Daily News- March 31- 2002- Sunday

  • TotalFinaElf faces forced labour claims
  • U Aye Tha Aung relieved from hospital
  • Think-tank denies funding recent Burmese rape report
  • Myanmar's Suu Kyi returns to site of stand- off
  • EU delegation to visit Myanmar in September
  • Wei sets up new front firm

  • TotalFinaElf faces forced labour claims

    source : AFP

    TotalFinaElf faces accusations it used forced labor in Myanmar after a Paris lawyer filed a complaint on behalf of workers who said they had to help build a pipeline there for the French oil giant.

    On Thursday, TotalFinaElf categorically denied claims it had used forced labour in the impoverished Asian country, after Paris-based lawyer William Bourdon said he filed a complaint Monday with investigating magistrates in Nanterre, west of Paris.

    The action charges TotalFinaElf chairman Thierry Desmarest with holding workers against their will, a crime which carries a 20-year sentence under French law.

    It is the first time TotalFinaElf, the fifth largest oil company in the world, has faced a formal complaint on the Myanmar charges in France.

    "It is unimaginable that a company like ours could have used forced labour at any time," a spokesman for the oil group told AFP Thursday."Neither we nor our service suppliers have used forced labour," he stressed, adding: "We have not been notified (by judicial authorities) of anything".

    The complaint was brought on behalf of two Myanmar citizens who say they were forced to work on a pipeline begun by TotalFinaElf in 1994, and comes three months after the French firm was accused in Belgium of providing active support to Myanmar's military junta.

    Meanwhile, TotalFinaElf faces other legal actions linked to the September 2001 explosion of a chemical plant in southern Toulouse, and the December 1999 sinking of a decrepit oil tanker off France's northern Atlantic coast.

    On Thursday, Bourdon told AFP that he had been "hired to file the complaint by former Myanmar workers forced to work on the pipeline", which the French oil group built from an offshore Myanmar site to Thailand.

    The workers were now staying in an unspecified south-east Asian country for security reasons, but are prepared to testify before a French court, the lawyer added.

    In May, refugees filed a suit in a Belgian court alleging that TotalFinaElf was actively collaborating with the ruling military junta in Myanmar.

    In June, Myanmar workers initiated legal action in the United States against Unocal, a partner of TotalFinaElf on the Yadana pipeline project.

    TotalFinaElf and British independent Premier Oil exploit gas fields in the Andaman Sea that power Thai electric generating stations via two 60-kilometer (35-mile) pipelines that cut across southern Myanmar.

    But Action Birmanie, a human rights group representing the Belgian refugees, said TotalFinaElf was aware Myanmar's military regime was "systematically" committing crimes against humanity.The group also claims TotalFinaElf has provided "overall moral and financial support" to the regime, and that the company had "excellent knowledge" of the use of forced labor by partners responsible for pipeline security.

    On Thursday, Bourdon received support for the latest judicial action from the Paris-based International Federation for Human Rights.

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    U Aye Tha Aung relieved from hospital

    Source: Democratic Voice of Burma, Oslo, in Burmese 1430 gmt 29 Aug 02

    U Aye Tha Aung, secretary of the Committee Representing People's Parliament (CRPP) is relieved from Rangoon General Hospital today after undergoing lung surgery. Doctors found no cancer cells after initial check up, according to his son. "He is now recovering and his health condition is improving", he said. But he won't be able to speak with normal voice because of the damage in the central nervous system connected with speaking after the operation. It is permanent damage, son of U Aye Tha Aung told DVB.

    U Aye Tha Aung, 52 who is also a joint-general secretary of Arakan National League for Democracy was arrested in July 2000 and sentenced to 21 years imprisonment for having connection with "outlawed armed groups operating along the Thai-Burma border." He was released on 16th of August 2002.

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    Think-tank denies funding recent Burmese rape report

    The Nation

    A US-based Burmese think-tank yesterday dismissed allegations by the military government that it had funded a recently published report detailing the use of rape as weapon of war.

    The ruling State Peace and Development Council (SPDC) had accused the Burma Fund of financing a recently published report by the Shan Women's Action Network and the Shan Human Rights Foundation documenting 173 incidents involving 625 girls and women that took place between 1996 and 2001.The report said most of the rapes were perpetrated by Burmese military officers and that the assaults were so brutal that a quarter of the victims died.

    The junta accused the Burma Fund and the head of the exiled National Coalition Government of the Union of Burma of cooperating with the two human rights groups to fabricate the report in order to obtain financial assistance from foreign governments.

    "Instead of blanket denials and false accusations, the SPDC must look for ways to deal with the pervasive human rights abuses in Burma that have also been well documented by Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, the International Labour Organisation, the UN Commission on Human Rights, and the UN General Assembly," the Burma Fund said in a statement released yesterday.

