Daily News- April 05- 2002- Friday

  • Crisis group calls for humanitarian aid to Myanmar
  • Aids crisis to get worse - NGO
  • Red-tape, funding delaying return of Burmese workers
  • Myanmar will not rush to reform, but change is in the air: junta
  • Myanmar says country economically vibrant under military rule
  • Myanmar is hurting ties between Europe and Asia: Patten

  • Crisis group calls for humanitarian aid to Myanmar

    BANGKOK, Thailand (AP) _ An international group urged greater international aid for military-ruled Myanmar, saying Thursday that the country faces a humanitarian crisis due to poverty, illness and the rapid spread of AIDS.

    Myanmar is under international economic sanctions aimed at compelling the government to democratize. But the Brussels-based International Crisis Group said those intentions should not block much-needed humanitarian help.

    "Humanitarian aid is needed to tackle poverty, illness and the education shortfall but also to counteract social instability which could undermine political progress," the group's president, former Australian Foreign Minister Gareth Evans, said in a statement. The International Crisis Group is a private organization that advises governments on how to prevent conflicts.

    Evans said people in Myanmar were becoming ``increasingly frustrated with the whole government system," and that the imminent humanitarian crisis was "dangerous" to a future democratic government.

    International agencies, donors, Myanmar's ruling junta and the democratic opposition should work together to try to boost aid. The group also called on the ruling regime, which took power in 1988 after a bloody crackdown on pro-democracy demonstrators, to cut defense spending, shift aid policies and consider donors' interests.The ICG also issued a new report on AIDS in Myanmar, also known as Burma.

    The report says one in 50 Myanmar adults are estimated to be infected with the deadly HIV virus which causes AIDS, and that there are signs the junta is "crawling out of deep denial" about the scale of the epidemic and taking measures to stem it. More than 1.6 million people in Southeast Asia are living with HIV infection.

    In some of the region's poorest countries, including Myanmar, infection stands at more than 1 pfrcent of the adult population, according to a report by the Association of Southeast Asian Nations last year.

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    Aids crisis to get worse - NGO

    The Nation

    One in fifty adults in Burma is estimated to be infected with HIV and the worse is still to come, according to a report released this week by the International Crisis Group (ICG), a Brussels-based think tank.

    The extent of the problem, according to the report "The HIV/Aids Crisis", depends on decisions that the Burmese and the international community take in the coming months and years.

    The report said HIV prevalence is rising rapidly, fuelled by population mobility, poverty and frustration that breeds risky sexual activities and drug-taking. Infection in high-risk groups, such as drug users and prostitutes, are among the highest in Asia, said the report, adding that the true impact of the epidemic is just beginning to be felt because of the long lag between HIV infection and death.

    "Households are losing bread-winners, children are losing parents, and some of the hardest-hit communities, particularly some fishing villages with very high losses from HIV/Aids, are losing hope," the report said.

    The report adds that the current situation constitutes a national security threat to the economy of the military state.

    Burma's national Aids programme, "while professionally competent, is woefully under- staffed and under-funded and struggles beneath the weight of its tasks," the report said. Major donors are largely absents while little help comes to the country by way of international NGOs.

    "Recently, there have been signs that the government is crawling out of its deep denial about the true magnitude of the HIV epidemic in [Burma] and is preparing to take real measures to stem its spread. It will not be able to do so, however, without a vast infusion of technical and financial help," ICG said.

    Red-tape, funding delaying return of Burmese workers

    Achara Ashayagachat
    The Bangkokpost

    Financial problems and red-tape are holding up plans to send home illegal Burmese workers.An inter-agency task force headed by Foreign Ministry permanent secretary Tej Bunnag will meet on Wednesday to tackle the problems before talks with Burma in Myawaddy after the Songkran festival, government sources said.

    Translation problems had held up work on a list of people being repatriated. The Labour and Social Welfare Ministry had promised 37 million baht but money had not arrived.More than 10,000 Burmese are being sent back in the first phase.

    ``We are seeking advice from the Ministry of Finance on how to finance the repatriation effort,'' a source said.No agencies would risk giving out money until they received a guarantee from the Finance Ministry.

    ``On April 17 we will see whether reception areas on the Burmese side are big enough. We will then decide whether extra help is needed with transport, medication, and occupational training,'' he said. Burma in January agreed to take back Burmese illegally working in Thailand.

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    Myanmar will not rush to reform, but change is in the air: junta

    YANGON, April 5 (AFP) - Myanmar's junta will not rush into democratic reforms, but prospects for change have improved now that it has abandoned its confrontational stance with the opposition, Foreign Minister Win Aung said Friday.

    The international community has been growing increasingly frustrated with the slow pace of the military regime's dialogue with opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi which began in October 2000.

    "But people must be patient," Win Aung told AFP. "We have to work for a long-term mission."We would not like to rush, rushing is no good," he said. "In the Middle East, the Nobel peace prize was given to Yasser Arafat and the Israeli leadership, but the insight was not there."

