Daily News- April 24- 2002- Wednesday

  • Burma Opposition-Government Talks Deadlocked?
  • Reconciliation: Rumor or Reality?
  • Xanana Gusmao and Aung San Suu Kyi are among Asia‘s greatest heroes
  • Red-carpet welcome for military chief
  • Thai daily notes policy change as Burma's army head visits
  • Japan to provide 5.8 million dollar medical grant to Myanmar
  • Razali meeting with Suu Kyi
  • Myanmar kyat slides below 1,000 to the dollar

  • Burma Opposition-Government Talks Deadlocked?

    Source : VOA news
    Ron Corben-Bangkok

    United Nations special envoy on Burma Razali Ismail returned for the seventh time to Rangoon Tuesday, on a mission to end a 12-year-old deadlock in talks between the ruling junta and its political opponents. The Burmese military rulers have worn U.N. patience thin and face stiffer sanctions unless the talks show progress.

    Razali Ismail's three-day visit to Rangoon is part of continuing effort by the United Nations to broker a deal between Burma's military government and the opposition led by Aung San Suu Kyi.

    Observers have said a failure by Mr. Razali in this round could trigger a tightening of economic sanctions already being stepped up by the European Union and other Western countries. In the United States, Congress is considering legislation banning imports from Burma (Myanmar).

    The United Nations Drug Control Program (UNDCP) Representative in Rangoon, Jean Luc Lemahieu, has warned that added sanctions might place more pressure on Burma to increase narcotics output.

    "Even from the operational point of view, just applying basic mathematics, if you see that U.S. Congress might eventually reduce the exports or sanction the exports to the United States of America from Myanmar, that would lead to a reduction of $500 million of income to Myanmar. And if on the other hand you realize that our best guess estimates of overall opium profits is $500 million, simple mathematics will tell you that one applies to the other," Mr. Lemahieu said.

    Burma is the world's second largest producer of opium, and a major producer of methamphetamines, flooding neighboring Thailand with millions of such pills each year. Drug trafficking along the Burma-Thai border is on the agenda of this week's talks in Bangkok between Burma's top military officers and Thai officials.

    The U.N.'s Mr. Lemahieu has said the government appears to be cracking down on narcotics production. U.N. figures show Burma's opium production fell to 865 metric tons last year from more than one thousand tons a year earlier.

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    Reconciliation: Rumor or Reality?

    Source : the Irrawaddy

    April 22, 2002 - Foreign journalists Cathy Scott-Clark and Adrian Levy, who are currently in Rangoon, reported that opposition leader, Aung Sun Suu Kyi, has agreed to a series of concessions which include abandoning the 1990 election outcome and taking part in fresh elections.

    The report said, "She [Suu Kyi] also has undertaken to sit on an emergency committee alongside members of a regime she has characterized as ‘criminals’." It continued, "Charged with reconstructing the country’s shattered health and education services, the committee could expect access to up to $93.9 billion in international assistance."

    Burma-watchers in Rangoon dismissed the two British reporters’ report saying it is based on wishful thinking. "There are many rumors out there so we treat them carefully and cautiously," said a veteran journalist in Rangoon. The journalist, however, acknowledged that Suu Kyi and her party have agreed not to demand that the 1990 election outcome be honored. "This is not practical," the journalist said.

    He added that Aung San Suu Kyi would consult with her party members before making any final decisions on reconciliation with the generals. The journalist also said that a high-ranking army official recently suggested that Suu Kyi has softened her stance.

    But the news report suggests that some breakthrough will be reached within a week: "If Burma’s Foreign Minister, Win Aung, Home Minister, Tin Hlaing and fellow members of the State Peace and Development Council approve the deal this week, it will bring to an end one of the world’s most acrimonious political stand-offs. A remarkable transition has now brought the two sides to within reach of a deal."

    However, observers in Rangoon commented that all major decisions are made by Senior Gen Than Shwe not by Win Aung or Tin Hlaing. "He [Than Shwe] calls the shots, no one else," a Rangoon-based observer said.

    Another well-informed source in Rangoon was cautious when told about the report written by two foreign journalists who previously were banned by the government. "People here now say that some surprising news will be announced on the 26 [of April]. I don’t believe this sort of news anymore but if the government scraps this confidence building process, there will be many consequences and serious implications."

