The "Intelligence" column report from the Far Eastern Economic Review of July 11 that claims three US soldiers were wounded during a clash along the Thai- Burmese border has caused much bewilderment among Thai forces and members of the Shan State Army.No details were given by the weekly magazine other than to say the incident took place just inside Burma opposite Mae Fa Luang in Chiang Rai, where the SSA has several military outposts and a major command at Koh Hom.
The magazine quoted an unidentified diplomat as saying: "US servicemen were so close to the action during recent border clashes that three of them were wounded at Mae Fa Luang in northern Thailand." Thai troops posted to the border district were amazed when they were asked to clarify the FEER story.
"That report might stem from the magazine's own illusion," said one mid-level officer with the northern 3rd Army. "How could they write such an unfounded story that could cause wide confusion?" The officer said US forces were not involved in the Surasi 143 military exercise held near the border in May.
Jao Gorn Juen, commander of the SSA's Chiang Toong unit, also said he was surprised by the report and did not think it could possibly be true.Jao Gorn Juen's troops have been fighting a combined Burmese-Wa force since last month which has been trying to dislodge the SSA from its bases at Koh Muang, Koh Wan, Koh Fah and Koh Hom."It would be good if they [the US troops] helped us fight the junta," said Jao Gorn Juen jokingly at the weekend from his stronghold at Koh Hom.
Another Thai army officer said the linking of US servicemen to the Surasi 143 military exercise was not completely out of the blue as there had been reports in the local press tying the US to the recent border tensions.He claimed there were calculated moves among some sectors to blame the US for the present strained relations between Thailand and Burma.
Maj-Gen Trairong Intaratat, an adviser to the prime minister on special affairs, warned recently in an article in a Thai weekly that there were attempts by "a third party" to undermine ties between Thailand and Burma.The former classmate of Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra wrote that "the third party was behind moves to incite a confrontation and tensions along the Thai-Burma border and didn't want to see improved ties between our two countries".
Burma's military junta, nor surprisingly given its penchant for the melodramatic, made much of the FEER report at a press conference in Rangoon, claiming the three US servicemen were wounded while accompanying Thai troops helping the SSA against Burmese forces.The junta mouthpiece the New Light of Myanmar, meanwhile, is continuing its press attacks on the Thai army which began after a fierce clash along the border beside Chiang Mai's Wiang Haeng on May 20.Rangoon suffered heavy losses during the clash and has since accused the Thai army of giving military support to the SSA. The Thai army denies this, but Rangoon responded by closing all border checkpoints on May 22.
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Burma Thanks Human-Rights Critics
Source : Far Eastern Economic Review
Rangoon's military rulers, who normally denounce human-rights groups every time they issue a report criticizing abuses in Burma, have praised United States-based Human Rights Watch for its recent report, "Crackdown on Burmese Muslims."
In the July 18 report, Human Rights Watch described several attacks on Muslims in May and September last year, including one north of Rangoon in which Buddhist monks led an attack against Muslim mosques, shops and homes, killing nine people. The report also said that the government imposed travel restrictions against Muslims in 2001 that have sharply limited the number of Muslim pilgrims allowed to travel to Mecca.
In a statement on July 20, the government complimented Human Rights Watch for its "interest and concern on the rights of Muslims." The junta then downplayed the events, saying that "isolated cases of minor disagreement happen sometimes" and that it has managed to prevent religious incidents "from flaring out of control."
What prompted the gentler tone? It might be that United Nations special envoy Razali Ismail, who helped negotiate the release of democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi earlier this year, is due to arrive in Rangoon on August 2 for his eighth visit. It might also have been prompted by advice from DCI Associates, the U.S. lobbying firm that Rangoon hired in April for $450,000 a year to help push for improved relations between the U.S. and Burma.
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