Daily News-May 21 - 2001- Monday

  • Burma sets date for U.N. special envoy's next visit
  • Burmese Delegation Escapes Arrest Warrant
  • American troops in Thai drug fight
  • Ivanhoe coy about financing for Letpadaung expansion
  • Burmese union leader visits Japan, comments on forced labour
  • Burmese paper interviews UN official regional drug control situation

  • Burma sets date for U.N. special envoy's next visit

    Deutsche Presse-Agentur ,May 19, 2001,

    Myanmar (Burma) has set a date for United Nation's special envoy Ismail Razali's next visit to the country, the ruling junta disclosed on Saturday in a rebuttal of a recent editorial that appeared in the New York Times newspaper.

    Myanmar's permanent representative to the U.N., Kyaw Tint Swe, refuted a New York Times' editorial dated May 15 that suggested Razali, U.N. Special Envoy to Myanmar, had been denied access to the country.

    "The fact of the matter is, our Mission has been working with the United Nations Secretariat to prepare Mr. Razali's visit," said Kyaw Tint Swe, in a letter sent to the editor of the New York Times.

    "I wish to inform you that on the very day your editorial appeared, a mutually convenient date had been worked out and communicated to the Secretariat," said the letter, which was made available to the press in Yangon on Saturday.

    The date of Razali's next visit was not mentioned.

    Razali, a Malaysian diplomat who was once his country's ambassador to the U.N., has visited Myanmar three times since being appointed special envoy by U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan last year. Razali has claimed partial credit for the quiet startup last October of a political dialogue between Myanmar's ruling military regime and opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, who heads the National League for Democracy (NLD) party that won the 1990 polls, but was never granted power.

    Kyaw Tint Swe took offence with the New York Times' failure to acknowledge recent positive developments in Myanmar, regarded as a pariah by Western democracies for its poor human rights record. He pointed out that in recent months, Myanmar has been visited by a European Union troika mission, by the U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State and the Special Rapporteur for the U.N. Human Rights Commission.

    "To ignore these positive developments and to urge the political pressure be exerted on Myanmar, whether under guise of alleged human rights violations or forced labour, would not only be wrong but also be counter productive," warned the Myanmar ambassador to the U.N.
    Burmese Delegation Escapes Arrest Warrant

    By Thalif Deen

    BRUSSELS (IPS) - A behind-the-scenes attempt to obtain a magistrate's warrant to arrest the head of the Myanmar (Burma) delegation to the Third UN Conference on Least Developed Countries (LDC-III) conference failed at the eleventh hour due to a technical hitch.

    Action Birmanie, a Brussels-based non-governmental organisation (NGO) which is spearheading an intensive campaign against the military government in Myanmar, sought a warrant from a local magistrate last week to arrest the leader of the delegation as soon as he set foot on Belgian soil. But because of a technical problem we couldn't get the warrant, Gregor Chappelle, a lawyer for Action Birmanie, told TERRAVIVA Thursday (May 17).

    We don't want to say anything beyond that because we are going to try again and we want to make sure we don't fail the second time around, he said.

    The leader of the delegation, U. Soe Tha, Minister of National Planning and Economic Development, was to be arrested on charges of crimes against humanity.Although he was not personally accused of such a crime, the charges were directed against the military government of which he is a key member.

    Belgium has a three year old law which permits the arrest of anyone - even a head of state - accused of crimes against humanity if he or she happens to be on Belgian soil. That person could then be tried in a local court of law,Chappelle said.The law is currently being tested as four Rwandans accused of genocide are being tried before a 10-member People's Court, the equivalent of a Grand Jury in the United States. The case has riveted the attention of Belgians and is being viewed as a test case for future such arrests.

    The European Union (EU) has already excluded Myanmar from reaping the benefits of its 'Everything But Arms' (EBA) initiative under which all LDC imports, except military equipment, would be permitted duty- and quota-free access into the 15 EU countries. Until and unless Myanmar restores multi-party democracy and ends human rights violations, the EU has said that its EBA concessions will not apply to any imports from the country, which was granted LDC status in 1987.

