Daily News-May 16 - 2001- Wednesday

  • U.S. objects to Japanese grant for Burma
  • AFL-CIO and ICEM Challenge Halliburton on Burma Ties at Shareholders Meeting
  • Court sets date on Suu Kyi eviction suit
  • Thailand and Burma exchange protest notes
  • Rangoon urged to discuss border disputes
  • Let's talk about Burma
  • Rangoon to Honolulu? No problem
  • Karen rebels deny firing on passenger bus
  • Thai Government shrugs off junta's claim to Doi Lang

  • U.S. objects to Japanese grant for Burma

    source : Reuters

    WASHINGTON, May 15-The United States has objected to a Japanese grant to finance a hydroelectricity project in eastern Myanmar, Secretary of State Colin Powell said on Tuesday.

    Japan offered the 3.5 billion yen ($29 million) grant to the government of Myanmar, the country formerly known as Burma, to reward it for opening a dialogue in 2000 with opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

    But Powell said the dialogue was ''barely a ray of hope'' and the United States was maintaining its own executive sanctions, which include the suspension of assistance programs, a ban on sales of military items, suspension of Myanmar's access to favorable tariff rates and opposition to multilateral lending.

    ''The Japanese are making an investment in a hydroelectric plant that we have suggested to them is not a proper investment to be making at this time, with this regime,'' Powell told a Senate appropriations subcommittee.

    ''Aung San Suu Kyi has been in discussions and that in and of itself is some improvement over the situation that existed a little while ago. Mr. Razali (U.N. envoy Razali Ismail) is planning to get engaged, so there are a few rays of hope but they are few and they are dim,'' he said.

    Powell said the United States had to do a better job of mobilizing southeast Asian countries to press for political change in Myanmar, where the military has ruled the country since Suu Kyi's supporters won elections in 1990.

    He said he would work on this during visits to Asia over the next few months.

    The charge d'affaires at the U.S. Embassy in Yangon said last month that there were signs of the possibility of real political change in Myanmar.
    AFL-CIO and ICEM Challenge Halliburton on Burma Ties at Shareholders Meeting

    DALLAS, May 15 /PRNewswire/ -- Worker shareholders are stepping up their global campaign to end corporate support for Burma's military dictatorship at Halliburton's annual meeting today.

    Representatives of the AFL- CIO and the International Federation of Chemical, Energy, Mine and General Workers' Unions (ICEM) are speaking in favor of a shareholder resolution addressing the Halliburton's involvement in human rights abuses in Burma. Halliburton, the energy giant formerly headed by Vice President Dick Cheney, is one of the few U.S. based companies with investments in Burma -- a country whose government is noted for massive human rights violations and involvement in narcotics trafficking.

    The shareholder resolution, sponsored by the LongView Collective Investment Fund of the Amalgamated Bank of New York, urges the Halliburton board of directors to report on the company's operations in Burma. The resolution asks what steps Halliburton has taken to assure ``that neither Halliburton nor any of its subsidiaries is involved in or appears to benefit from the use of forced labor or other human rights abused in Burma.''

    ``Working people who invest in Halliburton want to know if its operations in Burma prop up a military regime which condones forced labor and other human rights abuses,'' said AFL-CIO President John Sweeney. ``The LongView resolution at Halliburton is a positive measure in the best interests of its shareholders that will lead toward compliance with internationally-recognized workers' rights.''

    In November 2000, the International Labor Organization (ILO) approved a resolution urging members to ``review their relations with Burma'' and ``ensure that such relations do not perpetuate the system of forced or compulsory labour in that country.''

    ``The ILO has clearly ruled that forced labor is continuing and systematic in Burma, and our energy unions in that region have made their views very plain,'' said Fred Higgs, ICEM General Secretary. ``We call upon Halliburton to disinvest from Burma. We cannot condone any economic activity which directly or indirectly supports the regime in Burma until full democracy and human rights, including workers' rights, are restored there.''

