Daily News- July 18- 2002- Thursday

  • Myanmar junta slams Amnesty report
  • Amnesty stages rally at Burmese embassy
  • Press freedom a casualty of Thailand-Myanmar row
  • Myanmar actively develops foreign relations
  • Myanmar to Export Large Volume of Teak to India
  • Myanmar catches over half million tons of marine products
  • Myanmar woman dies of burn injuries blamed on Thai employer
  • Nearly 4,000 illegal Myanmar workers return from Thailand

  • Myanmar junta slams Amnesty report

    By John Hail-UPI

    BANGKOK, Thailand, July 17 (UPI) -- Myanmar's military government on Wednesday dismissed Amnesty International's latest report on human rights violations in the country as "ridiculous accusations" based on disinformation spread by "ethnic terrorist groups."

    The rebuttal to Amnesty International came almost simultaneously with the release of the report. The document, based on interviews with about 100 migrants forced to flee to Thailand, alleged that members of Myanmar's ethnic minorities were routinely forced to work without pay under slave-like conditions by the armed forces of Myanmar, formerly known as Burma.

    "All of those interviewed said that they had left their homes because they could no longer survive, given the harsh political and economic conditions which confronted them there," said the report. "Reasons given for migration to Thailand included lack of work; continuous demands for money from the local military; forced labor, forcible relocation and land confiscation by the tatmadaw, or Myanmar military."

    Amnesty International also alleged that "civilians continue to be killed and tortured in counter-insurgency operations" against ethnic-based rebel forces.

    In its rebuttal, faxed to news organizations from Myanmar's Military Intelligence headquarters in Yangon (previously Rangoon), the junta said the allegations of human rights violations were "based on disinformation emanating from armed ethnic terrorist groups such as the Shan United Revolutionary Army, the Kayin National Union, Kayinni National Progressive Party and other anti-Yangon elements mostly based in Thailand or some places along the border with Thailand." "These groups are quite professional in carrying out disinformation campaigns against the government and managed not only to dupe Amnesty but many other (non-governmental organizations) and foreign governments as well," the Myanmar government statement said.

    The report did note what it called several "positive developments," including the release of more than 300 political prisoners and the initiation of a dialogue between the military junta and opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, whose party won 1990 elections that the junta subsequently refused to recognize.Nobel Peace Prize winner Suu Kyi, 56, was released from house arrest in May, leading to hopes of an easing of the hard-line policies of Myanmar's military government. Admittedly, this was her second release; she defied a travel restriction after the first 6-year confinement, according to junta leaders, and was arrested in 2000 when she venturing outside Yangon, Myanmar's capital previously known as Rangoon.

    Many observers have been encouraged however by recent changes within the military government, led by Senior Gen. Than Shwe. Seven top generals were sacked last year and 10 hard-line regional commanders were reassigned less powerful posts. Such men saw little need to compromise with Suu Kyi and were unconvinced Myanmar needed to engage the outside world.The junta has also permitted U.N. special envoys to the region Paulo Sergio Pinheiro and Tan Sri Razali Ismail to visit the country several times since last fall.

    Nevertheless, "human rights improvements in Yangon have not been matched in ethnic minority areas where insurgents are still fighting the central government," Amnesty said in its report. "Forced labor, extortion and land confiscation by the tatmadaw are continuing to have a grave impact on the lives of civilians."

    Since Sept. 11 the junta has tried to paint ethnic-based rebels that have been operating within the country's boundaries for decades as terrorists in an apparent attempt to isolate the insurgents from sympathetic foreign governments.

    "It is quite natural for these armed terrorist groups to come up with such ridiculous accusations in order for them to gain sympathy and financial support from NGOs and foreign governments," the junta statement said."Actually, these armed terrorist groups are like all other terrorist groups existing in the world today (and) will do anything and say anything to justify their illegal actions."

    Amnesty stages rally at Burmese embassy

    Bhanravee Tansubhapol
    The Bangkokpost

    Dozens of candles flickered in the evening breeze as Amnesty International supporters converged on the Burmese embassy last night demanding better protection for civilians in conflict zones in eastern Burma.

