Daily News- July 01- 2002- Monday

  • Myanmar Opposition Leader Returns
  • Rangoon ends fight against Shan rebels
  • ILO delays appointment of liaison officer by at least a month
  • Political struggle in Burma is now waged with smiles

  • Myanmar Opposition Leader Returns

    YANGON, Myanmar (AP) - Myanmar opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi returned Sunday night from her first political trip outside the capital since her release from house arrest last month, the spokesman for her political party said.Her trip to Mandalay, Myanmar's second city, 350 miles north of Yangon, was ``successful,'' said National League for Democracy spokesman U Lwin.

    Since her release from house arrest on May 6 this year, Suu Kyi had visited various offices of her NLD party in the greater Yangon area.She left her lakeside home in the capital, Yangon, on June 22, stopping overnight at several points along the way to Mandalay. One stop was at the town of Natmauk, birthplace of Suu Kyi's father and Myanmar's independence hero Gen. Aung San.

    When Suu Kyi last attempted to travel to Mandalay in September 2000 she was stopped and put under house arrest. The ruling junta had previously kept Suu Kyi under house arrest from 1989 to 1995.She made many stops on her most recent journey, primarily to visit local party offices.

    Party leaders said last week they were very pleased with the large crowds which turned out to greet her at her stops. They also expressed pleasure that Suu Kyi was invited to a government dam project, where she was treated as an honored guest.

    News of her trip traveled primarily by word of mouth, as the official state media doesn't report on her activities. However, some people watch satellite television or hear the news from shortwave radio stations such as the BBC or Voice of America.

    Since October 2000, even while holding her under house arrest, the junta has been holding reconciliation talks with Suu Kyi, winner of the 1991 Nobel Peace Prize.The talks and her release have raised hopes that the junta will allow the return of democracy to the country, which the military has ruled since 1962.

    The current group of generals came to power in 1988 after crushing pro-democracy demonstrations. The junta called elections in 1990, which Suu Kyi's party won overwhelmingly. But the generals refused to hand over power, and have said that letting in democracy too quickly would disintegrate the ethnically diverse country, which is also known as Burma.

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    Rangoon ends fight against Shan rebels

    The Bangkokpost

    Wa forces fighting Shan State Army rebels in an area opposite Mae Fa Luang started to withdraw yesterday, a military source said.It was not clear why, though Col Yawd Serk, the SSA leader, believed Burma was withdrawing its troops because the offensive has not worked.

    Burmese commanders met at the Triangle Force headquarters in Keng Tung yesterday. ``Burma sent Wa soldiers to fight us, but they could not do anything to us. We also do not want to fight the Wa soldiers because they are fellow tribespeople in Shan state,'' the SSA leader said.

    More than 2,000 Burmese and Wa soldiers were deployed in Soi Sikhiew and Doi Kaw Muang areas opposite Chiang Rai's Mae Fa Luang for the offensive.

    Army chief Gen Surayud Chulanont, who visited the border, was briefed by Lt- Col Apisit Nuchbusaba, commander of the 241st Cavalry Battalion of the 4th Cavalry Regiment.Wa soldiers who crossed the border to Ban Poona last Thursday had been pushed out of Thai territory, he was told.

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    ILO delays appointment of liaison officer by at least a month

    YANGON, June 30 (AFP) - The International Labour Organisation (ILO) has delayed the appointment of its permanent liaison officer in Myanmar by at least one month, a report here said.

    The ILO interim liaison officer in Myanmar, Leon de Riedmatten, whose mandate was extended for another month in mid-June, told the Myanmar Times that the deferral was to ensure the most suitable person is chosen for the position.

    "It is not an easy job," de Riedmatten was quoted as saying by the weekly newspaper in its edition to be published Monday.

    The ILO's governing body in March endorsed an understanding between the military junta in Myanmar and the ILO for a liaison officer, charged with helping to stop the use of forced labour in Myanmar, to be appointed no later than June, pending the establishment of a full ILO presence.

    De Riedmatten was appointed as interim liaison officer in May this year and tasked to prepare the way for a future ILO officer.He told the paper that the person appointed would have to be strong enough to deal with the "negative reactions" that could arise at international labour meetings.The ILO was considering a number of candidates, he added, but declined to comment further.

    The name of the liaison officer was due to have been announced at ILO's annual conference, which ended on June 20, the report said.

