Daily News- July 17- 2002- Wednesday

  • Aung San Suu Kyi travels to two more Yangon townships
  • Aid workers caught in the crossfire
  • Amnesty accuses Myanmar army of terrorising ethnic minorities
  • Myanmar possesses large amount of oil, gas reserves
  • Bangladesh sees gain in Indo-Burma gas pipeline

  • Aung San Suu Kyi travels to two more Yangon townships

    YANGON, July 16 (AFP) - Myanmar pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi on Tuesday traveled to two townships in the capital's suburbs and called on supporters to increase their political awareness in order to build a "respectable" country.

    The Nobel peace laureate, freed by the ruling military junta in May after 19 months of house arrest, made an organisational trip to the northern townships of Mingalaon and Hlegu, members of her National League for Democracy (NLD) said.

    It was the first excursion she has made outside of downtown Yangon since her triumphant nine-day trip to the northern city of Mandalay and other destinations late last month.

    Accompanied by NLD deputy chairman U Tin Oo and other party officials, Aung San Suu Kyi met with NLD township committees where she gave pep talks to party members.She also took time out from meetings to offer words of encouragement to the 200 or so supporters who gathered at each location, an NLD source told AFP.

    Aung San Suu Kyi, who has been allowed to resume certain aspects of her political work as leader of Myanmar's democratic opposition, told supporters they needed to "understand the problems of your country," the source said."Only then will you be able to turn it into a respectable and dignified country standing tall in the midst of other nations of the world," the source quoted her as saying.

    She said a grasp of politics was vital to all citizens, not just the ruling elite."Even housewives faced with the daily chores of looking after the family must have political awareness," she said.

    The 57-year-old Aung San Suu Kyi rallied the nation a dozen years ago with a passionate democratic groundswell that alarmed Myanmar's military rulers.Her party won a sweeping election victory in 1990 but it was never honoured by the junta.The country's leaders and the army have been widely condemned on several fronts, particularly by Western governments who take them to task on human rights issues.

    "There can be no democracy in a country where basic human rights are lacking," Aung San Suu Kyi told supporters during one of her addresses Tuesday.She is expected to next travel outside Yangon later this month, to the delta region southwest of the capital, the NLD source said.

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    Aid workers caught in the crossfire

    By Mark Baker
    The Age

    Thailand has banned foreign aid workers and journalists from visiting areas along its border with Burma in an attempt to defuse a worsening diplomatic row between the uneasy neighbours.

    The unprecedented ban - which threatens seriously to disrupt foreign agencies assisting refugees in Thai border camps - follows signs that the Burmese army is preparing for a big battle against forces of the rebel Shan State Army deployed along the frontier.

    Thai military officials have reported that the Burmese army is bulldozing roads and moving heavy weapons and troops closer to the northern section of the border in preparation for a counter-offensive against the Shan, who overran several army outposts in May.

    National Security Council head, General Khachadpai Burusapatana, denied that the ban on non-government organisation workers and foreign journalists was designed to appease the military regime in Rangoon after months of reciprocal abuse and boycotts of local journalists. But he claimed that reporting by the foreign media on the activities of the rebels and on conditions in the refugee camps was adding to the friction in Thailand's relationship with Burma.

    "Those NGO workers and foreign correspondents who have been wandering around along the border have been banned," he said. "We will tell our soldiers and police in these areas to impose a total prohibition on them."Often many of these foreign correspondents have reported that we have mistreated refugees without cross-checking the facts. This order will be in line with the government's policy of not interfering with our neighbour's domestic affairs."

    The announcement has alarmed international agencies that support thousands of Shan, Karen and other ethnic minority refugees from Burma in camps on the Thai side of the border.

    "It's still not clear exactly what this means, but if they block all NGOs from the border camps it will have a big impact on relief work and health programs," said an official of an international agency.It is also unclear how Thailand will enforce the media ban, although access to sensitive sections of the frontier is already controlled by the military.

    Relations between Bangkok and Rangoon have worsened since May when, after several cross-border artillery exchanges, Thai troops pulled back from the frontier, enabling the Shan State Army to capture several Burmese military posts.Thailand is known to give clandestine backing to Shan and Karen rebels to counter the Rangoon-backed United Wa State Army, which controls much of the heroin and amphetamine trade in the "golden triangle" region straddling Burma, Thailand and Laos.

    The ban on foreign journalists visiting the border is the latest episode in a media proxy war between the Thais and the Burmese - whose animosity dates from the 18th century when Burmese invaders sacked the ancient Thai capital, Ayudhya.

    Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra has struggled in recent weeks to restrain the worsening war of words and dampen the more hawkish and belligerent instincts of his military commanders.Mr Thaksin said on Friday that he did not expect the relationship to deteriorate further and he believed the diplomatic ties remained fundamentally sound.

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    Amnesty accuses Myanmar army of terrorising ethnic minorities

    BANGKOK, July 17 (AFP) - Amnesty International Wednesday accused Myanmar's military regime of carrying out a reign of terror in ethnic minority regions, forcing many residents to flee their homes for neighbouring Thailand.

    The international watchdog said that while the human rights situation has improved in the capital Yangon over the last 18 months, civilians in regions where insurgents are fighting the junta face a struggle for survival.

    It said that Myanmar's army, known as the Tatmadaw, inflicts a campaign of forced labour, extortion and land confiscation on the Shan, Mon and Karen ethnic groups in eastern Myanmar, imperilling their subsistence lifestyles.And civilians accused of collaborating with the rebels, including the Shan State Army and the Karen National Union, continue to be killed and tortured.

