Daily News- August 11- 2002- Sunday

  • Border with Burma re-opening soon: Thai FM
  • Border Closure pushes import-export trade underground
  • Thai Businessmen support Thai PM to put trade first
  • Myanmar to introduce high-tech passport control at Yangon airport
  • Thaksin says junta should include armed rivals in any talks with NLD
  • EU announces aid grants to five countries
  • Myanmar's cement production drops in fiscal 2001-02
  • Myanmar's fertilizer production plunges in fiscal 2001-02

  • Border with Burma re-opening soon: Thai FM

    Source ; AFP

    Thailand's border with Burma will reopen soon, Foreign Minister Surakiart Sathirathai said according, as hostilities begin to ease between the south east Asian neighbours.

    Meanwhile, sources in northern Thailand said checkpoints between the two countries could open as early as Monday.

    Borders have been closed since May when a series of deadly border skirmishes saw ties plummet to unprecedented lows.

    But conditions have improved steadily, traders and military sources have said, aided by Surakiart's bridge-mending mission to Burma last week.

    "When the relations are back to normal, the reopening of checkpoints, trade and economic cooperation will follow in the next two or three weeks," the minister told Matichon, a Thai language daily, published on Sunday.

    "So the reopening of the checkpoint is possible," he added, referring to the gate at the Friendship Bridge 440 kilometres (273 miles) northwest of Bangkok, connecting Thailand's Mae Sot town with Myawaddi in Burma.

    Surakiart's optimism was topped by unconfirmed reports from traders and military sources in northern Thailand that the Friendship Bridge or the checkpoint at Mae Sai in Chiang Rai province could open Monday.

    "We heard the rumours, but there is no formal information on that," a Thai customs official at the Friendship Bridge told AFP.

    Burmese nationals could be seen calmly crossing the border along the Moei river near the Friendship Bridge, with cross-border trade and medical visits increasing amid the slackening tensions, sources told AFP.

    The Nation newspaper also reported the border could open in the coming days, and that Lieutenant General Khin Nyunt, Burma's intelligence chief, could be present at the re-opening of the bridge.

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

    The two countries exchanged 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 last 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.

    Despite the clampdown, illicit trade continued after the closure. The Bangkok Post reported that traders have been allowed to ship millions of dollars in goods after paying bribes to officials.

    Some traders said they got the green light for contraband shipments after paying off the Democratic Karen Buddhist Army, a pro-Rangoon ethnic militia, the newspaper said.

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    Border Closure pushes import-export trade underground

    Source : Bangkok Post

    Black market racketeers, corrupt officials and the pro-Rangoon Democratic Karen Buddhist Army (DKBA) have all benefited as a result of Burma's decision in May to close the common border.

    Traders in Tak province said they had been allowed to ship goods across the border tax-free after paying bribes to officials.

    One trader from Burma said he was able to move contraband goods after paying the DKBA to persuade Burmese soldiers to turn a blind eye.

    Many of his consignments were valued at 500,000-1.5 million baht.

    The DKBA had also reportedly paved the way for the export of more than 2,400 head of cattle.

    Another source said the smuggling of goods was rife along the Mae Sai river in Chiang Rai province.

    Traffickers were paying officials up to 400 baht to allow them passage into Burma, and up to 2,000 baht to bring goods back into the country, the source said.

    Meanwhile, Burmese villagers were reportedly smuggling goods worth a combined 5 million baht per day, including furniture and farm produce, after paying officials on their side of the border up to 140 baht to cross into Thailand.

    The Mae Sot customs office in Tak had arrested 59 suspected smugglers, charged with causing total damages of 1.7 million baht, since July.

    Earlier this month, authorities arrested the owners of two warehouses in Tak province after they failed to prove import duties had been paid on a total of 47 tonnes of shallot, garlic, herbs and herbal powder from Burma.

    Mae Sot customs chief Boonthiam Chokewiwatat reported tax revenues at his checkpoint for the second quarter had shrank by 66%, or 32.2 million baht, compared to the same period last year.

    Ronnarong Sukthavorn, customs chief for Mae Sai checkpoint in Chiang Rai, said his tax revenues for this fiscal year stood at 14 million baht.

    They were unlikely to meet a target of 20 million baht by the end of September.

    About 4,000 residents of Burma's Tachilek town, opposite Mae Sai, had been forced to live without electricity for almost three months after Rangoon cut power supplies from Thailand, he said.

