Daily News- April 28- 2002- Sunday

  • Myanmar says "significant progress" in political rift imminent
  • Border fighting continues between Thai troops and Wa militia
  • Strongman to target druglord's company
  • Thai troops fan out ahead of demarcation move
  • Clash follows arrest of two Wa intruders
  • 2,400 illegal Myanmar labourers returned from Thailand, HIV-tested

  • Myanmar says "significant progress" in political rift imminent

    YANGON, Myanmar (AP) _ Myanmar's military government said Sunday that "significant progress" in healing the 12-year-long rift between the junta and the pro-democracy movement will be revealed within days.

    The announcement follows the latest mediation mission by an envoy from the United Nations to reconcile the military rulers and the opposition, led by Nobel Prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi. The two sides have been holding secret talks since October 2000.

    "Significant progress, a kind of action, will take place in a few days. Wait and see," Labor Minister Tin Win told reporters. But asked whether Suu Kyi might be freed from 18 months of house arrest, the minister said, "I don't think so." He gave no other details.

    U.N. envoy Razali Ismail ended his seventh visit to Myanmar Friday amid optimism that some kind of breakthrough in the deadlock would take place. He said developments could unfold "quite quickly" and that he was "optimistic" after holding talks with junta leader Gen. Than Shwe.

    The deep division between the two sides stems from the military's refusal to hand over power to Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy, which swept general elections in 1990. The junta, which seized power in 1988, instead has jailed and harassed Suu Kyi's followers and placed her under house arrest for years at a stretch.

    The U.N. Human Rights Commission has recently blasted Myanmar's human rights record, citing "arbitrary executions, enforced disappearance, rape, torture, inhuman treatment, forced labor" and other violations.

    Although diplomats are more optimistic after the latest round of mediation, there remains a great deal of speculation about what if any significant concessions the military might make. Little"jnformation has surfaced about the secret reconciliation talks between Suu Kyi and the generals.

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    Border fighting continues between Thai troops and Wa militia

    BANGKOK, April 28 (AFP) - Thai troops and a pro-Yangon Wa ethnic militia in Myanmar exchanged mortar fire Sunday along the border in northern Thailand, the military said, just 48 hours after senior meetings between the two neighbours.

    "This morning from 8.30 to 9.30 am we have exchanged shellings, but there have been no casualties on our side so far," said Colonel Surasak Boonsiri, commander of the Mor 4 task force responsible for the border in Chiang Rai province, 785 kilometres (487 miles) north of the capital Bangkok.

    Surasak said he could not confirm local press reports that 10 Wa militia had been killed during three days of sporadic fighting in Mae Fah Luang district which borders Myanmar."I can not verify the death toll, but I think that they certainly have suffered some casualties," he told AFP by telephone from the border.

    The fighting began early Friday, the day Myanmar's number two leader, army chief General Maung Aye, concluded a four-day visit to Thailand in which he discussed security issues with Defense Minister General Chavalit Yongchaiyudh and Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra.

    That morning Thai troops detained two ethnic Wa men who had intruded into Thai territory, and by early afternoon Wa soldiers asked Thai forces in vain to return the detainees.Clashes erupted when an armed Wa force of 60 men returned and surrounded the Thai boder post which was manned by eight soldiers, Surasak said.

    The Nation newspaper said the two Wa men were believed to be guards for a drug convoy run by druglord Wei Xieu-kang, but the colonel could not confirm the report.Heroin and amphetamine trafficking is rife along the Thai-Myanmar border, with a Yangon-allied ethnic minority militia known as the United Wa State Army (UWSA) accused of controlling much of the booming illicit trade.Tensions between the two countries rose last month when the UWSA attacked a Thai army unit on the border hours ahead of a planned visit by Thailand's Queen Sirikit.Surasak said the Thai army has re-enforced its military presence along the border.

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    Strongman to target druglord's company

    Yuwadee Tunyasiri Sermsuk Kasitipradit
    The Bangkokpost

    Burmese army chief Gen Maung Aye has promised to put out of business a company owned by drug kingpin Wei Hsueh-kang, a major benefactor of the United Wa State Army.

    The army chief, also deputy chairman of the State Peace and Development Council, gave his pledge after Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra informed him about the nefarious activities of the company.

    ``I told the SPDC deputy chairman that intelligence reports had revealed the Hong Pang company was responsible for trafficking drugs into Thailand,'' Mr Thaksin said yesterday during his weekly radio address.Gen Maung Aye was quoted as saying ``the company would not exist within two weeks.''

