Daily News-November 15 - 2001- Thursday

  • Junta fills first top vacancy in shake-up
  • Possible Replacements Identified
  • ILO met relatives of murdered forced labor complainants
  • More than one thousand China made weapons confiscated on Indo-Burma border
  • Karen wanted to build road
  • Myanmar shake-up probably largely cosmetic
  • Fire destroys 12 buildings at refugee camp on Thai border
  • Myanmar says forced labour probe a "delicate and subtle" issue

  • Junta fills first top vacancy in shake-up

    Burma's ruling military gave the first official sign yesterday that it had filled a post left vacant after the sacking of several senior officials last week.

    A report in official newspapers said the regional army commander in Burma's corner of the Golden Triangle had taken up the post of army adjutant general, which was held by fourth-ranking general, Lt-Gen Win Myint, until he was dismissed on Friday.

    Maj-Gen Thein Sein, commander of the Triangle region where the borders of Laos, Burma and Thailand meet, is one of 10 regional army commanders set to be promoted to lieutenant-general and reassigned to new positions at the Defence Ministry in Rangoon in the shake-up, a senior military officer told AP on Tuesday.

    It is the biggest overhaul of the regime's top ranks since November 1997, when the original junta, the State Law and Order Restoration Council, or Slorc, was dissolved and renamed the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC), with younger officials drafted in to replace corrupt and old military leaders.The government has given no reasons for the changes.

    The New Light of Myanmar referred yesterday to Maj-Gen Thein Sein's new position when it reported him attending a track and field championship on behalf of junta leader Senior Gen Than Shwe.His rank was unchanged but it usually takes several months for that to be formalised.

    Burma has 12 regional commanders. The 10 being shifted are all members of the elite 16-member SPDC.While the commanders are likely to gain privileges, some observers said they would lose power and autonomy, which would reassert the authority of the regime's top three generals and expand the influence of the Defence Ministry in Rangoon.

    At the weekend, official media announced that Lt-Gen Win Myint, SPDC Secretary-3, and Deputy Prime Minister Lt-Gen Tin Hla, who was also minister for military affairs, had had their duties ``terminated''.The blunt phrasing indicated they had fallen heavily out of favour. They were both top executives at military-run conglomerates, which hold sway in the corruption-ridden, struggling economy.
    Possible Replacements Identified

    By Maung Maung Oo
    The Irrawaddy

    November 14, 2001- Burmese analysts are speculating that Maj Gen Thein Sein will get the nod as the replacement to recently sacked Adjutant Gen Win Myint, formerly Sec-3 of Burma's ruling military council, according to a source in Rangoon.

    Burma's government has made no official announcement regarding any successor, however, the state-run New Light of Myanmar ran a story today highlighting Maj Gen Thein Sein's attendance at the 2001 Defence Services Commander-in-Chief's Shield Track and Field Tournament in Rangoon. The article referred to Maj Gen Thein Sein as an Adjutant General, the first time this has occurred. Maj Gen Thein Sein gave the opening address at the event on behalf of the Defence Services Commander-in-Chief, according to the paper.

    Meanwhile, Brig-Gen Thiha Thura Tin Aung Myint Oo, formerly Commander of the North-East Command has unofficially replaced Deputy Prime Minister Quartermaster Gen Tin Hla who was also fired last week, according to the Irrawaddy's source in Rangoon.

    Burmese observers have said that despite Maj Gen Thein Sein's sudden promotion he is not likely to be assigned to the Sec-3 position, the fourth most powerful position in the country. Maj Gen Thein Sein has been the acting Commander of the Triangle Region Command.

    The cabinet was formerly composed of three secretaries, Sec-1 Lt Gen Khin Nyunt, Sec-2 Gen Tin Oo and Sec-3 Gen Win Myint. Tin Oo was killed in a helicopter crash in February and was never officially replaced. According to different Burmese analysts only Sec-1 Lt Gen Khin Nyunt will hold a secretarial role in the cabinet. Khin Nyunt is also head of the country's Ministry of Intelligence.

    Burma's other regional army commanders have been sent to Rangoon for an emergency meeting regarding new assignments.The government has said that they have 'interrupted the duties' of the two generals. Five other government ministers were also forcibly retired during last weeks reshuffling. This marks the first major shake up in the Burmese military in four years.
    ILO met relatives of murdered forced labor complainants, claims Shan human rights activist

    Shan Herald Agency for News
    14 November 2001 -No: 11 - 11:

    In response to recent exchange of communications between the high level team from the International Labor Organization that was in Burma lately and Burma's powerful intelligence chief concerning the July killings of 7 villagers who had complained to the authorities on the still widespread forced labor despite official banning of the practice, a spokesperson for the Shan Human Rights Foundation maintained that the fact-finders had met the victims' relatives and interviewed them themselves.

    "We were not even allowed to say anything that we thought might be useful for their investigations during their interviews," said the member of the SHRF that has for 4 years been producing monthly reports on human rights situation in the Shan State. "The guys bluntly told us they knew how to do their job."

