Daily News-May 14 - 2001- Monday

  • Burma ethnic group denies making,selling drugs
  • Burma to help Thailand fight drugs
  • Burmese Leader Warns Against Internal Strife, External Intrusion
  • KNU Fire Kills One Person in Burma
  • City ban on motorbikes
  • Burma Demands Thai Troops Vacate Border Outposts
  • Thai-Burmese relations normalise ahead of Thaksin visit to Rangoon

  • Burma ethnic group denies making,selling drugs

    Source : Reuters / AFP

    MONG YAWN, Myanmar, May 13--- A Myanmar ethnic group says it stopped producing and selling narcotics several years ago and has invited foreign governments and drugs agencies which doubt its innocence to check for themselves.

    Khin Maung Myint, liaison officer for the Wa people who live in the notorious Golden Triangle about 700 miles (1,120 km) northeast of Yangon, admitted his group used to produce narcotics but he said they no longer did so.

    ''Seeing is believing,'' Khin Maung Myint told reporters on a rare trip to the Wa region on Saturday organised by Myanmar's military government. ''I hereby invite all unbiased and unprejudiced international media persons and responsible officials to come to our region and check whether the accusations are right or wrong,'' he said.

    Neighbouring Thailand has accused the Wa, an ally of the Myanmar military, of being the source of most of the drugs flooding into Thailand from the Golden Triangle, the mountainous area where Thailand, Laos and Myanmar meet. Myanmar, keen to stress its anti-drugs credentials, hosted a U.N.-sponsored conference on drugs in Yangon last week and said it was ready to cooperate with other countries in the region in the fight against narcotics.

    The offer looked like an olive branch to Thailand, whose relations with Myanmar have been soured by Thai charges of Wa drug production and Myanmar's counter-accusations that the main drug makers were the Shan ethnic group, allied to Bangkok.

    International drugs officials have said the Wa's military wing, the United Wa State Army (UWSA), is a major producer of the stimulant methamphetamine, known in its crystalline form in the West as Ice. They say the Golden Triangle is also the second biggest source of opium and its derivative heroin after Afghanistan.

    Thai officials recently identified one particular building just inside Myanmar on the Thai border which they said was a major methamphetamine factory. Khin Maung Myint denied this. ''This is the building which the Thai army commander, Lieutenant-General Wattanachai Chaimuanwong, told the Thai media was a stimulant factory,'' he said, pointing to what appeared to be a large rice storehouse.


    'You can come here any time after seeking permission from the Myanmar government, and you are free to go anywhere and to check any building in our region,'' he said. Khin Maung Myint admitted that the Wa had been in the drugs business until 1996. ''We decided to give up this business in 1996 at the insistence of the Myanmar government and international community and we introduced a poppy substitution project,'' he said. ''I can assure you that the Wa people will never be involved in any drug activities,'' he added.

    Myanmar authorities arranged a two-day trip to Mong Yawn area for 30 journalists and officials from the United Nations International Drug Control Programme (UNDCP) and neighbouring countries to inspect the Wa area.

    Relations between Thailand and Myanmar have deteriorated since the election in January of Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who pledged to ''wage a war against drugs.'' Myanmar protested on Friday at what it said was an airstrike by Thai jet fighters against the Wa region. Thailand denied it had attacked the area.

    The Wa spokesman said Thai journalists and officials were not invited to the Wa region because they were ''very biased and prejudiced and will never report what they really see here.'' ''We love peace. But if the Thai Third Army keeps attacking us like this, we will not tolerate it any longer. We will be forced to respond,'' he added.

    In Yangon on Saturday, Myanmar officials ceremonially destroyed what they said was $920 million worth of narcotics. In the presence of UNDCP officials, they burnt 1.3 tonnes of opium, 116 kg (255 pounds) of heroin and 27 million stimulant tablets. Other drugs were crushed with a steamroller.

    In a carefully orchestrated tour, visitors were taken to a freshly installed hydroelectric plant that Burmese officials said Thailand had incorrectly identified from satellite pictures as one of 38 amphetamine factories in the area.

    Fruit plantations, rice storehouses and a pig farm were other enterprises that officials said demonstrated that the Wa -- the first insurgent minority to sign a peace agreement with the Burmese junta in 1989 -- were no longer dependent on illicit narcotics but had found wholesome alternative sources of income.