    At a press conference Thursday, Glenys Kinnock, member of the European Parliament, challenged the participation of the Myanmar delegation at the LDC conference.

    We can understand the legality of granting visas under UN charter obligations, she said, But Burma also has pressing and unfulfilled obligations on human rights, good governance and democracy. She accused Myanmar of being the world's second largest producer of opium after Afghanistan, and a military regime that practices slave and child labour in defiance of international human rights laws.

    Last week, the Belgian trade union federation FGTB (General Federation of Belgian Workers) wrote a letter to the Belgian Minister of Foreign Relations, Louis Michel, also challenging the presence of the Burmese delegation in Brussels. Interrogated in parliament about the fact that Belgium via the German embassy in Rangoon had issued visas to the delegation members, Michel explained last week that the visas are specific for participation in the UN conference.

    He stressed also that the conference was only taking place on Belgian soil, but that the host was the European Union and noted that the UN, unlike the European Union, had no visa restrictions for members of the Burmese regime.He added that he would take the opportunity to impress upon the Burmese delegation the EU's position on forced labour and human rights violations in Myanmar.

    Senator Michiel Maertens of the Flemish Green Party (Agalev) told TERRAVIVA that he is unhappy with the fact that the authorities, by using arguments that might be legally sound, are offering the Burmese regime an opportunity to legitimise itself. The Burmese regime ought to be completely isolated.

    The attendance of a minister from the Myanmar government to this conference is unacceptable.Kinnock said the EU has to send a clear message that the military leaders are not the legitimate rulers of Burma.The National League for Democracy (NLD) won the 1990 elections with about 80 percent of the votes. But not only were the elections nullified by the military regime, but NLD leader Aung San Suu Kyi still remains under house arrest despite international appeals for her release.

    Janek Kuczkiewicz of the Brussels-based International Confederation of Free Trade Unions(ICFTU), said that sanctions imposed by the Geneva-based International Labour Organisation (ILO) preclude all UN member states from renewing economic relations with Burma if it aids and abets forced labour .All proceeds from business dealings with Myanmar, he said, goes directly to provide financial support to the military junta.

    The four-member Myanmar delegation, which includes U. Soe Lin, director-general, foreign economic relations department, U. Kyee Myint, minister-counsellor, Embassy of Myanmar in London and Daw Lei Lei Thein, deputy director, Planning Department was not available for comment.

    Until democracy is restored, we should not have any dealings with Burmese military rulers, Kinnock said yesterday. We want them to leave immediately after the conference, she added, There is no question of shopping at Harrods in London.
    American troops in Thai drug fight

    Michael Sheridan, Bangkok

    THE United States is sending special forces and Black Hawk helicopters to the jungle battlegrounds of northern Thailand to help Thai army units confronting a Chinese-armed drug militia across the Burmese border.

    It is one of the most conspicuous military and political commitments to a southeast Asian state by Washington in recent years. And as Zhu Rongji, China's prime minister, arrived in Bangkok yesterday, it also signalled a new American determination to counter Chinese influence in the region.

    Up to 100 soldiers from the US 1st Special Forces Group are to join the elite Thai unit Task Force 399 at a base near Chiang Mai, just 120 miles across Burmese territory from the nearest Chinese border.

    The land between is controlled by the 15,000-strong United Wa State Army, an ethnic militia described as the world's largest armed group of drug traffickers. The Wa, in league with elements of Burma's military junta, are flooding southeast Asia with heroin and methamphetamine from laboratories a stone's throw from Thai soil. Thai officials believe there are up to 60 laboratories in Burma, and estimate that this year the Wa may smuggle out 600m tablets of methamphetamine, a powerful stimulant.

    Artillery duels and armed clashes have erupted along the border as the Thai Third Army has fought both drug traffickers and Burmese army units.

    The US special forces will train Thai commandos, and two Black Hawk helicopters will boost their surveillance and interception capabilities. But American involvement has become much more than that.

    Zhu's arrival in Thailand coincided with huge exercises codenamed Cobra Gold, in which 5,000 US soldiers have joined Thai and Singaporean forces for training in peacekeeping and law enforcement. These are held in the Third Army's region of northern Thailand - a coincidence, officials insist. But the significance has not been lost on the Burmese generals and their supporters in Beijing, Burma's only ally and main arms supplier.

