Daily News- February 09- 2002- Saturday

  • U.N. rights investigator to visit Myanmar
  • Groups demand that Olympic organizers stop using clothes made in Myanmar
  • Warships ordered from China arrive
  • Myanmar to accept return of illegal workers, Thailand says
  • Rangoon to verify status of migrants
  • Investigation urged into mass murder of 17 Karens
  • Karen refugees to be moved out of park
  • Burma orders military posts on Thai border to strengthen fortifications
  • Shan kill six Burmese troops
  • Shan gathering off over border conflict
  • Myanmar Strives to Bring Down Foreign Trade Deficit
  • Myanmar to Attract Tourists at Berlin Tourism Fair

  • U.N. rights investigator to visit Myanmar

    GENEVA, Feb. 8 (Reuters)- The United Nations human rights envoy to Myanmar will visit the military-ruled country next week and report back to the main U.N. body that investigates abuses worldwide, a spokesman said on Friday.

    Paulo Sergio Pinheiro, a Brazilian lawyer, has met ministers and opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi during two previous visits since being appointed to the independent post a year ago. A U.N. spokesman declined to say whether Pinheiro would meet Suu Kyi during the February 10-19 visit. He will meet authorities in Yangon and visit Kachin province as part of the trip, a brief statement said.

    Myanmar is regarded as a pariah state by much of the international community because of its human rights record and treatment of Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy (NLD).

    Diplomats say the Nobel laureate, who has been held under de facto house arrest since September 2000, met the top leader of the government, General Than Shwe, in late January , the latest confidential meeting aimed at breaking the political deadlock.

    The NLD won the last democratic elections in 1990 by a landslide but has never been allowed to take over power. The government says it is committed to democracy but too fast a transition could cause anarchy. Pinheiro will address the U.N. Commission on Human Rights, whose annual six-week session opens in Geneva on March 18.

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    Groups demand that Olympic organizers stop using clothes made in Myanmar

    BOSTON (AP) _ Runners carrying the Olympic torch, a symbol of hope and triumph over adversity, donned outfits made in what is considered one of the world's most brutal military dictatorships.

    Now Marker Ltd., the company that supplied the uniforms for the 11,500 runners, said it likely would no longer use products from Myanmar after human rights groups mounted a campaign to urge Olympic organizers and companies they do business with to shun the country. The running suits were issued to torchbearers who have relayed the torch some 13,500 miles (21,600 kilometers) to Salt Lake City for Friday's start of the Olympics.

    Myanmar, formerly known as Burma, has been condemned by human rights groups and the U.S. government for widespread human rights abuses, including forced labor, torture, summary execution and repression of dissidents.

    "The vast majority of companies and countries around the world know that forced labor and slave labor in Burma is very serious, and the International Olympic Committee shouldn't disregard that," said Jeremy Woodrum, director of the Washington office of the Free Burma Coalition. "If you produce goods in Burma, the entire infrastructure that's usef"for export has been created by forced labor."

    A representative of the IOC referred questions about the uniforms to the Salt Lake Organizing Committee, which organized the relay. The committee released a statement Thursday: "The United States has not imposed restrictions on importing from Burma, and the uniforms were imported in compliance with all applicable laws."

    Ralph Eeson, Olympic program managing director for Marker, said the white and blue suits with Olympic logos were made by a subcontractor in Myanmar. Marker, based in Salt Lake City, is sensitive to human rights issues and has no reason to believe they were made under conditions that violate international labor law, he said. Nonetheless, he said Marker was unlikely to sell clothes made in Myanmar again.

    "I believe these are really the only goods that we, Marker, have brought in from Myanmar," he said. "In the future, I can't foresee that we would be making anything that would require imports from Myanmar."

    Myanmar's ruling junta, the State Peace and Development Council, seized control of the country in 1988 after crushing a democratic uprising. The junta benefits from the production of every garment made in the country's clothing and textile sector, according to Burma activist Simon Billenness of Trillium Asset Management, a Boston investment company.

    The junta often directs foreign investors to do joint ventures with army-owned holding companies. Most of the country's apparel factories, or the land they sit on, are owned in large part by the military, he said.

    The U.S. State Department's 2000 report on human rights in Myanmar cites the government's use of torture, rape and repression against its population, including using forced labor to build industrial parks for exportable goods and as army porters.

    For years, activist groups have pressured companies to stop purchasing or distributing clothing made in Myanmar, citing the country's human rights abuses and the ongoing house arrest of Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi.

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    Warships ordered from China arrive

    Text of report by Burmese opposition radio on 6 February

    Five warships ordered from China have arrived at the Tenessarim Naval Base in Mergui yesterday. Ten senior Chinese naval officers and 60 Chinese sailors who accompanied the five ships - Nos 505, 710, 810, 811, and 819 will conduct training courses for SPDC [State Peace and Development Council] naval personnel.