    "We don't want to fight anymore, but if (the Thais) try to say all the Wa race are involved in this drug business and this place is still seen as the drug production area...we will defend ourselves to the last man," he said.

    But prior to 1996, drug trafficking was a reality in Mong Yawn, Khimmaung conceded.

    "It is undeniable that some actions related to drug trafficking had taken place in this area. Some of our people are suffering from this drug menace," he said.

    "But the Wa people in the area will take a pledge before you and the international community that they will not be involved in drug activities," Khimmaung said.

    He added that a contingent of Wa loyal to Khun Sa known as the Wa National Army had broken away and were responsible for any trafficking and production today.

    Mong Yawn's streets are lined with crisp concrete and brick buildings as well as scaffolded construction sites, all standing under the unflinching watch of youthful UWSA troops brandishing automatic rifles and rocket launchers.

    Many of the Wa in Mong Yawn are ethnic Chinese, and Burmese officials say the income that has subsidised the large-scale development in the village has come from natural resource concessions near China.

    "Their primary source of income is from government concessions -- timber, minerals, precious stones -- particularly rubies -- and jade," Burma's Lieutenant-Colonel Kyaw Thein told AFP.

    The Wa also profit from one of the biggest zinc and tungsten mines near the Chinese border in Burma, the Longthan mine, he said.

    While questions about Mong Yawn's economic foundation swirled during the tour, just access to the mysterious town alleged to be a wellspring of illicit narcotics was marked as a change.

    "We had closed our doors in order to develop this area...But now our policy has changed because we understand that if we don't explain things to people they will think this and that," Khimmaung said.

    The visit to Mong Yawn came on the heels of an anti-drug meeting in Rangoon sponsored by the UN International Drug Control Programme (UNDCP) where government ministers from six Asian nations approved UN plans to restrict drug "precursor" chemicals used to manufacture amphetamines.

    China, which recently signed a tripartite agreement with Thailand and Burma to fight drug trafficking along their borders, was cited with India as a major source of the precursor chemicals.

    They also agreed to launch programs in vulnerable neighboring countries, including Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines.

    The six Asian nations are all signatories to a 1993 pact which bound them to work together in the war on drugs by reducing demand, boosting law enforcement and encouraging crop substitution.

    Collectively they were responsible for more than 75 percent of the world's amphetamine seizures last year, up from 22 percent a decade ago, with China and Burma the major culprits.
    Burma to help Thailand fight drugs

    BANGKOK, May 13 (Reuters) - Thailand said on Sunday that the relationship with Myanmar remained good and the neighbouring country would cooperate closely with Thailand to fight drug production and trafficking.

    "The relationship between Thailand and Myanmar is still good, there are no problems between us," Thammarak Isarangura, a Thai minister at the Prime Minister's Office told reporters upon his return from Yangon. The Thai minister held a meeting on Friday with Khin Nyunt, the powerful Secretary One of Myanmar's ruling State Peace and Development Council government.

    Following the meeting, held on the sidelines of the United Nations-sponsored drug conference, the two countries have agreed to hold a joint-committee meeting to discuss ways to solve the drugs problem, Thammarak said.

    "Myanmar informed us in the meeting that they would cooperate closely with Thailand to help solve the drug problems," said Thammarak. The meeting date has yet to be set, however. Thailand would also seek meetings with China for the same purpose, the Thai minister said. He did not elaborate further.

    Thailand has been urging Myanmar's military government to help stem an estimated 700 million methamphetamine tablets flooding across the border from Myanmar every year. "About the conflicts between the two countries at the borders, Thailand and Myanmar will hold as many meetings as possible between the two countries to solve the problems," said Thammarak.

    Bilateral relations between Thailand and Myanmar are at their lowest ebb in years following cross-border shelling over two months ago. The relations worsened when military-ruled Myanmar said on Friday that two Thai F-16 jet fighters separately fired rockets inside Myanmar, wounded six people and killed three head of cattle. Bangkok has denied the accusation, saying Yangon appeared to have mistaken a routine air exercise on Thursday for an air raid.
    Burmese Leader Warns Against Internal Strife, External Intrusion

    YANGON, May 12 (Xinhuanet) -- Myanmar leader General Maung Aye has warned against internal strife and external intrusion, saying that his armed forces has the tradition of ending internal strife and driving out foreign intruders.