    Admiral Dennis Blair, the chief of the US Pacific Command,said: "The support we have for Thailand is an important part of our policy."

    The Wa emerged as an obscure drug-trading group after the break-up of Burma's pro-Chinese Communist Party in 1989. They poured opiates into China's southwest Yunnan province, creating the first addiction epidemic among Chinese since the Communists came to power in 1949.

    Chinese intelligence officers brokered a deal with Rangoon in the mid-1990s. The Wa were induced to move south, and then struck a deal with the junta which allowed them to keep their drug businesses and arms. They then set themselves up on Burma's border with Thailand. The covert alliance between the Wa and China has deepened, and the group has diversified, using drug profits to buy a Burmese airline and a banking network. It has built an entire town near the Thai border for manufacturing drugs.

    Since the onset of colder relations between America and China,this local trouble has become a dangerous game.The Chinese premier's visit was intended to stress Beijing's ever-closer embrace of Thailand. Thaksin Shinawatra, the Thai premier, will soothe Zhu with reminders that Thailand proposed co-operation with China and Burma to solve the drug problem, but the irascible Chinese premier is likely to lecture his hosts about the perils of American "hegemony".

    Doubtless the Chinese embassy will have included in his briefing papers this recent enthusiastic headline from a Bangkok daily: "The Yanks are coming."
    Ivanhoe coy about financing for Letpadaung expansion

    Courier News Service: May 17, 2001

    VANCOUVER - Ivanhoe Mines says it has received a letter of intent from "a large Japanese trading house" to cover the financing and construction of a major expansion of the copper mine the company jointly owns and operates with Burma's military government.

    The planned extension will exploit the Letpadaung copper deposit, a few kilometres to the southeast of the current Sabetaung pit, that the joint venture company is mining on the west bank of the Chindwin river opposite Monywa in Upper Burma.

    The huge Letpadaung deposit is estimated to contain reserves of 804 million tonnes of copper ore with average grades of 0.43%. Plans for the project call for annual production of 125,000 tonnes of cathode copper, more than five times current production of approximately 27,000 tonnes, using ore extracted from the Sabetaung pit..

    With a price tag calculated at US$389 million, the Letapadaung project will be by far the largest single mining investment in Burma. The country is reputed to have rich mineral resources but up till now has not managed to attract a major investment by any of the world's corporate mining giants.

    A spokesperson for Ivanhoe refused to either confirm or deny that the Japanese trading house involved was Marubeni, one of Japan's largest corporations. He said that an announcement would be made only after a formal agreement had been entered into. Indications are that Marubeni will lead but not be the sole partner in any syndicate formed to provide debt financing for the project. Ivanhoe says that it has been involved in discussions with many "prospective lenders" for the Letpadaung project.

    Marubeni, along with another Japanese trading house, Nissho Iwai, assumed the debt financing for the initial US$ 90 million redevelopment of the Monywa mine which reached full production at the beginning of 1999. Marubeni holds a contract to sell the mine's copper cathode production.

    At the end of 2000, the joint venture company, Myanmar Ivanhoe Copper, still owed the lending syndicate $US 60 million. The JV's cash flow of $US 18.735 million in 2000 was just sufficient to meet long term debt charges of US$ 15 million and an expansion of the solvent extraction plant currently under construction.

    A note in its annual financial statement says that Ivanhoe has had to assume some of the costs of its 50/50 joint venture partner in excess of its own equity contribution of $US 28 million to the Monywa copper project.

    With the financial constraints under which Burma's military government is operating at present, it is doubtful that relief for Ivanhoe will come anytime soon. Further announcements are expected at the time of the company' s annual meeting scheduled for mid-June in Vancouver.
    Burmese union leader visits Japan, comments on forced labour

    Tokyo, 20 May (Kyodo) : The leader of an outlawed Myanmar [Burmese] labour organization said Sunday [20 May] so far more than three million people have been engaged in forced labour under the military government in Myanmar.

