Daily News- August 19- 2002- Monday

  • Malaysian prime minister to focus on economy during Myanmar visit
  • Thailand agrees to hold talks with Myanmar on border reopening
  • Burma keeps border closed despite rumours
  • Mahathir to boost economic ties with Burma
  • Piers thrive from sealed Thai-Burmese border
  • Khin Nyunt warns against 'hasty' change
  • Mahathir says rapid Myanmar reforms would risk sparking anarchy
  • Malaysia's Petronas Secures 4 Myanmar Contract
  • Myanmar Kyat Plunges as Laundering Law Hits
  • Mahathir ends Burma visit, no sign of breakthrough

  • Malaysian prime minister to focus on economy during Myanmar visit

    By AYE AYE WIN, Associated Press Writer

    YANGON, Myanmar - Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, one of the staunchest foreign backers of Myanmar's military regime, arrived here Sunday on a two-day visit that will probably focus more on economic matters than political change.

    The Malaysian leader met with the head of the ruling junta, Gen. Than Shwe, shortly after his arrival in Myanmar's capital but said he would not meet with pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

    However, there appeared to be a possible meeting on the cards between Suu Kyi and Malaysian Foreign Minister Syed Hamid Albar.

    "I'm not intending to meet her this time," Mahathir was quoted as saying by the national news agency Bernama, several hours before his departure for Yangon.

    The spokesman for Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy said Suu Kyi would like to meet with Mahathir. "Of course, if she has a chance," U Lwin said in a telephone interview from Bangkok. "But so far we don't have any offer or invitation for a meeting."

    Lwin said there were not concrete plans yet for Suu Kyi to meet with the Malaysian foreign minister but added he was "expecting something."

    Mahathir, who is accompanied by a 300- strong delegation of officials and business leaders, said the aim of his visit was to strengthen ties between the two countries.

    Mahathir, who played a pivotal role in bringing Myanmar into the Association of Southeast Nations, will address the Malaysia-Myanmar Technology Conference on Monday and witness the signing of several economic agreements.One agreement calls for offshore oil exploration between Petronas, Malaysia's energy giant, and the Myanmar government. Others are related to agriculture and communications. Myanmar is set this week to launch a sophisticated electronic passport using technology developed by a Malaysian-based company, Iris Corporation. The system was already installed at Yangon airport when Mahathir arrived.

    Malaysia is one of the largest foreign investors in Myanmar. As of May 2000, it had committed dlrs 597 million to the country, also know as Burma.

    Myanmar's current ruling junta came to power in 1988 after crushing pro-democracy protests. Suu Kyi's party won a 1990 general election but the junta prevented her from taking power. In May, Suu Kyi was released from house arrest. Many members of her party have also been freed from prison.

    Mahathir, Asia's longest-serving leader, has taken no official role in international efforts to end Myanmar's political impasse over the junta's refusal to allow democratic reforms.

    But a former Malaysian diplomat, Razali Ismail, was instrumental in his capacity as a U.N. envoy in brokering closed-door talks between Suu Kyi and the regime that began in October 2000 which have improved relations and led to the prisoner releases. Razali made his eighth visit since April 2000 to Myanmar just two weeks ago.

    Razali has established close ties with Myanmar and is a shareholder in Iris Corporation, which developed the electronic passport for Myanmar.

    Mahathir's trip will be his third visit to Myanmar since it joined ASEAN in 1997.By supporting Myanmar's bid to join the association, Mahathir snubbed the United States and other Western nations that had urged isolating the regime to force reforms.

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    Thailand agrees to hold talks with Myanmar on border reopening

    BANGKOK, Aug 18 (AFP) - Thailand said Sunday it had agreed to hold talks with Myanmar on the reopening of border checkpoints that were closed three months ago after a border skirmish sparked a diplomatic row.

    Thai foreign ministry spokesman Rattakit Manathat told reporters that Myanmar's foreign minister U Win Aung had sent a letter to his Thai counterpart Surakiart Sathirathai, proposing a meeting early next month.

