Daily News- April 23- 2002- Tuesday

  • Burmese strongman arrives today
  • Surin bid for job on track, says Surakiart
  • UK's association of trades unions in Burma protest
  • Myanmar's kyat currency hits record low
  • Burma Import Increases
  • Japan to give Myanmar multimillion-dollar grant for hospital equipment
  • Myanmar refugees in Bangladesh want to return, but fear future
  • Burma set for key UN talks
  • U.N. envoy arrives in Myanmar in bid to save talks
  • Myanmar army chief Maung Aye arrives in Thailand
  • UN envoy's mission to Myanmar raises hopes of a breakthrough

  • Burmese strongman arrives today

    Wassana Nanuam
    The Bangkokpost

    Burmese army chief Maung Aye is due to arrive with a 37-strong delegation today for a four-day visit that will include a trip to Phuket to study tourism development.The Burmese delegation will also discuss drug suppression co-operation and sign a memorandum of understanding on labour issues.Thailand will ask Burma to issue permits for joint venture fisheries and livestock exports.

    Gen Maung Aye will pay a courtesy call on Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra at the Government House and later have an audience with Their Majesties the King and Queen at Chitrlada Palace at 6pm. There will be a reception party for the delegation at the Government House after that.Tomorrow, the delegation will leave for Phuket, where Foreign Minister Surakiart Sathirathai will lead them to a sea excursion and host a dinner party. A source said the visitors want to take Thailand's tourism development as a model for Burma to follow.They will be accompanied by Somsak Thepsuthin, a Prime Minister's Office minister in charge of tourism, to see tourist spots in Phuket.

    On Thursday, Gen Maung Aye will play golf with Deputy Prime Minister Chavalit Yongchaiyudh in Phuket before returning to Bangkok to attend a dinner party hosted by Mr Thaksin at his Charansanitwong Soi 69 residence.The delegation will return to Burma on Friday.

    The Burmese delegation includes senior ministers Maj-Gen Thura Shwe Mann and Maj-Gen Soe Win, Foreign Minister U Win Aung, Interior Minister Col Tin Hlaing, Commerce Minister Brig Gen Pyi Sone, Science and Technology Minister U Thaung, National Planning and Economic Development Minister U Soe Tha, and Livestocks and Fisheries Minister Maung Maung Thein.

    A coalition of Bangkok-based human rights groups yesterday called on the government to ``play a vital role'' in promoting the use of Asean and international mechanisms to encourage the ongoing negotiation process in Burma.The NGO coalition also called on the government to ``stop all steps that may be a cause of human rights violations against refugees from Burma''. It called on the ruling State Peace and Development Council in Rangoon to release all political prisoners and to ``sincerely suppress'' drug trafficking and production, especially methamphetamines.

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    Surin bid for job on track, says Surakiart

    Bhanravee Tansubhapol
    The Bangkokpost

    Thailand has no problems with its human rights record and enjoys support and encouragement for its communication with Burmese leaders, Foreign Minister Surakiart Sathirathai said yesterday.

    ``Several Western leaders'' had passed on a number of issues for Thailand to discuss on their behalf with Gen Maung Aye, the Burmese army chief, who arrives here today for an official visit.

    Mr Surakiart was reacting to criticism that the government's record on human rights was at odds with that adopted by the world community, in part because it received leaders shunned by them.The same critic implied that this factor would work against former Foreign Minister Surin Pitsuwan's bid for the post of United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, which the government has supported.

    ``Our ability to talk to all sides will lead to national reconciliation and eventually democracy in Burma. The fact that we can talk with Burmese leaders is not a minus but a plus. The world supports and encourages our role,'' Mr Surakiart said.

    Mr Surin had shown he intended to stand for the position and support from the government was a ``prerequisite'', Mr Surakiart said. The government formally put forward the former foreign minister as a candidate to succeed Mary Robinson in a letter to UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan dated April 19, when the government announced its backing for Mr Surin.

    The letter from Mr Surakiart cited Mr Surin's ``meaningful contribution to peace and security in the region and beyond'', his background as a Thai Muslim with indepth exposure to multi-cultural traditions, and his ``active participation'' in international work for the cause of human rights and human security. He referred to Mr Surin's participation in the Human Security Network, the advisory board of the International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty, and the World Commission on the Social Dimension of Globalisation.

