Daily News-May 26 - 2001- Saturday

  • 10 die in Taungdwingyi communal clashe
  • Junta claims Toungoo riots "not instigated" by Military Intelligence
  • Burma blames internal, external destructive elements for Toungoo religious riots
  • Thai MPs Meet Burmese Opposition Delegation
  • Rangoon strengthens military units on Thai-Burmese border
  • Palaung region reportedly permitted to grow poppies for road repair fund
  • Cooking Oil Shortage Adds to Burmese Woes
  • Man claims trial for gold-smuggling bid in Singapore
  • Chavalit may visit Burma ahead of Thaksin
  • Thai army chief questioned Junta motive over shelling
  • Religious strife stems from U Nu's policy

  • 10 die in Taungdwingyi communal clashes

    source : The Dawn

    YANGON, May 23: Fighting between Muslim and Buddhist residents broke out in Taungdwingyi town in upper Myanmar, the latest in a spate of religious clashes that have reportedly left at least 10 people dead, eyewitnesses and diplomatic sources said on Wednesday.

    Clashes between the predominantly Buddhist population of Taungdwingyi, 450 kilometres north of Yangon, and a Muslim group were reported by eyewitnesses on Tuesday night.

    It was unclear whether anyone was killed in the latest clash, but similar attacks on Muslims in the townships of Taungoo, Yadashe and Nyaunglebin, all in upper Myanmar, have left at least 10 people dead, according to diplomatic sources.

    "We've heard reports of 10 to 30 people killed and up to 40 homes destroyed," said a Western diplomat in Yangon. "It was a pretty big rampage by the Young Buddhist Monks."

    The clash in Taungoo was sparked on May 16, when Muslim youths allegedly taunted Buddhist nuns who were making their rounds in the city with begging bowls, according to sources in Yangon.

    Enraged Buddhists attacked the Muslims, who fled into a mosque with the Buddhists in hot pursuit. Sources said that the city was wracked by religious clashes for two days, leaving at least 20 people dead, including two Buddhist monks and a Muslim religious leader.

    Myanmar's military junta has placed Taungoo under a night curfew, and deployed troops to other towns to prevent similar clashes. Myanmar's state religion is Buddhism, but the ruling junta claims to allow religious freedom and allows its many minority groups to practise their religion of choice, including Islam, Christianity, Brahmanism, ancestor worship and animism.

    Rumors abounded in Yangon about who was behind the clashes. "The rumor behind the rumor is that regional military commanders have been organizing the attacks on Muslims to get people's minds off their economic hardships," said a diplomat.

    The ruling State Peace and Development Council had yet to issue an official statement on the clashes. Similar clashes, pitting Buddhists against Muslims, occurred in Sittwe, on Myanmar's western coast near the border with Bangladesh, in February.
    Junta claims Toungoo riots "not instigated" by Military Intelligence

    BBC Monitoring Service - United Kingdom; May 24, 2001

    Text of report by Burmese opposition radio on 23 May

    DVB [Democratic Voice of Burma] correspondent Myint Maung Maung filed the following report concerning the riot control meetings held at Mergui and Kawthaung in Tenasserim Division.

    [Begin Myint Maung Maung recording] Lt-Col Myat Tun Saing, chairman of Kawthaung District Peace and Development Council, met with Muslim clerics and mosque elders from five mosques in Kawthaung Township at 0900 [all times local] today [23 May].

    At the meeting Lt-Col Myat Tun Saing said the Toungoo riot has no connection with the destruction of the Buddha Statutes in Afghanistan and it was not instigated by the Military Intelligence. It happened because it was meant to happen. He told the Muslim clerics and mosque elders to take necessary precautions and threatened them with immediate arrest if anything should happen.