    UN special envoy Razali Ismail is visiting Burma tomorrow [Tuesday] to facilitate the "confidence building" process between the military junta and the opposition party led by Aung San Suu Kyi.

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    Xanana Gusmao and Aung San Suu Kyi are among Asia‘s greatest heroes

    Worldview Rights - AFP

    Xanana Gusmao and Aung San Suu Kyi were among 25 Asians chosen by the US-based weekly magazine, Time, as "Asia‘s greatest living heroes." Time said in its latest issue that the lives and work of the 25 have "a profound impact on the people around them."

    "Overcoming self-doubt, almost impossible odds and steadily persevering to attain their goals (sometimes at the risk of personal safety), they demonstrate the inherent potential that remains untapped in most individual," it said.

    According to AFP, Time Asia editor Karl Taro said "for all their fame, these are also folks who are simply doing a job. Performing their tasks admirably, going about their business, always showing up when they are excpected -- and needed."

    Other Asians highlighted were Thai activist Sompop Jantraka who works to save rural girls from being snared into a life of sexual slavery, Afghan interim leader Hamid Karzai, former Chinese prime minister Zhao Ziyang, Taiwanese singer A-mei and Hong Kong martial arts film star Jackie Chan.

    The young Karmapa Lama who fled to India, "a symbol of hope and the fight against repression in Tibet" and Hong Kong explorer and conservationist Wong How Man were also named in the list of Asia‘s living heroes.

    Doraemon, the Japanese cartoon cat, made it onto the list of otherwise real and human heroes as it had "inspired and cheered millions of children across Asia."

    Chinese "heroes" included Gao Yaojie, the 75-year-old grandmother who sounded the alarm on the country‘s AIDS epidemic and basketball player Wang Zhihzhi, who stirred national pride by making it into the NBA.

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    Red-carpet welcome for military chief

    source : The Bangkokpost

    Thailand and Burma agreed yesterday to co-operate more closely in the fight against drugs. The agreement was reached during a meeting between Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra and visiting Burma's State Peace and Development Council's vice-chairman Gen Maung Aye.

    The leaders met for more than an hour at Government House to discuss bilateral co-operation, said Rattakit Manathat, the foreign ministry spokesman. The meeting was held almost immediately after Gen Maung Aye arrived for a four-day official visit.Mr Rattakit said Prime Minister Thaksin reaffirmed Thailand's support for the reconciliation process in Burma.

    The countries also agreed to co-operate in tourism and fishing.Burma agreed in principle to allow the Thai fishing fleet into its waters. Thai and Burmese fishery officials would discuss details later.Thailand promised to support Burma in livestock breeding and in promoting cash crops. It also agreed to help Burma build a road linking Tak's Mae Sot district with Burma's Pa-an town.The government would grant aid worth 80 million baht for the road, with the rest of the money comprising loans on soft terms.

    Military sources, meanwhile, disclosed that problems with ethnic minority groups were expected to top the agenda for talks between Defence Minister Chavalit Yongchaiyudh and Gen Maung Aye, when they meet later in the visit.The defence minister intended to offer himself as a mediator in peace talks between Rangoon with Shan State Army leader Chao Yod Suek without insisting that the SSA put down their arms first, the source added.

    Gen Chavalit would also propose the forming of two more Township Border Committees in Kanchanaburi and Mae Hong Son to ease border disputes.Three TBCs have been set up along the border between Ranong and Kawthaung, Chiang Rai's Mae Sai and Burma's Tachilek, and Tak's Mae Sot and Myawaddy.Burma would also asked to set up two labour deportation co-ordinating units at the border in Mae Sai and Ranong, to join the the existing one in Mae Sot.

    The source said Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra would host a welcome party for Gen Maung Aye at his Charan Sanitwong residence tomorrow night.``The prime minister wants to ask for a hotline for Gen Maung Aye and himself or Gen Chavalit in the event of any problems, especially border problems,'' the source added.

