Daily News-October 09 - 2001- Tuesday

  • Junta under pressure
  • UN envoy returns to Burma
  • Burmese Muslim Group Speaks Out on Afghan Attacks
  • PDA makes peace move after clashes
  • Cambodian FM Arrives Myanmar On Working Visit
  • Myanmar Airways cuts flights after US attacks
  • Economic talks in Rangoon start today
  • Myanmar frees prisoners as U.N. envoy starts visit
  • UN rights envoy arrives in Yangon for second historic mission
  • U.S. embassy closed in Myanmar for security reasons

  • Junta under pressure

    The Bangkokpost

    BURMA: Fall-out from attacks on US worsens economic plight

    Burma hasn't escaped the economic fall-out from the terrorist attacks on the United States. The fall in consumer confidence in America will dent Burma's exports to the US and the slump in global travel will adversely affect tourism.

    In recent weeks the value of the kyat on the informal market has gone into what analysts are calling a free-fall to more than 750 kyat to the US dollar.Money changers in Rangoon expect the kyat to fall further in the next few weeks because of the uncertainty caused by the United States' military retaliation against terrorism.

    Analysts say that preparations for the gems emporium, a special trade fair where precious stones and jade are sold, are also causing the kyat to fall.

    ``The country's rampant inflation has caused many people to buy dollars, gold and imported cars as a hedge against price increases,'' said a Rangoon-based journalist. The price of cars has more than doubled in the last two months.

    The price of gold has increased by nearly 25% in the weeks since the attacks on the US. It has risen much faster than the black-market dollar exchange rate. This is the first time the price of gold has shot up faster than the exchange rate for dollars.

    ``The uncertainty over US military action has caused speculators and businessmen to have less confidence in the dollar and prefer gold,'' said a market analyst.

    The fall in the kyat is forcing the prices of imported goods such as medicines and cosmetics to rise.``Residents are always complaining about rising prices,'' said an Asian diplomat in Rangoon. Eggs, vegetables and peanut oil have all more than doubled in price in the last two months.

    One egg now costs 30 kyat. Although meat prices have increased marginally, many families have given up eating meat to be able to afford the other essential foods that have increased astronomically in price.The price of rice has remained relatively stable because of government price controls. The military authorities have long feared that large price increases for rice would provoke riots.

    Privately, UN officials fear a massive humanitarian crisis is looming. They estimate that one child in three is malnourished. If the economic crisis remains unchecked, they fear that the number could double next year.

    Bus fares and taxi prices have all increased sharply since May when the government stiffened petrol rationing.

    The residents of Rangoon are increasingly facing power shortages. One said that almost every day for the last four weeks residential areas have had no power for more than eight hours a day.

    Many businessmen are complaining about the economic crisis. More than half of the Singaporean businessmen have left in the last year. Diplomats say there are now only 85 of them in the country compared with at least 300 two years ago. Many South Koreans plan to leave. Siemens is considering relocating its general manager in Rangoon to Singapore.

    The military government is increasingly worried about the countries spiralling inflation and the falling value of the kyat.The government had hoped tourism would provide some of the much needed foreign currency, but this has not eventuated. The managing director of one hotel said it had been operating at less than 30% occupancy for some time.The Myanmar Times reports that some major travel operators said 10% of their bookings from the US and Japan over the next two months had been cancelled.Analysts believe that Burma's tourist revenue could fall by more than 50% in the next six months.

    The military intelligence chief, Lt-Gen Khin Nyunt, is exploring ways of establishing greater trade with Burma's Asean neighbours by using barter agreements. One has already been signed with Thailand and another is under consideration with Malaysia.

    The author is the BBC's regional editor for the Asia-Pacific region. He is based in Bangkok
    UN envoy returns to Burma


    The United Nations human rights envoy to Burma, Paulo Sergio Pinheiro, is returning on Tuesday to Rangoon for his second visit this year. In April he met opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi at her home but was not allowed leave the capital during his three-day visit.

    This time, according to the UN , Mr Pinheiro will visit a number of provinces over the next two weeks as he investigates Burma's human rights situation.

