Daily News- August 07- 2002- Wednesday

  • Myanmar's Aung San Suu Kyi drops opposition to development aid: NLD
  • Mahathir says no comment on possible meeting with Suu Kyi
  • Let's start afresh, urges Burma
  • Bangkok moves to appease generals
  • BBC interview with Aung San Suu Kyi
  • Myanmar's opposition expects political dialogue within weeks
  • Burma's bloody day
  • Thai FM says Burma conflict resolved after official visit
  • Suu Kyi demands freedom for political prisoners

  • Myanmar's Aung San Suu Kyi drops opposition to development aid: NLD

    YANGON, Aug 6 (AFP) - Democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi's party said Tuesday she would not oppose foreign development aid to Myanmar within strict guidelines, in a major softening of her stance towards the ruling junta.

    "She is not going to object to that which will benefit the people," National League for Democracy (NLD) spokesman U Lwin told AFP."She is talking about foreign assistance but under the strict control of transparency, accountability and monitoring."

    U Lwin said Aung San Suu Kyi revealed her new position in a meeting Monday with Japanese Foreign Minister Yoriko Kawaguchi who was on a two-day visit here. Japan is the biggest creditor nation and aid donor to Myanmar.

    Asked if it represented a shift in stance by the opposition leader, he said "Yes, that's what she said."

    U Lwin said Aung San Suu Kyi would support development proposals including infrastructure projects "which will benefit the people, like hydro-electric projects, mainly in energy and electricity."

    Aung San Suu Kyi has been a staunch supporter of heavy sanctions introduced following the brutal repression of 1988 pro-democracy protests and 1990 elections won by the NLD which the junta refused to recognise.

    Under the international sanctions led by the United States and the European Union, all but a small amount of humanitarian aid is banned.

    But since her release on May 6 from 19 months of house arrest, the 1991 Nobel peace laureate has signaled a willingness to engage the ruling generals.

    In turn, the junta has made gestures aimed at improving the climate for landmark reconciliation talks it began with the democracy leader in October 2000 which are yet to progress beyond the confidence-building stage.

    Aung San Suu Kyi has been permitted to make two major political trips outside the capital -- both of which drew crowds in their thousands -- and a number of NLD offices have been reopened across the country.

    Observers are now keenly awaiting signs that the secret talks have begun to address the issue of democratic reforms which would end four decades of military rule in Myanmar.

    In a meeting Monday with Myanmar's leader, Senior General Than Shwe, Kawaguchi urged the ruling State Peace and Development Council (SPDC) to push ahead with a fully fledged political dialogue, a senior Japanese foreign ministry official said.

    "She emphasised the importance of attracting foreign capital through economic reforms... and she encouraged the SPDC to move ahead further with its reconciliation with minorities."

    In response "General Than Shwe said they will do their best," the official said.

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    Mahathir says no comment on possible meeting with Suu Kyi

    The Star

    KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia (AP) - Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad declined to comment Tuesday on speculation that he would meet opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi during a visit to Myanmar this month.

    "No confirmation, no nothing, no statement,'' Mahathir told reporters.

    The Malay-language Utusan Malaysia newspaper, quoting an unidentified Foreign Ministry official, reported Tuesday that Suu Kyi had requested a meeting with the Malaysian leader.

    Mahathir refused to say whether he would be willing to meet the Nobel Peace laureate if such an invitation was extended, but confirmed he was visiting Myanmar on the invitation of the military junta. Officials say the visit is scheduled for Aug. 18-19. Foreign Ministry officials were not immediately available for comment.

    Mahathir's trip would come just after U.N. envoy Razali Ismail, a former Malaysian diplomat, ends his current visit to Myanmar to accelerate the thaw between the ruling generals and the opposition led by Suu Kyi.

    Mahathir, one of Asia's longest-serving leaders, has long resisted what he sees as a Western campaign to criticise Myanmar's military regime, saying it will eventually embrace political change and bring about economic improvement if given time.

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    Let's start afresh, urges Burma

    The Bangkokpost

    Burma wants Thailand to join it in letting bygones be bygones and going forward with economic and drug suppression cooperation, Foreign Minister Surakiart Sathirathai said yesterday.

    Mr Surakiart had talks with three key Burmese leaders for about an hour and a half in Rangoon yesterday.The three were Gen Than Shwe, the prime minister and chairman of the ruling State Peace and Development Council, Gen Maung Aye, council vice- chairman, and first secretary Lt-Gen Khin Nyunt.

