Daily News- August 09- 2002- Friday

  • yanmar says Muslim rebels trained by Taliban and in Mideast camps
  • Anniversary of bloody uprising passes off peacefully in Myanmar
  • BANQUET WITH JUNTA: Thaksin's meal idea under fire
  • Thaksin mulls removing 'thorn' in Burma ties
  • Myanmar releases prisoners, but Suu Kyi wants more
  • Myanmar confirms arrest of 18 Thai nationals

  • Myanmar says Muslim rebels trained by Taliban and in Mideast camps

    YANGON, Aug 8 (AFP) - Myanmar's military government Thursday said Muslim separatists operating on its border with Bangladesh have been trained by Afghanistan's Taliban militia, and in "terrorist camps" in the Middle East.

    The Rohingya separatists, part of a community which originally migrated from Bangladesh in seek of work in Myanmar, have operated a low-grade insurgency in the country's north-west for decades.

    "We then subsequently learned that some of these individuals were actually trained by the Taliban in Afghanistan, as well as in the terrorist training camps in the Middle East," said government spokesman Colonel Hla Min.

    "The Myanmar government, practicing its zero tolerance policy in such matters, vigorously confronted the activities of this group threatening the national as well as regional security," he said in a statement.

    Hla Min said Myanmar pledged to work with the United States and neighbouring Southeast Asian nations in eradicating terrorism from the region.

    "While the government of Myanmar and the US have had differences in years past, we are pragmatically in full agreement that terrorists must be given no sanctuary," he said.

    Myanmar was a signatory to the US-ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) declaration on cooperation against terrorism signed in Brunei earlier this month.

    Some 21,000 Rohingya Muslims from Myanmar's Arakan state still live in refugee camps in Bangladesh after fleeing there 10 years ago, claiming ill-treatment at the hands of Myanmar troops.

    The Rohingya movement, which means "Sons of Allah", reached its height during the 1950s when U Nu was Myanmar's first democratically elected prime minister.

    Parts of Arakan became crowded with the Muslim migrant workers, angering the Arakanese Buddhist population who were nevertheless dependent on the cheap agricultural labor they provided.

    In 1978, dictator Ne Win launched a census-taking operation which resulted in hundreds of thousands of Rohingya fleeing to Bangladesh citing religious persecution.They later returned, but the exodus was repeated in the 1990s, forcing 25, 000 Rohingya to be put under the care of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in Bangladeshi camps.

    During the upheavals, the separatist Rohingya Solidarity Organisation was born, along with several other offshoots. The Muslim fundamentalists are known to receive financial aid, arms and training from the Middle East via Pakistan.The groups are based inside Bangladesh, making sporadic raids into Myanmar, but their strength is considered to be limited.

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    Anniversary of bloody uprising passes off peacefully in Myanmar

    YANGON, Aug 8 (AFP) - The anniversary of Myanmar's bloody 1988 democracy uprising passed off peacefully Thursday, a day after opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi called for the release of the nation's political prisoners.

    No events were scheduled to mark the "8-8-88" anniversary, and Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy (NLD) ceased publicly observing the day several years ago.

    However, in Thailand the anniversary was marked with events in the capital Bangkok and by the dissident community living in the country's north near the Myanmar border.

    Relations between Aung San Suu Kyi and the ruling State Peace and Development Council (SPDC) have improved since October 2000 when they began historic talks that may soon move into a fully fledged political dialogue.

    However, Aung San Suu Kyi said in a video message released in Bangkok Wednesday that the current stalemate would continue until "all our political prisoners are free"."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," she said."Unless political organisations are free to go about their work unhindered and unintimidated by the authorities, we can never say that we have started the process towards changed democracy."

    About 1,500 political prisoners are believed to be in the country's jails, including more than 200 NLD members.

    The opposition leader's statement was issued on the eve of the 14th anniversary of the pro-democracy uprisings in Yangon in which student demonstrators were brutally suppressed by Myanmar's military.Subsequent elections in 1990, which were won by the NLD in a landslide, were never recognised by the military, and the country has been mired in a damaging political deadlock ever since.However, Aung San Suu Kyi has reportedly said this week that she expects the political talks to begin within weeks, raising hopes that democratic reforms are finally in the offing.

    "The political talks will begin very soon. We do not have an exact day but it will be within weeks," NLD spokesman U Lwin said Wednesday, adding that both sides were "really keen" on starting the dialogue.

    At the Bangkok 8-8-88 anniversary event, Myanmar's self-declared government in exile, the National Coalition Government of the Union of Burma, urged the international community to keep up the pressure on the regime.

