Daily News- January 04 - 2002- Friday


  • Hopes High on Eve of Independence Day
  • Junta moves to control rift in police, former soldiers shed uniforms
  • DEA pledges to help trace remaining assets of warlord
  • Thailand to host sixth Myanmar cooperation meeting
  • Progress on fishing deal is expected
  • Hard talk for Thai-Burmese
  • Seven Hundred Karen Refugees, nowhere to go, says relief worker
  • Daewoo Assigns Interest in A-1 Block Offshore Myanmar
  • Myanmar marks independence day but no word on Suu Kyi
  • Myanmar opposition urges democracy, release of Suu Kyi
  • Burma's opposition breaks silence


  • Hopes High on Eve of Independence Day

    The Irrawaddy
    By Aung Zaw

    January 03, 2002 - As Burma prepares to celebrate its Independence Day tomorrow, dissidents and family members of political prisoners are hoping for the best. Despite rumors of a new round of prisoner releases to mark the occasion, however, few are expecting a genuine political breakthrough.

    A few weeks ago, U Lwin, secretary of the National League for Democracy (NLD), predicted that the ruling State Peace and Development Council (SPDC) might commemorate Independence Day with an amnesty for all political prisoners. He also hinted that the two sides might be ready to enter into a more substantive political dialogue. Talks have been underway for more than a year now, with little evidence of real progress.

    According to a Western diplomatic source in Rangoon, there is already a definite figure for the number of prisoners due to be released. The source told The Irrawaddy that 19 political prisoners17 from the NLD and two from the Mon National League for Democracycould be released soon. "There was a discussion between the NLD and SPDC [about the release of the 19 political prisoners]," according to the source."But we are not hoping any major political breakthrough," the Western diplomat added.

    There has been speculation among dissidents and exiles that at least a few prominent prisoners will be among those released. Since the talks began in October 2000, approximately 200 political prisoners have been freed. The NLD recently said that about 800 of its members remain under detention. In total, about 2,000 political prisoners are languishing in Burmaís jails, including senior NLD leader U Win Tin and student leader Min Ko Naing.

    "Family members of prominent prisoners are waiting for Independence Day," a former political prisoner in Rangoon told The Irrawaddy. "They donít really believe that their loved ones will be released, but if it happens, it will be a miracle," he said.

    Ko Tate, a member of the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP), said he and fellow former prisoners did not expect a major breakthrough, but said that more NLD members might be released.

    If senior leaders of the NLD are released, that would clearly signal that the talks, which analysts believe have stalled, are back on track, according to Aung Naing Oo, a political dissident in exile.

    However, expectations are low despite U Lwinís initial comment on amnesty and substantive dialogue. "Only the government can give us all a surprise. I think people are hoping to be surprised," said a former Burmese political prisoner.

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    Junta moves to control rift in police, former soldiers shed uniforms

    BBC Monitoring Service
    Text of report by Burmese opposition radio on 2 January

    Lt-Gen Khin Nyunt, secretary-1 of the State Peace and Development Council, has issued an order instructing all Defence Services personnel transferred to Myanmar [Burmese] Police Force [MPF] to shed their military uniforms from 1 January and to wear only police uniforms.

    This was decided at the 11th MPF Re-engineering Committee Meeting held recently. The main reason is to show that the Defence Services and the MPF are two separate armed organizations.

    Although the MPF has been a separate armed organization under the Ministry of Home Affairs, the top positions are always filled by senior military officers. The fact that both Col Soe Win, the present MPF director general, and Col Hla Tun, the MPF deputy director general, are former military officers proves this point.

    According to military observers, one third of the MPF is made up of former Defence Services personnel transferred to the MPF but DVB [Democratic Voice of Burma] has learned that they never gave up their military uniforms. That is why the MPF is divided into two groups - former military personnel policemen and civilian policemen. DVB has learned that this order was issued to control the rift within the MPF.

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    DEA pledges to help trace remaining assets of warlord

    The Bangkokpost

    The US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) has pledged to help the Money Laundering Commission trace the remaining assets of drug warlord Wei Hsueh-kang.The commission has frozen assets valued at 100 million baht suspected to have been acquired by Wei with laundered drug money through his mistresses, relatives and business partners.

    William Snites, the DEA representative in Thailand, said he was ``very satisfied'' with the commission's move against Wei, who was also wanted by the United States.

    Wei, whose Thai name is Charnchai Cheevinnitipanya, was arrested in Thailand about a decade ago for having smuggled some 680kg of heroin into the US.He jumped bail and fled to Burma. The US offered a US$2 million reward for information leading to his arrest.

