Daily News- August 29- 2002- Thursday

  • UN envoy Razali says Aung San Suu Kyi should tour Southeast Asia
  • Myanmar junta releases 44 female prisoners
  • War on Terror Hits Democracy Movement
  • Ethnic Leader Dies in Detention
  • Seeking better life in Thailand, Burmese migrants find hardships, sometimes death
  • Rangoon Dissidents Encouraged to Lie Low
  • Myanmar Opposition Leader Visit Town
  • Pair Arrested for Possessing Journal
  • Thai forces kill six suspected drug traffickers at Myanmar border
  • Myanmar urges world to help it fight drugs

  • UN envoy Razali says Aung San Suu Kyi should tour Southeast Asia

    KUALA LUMPUR, Aug 28 (AFP) - Myanmar's democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi should visit neighbouring Southeast Asian countries and get a first hand view of development in the region, United Nations special envoy Razali Ismail said Wednesday.

    "In time it would make sense for her to look at her neighbours if she wants to have any (political) role in Myanmar," he told reporters."She should look around and see how we have progressed."

    Razali said her visit to the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) should not be considered an act of interference in Myanmar's internal affairs.

    "No, there is no interference at all here. The decision must be made by her and the government of Myanmar. We are not demanding that she come out and visit us," he said.

    Asked if ASEAN countries would accept her visit Razali said some ASEAN ambassadors had already met Aung San Suu Kyi. "That gives the indication."

    Razali, who earlier this month returned from his eighth trip to Myanmar has said that no restrictions were imposed on Aung San Suu Kyi after she was freed in May from 19 months of house arrest.The UN envoy assumed his post as personal representative of UN chief Kofi Annan in 2000.

    "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.

    Razali declined to comment on the action by Myanmar's military junta to veto a meeting between Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad and Aung San Suu Kyi during the premier's visit to the country in mid-August.

    "I am not involved in the bilateral aspects of Malaysia and Myanmar. I do not want to comment on that," he said.

    Malaysia is a close ally of Myanmar in the 10-member ASEAN grouping, which marked the 35th anniversary of its founding on August 8.Malaysia is the sixth largest investor in Myanmar, with more than 594 million dollars committed to 26 projects over the past 10 years.

    To The Top

    Myanmar junta releases 44 female prisoners

    YANGON(AP) Myanmar - Myanmar's military government has released 44 female prisoners on humanitarian grounds, the latest in a series of such releases this year, an official statement said Wednesday.

    The prisoners, "all either pregnant or with young children," are among more than 360 women freed on humanitarian grounds from various prisons across the country in recent months, the statement said. They were jailed for "various criminal activities," it said, implying that they were not political prisoners.

    "They are all in good health and reunited with their respective families," the statement said.

    The military has released 352 political prisoners since it entered into closed-door reconciliation talks with opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi in October 2000. Suu Kyi herself was freed from 19 months of house arrest on May 6.But more than 1,000 dissidents are estimated to remain in Myanmar's jails.

    Myanmar, also known as Burma, has been ruled by the military since 1962. The current regime came to power in 1988 after a bloody crackdown on pro-democracy demonstrators.Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy party overwhelmingly won general elections in 1990, but the junta has refused to honor the results.

    To The Top

    War on Terror Hits Democracy Movement

    By Naw Seng
    The Irrawaddy

    August 28, 2002 - The United States' war on terror has reportedly touched down inside the Burmese pro-democracy movement, after US authorities arrested a former Burmese student activist studying at Indiana University for suspected terrorism links, according to Burmese activists in the US and Thailand. The arrest marks the first time that a former Burmese pro- democracy activist has been detained since the war's inception nearly a year ago.

    Than Soe, aka Ye Yint, has been in custody since July 12 after federal agents arrested him at an unknown location, according to sources close to him. The sources said he was interrogated for two days, but they did not say where he was being held. The source added that prior to his arrest Than Soe had been studying computers at Indiana University, and had no connections with any terrorist organizations.