    Niyom Wairatpanich from the Chamber of Commerce said the value of border trade between April and May had dropped 202 million baht in Ranong, 158 million in Tak, 53 million baht in Chiang Rai, and 4 million baht in Mae Hong Son.

    ``I believe border trade is still ongoing, but it has been forced underground,'' he said.

    Burma closed the entire length of the common border on May 22, after accusing the Thai military of providing support to Shan rebels attacking its troops.

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    Thai Businessmen support Thai PM to put trade first

    Source : The Nation

    Businessmen along the Thai-Burmese border yesterday threw their support behind Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, calling on his government to continue giving top priority to trade and investment relations with Burma.

    Participants at yesterday's chamber of commerce meeting in the Mae Sot district of Tak province said the government was doing the right thing by reaching out to the military government of Burma.

    The meeting came amid unconfirmed reports that the Thai-Burmese border would be re-opened in the coming days and Burma's intelligence chief Lt-General Khin Nyunt would be present at the re-opening of the Thai-Burmese Friendship Bridge that links Mae Sot to the Burmese border town of Myawaddy.

    Khin Nyunt is supposedly inaugurating Burma's "one stop service centre" in Myawaddi to deal with customs and immigrations matters and streamline cross-border trade.

    The meeting in Mae Sot came up with resolutions calling on the government to lessen restrictions on Burmese workers in Thailand and urged the government to lower the fee for permits.

    Banphot Korkiertcharoen, deputy chairman of the Tak Chamber of Commerce, said the atmosphere along the border has improved steadily since Foreign Minister Surakiart Sathirathai's fence-mending visit to Rangoon. Banphot urged the government to guarantee that the border will not be closed when military skirmishes erupt again.

    "We welcome the news that the border will re-open," said Suchart Treeratwattana, another deputy from the chamber.

    Banphot said there needs to be assurances that the Burmese will not unilaterally close the border as they please.

    "We hope this will be the last time," said Banphot, pointing to the financial loss suffered by the local businessmen every time the border is shut.

    Suchart said he was told of the unconfirmed visit of Khin Nyunt to open the border at a meeting with Ma Tin Tin, chairman of the Chamber of Commerce in Myawaddi, a Burmese town opposite Mae Sot.

    The border was closed following the May 20 conflicts.

    Wisanu Imrath, a merchant from Doi Wow in Mae Sot district said the mood among the traders along the border has been very gloomy due to the uncertainty about whether the border will open or close.

    Phayup University's Suchart Somsrap said the government must distinguish between ego and politics, saying Thailand needs to do away with Deputy Prime Minister General Chavalit Yonchaiyudh's method of dealing with the Burmese because it won't work in the long run.

    Chavalit often points to his personal connections with the Burmese generals and says that his brand of "personal diplomacy" can improve bilateral ties.

    The deputy premier was sidelined from having a direct role in normalising bilateral ties following the May 20 border clashes that seriously damaged Thai-Burmese relations.

    Academics and Thai officers on the frontline say the government is conceding too much to Rangoon and fundamental problems such as drugs, insurgencies and refugees, have yet to be addressed.

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    Myanmar to introduce high-tech passport control at Yangon airport

    CHIANG MAI, Thailand, Aug 10 (AFP) - Military-ruled Myanmar has installed a new high-tech passport screening system at Yangon's international airport, the state's media reported, although it was unclear when it would be up and running.

    The "Auto Gate" system, set up by the ministry of immigration and population, screens microchip-embedded e-passports, can detect counterfeits, and reads fingerprints, Radio Myanmar reported late Friday.

    Lieutenant General Khin Nyunt, the number three official in the ruling military junta, inspected the system at Mingladone International Airport Thursday, it said.The gate is to open in the near future, but the report did not specify when.

    Myanmar has a notoriously strict immigration policy, especially with regard to international media and members of non-government organisations (NGOs) operating within the country.

    In Malaysia, Friday's Business Times reported that Malaysia's Iris Corporation had clinched a deal with Myanmar's E-National Taskforce to develop 5,000 "smart passports" from the end of August, making Myanmar the second country in the world after Malaysia to adopt the e-passport technology.

    Iris Corporation is chaired and partly owned by United Nations special envoy to Myanmar Razali Ismail, who has dismissed allegations of a conflict of interest over his business dealings with the junta.

