Daily News-May 22 - 2001- Tuesday

  • Activists urge Japan to use influence with Burma to improve rights
  • Burmese authorities said to be "greatly concerned" by Thai-US military exercise
  • Construction works handed over to private companies in Burma
  • Burma hopes to face global economic changes
  • Thai Pop Stars Lend Moral Support To Burmese Guerrillas
  • Burma allows domestic Intranet access
  • Buddhists, Muslims clash in Toungoo

  • Activists urge Japan to use influence with Burma to improve rights

    by May Masangkay

    Tokyo, 21 May: A labour union leader working for democracy in Myanmar [Burma] urged Japan on Monday [21 May] to use its influence with the country's ruling military junta to promote the cause of democracy.

    Japan is in a position to use its "economic and political influence on the Burmese military regime" to ensure that dialogue will progress and be fruitful, Thaung Htun, representative of the UN Affairs of the National Coalition Government of the Union of Burma (NCGUB), told the Foreign Correspondents Club of Japan.

    Thaung Htun said: "There are lots of ways and means that the Japanese government can be helpful" in aiding progress in dialogue between the military junta and Myanmar's pro-democracy movement led by Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi. He said no "unilateral initiative" should be taken by any country in its relations with Myanmar, but instead they should coordinate "with other international key players" and "in concert with the democracy movement" to avoid undermining dialogue.

    With Myanmar's dismal human rights records failing to improve, as evidenced by forced relocation and labour and the detention of more than 1,000 political prisoners, he said he is suspicious of the military junta's "commitment" to the dialogue process.

    He said that no one seems to know the substance or direction of the talks,which began last October, and noted that dialogue has been stalled since March.

    He specifically cited the Japanese government's plan to consider offering Myanmar a grant worth about 3bn yen to repair an ageing hydro-electric power station.

    "We believe the Japanese government decision is very premature and... [ellipses as received] sends the wrong signal to the military... that they can continue to pretend... (and) deceive the world" over having serious talks, he said.

    He also downplayed Japan's stated reason of providing "humanitarian assistance" to poor people in Myanmar, saying this is hardly the case as the country's "power distribution system" shows the military elite and a select number of people amassing benefits for themselves at the expense of ordinary people.

    Tin Win, of the outlawed Federation of Trade Unions-Burma (FTUB) Japan branch, echoed these sentiments, saying the military leaders have "definitely changed their tactics" because of growing economic problems, "but not their attitude".

    He also expressed his hopes for a "comprehensive engagement" involving the junta and the pro-democracy movement, thus going beyond the "constructive engagement" advocated by neighbouring Southeast Asian countries to build economic and political ties with Yangon [Rangoon].

    FTUB Secretary-General Maung Maung, meanwhile, appealed to Japan "to listen to us for once" and not "advocate the military regime" especially at next month's annual meeting of the International Labour Organization (ILO). He reminded Japan that even with the imposition of sanctions against Myanmar by the ILO last November, the junta still imposes forced labour.

    The conference, hosted by the FTUB, was also attended by four other Myanmar unionists - all unanimous in urging Japan to review its foreign policy towards Myanmar, particularly the resumption of large-scale official development assistance (ODA), until a full dialogue process emerges towards "genuine national reconciliation."

    Japan is considering resuming grant aid to Myanmar, following the launch last October of dialogue between the junta and Suu Kyi after a hiatus of seven years. Japan suspended its ODA to Myanmar in 1988 when the country's junta seized power after Suu Kyi's party won the general election.
    Burmese authorities said to be "greatly concerned" by Thai-US military exercise

    BBC Monitoring Service - United Kingdom; May 21, 2001

    Text of report by Burmese opposition radio on 17 May

    According to reports received by DVB [Democratic Voice of Burma], the SPDC [State Peace and Development Council] military government is greatly concerned about the Thai-US joint military exercise and has ordered all tactical command headquarters and tactical command units along the [Thai-Burma] border region to be on heightened military awareness and to keep one anti-aircraft battery and an auxiliary battery on readiness.

    The anti-aircraft batteries will include 0.5 and 0.12 machine guns while fighter planes from military airbases in the region are also ordered to be prepared.

    On the one hand the military is put on high alert while on the other hand anti-Thai and anti-US instigations have been carried out through the publications and the media.

    Only a few days ago the SPDC Military Intelligence's Office of Strategic Studies [OSS] has pressured publishers to include anti-Thai articles in all publications and has officially directed the reuse of the term Yodaya instead of Thai. The Thai news and publications circle does not use the term Myanmar, the new nomenclature which the SPDC has introduced, but insisted on using the old name of Burma or Phamar.

