Daily News-May 27 - 2001- Sunday

  • Parliamentarians should be Freed Detailed Information Released on Detained MPs
  • U.S. senate to vote on banning imports from Burma
  • Major companies unworthy of trust
  • Govt must solve Burma scrap
  • T-shirt protester recognized by UNHCR
  • Burmese Senior diplomat applies for asylum in US
  • Over 100 Karens flee across Burmese border
  • India, Burma signs MoU on road maintenance
  • Thai defense minister denounces Burmese article as national "insult"

  • Parliamentarians should be Freed Detailed Information Released on Detained MPs

    (New York, May 25, 2001) Human Rights Watch today released detailed information on eighty-five Burmese parliamentarians who were elected in May1990 and still remain in prison or in government "guest houses." May 27 marks the eleventh anniversary of the elections, the results of which the military government has refused to acknowledge.

    Human Rights Watch urged the Burmese government to immediately and unconditionally release all imprisoned members of parliament.

    "By freeing all imprisoned MP's, the Burmese government could demonstrate its willingness to begin addressing the country's massive human rights problems," said Joe Saunders, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch. "To have a truly meaningful dialogue, all opposition leaders should be free to express their views and ideas."

    Saunders noted that the United Nations Commission on Human Rights in April demanded the release of all political prisoners in Burma. He urged Japan and the members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations to insist that Burma take concrete steps to improve basic human rights before it rewarded Rangoon with economic assistance for beginning a dialogue.

    In elections on May 27, 1990, opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy (NLD) won over 80 percent of the 485 seats at stake, and many smaller parties, some representing ethnic minorities, also won seats. Military authorities intervened, however, and none of those elected was ever seated. Some of the parliamentarians have been held since 1990, but most were arrested in subsequent crackdowns on the political opposition. Others fled and went into exile or were pressured to resign from their political parties. At least four are believed to have died in detention.

    Since October 2000, Burma's ruling State Peace and Development Council (SPDC) has held a number of meetings with opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi and has released more than one hundred political prisoners as a "confidence-building measure." None of the parliamentarians has been released, however, and at least 1,000 other political prisoners remain in detention, including students, members of ethnic minority groups, political party members, journalists, and lawyers. Hard data on political prisoners is difficult to come by in Burma. The SPDC often does not provide basic information on prisoners, including what offenses they are charged with, the time and place of trials, and where they are detained or imprisoned.

    Human Rights Watch's list of eighty-five MPs currently in prison or detention includes their place of detention and the charges and sentences imposed on those convicted of offenses. Human Rights Watch believes that all of the MPs are being detained for peaceful expression of their political views.

    Of the eighty-five, forty-five have already been sentenced, most on charges of attempting to "undermine state security" under article 5j of Burma's Emergency Provisions Act. The sentences range from two years to thirty-seven, with most facing seven years or more in prison.

    Of the forty-five, thirty-eight are members of the NLD, three are from the Mon National Democratic Front, and one each are from the Arakan League for Democracy and the National Democratic Party for Human Rights.

    The parliamentarians sentenced most recently are Naing Naing, an NLD MP from Rangoon, sentenced to twenty-one years on December 14, 2000, and Min Shwe, an NLD Irrawaddy Division MP, sentenced to three years in March 2001.

    The remaining forty parliamentarians being detained have not yet been tried or sentenced. With the exception of one Party for National Democracy MP, all are members of the NLD. Most of those being held without charge were first detained after participating in opposition efforts in September 1998 to form a parallel parliament, which they called the Committee Representing People's Parliament (CRPP), and most are being held in "guest houses" at various military bases, allowed to visit their homes only on weekends.
    U.S. senate to vote on banning imports from Burma

    Burma Courier No. 271 May 26, 2001

    WASHINGTON, May 25 (FBC) -- A group of senators led by Tom Harkin, Democrat, and Jesse Helms, Republican, has introduced legislation barring imports from Burma. The bill’s backers claim it is a response to a request by the International Labor Organization (ILO) that its members ensure they are not contributing to forced labor in Burma.

    If enacted, the bill would hit most heavily at clothing and other apparel imports from Burma which have risen dramatically over the last four years, up by 372 per cent from $85.6 million in 1997 to $403.7 million in 2000.

    Many companies who initially imported from Burma have already stated they will end ties to the country.

    "We forbid the production of any of our merchandise in Burma, and if we become aware of any of our licensees using subcontractors in that country, we will immediately demand that the licensee cease such activity," Perry Ellis CEO George Feldenkreis wrote in a letter to the Free Burma Coalition on April 13th.

    Jeremy Woodrum of the Free Burma Coalition which has been working with the Union of Needletrades, Industrial and Textile Employees (UNITE) and the United Auto Workers to promote the voluntary withdrawal from the Burma import market said the senators and groups participating in the campaign were agreed that imports from Burma directly contribute to what the ILO calls a "modern form of slave labor".
    Major companies unworthy of trust

    Wed, May 23
    Staff Editorial
    The Lantern

    Ohio State U.

