Daily News-November 19 - 2001- Monday

  • Myanmar denies withdrawal of high-value currency notes
  • Myanmar Media Hail Stronger Ties with Laos
  • Burmese attack a major blow to North East militants
  • Security tightened near Three Pagoda Pass
  • Nostalgic return for executive
  • Dhaka for direct links among Bangladesh, India & Myanmar
  • Myanmar To Hold Workshop on Tourism Through Internet
  • U.S. considers taking Myanmar rebel twins
  • Murder reports put regime to the test

  • Myanmar denies withdrawal of high-value currency notes

    Myanmar's military government has denied widespread speculation that it will withdraw the largest denominations of the local currency, the kyat, from circulation.

    Deputy chief of military intelligence Major General Kyaw Win said 1,000 and 500 kyat notes would remain in circulation as long as the ruling junta was in power. "As long as the military government is in charge, there will be no withdrawal of the official currency notes, be it the 1,000 kyat note or the 500 kyat note," he told reporters late Saturday.

    Rumours that the 1,000 kyat note would be cancelled by the government stirred panic in Yangon, where residents fearing the devaluation of their cash went on spending sprees.

    "The rumor started in the border areas where reports of counterfeiting cropped up and traders were refusing to accept the 1,000 kyat notes," Kyaw Win added.

    Local businesses appeared to benefit from the attempts to unload the notes and have enjoyed brisk sales over the past several days."We managed to sell practically everything that was in stock," one Yangon businessman said to a colleague.

    Taxi drivers in the Myanmar capital have also felt the effects of the currency furore, saying they have been hard pressed to make change for the unwieldy 1,000 kyat notes. "It was rather tedious making change for all these notes but it appears they're not taking any chances," one driver told AFP, adding that all of his morning fares had been paid in 1,000 kyat notes.

    The jitters over the rumoured currency withdrawal reflects the mood in Myanmar where the economy remains enmired in crisis despite government assurances that the military state is on a growth track.

    Myanmar citizens in the towns and cities endure annual inflation rates as high as 50 percent for basic commodities in addition to constantly changing rules on rationing of items like gasoline amid the depreciation of the kyat.

    Myanmar also uses a dollar-denominated currency notes called Foreign Exchange Certificates, which have plummeted in value against the greenback and prompted the government to limit licenses for their distribution.

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    Myanmar Media Hail Stronger Ties with Laos

    YANGON, Nov 18, 2001 (Xinhua via COMTEX) -- Official newspaper The New Light of Myanmar Sunday hailed stronger ties between Myanmar and Laos, saying that the two countries have promoted mutual goodwill and supported each other.

    The paper made the appraisal at a time when Lao National Assembly President Samane Vignaket is paying a goodwill visit to Myanmar which started on Friday at the invitation of Vice-Chairman of the State Peace and Development Council General Maung Aye.

    Recalling in its editorial that Myanmar and Laos respectively suffered over 100 and around 60 years under the colonial yoke, the paper said, both of the two countries are today free nations and are able to determine their own future, proudly protecting sovereignty from being challenged by anyone.

    "The two nations are able to exercise peaceful coexistence, making sure that no one would interfere in their internal affairs, and that mutual interests are served through mutual and reciprocal cooperation," the paper noted.

    The paper disclosed that since December 1990, Myanmar and Laos and have been cooperating in the field of drug abuse control, adding that the cooperation has been further consolidated in the signing of the memorandum of understanding among China,Laos, Myanmar and Thailand on October 26, 1993, in New York and the most recent at the Summit of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations in Brunei.

    With the Mekong as common border, Myanmar and Laos started the demarcation of the boundary between the two countries since 1990 under the management of the Joint Boundary Commission and completed the drawing of the Agreement Relating to the Fixed Boundary between the two countries in the Mekong River, producing the Boundary Agreement.

    The paper hoped the current visit of Samane to Myanmar will be able to achieve consensus on points of mutual interest through exchange of views with the Myanmar side and it assured that the visit will contribute to the further cementing of ties.