    Mr Snites yesterday met Pol Col Peeraphan Premputi, secretary-general of the commission, to give information on Wei's drug network.He offered to help the commission trace Wei's remaining assets.

    A list of drug traffickers who had sent drugs from Thailand to the US over the years would also be handed to Pol Col Peraphan next week, Mr Snites said, but he declined to go into detail.Mr Snites said both the US and Thailand had been trying hard to bring Wei to justice.

    However, once Wei was caught the two countries would have to decide together where the drug warlord should be put on trial.Pol Col Peeraphan said Thai authorities had asked their Burmese counterparts to help arrest Wei but were told he was hiding in an area beyond the Rangoon's reach.

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    Thailand to host sixth Myanmar cooperation meeting

    BANGKOK, Jan 3 (AFP) - Thailand will host the sixth annual meeting of a joint commission aimed at strengthening bilateral economic and security cooperation with Myanmar, the Thai foreign ministry announced Thursday.

    It said the Thailand-Myanmar Joint Commission for Bilateral Cooperation meeting would focus on anti-drug efforts, trade, fishing, illegal immigration, telecommunications, energy, the environment and tourism.The January 8-9 gathering at the resort of Phuket will be co-chaired by Thai Foreign Minister Surakiart Sathirathai and his Myanamr courterpart Win Aung.

    Top officials from Thailand and Myanmar have exchanged several important visits in the past year to ease relations that flared early 2001 amid accusations over drug trafficking along their shared border.

    Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra travelled to Myanmar last June while the Myanmar junta's head of military intelligence, Khin Nyunt, came to Thailand in September.

    In 2000, Thailand's exports to Myanmar totalled 20.24 billion bahtmillion dollars) while imports were worth 10.46 billion baht (238 million dollars). Thailand's top exports to Myanmar were plastic, steel, chemicals, cement and rubber while the kingdom imported timber, ore, coal, crude oil and frozen shrimps from Myanmar.

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    Progress on fishing deal is expected

    The Bangkokpost
    by Achara Ashayagachat

    Thailand and Burma were likely to make progress towards joint fishery ventures at a ministerial meeting in Phuket next week, officials said yesterday.

    Foreign Minister Surakiart Sathirathai and his Burmese counterpart Win Aung will co-chair the meeting on Wednesday of the Joint Commission for Bilateral Co-operation. The meeting will also deal with problems of displaced people, illegal workers, drug suppression, account trade, tourism, road networks and energy.But the joint commission, which has not met for two-and-a-half years, is expected to make most headway in talks on fishery ventures.

    Burma closed its waters to Thai fishermen after the Oct 1999 raid on the Burmese embassy in Bangkok by Burmese exiles. Rangoon apparently believed the Chuan Leekpai government's treatment of the Burmese dissidents was too lenient.Sticking points in the proposed fishery ventures included catch sharing, industry sources said.

    Burma initially wanted 25% of the catch, but Thailand offered 12.25%. They were likely to agree on Burma taking 15%.Burma is expected to drop a demand for a US$1 million bank guarantee, but was likely to maintain a $100,000 security deposit in cash, the sources said.

    The question of displaced people and illegal immigrants has stalled on problems of identity and places for repatriating the estimated 100,000 now encamped in Thailand.Rangoon insists on taking back only Burmese nationals. Many of the displaced people were ethnic minority groups, sources said.

    ``Agencies on the Thai side have prepared various options. In principle, we want to send both illegal immigrants and displaced persons back to their homeland in safety and dignity, but the details have yet to be thrashed out with the Burmese side,'' one source said.

    Thailand also plans to propose a memorandum of understanding on co-operation in the employment of cross-border workers.The document would provide for the setting up of holding centres on Burmese soil where training in agriculture and other occupations would be given while people awaited nationality identification.The MoU would also provide for Rangoon to specify a labour quota for people it would allow to work in Thailand, the source said.

    The sixth joint commission also would highlight the importance of the coming visit to Thailand of Gen Maung Aye, vice-chairman of Burma's ruling State Peace and Development Council and army commander-in-chief, and the visit of Her Royal Highness Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn to Burma in August, the sources said.

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    Hard talk for Thai-Burmese

    The Nation
    Don Pathan

    When they really needed it the most, it wasn't there. But after two years of putting it off, the Thai-Burma Joint Commission is now back on track.Chaired by the respective foreign ministers of the two countries, the Thai-Burma JC is the highest level of institutionalised working relationship between the two governments.