    A recent proclamation issued by the ICEM's energy union affiliates from the Asia/Pacific region, meeting in Bangkok, Thailand, called on oil and gas companies to``cease investment in Burma while the use of forced labor continues.'' The unions represented were from Australia, Bangladesh, Fiji, India, Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia, Nepal, Pakistan, Philippines, Singapore, Taiwan, Thailand and Vietnam. The ICEM is a global trade union federation uniting 20 million workers in over 400 affiliated unions in 110 countries.

    Halliburton's recent activities in Burma include its participation in the Yadana pipeline, a project that used forced labor. The Yadana pipeline is one of the largest foreign investments in Burma, projected to provide the military-controlled regime with $150-$400 million annually for decades. Unocal, another U.S. company doing business in Burma, is being sued by victims of forced labor on the Yadana project. Halliburton's involvement in the Yadana project occurred during Vice President Cheney's tenure as CEO of the company.

    In addition, Halliburton has been instrumental in efforts to oppose sanctions on Burma through its strong involvement with USA-Engage and the National Foreign Trade Council (NFTC), two powerful industry groups. Vice President Cheney last fall defended his former company's operations on ``Larry King Live'' stating that, ``you have to operate in some very difficult places and oftentimes in countries that are governed in a manner that's not consistent with our principles here in the United States.''

    ``The struggle for human and workplace rights in Burma has been critical for our union for many years,'' notes Joe Drexler, Director of Special Projects of the Paper,Allied-Industrial, Chemical and Energy Workers International Union (PACE) who represents workers in the oil and gas industry. ``Our members don't want their retirement savings invested by Halliburton in brutal dictatorships that use forced labor. It's just wrong.''

    The situation in Burma violates the ILO Declaration on Fundamental Principal and Rights at Work, including the right to no forced labor. Unions around the world have recently launched a campaign to make sure workers know these rights, distributing an ILO-produced poster in workplaces and communities worldwide.
    Court sets date on Suu Kyi eviction suit

    source : The Times of India

    YANGON: A Myanmar court said on Monday it would announce its ruling at the end of May on a suit filed by democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi's brother to evict her from her home in Yangon.

    Suu Kyi is making his second bid to evict his Nobel Peace Prize laureate sister from her lakeside residence, where she has been confined by the ruling generals since September, after a first attempt was dismissed on a technicality in January.

    Judge soe thein set a date of May 30 for his verdict at a hearing on Monday in which, lawyers for Aung San Suu Kyi's brother presented their case.

    Aung San Suu Kyi's lawyers last month argued Aung San Oo had no right to apply for his sister to be evicted because, as a foreigner living in the US, he has no right to own property in Myanmar.

    They also said his application for partition was filed after the statute of limitations expired in the case, coming more than 12 years after the death of their mother who formerly owned the house.

    If he wins the case, Aung San Oo is expected to turn his share of the house over to the government, a result which would put Aung San Suu Kyi in an extremely precarious position.

    Ironically, the legal action has been lodged at a time when relations between Myanmar's junta and the opposition leader are believed to be at their highest point in years.

    Aung San Oo has never played a political role in Myanmar but makes regular low-key personal and business trips here. While not overtly political, he is far less critical of the junta than his sister and the two are not close. (AFP)
    Thailand and Burma exchange protest notes

    15/05/01| ABC Radio Australia News

    A new war of words is brewing between Thailand and Burma.It follows a demand by Rangoon that the Thai army withdraw from 35 outposts along the disputed border or face the use of force.

    Thailand's Foreign Minister Surakiart Sathirathai says Burma's ambassador will be summoned to the foreign ministry to receive a letter protesting the intrusion of a Rangoon-allied ethnic army on Thai soil.

    Meanwhile, the Thai Foreign Minister rejected Burma's letter threatening force as an old issue relating to unclear border demarcation which should be solved by a joint border committee.

    A spokesman for Burma's military junta has confirmed a note has been sent demanding Thai troops withdraw.

