Daily News- April 21- 2002- Sunday

  • Myanmar deputy military ruler to visit Thailand
  • Myanmar says over 2,200 workers return from Thailand
  • Myanmar Airways International airline designator changed
  • Coordination meeting on poppy substitute crop held in Shan State
  • Time for Burma's generals to bite the bullet
  • Media body asks India to explain arrest of Myanmar journalist

    Myanmar deputy military ruler to visit Thailand

    YANGON, April 21 (Reuters) - General Maung Aye, the second most powerful leader of Myanmar's ruling military government, will pay an official visit to Thailand soon, reflecting warmer ties between the two countries.

    "At the invitation of the Prime Minister of Thailand ... the Vice Chairman of the State Peace and Development Council, General Maung Aye and wife Daw Mya Mya San, will pay an official visit

    ... in the near future," the official news agency reported.

    For security reasons, the agency rarely reveals the exact dates of travel for senior officials but according to a foreign ministry source the visit will be from April 23 to 26.

    It will be his first visit since becoming Vice Chairman of the SPDC in 1992, but he had visited Thailand before then.

    General Maung Aye -- who is also Deputy Commander in Chief of Defence Services and Commander in Chief of the Army -- is the second most powerful leader in the military government.

    Thailand and Myanmar enjoy a rollercoaster relationship at times, with disputes over border transgressions frequently erupting into bloodshed.

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    Myanmar says over 2,200 workers return from Thailand

    YANGON, April 21 (Reuters) - Over 2,200 illegal Myanmar workers have so far returned from Thailand under a new repatriation scheme that will not see them punished for any law they may have broken while seeking employment, official media said on Sunday.

    The papers said that a leading committee on receiving Myanmar illegal workers -- in Thailand in their tens of thousands -- had been formed.

    "Although these Myanmar citizens went to Thailand and worked there illegally, the Government is systematically receiving them out of sheer goodwill without taking any legal action and in the manner of receiving sons and daughters who are in trouble," newspapers said.

    According to Thai media, there are hundreds of thousands of illegal Myanmar workers in Thailand.

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    Media body asks India to explain arrest of Myanmar journalist

    NEW DELHI, April 21 (AFP) - A media watchdog asked India Sunday if it had re-arrested a journalist who had exposed human rights abuses in Myanmar under pressure from the military junta in Yangon.

    Paris-based Reporters Without Borders asked India to explain the re-arrest this month of Myanmar journalist Soe Myint, who was on bail for the hijacking of a plane 12 years ago.

    "According to Burmese and Indian sources, the Yangon junta may have pressured the Indian government to arrest this dissident," the group said in a statement.

    "We are justified in asking whether the arrest of this journalist, reputed for reporting on human rights violations in Burma (Myanmar), has a direct relation with the diplomatic rapprochement between New Delhi and Yangon," its general secretary Robert Menard said.

    In a letter to Indian Foreign Minister Jaswant Singh, Menard said: "The fact that this arrest occurred 12 years after his crime, but just one week after your visit to Burma, leads us to ask for detailed explanations on this arrest."

    The media rights group said Myint, who was being held in the eastern city of Calcutta, had been questioned by authorities over his work as a journalist.

    Myint is the managing editor of the private Mizzima press agency in New Delhi.

    He and an associate allegedly seized the Yangon-bound Thai passenger jet from Bangkok in November 1990 and forced it to land in Calcutta.

    "This unarmed hijacking was done to attract international public opinion to human rights violations perpetrated by the Burmese junta," Reporters Without Borders said.

    The group appealed to New Delhi to ensure the safety of Myanmar journalists exiled in India, saying that Yangon does not respect press freedom and has imprisoned at least 17 reporters.

    Military-run Myanmar has been accused of having a poor human rights record with the United Nations saying it holds some 1,600 political prisoners in its jails.

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    Burma: Myanmar Airways International airline designator changed
    BBC Monitoring Service - United Kingdom; Apr 21, 2002

    The Myanmar [Burmese] Airways International, MAI, will use the airline designator 8M approved by the International Air Transport Association, IATA, beginning 22 April. The previous designator UB will be changed to 8M. For example, Flight No UB221 will be changed to Flight No 8M221.

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    Coordination meeting on poppy substitute crop held in Shan State
    BBC Monitoring Service - United Kingdom; Apr 21, 2002

    A meeting to coordinate cultivation of poppy substitute crops in southern Shan State was held at the Shan State Meeting Hall in Taunggyi on 17 April morning.

