Daily News-September 25 - 2001- Tuesday

  • Myanmar's leader begins three-day Malaysian visit Tuesday
  • Military Plans "Political Consultation Group"
  • Thousands flock for work permits
  • Thai singer unrepentant over lyrics
  • Two more bridges to be built Burma, Thailand
  • 39 Myanmar fishermen starving in Orissa
  • Malaysia hails Myanmar's move to push ahead with democracy
  • Myanmar leader starts three-day Malaysian visit

  • Myanmar's leader begins three-day Malaysian visit Tuesday

    The Star (Asia)

    KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia (AP) - Myanmar's leader Gen. Than Shwe will discuss bilateral and regional issues with Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad during a three-day visit starting Tuesday, the Foreign Ministry said.

    Than Shwe will hold talks with Mahathir at his office in the administrative capital, Putrajaya, and attend a state dinner on Tuesday before visiting tourist attractions including the world's tallest buildings, the Petronas Twin Towers, on Wednesday and Thursday, the ministry said in a statement.

    The trip ''reflects the close and cordial relations between the two countries and will pave the way for wider scope of cooperation between the governments and peoples of Malaysia and Myanmar,'' the statement said.

    Than Shwe, who is the chairman of the ruling State Peace and Development Council, will be accompanied by wife Daw Kyaing Kyaing and five ministers of the regime, the statement said.The two leaders will discuss bilateral and regional issues, it said.

    The trip will be carefully watched by political analysts because Malaysia has helped broker talks between the military and pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi. The secret talks, which began almost a year ago, have not ended the country's political deadlock but the ruling junta has released a number of political prisoners and eased its pressure on Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy.

    It will be Tan Shwe's third visit to Malaysia. Mahathir traveled to Myanmar for the second time in January. His first trip was in 1997, when Myanmar was admitted into the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.

    Mahathir was key in getting Myanmar into ASEAN. Singapore, Indonesia, the Philippines, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam, Brunei and Malaysia are the other members of the grouping. - AP
    Military Plans "Political Consultation Group"

    By Min Zin
    The Irrawaddy

    September 24, 2001-Burma’s military regime is planning to form a "Political Consultation Group" in order to prepare for a political transition process that is thought to be imminent, according to a source close to the ruling junta. The source also said he had seen a confidential report that mentioned that a proposal for the consultation group was delivered to opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi during a July meeting with junta leaders.

    "The group will have fifty-two members and will be comprised of veteran politicians, leaders of political parties, army retirees as well as incumbent military officers, ethnic representatives and retired civic scholars," said a well-known journalist in Rangoon who requested to remain anonymous.

    It is unclear if Suu Kyi and high-ranking members of the junta will be included in the group. However, a quote from the document stated, "Aung San Suu Kyi said that this kind of group should have been formed in 1996 or 1997 but the junta was too hesitant then to take the necessary steps. She feels it is quite late now but is not opposed to setting up the group." Maj Gen Kyaw Win of the Military Intelligence Service (MIS) reportedly delivered the proposal to Suu Kyi.

    It also remains unclear whether former Burmese strongman Ne Win will be included in the group. Aung San Suu Kyi was supposed to meet Ne Win in August of this year to exchange political views and discuss the possibility of a political transition, the source said. Many Burmese analysts feel Ne Win still wields strong influence over the current military leaders.

    Meanwhile, the one-year anniversary of Suu Kyi’s latest house arrest came on September 21st, despite the ongoing talks between the junta and the opposition. The secret talks began in October of last year and the details of their substance have not been disclosed.
    Thousands flock for work permits

    The Nation
    Published on Sep 25, 2001

    Thousands of illegal immigrants, mostly from Burma, rushed to register for work permits throughout Thailand yesterday, under a new government scheme to regulate labourers from poorer neighbouring countries.

    The Labour Ministry decided to extend the registration deadline by 10 days to October 23. Registration began yesterday.

    There are an estimated 1 million undocumented illegal migrant workers employed in Thai factories, and only 100,000 registered migrants. With hundreds of thousands expected to register to take advantage of the opportunity to work legally, agencies who process these registrations and related operations are expected to be overwhelmed in coming weeks.

    Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra decided to allow illegal migrants from Burma, Laos and Cambodia to apply for work permits by paying Bt4,450 for registration, a health examination and other fees. The fee is payable in two instalments - Bt3,225 at registration and Bt1,225 six months later. While earning less than the minimum wage in Thailand, illegal migrants can still make as much as Bt60 a day, more than four times what a Burmese worker, for example, could earn at home.

    Mai, 18, from Burma, was quizzed at a checkpoint where he was required to give fingerprints, a formality pending his deportation. He said he did not want to return to his hometown because there is no work there.Most Burmese migrants earn Bt1,500 to Bt2,000 a month in Thailand. An August 28 Cabinet decision allowed Burmese to enter Thailand by paying a Bt20 fee, but they are then required to return to Burma at the end of the day.

    Pol Lt Col Sorapol Payungveeranoi, the deputy superintendent of immigration for Tak province, said the flow of migrants has been difficult to process.Labour Minister Dej Boonlong said he expected 700,000 migrants to sign up for the new work permits. Given the extended deadline, workers, who must be accompanied by their employers during registration, now have three more weeks to register.