    Similarly, Lt-Col Khin Maung Kywe, chairman of Mergui District Peace and Development Council, met with Muslim clerics and mosque elders from seven mosques in Mergui Township at 0900 today and threatened them in a similar manner. [End of recording]

    Source: Democratic Voice of Burma, Oslo, in Burmese 1430 gmt 23 May 01
    Burma blames internal, external destructive elements for Toungoo religious riots

    BBC Monitoring Service - United Kingdom; May 24, 2001

    Text of report by Burmese opposition radio on 23 May

    The SPDC [State Peace and Development Council] authorities have issued a notification urging various townships to hold ceremonies to explain that the religious riots which erupted in Toungoo and other towns were instigated by internal and external destructive elements. The notification issued a few days ago noted that at a time when the Defence Services Government is mainly concerned with defending the nation from an external threat, internal and external destructive elements are collaborating to instigate unrest and instability inside the country. Their destructive acts include instigating religious riots, planting bombs, and spreading fabricated rumours. The responsible township authorities are advised to hold public rallies urging the people not to believe the rumours but instead join hands with the Defence Services.

    Furthermore, the authorities are ordered to closely monitor monasteries and mosques, to list the monks who do not follow the code of conduct, and to closely watch activities of the people from out of town. These are to be carried out by the Kyant Phut [derogatory term for the Union Solidarity and Development Association] members.

    According to latest reports, Muslim brethren from Mergui were summoned to the Mergui District Peace and Development Council Office on 18 May where the District police chief explained about the notification. They were made to sign an undertaking. Similar meetings were held at Thayetchaung in Tenasserim Division and Tamu in Sagaing Division on 21 May. This report was filed by DVB [Democratic Voice of Burma] correspondent Sai Tin Aye.

    Source: Democratic Voice of Burma, Oslo, in Burmese 1430 gmt 23 May 01
    Thai MPs Meet Burmese Opposition Delegation

    By Maung Maung Oo
    source : The Irrawaddy News Magazine

    May 25, 2001-On May 22, a delegation from the Foreign Affairs Committee of the National Council of the Union of Burma (NCUB), including six exiled Burmese Members of Parliament, paid a formal visit to Thailand's House of Parliament amid growing tensions between Rangoon and Bangkok. It was the first such meeting ever to take place between members of the Thai legislature and representatives of a Burmese opposition group.

    Although exiled Burmese MPs regularly meet with lawmakers in Western countries, the Thai government has long avoided formal contact with Burmese opposition groups for fear of upsetting relations with Rangoon. Observers note, however, that "personal" meetings between Thai and Burmese MPs have occasionally taken place in the past. Rangoon regularly accuses Thailand of backing its opponents.

    During the one-and-a-half hour meeting, the Burmese delegation met with Kraisak Choonhavan, chairman of the Senate Foreign Affairs Committee, and other MPs to discuss the current situation along the Thai-Burma border. The NCUB delegation also asked the Thai parliamentarians to support them in their continuing struggle for democracy in Burma.

    As chairman of the Senate Foreign Affairs Committee, Kraisak Choonhavan has raised many questions about Thai policy towards Burma. While the committee has limited influence on actual policymaking decisions, it does closely monitor Thailand's relations with other countries. Kraisak has criticized the government for relying almost exclusively on personal ties in its dealings with the Burmese regime.

    Dr San Aung, an exiled Burmese MP and the Labor Minister of the exiled National Coalition Government of Union of Burma (NCGUB), told The Irrawaddy that the Thai MPs expressed frustration with efforts to end recent bilateral tensions, which they described as "totally unnecessary." According to Dr San Aung, Kraisak said that the Thai government's negotiations with the Burmese regime over border issues have been difficult, because "they [the Burmese junta] always make positive agreements, then just do whatever they want when the meeting's over." However, the Burmese MPs agreed with their Thai counterparts that recent tensions should be resolved peacefully through continued talks.

    The Burmese and Thai MPs also discussed the seven-month-old dialogue between the Burmese regime and the democratic opposition in Rangoon, which has so far yielded little in the way of concrete results. The NCUB delegation asked the Thai MPs to cooperate in international efforts to promote the dialogue process.

    Dr San Aung added that after the meeting, eleven Thai MPs signed a petition supporting calls for recognition of the results of Burmese elections held in 1990. The NCGUB has lobbied legislators around the world to recognize the elections results, which were ignored by the Burmese junta. Over two thousand lawmakers in 85 countries have added their signatures to the petition so far, including legislators in countries belonging to the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, which admitted the Burmese junta in 1997. This was the first time that Thai MPs had shown their support.