    ``Prime Minister Than Shwe said let's put things behind us and look forward to enhancing cooperation in political, economic, and anti-drug areas. He emphasised that past incidents would not hurt the overall relationship between the two countries,'' Mr Surakiart said.

    The foreign minister did not say when the Thai-Burmese border would be reopened, maintaining he did not visit Rangoon to ask for reopening of the Burmese border.``The border closure, the anti-Thai sentiments, including being anti-Thai products, and the war of words are the result of misunderstandings,'' he said. ``Now that both sides say confidence is restored, these problems will certainly be resolved sooner or later.''

    Mr Surakiart also spoke of plans for closer coordination with his Burmese counterpart Win Aung.``From now on, Minister Win Aung and I will hotline each other whenever there is any thing wrong and before we unilaterally take any action along the border.''

    Calling his visit a confidence-building mission, Mr Surakiart said his meeting with the Burmese leaders had helped clear up misunderstandings arising from the border incidents of May 20.Rangoon accused Thai troops of helping ethnic Shan rebels fighting the pro- Rangoon Wa by firing shells into Burmese territory on that day.Two days later Burma closed its border with Thailand in retaliation.

    Mr Surakiart conveyed Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra's message to the Burmese leaders that drug suppression was Thailand's priority.``They asked us to trust their determination to fight against drugs. We also ensured them that we never support the use of our territory by any group as a base for sabotage,'' Mr Surakiart said.

    The Burmese leaders said they respected the Thai monarchy and never intended to violate Thai territory.

    Mr Surakiart also conveyed Thailand's wish that ethnic groups like Karenni, Karen and Shan should be included in a political dialogue between the SPDC and the National League for Democracy to ensure national reconciliation.

    Gen Than Shwe invited Thai and other foreign investors to put their money into a hydropower project in Burma, the minister said.

    Mr Surakiart emphasised that planned Burma-Thailand-India cooperation would be important for trade, investment, and tourism development in the region.

    On his return to Bangkok, Mr Surakiart said the Burmese leaders were ready to receive Her Royal Highness Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn toward the end of this year, and to take her wherever she wanted to go.

    Mr Thaksin yesterday spoke of the need for a secure and concerted policy of non-interference in the affairs of neighbouring countries, in response to questions about what could be done to prevent future clashes along the border with Burma.

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    Bangkok moves to appease generals

    The Nation

    The abrupt transfer of the Army commander last week indicates that all is not quiet on the western front for Thai- Burmese border affairs. The question is, what has gone wrong to warrant the switch of a veteran commander?

    If the spin doctors are to be believed, Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra wants to "soften" the border policy. And Army Commander-in-Chief General Surayud Chulanont reportedly stands in the way of Thaksin's policy of appeasement.

    Buoyed by his landslide election victory last year, Thaksin kicked off his administration with two key policies on Burma - to seek cooperation in the suppression of the illicit drug trade and to fully engage Rangoon for mutual economic relations.The prime minister made it clear that he wanted to give a facelift to Thai-Burmese relations which had appeared to fall into a lull during the Democrat-led government.

    Unlike his predecessor, Democrat Chuan Leekpai, he expressed optimism that he could work with the Burmese military leaders to skirt around the thorny issue of the negative repercussions that have fallen on Thailand as a result of the dry-season offensive against Burmese minority rebel groups.Chuan saw that nothing tangible could be gained in resolving or improving the western border situation as long as Rangoon failed to make peace with the minority groups.

    The Democrat-led government chose to put the border problems on hold and wait for Rangoon's readiness to start meaningful negotiations to resolve them.The military, meanwhile, stayed vigilant along the western border, sending a clear signal to the Burmese military that Thailand will not tolerate any border incursions.

    For three consecutive years since 1998, the Burmese military has routinely launched offensive operations, but Thailand experienced little, if any, negative impacts.The battlegrounds were kept well away from the Thai border and the fear subsided of a repeat of the violent spill-over that followed the Phop Phra massacre in the early 1990s, which took years to negotiate compensation.Peace was still far off, then and now, but Thai border villagers were able to live in a relatively fragile calm before Thaksin came to power.

    Thaksin stepped into office espousing goodwill and big dreams of mutual economic benefits with Burma, but curiously, border tensions have flared up for two years in a row.Last year the Burmese leaders were reportedly angered at how Thailand portrayed them as condoning the methamphetamine trade operated by the pro-Rangoon Wa drug gang.The Burmese military offensives against the Shan and Karen rebel groups were the fiercest seen in recent years and "stray" shells fell on Mae Sai town in Chiang Rai province for the first time.