    "The foreign minister sent a letter in reply offering to meet in Mae Sai, Chiang Rai or Mae Sot in Tak province, or another suitable border town," Rattakit said."The talks will focus on reopening the checkpoints between the countries and on creating a mechanism to prevent them closing again," he said, adding that a response from Myanmar was now expected soon.

    An informed source from the ministry said the talks were likely to take place on September 7 and 8 in Mae Sai, some 785 kilometres (488 miles) north of Bangkok.

    Speculation surrounding the reopening of the checkpoints has been rife in Thailand, with Surakiart himself saying last week that they may have reopened gradually from Sunday.But on Saturday Myanmar's military junta said it did not have plans to reopen the checkpoints yet.

    Surakiart held talks with Myanmar's top three military leaders on August 6 in Yangon, and said afterwards that relations between the historic adversaries were "normalized" and that simmering issues would be resolved in the next few weeks.Relations between the two countries spiralled to a low in May when border clashes erupted between the Myanmar junta and ethnic rebels, which Yangon accuses Thailand of assisting.The two countries exchanged official protest notes, and Myanmar sealed all border gates and barred official visits. In the ensuing weeks it mounted a tirade in its official press against Thailand.

    Burma keeps border closed despite rumours

    By Piyanart Srivalo, Samatchai Hunsara
    the Nation

    Thai-Burmese checkpoints remained closed yesterday with Burma showing no signs of re-opening its borders despite recent speculation in Thailand that it would do so soon.

    Thai border officials, local villagers and tourists in Chiang Rai, Mae Hong Son and Tak provinces who believed the border would be reopened yesterday after a three-month suspension found only chains and locked gates.

    Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra tried to play down the reports, saying the process in Burma would take time and reopening the checkpoints required a direct order from the government.

    "It would certainly depend on a decision from the Burmese government whether or not to open the border. We are not in a position to ask or to force it to resume border activity," Thaksin said.

    Meanwhile, Foreign Ministry spokesman Rattakit Manatat said that Burma's Foreign Minister Win Aung had proposed that a meeting be arranged to discuss the border stand-off. In a letter to the ministry dated August 15, Win Aung suggested talks take place from September 7-8.The venue of the meeting would be discussed at a later date, Rattakit said.

    Rumours in recent weeks suggested that Burma would reopen border gates yesterday after suspending all cross- border activity in May. Rangoon sealed its border to express outrage over Thai Army's military exercises.The situation escalated after fighting on Burmese soil spilled into Thailand, forcing the Thai Army to retaliate.Rangoon however claimed that the Thai military had acted in support of Burmese fighters opposed to the junta.The Thai Army has denied the charges.

    In a bid to defuse the mounting tension that has damaged bilateral relations, the government dispatched Foreign Minister Surakiart Sathirathai to Rangoon earlier this month. After meeting with Burma's three top military officials, he told reporters that relations would soon return to normal.

    Suwin Katetrakul, customs chief in Chiang Rai's Mae Sai district, confirmed that Burma has not yet reopened its border for trade."The border markets in Thailand are operating as usual, but those on the Burmese side are closed. I learnt that the Burmese government has not yet ordered the border officials to resume their work," Suwin said.

    Surakiart also said that Burma had agreed to a full Cabinet meeting with the Thai government in a border province as a sign of good will, and to work towards normalising relations.A senior source at Government House said yesterday that the border's continued closure would damage the government's position on the meeting.

    If the border checkpoints had not reopened by the time the mobile Cabinet meets on October 4, Thailand may insist on a new venue for the meeting with Burma, the source said."We plan to hold the Cabinet meeting with Burma in Chiang Rai. However, we may have to change it to Kampang Phet or Tak provinces if Rangoon has still not resumed normal border activity," he said.

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    Mahathir to boost economic ties with Burma

    Source : The Straits Times / AP

    Rangoon -- Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, in a speech to Burma business leaders, said on Monday that foreign investment is crucial to a country's development.