    (U-WIRE) COLUMBUS, Ohio -- As the current debate over drilling for natural gas and oil on federally protected lands nears its peak, it seems prudent to review how at least two major energy companies treat their overseas operations. Specifically, Exxon Mobile and UNOCAL.

    Exxon Mobile, the company that was responsible for the largest oil spill in United States history, operates the world's largest liquefied natural gas refinery in the Aceh region of Indonesia. The Acehnese are one of several groups fighting for independence from the Indonesian government. They have been doing so for decades, with hundreds dead on both sides and no end in sight.

    Exxon entered into a deal with the Indonesian government: hey would give back one quarter of the gas field profits to cover the costs of developing the area. This money went directly to the government in Jakarta -- never to be seen in Aceh. The government of ex-Indonesian president Suharto forcefully relocated villages and harassed people off of their lands. Since March of this year, Exxon Mobile's gas production facility has been shut down, due to guerrilla attacks by the rebels. In the past week, Indonesian military has beat three reporters in the area; raising he specter of potentially unreported atrocities. Exxon Mobile has not pressured the Indonesian government, fearing that nationalization of its facilities would occur.

    UNOCAL has been working closely with the Burmese government, ondemned as one of the world's most brutal regimes by the U.S. Congress, State Department, the United Nations Human Rights Commission and Amnesty International, for years. The Burmese government used violent relocation and forced labor of thousands to construct a natural gas pipeline for UNOCAL across southern Burma to Thailand. Companies like Heineken, Apple Computer, Disney, Hewlett-Packard, Eastman Kodak and PepsiCo have pulled out of Burma because of these practices.

    The California Public Employee's Retirement System (CalPERS), which owns UNOCAL stock, is in favor of a tockholders resolution to adopt a policy of only dealing with countries that conform to ited Nations guidelines on humans rights. CalPERS has threatened to pull out of UNOCAL if the measure isn't adopted -- mostly because of expensive legal actions against UNOCAL if it stays in these repressive countries. UNOCAL has resisted any such measure.

    If this is the type of corporate responsibility that can be expected from large energy corporations, is it any wonder that most Americans are very cynical of promises they've made concerning environmental responsibility?
    Govt must solve Burma scrap

    source : The Nation

    Army commander-in-chief General Surayud Chulanont yesterday expressed hope that Thailand would resolve its border problems with Burma through government-to-government dialogue.

    "I know that border problems, including those involving Burmese minority groups and drug trafficking, have persisted for a long time, waiting to be resolved," he said. "I can not speculate as to whether Burmese leaders understand our concern about border security, but I can say that both sides should talk," he added.

    Surayud said Thai government leaders were aware of the nature and extent of border problems and it was the Foreign Ministry's responsiblity to deal with the matter. The Army commander declined to comment on Defence Minister Chavalit Yongchaiyudh's attempt to visit Burma.Chavalit has tentative plans to seek the prime minister's permission for his trip.

    Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra has yet to comment on the matter. Chavalit said yesterday he was trying to foster a better understanding with Burmese leaders.He expressed concern about the escalating war of words on both sides. Commenting on his planned trip, the defence minister said he was not sure whether the Foreign Ministry would give it the green light.He rejected the allegation that he planned to rely on his personal contacts with Burmese leaders to solve border problems, saying that such things had minimal impact on international affairs.

    He said he was monitoring the increased activities of Burmese students who lived in exile in a third country but used Thailand as their base of operations.
    T-shirt protester recognized by UNHCR

    Burma Courier No. 271 May 26, 2001

    KUALA LUMPUR, May 20 -- The Burma Democracy Movement in Malaysia announced this week that Peter Hee Man has been recognized as a refugee by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.

    Hee Man gained world attention as one of a small group known as the T-shirt protesters who crashed a party thrown by the junta embassy at a hotel in Kuala Lumpur at the end of March. Party goers were shocked to note that the uninvited guests were decked out in T-shirts sporting the image of Burma democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi and the police were summoned.

    Although his Malaysian comrades were quickly released, Hee Mann, a native of Burma’s Chin state, was sent to a detention camp and put under an order of deportation.

    His refugee claim has been recognized while in detention and friends and supporters are awaiting his release momentarily. It is expected that he will make application to settle in a ‘third country’.
    Burmese Senior diplomat applies for asylum in US

    Burma Courier No. 271 May 26, 2001

    BANGKOK, May 25 (AFP) -- A senior Myanmar diplomat stationed at the United Nations headquarters in New York has applied for asylum in the United States after his four-year term expired, sources said Friday.

    Ko Ko, formerly the first secretary in Myanmar's mission to the United Nations, left his official residence in New York earlier this month, a source in the foreign ministry in Rangoon said.

    He had been ordered to return home with his wife and two children in April, the source said, adding that he had now been dismissed from the ministry.