    Maung Maung, secretary general of the Federation of Trade Unions-Burma, who is currently visiting Japan, told Kyodo News that Japan should not resume its official development assistance (ODA) to Myanmar, maintaining that such assistance will strengthen the junta.

    Maung Maung, 48, said that since the junta came to power in the late 1980s, Myanmar's economy has deteriorated with economic sanctions placed on the country. With the country's budget under pressure, the proportion of military costs expanded, Maung Maung said, adding such costs comprise nearly 50 per cent of the total national budget.

    Due to lack of money, the military government has been forcing farmers to build dams, roads and military-related facilities over a long period without pay, Maung Maung said.

    As farmers are unable to attend to farming, poverty and famine are becoming serious problems in rural areas, he said.

    Maung Maung said that if foreign countries provide aid under the current situation, it is clear that such aid will be used for military-related purposes. He said Japan will be unable to clearly monitor the use of its ODA in his country.

    European countries and the International Labour Organization have also expressed concern on the issue of forced labour in Myanmar and have strengthened sanctions on the military government.

    Tokyo is considering to resume granting aid to Myanmar, following the launch last October of dialogue between the Myanmar government and pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi after a hiatus of seven years. Japan suspended providing ODA to Myanmar in 1988 when the junta took power.
    Burmese paper interviews UN official regional drug control situation

    BBC Monitoring Service - United Kingdom; May 20, 2001

    Text of report in English by Thet Khaing and Nwe Nwe Aye, carried by Burmese newspaper The Myanmar Times web site on 19 May

    Drug issues were cross-border issues, and one country could not resolve the situation alone. Those were the sentiments of UNDCP [United Nations Drug Control Programme] Myanmar [Burma] representative, Jean Luc Lemahieu, prior to the start of the Yangon [Rangoon] meeting of Ministers from the six countries which signed the 1993 regional memo of understanding on drug control. Mr Lemahieu said cross border cooperation formed an integral part of the MoU, which was signed by Myanmar, Laos, Cambodia, China, Thailand and Vietnam.

    "What is going on between Thailand and Myanmar is not helping what we are trying to achieve," Mr Lemahieu said. "The overall operational cooperation between the drug control agencies does not run smoothly during times of tension. "But you cannot say the connections are irreversibly damaged, since years of cooperation cannot be done away with by a particular event," he said. "(When) people know each other there is a trust basis for mechanisms in place to find a solution for solving problems," Mr Lemahieu said.

    He welcomed a tentative agreement reached between Myanmar and Thailand, a signing of a cooperation memorandum, during the recent visit to Myanmar by the Thai Foreign Minister Surakiart Sathirathai. He said narcotic eradication was a regional issue and should not be left to Myanmar and Thailand alone.

    There was commitment in this region to tackling the scourge of narcotic drugs and he thought the international community should reciprocate with funding.

    "We can prove statistically that there is a commitment, perhaps not to the ideal situation we would like to see, but the commitment is more than sufficient to justify international funding for this part of the world, " he said.

    Mr Lemahieu warned that in Myanmar's case the international community would have to face the consequences of their stance on depriving the country of monetary aid.

    The agency has been undertaking a number of projects in Myanmar including the Wa Alternative Development Project in northern Shan state region. The 15.8m US dollar project fell short of international funding, yet the pressure is mounting, particularly from the western countries, to keep Myanmar drug production and trade in check. Mr Lemahieu said the signing of the six country MoU had paved the way for more understanding and the exchange of knowledge among the signatory countries.

    "What was not considered realistic in the past, it has become a real complete form of cooperation in the border areas through the trust-building measures over the years." And he acknowledged there was a lot more that needed to be done in facilitating a better form of cross border cooperation among the signatory countries.

    Asked about the future of his agency, as funding for its projects remained low, he said: "If we have no more international aid in Myanmar, then we will have a major problem with drug control. It will affect the region and the wider world." "That is why we're ringing the alarm bell." "If you (the international community) are not able to implement our plan for the Wa project and that part of the country, then, my goodness, you have to accept the consequences."

    Source: The Myanmar Times web site, Rangoon, in English 19 May 01