    Asked about the timing of the meeting, Dr San Aung commented that while the NCUB was aware of the risks of provoking an angry reaction from Rangoon, the group had thoroughly considered the "costs and benefits" of the move.
    Rangoon strengthens military units on Thai-Burmese border

    BBC Monitoring Service - United Kingdom; May 25, 2001

    Text of report by Burmese opposition radio on 24 May

    DVB [Democratic Voice of Burma] has learned that more personnel and artillery have been sent to the Coastal Region Military Command area as reinforcements. Army battalion and company commanders in charge of long-range artillery batteries for protection against close range air attacks, border area, and coastal region security units will hold a tactical meeting on 27 May. DVB correspondent Myint Maung Maung filed this report.

    [Myint Maung Maung] At the moment long-range artillery batteries, and military units on the islands and hills in the border areas of the Coastal Region Military Command have been equipped with the first batch of newly-arrived rocket launchers from Russia. Five new battalions have been reinforced at Kawthaung-based No 2 Military Tactical Command since April and there is a possibility of a further reinforcement of another six battalions.

    On 18 May more 60 mm and 82 mm rockets and anti-aircraft artillery equipment arrived at the Seventh mile long-range artillery battery in Kawthaung. Furthermore, advanced air defence equipment will be installed at all the long-range artillery batteries along the Thai-Burma border areas by the end of May. Rockets and launchers imported from Russia have been sent from Rangoon to the Thai-Burma border areas since late April.

    Source: Democratic Voice of Burma, Oslo, in Burmese 1430 gmt 24 M ay 01
    Palaung region reportedly permitted to grow poppies for road repair fund

    BBC Monitoring Service - United Kingdom; May 25, 2001

    Text of report by Burmese opposition radio on 23 May

    DVB [Democratic Voice of Burma] has learned that poppies are cultivated on a large scale in the Palaung region with approval from Lt-Gen Khin Nyunt [secretary-1 of the State Peace and Development Council, SPDC]. Anti-Insurgent Organization, AIO, is also urging the Palaung people to grow poppies. DVB correspondent Maung Tu filed this report.

    [Maung Tu] Lackeys of U Kyaw Myint, the head of the Pan Sin Village AIO,have been urging local people from over 30 villages including Namhpakka,Manaung, Tarlu, Parpyin, and 12-Mile-Market Village in Namhkam Township in the Palaung region to grow poppies on a large scale.

    U Kyaw Myint, the AIO head of Pan Sin Village, asked permission from SPDC Secretary-1 Lt-Gen Khin Nyunt to grow poppies to raise funds for the renovation of the Namhkam-Namhpakka strategic road in the Palaung region.

    According to the local people most of the paddy, tea, and vegetable plantations have now been transformed into poppy fields. Because of the Palaung region poppy fields, the local AIOs have become rich with the taxes while there is no end in sight for the renovation of the Namhkam-Namhpakka strategic road. At the same time, when anti-drug squads came the local poppy farmers would bribe them with eight to 10m kyat [Burmese currency unit] to destroy only the bad crops.

    Source: Democratic Voice of Burma, Oslo, in Burmese 1430 gmt 23 May 01
    Cooking Oil Shortage Adds to Burmese Woes

    By Min Zin
    source : The Irrawaddy News Magazine

    May 24, 2001-In the latest sign of Burma's dire economic straits, cooking oil has joined petrol and electricity on the list of essential items being rationed by the country's military regime.

    Sources inside Burma report that the parlous state of the country's foreign exchange reserves has forced hundreds of consumers into the streets, as the authorities attempt to conserve rapidly diminishing supplies of this staple of the Burmese diet.

    "Since the government hasn't allocated any hard currency for the import of cooking oil, the distribution system has suddenly become quota-based, forcing people to wait in long queues to buy their rations," said one cooking-oil dealer in Rangoon.

    mported palm oil, an indispensable ingredient in oily Burmese curries, has been in short supply for several weeks now, according to business sources in Rangoon. Major distributors around the country say they can't meet demand because supplies from the Myanmar Economic Holdings Co., Ltd. (MEHC), a military-owned corporation, have virtually dried up. MEHC holds a monopoly in edible oils and other imported commodities.

