Daily News-September 20 - 2001- Thursday

  • ILO delegation meets Daw Aung San Suu Kyi
  • One More Political Prisoner Released
  • Still no progress towards peace talks between Shans and Rangoon
  • Myanmar Leader on National Achievements
  • Political Prisoners Deny Wrongdoing
  • Myanmar's Cotton Yarn Production Up in First Half of 2001
  • Cars Become Hot Commodity in Rangoon
  • California Academy of Sciences snake expert dies in Burma
  • Fourteen Myanmar illegals arrested in morning raids
  • ILO team meets with Aung San Suu Kyi, top junta officials

  • ILO delegation meets Daw Aung San Suu Kyi

    RANGOON, Sept. 19, Kyodo - A visiting high-level delegation from the International Labor Organization (ILO) met Burma's pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi at her residence Wednesday. The meeting between the four-member delegation, led by former Australian Governor General Ninian Stephen, and Suu Kyi, head of the opposition National League for Democracy (NLD), lasted about an hour and a half.

    The delegation arrived in the country on Monday for a three-week visit to investigate allegations of forced labor in Burma. Burma's ruling junta passed a degree in September 1999 declaring forced labor illegal. However, opposition groups outside the country claim that forced labor continues in the country despite the official decree.

    The delegation has been allowed to draw up its own program for travel, visits and contacts within the country at its own discretion, according to an agreement reached between the ruling junta and the Geneva-based ILO. Since they arrived in Burma, the delegation has also met with Foreign Minister Win Aung, Home Minister Tin Hlaing and acting Labor Minister Tin Win in addition to meeting senior officials of the labor department.

    The delegation held talks with senior members of the NLD Tuesday evening at the party office. The delegation is scheduled to meet the attorney general Wednesday evening, according to diplomatic sources.
    One More Political Prisoner Released

    YANGON, September 19 (Xinhuanet) -- One more political prisoner, who is serving his prison terms, was released from jail by the Myanmar government Wednesday, according to an official Information Sheet.

    The official statement said the one set freed is a member of the opposition National League for Democracy (NLD). The release of U Kyaw Win has brought the total number of political prisoners freed in the country to 65 since June 15. The move came after U.N. Special Envoy Razali Ismail ended his fifth visit to Myanmar in late August in his renewed efforts to bring about speedy comprise between the government and the opposition to settle the country's decade-long domestic political crisis.

    Meanwhile, secret talks between government leaders and NLD General Secretary Aung San Suu Kyi, who is still under house arrest, have been underway since October last year. The NLD, which won the 1990 general election with 396 parliamentary seats out of 485, complained that although the election has ended for 11 years, the government has not transferred back the state power to the representatives in accordance with the election results and the government's then promise when it took over the state power on September 18, 1988.

    Meanwhile, the government still regards itself as a care-taker or transitional government without mentioning the transition period but repeatedly says it has no intention to hold on to power for long.
    Still no progress towards peace talks between Shans and Rangoon

    Shan Herald Agency for News -19 September 2001 -NO: 09 - 10

    A source close to the Thai Army confirmed this afternoon that it was still waiting in vain for a green light from Bangkok and Rangoon to arrange a meeting between the warring Shans and Burmese authorities, since the regional level meeting between the two countries ended almost two weeks ago.

    "So far neither Gen Chavalit (Yongchaiyudh, Defense Minister) nor Rangoon has made any response to what had been said between generals Wantanachai (Chaimuenwong, Third Regional Army) and Thein Sein (Triangle Regional Command) said the source. "So you wouldn't expect him to make a move without approval from 'above', would you?"

    Bangkok Post reported on 7 September that Thein Sein had asked his Thai counterpart to mediate for talks with the Shans as well as other groups still fighting against the Burmese army, mainly the Karen and the Karenni.

    "His request was taken very seriously by Gen Wattanachai," he added. "It was considered not only in the interests of both nations but also unprecedented. In the past, Thai leaders, including Gen Chavalit, had tried several times to mediate between Rangoon and the dissidents but were consistently turned down (by Rangoon)."

