Daily News- April 14- 2002- Sunday

  • Burma opium crop threatens to rise after Afghan production drop
  • Burma Massive drug inflow to Thailand expected over holiday
  • Burmese activist 'missing' in India
  • Burma Economic Outlook Remains Uncertain
  • 60 Bangladeshi Killed By SPDC's Land Mines
  • All quiet on northern front, at least for now
  • Soe Myint Arrest not linked to Hijacking but his Media Work

  • Burma opium crop threatens to rise after Afghan production drop

    Source : AFP

    As Burma's opium poppy crop bursts into bloom this season, drug experts are anxiously watching for signs production could be dramatically increased to meet the shortfall from war-ravaged Afghanistan.

    Global narcotics authorities declared in February that after having trailed Afghanistan for a decade, Burma again became the world's largest producer of opium in 2001, accounting for as much as 60 percent of global supply.

    The military-run state overtook Afghanistan after the Taliban militia's ruthlessly enforced ban on opium poppies, which yield the raw ingredient for heroin, slashed Afghan production by 90 percent.

    Due to vast stocks built up in Afghanistan from two bumper crops, and complicated criminal distribution networks to its main markets in Europe, opium grown in Burma's Shan state was not diverted to fill the breech.

    But warning bells rang earlier this year when the Thai military, on the other edge of the notorious Golden Triangle region, reported that Burma druglords had told peasants to plant as much poppy as they could this season.

    "We've had reports that there will be increased production," said the US Drug Enforcement Agency's regional director for East Asia Bill Snipes.

    "There are messages being passed to the growers to increase production, and there are new areas being cleared for poppy-growing... as people look to take advantage of the situation," he said.

    However, crop surveys conducted over the past few months have shown that fears of a massive increase in opium production, which would have flooded the global market and potentially destabilised Burma, may be unfounded.

    In the areas where we were active we know for sure there was 30 percent opium reduction," said Jean-Luc Lemahieu, Rangoon-based representative for the UN Drug Control Programme (UNDCP).

    But Lemahieu said that while catastrophe may have been averted this year, poor funding for anti-narcotics programs and the parlous state of the Burmese economy meant that the drug situation remained a ticking timebomb.

    "The accident has to happen. We are very happy it didn't happen this year," he said. "The crisis is already here, we don't need Afghanistan to call this a crisis. But Afghanistan will accelerate it even more."

    The international community's heavy sanctions against Burma's military government, which is accused of widespread human rights violation, means it receives little help in combatting narcotics production.

    Lemahieu said even neighbouring Laos, the communist country on the other edge of the Golden Triangle, receives far more funding.

    "It's ridiculous, Laos has total production which is lower than what we reduce in Myanmar on an annual basis. But Laos gets 20 times more assistance than Myanmar gets. It's not fair, it's not rational, it doesn't make sense."

    Substantial decreases in the crop since 1996, thanks to crop-substitution work and government cooperation as well as poor weather, could not be maintained, he said.

    "We have to see, if not this year then next year, an increase in opium production. Because of Afghanistan, but also because of the economic situation in this country, and the overall setting in which this country works."

    The Burmese junta meanwhile insists opium production will fall again this year, after levelling out in 2001.

    "Some critics say that production will escalate when the Afghanistan production falls down... but we don't share that concern," said Colonel Kyaw Thein, military intelligence spokesman on narcotics.

    "There are fewer poppies being grown in most of the densely grown areas, in some areas the weather is not favourable and government forces have also eradicated thousands of acres," he told AFP.

    In post-Taliban Afghanistan, concerted efforts are being made to prevent the opium crop from leaping back to their bumper pre-2001 levels.

    But this well-funded international campaign could backlash on Burma by rising pressure for it to meet the shortfall.

    "If Afghanistan were to be halted, it does not automatically mean that Myanmar can jump in. Because the Shan opium goes mostly to the China market through a totally different group of organisations," said Lemahieu.

    "But the risk is there if Afganistan drops out of the game, they will look for new production areas and the criminal connections would be made. So we have to be very vigilant."