    According to vendors, the MEHC has ordered distributors to sell rationed oil at 350 kyat (around 45 cents) per viss (approximately 1.5 kg), in an apparent bid to avert the threat of social unrest over rapidly rising prices. Until recently, palm oil sold on the open market for around 400 kyat per viss, but has since more than doubled to over 800 kyat per viss. The rationed oil, drawn from MEHC reserves, is available only to consumers who present household registration documents and certificates issued by local authorities.

    "The worst thing is that now we have to wait in long queues of over 400 people during the hottest time of the day just to get our half-viss ration per household," complained one housewife in Rangoon's Bahan Township. "The country is going straight to hell. Everyone is frustrated with living here."

    Such sentiments have been gaining force in recent months, as a growing number of goods and services become increasingly inaccessible to the general public. Since last month, strict limits on the availability of petrol and electricity have been imposed, fuelling speculation about how far recent public dissatisfaction with the state of the economy might go.

    "No one can rule out the possibility of street protests against the current economic catastrophe," remarked one Rangoon-based political analyst. "It might have nothing to do with politics, but people's daily hardships have pushed them to the limit."

    Cooking oil has served as an indicator of Burma's economic health in the past. Since the early 1990s, palm oil has largely replaced the more traditional and healthier peanut oil as a cheaper alternative.

    According to one health ministry official, after the MEHC took over as the sole importer of palm oil in the late 1990s, doctors and other medical professionals were instructed not to warn their patients about the health risks of excessive palm oil consumption.
    Man claims trial for gold-smuggling bid

    source : The Straits Time

    A MYANMAR national who allegedly smuggled 16 pieces of gold bars worth about S$240,000 into Singapore on Wednesday claimed trial to the charge.

    Maung Aung Thu Ya, 30, is accused of bringing in 16 kg of gold without paying the Goods and Services Tax (GST) for them.

    The offence is said to have been committed at about 12.40 pm at the arrival hall of Changi Airport on Tuesday.

    When the charge was read to him, Maung told the court that he was not guilty and said he wanted to engage a lawyer.His case will be mentioned again on May 30.
    Chavalit may visit Burma ahead of Thaksin

    Source : Bangkok Post

    Thai Defence Minister Chavalit Yongchaiyudh may go to Burma before the prime minister's official visit to lay down the groundwork for the two countries to settle their differences.

    In the wake of the growing border conflict, Gen Chavalit said he would seek permission to do so from Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra.

    He said he would tell Rangoon that Thailand was concerned about the amount of drugs being smuggled in from Burma.

    He would also inform Burma that Thailand has no reason to support ethnic minority rebels.

    He insisted the military and police were ready to cope with further hostile action following the shelling of a royal project at Doi Angkhang in Fang district, Chiang Mai. Gen Chavalit warned people not to become victims of a "third hand" that might be trying to drive a wedge between Burma and Thailand.

    The deputy prime minister said he had discussed the situation with the prime minister and Foreign Minister Surakiart Sathirathai.

    Mr Thaksin believed the conflict stemmed from mistrust between the two countries despite two visits to Burma by the foreign minister and Thammarak Issarangura na Ayutthaya, PM's Office minister. He said the situation had not improved because of border tensions.

    He admitted the conflict was being developed from local level to the government-to-government level and action must be taken to stop it.
    Thai army chief questioned Junta motive over shelling

    Source : Bangkok Post

    The commander of the Third Army said Rangoon might have an ulterior motive in deliberately shelling the Doi Angkhang royal project site in Fang district, Chiang Mai.

    Lt-Gen Wattanachai Chaimuenwong confirmed the shell was not from a mortar but a 120mm artillery cannon used by Burmese soldiers.

    "They might have an ulterior motive in mind in shelling the Doi Angkhang site."The firing was an act of provocation, he said.

    The area where the shell hit was only 600 metres from a spot used by Her Majesty the Queen as her work site during her stay at Doi Angkhang in the past, he said.