    That is why, in retaliation to their use of the old name, the SPDC Military Intelligence has officially issued a directive to the news and media circle to use the old term of Yodaya instead of Thai. A Rangoon publisher confirmed DVB that all articles using the word Thai have been either censored or postponed.

    Furthermore, DVB has learned that the military government has labelled those who use Thai products and commodities as national traitors and is also erecting anti-Thai products billboards nationwide.

    Source: Democratic Voice of Burma, Oslo, in Burmese 1430 gmt 17 May 01
    Construction works handed over to private companies in Burma

    Rangoon, May 19, 2001
    Mizzima News Group (www.mizzima.com)

    The constriction works, which were undertaken by the Ministry of Construction till recently such as Yangon-Mandalay Highway, Pyi-Mandalay Highway and Magwe airport constriction project, have been handed over to private companies in Burma since April.

    The seven private companies including Asia World, Dagon International Ltd., Olympic and Shwe Than Lwin have received the contracts from the government for the construction works.

    The Asia World company (whose Managing Director is son of former Opium Kingpin Lo Hsing Han) has started its project of constructing the Magwe airport in western part of Burma since the beginning of April. Most of these private companies have dubious background. For example, the Olympic Company is linked to Kokang group, which has a cease-fire agreement with the military government. Its managing director is ethnic Kokang U Eike Htun.

    Mizzima has learnt that the authorities did not make any official announcement in giving out tenders to these companies. Only when these companies advertise for job vacancies for such and such work, the people came to know about the construction works being handed over to the private companies.

    Many road and building construction projects under the Ministry of Construction, except the bridge projects, have been incomplete and stopped due to the lack of financial support from the government. Parts of Pegu-Mandalay Highway, Pyi-Mandalay road and Pegu-Thathon road are gradually deteriorated and the government does not have funds to repair and maintain these roads.

    Many of the construction works of all the fourteen divisions under the Ministry of Construction, except Pegu-Hantharwadi Palace project being done by the construction division (14), are run just as a show-off.

    The government does not sanction budget for the maintenance of highways in the townships. The people of the townships themselves have to do maintenance of these highways with their tax money. But again, TPDC (Township Peace and Development Council)’s allocated money is not enough even for the salaries of the engineers and thus the authorities collect money to patch the roads, said an assistant engineer from the Ministry of Construction in Rangoon.

    With the handover of these construction projects to the private companies, some people hopes that it will partly solve the country’s grave unemployment problem.However, many engineers are worried that there will be no job assurance and stability in the private companies in Burma where rights of workers are not guaranteed even in public sector. Moreover, job advertisements in the daily newspapers show that private companies want only the engineers who have experience of seven or more years for their projects.
    Burma hopes to face global economic changes

    XINHUA, Yangon

    Myanmar will be able to face challenges in the light of many changes in the world economy after the 1997 Asian economic crisis, Myanmar leader Lieutenant-General Khin Nyunt said Saturday evening.

    Speaking at a ceremony here of presentation of master certificates in business administration to the graduates, Khin Nyunt, First Secretary of the Myanmar State Peace and Development Council, expressed the belief that "being rich in national resources and highly-qualified human resources, Myanmar will be able to face any kind of challenges."

    According to The New Light of Myanmar on Sunday, Khin Nyunt also expected that this year, difficulties can be overcome in Asian nations due to their strong economic infrastructures and favourable economic foundations, although the world economy shows a trend of slowing down.

    He pointed out that in the international trade sector and establishment of industries, comparative advantage, which was previously regarded as important, has been replaced by the amount of benefits gained and the condition of the market. He called for observation of the flow of international monetary investment.

    Khin Nyunt stressed the need to take into account the long-term economic benefits and the interest of the nation although priority should be given to benefits in doing business. If those, who pay priority only to short-term interests, are greater in number, the entire economic system can be affected, the Myanmar leader warned.
    Thai Pop Stars Lend Moral Support To Burmese Guerrillas

    BANGKOK (AP)--Two Thai pop stars have lent moral support to a guerrilla group in neighboring Myanmar by singing for them nationalist songs and sending them beer, a guerrilla officer said Monday.

    He said that Surachai Chantimathorn, a veteran singer, attended a ceremony Monday at Shan State Army base across the border from Thailand to mark the Shan Resistance Day and performed for the troops.