    Addressing a business conference here, Dr Mahathir said: 'We believe that our experience in growing through foreign participation in our economy can also be the experience of all countries wishing to grow economically, and we know that foreign investments will not affect our independence.'

    He said Malaysian businesses would like to be welcomed in Burma, and added that he hoped the three-day conference could help establish cooperation.

    The Burma-Malaysia Technology Conference is jointly organised by the Malaysian Industry-Government Group for High Technology and the Burmese government. Dr Mahathir arrived on Sunday on a two-day visit, and focused on economics in his Monday speech. He is not scheduled to meet the country's opposition leader, Ms Aung San Suu Kyi.

    Burma's military junta leader, Lt-General Khin Nyunt, said in his welcome speech that Malaysia is the third largest South-east Asian investor in Myanmar, with 20 projects worth US$598 million (S$1.05 billion).

    During his visit, Dr Mahathir will witness the signing of several economic agreements, including one that calls for offshore oil exploration between Petronas, Malaysia's energy giant, and the Burmese government. Others are related to agriculture and communications.

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    Piers thrive from sealed Thai-Burmese border

    Source : Bangkok Post

    Business at two piers in Mae Sai district has boomed with consumer goods and passengers being smuggled into Burma, after Rangoon closed the entire length of the common border in May.

    The piers _ one run by an influential local politician, the other by the Wa ethnic group _ are thought to be raking in at least 100,000 baht each a day.

    One merchant said the pier operators were doing well because they had monopolised the ferrying of goods between Mae Sai and Burma's Tachilek town.

    They were charging ferry passengers 400 baht each for the one-way trip across the Mae Sai river, he said.

    A Burmese labourer working aboard one ferry said he was confident he would not be arrested because the pier operators had paid kickbacks to authorities on both sides of the border.

    However, most deliveries were made at night, he said. Local Burmese authorities were believed to be turning a blind eye to the pier operations as the border closure had led to a shortage of goods and rocketing consumer prices in Tachilek.

    The piers were closed briefly last week while senior officials were visiting the town.

    However, the piers were reopened shortly after they left.

    The labourer said most of his deliveries to the town comprised rice, instant noodles and cooking oil.

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    Khin Nyunt warns against 'hasty' change

    Source : BBC

    A senior leader in Burma's military junta has insisted it will not be hurried in moving towards more open government.

    The junta has been pressed by the US and Europe to speed up a reconciliation process underway with pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

    But Lieutenant-General Khin Nyunt told visiting Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad that Burma would move towards "democracy" at its own speed.

    "Such a transition cannot be done in haste and in a haphazard manner. The world is full of examples where a hasty transition from one system to another led to unrest, instability and even failed states," he told a conference attended by Dr Mahathir.

    Dr Mahathir, visiting Burma mainly to promote Malaysian business interests, tacitly backed the junta's position.

    "We are aware that the process of change must be gradual," he said.

    The military government freed Aung San Suu Kyi from almost 20 months of house arrest in May, but has since seemed wary about beginning talks on substantive change.

    Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy (NLD) won Burma's last election in 1990, but was never allowed to take power.

    During his two-day visit, Dr Mahathir also met military leader General Than Shwe.

    He was not expected to meet Aung San Suu Kyi. Some reports said the military blocked the meeting.

    Dr Mahathir, who is being accompanied by a 300-strong delegation of Malaysian business leaders and officials, is widely seen as a strong supporter of engaging the diplomatically-isolated Rangoon government.

    He was instrumental in helping Burma join the Association of South East Asian Nations (Asean), a regional trade grouping.

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    Mahathir says rapid Myanmar reforms would risk sparking anarchy

    YANGON, Aug 19 (AFP) - Democratic reform in Myanmar will be a slow and gradual process, Malaysian Prime Minister Mohamad Mahathir said Monday, warning during an official visit that rapid change could lead to anarchy.

