RECENT EVENTS have led some people to predict that one of the world's most repressive regimes may be growing a bit less so. The generals who rule, or misrule, the Southeast Asian nation of Burma, which they call Myanmar, released from house arrest the woman who should in fact be the nation's prime minister, Aung San Suu Kyi. They have allowed her to travel a bit, and they have released from unspeakable prisons a few of her supporters. Grounds for hope, you might think.
Then came release of a report, documented in horrifying detail, of how Burma's army uses rape as a weapon of war. The rapes take place as part of the junta's perpetual -- and, outside Burma, little-noticed -- war against ethnic nationalities, in this case in Shan state. The Shan Human Rights Foundation and Shan Women's Action Network documented 173 incidents involving 625 girls and women, some as young as five years old, taking place mostly between 1996 and 2001. Most of the rapes were perpetrated by officers, in front of their men, and with utmost brutality; one- quarter of the victims died.
What is telling is the response of the regime to the report. Rather than seeking to bring the criminals to justice, it has unleashed vitriol against the human rights organizations, accusing them of drug-running and the like. This is the junta's usual pattern, whenever it is found to be scraping the bottom of the morality barrel: child labor, forced labor, torture. It denies all and attacks the truth-tellers. Yet, over the years the evidence of barbarity has been so inescapable that even the junta's would-be friends have found it impossible to overlook it. Burma's leaders cannot bring the criminals to justice because they are the criminals.
Later this month Secretary of State Colin Powell will travel to the region for meetings with senior officials. Earlier this month he instructed his diplomats to express outrage over the reported use of rape as a tactic of war; he should personally express the same outrage. He also should make clear that Aung San Suu Kyi -- whose democratic party won an overwhelming victory in 1990 elections that the junta nullified -- should be permitted more room to maneuver: permission to publish a newspaper, for starters. The Burmese regime should not receive rewards for cosmetic liberalization.
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Myanmar's Suu Kyi wraps up second political tour
YANGON, July 23 (AFP) - Myanmar's democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi Tuesday wrapped up a trip to the southeastern state of Mon, her second political visit outside Yangon since her May release from house arrest, a senior party official said.
National League for Democracy (NLD) spokesman U Lwin told AFP that Aung San Suu Kyi left the Mon state capital of Mawlamyine early in the morning and crossed into Karen state where she visited several villages.
"Many people turned up to see her," said the spokesman, adding that she was expected in Yangon on Tuesday evening.Thousands of people have turned up to catch a glimpse of the charismatic leader throughout her four-day trip, demonstrating that her popularity has endured her 19-month period of house arrest.
"Many people in Mon state came to see her. They have been very much inspired by her visit," the spokesman said.The Nobel peace laureate met with elders from Mon state over a dinner Monday, and has met with various other ethnic minorities during her trip.
Observers have said that the inclusion of minorities in national reconciliation talks, which have been underway between Aung San Suu Kyi and the military regime since October 2000, would be a crucial step towards a peaceful and democratic Myanmar.
Mon state remains one of the most politically sensitive regions in the country, as splinter insurgent groups from the region wage sporadic attacks against the military government.
The military has provided discreet security along the trip, U Lwin said, and Aung San Suu Kyi has inspected several government projects in the state.Such coordination suggests relations are relatively cordial between the leader and the military regime, who Aung San Suu Kyi said had promised her full freedom to carry out political activities upon releasing her from house arrest.
Aung San Suu Kyi is scheduled to make stops at several towns on her way back to the capital where she will attend to party business, U Lwin said.This trip follows Aung San Suu Kyi's nine-day visit to the northern city of Mandalay and other destinations last month.The whirlwind tour was considered an unqualified success by both her own party and diplomats, who saw it as the first true test of her freedom.
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Myanmar invites foreign tenders to build chemical plant
YANGON, July 23 (Xinhuanet) -- Myanmar has invited tenders from foreign companies to build a chemical factory which will produce items to fill the future needs of soap and paper-making sectors.
According to the latest disclosure of the state-run Myanma Paper and Chemical Industries, the planned factory will be built at Sittoung area in Myanmar's southern Mon state. However, the cost of the factory is yet to be estimated.
The factory's daily output would include 60 tons of caustic soda, 50 tons of liquid chlorine and 40 tons of hydrochloric acid,said the enterprise under the Ministry of Industry No.1. The factory site is so chosen as it is accessible to abundant supplies of salt and limestone, which are the main raw materials required to manufacture the chemicals.
According to official statistics, Myanmar produced 53,174 tonsof soap and 20,239 tons of all sorts of paper in 2001. Of the three major state-owned paper plants in Myanmar under the ministry, the largest plant lies in Sittoung.
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Karen suspects in fatal shooting in Thailand ready to give up
BANGKOK, July 23 (AFP) - A group of ethnic Karens from Myanmar wanted in connection with a school bus shooting inside Thailand last month which left three teenagers dead are ready to surrender to authorities, a report said Tuesday.
A letter written in Karen and handed to reporters said seven men opened fire on the school bus on the morning of June 4 in an attempt to settle a business conflict with the bus driver, Thongmon Khemthong, the Nation newspaper reported.
Three schoolchildren were killed and 12 wounded in the attack in southwestern Thailand's Ratchaburi province, some 20 kilometres (13 miles) from the Thai-Myanmar border.The letter said the attack was led by a former captain in the Karen National Union (KNU), a rebel group fighting Myanmar's military junta, the paper reported.The men were angry with the driver because he had refused to pay more than 100,000 baht (2,469 dollars) he owed them for the purchase of forestry products, the letter reportedly said.
"We did not intend to attack the children ... We are so sorry to hear the children died in the incident," it said.
Interior Minister Purachai Piemsomboon told reporters Tuesday he had heard about the letter but not seen it himself."I've heard about the letter from the Ratchaburi governor but I don't know if it's real because I haven't seen it yet," he said.
Three of the group would surrender if their families were released from police or military custody, they were not executed, and the bus driver paid his debt, the letter said according to the report.The three-page letter was delivered to reporters by a messenger who said all the gunmen were former members of the KNU, the report said.The KNU denounced the attack and denied any role soon after it took place.
Various theories over the motive for the attack surfaced in its aftermath, including that the bus driver owed money to the gunmen.Several arrests have reportedly been made recently, but police have not released any details.
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