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    Burmese attack a major blow to North East militants

    By Our Correspondent
    Mizzima News (www.mizzima.com)

    Guwahati, Nov. 18: Indian Army has intensified operations along the Indo-Burma Border in the aftermath of a series of raids carried out by Burmese Army on the hide-outs of the United National Liberation Front (UNLF), a Manipur insurgent organization.

    The raids have been going on for the last one-week to flush out the ultras taking shelter in eastern Burma. During the raids the Burmese Army recovered a huge cache of arms and ammunition, gold, tractors, and incrimination documents.

    Highly placed Indian official sources said that it was a major blow to the militants of the North East India who are under going training in the different hideouts of the country.

    "During the operation over 300 members of various rebel groups were nabbed by the Burmese Army causing a major problem for the insurgent outfits", sources said. Giving the rationale behind the attack, they expressed the view that the attack could be a retaliation of the Burmese army as its several members were killed by a separatist group recently along the Indo-Burma border.

    They further revealed that according to reports about 1200 SLRs meant for the United Liberation Front Asom (ULFA) were also seized. "The UNLF in association with the Chin Liberation Army has been supplying arms and ammunition to the several revel groups of the North East India", sources said.

    Meanwhile the ULFA said that it was a complete security lapse on the part of UNLF resulting in loss of a huge cache of arms and ammunition. It is learnt that the ULFA and the UNLF had reached an agreement last month for supplying of 1000 SLRs to carry on military operations for which the underground group had spent a huge some of money.

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    Security tightened near Three Pagoda Pass

    Network Media Group

    November 18, 2001- Burmese army reinforced security measures and more troops were called to Three Pagoda pass after small arm-engagements and tax collection by recently splintered New Mon State Party troops, a source on the border reported.

    One column commander and a private from NMSP, together with 7 guns tried to join with the splintered group on November 13. The soldiers from NMSP followed them to arrest and arm-engagement occurred. Two villagers from Htee-Wah-Doo village were killed in the fighting. Two fled away soldiers reached to a group led by Nai Pung Nyet leaving 5 guns, the source said.

    According to a source on Thai-Burma border, the people from Three Pagoda and village Peace and Development council chairmen of near by villages received the letters writing in Mon language to give tax to splintered group started from November 14. Chaung Son and Ywa Thit village headmen received letters asking to pay tax to splintered Mon army between one to two hundred thousand Thai Baht for a village.

    A group of around (200) soldiers led by Nai Pan Nyunt, a tactical commander of the NMSP head quarters, separated from NMSP during last September. After several discussions between the group and NMSP, the NMSP released a statement on the separation of this group recently.

    Three Pagoda Pass is situated near the junction of Mon State and Karen State bordering Thailand. The Pass is situated East to Yae in Burma and northwest to the Thailand's southern town of Sanklaburi.

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    Nostalgic return for executive

    The Myanmar Times-November 12 - 18, 2001 -Volume 5, No.89

    ONE of Europe's most successful pharmaceutical companies, the family owned Hexal, opted for Yangon as the venue for an Asian board meeting last week, when 19 foreign executives flew in on a whirlwind trip. For Andreas Strungmann, the company's German chairman the visit was tinged with romance ? it was 16 years ago he and his wife Sue visited Myanmar on their honeymoon.

    "This place has fond memories for me. I love it," he said. Hexal, an amazing success story, grew from a garage in the Strungmann family home in South Africa 16 years ago to become a global medical powerhouse turning over in excess of US$1 billion annually today and employing more than 35,000 personnel.

    The company is represented locally by Hannes and Renata Schlemmer, long time residents of Yangon. They have 13 products being distributed by a Diethelm subsidiary including Gingko, a drug to enhance brain function and Dia-Hexal, a medicine to stabilise blood sugar levels."We're coming back," said Dr Strungmann, adding that "Yangon was not only an enchanting city, but so central amongst Asia that it makes sense for many of our Asian executives to fly in."