    Sir Ninian Stephen, Chairman of the ILO High-level Team that was in Burma from 17 September-6 October, had communicated to senior General Than Shwe on 13 October on the killings of 7 villagers in Mongnai, southern Shan State, on 14 July, three days after they had lodged complaints to the Eastern Region Command about the continued use of forced labor in the area. The reply by Lt-Gen Khin Nyunt, while assuring the ILO that he would make "a thorough investigation of the matter" added that the SHRF "is nothing more than a front for anti-government insurgents that are operating from the US," led by Khun Kya Oo, "who is now residing in the US." Khun Kya Oo died in Thailand on 29 November 1997.

    The SHRF member, who had requested anonymity citing security reasons, laughingly said, "I have only this to say concerning his counter-allegations: Dear General Khin Nyunt, please check your facts." "Rangoon authorities," he continued, "should now have known better that the ILO team would not have written that letter unless they had made their own inquiries."

    Sir Stephen reported on 7 November that forced labor still prevailed in Burma, especially in the non-Burman areas, despite legislation.
    More than one thousand China made weapons confiscated on Indo-Burma border

    Network Media Group

    Chiang Mai, November 14, 2001Burma Army confiscated more than 1,400 China made assorted rifles, rocket launchers and other weapons between November 2 and 6 at the Indo-Burma border town of Tamu, according to the leaked report of Tamu Township Peace and Development Council.

    On early morning of November 3, soldiers from Infantry Battalion (87) together with police and anti-drug personnel surrounded two houses at Myoma Quarters in Tamu and searched. The security personnel found more than 380 different kinds of guns in the cave under the house of a Manipuri man with Burmese name Khin Maung Aye, the report stated.

    Similarly, the security personnel found six guns, two rocket launchers, Indian Rupee 3 million and two boxes of gold plates on the ceiling of the house of another Manipuri man with Burmese name Min Theik.

    On November 4, the search continued to the house of another Manipuri man with Burmese name Htun Naung and the security personnel found another more than five hundred weapons, mentioned in the report of Tamu Township Peace and Development Council.

    On November 5, Burma Army seized hundreds of weapons from a house of two Manipuri women in Sandaku quarter at Tamu, mentioned in the report. The total number of the weapons seized is more than 1,400, Tamu TPDC report stated.

    The arrests were started after the security guards found two Manipuri people with guns on motorbikes on the way between Kalay and Tamu on November 2, a source from Moreh said to NMG.

    The border between Tamu and Moreh was temporarily closed for one week started from the evening of November 3, said a man from Moreh who does not want to mention his name on telephone interview with NMG.

    The commander of North-Eastern Command, Brigadier General Soe Win and Regional Military Command (Kalay) commander Brigadier Khin Maung Aye arrived Tamu and inspected the seized weapons on November 4, said a source from Indo-Burma border.

    "We also got the information on the weapon seizure in Tamu and we learnt that these weapons were own by four different Indian insurgence groups based in Manipur State. The names of the groups are United National Liberation Front (UNLF), Manipur People's Army (MPA), Revolutionary People Front (RPF) and People Liberation Army (PLA)," said a Burmese opposition leader from Indo-Burma border on an interview with NMG.

    "Burmese Intelligence allowed the underground troops of India before and Burmese made an arrest on them after several meetings with Indian Army," he continued.

    In another message received by NMG, Colonel Sann Pwint, General Staff Officer 1 from the office of the Directorate of Defense Services Intelligence (DDSI), arrived Tamu and met with the officers from Military Intelligence number 17 and gave instruction concerning with the events. According to another source in Moreh, NMG learnt that the military intelligence were not among the security personnel who made the arrests.

    One residence from Moreh said that these Manipuri were allowed to live with the permission of Burmese military intelligence at Tamu and the seizure of the weapons occurred during the duty change of the head of the intelligence number 17, duty change between captain Moe Sein and Captain Soe Win Aung.The border between Tamu and Moreh was reopened on November 10.
    Karen wanted to build road

    Bangkok Post,
    By Wassana Nanuam

    Karen will be hired to build a road linking Kanchanaburi to Tavoy in lower Burma. A source said the Karen under the command of Fourth Division commander Maj-Gen Oliver would be hired for the job, as part of a security plan.

    The road would be built in two sections: the first covering a 4.8km distance, running from Phu Nam Ron village in Kanchanaburi's Muang district to Mae Thamee checkpoint, and the second from Mae Thamee checkpoint to Tavoy province, covering 130km. The Office of Accelerated Rural Development would pay for the first section.

    Kanchanaburi-Tavoy Development Co, a joint Thai-Burmese firm, would do the work over three years for 1,100 million baht.
    Myanmar shake-up probably largely cosmetic

    By Dan Eaton

    BANGKOK (Reuters) - Myanmar's military is undergoing its biggest shake-up since the ruling council was formed four years ago, but the changes are unlikely to mean a shift in policy towards the pro-democracy opposition led by Aung San Suu Kyi.

    The upheavals resemble changes in 1997, when the ruling State Law and Order Restoration Council reconstituted itself and became the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC) in a bid to present itself in a new light to the world.

