Daily News-November 08 - 2001- Thursday

  • U.N. team says Myanmar still using forced labour
  • ILO: Myanmar still doing too little to wipe out forced labor
  • Awards honour journalists
  • Southeast Asian countries meet to discuss aid for land mine
  • Large Muslim Gatherings Prohibited
  • Workers' Protest in Mae Sot
  • NUS volunteers bring the gift of hearing to Myanmar villagers
  • Rangoon mayor visits new FM radio facilities
  • Myanmar military says finds lucky white elephant
  • Rare white elephant captured in Myanmar jungle

  • U.N. team says Myanmar still using forced labour

    GENEVA (Reuters) - Myanmar is still using forced labour, often accompanied by acts of cruelty, despite pledges by the state's military government to stamp out the practice, a United Nations team of experts said on Wednesday.

    The team, sent by the U.N.'s International Labour Organisation (ILO), issued its findings following a visit to Myanmar to verify whether an official ban on forced labour imposed in October 2000 was being implemented. "Despite new legislation, forced labour still exists in Myanmar," the ILO report said.

    The four-member team, chaired by Sir Ninian Stephen, a former judge of the U.N. International Tribunals for the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda, found that the new rules were having little practical impact.

    "Forced labour in most of the forms previously identified seemed still to prevail, particularly in villages which were close to a military camp," the report said. "All too often, it was accompanied by acts of cruelty," it added.

    However, the U.N. team said that in contrast to the situation found by an ILO probe in 1998, it saw no evidence of the "current use" of forced labour in civil infrastructure projects in the south-east Asian state.

    The mission by the so-called High Level Team was the United Nations' latest bid to wipe out Myanmar's use of people in slave-like working conditions. In November 2000, the ILO formally urged its 174 member states to review their relations with Myanmar -- as close as the Geneva-based body can get to appealing for sanctions. Myanmar agreed in June to receive the mission which visited the country for three weeks until October 6.

    According to the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions, more than a million people in Myanmar are subjected to forced labour on construction sites for roads, railways, military installations and tourism.
    ILO: Myanmar still doing too little to wipe out forced labor

    GENEVA (AP) - Legislation passed last year in Myanmar has failed to wipe out forced labor in that country, the International Labor Organization said Wednesday. The law's "impact on realities has been limited," the U.N. agency said, adding that "in particular forced labor is practiced in areas affected by military presence."

    Myanmar, also known as Burma, has long been assailed by the United Nations and Western nations for its human rights record, including forcing its citizens to do unpaid manual labor on public works and to serve as army porters.

    In a 35-page report, the ILO said many military commanders are ignoring the October 2000 law because of the "de facto impunity of the military from criminal prosecution ... due in part ... to the fear of reprisals."

    The report was prepared by a high-level ILO team that visited Myanmar in September and October.The four-member team toured the country for three weeks, meeting with government officials and with opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, who is under virtual house arrest.

    Myanmar's military seized power in 1988 after crushing a democracy uprising. It called national elections in 1990, but refused to honor the results that gave Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy party an overwhelming victory.

    The report said the team "refutes the notion that forced labor can be explained by reference to a particular ... cultural context."

    In an unprecedented move in November last year, the ILO urged its 175 member governments to impose sanctions and review their dealings with Myanmar to ensure they are not abetting forced labor.

    The report, which will be considered by the ILO governing body later this month, said that if Myanmar's junta does more to wipe out the use of forced labor, then it can expect more international help to modernize the country. But it said authorities should "give more cogent evidence of their determination to fulfill their obligations," and let the ILO establish a full-time mission in the country.
    Awards honour journalists

    Philip Mascoll
    Toronto Star Online

    One of two journalists who was to receive a prestigious freedom award in Toronto tomorrow night won't be there to accept it. He is in jail.

    Myo Myint Nyein is a political prisoner in his homeland of Myanmar, formerly known as Burma. But he will be honoured in absentia at the fourth annual International Press Freedom Awards presented by Canadian Journalists for Free Expression.The award recognizes journalists who overcome enormous odds to produce the news.

    More than 500 journalists and others, including speaker Governor-General Adrienne Clarkson, will attend the Westin Harbour Castle gala.

    Nyein is a contributor to the satirical news magazine What's Happening To Us, which drew the wrath of the homeland's military rulers.

    The second honoree, Dodojon Atovulloev, will be on hand. But he is in living in Germany in exile from Tajikistan, where he is charged with insulting President Imomali Rahmonov and inciting overthrow of the government, both crimes punishable by death. His outspoken newspaper, Charogi Ruz (Day Light), attacked Rahmonov, his allies and the Islamic opposition. After 1993, it continued to do so from a new base in Russia, despite death threats. Earlier this year, Atovulloev was detained in Moscow at Tajikistan's behest, on the two charges. After friends around the world won his release, he chose voluntary exile.
    Southeast Asian countries meet to discuss aid for land mine

    BANGKOK, Thailand (AP) - More than 150 officials, social activists and victims of land mines from Southeast Asia met Wednesday to discuss ways to raise the social status of land mine survivors.