    Government spin doctors rushed to churn out excuses on why the government should keep on appeasing Burma even as artillery shells rained on the Thai soil.Many government officials even tried to blame the then 3rd Army Region commander General Wattanachai Chaimuenwong for being too hawkish.

    At the height of last year's border tension, some came out to suggest the transfer of Wattanachai to pacify the wrath of Burmese leaders.Their suggestion was brushed aside after government leaders slowly came to their senses that it was unbecoming for a sovereign nation to move around its military leaders at the whim of a foreign government.

    Wattanachai did get his "due" promotion last year but not in connection with the debacle over Thai-Burmese border affairs.While the spin doctors did succeed in shifting the blame to the military for the border tension, facts got buried and everyone seemed to overlook whether peace could really be restored if the military chose not to respond to the Burmese border incursion.Looking back at last year's incident, what happened might been unavoidable.

    Burmese leaders took years of preparations for a showdown battle with the Shan rebel group under Yawd Serk. They relocated the Wa group from the border areas facing China to settle near northern Thailand.They also knew about Yawd Serk's geographic advantage and had discreetly tried to negotiate a passage through Thai territory.It was the attempt of the Burmese military to cross into Thai territory that triggered last year's tension.

    This year, Burma again wanted to finish off the Yawd Serk group and still needed to use Thai soil as the springboard for its mop-up operations.Although the Burmese military did not launch the border incursion like last year, it did perform several manoeuvres threatening to infringe on Thai sovereignty, prompting the military to retaliate with warning fire.

    Instead of focusing on facts leading to the tension, Thaksin has been quick to criticise the military for "over-reaction".Thaksin rushed to warn the military to "treat gently" Burmese suspects for unintentional border crossings, though he made no comment when 12 Thai villagers were arrested in Tachilek, Burma, last month.

    Government officials say the transfer of Surayud will result in a more synchronised border policy between military and government leaders. Surayud's successor General Somdhat Attanand has shown in his only press interview that he is willing to follow Thaksin's line on Burma.As Surayud has pointed out time and again, the military has to uphold its constitutional duty to protect the country's sovereignty. Will the policy shift sought by the government mean that Thailand is willing to allow territorial infringement in exchange for Thaksin to be able to proclaim his policy a success?

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    BBC interview with Aung San Suu Kyi

    source :Reuters

    LONDON, - Aug. 6 - Myanmar's pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi said on Tuesday she hoped negotiations with the country's ruling junta on democratic change could start within weeks.

    ''I don't have a strict timetable,'' she told the BBC World Service in an interview from Yangon. ''What is important is that in the very near future we can start on the process of dialogue and cooperation for the sake of the people.''

    The U.N. envoy to Myanmar, Malaysian diplomat Razali Ismail, said in Kuala Lumpur on his return from Yangon earlier on Tuesday he expected substantive talks on the country's political future would start ''very, very soon.'' He was speaking after meetings in Myanmar with Suu Kyi, senior members of the junta and leaders of major ethnic minority groups.

    Asked by the BBC whether she expected talks within days or weeks, Suu Kyi replied: ''Well certainly we don't want to talk more than weeks.''

    When asked about the possibility of sharing power with the junta, at least in a transitional period, she said:

    ''I'm not thinking about power sharing or anything along those lines. What we are thinking of is the start of political dialogue which will speed up democratic change and the cooperation with regard to matters which will directly benefit the people.''

    Pressed in the BBC interview on the possibility of sharing power, Suu Kyi said: ''I keep my mind quite open. I'm being perfectly truthful with you when I say I don't have anything fixed in my own mind as to whether I should share or not share...We're not even talking about sharing government with anybody yet.''

    Asked how open she was to compromise, she said: ''Once you've decided that you're going to start dialogue, you have to be prepared for compromise without compromising your principles.''

    On her vision for the future, she said: ''What I would really like for this country is a little less aggro all around, and I want people to be able to progress in relative peace and security.''

    Suu Kyi predicts talks 'within weeks'

    source : BBC

    The Burmese pro-democracy leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, has said she hopes talks with the country's military rulers will begin within weeks.

    Speaking to the BBC, Aung San Suu Kyi said she was ready to discuss anything and would rule nothing out, including a temporary power- sharing agreement with the generals.

    "I keep my mind quite open. I don't have anything fixed in my own mind as to whether I would share or not share. We are not going to go into this dialogue with pre- conceived ideas."

    Aung San Suu Kyi was released from 19 months of house arrest in May. Her statement came after the UN envoy, Razali Ismail, said he was confident he had narrowed the differences between the military and opposition. Aung San Suu Kyi's party won national elections in 1989, but she was never allowed to assume power after the junta brutally suppressed the pro-democracy protests.

