Daily News- August 01- 2002- Thursday

  • Myanmar comes under pressure to continue reforms
  • World press groups urge release of ailing Myanmar prisoner
  • U.N. envoy to visit Myanmar to spur substantive talks between government and opposition
  • Thai FM accepts invitation to visit Myanmar
  • Myanmar groups urge Kawaguchi to push for political dialogue
  • Japan gives UNICEF grant for Myanmar mother and child health
  • Shan rebels release captive Myanmar soldiers, police
  • Myanmar minister downplays U.N. visit expected to press for swifter dialogue with Suu Kyi
  • U.N. envoy on mission to revive Burma talks
  • Washington's Carrot for Rangoon

  • Myanmar comes under pressure to continue reforms

    BANDAR SERI BEGAWAN, July 31 (AFP) - Myanmar was urged Wednesday at an Asia-Pacific security forum to hasten political reforms following the release of opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi.While foreign ministers attending the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF) praised initial reforms in the military-ruled nation, they stressed these were not enough.

    European Union (EU) foreign policy chief Javier Solana sought a quicker pace of reforms in Myanmar despite the recent release of hundreds of political prisoners, including Suu Kyi who was freed from house arrest in May."Things have moved in a positive manner lately. We expect that the dialogue will continue and will move (in the) right (direction)," Solana told reporters.

    He said the EU was hopeful that Yangon would "continue the dialogue, continue the democratization (and the) reforms" and allow a UN human rights commission to be allowed into the country.

    "There is some movement as you know. It is important that the human rights commission from the UN is going," he said on the sidelines of the ASEAN-sponsored ARF covering 10 Southeast Asian countries and their security dialogue partners including the United States, EU, China, Russia, Japan and Australia.

    In a communique issued at the end of the meeting, the ministers "welcomed the recent developments in Myanmar that signified the important achievements in Myanmar's national reconciliation process, unity and economic progress." The ministers "expressed the hope that the government of Myanmar would take steps in further consolidating such a process."

    Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer said Myanmar Foreign Minister Win Aung, who is also attending the ARF meeting, had given him a "positive message" on the reconciliation process between the ruling generals and the opposition National League for Democracy (NLD).

    "I was pleased to hear about that. I was pleased to hear about the dialogue that has been taking place. I was pleased to hear from the Burmese (Myanmar's former name) foreign minister about the discussions that have been taking place," Downer said.

    He said Win Aung did not refer to formal talks."Let's make it clear that he talked to me about discussions ... between the administration and Aung San Suu Kyi and NLD and obviously we feel that should go further," he said.He said the bigger freedom of movement given to Aung San Suu Kyi was a result of the dialogue process.

    On allegations that Yangon had sanctioned rape by government forces fighting rebels in the Shan state, Win Aung "made it perfectly clear as one would expect that his government deplored rape", according to Downer.

    Indonesian Foreign Minister Hassan Wirayuda said that Myanmar explained its position on the allegation of rape being used as a government tool against the rebels.

    "They (Myanmar) explained it in a very detailed manner. They said it's not their policy to have rape as a tool, so they're against it ... If there is a case, they are committing to deal with it," Wirayuda said.

    A report by Myanmar's Shan Human Rights Foundation and Shan Women's Action Network documents the rapes of 625 girls and women in the state by Myanmar troops, mostly between 1996 and 2001.The junta vehemently denied the charges but the United States has expressed concern over the report and urged Yangon to fully investigate the claims.

    Win Aung said earlier this week that "sometimes some countries will like to look for something to accuse us."When they are running out of one item, they will stick on to another one. We have to face that and we will face that."

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    World press groups urge release of ailing Myanmar prisoner

    BANGKOK, July 31 (AFP) - Two international media organisations Wednesday urged Myanmar's military regime to immediately release ailing journalist Win Tin who has been held in jail for 13 years.

    The World Association of Newspapers (WAN) and World Editors Forum (WEF) said in a joint letter to the junta that they were "gravely concerned about the sharply deteriorating health of the 72-year-old U Win Tin."

    The condition of the journalist, winner of WAN's 2001 Golden Pen of Freedom, reportedly worsened in early July, with haemorrhoid pains, problems stemming from an old urinary infection and prostate trouble, they said.

    "It is our organisations' view that the continued imprisonment and negligence of U Win Tin's serious health problems constitutes a deep blemish on the international standing of Myanmar which can only be erased by his release," the letter said.

    "We respectfully call on your government to demonstrate strength, compassion and sincerity in the reconciliation process by releasing U Win Tin and by enabling him to receive the medical treatment he so urgently requires."

    The Oslo-based Democratic Voice of Burma (DVB) earlier this week said that the former editor of the Hanthawaddy newspaper was transferred from Insein prison to Yangon General Hospital Prison Ward on July 27.

