Daily News- July 09- 2002- Tuesday

  • Human rights outcast Myanmar hosts child rights seminar
  • Sacred Buddha relics in Singapore
  • Myanmar junta releases 10 opposition NLD members
  • Myanmar says 275 from Suu Kyi's party in detention


  • Human rights outcast Myanmar hosts child rights seminar

    YANGON, July 8 (AFP) - Myanmar held an international seminar on children's rights Monday as tensions simmered between the ruling junta and Western governments over a report documenting systematic rape by Myanmar troops.

    The five-day seminar, sponsored by the Swiss-based International Institute for the Rights of the Child (IDE), is to examine ways to reduce suffering of the region's children and address the issue of inter-country adoption.

    In an opening speech, home minister and chairman of Myanmar's human rights committee, Colonel Tin Hlaing, said it aimed to "advance the rights of Myanmar children through discussions and exchanges based on Myanmar culture."Myanmar and international experts were to present papers during the Yangon forum, which is the second of its kind to be held here.Tin Hlaing said that for his country "it is important to become a democratic nation ... especially a well-ordered democratic nation."

    Myanmar has caught considerable flak from governments and international groups which rail against what they say are widespread rights violations by the junta.Amnesty International, in its annual report released May 28, said extrajudicial killings, political imprisonment and forced labour continued in the military-run state.

    More recently, Washington last week called on Myanmar to explain reports by two Shan groups that its troops raped ethnic minority girls and women, saying it was appalled that such tactics may have been used as a weapon of war and urging Yangon to punish those guilty of such "heinous crimes".The government said Friday the reports were a lie and had been invented for propaganda purposes by the rebel Shan State Army, an ethnic insurgent group that has fought a long battle against Yangon rule.The reports documented the sexual abuse of 625 girls and women in Shan state by Myanmar troops, mostly between 1996 and 2001.

    An IDE representative said that among the sponsors for the forum was US energy giant Unocal, which has been embroiled in a six-year lawsuit claiming the company was complicit in human rights abuses committed by the junta.

    The case, which a California judged has ruled will continue this September, claims Unocal was partly responsible for rights violations committed by the junta during construction of the Yadana pipeline commissioned with its joint venture partner, the Myanmar government.

    Leon de Riedmatten, representative of the International Human Rights Dialogue Centre which is involved in the seminar, described the seminar as "timely" given that Yangon was engaged in reconciliation talks with opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, who espouses greater human rights in the country.

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    Sacred Buddha relics in Singapore

    The Straits Times

    TWO Buddha tooth relics found in Myanmar are here in Singapore for the first time.Temple officials at the Golden Pagoda Temple in Tampines are thrilled to host two Buddha tooth relics found in Myanmar.They were given an elaborate welcome by devotees at the Golden Pagoda Temple in Tampines last Friday.

    One of the relics will make the temple its permanent home while the other will be returned to Myanmar.

    Temple officials are thrilled to host these relics, says temple head Venerable Shi Fazhoa. 'This marks a great turning point in Singapore's Buddhist history, as the presence of Buddha's tooth relics will definitely mean a great deal for the country in the Buddhist world.'

    According to Buddhist scriptures, Sakyamuni Buddha left 40 tooth relics to be worshipped by future generations.The tooth to be kept here was discovered in a collapsed pagoda in Myanmar in 1985, says Venerable Shi.

    Together with more than 300 other Buddhist artworks, statues and artefacts from 14 Asian countries, they will be displayed at an exhibition in Suntec City next month.The New Discoveries On The Threshold Of Enlightenment exhibition will be on at Suntec International Convention and Exhibition Centre (Hall 401) from Aug 2-4. Admission is free.

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    Myanmar junta releases 10 opposition NLD members

    YANGON, July 9 (AFP) - Myanmar's junta said Tuesday it had freed 10 jailed members of Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy (NLD), and that it intends to release more prisoners if they pose no threat to peace or stability.

    "This morning 10 NLD members were being released from various correctional facilities. They are all in good health and reunited with their respective families," the regime said in a statement.The 10 were identified as Htay Lwin, Hla Hla Win, Kyaw Kyaw, Ba Soe, Aung Kyaw Soe, Yar Tin, Min Aung, Tin Win Yee, Soe Naing, and Thant Sin.

    "The government of Myanmar intends to release more individuals who will cause no harm to the community nor threaten the existing peace, stability and unity of the nation," the statement added.

    The figure brings to 28 the number of NLD members freed by the junta since NLD leader Aung San Suu Kyi herself was released on May 6 from 19 months under house arrest.

    The statement said that a total of 283 NLD members had been released in recent months, and another 275 were still in detention.

    Since her release, the Nobel peace laureate has said her party's number one priority is to procure the release of all political prisoners.Around 1,500 political prisoners are held in Myanmar jails. Of the NLD prisoners, 17 were elected as members of parliament in a 1990 election that was swept by the NLD but never recognised by the regime.

    The junta has taken to announcing major developments, including a statement Monday on the NLD releases, through a Washington-based political lobbying firm it has engaged to address its rock-bottom standing in the US Congress.So far Washington has appeared unmoved, however, saying sanctions against Myanmar will remain in place until it makes genuine moves towards democracy.

    Myanmar says 275 from Suu Kyi's party in detention

    YANGON(Reuters) July 9 Myanmar's military government and the opposition National League for Democracy (NLD) said on Tuesday 275 NLD members were in detention in the country -- a number considerably lower than many previous estimates.Release of all political prisoners is a key demand of NLD leader Aung San Suu Kyi, who was freed from 19 months of house arrest in May.

    ''The government and NLD have reached an agreement on the number of NLD members still in detention,'' the government said in a statement. ''This agreement on the number of NLD detainees is important because of the wide range of variance in numbers being continuously reported by the media, and claimed by critics.''

    NLD Secretary U Lwin confirmed to Reuters that the figure was in line with his party's estimate, but added that a further 400 non-NLD ''security prisoners'' -- the term usually used for political prisoners -- were also in detention.

    The NLD won Myanmar's last election, in 1990, by a wide margin but the military refused to hand over power. Over the next decade hundreds of NLD members were imprisoned. But the junta began releasing prisoners after starting confidential talks with Suu Kyi in October 2000. The government said 10 NLD detainees had been freed on Tuesday, to leave 275 in detention.

    CONTROVERSY OVER NUMBERS

    Estimates of the number of political prisoners in Myanmar have varied widely. Some human rights groups have said there were still more than 1,000 political detainees, while Myanmar Home Minister Tin Hlaing said in May there were no political prisoners. He said while some 200 NLD members were in jail, they were common criminals rather than political prisoners. The junta said more NLD detainees would be released.

    ''This agreement on the exact number of NLD members still in detention is a result of the progress of the ongoing dialogue between the government and NLD,'' it said. ''The government of Myanmar intends to release more individuals who will cause no harm to the community nor threaten the existing peace, stability and unity of the nation.''

    The junta insists it is committed to building democracy in Myanmar but says moving too fast could unleash anarchy and cause the disintegration of the multi- ethnic country.

    Analysts say one of the main factors pushing the junta towards making concessions to the NLD is the grim state of the economy. Sanctions -- supported by Suu Kyi -- have pushed the tottering economy to the brink of collapse. Suu Kyi has said her position on sanctions is flexible but for the moment she still backs economic isolation of Myanmar. Diplomats say her power to influence the policy of Western nations towards Myanmar is one of her strongest bargaining chips in her talks with the junta. (Additional reporting by Andrew Marshall in Bangkok)

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