Daily News- April 06- 2002- Saturday

  • Myanmar opposition hopeful Suu Kyi-junta talks nearing landmark stage
  • Army chief will be asked to arrest fugitive drug lords
  • 10 years on, Myanmar refugee children suffer in Bangladesh camps
  • Indian, Burmese foreign ministers discuss cooperation, road links
  • Myanmar Exports Less Teak, Hardwood in 2001
  • Myanmar's Machinery Import Up in 2001
  • India, Burma and Thailand agreed to build road link
  • Burma sets new UN visit dates after coup delay

  • Myanmar opposition hopeful Suu Kyi-junta talks nearing landmark stage

    YANGON, April 5 (AFP) - Myanmar's democratic opposition said Friday it was optimistic that 18-month talks between its leader Aung San Suu Kyi and the ruling junta are nearing a landmark stage where they will begin discussing a political transition.

    Western governments have grown increasingly frustrated with the slow pace of the military regime's contacts with National League for Democracy (NLD) figurehead Aung San Suu Kyi, which began in October 2000.

    NLD secretary U Lwin said that the talks, which have been stuck in a confidence-building phase, were about to progress to a full-blown dialogue when they were derailed by the regime's announcement last month that it had foiled a coup plot by relatives of former dictator Ne Win.

    "I think that it was about time that we might be able to go for the dialogue, then unfortunately we had this coup attempt," he told AFP in an interview at the party's ramshackle Yangon headquarters.

    "Although the regime said there would be no problem, it really disturbed everything here. But anyway, the reconciliation process must go on."

    U Lwin said that he and the rest of the NLD's Central Executive Committee were optimistic that the contacts could soon be put back on track and move to the next level, where they will begin to address a political transition.

    "That day must be finally reached at one stage. Whether after Burmese New Year we really don't know," he said, referring to the April 13-17 holiday. "But I'm rather optimistic that we are getting near."

    The NLD secretary said he was heartened that the broker of the talks, UN envoy Razali Ismail, was returning to Myanmar later this month after his plans to visit in March were cancelled in the wake of the coup.The role of Razali, a Malaysian diplomat who has won the trust and respect of both sides of Myanmar's political divide, remained crucial, he said.

    "When I say the New Year it's related to the visit of Mr. Razali. Because he can coordinate both sides and then he can start going back on the program again."

    U Lwin said that no discussion on Myanmar's future could proceed until the lifting of house arrest restrictions on Aung San Suu Kyi, which have been in place since a month before the talks began.

    "It's about time to release her, then we can start the dialogue. That is the first positive sign we want to see," he said.Earlier, Myanmar's Foreign Minister Win Aung also said prospects for change have improved now that the regime has abandoned its confrontational stance with the opposition.

    "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 told AFP."But it has stopped... and the atmosphere now being laid down is softer, more pleasant," he said, adding that nevertheless the government would not rush into reforms."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," he said.

    Despite failing to progress to the important second stage, the talks have borne fruit, securing the release of more than 250 political prisoners and lifting pressure on the NLD which was in ruins before they began.The party, which the junta prevented from taking power despite a landslide 1990 election victory, has been allowed to reopen dozens of 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.But U Lwin scoffed at suggestions that the NLD could pull the plug on the long-running contacts if they fail to yield dramatic results in the near future.

    "I would like to ask those people who are really fed up and think this has been long enough -- what would be the alternative?" he asked."We must take this opportunity to rebuild our country. We have started with this dialogue and although it's taken already too much time, unless anyone can suggest another alternative, I think we should continue with this."

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    Army chief will be asked to arrest fugitive drug lords

    Wassana Nanuam Subin Khuenkaew
    The Bangkokpost

    Burmese army chief Gen Maung Aye may be asked to help Thailand bring two fugitive drug warlords to justice during his visit to Bangkok late this month.The fugitives " Wei Hsueh-kang and Surachai, alias Bang Ron, Ngernthongfu" are known to be in Burma.

    Gen Maung Aye, also deputy secretary-general of the ruling State Peace and Development Council, has agreed to visit Thailand from April 23-25, an army source said.

    The military and drugs officials would ask Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra and Defence Minister Chavalit Yongchaiyudh to negotiate with Gen Maung Aye for the arrest and extradition of Wei and Surachai, the source said.