    However, an aide to Defence Minister Chavalit Yongchaiyudh questioned Lt-Gen Wattanachai's opinion the shell came from an artillery piece.

    "Some interest groups might directly benefit from an escalation in the conflict between Thailand and Burma. We have to be cautious on this issue since it could worsen the already tense border situation," he said.

    It was very unusual for Burmese forces to fire at the royal project site.

    Lt-Gen Wattanachai confirmed his soldiers were ready to defend Thai territory and said he received reports Burmese reinforcements were gathering in Doi Lang, Mae Ai district, where several Thai military bases were located.

    Burma earlier submitted a protest letter through the Township Border Committee demanding Thailand immediately withdraw troops from Doi Lang and threatened to use force to evict Thai soldiers.

    Lt-Gen Wattanachai was concerned about the tense border situation and said anything could happen at any time.

    A senior district official said local people would be evacuated from Mae Ai town if fighting broke out at Doi Lang since it was only 13km from the area and within the range of Burmese artillery.

    Lt-Gen Wattanachai blamed Rangoon for the new round of tensions prior to Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra's trip to Burma.

    He said bilateral ties would not be improved by the recent publication in the state-owned New Light of Myanmar newspaper of an article considered insulting to the Thai monarchy.

    Former premier Chuan Leekpai, who was in Fang last night, said an insult against a former king was totally unacceptable to the Thai people.

    "I firmly believe Thai people will not tolerate such an insult."Gen Surayud Chulanont, the army chief, urged border residents in Chiang Mai not to get involved with drugs and said the United Wa State Army used drug money to strengthen its armed forces.
    Religious strife stems from U Nu's policy

    Source : Bangkok Post

    The flare-up of religious strife in Burma's Pegu division recently between Buddhists and Muslims stems from an anti-Muslim policy adopted more than four decades ago by the government of then prime minister U Nu.

    Maung Maung, a 62-year-old exiled Burmese Muslim at Umphang refugee camp in Phob Phra district, recalled that the U Nu government outlined a policy declaring Buddhism as a state religion and forbidding Burmese of other religious faiths, namely Muslims and Christians, from holding important posts.

    The policy was tightened after General Ne Win seized power in 1962, said U Maung Maung, adding that many Burmese Muslims were forced to flee the country.

    The first official census, held in 1974, showed there were 7.5 million Muslims in Burma, the second largest group after Buddhists.

    After the census, the government issued an edict forbidding Muslims who left Burma to return.

    "That is why I became a non-Burmese citizen," said U Maung Maung, who escaped to the Burmese border in 1971 to take refuge with the Karen National Union at Wang Kha camp, opposite Tak's Mae Sot district.

    He was the director of Burma's commerce ministry warehouse in Pa-an, capital of Karen state. He said he was highly praised by his superior, a Buddhist, but was told that he had no chance of getting promoted because he was a Muslim.

    Persecuted by Buddhist colleagues, he was forced to quit and took refuge in Wang Kha. After Wang Kha was overrun by Burmese troops, he fled across the border to Thailand and has lived at Huay Kalok camp ever since.

    The exile said that in 1985 he had received reports of Buddhists burning the Joon mosque in Mandalay, and several other mosques in Irrawaddy, Wakhema and Nyaungdon in Irrawaddy division. Several more mosques in Kawkareik, Natphu and Kyaidon in Karen state were also demolished.

    Haji Abdul Malik, secretary for religion of the All Burma Muslim Union, said that more than 50 Muslims died and 80 were injured in last week's religious strife. Several hundred Muslims fled their homes.

    Burmese officials, disguised as Buddhist monks, incited monks and villagers to attack Muslims as they were praying last Friday at a mosque in Toungoo. The 200-year-old mosque and three others were burned down.

    Haji Malik said Burmese authorities wanted to demolish the Toungoo mosque because it blocked the Rangoon-Mandalay highway which is under construction. The plan was opposed by Muslims.

    He said the military junta incited the violence between Buddhists and Muslims to distract attention from economic hardships and a deteriorating economy.