    The SPDC deputy chief would today fly to Phuket for a cruise and would tomorrow play golf with Gen Chavalit and talk unofficially with Thai military officers about Thai-Burmese military co-operation.Gen Maung Aye is being escorted by Special Branch Bureau police and National Security Centre officers. He arrived on a charter Myanmar Airlines plane accompanied by 36 Burmese officers, to a red-carpet welcome at Don Muang airbase.

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    Thai daily notes policy change as Burma's army head visits

    BBC Monitoring Service - United Kingdom; Apr 23, 2002
    Source: The Nation web site, Bangkok, in English 23 Apr 02

    The official visit starting today of Burma's number two, Gen Maung Aye, reflects Bangkok's changing diplomacy with its volatile neighbour. Thailand's list of Burma's leadership used to comprise only Gen Than Shwe, chairman of the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC), and its secretary-general, Lt-Gen Khin Nyunt.

    Maung Aye previously oversaw Burma's eastern region, adjacent to Thailand, but Thailand preferred at that time to keep a close eye on him and his performance rather than to accept him as a rising power in the military elite.The invitation to be a guest of Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra was extended during Foreign Minister Surakiart Sathirathai's visit to Burma early this year.

    It is a clear demonstration of the Thai government's acceptance of the general's rising power, which is said to be equal to that of Khin Nyunt, who is also Burma's powerful intelligence chief.

    A senior Thai Foreign Ministry source said that Thailand now recognized Maung Aye's role and his rise in Burma's military clique. Now is the time for Thailand to "get acquainted" with the new generation of the SPDC, the official said.

    The government's invitation to Maung Aye seems to reflect the internal division of the SPDC, which saw Khin Nyunt lose popularity, particularly with the army's powerful Regional and Light Infantry Division commanders, who are loyal to Maung Aye.

    Khin Nyunt is powerful because his intelligence agency reports directly to the central government without having to go through regional commanders. Maung Aye was a regional commander before rising to be number two in the SPDC.

    The power struggle between the two generals has intensified since Than Shwe reportedly said he wished to step down because of illness.

    The same source said the invitation to Maung Aye did not mean that Thailand would gradually distance itself from Than Shwe and Khin Nyunt but that it was in Thailand's national interest to put Maung Aye on its invitation list.

    The visit comes while Thailand and Burma are still trading verbal attacks following a recent clash between Thai troops and drug traffickers of the United Wa State Army in Chiang Mai Province.The fighting, which killed a Thai soldier, resulted in the cancellation of Her Majesty the Queen's visit to a nearby area. The Thai army regarded this as unacceptable, particularly as it affected the royal visit.

    The general's visit is significant given the bad blood during his last visit, when he was a regional commander.He has remained off Thailand's invitation list until now because of this as well as the long strained bilateral ties.

    A retired Thai army general explained to The Nation that during his previous visit an armed group in Burma had attacked and burnt Thai border camps for ethnic Karens displaced from Burma.The Thai army, then under Gen Wimol Wongwanich, believed the attacks were the work of the Democratic Karen Buddhist Army (DKBA), a strong ally of the Burmese military junta, in the belief that their rival, the Karen National Union, was using the camps as daytime shelters to launch night attacks against them.

    The Thai army refused to endorse a memorandum of understanding at the end of the meetings, and Wimol sent a subordinate to see Maung Aye off at the airport.The same retired general recalled that Maung Aye had said he would not accept any invitation to visit Thailand again.

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    Japan to provide 5.8 million dollar medical grant to Myanmar

    YANGON, April 23 (AFP) - Japan is to provide a 792 million yen (5.8 million dollar) grant to upgrade medical equipment at three hospitals in Yangon, embassy officials said on Tuesday.The funds will go towards upgrading equipment at the New Yangon General Hospital, Central Women's Hospital and the Yangon Children's Hospital, they said.

    "We think that this meets basic human needs through the medical sector of Myanmar," said Kiyoshi Koinouma, minister at the Japanese embassy."Our basic policy concerning Japanese ODA (overseas development assistance) to Myanmar is to cooperate to provide assistance in the field of basic human needs, including those in health and education," he told AFP.Japan had not consulted with other countries over providing the grant, he added.

    In April 2001, Japan rewarded the ruling junta for embarking on an historic dialogue with democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi by unveiling a 3.5 billion yen plan to revamp a hydropower dam which it built in the 1960s.The announcement triggered quiet criticism from Western governments that the regime was being handed the reward too soon, and before it showed any sign of actually embarking on democratic reforms.