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    UK's association of trades unions in Burma protest

    Financial Times; Apr 22, 2002

    The Trades Union Congress, the UK's association of trades unions, is calling on shareholders in Unocal, the US energy group, to press for a changes in its stance towards Burma, amid continuing evidence of human rights abuses.

    The TUC has written to about 100 UK pension funds, asking them to support a US shareholder lobbying for a Unocal employee policy based on international labour protection standards.

    LongView Collective Investment Fund, a US activist trades union fund, has put forward the resolution ahead of Unocal's annual meeting next month. It addresses the group's "risk of being a party to or appearing to benefit from human rights violations".

    LongView alleges that Unocal partnered with the Burmese government in a gas field business that hired the Burmese army to provide security services. "In doing so, the military committed numerous human rights violations, including forced labour," the fund said.

    Tom Powdrill, the TUC's policy officer for institutional investment, conceded that UK investors hold only a small stake in Unocal, but stressed the importance of showing "global support"."Today there is no doubt whatsoever that companies can experience problems if they do not pay attention to the social ramifications of the way they operate," he said.

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    Myanmar's kyat currency hits record low

    YANGON, Myanmar - Myanmar's currency, the kyat, fell to a record low on Monday, sliding to 910 kyats to the U.S. dollar on the black market, which is the basis for most transactions.

    The currency was trading at 885 kyats to the U.S. dollar on Friday. A year ago, it was trading at about 610 to the greenback.The official exchange rate is six kyats to the dollar. But most business transactions and consumer sales are based on the black market rate, set by underground dealers.The black market is tolerated by the government as necessary for business, because the kyat is not convertible outside the country.

    Dealers had no explanation for the kyat's latest dip, but the government usually blames rumormongers and market manipulators for currency instability. Authorities usually react to sudden fluctuations in the exchange rate by warning the black market dealers or, in some cases, jailing them.

    Myanmar's ruling military junta claims the country's economy is growing at a reasonable rate, but outside analysts question their figures and suggest the country's economic health is shaky.

    The free market exchange rate was 765 kyats to the dollar in the first week of March, and has been sliding steadily since then.

    In late March, the military government accused local business people of manipulating commodity and currency prices following an alleged coup attempt earlier in the month. The government said unscrupulous business people routinely took advantage of instability in Myanmar for personal gain.

    Burma Import Increases

    by Worldview Rights

    Norwegian import from Burma was larger last year than ever since 1985, according to the periodical NorWatch. Norwegian firms bought goods for 13 million kroner from the military dictator.

    Prime Minister Kjell Magne Bondevik is now considering asking the Directory for Customs to give the names of all importers of Burma goods, so that he can ask them to stop the trade.

    During his last period as Prime Minister Bondevik asked the directory to produce extraordinary reports over companies that imported goods from Burma in 1997. Then he urged these importfirms to stop the trade and the import fell dramatically.

    Last year the value of this import was 13 million kroner, and Bondevik says to NorWatch that it could be the timing is right for a new report from the Directory of Customs.

    “I am very disapointed about the Norwegian industry. They forget very soon” prime minister of Norway Mr. Kjell Magne Bondevik said. Mr. Bondevik has been involved in Burma issues for many years. He is former Chairperson of PD Burma.

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    Japan to give Myanmar multimillion-dollar grant for hospital equipment

    YANGON, Myanmar - Officials from Myanmar and Japan signed an agreement Monday for Tokyo to provide a grant of 792 million yen (dlrs 6.09 million) to purchase medical equipment for hospitals in Myanmar's capital, Yangon, the Japanese Embassy announced.It will be the first grant for Myanmar in more than 10 years under Japan's official Overseas Development Assistance foreign aid program.

    Following the lead of Western nations, Japan stopped most direct financial assistance to Myanmar after the ruling military junta's violent 1988 crackdown on pro-democracy protests and its refusal to hand over power to an elected government.

    Before 1988, Japan's grants to Myanmar, then called Burma, made up 60 percent of all foreign aid and grants going into the country.In late 2000, the junta began closed-door talks with opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, the 1991 Nobel peace prize laureate, in an effort the break the country's political deadlock.Since then, Japan's has eased its attitude toward the military regime. Last month, Japan agreed to donate 35 million yen (dlrs 2.7 million) to Myanmar for foreign language training.

    Monday's agreement on hospital equipment was signed by Myanmar Health Minister Maj. Gen. Ket Sein and Japanese Ambassador to Myanmar Shigeru Tsumori, said a Japanese Embassy press release.