    The latest dispute comes just a day after Thai Defence Minister Chavalit Yongchaiyudh said relations between Thailand and Burma were back on track after Bangkok and Rangoon accused each other of involvement in the international drugs trade.
    Rangoon urged to discuss border disputes

    BANGKOK, May 15 (The Nation) -- The Foreign Ministry on Tuesday called on Rangoon to bring border disputes back to the negotiating table after Burma accused the Thai army of setting up outposts on its territory and threatened the use of force.

    Foreign Minister Surakiart Sathirathai insisted that all of the 35 military outposts erected by the Third Army were located on Thai soil in Chiang Mai's Fang district and Mae Ai district.

    "There is still misunderstanding between the two countries over the disputed border areas," Surakiart said. "Both sides have already agreed at the Regional Border Committee that the matters will be discussed at the national-level JointBorder Committee."The foreign minister said a Joint Border Committee would beheld soon.

    Asked to comment on the ultimatum issued by Rangoon that it may resort to the use of military force to "repel" Thai troops from the disputed areas, Surakiart said the Thai army had the responsibility to defend the Thai territory, but the Foreign Ministry would continue to persuade Rangoon to try to resolve the disputes at the negotiating table.

    The border tension between Thailand and Burma is threatening to escalate into a shooting war when Burma demanded on Monday that the Thai army pull back from 35 border outposts or face retaliation. Both sides have since sent in reinforcements along the disputed border areas.
    Let's talk about Burma

    source : Bangkokpost

    It is high time Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra organised a workshop on Thai-Burmese relations. The two have been locked in a risky situation these past three months following clashes between Thai soldiers and armed members of the United Wa State Army, who are allied with Rangoon.

    Thai officials have been trying to reach an understanding with Rangoon, but different signals have been sent. While one arm of the government wants to take a softer stand on Burma, another takes a hard-line position. Many government units deal with Thai-Burmese relations, most under the foreign and defence ministries.

    The Thaksin government has shown a keen interest in improving relations. Upon taking office, Mr Thaksin said his first foreign trip would be to Rangoon. However, border flare-ups since have forced him to postpone the trip.

    Foreign Minister Surakiart Sathirathai has visited Rangoon and claimed to have made good progress in mending fences with the military government. However, the official media issued strong statements against Thailand while he was still in Rangoon.

    Thailand is determined to repair the damage, but Rangoon seems in no hurry. In fact, Rangoon may relish the fact that Thai policy-makers are divided over how to deal with problems.

    Mr Thaksin must formulate a unified policy on this matter. No confusing signals. No bickering among officials. He has held successful workshops on economic problems. Why not hold another on relations with Burma?

    Editorial from Thai Rath
    Rangoon to Honolulu? No problem

    source : Bangkokpost

    Those attending the recent Asian Development Bank yakfest that wrapped up last Saturday were no doubt delighted that the organisers had chosen Honolulu as this year's venue over, say, some grimy industrial metropolis in China.

    But eyebrows have been raised about some of the people who made it to the party, given that the event took place on US soil.

    An observer who scrutinised the guest list was surprised to note that the Burmese delegation included the chairman and two directors of Myanmar Universal Bank-one of the largest of what passes for private financial institutions in a country where a functioning market economy is an abstract concept.

    Sources on the border have implicated the bank not just in laundering illicitly gained cash but in the financing of amphetamine laboratories. In Rangoon, Myanmar Universal is widely believed to be owned by Wei Hsueh-gang, who has been indicted on drug-trafficking charges in both Thailand and New York.

    Wei currently has a $2-million price on his head from the US Department of Justice. (When our informant visited the Burmese Registrar of Companies in an effort to obtain the bank's registration details, he was told that he would need written clearance from both the commerce and information ministries before he would be allowed to peruse any documents.)