    Maung Aye, who is Vice-Chairman of the Myanmar State Peace and Development Council, Deputy Commander-in-Chief of the Defense Services and Commander-in-Chief of the Army, gave the warning at a graduation parade here on Friday of army officers, official newspaper The New Light of Myanmar reported Saturday.

    Maung Aye blamed that remnants of internal strife can exist due to external involvement.

    The warning came after a series of border clashes between Myanmar and Thailand since February, in which Myanmar charged Thailand with supporting its domestic anti-government ethnic armed group and launching cross-border attacks, while Thailand accused Myanmar of intruding its territory in chasing the armed group.

    "If the remnant insurgents continue to give trouble to the nation relying on foreigners, the Tatmadaw (armed forces) and the entire people will not tolerate them and their benefactors," Maung Aye went on to warn, adding that "If external intrusion alone occurred, the Tatmadaw together with the entire people will crush it."

    He called on the army forces to foster ability to totally defend the nation's land, water and air territory, urging them to strive to win not only the unity within the armed forces but also the national solidarity with the union spirit.

    He said Myanmar does not have the will to occupy the territory of any nation unjustly, nor will it let even a square inch of its territory be encroached upon.He recalled that the armed forces fought many battles to end the internal strife which broke out soon after the country regained independence in 1948.He also recalled that the armed forces had to take over the state power in 1988 in an "unavoidable" situation, saying that 17 anti-government armed groups have returned to the legal fold.

    He stressed that Myanmar has maintained good relations with all the nations of the world and has also tried to be on friendly terms.
    KNU Fire Kills One Person in Burma

    YANGON, May 13 (Xinhuanet) -- One person was killed and six others including a monk wounded in a launcher attack by the Kayin National Union (KNU), the largest anti-government ethnic armed organization, on a bus running in Myanmar's southeastern Kayin state on Friday, according to Sunday's official newspaper The New Light of Myanmar.

    The 40-member-strong KNU fired launchers and small weapons on the bus leaving Kawkareik for Myawaddy in the state.

    On hearing the gun fire, local government troops exchanged fire with the KNU who ran away after the incident, the report said, adding that the government troops are in hot pursuit of the KNU.Meanwhile, there had also been instability in other areas of Myanmar with bomb attacks by other anti-government armed organizations recently.

    According to an earlier official report, a bomb explosion occurred on May 4 in a major market, Zaygyo, in Mandalay, the country's second largest city, wounding eight persons.The government charged the Shan United Revolutionary Army, another anti-government ethnic armed organization, with planting the bomb.
    City ban on motorbikes

    source : Myanmartimes

    UNDER new road regulations, privately-owned motorbikes will not be allowed on the streets of Yangon from next year. An official from the Vehicles Registration department said they have been refusing to re-register motorcycle licences since the beginning of 2000, except for those owned by the Government.

    "The new regulation to banish motorbikes from the capitalís streets is due to the number of casualties as a result of car and motorbikes collisions. Many involve young people, especially youths," he said.

    An official from the Yangon traffic police said, "Since enforcing the ban, the number of casualties resulting from car and motorbike accidents has considerably been reduced." This statement was backed up by figures issued by the Yangon Traffic Police Department, which showed a reduction in collisions, from 809 in 1999 to 267 in 2000. Tough penalties have been imposed for those who ignore the new regulation. Owners can face a minimum fine of K10,000 and have their motorbikes confiscated for six months.

    The majority of Yangonís bike owners reacted with surprise at the expulsion order, and as a result will be forced to sell their beloved machines. Owners of the more powerful bikes, ranging from 250cc up to 1000cc will suffer the worst under the new scheme, as there is less demand for them outside the capital. "I will suffer a double loss in terms of money and sentimentality. For small motor bikes like a Super Cub or Dream, there is no problem re-selling them as there is a big market for them in Mandalay," said an owner of a large bike. However, he remained hopeful the Government would make a change regarding the regulation. Despite the regulation, bike prices of exceptional models continue to climb, especially Japanese-made Kawasakis. A dealer in Yankin received K1.2m recently for a Kawasaki, which cost at K700,000 in í99.
    Burma Demands Thai Troops Vacate Border Outposts

    BANGKOK (AP)---Burma has asked Thai troops to withdraw from 35 border outposts that it said were erected on its soil, and threatened to use force to reclaim the land, officials said Monday.