    Around 1,500 political prisoners are estimated to be held in Myanmar's jails, but over the past 18 months the ruling State Peace and Development Council (SPDC) has released hundreds in a series of small groups.

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    U.N. envoy to visit Myanmar to spur substantive talks between government and opposition

    By EDITH M. LEDERER, Associated Press Writer

    UNITED NATIONS - A U.N. special envoy is returning to Myanmar on Friday for the first time since opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi was released to spur the start of substantive talks between the opposition and the military government.

    Razali Ismail, whose mediation was crucial in securing the Nobel laureate's freedom in May after 19 months of house arrest, will visit Myanmar's capital Yangon from Aug. 2-6 to help promote national reconciliation, U.N. spokesman Fred Eckhard said Wednesday.

    Shortly after Suu Kyi's release, Razali said the United Nations should seize the momentum generated by her freedom to push for an early transition to democracy.

    Eckhard said U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan "hopes that Mr. Razali's mission ... will provide the process with an added momentum so that the two sides can start their substantive dialogue in the near future."

    Myanmar, also known as Burma, has been under military rule since 1962.The current junta came to power in 1988 after crushing a pro-democracy movement and two years later it annulled the results of a general election that Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy party won. She was put under house arrest from 1989 to 1995 and again in September 2000 until May 6.With Razali's mediation, the junta and Suu Kyi have been holding closed-door reconciliation talks since October 2000, raising hopes of an eventual political settlement.Suu Kyi's release was preceded by an unusual promise by the junta to allow "all citizens to participate freely in the life of our political process."

    Razali said in May that national reconciliation should include release of political prisoners, greater political activity for all parties not just the National League for Democracy, and the ability of Suu Kyi and others to deal with issues confronting the country.

    During his upcoming visit, Eckhard said, Razali will meet government leaders, senior members of the National League for Democracy including Suu Kyi, and some leaders of ethnic groups.It will be the Malaysian businessman's eighth mission since Annan appointed him as his special envoy in April 2000.

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    Thai FM accepts invitation to visit Myanmar

    BANGKOK, July 31 (Xinhuanet) -- Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra approved Foreign Minister Surakiart Sathirathai's visit to Myanmar at the invitation of Rangoon to clear pending bilateral problems, the Thai News Agency reported Wednesday.

    Thaksin was quoted as saying that Surakiart was invited by his Myanmar counterpart Win Aung after they held talks on the sidelines of the ongoing meeting of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and its dialogue partners in Brunei. He said Surakiart called him from Brunei and reported that sound progress had been made.

    However, the Thai premier refused to reveal detailed results ofthe discussions in Brunei and the date for Surakiart to start his trip, saying only that Rangoon was ready to hold further talks andexpressed its confidence in better relations between the two closeneighbors in the near future.

    Asked about Rangoon's closure of its border checkpoints with Thailand over the past two months, Thaksin said that he believed the checkpoints would be re-opened when bilateral relations returnto the normal level.

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    Myanmar groups urge Kawaguchi to push for political dialogue

    Japan times

    TOKYO - People from Myanmar living in Japan on Wednesday urged Foreign Minister Yoriko Kawaguchi to ask the Myanmar government to immediately release all political prisoners and promote democracy when she visits the country from Saturday to Monday.

    In a statement submitted to the ministry, the League for Democracy in Burma and other two organizations said political dialogue between the pro-democracy movement and the junta has not yet started even though it has been three months since the release of pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi. (Kyodo News)

    Japan gives UNICEF grant for Myanmar mother and child health

    YANGON, Myanmar (AP) _ Japan signed an agreement Wednesday to give dlrs 5.1 million in health care assistance for mothers and children in Myanmar, ahead of a visit by the Japanese foreign minister next month.The agreement will provide UNICEF with funds for the purchase of test kits for HIV/AIDS and essential drugs and vaccines for other diseases, Japan's charge d'affaires, Kiyoshi Koinuma said.

    He said the materials will be distributed to hospitals and rural health facilities through UNICEF in collaboration with the government of Myanmar.The agreement was signed by Koinuma and John Bertrand Mendis, UNICEF's resident representative in Myanmar.

    It is the fourth grant under an ongoing Maternal and Child Health Care program. The first grant of dlrs 2.7 million was given in 1999, followed by dlrs 5.5 million in 2000 and 5.8 million in 2001.

    Myanmar was among the worst five countries in the world in a study released two years ago by the U.N. World Health Organization evaluating national health care systems.Myanmar is handicapped by sanctions imposed by Western countries to punish its military regime for its poor human rights record and failure to hand over power to a democratically elected government.