    Myanmar's military rulers have come under fire from western governments for failing to curb forced labour, a form of slavery now mostly used by military units working on the unstable borders of the country.The International Confederation of Free Trade Unions has branded Myanmar "the biggest labour camp in the world".The ILO issued an unprecedented censure of the country in 2000 over its failure to curb the practice, paving the way for further sanctions from its members that threatened to cripple the country's already precarious economy.Faced with the threat, the Myanmar junta issued a decree banning forced labour and allowed ILO missions to visit the country.

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    Political struggle in Burma is now waged with smiles

    BANGKOK (Reuters) - The last time Burma opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi tried to travel from Rangoon to Mandalay, the ruling junta sent armed police to block her, jailed dozens of her supporters and locked her up in house arrest.

    The result -- an international outcry that worsened Burma's isolation and pushed its tottering economy closer to collapse.

    Last week, following her release from 19 months in house arrest, the 1991 Nobel Peace Prize winner tried once again to travel to Burma's second city.

    The junta's response showed how it has suspended efforts to persecute the pro-democracy leader and settled on a new tactic -- being nice to her.

    In stark contrast to the events of September 2000, Suu Kyi and her entourage were allowed to travel freely for more than a week on a leisurely trip to Mandalay and back, stopping at several smaller towns and even accepting government invitations to visit a new bridge and a hydroelectric plant.

    This time there was no international condemnation of the junta, no threats to step up sanctions which analysts say are the strongest weapon Suu Kyi has in her dealings with the military.

    By allowing Suu Kyi, 57, to travel freely, the junta has improved its image, analysts say, and at little cost. Her trip may have raised the morale of some of her supporters but it hardly shook the foundations of the junta's grip on power.

    "The government seems to have realised that the worse they treat her and the democracy movement, the more pressure and problems they will face," said a Western diplomat in Rangoon.


    Diplomats say the junta seems to have decided that Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy (NLD) is no longer a major threat to its iron rule of Burma.

    The party, which won Burma's last election in 1990 but has never been allowed to govern, has limited resources and the possibility of any mass uprising seems remote, analysts say.

    Many former NLD members resigned after years of persecution, and most are elderly.

    International sanctions are more pressing -- the country's economy has been moribund for decades but recent years have seen a worsening downward spiral of hyperinflation, currency collapse, trade deficits and shortages of key commodities.

    The junta is desperate to improve its international standing, mainly to get sanctions lifted, analysts say. It wants to give the impression it is serious about reaching an accommodation with Suu Kyi, even though many doubt whether it will ever allow real reform.

    The government began confidential talks with Suu Kyi in October 2000, but they have yet to go beyond "confidence building", officials say.

    The junta, which says moving too fast towards democracy could unleash anarchy, has not bothered to hold talks with Suu Kyi since her release from house arrest on May 6.

    So far, Suu Kyi has matched the junta's conciliatory tone. She has agreed not to resume the weekly anti-government speeches she used to hold at her residence and seems to be avoiding angering or embarrassing the government.

    Her visits to government construction projects during her trip to Mandalay were unprecedented.

    "It was more than a test of her freedom of movement. It was a test of the mutual confidence between Suu Kyi and the government, and they showed understanding and trust towards each other," said a veteran politician in Rangoon.

    "She did not over-exploit her popularity among the people, and on the other hand the military showed it can cooperate with her by inviting her to their project sites."


    But behind the public show of reconciliation, analysts say, the two sides are far apart and agreement seems unlikely.

    Many doubt the junta has any real intention of allowing a democratic government to take power.

    Burma is by no means the only dictatorial government in Asia, but it has been singled out for sanctions and criticism because of its treatment of Suu Kyi and her party.

    Suu Kyi faces the dilemma that she is most dangerous to the junta when she is being persecuted, as this keeps international attention on Myanmar and ensures sanctions stay in place.

    Trips like this month's visit to Mandalay are useful in drumming up support but analysts say the NLD poses no serious challenge to the junta's rule of Burma.

    Suu Kyi has demanded substantive political negotiations before she reconsiders her influential position on sanctions.

    Sooner or later, if the government fails to talk to her, she is likely to harden her stance and resume criticism of the junta.

    Suu Kyi and her party may already have survived years of persecution by the junta, but their challenge now is to survive the threat of simply being ignored.

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