    Representatives from Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand and Vietnam agreed to meet after being assured there would be no politics involved in the first Regional Conference on Mine Victim Assistance, said a leading anti-land mine activist.

    "This meeting is humanitarian and purely technical. There's no political thing here ... Our goal here is only to help the survivors to go on with their lives," said Susan Walker, government relations liaison officer of the International Campaign to Ban Landmines. The campaign, along with its coordinator, Jody Williams, won the 1997 Nobel peace prize.

    Political issues arise because among the countries represented at the meeting, only Cambodia and Thailand are signatories to the 1997 Mine Ban Treaty. Anti-personnel land mines remain in use in Laos, Myanmar and Vietnam.

    Although the countries rank near the top of the world's most land mine-infested countries, Laos, Myanmar and Vietnam say mines are needed to protect their soldiers.

    Walker said the conference signaled "a good sign of good news" which she hoped would lead to multinational cooperation among the nations, which has been blocked by centuries-old antipathies.

    According to the latest report from Walker's association, progress has been made since 1997, with the number of land mine casualties going down to 15,000-20,000 from 26,000 per year in 73 countries. The group ascribes the improvement to international support, increased funding, more demining and a drop in land mine production worldwide.But another major task to be tackled is the circumstances of 500,000 land mine survivors worldwide.

    "Most live in impoverished, war-torn or developing countries where state assistance is rare," Walker said. The main stumbling block was that land mine victims were often neglected, unlike other types of disabled people, and thus excluded from some public welfare.

    The three-day meeting, which ends Thursday, was aimed at finding solutions to problems of recovery from trauma, psychological rehabilitation and social reintegration.

    Duangkamol Ponchamni, a conference organizer and country manager of the private group Handicap International, said ideas and proposals from the meeting would be pushed toward integration with each nation's existing law on the disabled. "Our job is to support the government's work," she said.
    Large Muslim Gatherings Prohibited

    By Maung Maung Oo
    The Irrawaddy

    November 07, 2001-Muslims seeking to publicly worship in Burma have found themselves in quite a bind after a government issued directive was handed down on November 5. The directive calls for a ban on all mass gatherings by Muslims, including those intended for worship, according to a source in Rangoon.

    The aim of the move is to protect national security and it was sent to administrative offices throughout the country, the source added. The government has also banned the sale of any item related to the celebration of Osama bin Laden or US President George W Bush.

    Another mandate sent to regional administrative offices said that anyone found to be inciting religious riots in the country will be charged under section 5 (j) of the Emergency Provision Act and will be given a minimum of ten years in prison. 5(j) is usually reserved for pro-democracy supporters. The act allows for summary judgements with no legal defense.

    Meanwhile in Kawthaung, Muslims were planning to hold a ceremony to remember the innocent lives already lost in the Afghan-war. As news spread of this alleged plan government authorities in the region stepped up security measures to block any type of mass rally, according to an Irrawaddy source in Ranong, a Thai border town opposite Kawthaung in Burma.

    There is a high concentration of Muslims in southern Burma due to its close proximity to Malaysia and southern Thailand. Last month, numerous religious clashes broke out between Buddhists and Muslims in central Burma. Curfews were implemented in Prome, Pegu and Hinzada as well as other smaller towns.
    Workers' Protest in Mae Sot

    By Ko Thet
    The Irrawaddy

    November 07, 2001-- Over 600 Burmese factory workers protested in Mae Sot on Monday morning after their employer reneged on a pre-negotiated wage. The protest occurred at the Hyadd Knitwear Co. Ltd. and local police did not interfere with the demonstration, according to a source in the Thai-Burma border town. The workers all possessed legal work permits.

    "Our employer originally agreed to pay 105 baht (US$ 2.30) for every dozen sweaters we produced but later tried to only pay us 80 baht," said a protester who works at the factory.

    Around 3.00 PM a group of workers who were leading the protest were able to meet with the factory's manager. The manager told the workers he would talk to his boss regarding the workers' demands, according to a worker who met with the manager.

    The protest continued yesterday and twenty of the groups more active demonstrators were fired by the plant manager for their participation in the rally, according to Than Doke, a spokesman for the Mae Sot-based Burmese Labor Solidarity Organization (BLSO).

    The plant's owner arrived late Tuesday afternoon from Bangkok and finally agreed to pay the workers 100 baht for every dozen sweaters knitted, five-baht short of the original agreement.