    Sources say they believe the arrest stems from a 1989 hijacking conviction, when Than Soe and a friend seized a Burmese Airway's plane as it left Mergui in southern Burma and redirected the plane to Thailand. The two say they hijacked the plane in hopes of drawing international attention to Burma's struggle for democracy. During the hijacking, the two claimed a bar of soap they had was a bomb. No other weapons were employed during the siege.

    The pair served two years in a Thai prison, but were not deported. In 1996 Than Soe was granted refugee status by the United Nation High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). Later that year, with the help of the UNHCR, he traveled to the US to study. However, upon arriving there he was again detained for several months by US authorities for his role in the 1989 incident.

    Sources close to Than Soe say if he is not granted political asylum, or travel documents allowing him to stay in the US or a third country, he would be imprisoned upon deportation to Burma. A hearing for Than Soe is scheduled for early September.

    The arrest comes just prior to the release of a statement by the Burmese junta that says they vow to stand with the United States in fighting terrorism. Unsubstantiated reports have attempted to link ethnic Rhoingyas from Burma's Arakan State to the Taliban. Members of the Rhoingya National Organization, however, have denied all connection to the Taliban.

    According to the regime's statement: "The junta is employing all possible ways and means to gain the support of the United States by trying to link the Rhoingya (Muslim) freedom fighters with al-Qaeda and Taliban."

    Burma also recently signed the US-ASEAN declaration on cooperation against terrorism at the Brunei Summit of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) in late July.

    To The Top

    Ethnic Leader Dies in Detention

    By Kyaw Zwa Moe
    The Irrawaddy

    August 28, 2002 - A leader of the Palaung State Liberation Front (PSLF) died in late July under mysterious circumstances, while serving a seven-year sentence in southern Burma's Moulmein Prison, according to reliable sources in Moulmein.

    Mai Aik Pan, 40, aka Ko Mya Maung, was joint- secretary of the PSLF, and died on July 31 in Moulmein General Hospital, one day after being transferred from Moulmein Prison. According to prison officials, he died from dropsy; an obscure but relatively easy bacterial infection to treat that is sometimes associated with kidney and heart disease. Dropsy can be treated with both penicillin and tetracycline.

    However, according to a press release from the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (Burma) (AAPPB), Mai Aik Pan's family says they are very suspicious of his sudden death. His family told AAPPB,and sources close to The Irrawady, that during a June visit he seemed to be in good health.

    "He was strong in both mind and body, so I have no idea why he passed away so early," PSLF Secretary Mai Aik Phone told The Irrawaddy yesterday. However, Mai Aik Phone added that he might have died from malnutrition or hard labor imposed by the prison authorities.

    Military intelligence offices arrested Mai Aik Pan in October of last year, while he was on an intelligence-gathering trip in the Burmese border town of Myawaddy, opposite Mae Sot, Thailand. The regime charged him under 17(1) for unlawful association. The junta has historically used 17(1) to imprison individuals thought to have connections with insurgent groups or banned political parties.

    The AAPPB says his death is a result of both "inadequate medication and late hospitalization". Ko Tate Naing, secretary of the AAPPB, told The Irrawaddy, "The death of Aik Pan has shown the appalling health care conditions in [Burma's] prisons."

    Mai Aik Pan had also served as an adviser for the Palaung Youth Network Group (PYNG). The PSLF and the PYNG are both based along the Thai-Burma border. His passing marks the 71st recorded death of a political prison in Burma since 1988. However, the actual number is thought to be far higher.

    Meanwhile, last month four prominent political prisoners were transferred from Insein Prison to Rangoon General Hospital's prison ward due to serious health conditions. They are U Win Tin, former editor of the Hantharwaddy Newspaper, U Aye Thar Aung, an ethnic Arakan leader and secretary of the Committee Representing the People’s Parliament, U Htwe Myint, vice chairman of the Democracy Party and Dr Than Nyein, a member of parliament and the National League for Democracy.U Aye Thar Aung was later released after a physician described him as being on the verge of death.