    "Looking back, the Burmese have always claimed their country lagged behind others because of the ethnic problem. Here was a chance to solve it once and for all, and they backed off instead of taking it up in stride. How could one trust anymore in their sincerity?"

    An overseas Shan watcher summed it up, "So, all smoke and no fire," On the Shan side, Sao Ood Kesi, Chief Alliance Affairs Officer of the Restoration Council of Shan State, the political wing of the Shan State Army of Yawdserk, said Shans would not "jump" into any negotiations with Rangoon without prior consultations with their allies.Shan, Karens, Karennis, Chins and Arakanese signed a military pact on 14 June 1999.
    Myanmar Leader on National Achievements

    YANGON, September 19 (Xinhuanet) -- Myanmar has made some achievements in different sectors in 13 years since the present government came to power in late 1988, state-run newspaper The New Light of Myanmar quoted the country's second leader General Maung Aye as saying Wednesday.

    Addressing a graduation parade of army officers training course in Bahtoo Tatmyo, Mandalay division, on Tuesday, Maung Aye, Deputy Commander-in-Chief of the Myanmar Defense Services, gave an account of the achievements made in the sectors of politics, education, health, irrigation, transport and forestry.

    On the country's political sector, he said, 17 anti-government armed groups, which were operating after independence in 1948 under the influence of the colonialists, have returned to the legal fold now starting March 1989, six months after the government's take-over of power on September 18, 1988."The nation now is almost free from insurgency," he claimed, attributing the achievement made in the political front to its national reconsolidation efforts.

    Relating to the education sector, he noted that there are 42, 000 basic education high schools now, while there were 30,000 in 13 years ago. He added that 92.05 percent of school-going-age children are pursuing basic education at these schools which include primary, middle and high schools. He told the parade ceremony that there are 129 universities, colleges and institutes now, while there were only 32 in 1988, saying that student population at these institutions has increased to 530,000 now, up from 130,000 in 1988.In addition to regular education, he went on to say, multi- media classrooms have been opened at 481 schools and 203 learning centers have also been established to enjoy the benefit of data broadcasting, constituting a learning society.

    Concerning the health sector, he continued to say, there are 843 hospitals in the country now, up from 631 in 1988.

    With regard to the irrigation sector, he said, a total of 124 new dams have been built since 1988, irrigating 850,500 hectares of farmlands. Meanwhile, 253 pumped-water stations have also been set up along the banks of the country's Ayeyawaddy and Chindwin rivers.

    With respect to the transport sector, he noted, there are 27, 353 kilometers (km) of motor roads and 4,827 km of railroads now, respectively up from 20,917 km and 3,057 km in 1988. Meanwhile, a total of 132 bridges were built in the country during the 13-year period.

    Speaking on the country's forest greening efforts, he disclosed that a nine-district greening project was initially implemented to arrest the widening desert-like situation in the central Myanmar, which has been expanded to 13 districts under a 30-year greening project beginning this year.

    On the country's economy, he briefed that the nation was able to reduce the inflation rate to 2.28 percent this year from 22.49 percent in 1988.
    Political Prisoners Deny Wrongdoing

    By Kyaw Zwa Moe
    The Irrawaddy

    September 19, 2001-A group of political prisoners asked about their views on military rule in Burma insisted they had done nothing wrong by opposing the country's ruling junta, according to prison sources. Military Intelligence (MI) officials questioned the prisoners at Tharawaddy Prison, near Rangoon, on August 10.

    Sources reported that two MI officials, Major Kyaw Nyein and Captain Ye Yint Tun, met eight political prisoners, including one elected Member of Parliament, separately to ascertain their views on the country's political situation. All of the prisoners, except for National League for Democracy (NLD) MP-elect Dr Myo Nyunt, are being held under Article 10 (a) of the State Protection Act. All have completed their original sentences, but remain under detention due to unspecified security concerns.

    At least 52 of Burma's nearly 2,000 political prisoners continue to be held long after their sentences have been fully served, according to prisoner-rights groups. Former political prisoners close to the Tharawaddy Prison detainees say that those still being held under Article 10 (a) have already completed ten-year sentences.

