Daily News- July 24- 2002- Wednesday

  • Myanmar's Suu Kyi ends 2nd political tour unhindered
  • Myanmar migrants find hardships, sometimes death

  • Myanmar's Suu Kyi ends 2nd political tour unhindered

    YANGON (Reuters) July 23 - Myanmar opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi returned home on Tuesday after a four-day trip outside the capital, her second since she was freed from house arrest this year and began rebuilding her pro-democracy party.

    Officials from her National League for Democracy (NLD) party called the trip a success, with thousands of supporters greeting her in southeastern Mon state unhindered by the ruling military.

    ''Aung San Suu Kyi returned back home safe and sound (in the capital) this evening. Her trip was very successful,'' a senior NLD official told Reuters on condition of anonymity.

    Suu Kyi, whose NLD won 1990 elections by a landslide but has been denied power by the powerful military, was in May released from 19 months of house arrest. Her latest road trip, which began on Saturday, is the second visit she has made to supporters outside Yangon to drum up support for her movement since then.

    Suu Kyi, 56, who won the 1991 Nobel Peace Prize and is the daughter of Myanmar independence hero General Aung San, traveled north to Mandalay last month. She has spent much of the past decade under hose arrest, the latest spell starting in September 2000, was prompted by several attempts to tour the country in spite of travel restrictions.

    NLD spokesman U Lwin said her trip to Mon state, including its capital Mawlamyaing about 187 miles (300 km) southeast of the capital, had included re-opening five NLD offices and she met the leaders of several ethnic minorities. ''She also visited two government project sites -- one bridge construction site and a dam,'' U Lwin told Reuters.

    Such visits to state projects are seen by political analysts as an effort to build trust with the military and paving the way for talks on the country's political future.

    Since her release, Suu Kyi has said she wants to start substantive talks with military leaders as soon as possible. Under international pressure, the government began talks with Suu Kyi in October 2000 aimed at breaking a political deadlock. But officials say the talks have yet to move beyond ''confidence building.''

    U.N. special envoy Razali Ismail is scheduled to visit the country on August 2. He was seen as instrumental to winning Suu Kyi's freedom to travel around the country. (Additional reporting by Dan Eaton in Bangkok)

    Seeking better life in Thailand, Myanmar migrants find hardships, sometimes death

    By DENIS D. GRAY, Associated Press Writer

    BANGKOK(AP) Thailand - A teenager dies after being doused with gasoline and set afire. The throats of 20 blindfolded people are slit. Thirteen others, including three children, are discovered in a waste dump after suffocating under a load of vegetables.The victims are among hundreds of thousands who have fled dire poverty or persecution in Myanmar, in hopes of better, safer lives in neighboring Thailand.

    Myanmar's economy is shattered and while many migrants improve their status, others face dismal working conditions, risk of deportation and violence at the hands of smugglers and employers.

    Relative to its neighbors in Southeast Asia "Laos, Cambodia and Myanmar, also known as Burma " the Thai economy is a labor-seeking powerhouse and a magnet for foreign workers. Widespread human rights abuses in military-ruled Myanmar add another incentive to head for Thailand.

    Trying to cope with the flood of Myanmar migrants, the Thai government has registered more than 400,000, allowing them to work while banning newcomers and warning that non-registered "illegals" could be arrested and deported.

    Recent tensions between the two countries have officially closed the frontier, but it is 2,090-kilometers (1,300 miles) long and extremely porous.

    Human Rights lawyer Somchai Homlaor, who estimates there are more than 250,000 illegal Myanmar workers in Thailand, said authorities on both sides of the border make money off the people trafficking, allowing it to continue despite the border closure.Sunai Phasuk, an expert in Thai-Myanmar relations, said many employers also do not register migrant workers because they want to save on the fees that must be paid to the government.Most of the migrants are employed in factories, farms, the fishing and construction industries or as domestic helpers. Some are lured or forced into the sex industry, vulnerable to the deadly HIV virus ( news - web sites) that causes AIDS ( news - web sites).

    A recent Amnesty International report said the vast majority of the migrants it interviewed were paid less than Thailand's minimum legal daily wage, which ranges from 133 to 168 baht (dlrs 3.30 to 4.20), depending on the region.Despite working extremely long hours, farm workers made as little as 50 baht (dlrs 1.25) a day. Their illegal status can also leave them at the mercy of abusive employers.

    "The Burmese do all the three Ds dirty, dangerous and difficult," the London- based human rights group quoted one Myanmar worker, who hauled rice in a mill, as saying.There are no figures on the number of migrants who die or are subjected to gross abuses. Rights workers suspect only a fraction of such cases are reported by officials or the media, and those reports are not seriously investigated by authorities.

    "There is no systematic protection for migrant workers and there is the issue of bias and prejudice by the Thai public in general and Thai officials in particular," Sunai said.

    One case did come to light in March after the bodies of 13 migrants were discovered in a waste dump. A smuggling gang admitted dumping the corpses after the migrants suffocated when packed under vegetables inside a truck.A month earlier, the bodies of 20 ethnic minority Karen from Myanmar were found along a human trafficking trail near the border, their throats slit. No arrests have been made, but there is speculation they were killed because they did not pay the smugglers.

    Migrants told Amnesty they paid agents between 4,500 and 10,000 baht (dlrs 112 and 250) to be transported from Myanmar to Thailand, with the smugglers clearing them through Myanmar and Thai checkpoints along the way.

    This month, 18-year-old Ba Suu died nine days after she was found on a roadside 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 kept her a virtual prisoner and accused her of stealing a gold necklace. When she denied the accusation, she said she was beaten up and taken away by two men who doused her with gasoline and set her on fire.

    "The case is just the tip of the iceberg. Human rights abuses of these underprivileged laborers are rampant," says Chalida Tajaroensuk of the Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development.

    But Thai government spokesman Yongyuth Thiyapairat said human rights groups are taking isolated cases and blowing them up into big issues."The government doesn't ignore the plight of even illegal workers who are abused and will take legal action against the culprits," he said.

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