    The other singer, Add Carabao, who co-founded the folk-rock group Carabao, didn't attend the ceremony but sent 50 cases of beer, said the Shan officer, contacted by telephone. He spoke on condition of anonymity.

    The Shan State Army is an armed group representing the Shan ethnic minority seeking autonomy from the central government of Myanmar.In recent months, there has been more fighting between the Shan State Army and Myanmar government troops.

    Surachai, also known as Nga Caravan, attended the ceremony to provide "moral support for the Shan fighters," said the officer. Surachai's attendance couldn't be independently confirmed, but he was known to be in northern Thailand near the Shan area this past weekend. Surachai in the 1970s founded the folk-blues group Caravan, which was very popular with the student movement that helped topple a military dictatorship in 1973. When a right-wing coup took place in 1976, Surachai and most members of his band fled to the jungle to join the guerrillas of the Communist Party of Thailand. They rejoined society in the early 1980s after the government granted a blanket political amnesty.

    Add, the other singer, is the advertising spokesman for the Thai beer company whose product he sent for the Shan. Add, whose real name is Yuenyong Opakul, had previously recorded a song in support of the Shans' struggle. Earlier this month, he met with the guerillas' leader, Col. Yawd Serk, at a Shan base, said the guerillas' news agency.

    The agency quoted him as saying afterward that "... in a national independence struggle, you need a hero to keep you going through hell and water. I'm sure Yawd Serk fits that role."
    Burma allows domestic Intranet access

    The Straits Times - May 20, 2001.

    YANGON - Myanmar's deprived Internet users - 2,000 government-approved people who have been limited to using e-mail and barred from the World Wide Web - came a step closer to joining the cyber bandwagon when they were permitted access to a domestic Intranet.

    Myanmar has one of the most restrictive Internet policies in Asia, with more restrictions than such tightly-controlled communist nations as Vietnam and Laos.

    The government's Myanmar Posts and Telecommunications is the country's only Internet Service Provider. Aside from some government ministries and 11 information technology companies, no one in Myanmar has had anything more than e-mail.

    However, a notice mailed on Friday to e-mail subscribers said they would be able to access 'Myanmar Intranet services' operated by a local private company at a cost of US$3 (S$5.40) per hour.

    The websites operated by Bagan Cybertech are local commercial websites. There are six websites under the category e-shopping, one under e-banking, four under e-reservation and one under e-media.

    'There are very few web pages to visit, but for Myanmar users who have no Internet access, it is a start,' said Mr Kyaw Thura, a 27-year-old computer enthusiast.

    The country's military government is sensitive to the large number of websites and news groups operated overseas by exiled dissidents and foreign supporters of opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

    In January last year, regulations were issued forbidding the posting of political writings on the Internet.Prohibitions included publishing anything that is 'detrimental' to Myanmar or 'directly or indirectly detrimental to the current policies and secret security affairs of the government'.

    In the most draconian measure, unauthorised ownership of a fax modem or setting up a computer network without the telecom ministry's approval could result in a jail term of seven to 15 years and a fine.--AP
    Buddhists, Muslims clash in Toungoo

    Source : MSNBC / AP

    Rangoon, May 22---A curfew has been imposed in a northern town of Burma where simmering tensions between Buddhist and Muslim residents erupted into rioting last week, travelers said Tuesday.

    Members of the two communities in Toungoo town attacked each other with sticks and stones, while several mosques were set on fire, said a Yangon resident who returned from Toungoo on Monday.

    A Muslim resident of Toungoo who fled to neighboring Thailand told The Associated Press in the Thai border town of Mae Hong Sot that Buddhist monks and laymen killed four Muslims, including a 60-year-old woman.

    The resident, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the Buddhists set fire to about 140 Muslim houses and 14 mosques, eight of which were destroyed.

    Telephone lines to the town were disconnected, and the account could not be independently confirmed. A terse Burmese government statement said ''some clashes took place ... after a brawl started between some locals last week.''

    A curfew has been imposed, and the ''situation is under control and contained. An official investigation is in progress,'' the statement said, without elaborating.

    Muslims comprise 3.9 percent of Burma's 51 million people, while Buddhists form nearly 89 percent. Burma's military junta allows freedom of worship to all faiths, but clashes between people of different religions are not uncommon.

    Toungoo, a trading town known for its betel nut crop, is on the highway to Burma's second largest city, Mandalay, and is 155 miles north of the capital, Rangoon.