Daily News-May 23 - 2001- Wednesday

  • Burmese shelling a 'deliberate act'
  • Thais in hot water over visit to Shan
  • Buddhists, Muslims Clash In NorthernBurma Town
  • Ten dead' in Burmese sectarian riots
  • Burma, Singapore To Hold Economic Talks This Week
  • Burma hit by Indian rebels
  • Drug Busts in Kawthaung
  • Curfew enforced all over Pegu division
  • Shan seek world attention to stamp out drug production
  • Unocal shareholders reject Burma resolutions
  • UN envoy to visit Burma amid fears of stalled talks

  • Burmese shelling a 'deliberate act'

    source : The Nation

    Commander Wattanachai says shells were fired to incite and distract Army

    Five artillery shells were intentionally fired across the border from Burma yesterday, landing in the compound of the Royal Project at Doi Angkang in Chiang Mai's Fang district,according to Third Army Commander Lt Gen Wattanachai Chaimuenwong.This prompted return fire and a strong protest from the Thai military, he said.

    Wattanachai said the shells landed in the peach orchards of the Royal Project, which is situated near Hua Lone Hill, the scene of recent fighting between the Army and troops from the United Wa State Army (UWSA). There were no reports of casualties or serious damage.

    "It was a deliberate act," said Wattanachai, adding that it was the first time that shells had fallen into the Royal Project, which is less than a kilometre from the border.

    The commander said that the Army had returned fire with eight rounds of artillery in the direction from which it suspected the shells were launched. It also issued a strong protest about the violation of Thai sovereignty to the Burmese members of the Township Border Committee.

    Wattanachai said there was currently no fighting on the opposite side that could have spilled-over into Thailand. He said the area was now under Burmese control after the retreat of Shan rebels who had moved to other positions. He said he suspected that Burmese troops had intended to incite the Thai military in order to distract their attention from other border spots. However, he said the overall border situation remained calm due to the rainy season.

    Meanwhile, actress Preeyanuch Panpradab and her boyfriend, TV producer Noppol Komarachun, denied going to Loi Tai Lang, opposite Chiang Mai's Pang Mapha district, to join the Shan rebels' Resistance Day on Monday.

    Preeyanuch said she was shooting a new TV series in Pathum Thani on Monday. "I never thought of going there. How could I join the party, when I dare not go even to the border," she said.

    Preeyanuch, whose novel Pai Keb Paen Din Thee Sin Chat (Liberation of the Lost Home) was inspired by the struggle of a Burmese minority group, acknowledged that she had received numerous letters from Shan and Karen people following the airing of the TV series Keb Paen Din, which was based on her novel. She denied that her new TV series about the drug cartels would include scenes filmed in Shan territory.

    Returning from Loi Tai Lang yesterday, veteran singer and songwriter Surachai Chantima-thorn said his trip had nothing to do with the dispute between Thailand and Burma.

    "I joined them as one of their friends who sympathises with their struggle. I see nothing wrong with my trip. Everyone has freedom of thinking," he said. He and a few friends from Caravan, the legendary folk-blues band, performed for the Shan soldiers for three hours. "It was a very vibrant party, joined by several thousand people," he said.
    Thais in hot water over visit to Shan

    By John S. Moncrief
    Source : The Irrawaddy News Magazine

    May 22, 2001-- An illegal trip by a group of Thais and foreigners to a Shan controlled area in Burma looks to further contribute to the recent breakdown in Thai-Burmese relations. High-ranking Thai officials are deciding how to deal with the contingent of journalists, foreigners and at least one Thai celebrity, who illegally traveled from Thailand to a Shan State Army (SSA) base at Loi Tai Lang to attend yesterday's 43rd anniversary of Shan National Day.

    "The Burmese have blasted the Thais for allowing these people to go up," said one analyst based in Northern Thailand. Thai immigration officers are under pressure to punish these visitors in order to please the Burmese government, he added. During the heated border clashes over the last three months, the Burmese government has accused the Thai military of lending military support to the Shan insurgents.

    Thai immigration officials have threatened to arrest and fine three celebrities -- Noppol Komarachoon, Preeyanuch Panprada and Surachai Chantimahtron (aka Nga Caravan) -- for illegally crossing the border adjacent to Mae Hong Son province. At the ceremony, musician Surachai, co-founder of the well-known folk band Caravan, performed for the crowd, which included an estimated 500 to 1,000 SSA troops.