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    Burma Massive drug inflow to Thailand expected over holiday

    BANGKOK, April 14 (AFP)

    Thailand's army fears some 200 million methamphetamine pills could be smuggled across the border from Burma during Songkran, the traditional Thai new year holiday, a report said Sunday.

    The staggering amount is one quarter of the number of pills Thai officials have estimated will be smuggled into the kingdom from drug laboratories inside military-ruled Burma this year.The Bangkok Post quoted anti-narcotics sources as saying manufacturers are quitting stocks ahead of an expected crackdown by the Rangoon regime later this month.

    Prices of the cheap but seriously addictive pills, known here as "ya baa" or crazy medicine, have plunged in the Thai border province of Chiang Rai to just seven baht (16 cents) each from 18 baht a few weeks ago, the paper said.

    The Post said the northern narcotics suppression bureau believes some speed pills have already entered the country but the bulk of them are still at the Thai-Burmese border.

    With anti-narcotics and military personnel braced for the expected influx, leave for troops in the area has been barred.

    "Commanders have told their troops not to take leave or fall ill. All units must stay on alert," Colonel Somsak Nilbanjerdkul of the Pha Muang task force told the Post.

    Army commanders said they had closed Chiang Mai province's Kiew Pha Wok check point, the most likely route for trafficking, as well another commonly used by Burmese villagers travelling to Buddhist temples during the four-day festival which began Saturday.

    "The border situation is not normal so the checkpoint has been closed down," Colonel Chaowalit Sirikit of the Third Army, which patrols the region, was quoted as saying.

    Heroin and amphetamine trafficking is rife along the Thai-Burmese border, with an ethnic minority militia known as the United Wa State Army accused of controlling much of the booming illicit trade.

    More than four percent of Thais from all walks of life are already addicted to ya baa, which has largely replaced heroin addiction in the country.

    A recent health ministry survey showed 2.65 million Thais have used drugs, with 91 percent of them having tried methamphetamines.

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    Burmese activist 'missing' in India

    By Subir Bhaumik , BBC correspondent in Calcutta
    source : BBC-Saturday, 13 April, 2002

    A Burmese pro-democracy activist arrested earlier this week by Indian police is reported missing. Soe Myint, who hijacked a Thai Airways flight to Calcutta in November 1990, has lived in India ever since. He was picked up by police on Wednesday in connection with the hijacking case.

    But Mr Soe's lawyers now allege that he has not been produced in Calcutta, where the hijacking case is registered, and have said there was cause for concern.


    Soe Myint was a teenager when he carried out the hijacking. But the case was not pursued by the Indian Government or by the West Bengal State Government.

    He even secured asylum and refugee status in India. Three years ago, he married a fellow Burmese fugitive, Thin Thin, and the couple ran a popular news website on Burma. On Wednesday, police from West Bengal entered the offices of the website and carried Soe Myint away.

    More than three days later, he has not been produced in the court in Calcutta, where the case is registered, as is required by law. Mr Soe's wife says her husband has done nothing wrong.

    The Indian authorities are not disclosing his current location. Neither are they confirming or denying whether he is being questioned by intelligence officials at a secret location.

    Mr Soe's lawyer and India's leading human rights crusader, Nandita Haksar, told the BBC the police were within their rights to detain Mr Soe because the hijacking case has not been dropped. But she said it was legally mandatory for them to produce him in court within 72 hours of the arrest.

    Rangoon connection

    It is not yet clear what action of Mr Soe may have upset the Indian authorities. But Burma watchers in this country point out that the arrest comes soon after the visit to Rangoon of Indian Foreign Minister, Jaswant Singh.

    They say India might be trying to appease the Burmese military junta by arresting dissidents like Soe Myint in an attempt to stop anti-Burmese political activity in India.

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    Burma Economic Outlook Remains Uncertain

    by Jenny Paris
    Source : Worldview Rights

    Burma’s economic growth outlook and prospects for lasting poverty reduction remain uncertain due to acute macroeconomic imbalances, structural distortions and a depreciating currency, the Asian Development Bank said in a report Tuesday.