    Gen Maung Aye was expected to arrive at the Don Muang military airbase on April 23, the source said.He will meet the prime minister at Government House before attending a reception on a river cruise.A game of golf with Mr Thaksin in Phuket is set down for April 24, and with Gen Chavalit on the following day.On April 25, he will be granted an audience with His Majesty the King at Klaikangwon palace in Hua Hin before returning to Burma.

    Wei is believed to be in charge of the Red Wa's production of illicit drugs in Burma's Mong Yawn border town, while Surachai is believed to have taken refuge at Ban Hong, some 30km northwest of Mong Yawn.In Chiang Mai, a close aide to Wei told the Bangkok Post that Wei denied his men had anything to do with the shipment of 1.6 million speed pills, which was seized from a drug caravan that clashed with Thai troops in Wiang Haeng district late last month.Wei was upset that Thai authorities were trying to link him to a number of people whose assets were seized in Thailand, although he had no connections with them at all, said the close aide.

    ``Officials know well who did it. It was the work of (Shan State Army leader Chao) Yodsuek. Why did they put all the blame on us? We do not know many of the arrested suspects. Why should he (Wei) be blamed for everything related to drugs? That's why the others got away,'' the aide said.

    Wei, 48, who is also wanted by the United States on heroin trafficking charges, was made deputy leader of the pro-Rangoon United Wa State Army recently.He now directs six Wa battalions stationed along the border opposite Chiang Rai, Chiang Mai and Mae Hong Son, and has a command centre at Ban Hong, opposite Chiang Rai's Mae Fa Luang district.Meanwhile, a source from Burma's Tachilek border town said Rangoon on Thursday declared a crackdown on drugs in Burmese border areas.

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    10 years on, Myanmar refugee children suffer in Bangladesh camps

    DHAKA, April 5 (AFP) - Refugee children from Myanmar are living in terrible conditions in crowded camps in southeastern Bangladesh with little prospect of an end to their 10 years of suffering, officials say.More than 250,000 Rohingya Muslims fled across the border to Bangladesh in 1992 alleging persecution by Myanmar troops.

    Yangon denied the charges and most of the refugees were later repatriated with the help of the United Nations, but around 21,500 are still in the camps, unwilling or unable to go home.The government in Dhaka says the process of repatriation is still ongoing, but meanwhile the refugees have no access to official employment or domestic farming plots.

    There are 4,072 children under the age of five in the camps in Bangladesh's Cox's Bazaar district, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in December last year.

    "Fifty-eight percent of the children are malnourished and the consequences for their health are huge," said Nelke Manders from Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF - Doctors Without Borders).

    She said malnourishment could result in mental retardation, physical growth problems and a weakening of the immune system, making the children increasingly prone to disease."There is a need for more living space and source of fresh drinking water," she said.

    Manders said the children were drinking contaminated water which was causing diarrhoea and skin diseases, while their malnutrition indicated that the rationed food was inadequate.

    In a recent report MSF said: "Unwanted in their land of birth, and no longer welcomed in their land of refuge, the Rohingya refugees face an uncertain future."

    An 18-year-old refugee called Omar (eds: one name) was quoted as saying in an MSF publication: "My wife and I share a room with 10 people. We have no privacy."Another refugee, Trishna (eds: one name), added: "We have no nationality (and) that is another problem."

    The UN's World Food Programme (WFP) in January launched a 2.1 million dollar appeal for the Rohingya refugees whose survival in the camps depends almost entirely on food aid."The malnutrition rates in these camps are unacceptably high," said WFP's country director in Dhaka, Pieter Dijkhuizen.

    During a visit to the camps last year, chief of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRCRDS) Astrid Heiberg also expressed concern for the plight of the refugees."We are generally concerned about refugees world wide and of course also those from Myanmar languishing in Bangladeshi camps for the past 10 years," she said.

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    Indian, Burmese foreign ministers discuss cooperation, road links

    BBC Monitoring Service - United Kingdom; Apr 5, 2002
    Text of report by Indian news agency PTI

    Yangon [Rangoon], 5 April: In a major initiative, India, Thailand and Myanmar [Burma] will for the first time hold trilateral talks here Saturday [6 April] on a proposal for building a highway linking the three countries paving the way for better connectivity for trade, tourism and people-to-people contacts and easier access to northeastern India.

    The road from More through Tamu, Kalemyo, Monywa, Mandalay and Bangkok once completed will connect rest of Asia as also Southeast Asia, Indian External Affairs Ministry spokesperson Nirupama Rao told reporters here.