    "It is imperative that the international community give support to Daw Aung San Suu Kyi at this crucial juncture," said spokesman Sann Aung."Only by sustaining international pressure and boycotts can we persuade the generals to take negotiations with the NLD seriously."

    United Nations special envoy Razali Ismail, who returned from his eighth trip to Myanmar Tuesday, said Wednesday that Aung San Suu Kyi may visit neighbouring Southeast Asian countries in the near future.Razali said that no restrictions were imposed on Aung San Suu Kyi after she was freed in May from 19 months of house arrest.

    "She is more positive now. She can travel ... It's like breathing fresh air for her. She has gone out there to meet people and is well received," he said.

    Myanmar dissidents protest in Bangladesh on anniversary of uprising

    DHAKA, Aug 8 (AFP) - Bangladesh-based members of Myanmar's ethnic Rohingya minority Thursday marked the 14th anniversary of a bloody pro-democracy uprising in their country with calls for an end to military rule in Yangon.About 50 protestors, including children, rallied near Bangladesh's foreign ministry calling on the international community to pressure Myanmar's military junta to release political prisoners.

    The demonstrators, some of whom carried portraits of opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, said they would refuse to return to their country until military rule is ended.

    Bangladesh is home to some 21,000 Rohingya Muslims who fled 10 years ago claiming ill-treatment from Myanmar troops.Hundreds of thousands of Rohingya had fled to Bangladesh in two exoduses in 1978 and the 1990s, but most were repatriated.

    Yangon charged Thursday that Muslim separatists operating on its border with Bangladesh have been trained by Afghanistan's Taliban militia and in "terrorist camps" in the Middle East.Rohingya separatists have operated a low-grade insurgency in Myanmar's northwest for decades.Bangladesh denies any such group operates from its territory.

    Myanmar dissidents urge junta to begin 'true dialogue

    source : AP

    BANGKOK, Thailand - Exiled Myanmar dissidents Thursday urged their country's military junta to begin a political dialogue with opposition parties, many of whose members are in jail.

    The appeal, by four groups based in neighboring Thailand, was made on the 14th anniversary of a bloody pro-democracy uprising against the dictatorship that was put down by the army. Hundreds were killed and an estimated 1,000 political prisoners remain behind bars.

    The military has released some government critics recently, including opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, who emerged from house arrest a little over three months ago.

    In a statement, the groups called on the junta to "begin a true political dialogue" with the opposition, to unconditionally release all political prisoners and to allow political parties to freely practice their activities.

    The junta called elections in 1990 but annulled the results when the polls were won by Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy. Since then Myanmar politics have been at an impasse. Recent closed-door talks with Suu Kyi's camp have produced little.

    The anniversary of the Aug. 8, 1988 uprising went marked in Myanmar, which was formerly known as Burma. The regime routinely cracks down on pro-democracy rallies.On Wednesday, Suu Kyi called on the junta to free all the political prisoners, saying their continued detention was the major obstacle to democratic reform.

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    BANQUET WITH JUNTA: Thaksin's meal idea under fire

    The Nation

    The Thaksin government's plan to arrange an informal dinner meeting between the Cabinet and Burmese junta officials drew criticism yesterday from a number of sources and ministers, including Defence Minister General Chavalit Yong- chaiyudh.

    Chavalit, known for his close ties with Burma's military junta, expressed doubt over the plan, wondering whether it was necessary to send the entire Cabinet to the proposed meeting.

    "Why does the entire Cabinet have to go? Only people who can do the job should go. Or even just [Foreign Minister] Surakiart [Sathirathai] would be enough," he said.

    Surakiart on Tuesday proposed the meeting idea to Burmese Prime Minister General Than Shwe during a visit to Rangoon in a bid to bring an end a recent series of border clashes that have raised tensions between the countries. Surakiart said Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra had asked him to raise the dinner idea.

    Following the 90-minute meeting, Surakiart announced that relations between the neighbours would soon return to normal and that the Burmese government had agreed with Thaksin's proposal for the cabinets to dine together as a sign of reconciliation.

    Surakiart's mission to Burma was conducted without the help of Chavalit, who has for a long time been responsible for easing tensions between the countries when things have gone wrong.

    Meanwhile, chairman of the Senate committee on foreign affairs Kraisak Chonhavan said he was puzzled by Thaksin's plan because in normal diplomatic practice, only ministers of foreign affairs or defence are involved in resolving troubles between |neighbouring countries.

    "I cannot see the point of bringing the two countries' cabinets together. However, the move would make Thailand the first country to seek friendly ties with a government that is known for its cruelty and has one the world's worst human rights records," he said.

