrillas attacked a Thai military post and village last week, killing three civilians and injuring five others.

    Disputes between Thailand and Myanmar over demarcation of the frontier are common, but relations have become severely strained, mainly because of the trafficking of methamphetamines and heroin from border regions of Myanmar to Thailand. Striking a conciliatory tone, Thai Foreign Minister Surakiart Sathirathai told reporters that the fighting was not a "government-to-government problem." He said the Myanmar government has told Thailand that the fighting involved only Myanmar ethnic groups.
    Burma Urges ADB To Resume Lending Program

    Source : Dow Jones

    HONOLULU---Burma Thursday urged the Asian Development Bank to resume financial assistance to the impoverished Southeast Asian nation, which had its ADB borrowing rights suspended in 1986 because of its repression of democracy and human rights.

    Burma has been struggling with limited resources to develop its economy, and needs ADB loans to take care of "basic human needs," Finance and Revenue Minister Khin Maung Thein told the ADB's board of governors at the bank's annual meeting.

    He said the Burmese government "has been striving for all-around development in political, economic and social fields to pave the way for the emergence of a peaceful, tranquil and a new modern developed nation."

    "Myanmar has a right to ask for and receive financial assistance from the bank like other members. ADB should have an optimistic view on the country's development and ought to provide necessary financial assistance for environmental and basic human needs supported projects, without political influence," he said.

    Burma has been a member of the ADB since 1973, but has not been able to borrow from the bank since 1986 when the bank's board of directors halted lending to the country.

    An ADB spokesman said the bank continues to monitor developments in Burma, but added that there is no ongoing discussion on the suspension of lending to Burma.

    The ADB warned in a recent report that unless Burma undertakes more comprehensive and consistent structural reforms, and mobilizes additional domestic and external resources, economic growth there will remain sluggish.

    The country's foreign exchange market also remains highly distorted, the bank said, with a parallel market rate of 460 kyat to the dollar compared to an official rate of MMK6 to the dollar.

    As a result of Burma's repression of the democratic opposition, in April 1997 the U.S. imposed economic sanctions, banning new investments by American companies. The European Union (EU) agreed to withdraw Burma's eligibility for Generalized System of Preferences trade benefits on agricultural and industrial products.

    Burma also is a large producer of the opium poppy, and will likely continue to attract U.S. sanctions. Burma has vowed to eradicate opium production by 2014.
    Burma Says Thailand Launched 2 Airstrikes, Injuring 6

    BANGKOK (AP)---Burma's military regime claimed Friday that Thailand launched two airstrikes inside Burma close to the mountainous border, injuring six people, including two children.

    Thailand dismissed the charge as "totally groundless."

    The airstrikes by F-16 fighter jets Thursday were "unnecessarily escalating and aggravating the prevailing unhappy situation on (a) certain area of the common border," a burmese government statement received in Bangkok said.

    A Thai spokesman said an F-16 had flown over the Thai-Burmese border - the scene of recent armed skirmishes involving Thailand and ethnic armies allied to Rangoon - but hadn't launched any missiles or bombs.

    "The Thai jet fighter on Thursday was on a routine reconnaissance. It did not drop any bomb or fire a single rocket," Prapass Jiemchawee, the Thai air force spokesman, told The Associated Press.

    The air force would leave it to the Foreign Ministry to explain, as this was a government-level issue, he said.

    Relations between Thailand and Burma are at their lowest level in years, principally because of a dispute over illegal drugs that Thailand says are smuggled in huge quantities from border regions of Burma.

    The Burma statement said that in one of the airstrikes, an F-16 had fired near the town of Mong Yawn in eastern Shan State about 3 kilometers from the border and a nearby village, injuring six people, including two children, and killing three cattle.

    Thailand claims Mong Yawn is a major center for production of illegal methamphetamines by the United Wa State Army allied to the Burma's regime. This ethnic army is reputed to be the largest drug producer in Southeast Asia's Golden Triangle.

    In the other airstrike, two rockets hit a cattle hut and a grain storage near villages in eastern Kayin State to the south of Shan State, about 500 meters from the Thai border. The statement mentioned no injuries.

    Burma's Foreign Ministry had sent a protest letter to the Thai authorities, the statement said.

    Also Thursday, Thai officials had denied reports of airstrikes, saying loud bangs heard by Thai villagers at the border were caused by sonic booms.

    The F-16 sorties came after a group of Wa guerrillas withdrew from a disputed border hill they had occupied for several days. Thailand claimed the hill was on their soil and fired heavy weapons to drive the Wa out, reportedly killing a number of them.
    Unocal Shareholders Call For Worker Code, No Impact On Burma Operations

    Source : Dow Jones

    SINGAPORE---A shareholders' resolution calling for Unocal Corp. (UCL) to adopt and enforce a code of conduct based on the United Nations International Labor Organization, or ILO, conventions on workplace human rights is unlikely to materially affect Unocal's Burma operations, a company spokesman said Friday.