    This figured during a meeting Indian External Affairs Minister Jaswant Singh had on Friday with Lt-Gen Khin Nyunt, the number three in the Myanmar government, soon after his arrival here on a day's visit.Singh, who flew in from Bangkok along with his Thai counterpart Surakiart Sathirathai, will discuss the proposal with Myanmarese Foreign Minister U Win Aung.

    During the parleys, Singh said India was ready to offer assistance to Myanmar in the health sector by upgrading, training and providing equipment for two hospitals here.The two sides also discussed steps to enhance cooperation in the fields of education, civil services, science and technology, aerospace and marine engineering.During the talks, Singh said India was ready to step up cooperation in the field of transportation.

    He said the proposed highway was not simply an economic project but also a "political project". The message going out to the world was that the three countries can cooperate and complete projects within given time-frames.

    The spokesperson termed the talks as "very productive" and an expression from both sides to the "forward-looking" perspectives that are increasingly defining relations between India and Myanmar.The problems posed by cross-border insurgency and drug trafficking are expected to come up during the parleys Singh will have with his Myanmarese counterpart.

    India and Myanmar share a long and porous border stretching over 1,600 km with the length of the international boundary being shared by four of the seven north eastern states of Arunachal Pradesh, Nagaland, Manipur and Mizoram.

    Officials said India, associated with Myanmar in the construction of a multi-modal transport system along the Kaladan river, is also discussing with Yangon, cooperation in the fields of hydro-electricity and gas exploration.

    Myanmar and India have recently signed an agreement for satellite communications. The two sides have also agreed to cooperate in joint oceanographic surveys and explore interaction in the medical and educational fields.

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    Myanmar Exports Less Teak, Hardwood in 2001

    YANGON, April 5 (Xinhuanet) -- Myanmar exported 301,678 cubic-meters of teak in 2001,a 0.37-percent drop from 2000, according to the latest figures released by the country's Central Statistical Organization.

    Meanwhile, during the year, the country exported 372,994 cubic meters of hardwood, a 24.53-percent reduction from 2000.Export earning from teak and hardwood totaled 264.28 million U.S. dollars during 2001, accounting for 11.5 percent of Myanmar's total exports.

    Timber has become Myanmar's second largest export goods after agricultural products and the country's teak enjoys a good reputation in the world. About 85 percent of the teak in the world market is produced in Myanmar.

    According to other official figures, Myanmar produced about 200,000 tons of teak from its forests each year since the fiscal year 1997-98, down from about 400,000 tons in the 1970s. Myanmar's forest covers 50 percent of its total land area, registering 33 million hectares, 7 percent less than in 1962.

    To overcome teak shortage, Myanmar launched a special plantation plan five years ago and has been able to plant more than 32,400 hectares of teak.Of the forest area, 18.6 percent are reserved and protected public forest, the percentage of which is being targeted to increase to 30.

    Myanmar's Machinery Import Up in 2001

    YANGON, April 5 (Xinhuanet) -- Myanmar imported 854.34 million U.S.dollars worth of machinery equipment in 2001, 45 percent more than 2000, according to the latest data published by the country's Central Statistical Organization.

    Of the import, the value of electric machinery apparatus amounted to 187.43 million dollars, rising by 10.42 percent, while that of non-electric and transport equipment reached 666.91 million dollars, up 59.12 percent from the previous year.

    The country's import of machinery accounted for 30.62 percent of the 2,789.58 million dollars' total import during 2001.

    Myanmar, an agro-based country, has to depend on import for the majority of its different machinery equipment in need. Meanwhile, Myanmar is striving to transform its traditional farming to mechanized one for the development of agriculture.The present mechanization rate of Myanmar is still very low, standing just over 20 percent.

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    India, Burma and Thailand agreed to build road link

    Rangoon (Reuters)-- India, Burma and Thailand agreed on Saturday to complete a highway linking eastern India to western Thailand through Burma in two years to promote trade and tourism across their borders, a government statement said.

    Foreign ministers of the three countries met in the Burmese capital of Rangoon on Saturday and pledged to complete a highway from Moreh in India to Mae Sot town in Thailand through Bagan in Burma "within a time frame of two years", the statement said.

    The road link, estimated to be over 1,600 km (1,000 miles) long, would promote trade, investment and tourism, it said.

    A "highway of opportunity" linking India, Thailand and Burma could be built within the next 18 months, boosting trade and development in the three nations, their foreign ministers said.