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    Myanmar refugees in Bangladesh want to return, but fear future

    UKHIA, Bangladesh, April 22 (AFP) - Many of the 21,000-plus Rohingya refugees crammed into two camps in Bangladesh want to return to Myanmar, but fears of persecution still linger.

    Some 250,000 Rohingya, who are muslims, once took refuge in this region some 35 kilometers (20 miles) from the southeastern beach town of Cox's Bazar. They began arriving over 10 years ago, claiming ill-treatment at the hands of Myanmar's troops, a charge Yangon denies.Most have been repatriated with the help of the United Nations, and green pastures and forest replace their camps in much of the district.

    But the fate of the remaining refugees is uncertain. "Of the more than 21, 000 left, 7,000 have been cleared by the Myanmar government for repatriation, but still the process is very slow," said Sheikh Shahidullah, the refugee relief and repatriation commissioner based in Cox's Bazar.

    "Quick repatriation largely depends on the sincere and good intentions of the Myanmar authorities," he told AFP.Thirty-six-year-old Asia Khatun, her hands scarred by skin disease, said she was tired of camp life.

    "Ever since I came here 10 years ago disease has followed me," she said."I am really tired and want to go home, but the fear of military persecution sometimes makes me wonder whether it is better here or going back, " she said.

    The aid group Doctors Without Borders said recently that 58 percent of more than 4,000 children under five in the camps suffer from malnutrition, a condition that can result in mental retardation, stunted growth and other problems.It said the refugees sometimes drink contaminated water, leading to diarrhea and skin disease.

    There are now only two camps for the Rohingyas, including the one at Ukhia called Kutupalong, where some 7,000 refugees are crammed in homes made of bamboo mats as they wait for Yangon to clear their papers.

    "Yes, I want to return home, but it depends on the officials," said Kala Mia, 40."Life was difficult in the camps and 10 years was a long period," he said. "With two wives and 10 children it is not easy to survive in such conditions."

    Thirteen-year-old Mohammad Rez, his hand bandaged after a bad fall, said the medical treatment he received was good, also wants to go home even though he is too young to remember any other life."I was too small to remember under what circumstances my family came here," he said.

    Refugee officials acknowledge some at the camps fear persecution if they return to Myanmar, but warn of the consequences if they do not head back."If one is allowed to stay, then there will be a fresh influx soon," said one official.

    M. Salauddin Chowdhury, who is in charge of Kutupalong camp, said the process could be sped up if Myanmar wanted.He added that some refugees had little to look forward to east of the border."They do not have employment opportunity and fear forced labour (if they return) and thus some are undecided what to do," he said.

    Mohammad Yunus, making a bamboo mat to repair homes, was unmoved by accounts that many Rohingyas had left Bangladesh."Some say problems still exist and there is no peace," said Yunus, 42."Yes, when the time will come we will go, but what is the guarantee we will not face persecution again?"

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    Burma set for key UN talks

    By Larry Jagan- BBC Burma analyst in Bangkok

    The United Nations envoy to Burma, Razali Ismail, has arrived in Rangoon to try to revive talks between the country's ruling generals and opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

    After more than 12 months of talks, UN officials say Mr Razali's visit is really a make-or-break trip because the international community is growing increasingly impatient at the lack of concrete results. But privately, UN officials admit that Mr Razali is unlikely to have any new ideas to put before the two sides, and the prospects for a major breakthrough are dim.

    UN Secretary General Kofi Annan and the Malaysian Prime Minister, Dr Mahathir Mohamad, have both written personally to Burma's top leader General Than Shwe, urging him to give the opposition leader an effective political role.

    But in recent weeks the generals seem to have been backtracking on earlier hints that they were ready to release her. Her party, the National League for Democracy, is also anxious to see the dialogue move onto substantive talks as soon as possible.

    Credibility at stake

    Sources in the NLD say the opposition leader herself is growing concerned at the lack of progress and may consider breaking her silence soon if nothing substantive emerges from Mr Razali's mission. She may feel her credibility is at stake, according to diplomats in Rangoon.

    Diplomats say there is no question of breaking off the talks because Aung San Suu Kyi and the NLD are totally committed to the dialogue process. For them it is the only way to bring democratic change to Burma.

    For the international community, 18 months of confidence-building contact should have produced more concrete results. Many diplomats believe that Burma's military leaders are simply trying to spin the process out without making any major concessions.

    If the generals do not show their commitment to the process, by at least releasing Aung San Suu Kyi as soon as possible, then Rangoon will face increased international isolation and further possible trade sanctions.

