Daily News- February 23- 2002- Saturday

  • UN rights envoy says Myanmar prison conditions improved
  • U.N. rights envoy says Myanmar not abusing prisoners
  • Burma foreign minister plays down Japan's stalled aid
  • Wei syndicate 'frighteningly large'

  • UN rights envoy says Myanmar prison conditions improved

    (AFP) - February 22 -United Nations human rights envoy Paulo Sergio Pinheiro said that political detainees in Myanmar faced improved prison conditions while renewing calls for their release.

    The Brazilian academic, who earlier this week completed his third trip to the military-ruled state, said prison conditions were better after some 150 missions by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC).

    "From the visits of the ICRC, things have improved... they are engaging in a positive dialogue," Pinheiro told reporters Friday, adding that he was given unfettered access to political prisoners during his latest 10-day visit.

    "Release all political prisoners, that is my mantra," he said. "I tried to convince the government this was a decisive thing. It's very difficult to deal with a transition with political prisoners in jail."

    The envoy, who departs Bangkok late Friday for Brazil, said he estimated there were at least 1,500 political prisoners in Myanmar. He would release details of his findings in a forthcoming report.

    On Tuesday Pinheiro visited two prominent National League for Democracy (NLD) prisoners being treated at Yangon General Hospital's "guarded ward" for ill detainees, one of them Win Tin, an ageing and widely-known journalist imprisoned in 1989.

    During the mission, which focused mainly on the plight of political prisoners, Pinheiro met with democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi at her lakeside residence, where she has been under house arrest for more than a year.

    He said the Nobel laureate was in a "very good situation and high spirits," adding that he had emphasised to Myanmar authorities the importance of her being allowed to resume her political activities.

    Aung San Suu Kyi's NLD and the ruling State Peace and Development Council embarked on secret talks in October 2000 aimed at paving the way for a transition to democracy in Myanmar.

    The participation of Myanmar's many ethnic groups in a political dialogue was another vital ingredient to the country's future welfare, Pinheiro added, saying he had met several times with ethnic leaders in northern Kachin State.

    Pinheiro also encouraged humanitarian aid efforts to Myanmar, but said programs should hinge on independent assessments and monitoring to ensure funds were directed to villagers.

    In an apparent gesture of goodwill, the ruling junta released a total of 11 political prisoners in two batches during Pinheiro's 10-day visit. Myanmar's military government says it has released some 220 political prisoners since talks with the opposition began. The envoy's report on his latest mission is due to be presented at an annual meeting of the UN Human Rights Commission in Geneva beginning March 18.

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    U.N. rights envoy says Myanmar not abusing prisoners

    By Dominic Whiting

    BANGKOK (Reuters) - The United Nations human rights envoy to Myanmar said on Friday the military government's treatment of political prisoners has improved and called for the world to forge a "principled" engagement with the regime.

    Paulo Sergio Pinheiro, who this week ended a 10-day trip to Myanmar, said political prisoners languishing in its jails -- thought to number more than 1,500 -- have been better treated since Red Cross visits began two years ago.

    "My impression is that there's no abuse against the prisoners I interviewed," Pinheiro told reporters in Bangkok. "There were problems in the past, but not at present."

    In his third visit to Myanmar, which is desperate for greater international legitimacy and aid, trade and investment, Pinheiro finished a report on the human rights situation and tried to persuade the ruling generals to free more political prisoners. The report, if positive, could lead to a softening in the stance of many Western countries to the military regime, accused by human rights groups of using forced labour, oppressing ethnic minorities and persecuting political opponents.

    The United States and the European Union maintain aid and trade sanctions on Myanmar, but have said they could change their policies if there is progress towards democracy and an improvement in the country's human rights record.

    As well as meeting top military brass, Pinheiro saw Nobel laureate and opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, who he said was "in good health" despite her continued house arrest. Pinheiro said talks between the government and Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy (NLD), brokered by fellow U.N. envoy Razali Ismail in late 2000, were still on track.


    "My impression is that the positive results of Razali's role continue," he said. "From everyone -- political prisoners, the NLD, government, parts of the diplomatic community -- there is no despair."

    Although the ruling generals have released more than 200 political prisoners in the last year, including 11 during Pinheiro's visit, and allowed most NLD offices in Yangon to reopen, some NLD members have expressed frustration at the slow pace of talks. They demand a large-scale release of prisoners, moves towards wholesale political change, and more freedom for Suu Kyi and the party, which won the country's last democratic election in 1990 by a landslide but was never been allowed to govern.

    Pinheiro said he had urged the military regime to release and grant amnesty to all political prisoners, and to allow Aung San Suu Kyi to carry out political activities.

    He said Myanmar's human rights record needed more scrutiny, but urged countries to engage with the military government. He recommended giving humanitarian aid, if it bypassed government and was carefully directed at local communities.

    "The international community doesn't have a 'B' plan," he said. "Countries can raise the heat as far as they want and the victims still won't have political transition."

    Pinheiro delivers his report to the United Nations on April 4 and plans a return to Myanmar in October to visit areas on the border with Thailand, where the military has carried out operations against armed ethnic groups over the last decade.

    This week the insurgent Shan State Army (SSA) sent a video to Reuters which it said shows around 1500 villagers fleeing a burnt out village in the northern Shan State. The SSA said Myanmar soldiers, convinced the villagers were SSA supporters, set fire to huts and rice fields.

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    Burma foreign minister plays down Japan's stalled aid

    PHUKET, Thailand, Feb. 22 Kyodo - Burma Foreign Minister Win Aung said Friday that Japan's stalled grant aid worth $26 million for repairing an aging hydroelectric power station in his country was ''nothing'' to compare with national pride.

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    Wei syndicate 'frighteningly large'

    The Nation

    Authorities have discovered the extent of druglord Wei Hsueh-kang's organised-crime network, Interior Minister Purachai Piumsombun told a meeting of the Committee on Corruption Prevention and Suppression yesterday.According to Purachai, the size of the syndicate is frighteningly large and involves drug trafficking, money laundering and weapons smuggling.

    The agencies engaged in tackling Wei's crime ring include the Anti-Money Laundering Commission, the Office of Narcotics Control Board and the Revenue Department. The agencies said they had successfully identified people and places involved in the syndicate's operations.It has also been discovered that a group within the ring produced fake Thai identity cards for their members, Purachai said, adding that he had yesterday assigned the director-general of the Department of Local Administration to lead a team to investigate the forgery activities.

    Wei, 49, is the leader of the United Wa State Army, an ethnic army widely regarded as one of the world's leading traffickers of heroin and methamphetamines. Thai authorities have raided a number of premises believed to belong to Wei and confiscated assets worth more than Bt100 million.

    Meanwhile, Bangkok City clerk Kriangsak Lohachala said yesterday the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration would deploy all its agencies to work and develop the crowded communities in Klong Toey in an attempt to fight drug abuse there.As examples, Kriangsak said the BMA's social welfare department would provide sports grounds and activities for the people, while the Community Development Agency would establish development funds. The Health Department will open clinics to treat drug addicts, and the Education Department will provide education to children.

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