    No embassy officials ventured out to receive Amnesty International report, ``Burma: A lack of security in counter-insurgency areas''. Instead, a Special Branch officer guarding the premises accepted the document.

    Srirak Plipat, local director of Amnesty International, said he had telephoned the embassy to arrange for the handover of the report, but had received no reply.He urged Rangoon to stop abuses documented in the report, which also covered the plight of migrant workers of largely ethnic Burmese origin in Thailand, and human rights violations by armed ethnic groups.The sections concerning Thailand would be forwarded to the Interior Ministry.

    Mr Srirak warned of the potential for discrimination against migrants diagnosed with communicable diseases on their return to Burma, calling on Rangoon to ensure they received medical treatment, rather than punishment for leaving the country illegally.

    The demonstrators rallied behind a picture of Myo Min Zaw, a pro-democracy activist who was arrested in Rangoon in September 1998 and accused of provoking unrest.The protest was monitored by about 10 police, and a Special Branch officer armed with a video camera.

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    Press freedom a casualty of Thailand-Myanmar row

    BANGKOK, July 18 (AFP) - Press freedom in Myanmar and Thailand has become a casualty of a diplomatic brawl between the neighbouring nations that erupted earlier this year, two media rights group said Thursday.

    "Once again Burmese and Thai journalists are victims of the tensions between their respective governments," Reporters Sans Frontieres (Reporters Without Borders - RSF) general secretary Robert Menard said in a joint statement with the Burma Media Association (BMA).

    Thailand-Myanmar relations soured badly in May following clashes along the border when ethnic Shan rebels overran Myanmar military bases.A tit-for-tat series of bans began on June 28, when Thailand blacklisted Ma Tin Win, the author of a series of articles in Myanmar's official press accused of insulting Thailand's revered monarchy, and editor Maung Maung of the New Light of Myanmar.On July 12 Myanmar's military junta announced it had banned 15 Thai reporters from entering Myanmar on the grounds they wrote anti-government articles aimed at damaging bilateral ties.Then on July 16, Thailand's National Security Council (NSC) barred foreign journalists from visiting refugee camps along the Thai-Myanmar border, saying the region was "under martial law".

    "From now on, foreign journalists will be banned from visiting camps or controlled areas as they are likely to report only on negative aspects of official work or on inaccurate and unconfirmed reports," NSC chief Khachadpai Buruspatana said on Monday.

    The RSF and BMA statement also said Khing Maung Soe, a reporter at Radio Free Asia, was interrogated at the end of June in Thailand by police in the border region while he was investigating the rape of a Myanmar refugee committed by a Thai police officer.

    "The two organisations have asked the Thai and Burmese interior ministers, Purachai Piemsomboon and Colonel Tin Hlaing to ensure that the restrictions on journalists' work be removed as soon as possible," the statement said.

    The bans have added fuel to the row between the historic adversaries.After the two sides exchanged protests on May 20, Yangon slammed shut its checkpoints on the Thai border, banned visiting official delegations and launched a nationalistic tirade against Thailand in the state-run media.No talks have been scheduled to settle the spat.

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    Myanmar actively develops foreign relations

    by Duan Tingchang

    YANGON, July 18 (Xinhuanet) -- Since regaining independence from the British colonial rule in 1948, especially in recent years, Myanmar has actively developed its foreign relations, endeavoring to open up diplomatic space and has gained achievements to certainextent.

    According to the latest statistics published by its Foreign Ministry, Myanmar has so far established diplomatic relations with 84 countries in five continents of the world, setting up embassies in 30 countries including China, the United States, Britain, France, Russia, Germany, Japan, Brazil and South Africa.Besides, there are Myanmar permanent missions to the United Nations in New York and Geneva, and the country maintains consulates-general in China's Kunming and Hong Kong.