    Burma' military rulers have been repeatedly criticised for human rights abuses since they seized power in 1988. In 1990 the junta refused to honour the result of democratic elections widely believed to have been overwhelmingly won by Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy. Aung San Suu Kyi has been held under virtual house arrest since last September.


    But Mr Pinheiro has spoken of "cautious optimism" within Burma that the military are adopting a pragmatic approach on the issue of democracy.

    A UN statement released at the weekend said: "This visit comes at a time when Burma has been taking steps... towards an important dialogue both inside and outside of the country in the search for peace and national reconciliation.".

    Last week, a high-level delegation from the International Labour Organisation finished a three-week investigation of the use of forced labour in Burma. The team investigated whether a government-ordered ban on forced labour was being complied with. They have released few details about their trip but western diplomats believe the investigation was extremely rigorous.

    Mr Pinheiro is expected to meet government officials, religious representatives and members of civil society groups.
    Burmese Muslim Group Speaks Out on Afghan Attacks

    By Maung Maung Oo and Ko Thet
    Irrawaddy online

    October 8, 2001-A Muslim group from Burma has expressed its perspective on attacks being carried out in Afghanistan by the United States and its allies.

    Thet Lwin Oo, a spokesperson for the Muslim Information Committee of Burma (MICB) said that the Muslim people might be consolable if this war ruins only Afghanistan's military targets and terrorist training camps.

    "But if this war hurts the innocent people of Afghanistan or results in other unnecessary bloody events, it will be more difficult for Western countries to solve the terrorist problem. If there are other unnecessary consequences, reprisals would follow, because in Islam, all Muslims are brothers," he said.

    Last night the United States and its allies started their war against terrorism with air strikes on targets in Afghanistan. Afghanistan's air defenses and terrorist redoubts in the capital Kabul and other cities were hit by Tomahawk cruise missiles.

    According to reports, Osama Bin Laden, the millionaire Saudi exile accused of financing and masterminding attacks on New York and Washington on Sept 11, escaped the air strikes, as did Mullah Mohammed Omar, leader of Afghanistan's Taliban regime.

    The Irrawaddy asked Thet Lwin Oo if he believed there was a danger of the US war against terrorism turning into a religious war. "As long as this war lasts, it could change," he replied. "I think it is early to have a war against Afghanistan because America cannot show any concrete evidence of Bin Laden's involvement in the Sept 11 attacks," he said when asked if he felt the war against Afghanistan was fair or not.

    The MICB spokesperson said that most Muslims in Burma know little about Bin Laden, but believe that he is carrying out a war to defend the Muslim people. "But if he is responsible for the Sept 11 attacks in America, which claimed thousand of lives, we, Burmese Muslims, would not be support him," he added.Most Burmese Muslims, he said, regard Burma's military government as the real terrorist group because of their practice of demolishing mosques and persecuting Muslims.
    PDA makes peace move after clashes

    The Bangkokpost

    A Burmese rebel group has extended an olive branch to the Rangoon-backed Democratic Karen Buddhist Army after clashes late last month which left 31 dead.

    ``The Parliamentary Democracy Army has no animosity towards the DKBA and it is not its policy to purposely attack DKBA units or its representatives,'' a PDA statement said.

    It further added that the PDA regarded the ``SPDC (the ruling military junta) top brass as the sole enemy of our country and not its troops, who have been indoctrinated into joining the army.''

    After a week-long battle that ended on Sept 20 between the PDA-Karen National Union and the DKBA and junta troops, the government forces eventually withdrew with 31 killed and 11 wounded.

    The PDA said it regretted the clashes and that no deliberate confrontation should take place between its forces and the DKBA in the future.
    Cambodian FM Arrives Myanmar On Working Visit

    YANGON, October 8 (Xinhuanet) -- Cambodian Foreign Minister Hor Namhong arrived here Monday evening on a two-day working visit to Myanmar as a special envoy of Prime Minister Hun Sen.During his visit, Hor Namhong will meet with Senior-General Than Shwe, chairman of the Myanmar State Peace and Development Council (SPDC) and prime minister, according to the Cambodian Embassy here.

    In February last year, Hun Sen, accompanied by Hor Namhong, visited Myanmar for the first time after Cambodia was admitted into the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) in April 1999.During that visit, the two countries signed an agreement on mutual exemption of visas for holders of diplomatic and official passports.