    Reconciliation talks

    Aung San Suu Kyi now enjoys full political freedom, but there is yet to be substantial discussion between her opposition National League for Democracy party and the military.

    Despite Mr Razali's efforts at pushing for a furthering of the reconciliation dialogue, Aung San Suu Kyi said the differences remained.

    "Basically it's to do with the speed at which the democratic process is going. "We have been very worried about the delays with regard to the release of political prisoners, and the delays with regard to the initiation of dialogue."

    She also said any dialogue would eventually have to include representatives of Burma's minority tribes, some of whom have been waging an armed rebellion against the government.

    'Not a visionary'

    Aung San Suu Kyi said she had no ill feelings towards the military for her long imprisonment and the ban to see her family.

    "I don't have any feelings of bitterness. I don't know what that means. I don't see why I should harbour feelings of bitterness."

    She said she and her colleagues were not looking back, and that their belief kept them going. But she said she wanted aggression and suffering in Burma to end.

    "I am not a visionary, but what I would really like for the country is a little less aggro all around. I want my people to be able to progress in relative peace and security."

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    Myanmar's opposition expects political dialogue within weeks

    source : AFP

    Myanmar's democratic opposition expects landmark political talks with the ruling junta to begin within weeks, as both sides are eager to start a dialogue on reform, a party spokesman said.

    "The political talks will begin very soon. We do not have an exact day but it will be within weeks," said National League for Democracy (NLD) spokesman U Lwin on Wednesday. "At the moment I think both sides are really keen on starting the dialogue."

    U Lwin said it was not yet known which members of the military government would take part in the discussions, which would be led by NLD leader Aung San Suu Kyi on the pro- democracy side.

    "We don't know yet, but if necessary I think the top generals will join the talks," he said, referring to the top-three military leaders who dominate the ruling State Peace and Development Council (SPDC).

    The party veteran said he expected that democratic reforms, which would end four decades of military rule in Myanmar, would be addressed in the talks only after a number of urgent issues were discussed.

    He said the first topic broached would likely be the release of the remaining political prisoners, including more than 200 NLD members and hundreds of other dissidents.

    "The first thing we must talk about is the release of the remaining prisoners, not only our NLD prisoners but the others, especially those from the ethnic groups," he said.

    Other issues on the agenda would be the right to free political activity by a range of pro-democracy groups in Myanmar.

    "We don't even have full rights yet and if we talk about the others like the Shan and other nationalities political movements, they have been deregistered. So it will be a case of reconsidering those deregistrations."

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    Burma's bloody day

    James Morrison - The Washingtontimes

    Burmese activists will demonstrate outside the Burmese Embassy today on the eve of the anniversary of the bloody 1988 democracy demonstration that was crushed by the country's military government.

    Former political prisoners, refugees and members of the government in exile will gather from 1 to 3 p.m. at the offices of the International Human Rights Law Group at 1200 18th St. NW to hear speeches by democracy advocates persecuted by Burma's leaders.

    Later, they will rally outside the embassy at 2300 S St. NW to observe the eve of the anniversary of the Aug. 8, 1988, demonstration that was violently crushed by Burmese troops that killed as many as 10,000 people.

    "Aug. 8, 1988, should have ushered in a new era of democracy for Burma," Burmese poet U Tin Moe said in a statement yesterday. "Instead, thousands were killed, and many are still in prison because of their beliefs."

    The Burmese Embassy had no comment on the planned demonstration. Burma has been internationally denounced for its dictatorial regime. The State Department's latest human rights report criticizes the government's "extremely poor human rights record and long-standing severe repression" of its citizens, who are subject to the "arbitrary and sometimes brutal dictates of the military."

    In Burma yesterday, a U.N. envoy said the military junta will soon begin substantive talks with Aung San Suu Kyi, the pro-democracy leader who was released in May after 19 months under house arrest. "There is a common effort to try to discuss the necessary political and constitutional issues" on the future political structure of the country, envoy Razali Ismail told Reuters news agency.

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    Thai FM says Burma conflict resolved after official visit

    Source : AFP

    Thai Foreign Minister Surakiart Sathirathai said he was confident that a three-month diplomatic spat with Burma was over and a new era in bilateral relations would now begin.

    "I have told Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra that all bygone incidents have been put behind us," he told reporters after returning from a one-day visit to Rangoon aimed at ending the row.

    "We will turn towards cooperation and as of now, relations between the two countries are normalised."