    The newly arrived warships are armed with sophisticated radar system, guided missile launchers, and anti-aircraft guns and a special training course for handling the equipment for SPDC naval personnel is planned from 25 February to 22 March.

    Furthermore, the joint Burma-China naval exercises will be held at a location between Mali and Kunthi Islands. The SPDC maritime authorities have issued a maritime warning prohibiting any vessel from entering the zone during the exercises and have also threatened that any vessel violating the warning will be shot.

    Military observers told Democratic Voice of Burma that the five newly-arrived Chinese warships could be a part of the more than 1bn dollar weapons deal which the SPDC made with China last year.

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    Myanmar to accept return of illegal workers, Thailand says

    BANGKOK, Feb 8 (AFP) - Myanmar will allow hundreds of thousands of illegal workers to be repatriated from Thailand, and has assured they will not be prosecuted, Thai Foreign Minister Surakiart Sathirathai said Friday.

    "The two countries have agreed to set up a holding center at Myawadi and it is possible it could be expanded to other towns to accommodate them," Surakairt said after a three-day official visit to Myanmar.The minister said Myanmar was willing to accept the repatrations if Thailand could prove the workers were illegal immigrants from Myanmar.

    After a crackdown launched last year, Thailand hopes to soon start sending back hundreds of thousands of illegal workers from Myanmar.About 560,000 Myanmar workers have registered since September with the Thai authorities. Another 110,000 ethnic Karen and Karenni people are in 11 camps along the Thai-Myanmar border, which Thailand also wants to close.

    During the visit which ended Friday, Surakiart also held talks with army chief General Maung Aye about the upcoming visit by Thailand's Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn, who will represent her father King Bhumibol Adulyadej.The trip is expected to go ahead in late October. Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra also invited Maung Aye to pay an official visit to Thailand probably in April, Surakiart added.

    The minister also outlined a scheme under which Thai boats can resume fishing in Myanmar waters.Myanmar cancelled Thai fishing licenses in October 1999 after Bangkok supplied an escape helicopter to five anti-junta gunmen in exchange for the release of hostages held at the Myanmar embassy in the Thai capital.

    Surakiart said private companies intending to join the joint fishing scheme must be approved by both governments and register their fishing trawlers with both authorities.The state-run Myanmar media reported late Thursday that the two countries also signed an agreement on avoiding double taxation.

    Surakiart, who headed an 18-member delegation, arrived in Myanmar's capital on Wednesday.After meeting top junta leaders, he departed Yangon late Thursday to the western beachside resort of Ngapali for meetings with his Myanmar counterpart Win Aung.

    Thailand's newly appointed supreme commander, Admiral Narong Yuthavong, was also in Yangon this week for an official goodwill visit at the invitation of Myanmar's army chief General Maung Aye."The relations with Thailand had strengthened through the frequent exchange of visits at all levels as well as the personal amity and rapport between the leaders of the two nations," the state media said.

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    Rangoon to verify status of migrants

    Bhanravee Tansubhapol
    The Bangkokpost

    Rangoon wants Thailand to submit a list of illegal migrant workers to be sent back to Burma so their nationality can be verified first, the foreign minister said yesterday. Surakiart Sathirathai said after a three-day visit to Rangoon that Burma was ready to admit repatriated Burmese migrants to a holding centre in its border town of Myawaddy.

    But Thailand must first submit their names, home addresses in Burma, as well as photos and identity cards for verification by Burmese authorities, Mr Surakiart said.A source said the verification process should not take too long.

    The ministry's permanent secretary, Tej Bunnag, said the two governments would co-ordinate procedures in Mae Sot district, Tak province, and illegal Burmese workers would be sent back in groups of 200-300 .

    ``If all of them hold Burmese nationality, they should have house registration documents. But if they are ethnic minorities, they will be investigated and reports will be sent to Burma,'' Mr Tej said.

    Burmese officials have been instructed not to subject returnees to punishment for having left Burma illegally, said Mr Tej, who co-chairs a joint task force on repatriation of illegal Burmese workers.Authorities would resume rounding up illegal workers tomorrow, he said.Rangoon also agreed to open more joint holding centres in Kawthaung and Pyathongzu, opposite Kanchanaburi.

    The minister told Lt-Gen Maung Aye, deputy chairman of Burma's ruling State Peace and Development Council, that HRH Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn would pay a 10-day state visit to Burma in late October, the first by a member of the royal family in 10 years.Lt-Gen Maung Aye would visit Bangkok in April as a guest of Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra.

    On the fishery front, Mr Surakiart quoted Lt-Gen Khin Nyunt, first secretary of the SPDC, as saying he would submit an official document to confirm the easing of conditions for fishing in Burmese waters.Rangoon agreed Thai private fishing operators wishing to engage in joint ventures with Burma would have to secure prior approval from both governments to avoid problems.Bangkok and Rangoon would soon sign a memorandum of understanding on importing agricultural goods.

