Daily News- April 25- 2002- Thursday

  • Myanmar currency hits record low, dealers arrested
  • Mizzima Under Attack
  • Thai soldier was shot dead in Wa-controlled territory
  • UNHCR cuts allowance of Burma refugees in India
  • MAI sees growth in tourist traffic
  • U.N. envoy upbeat about talks junta-Suu Kyi talks
  • UN envoy meets Myanmar's beleaguered opposition

  • Myanmar currency hits record low, dealers arrested

    YANGON, April 24 - Myanmar's kyat currency plunged to a record low on Wednesday, with dealers quoting between 980 and 1,000 to the dollar, as political and economic isolation and galloping inflation forced businesses to operate in dollars.

    Myanmar's military authorities reacted to the sharp fall, from around 910 kyat to the dollar on Monday, by arresting several currency traders, witnesses told Reuters. The government, which has often blamed the currency's fall on ''dealers and speculators,'' has detained currency traders in the past, usually for a few days, in a bid to disrupt black market trade.

    The kyat is officially pegged at 6.9 to the dollar but this rate is only quoted by official government outlets. Most currency dealings are on the black market where the value of the Myanmar currency has fallen from 798 per dollar a month ago.

    The economy of military-ruled Myanmar is largely moribund with huge swathes of activity conducted off balance sheets, currency traders and diplomats say. Foreign diplomats say massive macro-economic mismanagement and a severe slump in investment since the 1997 Asian economic crisis have crippled the economy. They say the government is increasingly worried that spiralling import prices and economic hardship could spark public unrest.

    Prices for fuel, food and consumer goods have rocketed in recent months. This week, gold dealers said 24-carat gold bars now cost 156,000 kyat per tical (0.525 troy ounce), up from 84,200 kyat in April 2001. No reliable inflation figures are available.

    In an effort to stem the collapse in the currency, Myanmar banned all foreign trading firms earlier this month, saying the measure was necessary to protect local companies.

    But dealers say the measures have merely exacerbated the problem, eroding confidence in the kyat and further isolating the country. Most businesses have no option but to buy dollars in order to purchase essential goods, they say.

    Many Western countries, including the European Union and the United States, have imposed trade and aid sanctions on Myanmar in response to what they say are violations of human rights by the military and its failure to move towards democracy.

    Myanmar's military has been in power for the best part of four decades. In 1990, it held a general election which was won by the National League for Democracy of Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, but it then refused to give up power.

    The ruling junta says its economy is growing rapidly and estimates growth in 2000 as high as 13.6 percent, but independent assessments are far more modest at closer to six percent. In real terms, they say the economy is stagnant.

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    Mizzima Under Attack

    By Kyaw Zwa Moe
    The Irrawaddy

    April 24, 2002- The motivation behind the surprise arrest of Mizzima News Group’s editor Soe Myint two weeks ago remains ambiguous, but what is clear is the Indian government's continued harassment of the news agency.

    "Mizzima is under attack in various ways: our telephone lines and cable for the Internet are frequently out and viruses keep coming in every minute," Soe Myint, who was released on bail a week ago from a Calcutta jail, told The Irrawaddy yesterday. "My phones are tapped and I am being closely watched by unidentified persons."

    Soe Myint was arrested on April 10 for his role in an unarmed hijacking of a Thai Airways flight nearly 12 years ago. No one was injured in the hijacking, which was aimed at bringing international attention to Burma’s struggle for democracy. Indian authorities peculiarly reopened the case earlier this month after having closed it for over a decade.

    During his weeklong detention, however, Soe Myint told The Irrawaddy that while in Calcutta’s Criminal Investigation Department (CID), his interrogators did not ask him anything regarding the hijacking case but instead focused on his journalistic work and specifically his work with Mizzima.

    According to the group’s web site: "Mizzima News Group is a news and feature service organized by Burmese media persons in exile. It was established in August 1998 with the aim of promoting democracy and freedom of expression in Burma. It works as an independent and non-profit news agency covering on Burma and Burma-related issues."

    Journalists and political activists have questioned the timing of the arrest as it coincides with India’s Minister of External Affairs Jawsant Singh’s recent return from Burma where he met with Sec-1 Lt Gen Khin Nyunt, chief of Burma’s Military Intelligence.

    Reporters Sans Frontieres (RSF), a Paris-based group fighting for the protection of press freedoms worldwide, sent a letter last week to the Indian Minister of External Affairs saying that, "[RSF is] justified in asking whether the arrest of this journalist, reputed for his reporting on human rights violations in Burma, has a direct relation with the diplomatic rapprochement between New Delhi and Rangoon."