    However, it is unclear whether Noppol or Peeyanuch ever made it to Loi Tai Lang. Both Noppol and Peeyanuch helped create Keb Phaen Din, a Thai TV series featuring a fictitious ethnic insurgency group located on the Thai border.

    Thai Immigration police expressed concern that the celebrities might be arrested by the Burmese for illegal entry into Burma or come under fire from Burmese troops, according to an article in the Nation newspaper.
    Buddhists, Muslims Clash In NorthernBurma Town-Reports

    YANGON (AP)--A curfew has been imposed in a northern Myanmar town where simmering differences between Buddhist and Muslim residents erupted into riots last week, a traveler 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 Monday.

    The resident, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said there were unconfirmed reports of several deaths and injuries.

    The government didn't immediately respond to a faxed statement by The Associated Press in Bangkok, requesting information about the riots. Telephone lines to the town were disconnected.

    The traveler from Toungoo said the trouble started May 15. The cause wasn't known, but he quoted residents as saying there had been tensions between the two sides since late February. He said a 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. curfew has been in force in the town since May 16 when the violence reached its peak, but the situation now is under control.

    He said troops were patrolling the streets and truck loads of soldiers were also seen on the highway to Toungoo, apparently to prevent Buddhists from other places coming to the town to join the rioting. He quoted some Muslim residents as claiming the problem started when some Buddhist monks demanded a mosque situated near a popular temple be relocated. But Buddhist residents blamed the Muslims for starting the violence, saying some men had teased Buddhist women.

    The British Broadcasting Corp. quoted the chairman of the national Muslim association, U Thein, as saying Tuesday that anti-Muslim sentiments had been high in Myanmar since residents saw on satellite television the destruction of two Buddha statues by the Islamic Taliban regime of Afghanistan in March.

    But a Buddhist monk in Yangon said this was unlikely since only a handful of people have access to satellite television in Myanmar, where the media is strictly controlled. Official newspapers had never reported the destruction of the statues.

    Toungoo, a trading town known for its betel nut crop, is situated on the highway to Myanmar's second-largest city, Mandalay, and is about 250 kilometers north of the capital, Yangon. It has a large Muslim minority community, but the majority of the town's people are Buddhists.

    Muslims comprise 3.9% of Myanmar's 51 million people while Buddhists are nearly 89%. Myanmar's military junta allow freedom of worship to all faiths, but clashes between people of different religions are not uncommon.
    Ten dead' in Burmese sectarian riots

    From the newsroom of the BBC World Service

    A government-approved Islamic organisation in Burma says at least ten people have died in riots between Muslims and Buddhists.

    A spokesman for the Burma Islamic Council Haji U Thein said the clashes broke out in the town of Toungoo after Buddhists saw television news reports about the destruction of Buddhist statues in Afghanistan.

    The spokesman said a curfew was still in force in the town after a week of clashes and that the situation was still tense.

    At least 10 people died in similar sectarian clashes in the western town of Sittwe two months ago.

    The violence was sparked after Muslim youths were accused of harassing a Buddhist girl.

    There is a long history of sporadic violence between Burma's Buddhist and Muslim communities,particularly in the west of the country towards the Burmese border with Bangladesh.
    Burma, Singapore To Hold Economic Talks This Week

    SINGAPORE (AP)--The top economics minister from Myanmar's military regime will hold talks with Singapore's trade minister this week, the Singapore government said Tuesday.

    Wealthy Singapore is Myanmar's largest foreign investor. In 2000, Singapore had US$1.51 billion invested in the country - 21% of the total investment in the Myanmar.

    Brig. Gen. David Abel, a Myanmar government minister, will meet Singapore's Trade and Industry Minister George Yeo in Singapore Friday for the fourth Joint Ministerial Working Committee between the nations, the government said in a statement.

    The first such meeting was held in 1996 and has led to projects in agriculture, tourism development, transportation and trade development, the statement said, adding that more than 1,000 Myanmar officials participated in the joint programs.