    In Samut Sakhon, a port about 40 kilometres south of Bangkok and a centre for fishing-based industries, about 3,000 workers, most of them Burmese, had registered within the first seven hours yesterday, said Arunee Krukhun, a registrar official. Authorities in Tak province, home to many garment factories dependent on cheap foreign labour, have received about 20,000 applications so far, said Anurut Thosarut, head of the provincial labour department.

    Myint Naing, 22, a knitting factory worker, said his employer has paid for the work permit, but will deduct half of the money from his wages. "We have agreed, as it means we can work legally. In the past, we've had to hide in the rice fields to avoid arrest. Sometimes we were injured," he said.

    However, officials in Tak indicated that the work permit does not guarantee migrant workers the local minimum daily wage of Bt136. They said it was up to Thai businessmen, and not the government, to decide on salaries.

    Phil Robertson, representative in Thailand of the Solidarity Centre, a US labour-rights group, said worker registration was a step forward, but that it should ensure migrants get the same protection and coverage as Thais - including the minimum wage, benefits, holidays and working conditions.

    A Burmese merchant, who asked not want to be named, said for the past two months, military authorities in his country had prevented anyone who was not a merchant fromcoming to the Thai border opposite Tak.He said he thought this was to stop an exodus of people seeking work permits here.
    Thai singer unrepentant over lyrics

    The Nation- Published on Sep 25, 2001

    Singer and composer Yuenyong Ophakul again denied yesterday his new album would harm the relationship between Thailand and Burma.

    Yuenyong, popularly known as AD, claimed some people in government were unhappy with his lyrics, which, they say, are obviously anti-Burmese.But the singer said 10 of his songs about the Shan people,or Tai Yai (elder Thai), reflect his personal views and have nothing to do with the Thai government.

    "I feel slighted. I'm just an ordinary songwriter and I don't think my songs will have any negative impact or cause any problems," he said, adding that he had no intention of rewriting the lyrics just to please someone.

    Yuenyong said he was not surprised that people with opposing views would have different opinions about his songs. While the Shan people would love his songs, which support their cause, it was no surprise that the Burmese junta would dislike them.

    The singer-songwriter also dismissed as groundless a suggestion that his comments about any possible ban were part of a wider publicity stunt to promote his album, tentatively titled "May Tong Rong Hai" (Don't Cry).
    Two more bridges to be built Burma, Thailand to conduct joint survey

    Bangkok Post - Thailand; Sep 24, 2001

    Thai and Burmese local authorities have agreed in principle on the construction of a second bridge at Mae Sai-Tachilek and another from Sop Ruak in Chiang Saen district to the Golden Triangle.

    Arun Narongchai, the provincial public relations chief, said the bridge plans were discussed at a meeting last Thursday between Chiang Rai governor Samroeng Punyopakorn, Tachilek governor Lt-Col Tin Myo Myint and Kengtung governor Lt-Col Khin Maung. The Burmese governors were accompanied by about 30 officials.

    Mr Samroeng said the existing Mae Sai-Tachilek bridge is very old and too narrow to cope with the growing vehicle traffic across the border. Thai authorities had spotted a suitable new location at tambon Ko Chang.

    Lt-Col Tin Myo Myint and Lt-Col Khin Maung had no objection to the plan. The two sides agreed to conduct a joint survey of the site. The two Burmese governors also agreed to a Thai proposal to build a bridge from Sop Ruak in Chiang Saen district to the Golden Triangle.

    At present there is only a temporary border checkpoint at Sop Ruak through which Burmese and Lao people are allowed to enter the country to buy goods. Thai people, however, are not allowed to cross the border into Burma. They can do so only at Mae Sai and Chiang Saen.

    In the Golden Triangle area opposite Sop Ruak, a Thai investor with links to national-level politicians is said to have built a casino, hotel and golf course.

    The Burmese governors also told Mr Samroeng the construction of the100-km Tachilek-Kengtung road was still in progress. They hoped that on its completion the road would open a wider channel for bilateral trade.
    39 Myanmar fishermen starving in Orissa

    Imran Khan in Bhubaneswar

    Thanks to the apathy of the Myanmar embassy, about 39 fishermen are struggling to survive after their release from a jail in Orissa.

    Twenty days after their release from the Alipingal sub-jail in Jagatsinghpur district, they have nowhere to go. The embassy is mum despite repeated request by the district administration to take care of their journey back home, an official said.

    Driven by starvation, most of them even took to lizards and frogs for survival. Since their release from the jail, a temple has become their new shelter.

    Sympathetic villagers of Alipingal gram panchayat and the jail administration finally came to their rescue and provided them with food. Most of these fishermen now work as daily labourers, while some earn a few bucks from tattooing.

    Their ordeal began when they, along with some Thai fishermen, were caught by the coast guard on January 21 last while fishing in Indian waters. All of them were booked for violating the Maritime Zone of India Act by the Paradip police. They were later forwarded to jail by a local court. One of the crew from Thailand died of AIDS last April.