    Thailand, Burma and India agreed to discuss road links at a meeting in Mandalay on April 8-10. The Asian Development Bank would be asked to assist in financing .Rangoon agreed to borrow the Thai currency to fund the construction of a road linking Mae Sot-Mywaddy-Pa-an, and to use a Thai construction firm.

    Mr Surakiart was told Lt-Gen Khin Nyunt would oversee a Thai plan to promote the two countries as one tourist destination.

    Mr Surakiart said the Burmese side welcomed co-operation with foreign countries to secure markets for crops grown as substitutes for opium.The Wa minority reached an agreement with Rangoon to stop producing illegal drugs by 2005.Thailand and Burma also signed an agreement to avoid double taxation.

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    Investigation urged into mass murder of 17 Karens

    The Bangkokpost

    The network of foreign labour rights groups has urged the National Human Rights Committee to look into the mass murder of 17 Karens found dead in a stream in Tak province last week.

    Fourteen local groups under the network of NGOs working for foreign workers and families in Thailand yesterday publicised an open letter demanding the National Human Rights Committee's probe the deaths of the 17 Karens whose bodies were found in a stream of Mae Ramat district on Feb 2-3.

    The letter claimed attempts were made to make the public believe the Karens were murdered in Burma although their bodies were found afloat in a Mae Ramat stream flowing into the Moei river.

    The groups were annoyed by press statements made by some border patrol police officers who said it was common for illegal immigrants to be killed in such a manner.The network urged the authorities to take serious action and bring the culprits to justice under international laws on civic and political rights, children's rights, and anti-discrimination against women.

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    Karen refugees to be moved out of park

    The Bangkokpost

    Over 14,000 Karen refugees will be moved out of Salween National Park in Mae Sariang district in a bid to curb deforestation, the National Security Council chief said.

    Kachadpai Burusphat said the relocation was urgent even though the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees promised to ensure no log poaching by the refugees.

    The NSC would repatriate illegal immigrants who had just entered to prevent more from crossing the border.The head of Ban Mae Kong Kha-Ban Tha Sala refugee shelter urged the authorities not to push the refugees back home until their safety could be assured.

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    Burma orders military posts on Thai border to strengthen fortifications

    Text of report by Burmese opposition radio on 7 February

    The War Office in Rangoon has ordered all SPDC [State Peace and Development Council] military outposts along the Burma-Thai border to build heavy artillery batteries and missile launching pads as soon as possible. At the same time, the Coastal Region Military Command has issued a similar directive ordering IB [Infantry Battalion] 273, IB 104, IB 285, IB 103, and LIB [Light Infantry Battalion] 342 and LIB 433 stationed along Nateindaung camp in Yebyu Township to border outposts in Kawthaung Township to make similar preparations.

    According to the order, of which DVB [Democratic Voice of Burma] has received a copy, all preparation and construction must be completed by 25 March. Furthermore, each camp must build 10 strong and sturdy bunkers and bomb shelters to ward off any offensive from the other side.

    Although it is not clear why the directive was issued to build heavy artillery batteries and missile launching pads along the border with Thailand, military observers believe it could be related to the Thai military's concern over 10 Russian-made MiG-29 jet fighters due to arrive in Burma soon.

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    Shan kill six Burmese troops

    Subin Khuenkaew Wassana Nanuam
    The Bangkokpost

    Shan State Army fighters yesterday overran a Burmese military outpost in Ban Mae Joke and killed six Burmese soldiers in a fierce battle.

    SSA fighters from Gor Wan base, the SSA's major command, launched a surprise assault at 6am.Burmese troops had shelled them the day before at their base in Gor Mueng, two kilometres north of Gor Wan.Six Burmese troops were found dead inside the border after the SSA seized the base.One SSA soldier was reportedly killed during the hour-long battle.

    Calling the attack a pre-emptive strike aimed to demoralise Burmese troops, SSA fighters said massive deployment of Burmese troops in the last week was a clear indication of Burma's keeness to destroy SSA's outposts.SSA military commander Jao Yord Serk predicted heavy fighting between the SSA and Burmese troops in the next few days.

    Thousands of Burmese troops had been deployed in five border areas opposite SSA bases, which held some 800 fighters.``This year's fighting could be tough,'' said Jao Yord Serk.

    The Third Army has regarded border area in Ban Pang Noon, one kilometre south of Gor Wan, as a sensitive spot in border tensions between Thailand and Burma, restored after a bad patch last year.Fifty to eighty Burmese soldiers were killed in a fierce border fight with the Third Army at Ban Pang Noon last year, after Burmese troops briefly seized the village, located 500 metres from the border area, and used it as a launchpad for an assault on Gor Wan.