    UN envoy Razali Ismail arrived here Tuesday on a three-day mission which observers hope will finally yield a breakthrough in the talks, which he brokered in October 2000.The international community has grown increasingly impatient at the lack of concrete results from the secret contacts, which are aimed at ending a decade of political deadlock.

    Koinouma said he did not expect the grant to have any impact on the talks with Aung San Suu Kyi, the leader of the opposition National League for Democracy (NLD)."I don't think this will affect the outcome of the process with the government and the NLD," he said.

    Japan is the biggest creditor nation and aid donor to Myanmar. It suspended all but a small amount of humanitarian aid in the aftermath of the 1988 military takeover, but the flows of funds resumed in 1994.

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    Razali meeting with Suu Kyi


    YANGON, Myanmar (AP) _ A United Nations envoy on a mission to coax Myanmar's military junta to restore democracy is hopeful that some progress will be made in a few weeks, according to business people who met him Wednesday.

    Razali Ismail expressed the optimism after a 1 1/2-hour meeting with Lt. Gen. Khin Nyunt, the chief of military intelligence and the No. 2 leader in the junta.

    The U.N. diplomat later met with foreign businessmen based in Yangon and leaders of ethnic parties to discuss the progress of reconciliation talks he brokered in October 2000 between the junta and opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

    On Wednesday, Razali also met with Suu Kyi at her lakeside residence. Details were not available. Suu Kyi has conducted the reconciliation talks with the junta while under virtual house arrest since September 2000.

    The pro-democracy opposition and the international community have expressed frustration at the apparent lack of progress in the talks. Razali, a retired Malaysian diplomat, arrived in Myanmar Tuesday on his seventh visit to push the junta to make more concessions.

    Razali told the foreign businessmen during their talks that he had "a good meeting" with Khin Nyunt, a Southeast Asian businessman said. Razali was optimistic of progress "in a few weeks," said the businessman.

    An ethnic Shan leader also quoted Razali as saying that Khin Nyunt has assured him the talks are making progress. The Shan leader and the businessman spoke on condition of anonymity.

    Razali's comments are the most optimistic overview in recent months of the reconciliation process. Since the talks began 18 months ago, the only tangible results have been the junta freeing 258 political prisoners and allowing Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy party to reopen 35 of more than 300 branches it once had in Yangon. However, critics point out that more than 1,000 more political detainees remain in jail.

    The current group of generals came to power in 1988 after a bloody crackdown on pro-democracy demonstrations. The junta called general elections in 1990 but refused to hand over power when the NLD was declared winner. The international community also criticizes the junta for alleged human rights abuses, use of forced labor and its inability to control powerful drug lords. Meanwhile, the impoverished country's economy continues to be in a tail spin.

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    Myanmar kyat slides below 1,000 to the dollar

    YANGON, Myanmar (AP) _ Myanmar's kyat currency, declining in value more than 10 percent in two days, hit a new record low of 1,010 to the U.S. dollar on the black market on Wednesday .

    On Monday, the kyat which has a steady official exchange rate of about six to the dollar had traded at 910 kyats to the dollar. A year ago, it was trading at about 610 to the dollar.

    Most major business transactions and many consumer sales are based on the free market exchange rate, which is set by black market currency dealers. The black market is tolerated by the government as necessary to carry on business, because the kyat is not convertible outside the country. The kyat has been falling steadily in value for more than a year, but dealers had no explanation for the recent acceleration in its slide.

    The ruling junta shows no signs of instability, but there is greater than normal political uncertainly, due to government revelations last month of an alleged coup plot by former dictator Ne Win's relatives and rumors of a military reshuffle.

    The fall in the kyat's value has political significance of its own, because it fuels inflation, even though the government tries to control the prices of most essentials.

    The government usually blames rumormongers and market manipulators for currency instability. Authorities often react to sudden rises in the exchange rate by warning black market dealers or in some cases arresting them and giving them long jail sentences.

    The government claims that the economy is growing at a reasonable rate, but outside analysts question their figures and suggest the country's economic health is shaky.

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