    According to AAPPB, an estimated 1,500 political prisoners remain incarcerated in Burma. The regime has released more than 300 political prisoners since it entered into reconciliation talks with opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi nearly two years ago. Since Suu Kyi was released from house arrest in May, she has demanded the immediate release of all political prisoners.

    To The Top

    Seeking better life in Thailand, Burmese migrants find hardships, sometimes death

    Source : MSNBC / AP

    BANGKOK, Thailand--- An immigrant teenager dies after being doused with gasoline and set afire. Twenty other immigrants are blindfolded and their throats slit. Others are found in a dump after suffocating under a load of vegetables.

    The recent deaths of immigrants from Burma illustrate the dangers and hardships faced by hundreds of thousands of people trying to flee their impoverished, military-ruled country for better lives in neighboring Thailand.

    Relative to its neighbors in Southeast Asia "Laos, Cambodia and Burma" the Thai economy is thriving and has become a magnet for foreign workers. Widespread human rights abuses in Burma add another incentive to head for Thailand.

    Trying to cope with the flood of Burmese migrants, the Thai government has registered more than 400,000, allowing them to work while banning newcomers and warning that non-registered workers could be arrested and deported.

    Recent tensions between the two countries have officially closed the frontier, but it is 1,300 miles long and difficult to patrol.

    Human Rights lawyer Somchai Homlaor, who estimates there are more than 250,000 illegal Burmese workers in Thailand, said authorities on both sides of the border make money off immigrant smuggling. Migrants pay smugglers between $110 and $250 for the trip and are cleared through Burma and Thai checkpoints along the way, according to a recent Amnesty International report.

    Sunai Phasuk, an expert in Thai-Burmese relations, said many employers also do not register migrant workers because they want to save on the fees that must be paid to the government.

    Most of the migrants are employed in factories, farms, the fishing and construction industries or as domestic workers. Some are forced into prostitution.

    The Amnesty International report said most of the migrants it interviewed were paid less than Thailand's minimum legal daily wage, which ranges from $3.30 to $4.20, depending on the region. Farm workers made as little as $1.25 a day.

    ''The Burmese do all the three Ds " dirty, dangerous and difficult,'' the London-based human rights group quoted one Burmese worker, who hauled rice in a mill, as saying.

    There are no figures on the number of migrants who die or are subjected to gross abuses. Rights workers suspect only a fraction of such cases are reported.

    ''There is no systematic protection for migrant workers and there is the issue of bias and prejudice by the Thai public in general and Thai officials in particular,'' Sunai said.

    In March, the plight of migrants was highlighted when the bodies of 13 migrants, including three children, were discovered in a waste dump. A smuggling gang admitted dumping the corpses after the migrants suffocated when packed under vegetables inside a truck.

    A month earlier, the bodies of 20 people from Burma's Karen ethnic minority were found along an immigrant smuggling trail near the border, their throats slit. No arrests have been made, but there is speculation they were killed because they did not pay the smugglers.

    In July, 18-year-old Ba Suu died nine days after she was found on a roadside 120 miles north of Bangkok.

    Ba Suu had told police that she worked as a maid at the house of a factory owner, who kept her a virtual prisoner and accused her of stealing a gold necklace. When she denied the accusation, she said she was beaten up and taken away by two men who doused her with gasoline and set her on fire.

    ''The case is just the tip of the iceberg. Human rights abuses of these underprivileged laborers are rampant,'' says Chalida Tajaroensuk of the Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development.

    But Thai government spokesman Yongyuth Thiyapairat said human rights groups are taking isolated cases and blowing them up into big issues.

    ''The government doesn't ignore the plight of even illegal workers who are abused and will take legal action against the culprits,'' he said.

    To The Top

    Rangoon Dissidents Encouraged to Lie Low

    Source : Far Eastern Economic Review

    Burmese ethnic minority groups and pro-democracy groups sheltering in Thailand, as well as aid workers helping them, are under pressure to keep their heads down.

    According to some aid workers, the pressure has been applied by security agencies after orders from the top of the government on July 18 to clamp down on Thai-based anti-Rangoon activists from Burma.