    ``It will be hard for them to seize our base (Gor Wan) unless they make another assault from the Thai side,'' said Jao Yord Serk.

    Army commander-in-chief Gen Surayud Chulanont said the army would not allow foreign troops to use Thai territory as a springboard for attacks on rebel bases.

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    Shan gathering off over border conflict

    Achara Ashayagachat
    The Bangkokpost

    The National Security Council has banned a reunion meeting of Shan immigrants in Chiang Mai to appease Rangoon amid fresh fighting between Burmese troops and Shan State Army forces near the border.

    About a thousand Thai-Shan ethnic people were to meet at a Chiang Mai hotel on Thursday to commemorate the 55th anniversary of the independent Shan State.The security agency linked the reunion organiser to the Shan State Army, which hosts an annual solidarity meeting of its armed forces in Doi Tai Lang, opposite Mae Hong Son.

    Fresh clashes resumed this week between ethnic SSA forces and Rangoon troops while efforts by Shan people living in Thailand to intensify solidarity on Thai soil were impeded.Merit making at Wat Pa Pao would go ahead from today until Monday.

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    Myanmar Strives to Bring Down Foreign Trade Deficit

    YANGON, February 8 (Xinhua)--The Myanmar has made great efforts to bring down foreign trade deficit in recent years, a major economic problem puzzling the government for a longed period, and scored achievements.

    According to the latest figures published by the country's Central Statistical Organization, in the first 10 months of 2001, Myanmar's foreign trade totaled 4,306 million U.S. dollars, of which imports amounted to 2,416.7 million, while exports were valued at 1,889.3 million with the trade deficit standing at 527.4 million, 20.57 percent less than the same period of 2000.

    The government has taken measures in this respect--the adoption of the "sell more, buy less" and "export more, import less" strategies to encourage people to use home-made goods, use less foreign ones and substitute imported goods with domestic products as much as possible. Besides, it greatly supported enterprises engaged in producing export goods, providing privileges in accordance with its policy.

    It added more border trade points, simplifying related formalities, appropriately adjusting its standard of charge collection and strictly controlling the import of high-grade consumers goods and luxuries. Moreover, it strove for the promotion of production, ensured goods supply and tackled the phenomena of shortage of locally manufactured commodities.

    The main cause of Myanmar's foreign trade deficit for consecutive years could be attributed to the fact that Myanmar is an agricultural country with the majority of its required capital goods and technology depending on import. In the first 10 months of 2001, Myanmar imported capital goods worth of 810 million dollars, accounting for 33.54 percent of the country's total imports. Besides relying on import of capital goods, Myanmar still has to spend much foreign exchange annually, importing a large quantity of consumers goods.

    In the first 10 months of 2001, Myanmar's import vale of consumers goods were valued at 641 million dollars, taking up 26. 52 percent of the country's total import. Myanmar's main export goods are primary products such as agricultural and marine products and timber. For a long period, the structure of Myanmar's export goods has been unitary and commodities available for export have also been much limited.

    Total settlement of the deficit problem could not be brought about overnight. The realization of the target is up to the adjustment of the structure of Myanmar's export goods, improvement of products in quality as well as the uplifting of the degree of industrialization and level of science and technology.

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    Myanmar to Attract Tourists at Berlin Tourism Fair

    YANGON, February 8 (Xinhua)--Myanmar will take part in the International Tourism Bourse due to open in Berlin, Germany on March 16 this year, according to the Myanmar Ministry of Hotel and Tourism.

    So far, 20 Myanmar companies, organized under the country's Tourism Promotion Board, have registered to participate in the five-day tourism fair which is being described as the world biggest travel and tourism fair.

    The Myanmar companies will feature their travel service products and the fair will offer huge potential for drawing more tourists to Myanmar, said an official of the ministry. U Khin Maung Latt, the ministry's director general, said cooperation with other member countries of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) has helped promote Myanmar's tourism industry.

    In recent years, Myanmar participated in tourism fairs held in Thailand, Singapore,"China's Hong Kong Special Administrative Region and Republic of Korea. Meanwhile, Myanmar is also cooperating with tourism authorities of other ASEAN members in regional activities including cooperation programs for tourist destinations in the ASEAN region and market promotion activities of nations in Great Mekong Region as well as Ganges-Mekong cooperation program. To develop its tourism, Myanmar has signed bilateral agreement with China, Cambodia, Laos, Singapore and Thailand.

    According to official statistics, tourist arrival in Myanmar dropped by 50.6 percent in the first ten months of 2001 compared with the same period of 2000, reaching only 92,388. The statistics also show that since Myanmar opened to foreign investment in 1988, contracted investment in the sector of hotel and tourism has so far amounted to 1.054 billion U.S. dollars. The country targets to draw 500,000 foreign tourists annually.

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