    MUB's rather youthful chairman, who we trust enjoyed a pleasant trip to sunny Hawaii, currently goes by the Burman name U Tin Sein. He's an ethnic Chinese from Shan State, is believed to be 33 years old and apparently speaks only halting Burmese (though his grasp of the Chinese and Shan languages is probably fluent). Little else is known about him.

    Officials of the US embassy in Rangoon might be forgiven for being a little embarrassed that they processed visas for representatives of a bank probably owned by a fugitive from American law and definitely involved in drug trafficking.

    After all, Bill Clinton signed a proclamation in 1996 barring admission to "persons who formulate or implement policies that are impeding the transition to democracy in Burma, or who benefit from such policies".

    It's difficult to imagine many people in Burma who benefit from government policies than Wei Hsueh-gang or the other crony businessmen-bankers at the meeting.

    Others in the delegation included U Thein Tun (once known as "Mr Pepsi") of the Tun Foundation Bank, and Aung Ko Win, apparently a former school teacher from Shan State who emerged from nowhere in the early 1990s to found and chair the Kanbawza Bank.

    Readers might remember a brouhaha at the ADB conference in Chiang Mai last year when the Burma delegation included senior management of two other banks believed owned by suspected (as against indicted) drug traffickers.
    Karen rebels deny firing on passenger bus

    source : Bangkokpost

    The Karen National Union denied Burma's accusations it attacked a passenger bus on Thursday in which two Burmese were killed.

    KNU spokesman David Takabaw said the attack was not the work of his troops. The KNU's opponents are Burmese troops, not civilians, he said.

    The New Light of Myanmar newspaper accused the KNU of attacking the bus near Oun Bo Dae village. The bus was carrying 40 vendors to Myawaddy, opposite Tak's Mae Sot district.
    Thai Government shrugs off junta's claim to Doi Lang

    Source : Bangkok post

    Thai government yesterday dismissed Burma's claim to disputed Doi Lang, as it called in Rangoon's envoy to hear protests over border incursions.

    Krit Garnjana-goonchorn, director-general of the Foreign Ministry's Department of East Asian Affairs, summoned Burma's new envoy Myo Myint to protest against incursions by Rangoon-backed rebels in Tak and Chiang Rai provinces.

    The two agreed to speed up a planned visit by Burma's Foreign Minister Win Aung.

    Mr Krit said they only "touched" on Rangoon's weekend demand that Thai troops withdraw from Doi Lang in Chiang Rai's Mae Ai district.

    Rangoon said Thai troops had set up 26 outposts on its soil and nine others on a mountain ridge marking the border.

    Foreign Minister Surakiart Sathirathai said the Doi Lang dispute was not new and Bangkok had every reason to believe the area was on Thai soil.

    The matter was raised at the recent regional border committee meeting in Keng Tung and would be brought up at the higher-level Joint Border Committee meeting.

    Problems with Burma would not be solved in a day or two, but gradually and diplomatically.

    Chavalit Yongchaiyudh, the defence minister and deputy prime minister, said relations would improve after Win Aung's visit and the visit to Burma next month of Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra.

    Recent border skirmishes were just a small problem, he said, and should not be allowed to damage relations.

    The media could also help by not reporting on divisive and provocative comments which could lead to confrontations.

    Mr Thaksin, meanwhile, denied a report he had postponed his planned trip. "There is no postponement since I haven't yet made a schedule for the trip."The Thai township border committee in Mae Sai district, Chiang Rai, sent an official reply to its Burmese counterpart denying Rangoon's outpost claims.

    Col Akaradet Songworawit, commander of the Third Cavalry Regiment and the committee chairman, said Burma was aware the area was in dispute and should not have made such allegations.

    "The 32sqkm area has been in dispute because the border is ill-defined."Col Chucheep Srisomboon, Third Army spokesman, said Thai troops would stand their ground on Doi Lang.

    In Fang district, Tak, five Burmese 81mm mortar shells landed on Hua Lone hill yesterday morning but inflicted no casualties. Thai soldiers fired three mortar rounds in return.