Daily News- August 28- 2002- Wednesday

  • Burma's currency hits record low
  • Production levels decline, but Myanmar remains one of the biggest opium producers
  • Myanmar coup trial ends, verdict due in a month
  • NLD member transferred to Insein Prison Hospital

  • Burma's currency hits record low

    source : BBC

    Economic stagnation, and dashed hopes of political reform, have sent Burma's currency to an all-time low, black market traders have said.Burma's kyat, while officially pegged at a rate of 6.90 to $1, has slipped to a street rate of 1,060 to $1, currency changers said. Last week the rate was 1,010 kyat per dollar, and two weeks ago 950.

    The kyat had set a previous low of 1,000 to $1 in April, before surging 25% on the release of pro-democracy campaigner Aung San Suu Kyi after 19 months of house arrest.

    The release raised hopes of political change in the military-ruled country, and of an end to years of economic sanctions imposed by the US and Europe on Burma in protest at the country's governance. Ms Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy, which won 1990 elections, has never been allowed to govern.

    Dollar demand

    But Burma's ruling generals have failed to hold talks with Ms Suu Kyi, almost four months after releasing her. And reform hopes were further dashed with the arrest of a group of pro-democracy activists.

    The reopening of checkpoints on the Thai border, after a three month closure, has also weakened the kyat by boosting demand for dollars for use in trading. Demand for foreign products has risen with a shortage of staples such as cooking oil and rice blamed, by authorities, on unscrupulous traders.

    "The truth is that the bulk of the rice is being bought up by unscrupulous speculators who are hoarding [it] and manipulating the prices," an official said. "We need to search them out and punish them effectively."

    And with Burma's economy long seen on the verge of collapse, observers saw little chance of a recovery in the kyat. "Worse is yet to come," one market watcher said.

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    Production levels decline, but Myanmar remains one of the biggest opium producers

    By ROLAND PRINZ, Associated Press Writer

    VIENNA, Austria - Opium production levels declined in Myanmar last year, but the southeast Asian country remains one of the world's biggest opium producers, U.N. officials said Tuesday.

    U.N. officials put Myanmar's production at 828 metric tons (912 U.S. tons) in their first-ever comprehensive opium poppy survey for the country the size of Texas. The figure reflected a drop in production from 1,097 metric tons (1,209 U.S. tons) last year.

    "The decline is a step in the right direction," said Antonio Maria Costa, the executive director of the U.N. Office for Drug Control and Crime Prevention. "There is evidence that the government is aware of the damage caused to the country by opium cultivation. New measures are needed and expected."

    The Myanmar Opium Survey 2002 is the first in a series of surveys on opium cultivation conducted by the Vienna-based U.N. agency in three leading opium- producing countries in the world. Surveys on Afghanistan and Laos are to be released in mid-September.

    Myanmar still has the largest area under opium cultivation, estimated at 81,400 hectares (195,300 acres).However, Afghanistan farmers are producing 30 kilograms (66 pounds) of opium per hectare (2.4 acres) compared to only 10 kilograms (22 pounds) in Myanmar, the U.N. said.

    Therefore, experts expect that in 2002 Myanmar, formerly known as Burma, will become the world's second largest producer, when measured in tons.

    "If we want to cope with the problem ... if we want the government to progressively reduce the area (under poppy cultivation), we have to generate economic activity" yielding the kind of income farmers now derive from opium production, Costa said."The international community remains very concerned. The United Nations ( news - web sites) will continue to monitor illicit activities, including drug cultivation," he said. "We are also strengthening our investment in alternative development projects."

    Specifically, the agency's alternative development project in Myanmar resulted last year in increased rice production, livestock development, new tea plantations, and health services including child immunizations and AIDS awareness programs. Other projects include road maintenance and help for elementary schools.The officials stressed the need for increased donor support in order to help the region fulfill its commitment to eliminating opium poppy production by 2005.

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    Myanmar coup trial ends, verdict due in a month

    YANGON, (Reuters) Aug. 28 The trial of four relatives of former dictator Ne Win accused of plotting to overthrow Myanmar's ruling junta ended on Wednesday with the presiding judge saying he would deliver a verdict on September 26.

    The son-in-law and three grandsons of the elderly former strongman were arrested at a Yangon restaurant in March and accused of planning a coup together with a clique of military officers and a practitioner of black magic. They were charged with high treason, punishable by death. The trial has been running since May at Yangon's notorious Insein prison, where the men are being held.

    ''We will make a final judgment on September 26,'' presiding judge U Aung Ngwe told the court.

    Many diplomats are sceptical that a coup was being planned and say the arrests and trial were probably an attempt by the ruling junta to cement its rule and purge opponents.

    Ne Win and his daughter, Sandar, have been confined to their homes in Yangon since the arrests, although the junta has not yet directly implicated them in the plot. Sandar Win had extensive business interests in Myanmar and was regarded as a powerful figure until the coup allegations surfaced.

    Ne Win seized power in Myanmar, formerly known as Burma, in a military coup in 1962. He stepped down in 1988 and handed power to a new generation of generals when the country was convulsed by pro-democracy protests which were bloodily put down by the military.

    Astrologers were among his most important advisers and many of his decisions were based on the pronouncements of fortune tellers. Deeply superstitious, Ne Win even replaced the country's banknotes with denominations which were multiples of nine, which he believed was his lucky number. Under his rule, Myanmar went from being one of the richest countries in Asia to one of the poorest.

    Myanmar's current ruling junta says it is committed to building democracy, but that the transition has to be slow to prevent anarchy erupting. The junta released pro-democracy opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi from 19 months of house arrest in April, but so far has not answered her demands for substantive talks on Myanmar's political future. (Additional reporting by Andrew Marshall in Bangkok)

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    NLD member transferred to Insein Prison Hospital

    Source: Democratic Voice of Burma, Oslo, in Burmese 1430 gmt 27 Aug 02

    U Kyaw Than, an imprisoned NLD member from Kemmemdine township, Rangoon Division is moved from Thayet prison to Insein Prison Hospital last week as his health is getting worse.

    He was arrested together with author Ma Thida (San Chaung) in 1994 and sentenced for 20 years imprisonment. DVB has learnt that he was charged because of distribution the New Era journal that is published at Thai-Burma border.

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