    The meeting in Phuket from January 7-9 is expected to discuss a wide range of issues, from the repatriation of refugees to joint anti-narcotics efforts, as well as economic cooperation. The JC mechanism is being revived at a time when bilateral ties between the two countries appear to be improving. But dig deeper, say Thai army and government officials, and you will find hard feelings and deep-rooted suspicion are still very much alive. It will take more than just a few official visits and handshakes to close this extraordinarily complex chapter in Thai-Burmese history, they say.

    For the past eight years following a short-lived honeymoon started by a visit by then Army chief General Chavalit Yongchaiyudh to Rangoon after the takeover by Burmese generals in 1988, Thai-Burmese relations have been characterised by mutual criticism and violence along the border.

    One of these incidents took place almost a year ago when day-long cross-border shelling resulted in the death of scores of people from both sides. The shelling, which brought bilateral ties to its lowest ebb, was followed by months of stand-offs between the two armed forces, some of whom were positioned just metres apart. The clashes broke out shortly after Thaksin Shinawatra was sworn in as the new prime minister.

    A war of words between the two sides then continued for some time, with respective commanders accusing their counterparts of taking kickbacks from drug dealers. The rhetoric began to die down following Thaksin's visit to Rangoon in June. The trip was billed as a fence-mending trip during which an olive branch was extended to the Burmese. Thus begun a cooling off period.

    Today, in spite of the absence of rhetoric, Bangkok-based diplomats, Thai government officials and army commanders insist tension remains. The same old problems - Burmese refugees, anti-Rangoon insurgents and drug trafficking along the border - continue to sour relations between the two countries. Nevertheless, the Thaksin government is convinced it can make things better.

    Since Thai Rak Thai first hit the campaign trail, those surrounding Thaksin have gone to great lengths to spell out the party's philosophy in dealing with Burma and other neighbouring countries.

    Thailand's interest, they say, is best served by strengthened economic cooperation with its neighbours. By increasing business and trade with Burma, Bangkok will be able to move toward normalising relations with Rangoon. Other problems such as illegal migration and drug trafficking could then be dealt with through the proper channels.It sounded good, especially to those waiting to cash in on short-term gains from improved Thai-Burmese relations. But for others, particularly drug officials and military personnel on the frontlines, it was wishful thinking.

    During the Chuan Leekpai administration, Thai-Burmese relations experienced a number of hiccups. Thailand took up issues that annoyed not only Burma, but other Asean members as well. But for a regional grouping with no political will to tackle sensitive issues, Asean tends to react testily to any mention of subjects such as human rights or transnational security problems. That is exacerbated when a member is singled out as the source of the problems.And so when Thailand broke ranks with Asean by not voting against a resolution from the International Labour Organisation to condemn Burma's practice of forced labour, things began to get nasty.

    Regarding drugs, the previous administration also made it clear Rangoon must be accountable for the illicit activities of the United Wa State Army, which over the years has expanded its operations and control along the Chinese border to areas adjacent to Thailand's northern provinces. Thousands of ethnic Wa and Chinese have been transported in flatbed trucks to Burma's border with China and relocated to UWSA-controlled areas adjacent to Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai.For the Thai security apparatus, the UWSA, which operates somewhat independently of Rangoon, has essentially became a scapegoat. But at the same time, the 20,000-strong Wa army has became a pawn in Rangoon's dealings with Thailand.

    Border checkpoints leading to UWSA-controlled areas just kilometres away from the border were shut, and over 1,000 Thai nationals working in construction were ordered back home. But with this increased security along the Golden Triangle area, methamphetamines from the UWSA's labs trickled in elsewhere - along the banks of the Mekong River in Northeast Thailand and at various spots stretching from Tak province all the way down to the coastal town of Ranong.

    However, the Thaksin government has decided to engaged the Wa through a tripartite dialogue with Rangoon. There is talk of a Bt20 million crop-substitution project financed by Thai taxpayers in Wa-controlled areas near the border.But the move has irked Thailand's frontline commanders who, according to military sources, have a plan of their own - to penetrate the UWSA and plant a disruptive seed inside the organisation. It is a long shot but worth a try, they say.But with the talks with the Wa off the ground, Thailand has effectively freed Rangoon of any burden for the illicit activities of the UWSA. "They can just say it's between you and the Wa now," said one senior officer who spoke on condition of anonymity.

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    Seven Hundred Karen Refugees, nowhere to go, says relief worker

    Network Media Group

    Chiang Mai, December 2 -More than seven hundred refugees from former Hteephado camp, burnt down by Burmese soldier in late November, are facing problems to find place to stay, said a responsible person from Karen Refugee Committee yesterday.

    724 refugees from 159 families fled from Hteephado camp took refuge in Halortkhani Mon refugee camp temporarily and they have no place to take proper shelter, the relief worker said.