    At present, there are 27 countries having their embassies in Myanmar. In addition, China and Bangladesh respectively set up consulates-general in Myanmar's Mandalay and Rakhine state's Sittway.According to an agreement reached between Myanmar and India in January 2002, Myanmar will open its consulate-general in India's eastern city of Calcutta, while India will do the same in Myanmar's second largest city of Mandalay.

    In addition, six UN organizations also opened offices in Myanmar. They are the UNDP (UN Development Program), UNICEF (UN Children's Fund), FAO (Food and Agriculture Organization), WHO (World Health Organization), UNDCP (UN International Drug Control Program) and UNHCR (UN High Commissioner for Refugees).

    The biggest achievement made by Myanmar in its foreign relations and extension of its diplomatic space is that the country was admitted into the Association of Southeast Asian Nations on July 23, 1997 as well as the BIMST-EC (Bangladesh, India, Myanmar, Sri Lanka and Thailand-Economic Cooperation) on Dec. 22 the same year.Being a member of both the regional groupings, Myanmar has obtained much more cooperation opportunities compared with the past, thus raising its international popularity.

    The Myanmar government claims that its independent and active foreign policy is best suited to Myanmar in view of its special geographical position and its past experience in international relations.

    The fundamental principles Myanmar follows in its foreign relations are: to always seriously uphold the principle of equality between peoples and equality between states and the five principles of peaceful coexistence; to maintain friendly relationswith all nations and especially good neighborly relations with neighboring states; to undertake beneficial bilateral and multilateral cooperative ventures within the framework of the independent foreign policy; to actively work for world peace and security, against imperialism, colonialism and neo-colonialism, for non-interference, non-intervention and non-domination by one state in another state's affairs; and to accept assistance and aidoffered for national development and without strings attached.

    Myanmar's foreign policy possesses three major characteristics.Firstly, it attaches particular importance to Asian countries, especially neighboring ones. The name list of the 30 countries in the world where Myanmar has opened embassies shows that there are Myanmar embassies in 18 countries in Asia accounting for 60 percent of the total, 6 in Europe for 20 percent, 3 in America for 10 percent, 2 in Africa for 6.7 percent and 1 in Oceania for 3.3 percent.

    Secondly, it attaches importance to "big-nation diplomacy." Up to now, Myanmar has established diplomatic ties with all big nations in the world, setting up embassies there.

    Thirdly, Myanmar strictly maintains neutrality in internationalaffairs.

    Although Myanmar has made some achievements in diplomacy, it now still has many difficulties and challenges. Under the excuse of human rights and democracy, Western countries led by the UnitedStates are imposing severe economic sanctions on Myanmar. In addition, international financial institutions such as the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank have also terminated provision of loans to the country on this account.Myanmar still has a lot of work to do in opening up and extending its diplomatic space.

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    Myanmar to Export Large Volume of Teak to India

    YANGON, May 20 (Xinhuanet) -- Myanmar has made the biggest ever business deal with India on exporting 1,000 tons of its teak to that country, Myanmar Times reported in its latest issue.

    The teak export, valued at 1 million U.S. dollars, was agreed between the Myanmar Forestry Ministry and the Indo-Myanmar Chamber of Commerce and Industry last week when a delegation of the Indian organization visited Yangon.

    Timber, including teak and hardwood, is Myanmar's second largest export goods after agricultural products and the country's teak enjoys a good reputation in the world with about 85 percent of the teak in the world market produced in Myanmar.However, according to official statistics, Myanmar's export of teak in 2001 dropped slightly by 0.37 percent from 2000, amounting to 301,678 cubic meters, while that of hardwood during the year also reduced by 24.53 percent from the previous year, showing 372,994 cubic meters.During 2001, export earnings from teak and hardwood totaled 264.28 million dollars, taking up 11.5 percent of Myanmar's total exports.

    Other official statistics show that Myanmar produced about 200,000 tons of teak from its forests each year since the fiscal year 1997-98, down from about 400,000 tons in the 1970s.

    Myanmar's forest covers 50 percent of its total land area, registering 33 million hectares, 7 percent less than that in 1962.To overcome teak shortage, Myanmar launched a special plantation plan five years ago and has been able to grow more than 32,400 hectares of teak.Of the forest area, 18.6 percent is reserved and protected public forest. The number is being targeted to increase to 30 percent.