    Myanmar resumed diplomatic relations with Cambodia in August 1994 and since then the two countries have strived for all-round development of their bilateral ties of friendship and cooperation. Myanmar opened its embassy in Phnom Penh in March 1999, one month before Cambodia joined the ASEAN.
    Myanmar Airways cuts flights after US attacks

    Singapore Business Times

    (YANGON) Myanmar Airways International has trimmed back its schedule of flights in line with moves by other carriers following the Sept 11 terrorist attacks on the United States, the Myanmar Times newspaper reported.

    In its edition to be published today, the weekly said the carrier issued a revised flight schedule last Monday showing reduced services to Bangkok and Singapore.

    Direct return flights to Bangkok have been reduced to one a day while the carrier's morning service to the Thai capital has been scrapped. Also, direct return flights to Singapore have been cut from five to three a week, on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.

    Flights to Singapore which stop over in Kuala Lumpur on the return leg have been reduced to one a week, on Sundays. Before the change, the service was available on Thursdays and Sundays. However, Myanmar Airways International has introduced a direct return flight to Kuala Lumpur on Thursdays.

    The international carrier has also changed its schedule for flights to Hong Kong, which now operate on Tuesdays and Saturdays, instead of Mondays and Fridays.

    Meanwhile, the Myanmar Airways International has begun collecting a US$2 surcharge from passengers to meet higher insurance premiums arising from massive losses by insurers due to the terror attacks.An airline official told the Myanmar Times it had been collecting the surcharge, which has been introduced by many other carriers worldwide, since Oct 1.- AFP
    Economic talks in Rangoon start today

    The Bangkokpost
    Wassana Nanuam

    Three days of talks on economic co-operation between Thai representatives and Burma's State Peace and Development Council First Secretary Lt-Gen Khin Nyunt, begin today in Rangoon.

    Gen Sanan Kachornklam, secretary to the defence minister's advisory team, has been assigned by Defence Minister Gen Chavalit Yongchaiyudh to lead a Thai delegation to discuss Thai-Burmese economic ties with Lt-Gen Khin Nyunt on Oct 9-11.

    Burma reportedly needs help from Thailand for the planned construction of a port in Tavoy and many roads such as those linking the Three-Pagoda checkpoint to Pok Pian, Kanchanaburi to Tavoy, and Tachilek to Keng Tung, Gen Sanan said.

    Gen Chavalit is pushing forward a trade and investment promotion plan by starting with the setting up of economic affairs co-ordinating offices at the border between Mae Sai and Tachilek, Mae Sot and Myawaddy, and Ranong and Kawthaung.

    After another trade talk will be held in Rangoon in November.A Thai-Burmese friendship trade fair will be held in Tachilek in January next year.

    Gen Sanan's delegation is also expected to meet Burma's commerce and fisheries ministers to seek fishery concessions for Thai trawlers to fish in Burmese waters, following a two-year ban.
    Myanmar frees prisoners as U.N. envoy starts visit

    By Aung Hla Tun

    YANGON (Reuters) - Myanmar's military government released five more opposition prisoners on Tuesday as the U.N.'s human rights envoy to the country arrived for his second visit.The government has been steadily releasing detained members of the National League for Democracy (NLD) since beginning confidential talks with opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi a year ago. Tuesday's releases bring the total number of NLD members freed since the talks began to 174.

    A government statement said the five released NLD members "are all in good health and are back with their respective families".

    Paulo Sergio Pinheiro, the U.N.'s special rapporteur for human rights in Myanmar, arrived in Yangon on Tuesday and is due to stay in the country until October 20, meeting government officials, opposition leaders and diplomats, U.N. sources told Reuters. They said Pinheiro held talks on Tuesday afternoon with Myanmar Foreign Minister Win Aung.

    Pinheiro, a Brazilian, first visited Myanmar in April after being appointed as a special envoy in February by U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan. A report written by Pinheiro and released by the U.N. last week welcomed efforts by Myanmar's ruling military to improve human rights in the country, but repeated calls for the release of all political prisoners. Amnesty International says there are more than 1,500 political detainees in Myanmar.