    "The refugees are Karen and they are temporarily taking shelter on the ground near the school in Halortkhani refugee camp with the help of Mon Refugee Committee. They cannot move to any refugee camp inside Thailand as Thai government refused to give shelter for them", he said.

    The refugees are afraid to go to the place where New Mon State Party asked them to move because the area is very near where Burmese troops used to come around.

    "We are trying to move them to camp in Thailand. But, Thai authorities didn't allow. Then, Mon wants them to move to Kalaisonphai. But, they (the refugees) don't dare to go. The worst thing is they only have food for only two months from BBC", said the responsible person from Karen Refugee Committee on telephone interview.

    Kalaisonphai is situated one miles from Thai-Burma border, between Hteephado camp and Halortkhani camp. It is situated on riverbank opposite to a monastery where Burmese soldiers used to stay.

    Currently, a NGO, Burma Border Consortium, assisted the food for two months, for December 2001 and January 2002. But, the NGO could not support more as the refugees are inside Burma. Thai government prohibits NGOs registered in Thailand to support the internally displaced persons for cross border assistance. "I can't imagine what will happen after two months", the relief worker continued.

    The embassies in Thailand from United States, Canada and European Union asked Thai government to accept 796 Karen refugees after Burmese soldiers burned down the camp on November 27. But, the request was refused.

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    Daewoo Assigns Interest in A-1 Block Offshore Myanmar

    Rig Zone

    Daewoo International has transferred 10 percent of its stake in its wholly-owned gas field located northwest of Myanmar, to Korea Gas Corporation.

    Daewoo signed a contract in November regarding its participation in the A-1 Block gas development project. Daewoo also plans to sign similar agreements with ONGC and GAIL. It plans to give a 20 percent interest to ONGC and a 10 percent interest to GAIL on the condition that they provide funding for the gas exploration project in excess of their stakes.

    After these sales, Daewoo will own 60 percent of the project which has estimated gas reserves of 10 trillion cubic feet.

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    Myanmar marks independence day but no word on Suu Kyi

    By Aung Hla Tun

    YANGON (Reuters) - Dancers and marching bands marked Myanmar's independence day on Friday, but there was no word on the fate of pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi despite opposition hopes more political prisoners were set to be freed.

    Some diplomats have speculated that after more than a year of tentative bridge-building between the military and Suu Kyi's opposition National League for Democracy (NLD), the government might use the occasion to make another conciliatory gesture and free the 56-year-old Nobel peace laureate from house arrest. But government officials told journalists not to expect anything unusual on Friday.

    Diplomats in Yangon told Reuters that while more NLD prisoners could be freed later in the day or over the weekend, it seemed unlikely restrictions on Suu Kyi would be lifted.

    "We may well see more prisoners being released and of course that would be welcome," a Western diplomat told Reuters. "But until Suu Kyi is freed, how seriously can we take any political dialogue? I think they will have to lift the restrictions this year, but it seems it won't be today."

    Diplomats said there was talk that about 20 political prisoners would be freed over the weekend.

    Suu Kyi has been kept confined to her lakeside Yangon residence since September 2000, after a series of high-profile confrontations with the government over her attempts to travel outside the capital. Her detention has been widely condemned by the international community.

    SIGNS OF THAW

    But the military government has also offered concessions to the NLD. In October 2000 the government began secret talks with Suu Kyi aimed at finding a way out of the political stalemate that has gripped Myanmar for more than a decade. Since the talks began, around 200 political prisoners have been released.

    The government and NLD have also observed an informal truce -- the state-run media ceased their vitriolic attacks on Suu Kyi, while the NLD refrained from criticism of the government.

    The official independence day ceremony, at first light, was watched by thousands of Yangon residents. Against the backdrop of the Shwedagon pagoda -- a soaring golden spire that dominates the Yangon skyline -- dancers and marching bands put on a colourful parade before a solemn flag-raising ceremony.

    The NLD planned to hold its own low-key ceremony at its ramshackle central Yangon headquarters later in the day. The NLD won Myanmar's last democratic election, in 1990, by a landslide. But the military government has never recognised the result, and says the country could disintegrate into anarchy if it moves towards democracy too quickly.

    (With additional reporting by Andrew Marshall in Bangkok)

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    Myanmar opposition urges democracy, release of Suu Kyi

    Reuters

    YANGON, Jan. 3 ó Myanmar's opposition on Friday demanded a rapid transition to democracy and the release of Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi, in its most strongly worded statement since talks with the military regime began in 2000.

    At a ceremony marking Myanmar's independence day, the National League for Democracy (NLD) issued a list of seven demands, urging the creation of a democratic state and the unconditional release of all political prisoners, including Suu Kyi, who has been under house arrest since September 2000.