    Within the last week, Myanmar has reassigned 10 out of 12 of its powerful regional commanders to the capital and ousted seven other generals -- including the junta's fourth ranking officer, sources in the military told Reuters.

    But the SPDC's three most powerful men -- Chairman Than Shwe, Vice Chairman and army chief Maung Aye, and Secretary One and intelligence chief Khin Nyunt -- remain firmly in place.

    The two most senior generals fired last Friday -- Win Myint, number four in the SPDC and head of the Myanmar Economic Holdings Company, and Lieutenant General Tin Hla, head of the Myanmar Economic Corporation -- had close ties to the private sector.

    Diplomats noted the pair's political demise coincided with Than Shwe's return from the most recent Association of South East Asian Nations meeting in Brunei where he met regional allies, including Malaysia's Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad.

    The government has been silent on its reasons for the shake-up, but political insiders proclaim they are part of a major house-cleaning operation. "The recent changes were merely a beginning," a retired government official who asked not to be identified told Reuters. "Taking action against those who are guilty. Allowing those who are old to retire and promoting those who deserve promotion. And modernising the armed forces."

    However, many observers remain deeply sceptical. "Everyone is corrupt. Every time someone is sacked corruption is used as an excuse," said Bertil Lintner, an author and veteran Myanmar-watcher who lives in neighbouring Thailand.

    Another Myanmar analyst based overseas who makes regular visits to the country said the changes may be part of a bid by the cash-starved SPDC to revamp its image to please its regional allies and attract much-needed aid and investment.

    "They have been expecting changes since Than Shwe came back from the ASEAN meeting in Brunei last week," he said. "They want to improve their image to get some foreign aid."

    A number of Western countries -- including the United States and Europe -- have sanctions on Myanmar, saying they want a transition to democracy and accusing the military of widespread human rights abuses.

    Whatever the reasons for the changes, analysts and the opposition agree that they will mean little for talks between the military and Nobel prize winner Suu Kyi's opposition, which are in their 13th month and appear to be going nowhere.

    Asked if he thought the changes would have any impact on domestic politics, the secretary general of Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy, U Lwin, told Reuters: "No, I don't think so...So I don't expect much from it."

    Suu Kyi, whose party won 1990 elections by a landslide but was never allowed to govern, has been under virtual house arrest for more than a year. U.N. special envoy to Myanmar Razali Ismail will return to Myanmar this month for a fifth time since April last year in a fresh bid to end the political stalemate. But observers say little progress has been made and many accuse the military of negotiating in bad faith, simply to gain concessions from the international community.

    A former military officer put it bluntly: "No matter what it is called and who belongs to (the SPDC), it will be just like the same jockey on a new horse or the same wine in a new bottle until the three top ones change their policy," he told Reuters.
    Fire destroys 12 buildings at refugee camp on Thai border

    BANGKOK, Nov 15 (AFP) - Twelve buildings used to shelter Myanmar refugees at a camp in northern Thailand burned to the ground Thursday, killing several farm animals, police said.

    The half-hour accidental fire destroyed the buildings at the camp in Maung district, Mae Hong Son province, some 924 kilometers (574 miles) north of Bangkok.None of the camp's nearly 10,000 ethnic-Karen refugees from Myanmar was hurt, but several farm animals including a pig and several chickens were killed, police added.

    "A cooking accident caused the fire," a local police official said, adding that damages from the morning blaze were estimated at about 20,000 bahtdollars).

    Thailand is home to more than 120,000 refugees from Myanmar, many of whom are from the Karen ethnic group and live in camps on the Thai side of the border.
    Myanmar says forced labour probe a "delicate and subtle" issue

    Agence France Presse November 14, 2001

    Myanmar appealed on Wednesday to the International Labour Organisation (ILO) to lift sanctions against it but said it could not accept a permanent presence to monitor forced labour.

    Myanmar's ambassador, Mya Than, said at the beginning of a debate on an independent report on forced labour in the country commissioned by the ILO that the authorities were "not in a position to receive a permanent presence" of an ILO office in Yangon.

    "As a first step Myanmar is willing to receive visits of an ILO team," Mya Than added. "In such delicate and subtle issues it has to be done step-by-step," he told delegates from governments, employers and labour organisations at the ILO's governing body.

    The report found that forced labour was continuing, especially in a areas with a heavy military presence, and that legislation introduced by the ruling military junta last year had had a limited practical impact.

    Mya Than told the ILO that Myanmar had reservations on some unspecified points in the report but overall he welcomed it as a "significant event in our relationship". He added that "the report is fairly balanced, it recognises the political will to eradicate forced labour that has been expressed in Myanmar," and called on the ILO "to review and lift measures" imposed on Myanmar during its next assembly in June 2002.

    The four independent experts on the team that prepared the report presented to the governing body on Wednesday are advocating a permanent ILO presence in Myanmar amongst their recommendations.

    "In all areas for which the High Level Team had information it was apparent that there was strong correlation between the presence of military camps and the practice of forced labour whether or not those troops were engaged in military activities," the report said.

    The team's three week ILO mission to the country followed the ILO's unprecedented censure of Myanmar last year, when it threatened to impose more sanctions on the country if it failed to curb forced labour.