    Myanmar catches over half million tons of marine products

    YANGON, July 18 (Xinhuanet) -- Myanmar has caught only 590,000 tons of fish and prawn so far annually out of sustained yield along its over 2,800-kilometer-long coastline, the local Business Magazine reported in its latest issue.

    The maximum sustainable yield of marine products of the countryalong the coastline is 1.05 million tons per year, it said.Vast potential exists for shrimp and prawn culture in half a million hectares of swamps along its coastline, the magazine added.

    Myanmar is endowed with rich fishery resources and the fishery sector is the third productive mainstay of the country's economy after agriculture and forestry, contributing 7.3 percent to its gross domestic product and standing as the third largest dollar earner.

    Meanwhile, a three-year fishery development plan has been implemented by the government since 2000, aimed at encouraging thelocal private enterprises to engage in the sector by setting up fishery joint ventures with the government and foreign companies.

    Official statistics show that since Myanmar opened to foreign investment in late 1988, foreign companies have so far injected 197 million US dollars into the country's fishery sector.The statistics also reveal that in 2001, Myanmar exported 61,000 tons of fish and prawn, fetching 119.37 million dollars.The country's fishery export covers 49 countries and regions.The annual per capital consumption of fish and prawn of Myanmar people is about 20 kilograms.

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    Myanmar woman dies of burn injuries blamed on Thai employer

    BANGKOK (AP), Thailand - A Myanmar woman has died of burn injuries she suffered after being set on fire, allegedly as punishment for stealing from her Thai employer, police said Thursday.

    They said 18-year-old Ba Suu died in hospital Wednesday, nine days after she was found lying on a road by a passer-by in Uthai Thani province, 190 kilometers (120 miles) north of Bangkok.

    Ba Suu had told police that she worked as a maid at the house of a factory owner, who accused her of stealing a gold necklace. When she denied the accusations, she was beaten up and taken away by two men who doused her with gasoline and set her on fire.She suffered burns on more than half her body, including her chest, back and both arms.The culprits were still at large.

    Police Col. Prasert Kalarat, chief of Uthai Thani police station, told The Associated Press, that he referred the case to his counterpart in neighboring Lopburi province where Ba Suu was allegedly tortured and burned.Police say that because the woman was kept a virtual prisoner in the house, she was unable to tell police details about its location.

    Human rights groups say that about 200,000 people from Myanmar, also known as Burma, work illegally in Thailand as house servants or factory workers. They are often underpaid, exploited and abused.

    The Myanmar government has expressed outrage at the incident and asked Thailand for a full investigation. The Nation newspaper reported that the Myanmar Embassy in Bangkok will pay funeral expenses.

    Human rights activists also condemned Ba Suu's death."This case severely violates human rights ... the police must take tough action against the culprits," human rights lawyer Somchai Homlahor said.

    Nearly 4,000 illegal Myanmar workers return from Thailand

    YANGON, July 18 (Xinhuanet) -- Altogether 3,982 illegal Myanmar workers have returned to Myanmar from Thailand crossing border since February this year, according to the figures of the Myanmar Ministry of Home Affairs released on Thursday.

    The returnees, coming back up to July 17 through reception camps opened in the border town of Myawaddy by the Myanmar government, included 2,240 men, 1,546 women and 196 infants.

    In February this year, Myanmar formed a Leading Committee, headed by the first secretary of the State Peace and Development Council, Lieutenant-General Khin Nyunt, on receiving illegal Myanmar immigrants working in Thailand.

    In addition, a Myanmar-Thai Joint Task Force was also formed, led by Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs U Khin Maung Win on the Myanmar side and Permanent Secretary of Foreign Ministry Tej Bunnag on the Thai side. They first met in Yangon last February, the second in Phuket in March and the third in Myawaddy in April.

    It was reported that there are 140,000 Myanmar refugees and more than 400,000 Myanmar illegal immigrants in Thailand.

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