    Mr Razali has also hinted that if this trip does not produce significant progress, then he may feel it is not worth continuing as the UN special envoy.

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    U.N. envoy arrives in Myanmar in bid to save talks

    YANGON, April 22 — A top U.N. envoy arrived in Myanmar on Tuesday to try to spur talks between the military junta and opposition which diplomats say may be the last chance for the generals to show they are serious about political change.

    U.N. special envoy Razali Ismail, who brokered the dialogue 18 months ago, is scheduled to visit pro-democracy leader Nobel Peace laureate Aung San Suu Kyi twice at her lakeside residence where she has been confined since September 2000.

    On arrival, Razali said he was hopeful of progress in the long-running talks. ''I'm happy to be here,'' he told reporters. ''I'm always optimistic.''

    But diplomats say patience is running thin and concrete results are required for the generals to show the talks are not just a sham aimed at ending the poverty-stricken country's isolation and lifting crippling sanctions imposed by many countries, including the United States and Europe.

    ''I think Razali will insist the (government) show concrete progress,'' an Asian diplomat based in Yangon told Reuters. ''The easiest way to do it is to release Aung San Suu Kyi.''

    The military have ruled Myanmar, formerly known as Burma, since 1962. Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy (NLD) party won 1990 elections by a landslide, but the military refused to relinquish power. The charismatic daughter of Myanmar independence hero General Aung San has been under house arrest since before the talks began and many of her followers have been in jail for years.

    Razali plans to meet Myanmar's top generals during his visit, including powerful military intelligence chief Khin Nyunt, who is officially number three in the military junta. However, army chief Maung Aye, second in the junta's command, flew to neighbouring Thailand on Tuesday and will not be available to meet Razali. Maung Aye is considered a hardline opponent of political change in Myanmar.


    Diplomats in Yangon say if Razali fails to find signs that real progress is being made, he could resign, causing the talks to unravel. ''This is probably the biggest test he has had,'' a senior Western diplomat said. ''If he leaves Burma at the end of this visit with nothing, then it could be all over.''

    The NLD says it has little alternative to the Razali-brokered talks even though they appear to be going nowhere. On Monday, NLD Secretary U Lwin told Reuters that Razali was unlikely to throw in the towel if he left empty handed this week. ''He's not that sort of person, he won't give up,'' he said.

    The talks between Suu Kyi and the junta, which have now lasted more than 18 months, were at first hailed by the international community as a breakthrough. Since then, the junta has released more than 200 political prisoners and ended its daily attacks on Suu Kyi in state media. But human rights watchdog Amnesty International says more than 1,500 political prisoners are still in jail, and the government has been silent on what progress the talks have made.


    Suu Kyi has remained 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. The NLD wants to lift its public profile, damaged by years of repression, and play a role in forming social policy to help the millions of people slipping below the bread-line.

    But diplomats say the party is unlikely to accept any form of power-sharing, preferring to increase its popularity and wait for the regime to voluntarily leave power or collapse.

    Razali himself has said progress in the talks has been too slow. Foreign diplomats say the credibility of the dialogue is now on the line, and recent political developments in Myanmar don't bode well. The military said last month it had foiled a coup bid by relatives and cronies of elderly former dictator Ne Win, a number of whom were arrested. Many analysts doubt a coup was ever seriously planned, and say the allegations are being used by the military as cover for a purge which has strengthened the hand of hardliners opposed to making any concessions to Suu Kyi. (With additional reporting by Dominic Whiting in Bangkok)

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    Myanmar army chief Maung Aye arrives in Thailand

    BANGKOK, April 23 (AFP) - Myanmar's army chief General Maung Aye arrived in Thailand Tuesday for a four-day visit during which the neighbouring countries will tackle a range of issues that have vexed bilateral relations.

    Maung Aye, ranked number two in the ruling State Peace and Development Council (SPDC), was greeted by Thailand's Deputy Prime Minister Korn Dabbaransi after landing at Bangkok's military airport.He was due Tuesday to hold talks with Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who will later escort him to a royal audience with King Bhumibol Adulyadej and Queen Sirikit.Thaksin will then host a dinner in Maung Aye's honour.