    "The main focus of the workers' protest is that they are being treated unfairly by their employers," said the Chairman of the Organization of Industrialists in Mae Sot. The Organization of Industrialists in Mae Sot and regional authorities will have a meeting later this month to focus on some of the problems the workers are facing and to identify what factories failed to register their workers under the new work-permit scheme.
    NUS volunteers bring the gift of hearing to Myanmar villagers

    A total of 25 NUS students and 32 other volunteers from various local Buddhist groups set off for Yangon armed with some 50 computers and S$30,000 in cash donations on their first humanitarian mission abroad.But what made this trip special was that it was also a project to help Myanmar villagers who are hearing-impaired.

    Calling their mission 'Song of Apsaras', the volunteers had earlier sold mugs and T-shirts to raise funds for 300 sets of hearing aids.

    In Myanmar, the volunteers worked with a Buddhist non-governmental group to carry out hearing tests and the fitting of hearing aids. Some volunteers are medical undergraduates and the trip turned out to be learning experience for all.

    "You enjoy the work you do, and you go home at night not so stressed out, knowing that you've helped some people the best way you could," said student volunteer Alexander Grony. "We actually learnt a lot from them - how to give, the spirit of giving. We had the gifts to give, but they have more spirit, in terms of giving," said another student volunteer, Ng Pei Fuen.

    "They may not be materially well-off, but spiritually they're always very ready to share things with us, even though they're poor," student volunteer leader Joseph Ong said. Inspired by this trip, Joseph is already planning for his next humanitarian mission later this year.
    Rangoon mayor visits new FM radio facilities

    BBC Monitoring Service - United Kingdom; Nov 7, 2001

    Text of report in English by Burmese newspaper The New Light of Myanmar web site on 6 November

    Yangon [Rangoon], 6 November: Chairman of Yangon City Development Committee [YCDC], Mayor U Ko Lay inspected Myodaw FM broadcasting programme of YCDC at the city hall this morning. Officials reported [to] him on organizational set up of the studios, installation of transmitters, functions of the control room and test broadcasting of the programmes.

    The station will give priority to broadcasting traffic control, news, YCDC's undertakings and public entertainment programmes. Beginning 1 November, it is broadcasting programmes from 10 am to noon and from 2 pm to 4 pm daily [local times].
    Myanmar military says finds lucky white elephant

    YANGON,(Reuters) Nov. 8 Myanmar's ruling military said on on Thursday it had captured a rare white elephant, a sure sign the impoverished country was on a path to peace and prosperity.

    Official newspapers and television all featured stories on the find with pictures of a six-foot (1.8 metre) high, eight-year-old bull elephant reportedly captured in the northeastern jungles.

    ''The animal is significant and different from others as its skin is whitish-pink in colour in the rain and it changes to moderate russet in cold sunny weather,'' state newspapers reported.

    ''According to the records compiled by learned persons, it is said the white elephant brings peace, stability and prosperity to the nation, that it prevents all hazards and dangers and that the country enjoys annual bumper food harvests.''

    A government spokesman told Reuters the elephant was being brought to the capital Yangon. In legend, the possession of these sacred beasts was seen as very important and ancient kings fought over them. Rulers with white elephants were seen as successful.The military has ruled Myanmar, which is also known as Burma, since taking power in 1962. The country has been isolated by most Western nations due to its suppression of the pro-democracy opposition and allegations of widespread human rights abuses. Experts say Myanmar's economy is starved of foreign capital and is in tatters.
    Rare white elephant captured in Myanmar jungle


    YANGON, Myanmar, Nov. 7 - A rare white elephant has been caught in a jungle in western Myanmar, the official press reported Thursday, hailing the find as an auspicious event that bodes well for the military state.

    The 8-year-old beast, standing 6 foot, was among eight elephants caught by forestry officials last month at Chutpyin village in Rakhine State, 340 miles northwest of Yangon, the New Light of Myanmar reported.

    The white elephant is more calm and steady than the other seven elephants and has distinctive characteristics, including pearl-colored eyes and white hairs on the body. Its skin is light pink in the rain and soft reddish brown in sunny weather, the report said.

    The New Light, which is a mouthpiece of the ruling military junta, said the find augured well for Myanmar as the regime endeavored to build a peaceful and prosperous nation. The New Light and two other state newspapers devoted an entire page each to the report. They didn't say what would be done with the elephant.

    White elephants have been revered for centuries in Southeast Asia and were the symbol of kingship in Myanmar, also known as Burma, Thailand and Laos. In Thailand, all white elephants traditionally belong to the king. Nearly 3,000 elephants are still extensively used in Myanmar forests to haul teak logs. A war between the kings in Myanmar and Thailand was fought in the 16th century over disputed ownership of four white elephants.

    The white elephant is not actually white, and most of them look much the same as others except for certain features such as fair eyelashes and toenails, light colored hair or reddish hue of the skin.