    The recently interrogated detainees include: Zaw Aung, a member of the National League for Democracy; Zaya, leader of the Democratic Party for a New Society; All Burma Students' Democratic Front members Soe Moe Hlaing, Thaung Htike and Yin Htwe; and activists U Aung May Thu and Htay Kywe.

    According to sources inside Tharawaddy Prison, when asked to assess their past political activities, each of the eight prisoners replied without hesitation that they had done what was best for their country. After being given several hours to reconsider their answers, all eight repeated their original response. The sources added that it was now "extremely uncertain" when the prisoners would be released.

    Meanwhile, the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP) has informed the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) in a recent letter that a political prisoner being held in Mon State's Moulmein Prison is in urgent need of treatment for an eye condition. Dr Min So Lin, an NLD MP-elect, was sentenced to seven years imprisonment in 1998 for his political activities.

    In a recent interview with Radio Free Asia, an AAPP spokesperson added that Nay Lin Soe, a prisoner being held in Kale Prison, in Sagaing Division, is also suffering from a severe eye ailment, and could soon lose his sight. Nay Lin Soe is serving his second prison term for his political activities.

    According to AAPP, at least 68 political prisoners have died of various diseases in Burma's prisons since the military crushed a pro-democracy uprising in 1988.
    Myanmar's Cotton Yarn Production Up in First Half of 2001

    YANGON, September 19 (Xinhuanet) -- Myanmar produced 3,027.78 tons of cotton yarn in the first half of this year, 26.8 percent more than the same period of 2000 when it registered 2,387.75 tons, according to the latest data released by the country's Central Statistical Organization.

    During the six-month period, Myanmar also yielded 11,291,556 meters of cotton fabrics, up 10 percent from the corresponding period of 2000 which saw a production of 10,255,994 meters. Cotton is one of the four major crops of Myanmar with the other three known as paddy, beans and pulses, and sugar cane.

    Official statistics show that in 2000, Myanmar produced 5,700 tons of cotton yarn and 22 million meters of cotton fabrics, up 19 percent and 23.37 percent respectively from 1999. Other statistics show that altogether 325,215 hectares of cotton were cultivated in Myanmar in the fiscal year 2000-01 which ended in March and the country targets to grow 348,300 hectares of the crop in 2001-02.

    Meanwhile, to maintain the enthusiasm of cotton growers and to solve their difficulties of shortage of capital used in cultivation, the government provides annually more than 1 billion Kyats (about 2 million U.S. dollars) of loans to the growers in the country in addition to granting advance payment to them for the purchase of cotton.
    Cars Become Hot Commodity in Rangoon

    By Ko Thet
    The Irrawaddy

    September 19, 2001 -The Burmese government's attempt to collect a tax on used car sales coupled with high inflation has caused car prices to skyrocket at Rangoon's largest used car automall, the Hantha Wady market, according to a business source in Rangoon.

    "Two week ago, I bought a used car for 11 million kyat (1 USD=680 kyat) and today someone offered me 14 million kyat. I am afraid to sell it because I can no longer find a car in this good of shape for that price," said a car dealer from the Hanta Wady market. He continued, " One of my friends sold a Toyota Mark II yesterday for 15 million kyat and two hours later the dealer was selling it for 17 million kyat and it will probably sell for that."

    A Rangoon gold dealer said, "Cars have become a popular investment alternative with inflation being so high here right now. Businessmen are investing their money in cars instead of keeping hard cash around." Due to Burma's unstable economy people often invest their hard currency into real estate, gold or luxury items. The sudden increase in price has also made it very difficult for the ordinary consumer to purchase a vehicle, according to a sailor who recently returned to Burma who was hoping to buy a car.

    The dealers have been parking their cars inside the market but doing their transactions outside of the market in response to the Military Intelligence Officers who have been conducting surprise checks inside the markets, according to Myint Than, who is also a car broker in car market. The government initiated the crackdown in order to collect tax revenue that was not being charged by the car dealers.
    California Academy of Sciences snake expert dies in Burma

    SAN FRANCISCO (AP) -- Joseph B. Slowinski, a snake expert at the California Academy of Sciences, died Sept. 12 in Myanmar after being bitten by a venomous Krait snake while conducting scientific research. He was 38.