    But Thailand told Burma that its troops were on Thai soil and would not withdraw, Maj. Gen. Somboonkiat Sitthidecha, the deputy commander of the Third Army in northern Thailand, told reporters.

    The saber rattling is expected to further raise tensions between the two neighbors whose relations have sunk to their lowest point in years after a series of border skirmishes. Their disputes are over border demarcation, activities of ethnic guerrillas and drug smuggling.

    Somboonkiat said that the Burma border committee sent a protest letter to its Thai counterpart, claiming that at least 35 Thai border outposts had encroached into Burma's territory.

    "But it is not true, and we will not pull out as they demand," Somboonkiat said.

    He said that the Burma letter warned that if Thailand didn't withdraw, it would use force to reclaim the territory.

    The outposts are along more than 160 kilometers of the border between the Chiangmai and Chiangrai provinces.

    Meanwhile, Defense Minister Chavalit Yongchaiyudh told reporters Monday that Thailand will try to resolve its border problems diplomatically "in order to preserve good relations."

    But "whenever there is violation of sovereignty, the army will use extensive force to settle the problem," Chavalit said, after chairing a special meeting of the National Security Council.

    The comments were apparently aimed at dispelling recent speculation in the local media that Chavalit doesn't see eye to eye with the army, which advocates a hard-line stand.

    Chavalit, who is known to be friends with the generals in Burma's military junta, has preferred more restraint on the border issue.
    Thai-Burmese relations normalise ahead of Thaksin visit to Rangoon

    BANGKOK, May 14 (AFP)

    Relations between Thailand and Burma are back on track after a bitter row in which Bangkok and Rangoon accused each other of involvement in the international drugs trade, Thai Defence Minister Chavalit Yongchaiyudh said Monday.

    Chavalit said a high level visit to Rangoon by Thai officials had paved the way for a long-delayed visit to Rangoon by Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra at a date yet to be agreed on by both sides.

    "The talks between Thailand and Myanmar went well. The situation is back to normal to a level that the prime minister can visit there," he told reporters.

    "The foreign ministry has yet to finalise the date (for the visit). There may be further disagreements but we will solve them by negotiation."

    Officials said Thaksin would likely visit Rangoon later this month or early in June to sign a bilateral cooperation agreement on curbing the international trade in illicit narcotics, namely heroin, opium and amphetamines.

    That visit will take place after a scheduled visit to Bangkok by Burma's Foreign Minister Win Aung later this month.

    Accusations over illicit drugs and skirmishing among ethnic militias along the rugged border touched off a bitter row between the countries, which are historical enemies.

    In February, fighting between an ethnic Wa force with close ties to Rangoon and the rival Shan State Army, which reputedly has the backing of the Thai military, prompted the first clash in years between the two national armies.

    Since then, the uneasy neighbors have traded barbs over who is responsible for heroin and methamphetamine factories that flourish along the ill-defined mountainous border.

    In the latest dispute, Burma's junta and United Wa State Armyofficials say a Thai F-16 fighter jet fired two rockets near the Burma town of Mong Yawn last week, wounding several of their troops.

    Thailand says the jet was flying surveillance and triggered a sonic boom.

    Ministers from six Asian nations signed an agreement to boost cooperation in stamping out the regional narcotics trade in Rangoon last week.

    Following two days of meetings between senior officials from Burma, Cambodia, China, Laos, Thailand and Vietnam, the ministers approved UN plans to restrict the flow of drug ingredients and launch programs in vulnerable neighboring countries.

    The ministers meet every two years to evaluate the progress of cross-border anti-narcotics projects and approve new initiatives devised by the United Nations Drugs Control Programme.

    Collectively they were responsible for more than 75 percent of the world's amphetamine seizures last year, up from 22 percent a decade ago, with China and Burma the major culprits.

    Burma and Afghanistan produce the bulk of the world's heroin which is made from opium.