    "While we uphold democracy and would like to see democracy practised in a country, we are also aware the process of change must be gradual," he told reporters after opening a technology conference here."We know from experience it is not easy to handle democracy. If we do not know how to handle it we will end up with anarchy."

    Mahathir's visit comes as Myanmar's ruling junta is expected to shortly begin a political dialogue with opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi.The two sides began talking in October 2000, in contacts brokered by veteran Malaysian diplomat and UN special envoy Razali Ismail, but Aung San Suu Kyi has repeatedly complained that the process is moving too slowly.

    Mahathir, a trusted friend and adviser to the ruling State Peace and Development Council (SPDC), distanced himself from the fledgling national reconciliation process.

    "It's just that a Malaysian was appointed by the UN to help with national reconciliation... and he's acting independently," he said. "Of course we're not objecting to it... we hope it's successful."

    Myanmar's influential military intelligence chief, Lieutenant-General Khin Nyunt, also said in a speech to the Myanmar-Malaysia technology conference that any progress towards democracy would be slow.

    "Such a transition cannot be done in haste and in a haphazard manner. The world is full of examples where a hasty transition from one system to another have led to instability and even failed states," he said."As such, our government... is laying the necessary political, economic, social and human resource foundations to ensure a stable and smooth transition to democracy."

    Mahathir said Sunday that he would not see Aung San Suu Kyi during his two-day visit to Myanmar which ends late Monday, despite a request from the Nobel peace laureate for a meeting.A Malaysian diplomatic source told AFP Sunday that a meeting had instead been arranged with Foreign Minister Syed Hamid Albar who is travelling in the large Malaysian delegation.

    But Mahathir said no such meeting had taken place. "There was never any such appointment as far as I know," he said.

    U Lwin, the spokesman for Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy (NLD), confirmed the two had not met."We really don't know what is going on with this Mahathir trip... We are expecting to meet, of course," he said. "They are not interested in seeing us."

    However, he insisted the party's leader was not angry about failing to meet with the Malaysian delegation."Why should she be upset? It is our struggle, it is our fight. We have been doing this on our own for years," he said.

    Malaysia's Petronas Secures 4 Myanmar Contract

    SINGAPORE -(Dow Jones)- Malaysia's state-owned oil and gas company Petronas was awarded four oil production sharing contracts by the Myanmar government for the M-15, M-16, M-17 and M-18 offshore blocks, Bernama news agency reported Monday.

    The contracts were signed by Petronas President and Chief Executive Mohamed Hassan Marican and Myanmar's Deputy Minister of Energy, U Tin Tun.

    Under the PSCs, Petronas Carigali Myanmar II Inc., a unit of Petronas Carigali Sdn Bhd. holds 100% equity in the four blocks and would be the operator as well.In the event of commercial discovery, the Myanmar Oil and Gas Enterprise would have an option to participate with an equity of up to 20% during the development and production phases of the blocks.

    The four blocks are located in the Tanintharyi area offshore southern Myanmar and they range from 13,500 to 14,200 square kilometers, Petronas said.

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    Myanmar Kyat Plunges as Laundering Law Hits

    Source :Tehran Times

    YANGON -- Myanmar's currency, the kyat, has plunged more than 17 percent against the dollar over recent days, in the latest shock to hit the military-run nation's crippled economy, traders and analysts say.

    The recent introduction of a money-laundering law, the prospect of Thai border checkpoints reopening from Sunday and a continued crackdown on illegal currency trading are all contributing to the kyat's fall.

    "Never mind that the dollar is not doing well elsewhere... it is a scarce commodity (here)," said one small importer.

    Myanmar economic holdings, a military-owned corporation, has also ventured into the market to purchase dollars in recent weeks, observers said, fueling the decline.

    The non-convertible kyat has been trading on Yangon's black market over the past three months at around 850 to the dollar, but dropped to more than 1,000 kyat when the market closed Wednesday, rivaling its record lows.The currency rose slightly on Thursday, and opened at 990 to the dollar Friday.