    Soe Myint told The Irrawaddy that it is widely known that Burma’s military government has been putting pressure on the Indian government to stamp out Burmese dissidents working from inside India’s borders but he still does not know the exact impetus behind his arrest. He said Mizzima’s staff was trying to stay focused despite the obstacles being faced-including the reinstatement of his hijacking charge. Soe Myint, along with another Burmese dissident living in exile, redirected a Thai Airways flight to Calcutta from Bangkok that was originally destined for Rangoon. The two disguised a bar of soap for a bomb and then demanded the plane head for India in November 1990. Soe Myint was detained for three months in a Calcutta jail before being released on bail. The charges, however, were never officially dropped.

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    Thai soldier was shot dead in Wa-controlled territory

    Subin Khuenkaew
    The Bangkokpost

    Mae Mao village, where a Thai soldier was killed on Monday during a brief clash with the United Wa State Army, is under Wa control, the Third Army commander said yesterday.

    The village, centrally located in rugged terrain covering Chae Hom and Ngao districts, could be part of a UWSA drug route running from the upper North to the Central plateau, Lt-Gen Udomchai Ongkhasingh said.The UWSA had strengthened its influence in the area during the past year.Lt-Gen Udomchai inspected the village yesterday.He said five villagers from Ban Mae Mao, all hilltribesmen, were killed recently after they declined to co-operate with the UWSA.

    A suspected drug trafficker, Siew Ping, from Chiang Rai's Mae Fah Luang, was killed during Monday's clash with soldiers from Third Army's Pha Muang Task Force.Lt-Gen Udomchai said Siew Ping, of mixed Chinese Haw and Wa blood, was believed to be a leading drug trafficker with close links to the UWSA. He was sent to the village to recruit tribespeople and to set up a drug smuggling route.The area had long been neglected by local administrative officials, the general said.

    Troops from Task Force 399 had gone in at the invitation of the provincial governor to root out UWSA forces.Col Krit Jitsuwan, TF 399 commander, said troops searched caves in the area thought to be used to store drugs.

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    UNHCR cuts allowance of Burma refugees in India

    Mizzima News (www.mizzima.com)

    New Delhi, April 24: Hundreds of Burma refugees living in New Delhi under the mandate of United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) face the survival problem due to the sudden cut of their monthly allowance by the UNHCR Office in India.

    The National Council of Young Men Christian Association (YMCA) has started informing the refugees that they no longer enjoy the subsistence allowance from the office. The reason provided was: the refugees are earning some income and thus they can depend on themselves. It has come as a shock for the Burma refugees who survive in India with the financial support from UNHCR.

    "It is not fair that they just informed me like that suddenly, saying that I would not get SA (Subsistence Allowance) for this month", an angry Burma refugee told Mizzima. "They said that I can now stand on my own and therefore they cut the allowance. But it is not true. My family and I have to depend on UNHCR's SA for our survival", he added.

    About forty Burma refugees are already informed by the YMCA about the SA-cut in the past one-week. The YMCA Refugees Assistance Program is a partner of the UNHCR Office in India in the monthly assistance for the Burma refugees. It has an office in Vikas Puri (west Delhi) where most of the Burma refugees live in rented houses. There are more than one thousand Burma refugees including some two hundred children living in Delhi. Most of them struggle to survive with a monthly allowance of Indian Rupees 1,400 (about US $30) per month per person provided by the UNHCR.

    They fled Burma due to the danger of political persecution and human rights abuses committed by the ruling military junta. With this drastic action of UNHCR, many Burma refugees are cut out of their only source of income in India.

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    MAI sees growth in tourist traffic


    MYANMAR Airways International is gearing for growth on its Kuala Lumpur-Yangon route. "Kuala Lumpur has always been an important destination for us since our inception six years ago, and we are confident the traffic on this route will increase steadily," said MAI public relations executive Win War Oo. Speaking at an interview during the recent Mekong Tourism Forum in Yangon, Win explained that the bulk of passengers comprised two groups.

    The first consists of people from Malaysia and Myanmar working in each other's country and the second is the tourist traffic. It is the latter that is slated for significant growth this year, indus try sources say.

    "I have had exceptional response for my Myanmar tours. In fact, demand exceeds supply for MAI seats," said business development manager of Gem Travel & Tours Sdn Bhd, Let Boonwaat. "I believe MAI will have to increase flights out of KLIA pretty soon."