    ''We would like to urge the government to sincerely and speedily foster...the emergence of a democratic nation through politically meaningful talks,'' NLD Vice Chairman U Tin Oo told the gathering, reading the party's independence day declaration.

    The ceremony at the NLD's ramshackle headquarters in central Yangon, attended by some 500 people including several foreign diplomats, marked a change in tone by the NLD. The military government and NLD have been observing an informal truce since confidential talks on breaking the country's political deadlock began in October 2000.

    The state-run media ceased their vitriolic attacks on Suu Kyi, while the NLD refrained from criticising the military. The NLD won Myanmar's last democratic elections, in 1990, by a landslide, but has never been allowed to govern. The government says that if the country tries to move towards democracy too fast it could descend into anarchy.

    PATIENCE RUNNING OUT

    Diplomats have warned that unless the talks between Suu Kyi and the military produce concrete results soon, pro-democracy activists and Myanmar's many ethnic groups will lose patience.

    They say the release of Suu Kyi is also a key prerequisite for further political progress. Some diplomats had speculated that after more than a year of tentative bridge-building between the military and NLD, the government might mark independence day by releasing more political prisoners, possibly including Suu Kyi.

    But government officials told journalists not to expect anything unusual on Friday, and diplomats told Reuters that while more NLD prisoners could be freed over the weekend, it seemed unlikely restrictions on Suu Kyi would be lifted.

    ''We may well see more prisoners being released and of course that would be welcome,'' a Western diplomat told Reuters. ''But until Suu Kyi is freed, how seriously can we take any political dialogue? I think they will have to lift the restrictions this year, but it seems it won't be today.''

    Some 200 prisoners have already been released since the talks began. The NLD says more than 800 of its members remain in jail. Suu Kyi has been confined to her lakeside Yangon residence since September 2000, after a series of high-profile confrontations with the government over her attempts to travel outside the capital. Her detention has been widely condemned by the international community.

    The military says its talks with Suu Kyi are still at the confidence-building stage. But U Tin Oo told the NLD gathering that the dialogue had to be upgraded as soon as possible to ''round-table talks with political substance.''

    Earlier on Friday, thousands of people turned out to watch the government's official independence day ceremony at dawn. Against the backdrop of the Shwedagon pagoda -- a soaring golden spire that dominates the Yangon skyline -- dancers and marching bands put on a colourful parade before a solemn flag-raising ceremony. (With additional reporting by Andrew Marshall in Bangkok)

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    Burma's opposition breaks silence

    BBC

    Burma's pro-democracy movement has issued its most strongly-worded criticism of the military government since secret talks began between the two sides more than a year ago. The National League for Democracy (NLD) used the occasion of the national Independence Day celebrations to demand a speedy transition to democracy and the release of its leader, Nobel peace laureate Aung San Suu Kyi. Aung San Suu Kyi has been held under house arrest since September 2000 after confronting the authorities over restrictions on her movements.

    Burma's military leaders marked Independence Day by staging colourful ceremonies in Rangoon but failed to mention the pro-democracy movement or Aung San Suu Kyi. There had been speculation among the diplomatic community in the capital, Rangoon, that the authorities might take the opportunity to make a conciliatory gesture to the NLD.

    Over the last 14 months there has been hope of political progress as the two sides held a series of secret talks. During this period they have been observing an informal truce, with the state-run media halting their vitriolic attacks on Aung San Suu Kyi, while the NLD refrained from criticism of the government.

    The new NLD demands were made at a gathering of 500 supporters at the party's headquarters in Rangoon. "The country is facing political, economic and social hardship but we believe that that political problems could be resolved through political means," said NLD chairman Aung Shwe.

    Analysts said his comments reflected frustration over the slow progress of the talks. Although there have been few tangible results, about 200 political prisoners have been released and the government has allowed greater access to visiting United Nations envoys. But correspondents say government officials warned them not to expect anything unusual on Friday.

    Spectacle

    More than 10,000 people watched dancers and marching bands parade in the shadow of Rangoon's Shwedagon Pagoda. After a flag-raising ceremony they heard a message from the junta's leader General Than Shwe, which stressed the themes of national unity and patriotism.

    "National solidarity is important for Myanmar [Burma] which is home to various national races," the message said. "The main factor that forges national unity is the 'union spirit' which is based on patriotism."

    The NLD won elections held in May 1990, but the military junta failed to hand over power. Burma gained independence from Britain on 4 January 1948 after more than 120 years of colonial rule. The military has been in power since staging a coup in 1962.

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