    Asian companies have continued to invest in Myanmar despite calls from human rights groups to boycott the country to protest against its human rights record. Myanmar is also known as Burma.
    Burma hit by Indian rebels

    Tuesday, 22 May, 2001
    source : BBC
    By Subir Bhaumik in Calcutta

    At least 50 Burmese soldiers are said to have been killed in heavy fighting with separatist Indian rebels inside Burma.

    Two rebel groups say they have beaten back a Burmese military offensive on their bases along a remote frontier region. The National Socialist Council of Nagaland (NSCN) and the United Liberation Front of Assam (Ulfa) rebel groups say the fighting broke out earlier this month in the upper Sagaing division of north-western Burma.

    Both these Indian rebel groups and some of their allies from the country's north-eastern region have maintained bases in the region for more than three decades.

    But earlier this month they were faced with a Burmese military offensive backed up by Indian forces. An Ulfa spokesman told the BBC that the rebels had also suffered some casualties but was unable to say how many.

    Rangoon's move

    It is not yet clear if Burma, which has played down the offensive from the very beginning, has reacted to the outcome.

    Indian military officials say they have not been informed by the Burmese on whether the operation has been discontinued. But they are still deploying large numbers of troops on the Indian side of the border anticipating that the rebels, if further pressed, may break up into small groups to sneak back into Indian territory.

    This is the second time in the past 15 years that the Burmese have tried to dislodge the north-east Indian rebels from upper Sagaing, a hilly area so remote that maintaining logistics, particularly with the onset of the monsoon, is a real challenge.

    India and Burma have improved their bilateral relations in the past two years, particularly in the sphere of combating separatist movements along their lengthy border.
    Drug Busts in Kawthaung

    By Maung Maung Oo
    source : The Irrawaddy News Magazine

    May 21, 2001--On May 7, Burmese Military Intelligence (MI) Unit 19 and local police raided a house in the Aung Thu Kha block of Kawthaung, a port city in southern Burma, belonging to Ibrahim Issuf. They seized over five hundred thousand speed pills and six handguns, according to a source in Kawthaung.

    Five people were arrested in connection with the drug seizure. In a statement released by local officials, the suspects purportedly were to receive 2,000 Thai baht (US $40) for every five hundred speed pills that they successfully carried from Kawthaung to the Thai border town of Ranong.

    Just five days later, on May 12, local police and officials from the Burmese MI Unit 19 again found a number of speed pills in Kawthaung. The suspects confessed that these pills had recently been transferred from a storage area on Pu Law Island, a short distance by boat from Kawthaung, where the suspects had been hiding them. According to the statement, the suspects went on to say that these speed pills were to be shipped the following day to Ranong where another group of drug couriers were to pick them up and move them to areas throughout Thailand.

    These recent events came as a surprise to many Burmese analysts and are uncharacteristic of the ruling military junta in Rangoon. Many feel these seizures are a response to the Thai government's recent criticisms of the junta turning a blind eye to drug trafficking in the region. Sources familiar with the situation are wary of the junta's new get tough on crime stance and are not optimistic about it continuing for very long.

    Since the Thai government increased its drug suppression campaign along its northern border with Burma, Burmese drug traffickers have been forced into finding new innovative ways to move their ever increasing stock of narcotics. With their more notorious overland routes through northern Thailand being shut down, the traffickers have chosen the often-unmonitored waters of Southeast Asia to smuggle their products. This has allowed them to penetrate deep inside Thailand as well as other countries in the area, according to a source in Kawthaung.

    Hundreds of uninhabited lush tropical islands exist inside Burmese waters and drug traffickers have begun using these islands as storage areas for their contraband. The lack of patrol around these islands by Burmese naval vessels has encouraged the drug traffickers to use the islands.

    In addition to that, a source said that the jobless rate in Kawthaung has rapidly grown since Rangoon suspended fishing concessions to Thailand in October 1999, when armed opponents of the ruling junta stormed the Burmese Embassy in Bangkok. These suspended concessions have also resulted in local people, who traditionally relied on the fishing industry, moving to the more lucrative and available job as a drug courier.

    Towards the beginning of this year, Thai anti-narcotics and security officials began seeing an increased amount of activity in the waters off southern Burma, just east of Thailand. In January, officials found over 7.8 million methamphetamine pills and 114 kg of heroin in two fishing boats in Thai waters. The Thai government traced all of the drugs to the infamous Golden Triangle, an area notorious for drug production that lies around the point where Thailand, Laos and Burma all share a common border. The bulk of the drug production in the area takes place within the borders of Burma. The ruling military junta in Rangoon denies that large quantities of drugs are produced here.