    Thaksin should abandon the plan because no one can guarantee that Burma will honour its promises to help bring an end to our border problems, Kraisak said.

    Chulalongkorn University political science lecturer Panithan Wattanayagorn said the government's plan would create many doubts over its intentions."What would the world think of this? This is a daring new move, but the government should consider whether it is necessary. We should not try to please Burma. Burma should instead try to please us, because it doesn't have many friends," he said.

    Thaksin mulls removing 'thorn' in Burma ties

    Supalak Ganjanakhundee, Don Pathan
    The Nation

    In an attempt to build up Burma's confidence, Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra is considering dissolving the US- supported Task Force 399 for the suppression of narcotics trafficking along the northern border, a senior Army officer said yesterday.

    TF 399, created about a year ago with technical support from the US Army, is meant to strengthen coordination between the Army, provincial police and Border Patrol Police for tighter security along the Thai-Burmese border.A number of people in the current administration see the TF399 as having become a thorn in Thai-Burmese relations.

    "Rangoon has paid special attention to the TF399, sending questions through various channels about its role and mandate," said a Third Army intelligence officer.It is not yet clear when the premier will take a decision on the future of the task force, said another officer.

    However, Thaksin is uncomfortable with the task force's existence and operations since it could easily create "misunderstanding" between Thailand and Burma, the officer said.

    TF 399 is based in Chiang Mai's Mae Chan district, just kilometres from the border across which one of the world's largest armed drug-trafficking groups, the United Wa State Army (UWSA), operates independently under a cease-fire arrangement reached with Rangoon.Both Thai and American officials insist that TF 399 is not an operational unit but a training mechanism that brings various police and Army units together to enhance security along the border.

    Some Army officials said there was growing concern among the top brass about the idea of dissolving TF 399, saying it would send a signal to the international community, as well as Rangoon, that Thailand was seeking to appease the Burmese junta.

    Authorities in Rangoon often accused the TF 399 of quietly supporting Burma's ethnic insurgent groups , as well as attacking Burmese troops directly.A number of people in the security community support the idea of doing away with TF 399 because it is too close to the Americans.

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    Myanmar releases prisoners, but Suu Kyi wants more

    YANGON(Reuters) Aug. 9 - Myanmar's junta freed 14 political prisoners on Friday, but the move was far short of the release of all prisoners of conscience that opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi has demanded as a precondition for national reconciliation.

    Over the past two years, the military government has released hundreds of political prisoners, but more than 500 are still believed to be behind bars, including some 250 members of Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy (NLD).

    Suu Kyi, who was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991 for her efforts to bring democracy to Myanmar, issued a statement this week demanding the release of all political prisoners. She said Myanmar's political stalemate could not be broken until all prisoners of conscience were freed unconditionally.

    The government said on Friday that of the 14 prisoners who had been released, six were members of the NLD. ''The government of Myanmar will continue to release more individuals who will cause no harm to the community nor threaten the existing peace, stability and the unity of the nation,'' it said in a statement.

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

    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 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.

    Suu Kyi's NLD won Myanmar's last election, in 1990, by a landslide but the military refused to hand over power. The junta says it is committed to building democracy, but that moving too fast could cause the multi-ethnic country to fall apart.

    Analysts say the main factor pushing the junta towards compromising with Suu Kyi is their desire to see international sanctions eased to give the battered economy a chance to recover.

    Suu Kyi has long been a supporter of international sanctions on Myanmar, saying aid, investment and tourism should not be encouraged in the absence of political change.But she has softened her stance since her release from house arrest, saying some humanitarian aid is acceptable as long as its use is monitored and it reaches the needy. (Additional reporting by Andrew Marshall in Bangkok)

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    Myanmar confirms arrest of 18 Thai nationals

    YANGON, Aug. 9 (Xinhuanet) -- A high-ranking Myanmar official confirmed on Friday that the Myanmar authorities have arrested a total of 18 Thai nationals following the unilateral closure of border points with Thailand due to May 20 border clashes between the two countries.

    Colonel San Pwint, Deputy Head of Department of the Myanmar Defense Ministry, told a press meeting that of the 18 Thai detainees, three, who were found in possession of stimulant drug tablets, are under trial in the border town of Tachilek.

    Of the remaining 15, who were charged with illegal entry, five have each been sentenced to five years of prison terms and the other ten are still under trial.

    Meanwhile, the Thai side said that these Thai nationals were forced to remain in the Myanmar side of the border for their regular job, without being able to return to the Thai side in timeout of Myanmar's closure of its border following the incident. So far, the Myanmar side has not yet reopened its border pointswith Thailand.

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