    In the supporting statement, the sponsors of the resolution link its five points - the right to form unions, free workplace access for worker representatives, no discrimination, no forced or prison labor and no child labor - to Unocal's natural gas project in Burma.

    Human rights activists and local villagers have accused the Burmese government of abuses during the construction of a pipeline linking gas fields in the Andaman Sea to Thailand.

    The resolution "has no impact on plans for Myanmar," California-based Unocal spokesman Barry Lane said.

    He added that, as the gas pipeline is complete and the Yadana field is producing at or above contracted levels, Unocal currently has no further investment plans for Burma.

    U.S. sanctions against Burma prohibit companies from making additional investments there.

    Totalfina Elf SA (TOT) operates the Yadana field, while partners are PTT Exploration & Production PCL (H.PTT) and Myanmar Oil and Gas Enterprise. Unocal holds a 28.26% share.

    Gas is also piped to Thailand from the neighboring Yetagun field, which is operated by Premier Oil Co. (PMOIY). Partners in Yetagun are Malaysia's Petroliam Nasional Bhd. (P.PET), or Petronas, MOGE, PTTEP and Nippon-Mitsubishi Oil Corp. (J.NPO).

    Malaysia's Human Resources Minister Fong Chan Onn Thursday called on the ILO not to adopt sanctions against Burma, media reports said. Fong was speaking at the Association of Southeast Asian Nations' labor ministers meeting.

    He said that the Burmese government had banned forced labor.

    Last November, the ILO called on its members to review relations with Burma, or face sanctions. The ILO is a U.N.-affiliated organization of labor unions.

    A second shareholders' resolution calls on Unocal to "link executive compensation with the company's ethical and social performance," again citing its Burma involvement.

    This year is the first for these resolutions, Lane said, although similar measures have been submitted in the past.

    Unocal's management urged shareholders to vote against the resolutions, citing its existing code of conduct. The shareholders' meeting will take place May 21.

    A U.S. district court in California in September dismissed a 1996 lawsuit accusing Unocal of human rights abuses associated with the $1.3 billion Yadana pipeline project. The onshore pipeline was completed in 1997.
    Asians Vow To Fight Drugs; Burma Urges Local Strategies

    Rangoon (AP)---Six Asian governments Friday signed agreements to fight illegal drugs jointly, as a top Burmese leader said every country must devise its own strategy, free of foreign interference.

    In their most important agreement, the six countries approved a new regional project to control precursors, the legal chemicals that are used as ingredients and catalysts for producing drugs such as heroin and methamphetamine.

    The agreement was signed by Burma, Cambodia, China, Laos,Thailand and Vietnam, whose ministers met Friday after senior officials hammered out the agreements over the last two days.

    The meeting, sponsored by the United Nations International Drug Control Program, highlighted the dangers of amphetamine-type stimulants such as methamphetamine, a cheap and popular drug that has become the biggest scourge of the region after heroin.

    Burma has been widely criticized for being a major source of opium and its derivative, heroin, as well as methamphetamine.

    In a speech, Lt. Gen. Khin Nyunt, the No. 3 in Burma's military junta, said each country must adopt a solution appropriate for its own conditions.

    "Given the differences in political, economic, social, administrative, judicial and cultural traditions and religious conditions of countries, the strategies and methods used by individual countries cannot be identical," he said.

    "Making allegations and accusations against each other will serve no useful purpose," he said.

    The biggest drug operation in Burma is known to be controlled by the ethnic Wa army, which is pro-government and enjoys virtual autonomy in the border areas.

    Khin Nyunt also criticized the U.S. for barring aid to Burma. The U.S. said the junta failed to take adequate and sincere measures to stop the drug trade.

    "Sometimes such actions are undertaken after turning a blind eye to the nation's achievements in anti-narcotics endeavors,"Khin Nyunt said.

    "What is worse is that the decisions to undertake such measures are based on political grounds or in disguise for reason to interfere in the internal affairs of other states," he said.

    Washington criticizes Rangoon not only over drugs but also because of the junta's poor human rights record and failure to hand over power to a democratically elected government.

    In a speech, Sandro Calvani, head of UNDCP's Asia office in Bangkok, warned that successful campaigns to eliminate illicit crops in Bolivia, formerly a major sources of cocaine, and Afghanistan, where opium production has been slashed, were mixed blessings."They also bring the obvious risk that the problem will migrate to another angle of the world and it is very, very likely that it will be our corner," he said.