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    Dhaka for direct links among Bangladesh, India & Myanmar

    The Star
    UNB, Dhaka

    Bangladesh has requested the UN agency ESCAP to moot talks with its member states to install the Bangladesh-India-Myanmar direct transport communications as part of the planned Asian Highway.

    Dhaka also called upon the ESCAP to take effective initiatives in development of direct traffic running through SAARC and BIMSTEC nations in South and Southeast Asia. The call came from Communications Minister Barrister Nazmul Huda as Bangladesh repre sentative in a two-day ministerial conference of the Economic and Social Council for Asia and the Pacific at the Grand Intercontinental Hotel in Seoul yesterday.

    ESCAP organised the conference on road and rail communications infrastructure development in the Asia-Pacific region of the globe. The South Korean President inaugurated the meet on Friday.

    Placing the proposals at the meet the Communications Minister mentioned that Bangladesh has taken up special programmes, including development of road infrastructure and modernisation of rail communications system, aiming at developing transport networks linking to the Asian Highway and Trans-Asian Railway.

    Expressing interest of Bangladesh in setting up direct surface transport link with Myanmar through the southeastern region of the country, he focused on the contribution of Jamuna Bridge along the Asian Highway and Trans-Asian Railway.

    "The Jamuna Bridge has opened up scopes for reestablishment of communication links between South Asia and Southeast Asia," he told the conference. It has also created facility for installation of broad-gauge rails along the Mongla-Dhaka-Nepal route.

    The Bangladesh minister also extended support to joint venture efforts of the United Nations and ESCAP for development of communications infrastructure in the region, especially in development of Asian Highway and Trans-Asian Railway communications in the present perspective of globalisation and regionalisation.

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    Myanmar To Hold Workshop on Tourism Through Internet

    YANGON, Nov 18, 2001 (Xinhua via COMTEX) -- Myanmar will hold a workshop on tourism and export promotion through internet on November 26, aimed at enhancing the country's tourism industry and export through the system.

    The workshop, jointly organized by the Myanmar Federation of Chamber of Commerce and Industry and the Myanmar Computer Scientists Association, will focus on the use of Website, acceptance of tour inquiry forms, electronic(e)-shopping and e-reservation and tourist attraction sites.

    According to official statistics, tourist arrivals in Myanmar dropped by 48.82 percent in the first eight months of this year compared with the same period of 2000, reaching 77,773. So far, there has been 492 different hotels and motels with 13, 984 rooms in Myanmar. Of them, 21 are foreign-invested, four are joint ventures, 439 are private-run and 28 are state-owned. The number of licensed travel and tour companies went to 521, of which 508 are private-operated, 12 are joint ventures and one is foreign-owned. The country's short-term target is to draw 500,000 foreign tourists annually.
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    FM station on air

    The Myanmar Times -November 12 - 18, 2001 -Volume 5, No.89
    By Win Kyaw Oo

    CAR radio sales have risen since Yangon's and the country's first FM station made its debut last week. The launch of the Yangon City Development Committee's station came two weeks earlier than expected. It broadcasts twice a day for two hours from 10am and 2pm.

    It features music, weather reports and information on YCDC activities and traffic conditions. There are plans for chat shows with movie and television stars and rock and pop singers, said U Hla Myint Swe, head of the YCDC's public relations and information department.

    The station broadcasts at 89 MHz. It was originally planned to broadcast on another frequency but it was unsuitable for most car radios, said U Hla Myint Swe. The station has a transmitting power of 2 kW.

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    U.S. considers taking Myanmar rebel twins

    BANGKOK (Reuters) - The United States is in the final stages of accepting for resettlement the young, gun-toting twins who led a ragtag band of rebels in Myanmar's border jungles until their surrender earlier this year.

    A spokesman for the U.S. Embassy in Bangkok told Reuters on Monday the Immigration and Naturalisation Service (INS) was dispatching a team to interview Johnny and Luther Htoo next week.