    Thai-Burmese ties have been strained because of what Rangoon sees as Thai support for some of its enemies. But despite the clampdown, the activists are not being deported. When police netted 31 allegedly illegal immigrants from Burma near the border on August 20, 14 were allowed to remain because of dangers they could face if sent back to Burma, aid workers say.

    Some were members of the opposition National League for Democracy, while others were students or members of the Karen and Mon ethnic groups. Non-registered aid workers--mainly foreigners--operating near the border are reported to be lying low or dispersing as the clampdown continues.

    The move comes before Thai Foreign Minister Surakiart Sathirathai and his Burmese counterpart Win Aung meet in September to discuss reopening border crossings, which were closed after a border skirmish in May.

    To The Top

    Myanmar Opposition Leader Visit Town

    YANGON,(AP) Myanmar Aug. 29 - Opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi is planning a trip to a township outside Yangon, completing a journey that was blocked two years ago by the military junta in a bitter confrontation that led to her house arrest for 19 months.

    Suu Kyi on Friday will open an office of her National League for Democracy party in Dala, the 36th party branch to be opened in the Yangon area, party spokesman U Lwin told The Associated Press on Thursday.He said Suu Kyi will put up a party signboard at the office and also travel to neighboring townships of Kawhmu and Kungyangon for party organizational work.

    Suu Kyi's travels are part of a reconciliation process between the opposition and the Myanmar junta, which has promised to allow greater political freedom in the country. There is, however, no talk of giving up power to a civilian government.Dala, a southern Yangon suburb, is a 10-minute ferry ride across the Yangon River.

    Suu Kyi's last attempt to visit Dala on Aug. 24, 2000 was foiled by authorities who pulled her car off the road.Suu Kyi and her party staged a sit-in protest on the roadside for nine days until authorities forcibly brought them back to Yangon, placed her and other leaders under house arrest and closed NLD offices in the capital.The party office was reopened and restrictions were lifted after two weeks. But a week later, when she tried to travel by train, she was forced back into her house and placed under an informal house arrest that lasted until May 6 this year.

    Since her release, Suu Kyi has visited several party offices in the Yangon suburbs and even traveled to the countryside and other major towns for party work.

    Suu Kyi and the junta began reconciliation talks in October 2000 while she was under house arrest. The talks have been described as confidence-building moves, and Suu Kyi is yet to hold direct talks with the generals on substantive issues of democracy.The junta came to power in 1988 after crushing a pro-democracy movement. It called elections in 1990 but refused to hand over power when the NLD won overwhelmingly.

    To The Top

    Pair Arrested for Possessing Journal

    By Kyaw Zwa Moe
    the Irrawaddy

    August 29, 2002 - Reading books and magazines that oppose the ruling State Peace and Development Council (SPDC) continues to be a perilous activity in Burma. Two members of the opposition National League for Democracy (NLD) were beaten and arrested last month for possessing the New Era (Khit Pyaing) journal, which is published by Burmese dissidents living in Bangkok.

    According to family members, Aung Thein and Kyaw Naing Oo, both youth members of the NLD’s Kyee Mying Daing Township office, were accosted by five or six police officers, while walking near Rangoon's Thiri Mingalar market. Kyaw Naing Oo's family said he received five stitches in his head as a result of injuries sustained during the attack.

    The two are active members of the NLD, and are also said to be close with Burmese democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi, according to sources close to the two men. "They accompanied Aung San Suu Kyi on some of her political trips," one friend told The Irrawaddy today. "That’s also one of the reasons why we think they were arrested in such a harsh way."

    The NLD's headquarters in Rangoon also confirmed the arrests, adding that they are now awaiting the verdict from their trials. Separate trials were held on August 23 and 26 in Rangoon's notorious Insein Prison, where the two continue to be held. They were charged under under 5(j) of the 1950 Emergency Provision Act, a harsh statute usually reserved for democracy supporters. The act allows for summary judgements with no legal defense.