    Since the beginning of the year, the new Thai government has declared a massive war on drugs and has mobilized a number of troops to northern Thailand to kick-start its drug suppression efforts along the Burmese border. This is the site of many clandestine drug laboratories that produce millions of speed pills for the Thai market.

    Last month, the Thai government set up Special Task Force 399 to combat drug trafficking from Burma. Task orce personnel will receive training from US military advisors, and will be stationed directly across the border from territory controlled by the infamous United Wa State Army, the world's largest armed drug trafficking group.
    curfew enforced all over Pegu division

    Source : Bangkok Post

    At least four Islamic spiritual leaders were killed in Burma and hundreds of Muslims forced to flee after clashes last week between Buddhist and Islamic residents.

    One Muslim, who managed to escape, said a curfew was imposed in Pegu division after riots in Toungoo district on Friday and in Swa and Pyu districts on Sunday.

    The fighting erupted after Buddhist monks and their followers raided 14 mosques in Toungoo district while Muslims were praying, a source said.

    Four spiritual leaders died when the raiders cut their throats and the owner of a nearby restaurant was beaten to death.

    Four mosques and more than 100 houses and shops in the town were burnt down, forcing all Muslims to flee to nearby Kyauktaga, Zeyyawaddy, Yeni and Myohla districts.

    Buddhists also attacked Muslim passengers on Rangoon-Mandalay buses arriving in Toungoo and set fire to more than 100 houses owned by Muslims outside the town.

    A curfew was imposed on Toungoo and security forces were sent to control the situation.

    The source said nearly 1,000 Muslims became homeless after their houses were burnt down in similar riots in Thagaya and Pyu districts on Sunday. A curfew was then enforced all over Pegu division.

    On Monday, a Muslim spiritual leader in Rangoon told BBC Radio the situation had returned to normal and riots followed the destruction of an ancient mosque in the town.
    Shan seek world attention to stamp out drug production

    Source : Bangkok Post

    A Shan State Army leader has called on the world community to help stamp out drug production in Burma and end the problem once and for all.

    Col Yod Suek, chairman of the Restoration Council of Shan State, made the call during celebrations to mark Shan Resistance Day at a base opposite Mae Hong Son's Pang Ma Pha district.

    While praising the world community for helping Thailand in its fight against drugs, Col Yod Suek said they should focus on drug manufacturing in Burma.

    "It is good to help Thailand, but it is just a transit point. The gravity of the situation is in Burma where the drugs are produced.

    "However, our campaign against drugs, a means to total independence from the Burmese junta, hasn't received any support," he said.

    The SSA was willing to co-operate with any country that wanted to stamp out drugs, he said. His forces had been successful so far in their fight against drugs.

    Col Yod Suek said it had always been the SSA's policy to combat drugs and border clashes with Burmese troops were part of that campaign.

    "We were fighting drugs before Thailand stepped in, and we'll continue doing it," he said.

    Singer Surachai Chantimathorn showed up at the Shan base for the celebrations, attended by almost 1,000 people, to sing them nationalistic songs.

    Mr Surachai, also known as Nga Caravan, said he was there to lend moral support and study the life of Shan people who have been fighting suppression for decades.

    "I've been performing in Indochina for a long time. I express what I've seen through songs and writing," he said.
    Unocal shareholders reject Burma resolutions

    BREA, Calif., (Reuters)--- Unocal Corp. shareholders on Monday easily defeated two resolutions aimed at forcing the oil exploration company to abandon its natural gas venture in Burma, whose military government has been criticized for human rights abuses.

    one resolution at the company annual shareholders meeting that would have required Unocal to adopt a code of conduct discouraging business involvement in countries that used forced labor, received about 22 percent of the vote, according to preliminary results.

    The second resolution, which would have tied executive compensation with the company's ethical and social performance, did even worse, receiving 15.4 percent of the vote.

    The board for El Segundo, California-based Unocal had recommended defeat of both resolutions, saying they were unnecessary because similar policies were already in place.