    The ADB‘s Asian Development Outlook 2002 report said Burma‘s economic growth is likely to have slowed in 2001 due to tougher economic sanctions against the country‘s military regime, and slower domestic agricultural growth.

    The ADB estimates that Burma‘s gross domestic product grew in 2000 at around 6%. This is well below an official government growth estimate of 13.6%. The ADB‘s growth estimate for 2001 isn‘t yet available, but Burma‘s government said Friday that the economy grew by an average of 8.4% over the last five years.

    Burma has been ruled by the military since 1962. The government doesn‘t issue detailed economic statistics and independent verification of the figures it gives is difficult. Most economists believe the government‘s figures are exaggerated.The ADB said growth will remain constrained as long as the government‘s reform agenda remains limited.

    "Perennial government deficits and their financing through central bank credit expansion act as implicit taxes on the private sector, distorts resource allocation and underpin the depreciation of the domestic currency," it said.

    It said that distortions in the foreign exchange market had pushed the ratio of the parallel and official exchange rate for the kyat to about 100:1. The official rate is currently at 6.6 kyat to the dollar while in the parallel market it‘s at about MMK600 to the dollar.

    Inflation is estimated to have averaged around 20% in 2001. It had averaged over 25% a year for more than a decade. The country‘s public-sector deficit, which stood at about 5% of GDP in 1999, persisted in 2000 and 2001 due to increased spending for state economic enterprises, an increase in public-sector pay and poor revenue mobilization, the ADB said.Surprisingly, exports grew in the first half of 2001, due to higher garment and commodities shipments, it said.

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    60 Bangladeshi Killed By SPDC's Land Mines

    DHAKA, April 13 (Xinhuanet) -- About 60 Bangladeshi nationals werekilled by a series of land mine explosions during the past one decade in the border areas of the southwestern Bandarban district,the official Bangladesh News Agency reported Saturday.

    Besides, a huge number of wild animals including majestic elephants were killed by mines in the same areas. The report said that the SPDC, the bordering force of Burma have freshly planted land-mines in no man's land areas of Bandarban hill district along the Bangladesh-Burma border recently.

    Despite protests from Bangladesh, no action had been taken fromthe Burma authorities till now. The Bangladesh Border Rifles authorities repeatedly requested the SPDC for removal of their illegally planted land mines, but no positive response was available to this effect.

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    All quiet on northern front, at least for now

    Thirty-two square kilometres of rugged terrain at Doi Lang in the Mae Ai district of Chiang Mai has been regarded a border flashpoint since hundreds of soldiers were deployed to confront a Burmese troop build-up in the disputed area.

    Burma began stationing security forces at Doi Lang in 1996, when Mong Tai Army fighters, allied to former drug warlord Khun Sa, defected to Rangoon. Khun Sa had based his military command in the area since the early '80s, before it was crushed in 1995 by Burmese troops and the United Wa State Army, led by Wei Sai-tang. Burma subsequently claimed the land, arguing it was previously controlled by Khun Sa, so therefore could not be Thai territory.

    Gen Maung Aye, Burma's army chief, later dismissed a proposal from Gen Chettha Thanajaro, former commander of the Thai Army, suggesting the area should be demilitarised until the dispute was settled.An estimated 1,500 Burmese soldiers are currently in the area, while the Third Army has deployed Ranger Task Forces at 15 border outposts opposite Burmese military bases.

    ``The situation here must look quite scary from the outside,'' said Col Samphan Siratbuaphan, task force commander. ``But we share a good understanding of each other.'' He said both sides had agreed on a set of unofficial measures aimed at avoiding conflict in the area.The measures were:

  • not to deploy any reinforcements or set up new bases;
  • not to resort to force in tackling disputes;
  • to give notice of inspections, which must be conducted with troops from both sides present;
  • not to open negotiations on the disputed area.