    The Malaysian diplomat has been credited with brokering secret talks since October 2000 between the junta and the democratic opposition led by Aung San Suu Kyi, whose freedom from house arrest in May Razali helped orchestrate.Earlier this year Razali said he had informed the National League for Democracy NLD) leader of his business involvement in Myanmar and that there were no objections from her.Iris representatives were not immediately available for comment and Myanmar authorities had yet to respond to queries about the system.

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    Thaksin says junta should include armed rivals in any talks with NLD

    The Nation

    Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra yesterday urged the government in Rangoon to enter into serious political negotiations with Burma's ethnic groups so that Thailand does not have to bear the human and financial costs of its neighbour's internal strife.

    Thaksin urged the military junta to take an "open arms" approach in dealing with the ethnic minorities, some of which are still armed and actively fighting for autonomy.

    Rangoon has consistently failed to bring the armed rebel factions to the negotiating table following their refusals to surrender weapons and territory as a precondition. Further moves are unlikely to take place as the military strength of the ethnic armies has waned over the years, dramatically weakening their bargaining power.

    Yesterday's message from Thaksin came as the Daily News reported that the border would re-open next Sunday- August 18 as an outcome of the recent fence-mending trip to Rangoon by Foreign Affairs Minister Surakiart Sathirathai.

    Bilateral ties took a nosedive following border clashes on May 20 involving Thai and Burmese troops, as well as those of the Shan rebels and the United Wa State Army, a pro-Rangoon outfit accused by the Thais of flooding the Kingdom with millions of methamphetamine pills every month.

    Thaksin said he was well aware that the border problems could not be resolved overnight but insisted that relations were now on the upswing.The Thaksin administration has been accused of being over-accommodating to the junta while ignoring input from the military and senior diplomats in shaping government policy towards Rangoon.

    In a separate development, the Karenni National Progressive Party (KNPP) issued a statement obtained by The Nation yesterday commemorating the 54th anniversary of the group's resistance. The statement appealed to the junta to declare a cease-fire throughout the whole country and to settle all disputes through peaceful means. The KNPP called for genuine democracy and encouraged a tripartite conciliation, which would include minority groups in all discussions between the opposition National League for Democracy and the junta.

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    EU announces aid grants to five countries

    BRUSSELS, Belgium - The European Union 's head office announced Thursday the adoption of humanitarian aid programs channeling 10.3 million euro (dlrs 10.1 million) to five countries.

    Cambodia will receive 4.8 million euro (dlrs 4.7 million) for such projects as water supply and de-mining, the EU executive commission said.

    Two million euro (dlrs 1.9 million) has been allocated for the fight against malaria in Myanmar and the same amount to help flood victims in China.

    Madagascar will receive 1 million euro (dlrs 1.9 million) to tackle a locust infestation, and 500,000 euro (dlrs 490,000) is being allocated to help victims of the earthquake that struck Iran in June.

    Myanmar's cement production drops in fiscal 2001-02

    YANGON, Aug. 11 (Xinhuanet) -- Myanmar produced 378,819 tons of cement in the fiscal year of 2001-02, which ended in March, a 9.57-percent drop from 2000-01, said the government's Economic Indicators in its latest issue.

    During the year, the country's cement import also decreased by 8.3 percent, buying in 26.82 million US dollars worth of the goods. In 2000-01, Myanmar produced 418,923 tons of cement and imported 29.25 million dollars of the commodity.

    In the wake of the increasing demand for cement in its infrastructural construction such as roads, bridges, dams and housings, Myanmar is making efforts to build more cement plants inthe country.

    Myanmar's fertilizer production plunges in fiscal 2001-02

    YANGON, Aug. 11 (Xinhuanet) -- Myanmar's fertilizer production plunged 75.7 percent to 38,859 tons in the fiscal year 2001-02, which ended in March, from 160,000 tons in 2000-01, registering the lowest chemicals production in the past seven years, said the figures available from the industry sources.

    Annual fertilizer production in the past seven years at least exceeded 100,000 tons.Meanwhile, during the 2001-02, the country imported 21 million US dollars worth of chemicals to fill its domestic need.

    So far, Myanmar has only three fertilizer plants which can onlyproduce urea and are far from meeting its annual demand of over 800,000 tons of chemicals.

    To promote agricultural development, the Myanmar government hasexempted the import duties of agricultural implements including fertilizer, pesticide, and machinery.

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