    "The situation for civilians in the east of Myanmar is cause for grave concern," Amnesty said."The government needs to show it is serious about human rights improvements throughout the country by taking urgent steps to protect civilians from forced labour, extortion and land confiscation at the hands of its armed forces."

    In interviews with some 100 migrants, the report painted a dismal picture of life for the ethnic minorities, both in their homeland and in Thailand were they face many hardships as illegal workers.Many of the migrants interviewed said they were ordered to carry out forced labour for the army -- building roads and labouring in military camps or as porters for soldiers for weeks at a time.

    "One 66-year-old man reported that he had been forced to work intermittently for the Tatmadaw for the past 50 years, the last time in February this year," it said.

    Forced labour, a form of slavery, became a burning issue in Myanmar after the International Labor Organisation threatened to heap more sanctions on the junta if it did not take steps to stamp it out.

    Amnesty said that despite the regime's move to outlaw the practice, which soldiers argue is a vital part of carrying out operations in the troubled border regions, its orders are not always adhered to.

    "The Myanmar government needs to ensure that the order reaches all levels of the military. In addition they must inform villagers of their rights in languages they understand," it said.

    Amnesty also said the migrants reported facing constant demands for money and goods from soldiers, and heavy taxes on their rice crops which often meant they did not have enough to feed their families.Plantations were seized and farmers forced to move off their land and into townships to work for the army without pay.After deciding to flee to relatively safety in Thailand, they were at risk of falling prey to people traffickers who profit from the flight of civilians.

    "In February this year, Thai police found 20 bodies of Karen migrants near the border which were blindfolded, had their wrists tied and their throats cut, " the report said.

    Myanmar's treatment of ethnic minorities hit the headlines this month with the release of a report that accused its troops of using systematic rape as a weapon of war against women in eastern Shan state.The report prepared by the Shan Human Rights Foundation and Shan Women's Action Network documents the rapes of 625 girls and women in Shan state by Myanmar troops, mostly between 1996 and 2001.The ruling State Peace and Development Council has issued several vigorous denials of the accusations, saying Shan "terrorist groups" were deliberately concocting false news to discredit the military.The US State Department has said it raised its concerns over the allegations with the Yangon government."We are appalled by reports that the Burmese military is using rape as a weapon of war against civilian populations in Shan State," a spokeswoman said, using the country's former name.

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    Myanmar possesses large amount of oil, gas reserves

    YANGON, July 17 (Xinhuanet) -- Myanmar has a proven recoverable onshore crude oil reserve of 696 million barrels and natural gas reserve of 1.7 trillion cubic- feet (48,110 million cubic-meters), according to the latest issue of the Business Magazine.

    Meanwhile, the country's offshore gas reserve is 14 trillion cubic-feet (396,200 million cubic-meters), said the magazine published by the Myanmar Chambers of Commerce and Industry. However, it did not disclose the figures of the offshore oil reserve.

    According to official statistics, in 2001, Myanmar produced a total of some 4.7 million barrels of crude oil and 8,804.1 millioncubic-meters of natural gas, while it imported 217.55 million US dollars worth of crude oil, petrol and diesel to meet its domesticdemand. Of them, crude oil import accounted for about 5 million barrels.

    During 2001, the country exported 5,608.58 million cubic metersof natural gas, earning 523.13 million dollars.

    The statistics also show that foreign investment in Myanmar's oil and gas sector has reached 2.563 billion dollars since the country opened to such investment in late 1988. These investments include those under 34 contracts in exploringoil and gas at 47 inland blocks and 15 joint-venture contracts with the state-run oil and gas enterprise in the same undertaking at 25 offshore blocks at Mottama, Tanintharyi and Rakhine coastal areas.

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    Bangladesh sees gain in Indo-Burma gas pipeline

    DHAKA, July 17 (Reuters)- - Bangladesh, which is undecided over its own gas exports, said on Wednesday it might allow an Indo-Burma gas pipeline to run through its territory.

    Energy ministry officials said Bangladesh was studying the pipeline proposal, which could bring economic benefit for the country.

    They said a Bangladeshi company in a joint venture with foreign firms would lay the Bangladesh portion of the pipeline. The total project cost is estimated at $2.5 billion.

    "An expert committee will assess the viability of the pipeline project," State Minister for Energy Mosharraf Hossain told reporters.

    He said the pipeline proposal might bring Bangladesh a high level of foreign investment and revenue. Officials said the country could earn around $100 million revenue a year from the Burma-India pipeline project.

    Bangladesh is under pressure from foreign oil companies and international donors to export its own gas to India through a pipeline.

    It has been examining a proposal by U.S. oil company Unocal Corp to export gas through a 1,350 km (850 miles) pipeline to India. Unocal found huge gas reserves in the Bibiyana field in the northeast of Bangladesh, which it said might run up to 6.6 trillion cubic feet.

    These exports could boost the cash-starved country's foreign exchange earnings by $300 million a year.

    A national committee is assessing the country's gas reserves and export viability.

    A number of groups, including the main opposition Awami League led by former prime minister Sheikh Hasina, are against the export of Bangladeshi gas through the pipeline.

    They insist Bangladesh should not export gas unless it ensures its own adequate supply of gas for the next 50 years.

    A study, conducted in January by Bangladesh state-owned gas company Petrobangla, said Bangladesh had 16.1 trillion cubic feet (tcf) of recoverable natural gas reserves and proven and probable gas reserves of 28.8 tcf, which has been estimated at 42 tcf on the basis of 50 percent probability.

    This compares with a report by the U.S. Geological Survey which indicated Bangladesh could have 32.1 trillion cubic feet of gas reserves.

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