    "The INS will be sending a team to interview the twins next week," said the spokesman, who declined to be identified. "But I can't say how long it will take before they are given permission to leave for the United States." He said the interview was one of the final stages before being granted permission to resettle. No more details were given.

    The boy soldiers -- believed now to be in their early teens -- led the God's Army ethnic Karen guerrilla group for years. The two fought against the Myanmar army with scores of followers who believed they had mystical powers. The pair and 12 others surrendered to Thai authorities in January, after a crackdown by border patrols who cut off their food supply lines. The twins, who became famous as a result of pictures showing them toting assault rifles and smoking cigars, told a news conference at the time that their fighting days were over.

    The Htoo brothers as well as their mother, sister and the 12 other former fighters are now living in a Thai border patrol police camp, 100 km (60 miles) southwest of Bangkok. Ratchaburi provincial governor Gomate Daengthongdee told Reuters that Thailand's National Security Council and the United Nations' refugees agency had set a schedule for them to leave for a third country at the end of this year.

    "According to our policy, we plan to send them to a third country by the end of this year, but the final schedule and destination depend on the UNHCR (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees)," Gomate said. He said it was likely they would go to the United States as they had been through several rounds of interviews by U.S. officials.

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    Murder reports put regime to the test

    WILLIAM BARNES in Bangkok

    An alleged murder spree said to have been carried out by the military is rapidly becoming a test case of the junta's willingness to curtail what critics claim are its frequently brutal troops, according to human rights activists.

    The International Labour Organisation (ILO) governing body said last week it wanted to see an inquiry into claims seven villagers in Shan state, near the northern Thai border, were murdered after they complained about orders to perform forced labour.

    "This case goes right to the heart of the problem in Myanmar. It was a tragic thing, but if it helps to focus the international community on the nature of military rule then perhaps their lives will not have been wasted," one activist in Chiang Mai, Thailand, said.

    The ILO investigation of "rampant" forced labour in the country has been widely seen as a test of the ruling generals' willingness to engage with the wider world, accept criticism and - by extension - embrace at least a measure of political liberalisation. A visiting fact-finding team lead by a former governor-general of Australia, Sir Ninian Stephen, last month was given unprecedented access inside the country.

    Yet after reading the team's report the ILO last week expressed its "profound concern" over the very limited impact of a legal ban on forced labour and in particular "the persistent impunity" enjoyed by military officers accused of making temporary slaves of civilians.

    By at least hosting the investigation and co-operating with it, Myanmar appears to have fended off any call for sanctions for the moment, but in resisting the ILO's call for a permanent presence in Myanmar and for the establishment of a credible ombudsman for forced labour, the military may be only delaying a showdown, observers said.

    The seven men were allegedly killed after visiting the commander of the military eastern command, Major General Maung Bo, to complain that they continued to be plagued by army demands for forced labour even after being promised such practices had ended.

    The villagers complained that demands for labour on military-owned businesses and farms had instead increased - making it difficult for them to grow enough food for themselves. General Maung Bo said they could expect "good news", yet fishermen later found their bodies in a river.

    The team was alerted to the incident by the Thai-based Shan Human Rights Foundation just before it started a one-week series of interviews with refugees and human rights workers inside Thailand near the border. The investigators interviewed credible witnesses, whose testimony they described as "a vivid illustration" of life under the military.

    "For once we've got respected international people hearing themselves from villagers what is really going on. They know this just is not propaganda," a Shan representative said.

    In their report, the team said there had been a slight improvement in the over-all forced labour situation, after an earlier ILO commission virtually described Myanmar as a slave state. But a more disturbing pattern of blatant abuse, often accompanied by acts of cruelty, persisted in the outer areas populated by members of ethnic minorities.

    Myanmar's Ambassador in Geneva, Mya Than, in rejecting a permanent ILO presence, said that in "such delicate and subtle issues it has to be done step by step".

    The junta has since tried to discredit the murder report. Intelligence chief General Khin Nyunt described the Shan Human Rights Foundation as nothing more than "a front for anti-government insurgents operating from the US".

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