    After their release from the Alipingal sub-jail, the Thai fishermen were taken away by the embassy, while the 39 Myanmarese were left to languish.
    Malaysia hails Myanmar's move to push ahead with democracy

    KUALA LUMPUR, Sept 25 (AFP) - The head of Myanmar's junta, Senior General Than Shwe, has promised to push ahead with democratic reforms which Malaysia said will enable isolated Yangon to move into mainstream politics.

    "The Myanmar leader stressed the fact that they would like to go forward with the democratic process and they are discussing with democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi," Malaysian Foreign Minister Syed Hamid Albar told a press conference.Earlier, Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad and Than Shwe met held an hour-long meeting.

    Syed Hamid said Malaysia, which is considered Myanmar's closes ally in the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), would like to stress that there should not be any pressure on Yangon to speed up the talks."It is important that they will do it at their own pace," he said.

    Syed Hamid said Mahathir congratulated Than Shwe for the recent domestic political developments -- referring to the various initiatives between Myanmar's junta and Aung San Suu Kyi.

    "I think every ASEAN member would like to see Myanmar move to mainstream and not subjected to problems related to the political scenario in the country," he said.Syed Hamid said Malaysia was watching Myanmar closely and was encouraged by the steps taken to free opposition figures and to hold a dialogue with them.

    Democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi has been under house arrest for a year, but has embarked on landmark talks with the military.The political atmosphere in Yangon has thawed since the talks began, leading to the release of nearly 200 opposition figures including senior members of her National League for Democracy (NLD).

    The Malaysian official said UN envoy Razali Ismail was expected to make more frequent visits to Myanmar to "build up the momentum" to pave the way for democratic reforms.During a four-day visit to Yangon in August, the envoy met twice with Aung San Suu Kyi to discuss the progress of the talks.

    Syed Hamid also said the two leaders touched on the terrorist attacks on the United States."Everybody appreciates terrorism is a problem. Both leaders see a need to ensure peace and stability," he said.

    In the economic field, Syed Hamid said Myanmar has opened its doors to Malaysian investors in the oil and gas, timber, paper and pulp and fishing industry.The two leaders agreed that ASEAN members would have to boost intra-regional trade to counter the negative impact of the US economy amid the September 11 tragedy.After the bilateral talks, Malaysia and Myanmar signed memorandums of understanding on tourism and information exchange.

    The first day of Than Shwe's visit will conclude with a dinner hosted by Mahathir. On Wednesday, he is due to tour the Multimedia Development Corporation and the world's tallest buildings -- the Petronas Twin Towers.On Thursday the general is scheduled to visit the island resort of Langkawi before leaving for home later in the day.

    Malaysia is ranked fourth among foreign investors in Myanmar with investment totalling 587 million dollars, mostly in timber, hotel construction, tourism and trading.

    This is Than Shwe's third visit to Malaysia and comes after an invitation from Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad who visited Yangon in January. Shwe is being accompanied by six senior ministers and the chief of military intelligence, Lieutenant-General Khin Nyunt.
    Myanmar leader starts three-day Malaysian visit

    PUTRAJAYA, Malaysia, Sept 25 (Reuters) - Myanmar leader Senior-General Than Shwe on Tuesday began a three-day visit to Malaysia, one of widely isolated Myanmar's most sympathetic neighbours.

    Than Shwe was due to meet Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad at government offices in Putrajaya, the administrative capital outside Kuala Lumpur, before talks and the signing of unspecified bilateral deals. Than Shwe's trip follows a visit to Myanmar by Mahathir in January.

    Malaysia encourages Myanmar's military government to seek reconciliation with the country's pro-democracy movement, led by Nobel Peace Prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi who is being held under house arrest.

    But Mahathir said earlier this year that any future elections should not "undermine authority" and suggested that Myanmar could adopt Southeast Asian political models rather than Western-style parliamentary democracy.

    The military has ruled Myanmar since 1962 and crushed all attempts to promote democracy. Many Western countries have sought to isolate the country, and some have imposed limited sanctions, because of its poor human rights record. But a secretive dialogue between Myanmar's rulers and Suu Kyi began late last year with the U.N. special envoy Razali Ismail, a veteran Malaysian diplomat, as mediator. Razali visited Myanmar late last month and a U.N. spokesman later said the envoy was satisfied all parties were committed to the process.

    The Malaysian Foreign Ministry said Than Shwe's visit reflected "close and cordial" relations between the two countries and paved the way for wider bilateral cooperation. Malaysia's state news agency Bernama said Than Shwe, who heads his country's ruling State Peace and Development Council, was accompanied by his wife and ministers in charge of agriculture and irrigation, industry, energy and science and technology as well as other senior government officials.

    Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy (NLD) won Myanmar's last election in 1990 by a landslide but has never been allowed to govern. Instead, many of its members have been detained and harassed. But the military government has released more than 160 political prisoners, most of them NLD members, since January.

    The United Nations Commission on Human Rights has praised Myanmar's generals for their talks with pro-democracy leaders but also said there were major violations of human rights including executions, mass arrests and forced labour. The human rights group Amnesty International says there are 1,500 political prisoners in Myanmar.