    Industry sources affirmed this expectation, saying that MAI plans to put an additional plane into service on this route by year-end. At present, Myanmar Airways International has two flights weekly out of KLIA-on Sundays and Thursdays-using a Boeing 737-300. Some 12 seats are in the deluxe Business Class section and 112 in Economy Cass.These also include a dedicated check-in counter and business lounge at Yangon Airport plus inflight amenities such as comfortable extra wide leather seats, gourmet menu, French wines and a commendable selection of reading materials.

    Based in Yangon, the airline operates nine flights weekly to Bangkok and three to Singapore. Plans to add destinations within the Greater Mekong Tourism Region are in the pipeline, providing travellers from KLIA a new hub in Indochina.

    Myanmar Airways International's increasing international profile is reflected in the new IATA designation, 8-M, from April 22, 2002. Within Myanmar, the airline has comprehensive interline support from Myanma Airways, Air Mandalay and Yangon Air. In Yangon, MAI is conveniently located in the heart of Yangon's shopping district at the Shangri-la Group's Traders Hotel, which is the most popular choice for Malaysian tourists and business travellers.

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    U.N. envoy upbeat about talks junta-Suu Kyi talks


    YANGON, Myanmar (AP) _ United Nations envoy"Razali Ismail believes his efforts to end Myanmar's 12-year political deadlock will bear fruit soon, opposition members and foreign businessmen said Thursday.

    Razali, who is mediating between Myanmar's military junta and the opposition in a bid to restore democracy, expressed optimism during hour-long talks with top leaders of opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy party.

    "Mr. Razali told us there will be a new development coming up soon," NLD Secretary U Lwin told reporters. He said Razali did not elaborate but "said the developments will have to go step-by- step."

    Razali himself would only say that he is "hopeful there should be progress but I can't promise when it will be." If necessary, he said he would like to come back to Myanmar more frequently than the trips he makes every two to three months.

    On Tuesday, Razali met with Lt. Gen. Khin Nyunt, the chief of military intelligence and the No.3 official in the junta, and foreign businessmen and diplomats. One of the businessmen said Khin Nyunt told Razali that negotiations toward a political settlement were proceeding despite "some hiccups" because of last month's coup attempt by relatives of former dictator Ne Win. The government said it foiled the plot.

    Razali told the business community and diplomats to be patient, the businessman said on condition of anonymity. He quoted Razali as saying that the political situation was not as negative as it seemed.

    U Lwin, the NLD secretary, said he urged Razali to have Suu Kyi and other political prisoners released. Razali, who met with Suu Kyi Wednesday, is scheduled to meet her again on Friday, the day he leaves.

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    UN envoy meets Myanmar's beleaguered opposition

    YANGON, (Reuters)April 25 — A U.N. envoy trying to salvage flagging reconciliation talks in Myanmar said on Thursday he was confident of progress but declined to give any time frame for this.

    ''I'm hopeful there should be progress but I can't promise when it will be,'' Malaysian diplomat Razali Ismail told reporters after meeting senior members of the opposition National League for Democracy (NLD) at the party's ramshackle headquarters.

    Razali met NLD leader Aung San Suu Kyi on Wednesday at the lakeside residence where she has been held under house arrest for 18 months. He has also had talks with military intelligence chief Khin Nyunt, number three in the ruling military council.

    Razali's visit is his seventh in his capacity as U.N. special envoy. Analysts say if he ends this trip with no signs of progress, the credibility of the dialogue will be badly dented. Some believe Razali may even resign.


    Top of the international community's demands is the release of 56-year-old Suu Kyi, winner of the 1991 Nobel Peace Prize. Diplomats say this alone can help allay growing suspicions that the ruling generals are merely using the talks to try to improve their image, end their poverty-stricken country's isolation and lift crippling sanctions imposed by many countries, including the United States and nations in Europe.

    On Thursday, Razali played down expectations of an imminent breakthrough, and said he was willing to return to Myanmar any time his presence would be helpful. ''I'd like to come back here any time when it's necessary to come here,'' he said.

    NLD Secretary U Lwin, one of the few senior party members allowed to speak to the media, said the talks with Razali were useful. ''He told us we have many good friends around the world,'' U Lwin said. ''He said there will surely be a new development very soon but said we have to go step by step.'' Many diplomats fear the military is in fact hardening its attitude towards the talks with Suu Kyi.

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