    Mr Thaksin said bilateral ties had been much strengthened during the Burmese general's visit to the country, adding Rangoon's co-operation in drug suppression would boost relations further.Gen Maung Aye had been granted an audience by His Majesty the King, who was informed by the military strongman that Rangoon was seeking a new era of co-operation.

    Rangoon began a crackdown on businesses linked to the drug trade earlier this month.The Hong Pang Group, set up to launder illicit revenue, had already been targeted, along with the Golden Star Group of Jai Luen, a leading Shan trafficker.

    Burmese intelligence chief Lt-Gen Khin Nyunt had also instructed Pao Yu Yi, a UWSA military commander, that Rangoon would no longer tolerate its involvement in the drug trade.UWSA, responsible for most drug trafficking around the Golden Triangle, subsequently issued a statement instructing its militia to cease drug activities.

    ``The statement was a farce as the drugs trade is UWSA's main source of income,'' said one senior officer.According to an intelligence source, Rangoon had recently barred all UWSA troops from areas under its control.``The situation is potentially explosive,'' said a security analyst.

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    Thai troops fan out ahead of demarcation move

    Wassana Nanuam
    The Bangkokpost

    Army troops have been deployed along the Thai-Burmese border ranging from Kanchanaburi to Tak to prevent any encroachment prior to border demarcation.

    Army chief Surayud Chulanont said he had ordered the Surasi and Naresuan task forces to send patrol teams to guard an 8km stretch of the border from Kanchanaburi's Sangkhla Buri district to Tak's Umphang district to confirm Thai boundaries and curb encroachment before the border demarcation process started. The army says the move is necessary because Burmese troops have frequently strayed across this part of the border and encroached on Thai soil in the past three years.

    Burmese soldiers attacked Karen Nation Union guerrillas and set fire to the Suriya forest protection unit in Sangkhla Buri in 1997.Last year, a Thai soldier was killed and two injured in a clash with Burmese troops who entered Ban Le Tong Ko in Umphang.

    Gen Surayud said it was uncertain when Bangkok and Rangoon could agree on demarcation of the 2,401km border as problems with Burmese minorities remained, but stopping any encroachment now would help.

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    Clash follows arrest of two Wa intruders

    The Bangkokpost

    Skirmishes between soldiers and Wa troops erupted along the Burmese border on Friday evening after the arrest of two Wa men in Mae Fa Luang district.

    Col Surasak Boonsiri of the 4th Cavalry Regiment said the gunfight occurred when some 60 Wa soldiers and Muser hilltribe volunteers surrounded Ban Pong Hai checkpoint after the arrest of two Wa intruders, one of whom was the chief volunteer's son.

    The 241st Cavalry Battalion retaliated after the foreign troops opened fire, he said.More than 10 mortar shells landed on Thai soil after their retreat back into Burma.

    Col Apisit Nuchbussaba, commander of the 241st Cavalry Battalion, said the Wa base at Ban Or Lor in Burma was likely to have been badly damaged in the gunfight, which continued throughout Friday night.

    A number of cannons were reportedly sent to the area yesterday, while two armed helicopters patrolled the border area. The two arrested Wa men were detained at the 4th Cavalry Regiment's headquarters.

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    2,400 illegal Myanmar labourers returned from Thailand, HIV-tested

    YANGON, April 28 (AFP) - Some 2,400 illegal Myanmar labourers have been repatriated from Thailand and screened for HIV upon their return, according to news reports seen Sunday.

    A repatriation and screening centre was set up in February in the eastern border town of Myawaddy to deal with the hundreds of thousands of illegal workers Thailand aims to deport, said a report to be published Monday in the Myanmar Times.

    "We give them a health check and provide food and shelter for those who have to stay overnight in Myawaddy," a spokesman for the Home Affairs Ministry told the English-language weekly.The returned workers are tested for HIV, the virus which causes AIDS, as well as malaria, tuberculosis and sexually-transmitted diseases, it said.Non-voluntary HIV screening during repatriations is considered controversial by Western health experts.The returnees would face no legal action for having worked in Thailand illegally, the spokesman added.

    A team from the International Committee of the Red Cross had been visiting Myawaddy to assess the humanitarian situation of the returnees, it said.The repatriations follow senior-level talks between Yangon and Bangkok earlier this year aimed at defusing tensions over illegal Myanmar workers.

    After a crackdown launched last year, about 560,000 Myanmar workers have registered since September with the Thai authorities.Another 110,000 ethnic Karen and Karenni people are in 11 camps along the Thai-Myanmar border, which Thailand also wants to close.The issue was addressed this week during the visit to Thailand of Yangon army chief General Maung Aye, the number two in Myanmar's military junta.

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