    At the meeting Brig-Gen Khin Maung, member of the Central Committee for Drug Abuse Control and Deputy Minister for Agriculture and Irrigation, and Police Chief of Staff Police Brig Gen Tin Win from Myanmar [Burmese] Police Force discussed matters related to extensive cultivation of poppy substitute crops and reported on the tasks being undertaken for narcotic drugs control, progress in control of narcotic drugs in the respective project years, and condition of the decreasing number of acres of poppy fields.

    Next, Eastern Military Commander Brig-Gen Khin Maung Myint gave instructions on wider cultivation of the crops that are suitable to the region to ensure the total eradication of narcotic drugs and educational talk programmes for poppy growers. The meeting later ended.

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    Time for Burma's generals to bite the bullet
    BANGKOK (Reuters)

    It's crunch time for Burma's ruling generals.

    A visit by U.N. Special Envoy Razali Ismail this week could be the last chance for the military to show it is serious about political change in the impoverished and isolated country.

    Diplomats say patience with the military rulers is running out after more than 18 months of secretive talks with opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, and unless it can prove the dialogue is more than just a sham, heavier sanctions are set to follow.

    If Razali, who is due to arrive in Burma on Tuesday, fails to find signs that concrete progress is being made in the talks, the process could well unravel.

    "This is probably the biggest test he has had," said a senior Western diplomat in Rangoon. "If he leaves Burma at the end of this visit with nothing, then it could be all over. People can't keep giving the government the benefit of the doubt forever."

    Top of the international community's demands is the release of 56-year-old Suu Kyi, winner of the 1991 Nobel Peace Prize, who has been held under house arrest for 18 months.

    "Releasing her is the one thing they could do now that would give them some breathing space and keep the talks on track," the diplomat said. "They can't carry on claiming to be building democracy while Suu Kyi is in confinement."


    The talks between Suu Kyi and the junta were hailed by the international community as a breakthrough. Since they began, the government has released more than 200 political prisoners and ended its criticism of Suu Kyi in state media.

    But more than 1,000 political prisoners are still in jail, and the government has been silent on what progress the talks have made -- if any.

    Suu Kyi, too, is silent. Her telephone line is cut, she cannot leave her house, and her visitors are screened by the military and limited to a handful of diplomats.

    Activists in Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy (NLD), which won Burma's last election in 1990 but was never allowed to take power, are increasingly restless over the lack of progress. So too are the country's many ethnic parties, who fear they could be left out of any political settlement.

    Razali himself has said progress in the talks has been too slow. The credibility of the dialogue is now on the line.

    "The question is how many more times can Razali keep going back if there has been no progress? If the government is playing a game, it can't do it forever," said Aung Zaw, editor of the Thai-based Irrawaddy magazine which focuses on Burma.

    Diplomats say Razali may resign if this trip yields no progress. That would probably lead to stricter sanctions by the United States, Europe and Japan, pushing Burma's tottering economy even deeper into crisis.

    "More sanctions would be the next step," the diplomat said. "There has been a carrot-and-stick approach so far, but if there is no progress then we will throw away the carrot."


    The omens are not good ahead of Razali's trip.

    The military said last month it had foiled a coup bid by relatives and cronies of elderly former dictator Ne Win. His son-in-law and three grandsons were arrested and are to be put on trial for high treason, which carries the death penalty.

    Many in Burma welcomed the arrests -- Ne Win began decades of dictatorial military rule in Burma when he seized power in 1962, and presided over the country's decline from being one of Asia's richest countries to one of its most backward.

    But many analysts doubt a coup was ever seriously planned, and say the allegations are being used by the military to purge its ranks. They say the purge has strengthened the hand of hardliners opposed to making any concessions to Suu Kyi.

    Razali's latest visit was initially scheduled for last month, but the junta asked him to postpone it at the last minute, fuelling fears about the future of the dialogue with Suu Kyi.

    The government at first said it had requested the delay because the deputy foreign minister had suffered a heart attack, but then said it was too busy dealing with the alleged coup plot to meet Razali.

    "It was certainly worrying that the visit was postponed," the diplomat said. "If the military is trying to stall his arrival, it means they have no good news to tell about the talks. And that means the whole process is probably in real danger."

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