    The US embassy in Bangkok declined to comment on the case, saying all applications for asylum remained confidential.
    Thai military official reports over 100 Karens flee across Burmese border

    BBC Monitoring Service - United Kingdom; May 26, 2001

    Text of report in English by Japanese news agency Kyodo

    Bangkok, 25 May: More than 100 Karens fled into Thailand on Friday [25 May] after a clash between ruling junta troops and ethnic minority guerrillas in neighbouring Myanmar [Burma], according to a Thai military official.

    The clash took place about 1000 [local time] after the junta's army and the allied Democratic Karen Buddhist Army attacked a stronghold of the Karen National Union (KNU) about two kilometres west of the Thai border inside Myanmar.

    The 20-minute fire fight left two Karen civilians dead and two wounded villagers were later admitted into a hospital in Tak Province, more than 500 km north of Bangkok, the Thai official said on condition of anonymity. The refugees are mostly family members of KNU fighters.

    The clash was a part of an ongoing offensive by Myanmar's junta against ethnic minority rebels along the border with Thailand that has been creating tension with Bangkok because some pursuits and poorly aimed bombardments have ended in Thai territory.

    Myanmar, on the other hand, has claimed Thailand is helping the rebels and has been shelling junta positions in support of the rebels.

    Source: Kyodo News Service, Tokyo, in English 1214 gmt 25 May 01
    India, Burma signs MoU on road maintenance

    source : South Nexus

    BANGKOK, May 26: India and Myanmar signed a Memorandum of Understanding on maintenance of the Indian built 160-km Tamu-Kalemyu road, which connects the two countries.

    The MoU was signed in Yangon by L K Ponappa, additional secretary, Ministry of External Affairs and U Nay Soe Naing, Director, Ministry of Construction, Myanmar.

    The Tamu-Kalemyu road, starting from Tamu at the India-Myanmar border, was built by India as a fully aided project and inaugurated in February by External Affairs Minister Jaswant Singh during his visit to Myanmar. Tamu is 840 kms northwest of Yangon.

    Under the MoU, India will be responsible for the maintenance of the road for the first six years by providing the services of an Indian Road Maintenance Force, alongwith material and manpower, sources in Yangon said. India is also to provide training on maintenance of equipment to a few Myanmar officials. After getting on-the-job training, Myanmar will be responsible for the maintenance of the road after six years.

    India has also decided to gift the equipment used while upgrading the Tamu-Kalemyu-Kalewa road to be used in the construction of the Kalewa-Monywa road, which would improve transport linkages between the two countries.

    The signing ceremony was attended by senior officials from Myanmar and the Indian envoy in Yangon Shyam Saran.
    Thai defense minister denounces Burmese article as national "insult"

    BANGKOK, May 27 (AFP)

    Thailand's defense minister joined a mounting war of words between Thailand and Burma by calling a Burmese article critical of the revered Thai monarchy an "insult," a report said Sunday.

    Defense Minister Chavalit Yongchaiyudh said an article published last week by the state-run New Light of Myanmar that took aim at a 19th century Thai king was unacceptable.

    "Thai people will not tolerate such insults against our beloved institution," Chavalit was quoted as saying by the Bangkok Post.

    "We will fight if we have to," he said.

    Chavalit, a former prime minister who in the past has risen to Burma's defense, added that although the article and an artillery attack last week were affronts to Thailand's highest institution, both sides in the diplomatic row were trying to ease the tension.

    "We must be careful and prudent with what we do. We cannot afford to toy with the welfare of the nation," he said.

    Chavalit said had asked Thailand's foreign ministry for permission to visit Burma but was uncertain if it would be granted.

    Following the publication of the Burmese article, the Thai government lodged a sternly-worded aide memoire.

    The aide memoire came as the two countries were locking diplomatic horns over a shell attack Tuesday that targeted a royal-initiated agricultural border project.

    Thailand issued an official protest over the incident the day before the aide memoire.

    "The articles have gone beyond the accepted bounds and norms of behaviour by thoughtlessly affronting the most revered institution of the Thai nation and people," the aide memoire said.

    The comments were designed to "incite hatred" between the people of the two countries and were certain to "cause severe damage to Thai-Myanmar relations and the momentum of rapport hitherto established by our governments."

    Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra said he would review policy towards Burma, and conceded that its stance needed to be adjusted as soon as possible.

    The premier also said Thai government agencies dealing with Burma needed to be better coordinated and improve their access to information so that they were better equipped to map out correct policy.

    The New Light of Myanmar Monday launched an attack on King Mongkut, who ruled Siam in the mid-19th century, in an article entitled "Never been enslaved, but real slave".

    King Mongkut was popularised in the various musical and film versions of "The King and I", which have always been banned here out of deference to the monarchy.

    The Thai parliament debated the article, which was splashed on the front page of the local press, in a closed door session Thursday.