    Bilateral relations have been in crisis since May when border clashes erupted up between the Burmese junta and ethnic rebels, which Rangoon accuses Thailand of assisting.

    The two countries exchanged official protest notes, and Burma sealed all border gates and barred official visits. In the ensuing weeks it mounted a verbal tirade against Thailand, its historic adversary.

    After talks with Burma's top three military leaders Tuesday, Surakiart said he was confident simmering issues including border traffic and a Burma campaign against Thai-made goods would be resolved in the next few weeks.

    "My goal was not to negotiate for the reopening of the border or the ending of anti-Thai goods sentiment, but to clear up misunderstandings over the May 20 incident," he said.

    "When all misunderstandings are resolved, measures taken by Myanmar will be automatically ended."

    In the May 20 incident which kicked off the hostilities, Burma protested what it described as Thai artillery attacks on four of its military outposts as well as others manned by ethnic Wa fighters along the border.

    Surakiart said he had been given reassurances that Burma would cooperate with Thailand in issues including economic development, drugs suppression and the flood of illegal workers crossing into Thailand.

    The minister's trip to Rangoon came shortly after Thailand's powerful army chief General Surayud Chulanont was transferred to the ceremonial position of supreme commander, a move critics said was aimed at appeasing Burma.

    Surayud has been steadfast in refusing to yield to Burma, contrary to a policy of appeasement reportedly preferred by Thaksin and Defence Minister Chavalit Yongchaiyudh.

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    Suu Kyi demands freedom for political prisoners

    RANGOON/BANGKOK, Aug 7 (Reuters)- - Burma pro-democracy opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi said on Wednesday the military government must release all prisoners of conscience if it is serious about ending the country's political deadlock.

    "We insist that the release of political prisoners is necessary if the process of reconciliation is to go forward to a point where it becomes truly irreversible," the 57-year-old Nobel peace laureate said in a video statement released in Bangkok.

    Hopes are high of a political breakthrough in Burma, after United Nations special envoy Razali Ismail said on Tuesday after his latest visit that the ruling junta would soon begin substantive talks with Suu Kyi.

    Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy (NLD), which won Burma's last election in 1990 by a landslide but was never allowed to govern, has also said it will not oppose some foreign aid to Burma as long the money reaches those who need it.

    But the two sides remain far apart on several issues, including political prisoners. The government has released more than 200 NLD prisoners in the last two years but around 250 are still in jail, along with hundreds of other political prisoners.

    "Until all our political prisoners are free, none of us can say that Burma is now truly on the road to democratic change," Suu Kyi said. "We would like to call upon everybody who cares for the future of Burma to support the...demand for the release of all political prisoners, speedily and unconditionally."


    Suu Kyi began confidential talks with the junta in October 2000, but the discussions have yet to move beyond so-called "confidence building" to touch on substantive political issues.

    After strong international pressure, Suu Kyi was released from 19 months of house arrest in May, but since then she has had no meetings with senior members of the junta. She has repeatedly called for meaningful talks to begin as soon as possible.

    UN envoy Razali, a Malaysian diplomat, said on Tuesday he was confident such talks would begin "very, very soon".

    Razali also said Suu Kyi was willing to co-operate in some areas with the junta. The NLD says this means Suu Kyi will not object to humanitarian aid as long as it is carefully monitored.

    "Concerning foreign assistance, Aung San Suu Kyi will not protest any foreign assistance that is really necessary and that will really benefit the people," NLD Secretary U Lwin told Reuters. "However, there must be transparency and accountability and independent monitoring of the assistance provided."

    Suu Kyi has long been a supporter of international sanctions on Burma, saying aid, investment and tourism should not be encouraged in the absence of political change.

    Analysts say international sanctions on Burma have battered its economy and are the main factor goading the junta into making concessions to Suu Kyi.

    Burma has been ruled by the military for four decades. The junta says it is committed to creating democracy but that moving too fast could cause anarchy in the multi-ethnic country.


    Diplomats in Rangoon said that while it was encouraging that the two sides seemed ready to start serious talks, there was still a gulf between them and progress was likely to be slow.

    They said one danger facing Suu Kyi was that her more conciliatory stance towards the junta could give it more international legitimacy, and that the talks she gets in return may turn out to be nothing more than a sham.

    "We need to see if the government is serious about these talks, or if they just drag on and on with nothing ever being agreed and no change taking place," a Western diplomat said.

    But the diplomat said Suu Kyi still held a trump card. If she was unhappy with the pace of change she could pull out of the talks and end the thaw in the world's attitude towards Burma.

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