    "Such a venture will bring immense benefits to all our peoples," said Burma's Lieutenant-General Khin Nyunt, first secretary in the ruling State Peace and Development Council (SPDC).

    "Trade and development cannot proceed without transport linkages. It is in this light that India, Myanmar and Thailand should take the initial step towards a regional network of highways," he said.

    Indian Foreign Minister Jaswant Singh, who joined his Thai counterpart Surakiart Sathirathai and Burma's Win Aung in the one-day talks, said the road could be built in the next 18 months.

    "We hope to take decisions, which will be implemented within a time frame of say 18 to 24 months," he said at the start of the discussions, adding that financial and technical groups should start work as soon as possible.

    "The road network connecting our three nations will become a highway of opportunity. Let it facilitate not just the movement of goods and services but also of ideas," he said.

    "Let us jointly begin the process of weaving our part of Asia together, through multimodal infrastructure links."

    Surakiart said before departing Bangkok for the talks that Thailand was considering a loan to Burma to fund the road's construction.

    "As of now, India has constructed a road to northern Myanmar, and will continue on to central Myanmar," he said, adding that construction could be finished in two years if all parties agreed on the project.

    Khin Nyunt, number three in the ruling junta, said Saturday's trilateral meeting was a significant initiative and the first of its kind.

    "Never before have the foreign ministers of the three countries come together in such a manner to develop common regional solidarity," he said.

    "Although the three countries have always enjoyed good bilateral relations with each other, it had not been possible in the past to deepen the integration of our economies."

    Burma stood ready to cooperate more closely with its neighbours, he added.

    "Since 1988, it has begun to take a more active part in the international system, increasing both bilateral and multilateral relations in the region," he said.

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    Burma sets new UN visit dates after coup delay

    Rangoon, April 6(Reuters)-- Burma has set new dates for a visit by a United Nations special envoy who is seeking to spur on talks between the military rulers and opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, a Burmese government minister said on Saturday.

    U.N. special envoy Razali Ismail, a Malaysian diplomat, will visit for four days near the end of the month, after Burma's ruling generals last month postponed his trip due to an attempted coup by relatives of ageing former dictator Ne Win.

    ''He is coming here on April 23,'' Deputy Foreign Minister Khin Maung Win told Reuters on the sidelines of a trilateral meeting between Burma and neighbours India and Thailand.

    Stopping Razali's visit in March raised fresh fears about the state of talks between the military regime and Nobel Peace Prize winner Suu Kyi, whose National League for Democracy (NLD) won elections in 1990 but has never been allowed to rule.

    However Burma said at the time that Razali, who played a key role in persuading the military government to start talks with Suu Kyi in October 2000, would be able to visit this month.

    Razali has made regular visits to the country to evaluate progress in the talks but diplomats say both he and the NLD have been frustrated by government foot-dragging on political change, especially over the release of Suu Kyi, who has spent most of the past decade under house arrest.

    Diplomats say they do not believe Razali's visit will bring any breakthrough in the talks.

    Burma said he would face no restrictions in his movements.

    ''As usual, he is free to see anyone and to go anywhere during his stay here,'' said another senior Burmese Foreign Ministry official, who declined to be identified.

    Burma military intelligence arrested a son-in-law and three grandsons of Ne Win along with three senior military officers last month, accusing them of plotting to overthrow the junta.

    Ne Win, 92, and his daughter Sandar Win have been confined to their house, and the military say they have interrogated 100 suspects in the coup plot.

    But many diplomats are sceptical a coup was planned, saying the allegations and arrests may stem from disagreements in the government over how to deal with Suu Kyi.

    They say the crackdown could be part of a power struggle between Army chief Maung Aye and Military Intelligence chief Khin Nyunt, officially number two and three in the junta.

    State run newspapers have run photographs of the pair inspecting troops together in an apparent effort to play down suggestions of a rivalry.

    Khin Nyunt is seen as Ne Win's hand-picked choice to lead Burma but also as more moderate than Maung Aye, who is seen as a hardliner resistant to a political settlement with the NLD.

    Some observers say the regime wants to sideline Ne Win, who ruled Burma with an iron fist from 1962 to 1988 so that it can move ahead with a power-sharing deal with Suu Kyi.

    Since the talks with Suu Kyi began, the military has freed more than 200 political prisoners but has shown little sign of loosening its vice-like grip on power.

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