    Japan is also critical of the junta and has curtailed its aid. Still, it remains Myanmar's biggest donor and does not participate in sanctions or the ban on new investment imposed by the United States.Japan eased its attitude in late 2000 when the junta began closed-door reconciliation talks with opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

    Japanese Foreign Minister Yoriko Kawaguchi is expected to visit Myanmar Aug. 3-5 when she will likely meet with Suu Kyi. It is not known if Kawaguchi will pledge more aid to Myanmar during the visit.

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    Shan rebels release captive Myanmar soldiers, police

    CHIANG MAI, Thailand, Aug 1 (AFP) - An ethnic Shan rebel group said Thursday it had freed 21 prisoners including Myanmar soldiers and police taken captive two months ago during fierce border fighting.

    The prisoners, including two women, were released in batches during the third week of July near towns and villages in eastern Myanmar, Shan State Army (SSA) spokeswoman Nam Khur Hsen told AFP.

    The group was detained by the SSA in May after the rebels captured Myanmar army frontline bases and outposts in clashes that pitted the Shan fighters against some 500 Myanmar soldiers and their ethnic Wa allies.Yangon had previously declared its intention to stage an all-out offensive against the SSA, which it considers a terrorist group, and warned Thailand not to interfere in its operations.

    "We are not able to hold these prisoners any longer," Nam Khur Hsen said. "The security situation on the border is uncertain and we cannot guarantee their safety any more."The spokeswoman said the SSA had made contact with the International Committee for the Red Cross (ICRC) to hand over the prisoners and arrange for their safe return, but the attempt failed."I don't know what kind of problems they have but the ICRC officials do not seem to be active in handling this case. The time was running out without any progress," she said.

    An ICRC representative in the northern Thai city of Chiang Mai, Markus Geisser, confirmed the organisation had been in contact with the rebels but that poor communications in the region had hampered efforts to arrange a handover.

    "We have been working on the case, although they have not officially informed us about the release of these people," Geisser told AFP."We told them very clearly that it was going to be very difficult and it would take some time."

    The SSA said the detainees were finally allowed to contact their relatives by mobile phone to arrange secret rendezvous points for them to be collected after they were freed.

    "We did not publicise the matter at that time for the safety of the prisoners and to secure the process of the separate releases," said Nam Khur Hsen.

    The SSA is one of the few significant insurgent groups still fighting the military regime in Yangon. Most ethnic armies have signed ceasefire agreements with the ruling State Peace and Development Council.

    Earlier this week, Myanmar's junta said that while it was willing to negotiate a ceasefire with the rebel Karen National Union (KNU), it would only accept total surrender from the SSA.Deputy intelligence chief Major-General Kyaw Win accused the SSA of being a drug-trafficking terrorist organisation rather than a separatist movement."Exchanging arms for peace is our standing policy when dealing with ethnic groups representing their own people and that is why we are leaving the peace door open for the KNU," he said."But the (SSA) are nothing but off-shoots of Khun Sa's drug army, and as such don't deserve anything," he said, referring to a notorious drug lord who surrendered to the regime in 1995 along with 15,000 of his followers.

    Another junta spokesman, Colonel San Pwint, told reporters in Yangon that the SSA had destroyed public property and killed more than 200 innocent people since being formed in 1996.The SSA spokeswoman denied Yangon's accusations which she said were an example of its "divide and rule" policy to control minority populations."It was ridiculous, we are living in the Shan State, fighting for our land and the liberation of Shan people," she said.

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    Myanmar minister downplays U.N. visit expected to press for swifter dialogue with Suu Kyi

    By JASBANT SINGH, Associated Press Writer

    BANDAR SERI BEGAWAN, Brunei - Saying his country was on track with democratic reforms, Myanmar's foreign minister Thursday played down a visit by a U.N. special envoy who may press for a quicker dialogue with opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

    The envoy, former Malaysian diplomat Razali Ismail, will arrive in Myanmar on Friday for the first time since helping to engineer the military government's release of Suu Kyi from 19 months of house arrest in May.

    "We are going to talk to him and we have been receiving him regularly," Foreign Minister Win Aung told reporters on the sidelines of the ASEAN Regional Forum. "It is a usual visit."

    Win Aung declined to say whether he expected Razali to push the government to hold direct talks with Suu Kyi, who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991 for her still- frustrated effort to bring about a democratic government.Win Aung said Myanmar was "moving forward" with democratic reforms, but warned that his government will not be pushed.

    "We are doing the right things, the correct things and we are doing them at a pace we are comfortable with," Win Aung said. "We are not moving backward or sideways. We are moving forward, ahead."

    The country, also known as Burma, has been ruled by the military since 1962.Shortly after Suu Kyi's release, Razali said the United Nations should seize the momentum and push for an early transition to democracy.With Razali's mediation, the government and Suu Kyi have been holding closed-door reconciliation talks since October 2000, raising hopes of an eventual political settlement.