    Yangon's "law to control money and property obtained by illegal means" came into effect in June, giving a special committee wide-ranging powers such as access to bank accounts and permission to investigate personal income, property deals and money derived from ill-gotten gains.

    "Since the enactment of the money-laundering law they (border traders) do not want to move such big amounts (between accounts) for fear of inviting official scrutiny... so they're turning to dollars, whatever they can get," one Yangon analyst told AFP.

    The prospect of the Thai border crossings reopening shortly, after a three-month closure sparked by clashes between Myanmar troops and a rebel militia, is also increasing demand for the greenback.

    Traders who have largely been shut down during the diplomatic row caused by the border fighting are expected to clamor for dollars which are the preferred currency for their businesses.But observers also said that demand along all of Myanmar's borders has generally been boosted.

    "The fact is that the demand for the greenback has increased, especially at the borders with Thailand, India, China and even Bangladesh, where businessmen holding greenbacks get better exchange rates," another analyst said.

    Myanmar has a multi-tiered monetary exchange system, with the official rate set at 6.5 kyat to the dollar, but with most trade occurring at the fluctuating black market and export-dollar rates.The latter is paid by importers, who must follow a law stipulating that only dollars earned through exports may be used for imports, meaning importers must search out exporters and pay them for the currency.

    One importer told AFP he is currently shelling out 1,080 to 1,100 kyat for each export-dollar, the highest he has ever had to pay.

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    Mahathir ends Burma visit, no sign of breakthrough

    Source : MSNBC / Reuters

    Rangoon, Aug. 19-- Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad ended a two-day visit to Burma on Monday with no immediate signs that his trip had helped kick-start meaningful talks between the junta and opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

    Mahathir, who has led diplomatic efforts to engage the generals in Rangoon but did not hold talks with Nobel Peace Prize winner Suu Kyi during his trip, told a news conference that democracy could not be rushed.

    ''It is not easy to handle democracy. If you don't know how to handle it, you will end up with anarchy,'' he said.

    ''Therefore when opting for democracy, it is necessary that the process is gradual and people have to learn how to handle it. They must understand that democracy does not mean freedom to do anything you like.''

    Malaysian government sources said Mahathir had been willing to meet Suu Kyi but the junta, which is shunned by Western governments, vetoed the idea.

    Sources from Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy (NLD), which won Burma's last election in 1990 but was never allowed to govern, said they had tried to arrange a meeting on Monday between Suu Kyi and Malaysian Foreign Minister Syed Hamid Albar, but it had to be cancelled because of scheduling problems.

    Mahathir said no meeting with Syed Hamid had been planned.


    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.

    The military government began talks with the 57-year-old opposition leader in October 2000, but they have yet to move beyond so-called ''confidence building.'' Suu Kyi has repeatedly demanded the start of substantive political talks.

    United Nations special envoy Razali Ismail said at the end of his latest visit earlier this month that the Burmese government would soon begin meaningful talks with Suu Kyi.

    Razali, a Malaysian diplomat, is seen as close to Mahathir. Foreign diplomats in Rangoon said Mahathir had hoped his trip would help get substantive talks off the ground.

    Mahathir met the top member of the junta, Senior General Than Shwe, on Sunday. The third most senior general, military intelligence chief Lieutenant-General Khin Nyunt, said in a speech to visiting Malaysian officials and businessmen on Monday the junta was committed to democracy.

    ''The government is laying down the foundations for the emergence of a democratic state,'' he said. ''But such a transition cannot be done in haste or a haphazard manner. The world is full of examples where a hasty transition from one system to another have led to unrest, instability and even failed states.''

    Khin Nyunt also told foreign countries not to try to influence political change in Burma.

    ''No one should try to impose their will or try to mould Myanmar in their image,'' he said. ''The solution to Myanmar's challenges must come from within the country. It must be home grown.''

    During his visit Mahathir was also present at the signing of a deal awarding four oil exploration contracts to Malaysia's Petronas PETR.UL.

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