    Academy spokeswoman Amy Carter said Slowinski was treated with anti-venom, but heavy rain prevented helicopters from removing him from the region. It was his 11th expedition to Myanmar. Slowinski began his research, which was supported by the National Science Foundation, in Myanmar in 1997. He created a training program to provide biologists there with the skills needed to conduct their own surveys. Since the project began, Slowinski had discovered 18 new species of amphibians and reptiles.

    Born in New York, Slowinski joined the academy in 1997 as an assistant curator in the department of herpetology and became an associate curator in 2000. Slowinski also conducted field work in the United States, China, Mexico, Peru, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Jamaica and the Bahamas.

    He was cremated in Myanmar, and his remains will be brought back to the United States, Carter said. He is survived by his parents, Martja Crow of Brooklyn, N.Y., and Ron Slowinski of Kansas City, Mo., and sister Rachel Slowinski of Los Angeles.
    Fourteen Myanmar illegals arrested in morning raids

    Channelnewsasia 18 September 2001

    The Singapore Immigration and Registration arrested 14 Myanmar immigration offenders in a raid at Toa Payoh on Tuesday morning. Most of Block 79 Toa Payoh Central has been sealed off for redevelopment, save for the shops on the ground floor and their adjoining units on the first floor. And it was in one of these three-room flats that the 14 immigration offenders were found.

    It is definitely not an enviable living condition in this flat with the smell of foul air there in the living room and the stench of leftover food from the kitchen. But it was home for the 14 men over the past few months.

    Immigration officers began staking out just after 5am and moved in when the first man left the flat for work. Most of the illegal immigrants were caught by surprise as they were still asleep. They were believed to be paying up to S$150 in monthly rental and the flat owner is assisting in investigations.It is believed that the men, aged between 21 and 50 years, were construction workers.
    ILO team meets with Aung San Suu Kyi, top junta officials

    YANGON, Sept 20 (AFP) - An International Labour Organisation (ILO) team investigating the Myanmar junta's efforts to eradicate forced labour has met with opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi and been given access to every minister concerned, sources said Thursday.

    The four-member ILO team, and seven experts accompanying it on the three-week mission, had a working lunch with Aung San Suu Kyi Wednesday, an official source said. No details of the meeting were released to the media.

    Afterwards the ILO representatives held a meeting with ethnic minority parties including the Shan NLD (National League for Democracy), as part of a thorough briefing on labour conditions in Myanmar.

    Talks with the Attorney General and the Chief Justice were also on the official itinerary which the Geneva-based United Nations body is keeping tightly under wraps.

    Francis Maupain, who is accompanying the mission as a representative of ILO director-general Juan Somavia, said the itinerary since the trip started Monday had been "very packed". "We are seeing everyone, including all the ministers concerned," he told .Maupain declined to confirm reports that the team would depart Yangon Sunday to travel to Karen and Shan states where reports of forced labour are rife."We do not yet know exactly where we are going," he said. "That depends on the information that we collect during the course of our talks here."

    Shan NLD representative Khun Tun Oo said the meeting with the ILO team focused on whether forced labor had persisted since November last year when the junta handed down an order banning the practice for the first time.

    They were also interested in the military regime's efforts to enforce the ban, he told AFP."We generally conceded that except for the nation's periphery where conflicts with anti-government armed groups still went on, conditions in the rest of the country had improved," he said."We found the team to be very serious and open minded and our meeting was quite satisfying."

    Over the next few days the ILO mission is expected to see non-governmental organisations and visit development projects around Yangon.The ILO last year made an unprecedented censure of Myanmar, and threatened to heap more sanctions on the military-run nation if it failed to curb forced labour.

    Rights groups say nearly a million Myanmar people have been forced into building roads, ports and tourist resorts as well as assisting in military manoeuvres on the unstable borders.But commentators in Yangon say that amid threats of further sanctions the regime is highly motivated to convince the ILO that it is sincere in its efforts to wipe out the practice."This is the first time that the ILO has had an opportunity to travel around the country to make its own direct assessment of the forced labor situation," the UN organisation said in a statement from Bangkok.