    Maung Aye's 37-strong entourage includes Foreign Minister Win Aung, Interior Minister Colonel Tin Hlaing, Commerce Minister Brigadier General Pyi Sone and Science and Technolgy Minister U Thaung.Other Myanmar officials here for talks expected to tackle such hot issues such as illegal workers, narcotics and fisheries disputes, include Minister of Economic Planning and Development Soe Tha and Livestock and Fisheries Minister Brigadier General Maung Maung Thein.

    Thai Foreign Minister Surakiart Sathirathai said on Friday that during the visit, Maung Aye will be told that Thailand will deport "hundreds of thousands" of illegal Myanmar workers."Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra will ask Myanmar to expedite the signing of a memorandum of understanding which will deal with illegal workers, " Surakiart said.

    On the narcotics suppression issue, Thailand will offer assistance for schemes such as crop substitution, he said.The two sides will also try to reach an agreement on fishing licences for Thai fishing trawlers, which were suspended a year ago after a half-day border skirmish between the two national armies.Joint tourism development and road links across Thailand's western border with Myanmar are also on the agenda for discussion.

    "Thailand will also touch on the recent suspension of licenses for foreign trading firms, which have affected Thai exports of processed food," the foreign ministry said in a statement on the weekend.

    Maung Aye is scheduled to leave for the resort island of Phuket on Wednesday morning, where Surakiart will host a dinner.On Thursday morning he is due to play golf and hold talks with General Chavalit Yongchaiyudh, deputy prime minister and defence minister.On Thursday evening Thaksin will host a private dinner for Maung Aye and his entourage at his residence. The group will return to Yangon on Friday morning.

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    UN envoy's mission to Myanmar raises hopes of a breakthrough

    YANGON, April 23 (AFP) - UN envoy Razali Ismail arrived here Tuesday on a mission which observers hope will finally yield a breakthrough after 18 months of talks between the ruling junta and democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

    The international community has grown impatient at the lack of concrete results from the secret contacts which Razali brokered in October 2000, aimed at ending a decade of political deadlock.

    But Aung San Suu Kyi's opposition party, the National League for Democracy (NLD), now says it is hopeful the talks will soon conclude an initial "confidence-building" phase and start discussing a political transition.NLD secretary U Lwin said the process was on the point of leaping that hurdle last month when it was derailed by the regime's announcement that it had foiled a coup plot mounted by relatives of former dictator Ne Win.

    "I'm rather optimistic that we are getting near," he told AFP earlier this month, adding Razali's latest mission would be key to any breakthrough.

    Paulo Sergio Pinheiro, the UN's special envoy on human rights in Myanmar, also said at the weekend that Razali's visit could provide the momentum needed to create a civilian government after four decades of military rule.

    "I indicated that it was time for the Myanmar government to consider bolder moves to carry forward the present process towards political transition," he said from Geneva after a recent visit to Yangon.

    Since the talks began, Western governments have toned down their usually strident criticism of Myanmar's military government which is accused of widespread human rights abuses.But the United States has now indicated it has lost its patience, with legislation making its way to the Congress which would ban imports from Myanmar worth some 500 million dollars a year.

    There is an implicit threat that if Razali's three-day mission fails to bear fruit, the administration will not block the passage of the sanctions that would wreak serious damage on Myanmar's crumbling economy.

    Observers in the Myanmar capital say the US move may have the opposite effect on the generals in Yangon, which is notoriously sensitive to criticism, and that expectations for the Razali visit are too high.

    "We're wary of people putting the benchmark too high, and seeing it as a make-or-break visit. That is a bit of a dangerous tactic," said one diplomat. "I think the Burmese certainly don't see it that way." "Making demands that can't be met would deter people who want to see a lot out of it to justify taking further action. So it's a bit of a nasty cycle," he said.

    The NLD is unhappy at the slow progress of the contacts between its leader and the junta, but say they have little alternative but to continue.Veteran democracy campaigner U Lwin scoffed at suggestions the NLD could lose patience and pull the plug on the peace talks if they fail to yield dramatic results soon.

    "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.

    The talks have managed to secure the release of more than 250 political prisoners, and lifted pressure on the NLD which was on the verge of collapse before they began.

    After arriving in Yangon Tuesday, Razali held a lunch with resident diplomats, but the rest of his schedule was not yet confirmed, UN officials said.During the trip, postponed from last month in the aftermath of the coup revelations, he is expected to be allowed to see Aung San Suu Kyi, who has been under virtual house arrest in her Yangon home since September 2000.The democracy leader, daughter of independence hero General Aung San, has been a thorn in the junta's side since it barred her party from assuming power after a landslide election victory in 1990.

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