    But the California Public Employees' Retirement System, or Calpers -- the nation's largest pension fund with assets of near $151 billion -- voted in favor of both protest resolutions. Calpers, which is known for lobbying for improvements in corporate governance, holds 1.5 million Unocal shares.

    The meeting was conducted in a Unocal auditorium south of Los Angeles against a backdrop of demonstrations outside by about 40 protesters, many of them Burmese.

    ``They're fully aware of what the brutal military regime is doing,'' said Heidi Quante, coordinator of Unocal Campaign, a group seeking to educate Unocal shareholders about the company's activities in Burma, formerly Burma. ``We're arguing that the cost of doing business there isn't worth the revenues.''

    Quante said the group she leads has been joined this year by a number of labor groups, including the AFL-CIO, which also had a representative at the meeting.

    As shareholder activism has increased this year, a number of Unocal board members have met individually with concerned stakeholders in recent months, said Unocal spokesman Barry Lane. But he also defended the company's actions in Burma.

    ``Go look at the region where the (natural gas) pipeline is,'' he said. ``The standard of living is significantly higher there. There's been an increase in population there because of the opportunities. If you had more Western involvement, you'd see a much broader impact on the Burmese people.''

    Unocal has been dogged by protests for the last six years because of its involvement in the Yadana natural gas project off the coast of Burma. Human rights groups allege that Burmese military employed forced labor in constructing a pipeline that connects the gas field to Thailand.

    A federal judge in Los Angeles dismissed two lawsuits against Unocal in September 2000, saying there was no evidence that the company conspired with the military in any human rights abuses. Pipeline construction concluded in 1998.

    Burma has a 15 percent stake in the Yadana field, which will ramp up to production of 525 million cubic feet of natural gas per day.

    The project is operated by French oil company Total Fina Elf , the major investor with a 31 percent stake. Unocal has a 28 percent stake and defends its involvement by saying the project has brought new hospitals, schools, and improved roads to poor villages nearby.

    Thai oil and gas firm PTT Exploration and Production has a near 26 percent stake in Yadana and reported a sharp gain in first-quarter profits earlier this month because of increased production and higher prices for gas produced there and from a second Burma field.
    UN envoy to visit Burma amid fears of stalled talks

    Rangoon, May 23---The U.N. envoy to Burma who helped broker historic talks between the military government and opposition will visit the country next week amid fears the dialogue has stalled, officials said on Tuesday.

    Razali Ismail would visit from June 1 to 4, Burma's foreign ministry said. Diplomats said he would meet senior government leaders as well as opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, who has been kept confined to her house since September.

    Razali announced earlier this year that Burma's ruling generals had been holding a secret dialogue with Suu Kyi, leader of the National League for Democracy (NLD) which won elections in 1990 by a landslide but has never been allowed to govern.

    The news raised hopes that the political stalemate that has gripped Burma for more than a decade could finally be broken.

    Concern is growing, however, that the talks have hit an impasse. Foreign diplomats in Rangoon say they believe the dialogue has been stalled in recent months.

    Razali, a veteran Malaysian diplomat, last visited Burma in January, and said then his next visit was planned for March.

    His failure to visit since January has fuelled fears the talks were blocked.

    Burma this week denied that the delay in Razali's visit was because he had been refused an entry visa.

    A well-informed source in Rangoon told Reuters Suu Kyi held a meeting on May 17 with Major-General Kyaw Win, deputy director of the Directorate of Defence Services Intelligence.

    The source said it was the fourth meeting this year between Suu Kyi and Kyaw Win, who has been representing the ruling military in the dialogue.

    The government and NLD have agreed to keep the content of the dialogue confidential.

    But some NLD members and representatives of Burma's many ethnic groups have been getting increasingly frustrated about the lack of news on the talks.

    They have been calling for another visit by Razali to reassure all sides in the dialogue and prevent the process unravelling.

    Foreign Minister Win Aung last month denied that the talks had stalled, and insisted they were not a ''public relations stunt'' by the government to improve its international image.

    But he said there was no timeframe for the process.

    Diplomats say that while the government faces no serious internal political threat, the country's precarious economic situation is the main factor pushing the military towards dialogue with the opposition.

    The military says it is committed to building a democracy in Burma, but it says the country could disintegrate if the process moves too quickly.