  • Col Samphan said it was Third Army policy to build ties with the Burmese forces, adding he occasionally met Burmese military commanders in a bid to foster understandings.

    Burmese troops were allowed to cross the border into Thai villages to buy provisions. Despite the relative calm, the stand-off did intensify in February 2001, when Thai security forces clashed with Burmese troops at Ban Pang Noon in Mae Fa Luang district of Chiang Rai.

    In May, Rangoon's military junta demanded Thai troops withdraw from Doi Lang or face a Burmese offensive.Gen Surayud Chulanot, current Thai Army chief, stood firm and insisted the area was Thai territory.``The situation has been much improved since then,'' according to one Third Army officer. Indeed, there have been no reports of heavy clashes since both sides stationed troops within the disputed area. It is now common to see Thai and Burmese soldiers playing takraw together at a shared recreation area. It was widely believed the lessening of tensions was due mostly to the absence of other militia in the area.

    ``The situation would be a lot different if there were Shan rebel bases around here,'' said an officer from Pha Muang Task Force, which enforces border security in the extreme North. He said the Burmese side was extremely concerned by rumours the Shan State Army would be allowed to set up bases at Doi Lang.``That would definately heighten military tensions in the area,'' said one security analyst. However, he doubted the Thai military would allow such a potentially explosive move.

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    Soe Myint Arrest not linked to Hijacking but his Media Work

    By Tin Maung Htoo
    Burma Media Association

    April 13, 2002-- The arrest of Burmese Journalist Soe Myint is not linked to the 1990 hijacking but is associated with his media work, said reliable sources today.

    "What we have found is that he was being interrogated by the CID (Criminal Investigation Bureau), not on the hijacking case but on his media activities," said Mrs. Nandita Hakser, human rights lawyer, who represents him in the court. She alleged that Soe Myint is being harassed for his work as a journalist. However, she conceded in an interview that she has been aware of strange that is to bring him back to Calcutta and that the case is still on file even after provincial West Bengal government and the prosecutor recommended the case be withdrawn on humanitarian ground.

    His news agency's web site (
    www.mizzima.com ) has been inaccessible since early today. And his spouse Thin Thin Aung is quoted as saying that during their brief meeting in Calcutta detention center today Soe Myint had asked her to shut down their Mizzima website as his captors ordered him. An earlier report of BBC indicated today that he was missing after its correspondent did no spot him before the court and his detention was kept secrete.

    Mrs Hasker also revealed the ambiguity of his detention. "In initial stages, we were denied access to him. And, when we finally went there, we found two anonymous people interviewing him." "When asked who those two were, they refused to identify themselves," she said, adding, "this is illegal under Indian law." According to the law, she said, "The person interrogating you must reveal his identity." Sources familiar to the latest development said that he could be brought to the court tomorrow.

    The president of Burma Media Association Maung Maung Myint confirmed that they obtained substantial information regarding real reason behind the arrest of Soe Myint. "We do firmly believe that Soe Myint was arrested for being a critical journalist and his previous hijacking case was used as a cover to put him back in jail," he said, pledging a campaign to be carried out for his immediate release, along with international free media organizations.

    Soe Myint's writing covers human rights violations perpetuated by both Indian and Burmese security forces as well as a wide range of reports on ongoing insurgency on India-Burma border, sources familiar to his activities informed. However, BBC correspondent Mr. Subir Bhaumik noted that Soe Myint's arrest coincides with the return of Indian Foreign Minister Mr. Jaswan Singh after his trip to Burma, adding Mr. Singh could have been pressured by the Burmese military government to arrest Soe Myint.

    A Burmese scholar, who used to have strong link with a former India Prime Minister Narasimha Rao, said that he has contacted Mr. Narasimha Rao to help out the case as he was the then Foreign Minister when the hijacking was taken in 1990. However, the Burmese scholar said he was informed that the former Prime Minister could not do anything as he is out of power now. Note: Full text and audio interview with Mr. Nandita Haksar, Human Rights Lawyer, are available now on BMA web site (The interview was conducted for Radio Free Asia -RFA)

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