    "What we are doing is solving the fundamental problems, talking seriously and also moving smoothly towards our goal of national reconciliation and, one day, emergence of a new constitutional government."

    Win Aung said since the talks began, the political environment in Myanmar had undergone a sea change, with both the government and the opposition National League for Democracy (NLD) dropping their angry rhetoric.

    It had been for many, many years confrontational between each side against each other... The government was attacking in its articles and the NLD was attacking and putting on pressure," he said."But it has stopped. Maybe the international pressure is still there but the confrontation has stopped... and the atmosphere now being laid down is softer, more pleasant."Win Aung said it was "very important" that both sides could now discuss their differences in a cooler environment.

    However, Win Aung side-stepped the issue of when the junta plans to release Aung San Suu Kyi, who has been held under house arrest at her Yangon home since a month before the talks began.Some day it will come," he said.

    Observers say the dialogue with Aung San Suu Kyi is still in a preliminary "confidence-building" phase and that it has not yet moved to the next stage where they would begin discussing a political transition.Nevetheless, the talks have borne fruit, securing the release of more than 250 political prisoners and lifting pressure on the NLD which had been on the point of disintegration before the dialogue began.The NLD, which the junta prevented from taking power despite a landslide 1990 election victory, has been allowed to reopen some of its branch offices and membership numbers are swelling, particularly among the young.

    However, there are concerns that so far the process has not yielded any concrete results, like a formal statement of their content and progress, or the release of Aung San Suu Kyi.

    "The talks have not brought about any benefit that is irreversible," one diplomat said this week."It's certainly better to have the talks than not have them. But the NLD's patience is not unlimited."

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    Myanmar says country economically vibrant under military rule

    YANGON, Myanmar (AP) _ Myanmar's military government on Friday declared its economic policies a success, saying the economy grew by 8.4 percent annually during the last five years. Lt. Gen. Khin Nyunt, the junta's No. 3 leader, said the annual growth rate surpassed an official target of 6 percent.

    Growth is measured according to gross domestic product, or GDP, the sum of goods and services produced in a country.

    The government "is striving for all-around development in political, economic and social fields," Khin Nyunt said in a speech launching a two-day conference of finance ministers from the 10-country Association of Southeast Asian nations, or ASEAN.

    The Myanmar government does not release detailed economic statistics, and independent verification of the figures it gives is not possible. Many economists outside the country say the government inflates its claims.

    A recent U.S. government report estimated Myanmar's GDP growth in 2000 at 4.9 percent, and said that the country's economic growth is held back by a failure to achieve monetary and fiscal stability.

    Myanmar, also known as Burma, is one of Southeast Asia's poorest countries. The living standards for the majority of its 43 million people have not improved over the past decade despite the government's drive since the 1990s to loosen three decades of tight central planning.

    Private business activity increased in the early to mid-1990s, but subsequently declined due to an unfriendly business climate, and to political pressure from Western nations over the ruling junta's human rights record and refusal to allow democracy.

    Myanmar has been ruled by the military since 1962. The current group of ruling generals came to power in 1990 after crushing a pro-democracy movement. The junta called elections in 1991, but refused to hand over power when opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi's party won by a large majority. Myanmar is one of the newest members of ASEAN, whose other members are Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.

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    Myanmar is hurting ties between Europe and Asia: Patten

    SINGAPORE (AP) _ European worries over Southeast Asia's economy and the suppression of democracy and human rights in military-run Myanmar is hurting ties between Europe and Asia, a senior European Union official said Friday.

    Chris Patten, the EU commissioner for external relations, said European investors' confidence in Southeast Asia hasn't recovered from the financial crisis that battered the region in 1997-98.

    Patten also said that ties between the EU and the 10-country Association of Southeast Asian Nations, or ASEAN, have been "taken hostage" by the EU's "relationship or non-relationship" with Myanmar.

    ASEAN member Myanmar, also known as Burma, has been ruled by the military since 1962. Western nations have strongly criticised the regime for its poor human rights record and refusal to hand over power to Aung San Suu Kyi's pro-democracy party which won an election by a landslide in 1990.

    Despite Europe's continuing frustration with Myanmar, Patten said there had been some recent signs of improvement in relations.

    An EU delegation went to Myanmar in January to support talks between the military regime and Noble Peace Prize winner Suu Kyi, aimed at ending a decade of political deadlock since the election. However, there has been no sign of a breakthrough in the talks, which began in October 2000.

    Patten said during a lecture in Singapore that Asia's large size and diversity made it "extremely difficult" for Europe to create a strategy for dealing with the region, but that the EU wants to help ASEAN take advantage of increasingly open European markets.

    Earlier on Friday, Patten and Singapore Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong discussed ways to boost trade between Europe and Asia. Goh suggested that ASEAN and the EU talk about forming a free trade area, said Goh's spokesman Ong Keng Yong.

    Singapore, which has 4 million people and no natural resources, has been aggressively seeking free trade pacts with other countries. It has completed such deals with New Zealand and Japan and is expected to wrap up free trade negotiations with the United States soon. ASEAN member countries are Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.

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