    Attorneys from the NLD's Kyee Myin Daing office did represent the two, however, court authorites did not allow them to present any evidence at the trial, according to sources close to the families. The court will announce their decision on September 5.

    In 1993, 23 people were arrested for both reading and distributing the New Era journal. Seventeen of them—including elected members of parliament" were sentenced from 7-20 years in prison.

    Earlier this month, 15 university students in Rangoon were arrested for protesting against the regime. Thirteen were set free, however, law students Thet Naung Soe and Khin Maung Win remain in detention, for distributing pamphlets opposing the regime.

    To The Top

    Thai forces kill six suspected drug traffickers at Myanmar border

    BANGKOK, Thailand (AP): Thai security forces shot and killed at least six suspected drug traffickers from Myanmar near the border between the two countries Thursday and seized about 900,000 amphetamine tablets, police said.

    A Thai border patrol police official said the dead men were believed to be members of the United Wa State Army -- a powerful ethnic army allied to Myanmar's military regime.

    Thai army and border police fought a 30-minute gunbattle with about 20 suspected drug traffickers in a forest in the Maetaeng district of Chiang Mai province, about 580 kilometers (360 miles) north of Bangkok, said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

    Afterward, police found six bullet-riddled bodies and about 900,000 amphetamine pills the traffickers were carrying in backpacks. The other members of the group escaped, the official said.

    Thailand blames the Wa army for producing huge quantities of amphetamine pills and smuggling them to Southeast Asia and beyond through Thailand. The Wa army, which reached a cease-fire with the Myanmar regime in 1989, enjoys virtual autonomy in Myanmar's Shan state.

    The United Nations drug control agency says that the Myanmar government's progress in controlling the production of opium, the raw material of heroin, has been offset by a boom in amphetamines.

    According to the Thai government, more than 600 million amphetamine tablets have been smuggled into Thailand from neighboring nations -- principally Myanmar and Laos -- during the past eight months.

    Myanmar urges world to help it fight drugs

    BANGKOK, (AP)Thailand - Myanmar's military government is urging other countries to help it fight drugs, following a U.N. report that said although Myanmar's opium production is declining it probably remains the second biggest producer.

    The U.N. Office for Drug Control and Crime Prevention announced Tuesday that Myanmar's production in 2002 is estimated to be 828 metric tons (912 U.S. tons) compared to 1,097 metric tons (1,209 U.S. tons) last year.

    Still, Myanmar is likely to be the second biggest opium producer in the world after Afghanistan ( news - web sites), the U.N. office said in a report based on a survey of poppy cultivation in Myanmar. A similar report on Afghanistan and Laos will be released next month.

    Although Myanmar receives little or no international assistance, it will continue to "fulfill our commitment to eradicate narcotic drugs from Myanmar," government spokesman Col. Hla Min said in a statement dated Wednesday. It was received in Bangkok on Thursday.

    "We would very much welcome the support and assistance of the international community to achieve our goals which are critical to Myanmar, the region and the entire world," he said.

    The U.N. survey also said Myanmar has the largest area under opium cultivation in the world, estimated at 81,400 hectares (195,300 acres).But Afghanistan will likely surpass Myanmar as the largest producer because farmers there are producing 30 kilograms (66 pounds) of opium per hectare (2.4 acres), compared to only 10 kilograms (22 pounds) in Myanmar, said the survey.

    Myanmar has long faced international criticism for its drug trade and the junta regularly trumpets seizures of drugs to demonstrate its intention to eradicate narcotics production in the country.

    In June, the junta set fire to more than 3 tons of opium and almost 35 million amphetamine tablets with a U.S. street value of dlrs 1.078 billion in a public ceremony, the 16th drug burning since 1990.

    But U.S. officials remain skeptical of the government's commitment to curbing narcotics, citing the continued existence of powerful drug lords in border areas. They also say senior generals are suspected to have links with the drug lords.

    Many of the drug rings operating along the border with Thailand have turned to producing amphetamine pills, which have a huge market in Southeast Asia.

    To The Top