    "Unless these abuses are acknowledged and genuinely dealt with in a transparent way, the SPDC will not be able to build the modern developed nation that it says it wants," it said.

    The US-based organisation said it provided no financial assistance to either rights group to produce the rape report.

    "Instead of making unfounded accusations, the SPDC should be seriously considering how it can rebuild Burma with the help of [its] untapped resource pool," it said.

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    Myanmar's Suu Kyi returns to site of stand- off

    DALA, Myanmar,(REUTERS) Aug. 29 - Myanmar pro-democracy opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi visited a township south of Yangon on Friday, two years after her last attempt to travel to the area sparked a confrontation with military rulers.

    The 57-year-old Nobel Peace laureate, who was released from 19 months of house arrest in May, left her home early on Friday and travelled to the township of Dala by ferry from Yangon.

    At the new Dala office of her National League for Democracy (NLD) she was greeted by hundreds of cheering supporters, chanting: ''Long Live Aung San Suu Kyi!''

    In August 2000, Suu Kyi and other senior NLD members tried to travel to Dala by car but were blocked en route by police. After a nine-day roadside stand-off, which sparked international condemnation of the junta, Suu Kyi was forcibly returned home.Soon afterwards, Suu Kyi attempted to travel by rail to Myanmar's second city, Mandalay. The authorities again prevented her from travelling, and placed her under house arrest.

    But since her release on May 6, Suu Kyi has been allowed to travel without restrictions. NLD officials say she has been informing the military of her trips outside Yangon in advance. She made a long political trip upcountry to Mandalay in June, and another trip to southeastern Mon state in July.

    ''We once tried to come here with the same purpose, but we could not fulfil our intentions,'' Suu Kyi said in a speech at the Dala NLD office. She said the junta should not fear opposition. ''There must be strong opposition in democracy,'' she said. ''Only when the opposition is strong can democracy be strong.''

    The military government began sporadic meetings with Suu Kyi in October 2000, and since then it has eased its hardline stance towards the NLD, which won Myanmar's last election in 1990 by a wide margin but was never allowed to govern. The junta has freed hundreds of political prisoners over the last two years, including more than 300 NLD members. But the military government has held no talks with Suu Kyi since her release from house arrest, and her demands for a substantive dialogue on the country's political future have so far gone unanswered.

    Earlier this month the U.N. special envoy to Myanmar, Razali Ismail, said meaningful talks would begin soon. But since then, hopes of an imminent breakthrough have faded.

    Diplomats say the main reason the junta has eased its stance towards Suu Kyi is the dismal state of the economy -- the ruling generals want to get international sanctions lifted. But they say the junta hopes to avoid making any further concessions to Suu Kyi and the NLD. (Additional reporting by Andrew Marshall in Bangkok)

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    EU delegation to visit Myanmar in September

    BANGKOK, Aug 30 (AFP) - A European Union (EU) delegation is to visit Myanmar next month, returning after a March trip when it campaigned for democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi's release from house arrest, officials said Friday.

    The delegation will have representatives from the Danish presidency, the future presidency Greece, the European Commission, and the Council Secretariat which services the Council of Ministers, said a Danish embassy spokesman.

    The spokesman said the delegation's itinerary in Yangon during the September 8-10 trip was not yet finalised but they would be hoping to meet Aung San Suu Kyi as they had done on previous visits.

    "We hope and expect them to meet a significant representation of relevant political players in Rangoon (Yangon) like last time," he said, adding they could include United Nations agencies and non-governmental organisations.The delegates also plan to see the other top members of Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy (NLD).

    During the last EU mission, the delegation pushed for the release of political prisoners including the opposition leader herself who had been confined to her lakeside home since October 2000.

    After she was freed in May, Aung San Suu Kyi said the release of all political prisoners in the country was her party's top priority.She has recently hinted that a mass prisoner release, to clear the jails of an estimated 1,500 dissidents, would be a precondition to her beginning a long awaited dialogue with the regime.

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    Wei sets up new front firm

    The Bangkokpost

    The Third Army has called on Rangoon to close down a front company set up by drug warlord Wei Hseuh-kang to replace his Hong Pang Co, which was forced into closure by a previous crackdown on his activities.

    Third Army chief Lt-Gen Udomchai Ongkhasing said Mr Wei had set up a company named Greenland Co, with branches in Burma's Tachilek province and other border areas, as a front for the production and distribution of methamphetamine.He believed Rangoon would co-operate in closing down the company after completing an investigation into the matter.

    Lt-Gen Udomchai said Greenland Co was established soon after Rangoon closed down Hong Pang Co following a visit to Bangkok by Gen Maung Aye, Burma's second-most powerful official, in April.The army would monitor anti-Rangoon Shan rebels in return for Rangoon's co- operation in cracking down on drug-producing units of the United Wa State Army, led by Mr Wei.

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