    Suu Kyi's opposition National League for Democracy (NLD) won elections in 1990 by a landslide but was never allowed to govern. Suu Kyi has been under de facto house arrest for more than a year. The international community welcomed the start of dialogue last year between Suu Kyi and the government.

    The talks have not yielded any concrete political deal, but have been marked by regular prisoner releases and an informal agreement between the two sides to stop openly criticising each other.

    Pinheiro's predecessor, Rajsoomer Lallah, was never allowed to visit Myanmar, and in his final report last October he accused the military of torturing, raping and executing civilians.
    UN rights envoy arrives in Yangon for second historic mission

    YANGON, Oct 9 (AFP) -United Nations' human rights envoy Paulo Sergio Pinheiro arrived in Myanmar Tuesday for a 12-day mission which the ruling junta marked by releasing five top political prisoners.Describing the move as a "goodwill gesture by the government", the authorities said the five elected MPs from Aung San Suu Kyi's democratic opposition were all in good health.

    The release, which brings to 174 the number of National League for Democracy (NLD) members freed this year, is confirmation of the working relationship Pinheiro has established with the generals in Yangon.

    The Brazilian academic is visiting Myanmar at a time when year-long talks between the junta and the democratic opposition have eased the atmosphere in Yangon and raised hopes that political reforms may be on the horizon.

    After his historic visit to Myanmar in April -- the first by a UN human rights envoy in five years -- Pinheiro spoke of an atmosphere of "cautious optimism" for possible change in the country.

    "Every person that I met conveyed to me this impression, the government gave me an impression of respect for the opposition," he said after talks with the generals and opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

    Pinheiro said then that on his return to Myanmar he would like to meet with leaders of opposition political parties and minority groups, and visit the nation's detention and labour camps.According to a UN report, he also indicated a wish to visit zones for displaced people as well as the tense border regions.

    Although his official schedule is being kept tightly under wraps, like most visiting dignitaries, it is likely that Pinheiro will again be permitted to see democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi during the latest mission.

    But observers said he may not enjoy the same unfettered access granted to the International Labor Organisation (ILO) team which departed last week after a thorough investigation of Yangon and the outlying provinces.

    "Pinheiro will most probably be less independent than the ILO experts because they came in two teams and he is by himself," one diplomat told AFP."The domain he is covering is larger because it covers all the human rights issues including prisoners, whereas the ILO people were only focused on forced labor."But as far as we can see, it is unlikely they will put obstacles in the way of his program."

    Pinheiro won plaudits during his first trip by adopting a non-confrontational approach which was welcomed by the notoriously touchy Yangon generals.

    "We consider the visit of Mr. Pinheiro as constructive. We have cooperated with him to our utmost," the foreign ministry said after his departure."We regard him as an honest person," it said, in stark contrast to the frosty language used to describe his predecessor, Rajsoomer Lallah, who was never given permission to travel to Yangon.On his arrival in Yangon the junta again expressed its willingness to work with the envoy."He shall be accorded full cooperation from the Myanmar governmenta s had the ILO team which visited Myanmar recently," a government spokesman told AFP.
    U.S. embassy closed in Myanmar for security reasons

    YANGON, Myanmar (AP) - The U.S. Embassy and the American school in Myanmar's capital were closed Tuesday because of security concerns.Barbed wire barricades were erected and riot police have been deployed outside the U.S. and British embassies since Monday, following the military strikes against Afghanistan, witnesses said.

    Traffic was blocked from a section of Merchant Street in downtown Yangon near the U.S. Embassy, causing jams. Barricades and half a dozen riot police were also in place outside the British embassy on nearby Strand Road, the witnesses said.

    A U.S. Embassy spokeswoman in neighboring Bangkok, Thailand, said it was not yet clear if the Yangon embassy would be still closed Wednesday. She said the American school also was closed Tuesday because of security fears.

    Diplomats at the embassy in Yangon did not answer their phones but a Myanmar staffer at the embassy said the offices are likely to be closed Wednesday also. No other details were available.The British embassy remained open, a diplomat in Bangkok there said.

    Myanmar, also known as Burma, is a predominantly Buddhist country with a small minority of Muslims. There have been isolated incidents of religious unrest in recent years.