    Razali said in May that reconciliation should include the release of political prisoners, greater political activity, and the ability of Suu Kyi and others to deal with issues confronting the country.During his upcoming visit, Razali is expected to meet government leaders, Suu Kyi and senior members of her National League for Democracy, and leaders of some ethnic groups, many of which have been in revolt against the government during the past half-century.

    Myanmar briefed the 24 members of the ASEAN Regional Forum, the Asia-Pacific's biggest annual meeting on security issues. The forum issued a statement welcoming improvements and hoping they would continue.

    "Everybody seemed to appreciate what we are doing," Win Aung said. "I don't see any negative attitude toward us."

    The current military government came to power in 1988 after crushing street protests and two years later annulled the results of a general election that Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy party won.She has spent much of the past 14 years under house arrest or with her movements and actions severely curtailed, though since being released in May she has enjoyed more freedom to travel than ever before.

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    U.N. envoy on mission to revive Burma talks

    BANGKOK (Reuters) - The United Nations special envoy to Burma arrives in the country for his latest visit on Friday on a mission to get the ruling junta to at last agree to meaningful talks with pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

    The hope generated by the release of Suu Kyi from house arrest in May has begun to evaporate -- the 57-year-old Nobel Peace Prize winner has been allowed freedom of movement but her calls for substantive political dialogue have gone unheeded.

    Analysts say the main task facing envoy Razali Ismail, a Malaysian diplomat trusted by both sides, is to persuade the junta that it is time to sit down and talk.

    "Dialogue is the next step. Razali has to get them talking, and that means real talks, not just empty meetings," said a Western diplomat in Rangoon. "They have to start working out a framework for political change."

    The military government began confidential talks with Suu Kyi in October 2000 -- a breakthrough which owed much to Razali's efforts behind the scenes, diplomats say.

    But the talks are still stuck at what the junta calls a "confidence-building phase" and have yet to even begin addressing substantive political issues.

    Analysts say the junta softened its stance towards Suu Kyi and her National League for Democracy (NLD) mainly in an effort to get international sanctions lifted and revive the crippled economy.

    But since Suu Kyi's release on May 6 she has had no meetings with any of the country's ruling generals, diplomats say.

    The five-day visit is Razali's eighth since he began his diplomatic mission two years ago and his first since Suu Kyi's release.


    Suu Kyi's release was not the only sign that the junta's stance towards the opposition was thawing.

    Suu Kyi has since made two major political trips to drum up support outside Rangoon, unhindered by the authorities. She was greeted by cheering crowds in Burma's second city Mandalay in June and in southern Mon state in July.

    Gradual releases of political prisoners have continued and the contentious issue of how many NLD members remain in jail has been settled.

    But the NLD says the pace of prisoner releases remains too slow -- more than 200 NLD members are still behind bars and there are hundreds of other political prisoners.

    The NLD won Burma's last elections in 1990 by a wide margin, but the military refused to hand over power. The junta says moving too quickly towards democracy risks unleashing anarchy in the multi-ethnic country.

    After trying to crush the NLD through the 1990s, and worsening its international isolation in the process, the junta is now trying a different tactic -- being nice.

    Diplomats say the military government may have decided that it can risk giving Suu Kyi freedom of movement without seriously weakening its grip on power.

    "There is a worry they are doing this for show and that they have no intention of making real concessions," the diplomat said.

    Razali is due to meet Suu Kyi on Saturday, according to NLD Secretary U Lwin. He will also meet senior generals and representatives of Myanmar's many ethnic groups -- some of which have accused the junta of promoting mass rape and torture to end ethnic insurgencies. Burma denies the accusations.

    Razali's trip coincides with a visit by Japanese Foreign Minister Yoriko Kawaguchi, who arrives on Saturday. It is the first visit by a Japanese foreign minister to Burma since 1983.

    Japan has shown more willingness to engage Burma than most Western countries, and Kawaguchi's visit is seen as an effort to urge meaningful dialogue. A three-way meeting between Razali, Kawaguchi and Suu Kyi has not been ruled out, officials say.

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    Washington's Carrot for Rangoon

    Source : Far Eastern Economic Review

    Washington is offering a carrot to Rangoon if the ruling Burmese military rulers continue taking steps to improve the country's political and human-rights climate.

    A senior U.S. official says the United States would be willing to send an assistant secretary of state--probably James Kelly, who is responsible for Asia--"if there is real progress on the democracy front."

    Progress warranting a high-level visit would include continuing to allow democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi to travel, increasing steps to allow her National League for Democracy to organize political activities around the country and freeing remaining political prisoners, of whom there are about 1,350 according to Amnesty International. "Then we're prepared to have a higher level official visit," says the official, though the visiting official "would not negotiate with the Burmese on x, y and z" on this first high-level visit.

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