Daily News- July 26- 2002- Friday

  • Myanmar tries to shut out human rights criticism at ASEAN forum
  • Shan brace for Wa offensive
  • Press told to be critical
  • Myanmar says it won't derail ASEAN comment over political situation
  • Myanmar committed to building democratic state: newspaper
  • Japan seeks dialogue with Burma's democracy leader
  • Thai-Myanmar officials to meet soon

  • Myanmar tries to shut out human rights criticism at ASEAN forum

    BANDAR SERI BEGAWAN, July 25 (AFP) - Myanmar's military junta wants to prevent elaborate discussion of its human rights record at a regional meeting here amid expected criticism from the European Union and the United States, diplomats said Thursday.

    Foreign ministers of the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), including Myanmar, will hold their annual talks in Brunei next week followed by separate meetings with counterparts from the United States, the EU and other key trading partners.

    US Secretary of State Colin Powell has reportedly instructed his diplomats to express outrage at the meetings over claims that Myanmar troops have systematically raped girls and women in the eastern Shan state.

    However, Myanmar's junta is trying to hush up any criticism.The junta has particularly objected to a paragraph on "the reconciliation process" in Myanmar for inclusion in a joint communique to be released by the ASEAN ministers after their talks, a Western diplomat said.

    "Myanmar wanted it deleted but host Brunei felt strongly for the retention of the said paragraph," the diplomat told AFP.

    The paragraph was intended to welcome the May release from house arrest of democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi as part of the reconciliation process in Myanmar, officials drafting the communique said.

    "Myanmar perhaps felt it was not relevant for ASEAN to single out its political problem, especially going by ASEAN's unwritten policy of non-intervention in each other's domestic issues," an ASEAN official said.

    "Furthermore, any mention of Myanmar may open the floodgates for a no-holds barred discussion on the political and human rights situation there when ASEAN ministers meet their Western counterparts," the official said.

    Brunei has argued that the absence of a paragraph on Myanmar, following the political reforms seemingly taking shape there, might be "misinterpreted by the media," the Western diplomat said, without elaborating.ASEAN officials said Brunei was seeking reinstatement of the paragraph in the ministerial communique.

    "Myanmar may relent to a carefully-worded para on the political situation in that country," another official said. "I'm confident this will all be resolved in the ASEAN spirit of brotherhood."

    ASEAN officials stressed that Myanmar had made substantial progress on its human rights front since the end of 2000, notably the release of 300 political prisoners including opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi in May.But human rights' concerns reemerged when troops were recently accused of using systematic rape as a weapon of war against ethnic minority women in Shan.A report by the Shan Human Rights Foundation and Shan Women's Action Network documents the rapes of 625 girls and women in the state by Myanmar troops, mostly between 1996 and 2001.The junta vehemently denied the charges but the United States has expressed concern over the report and urged Yangon to fully investigate the claims.

    Powell, who will attend the ASEAN meetings, has instructed his diplomats to convey their outrage over the report, the Washington Post said."He should personally express the same outrage," it said.

    Aside from Brunei and Myanmar, ASEAN comprises Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.

    The political situation in Myanmar will also feature in the closing statement of the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF) -- a top security forum including among others the United States, Japan, the European Union, Russia and China -- to be presented to the ASEAN ministers, officials said.While hailing Aung San Suu Kyi's release as a key development, the statement will seek continued political reform in that country, officials said.

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    Shan brace for Wa offensive

    Subin Khuenkaew
    The Bangkokpost

    A fresh round of border fighting looks imminent as a deployment of Burmese and United Wa State Army (UWSA) troops prepare to renew an offensive against Shan military bases.

    Led by drug warlord Wei Hsieo-kang, the Wa forces were expected to launch a three-pronged attack on Koh Wan, Koh Hom and Koh Muang bases, said Jao Gorn Juen, Shan State Army (SSA) commander.There were an estimated 3,000 SSA fighters ready to defend the bases.Considered the strongest of the three, Koh Hom also houses a field hospital and a military academy.

    Burmese troops ceased their previous military operation with the United Wa State Army _ the region's biggest drug-trafficking force _ on June 28, after suffering heavily losses in attacks on Koh Muang and Koh Fah bases.

    An officer from the Saraburi-based 4th cavalry regiment estimated the casualty toll at 100-120, with about 80 wounded.``The SSA put up a tough fight and the Burmese suffered heavily,'' he said. ``Large-scale offensives are very tricky operations during the wet season.''

    The UWSA ranks were also diminished during cross-border operations near Mae Fah Luang's Ban Puna district.

    ``The Burmese could not break through our defences because our soldiers fought with their hearts and souls,'' Jao Gorn Juen said.The number of Burmese troops who took part in last month's assault against the SSA was the largest yet, he said.However, he remained confident his enemy would not achieve their objectives as long as they were unable to use Thai soil to launch attacks from the rear.

    Press told to be critical

    Wassana Nanuam
    The Bangkokpost

    Defence Minister Gen Chavalit Yongchaiyudh has called on the press to counter articles critical of the country published in the Burmese government mouthpiece.

    ``The New Light of Myanmar continues to carry attacks against us,'' he said. ``Instead of questioning me on what it says, the media should launch a counter-attack.'' Gen Chavalit said he was working on a plan to restore ties with Rangoon, but declined to elaborate.He did not expect upcoming border exercises by the Burmese military to pose a threat to national security.

    Meanwhile, Decha Sukharom of the House committee on foreign affairs said the closure of the entire length of the common border, a move ordered by Rangoon about two months ago, had mostly hit traders in Burma.He said prices of consumer goods on the Burmese side of the border had shot up as goods were being imported from Laos to fill the shortfall after the usual Thai source dried up.

    Relations with Burma sunk to a new low two months ago, when shells were fired across the border after fighting between Burmese troops and Shan rebels spilled onto Thai territory.Rangoon accused the government of backing the Shan State Army in a recent attack on an outpost at Ban Pachee, adjacent to Chiang Mai's Fang district.

    Trade and tourism has also suffered due to closure of the three major checkpoints _ the Mae Sai-Tachilek checkpoint in the north, the Mae Sot- Myawaddy checkpoint in the west, and the Ranong-Victoria Point checkpoint in the south.Border trade through the Mae Sai-Tachilek checkpoint averaged 20-30 million baht a day with another 20 million baht at the Mae Sot-Myawaddy crossing. A similar amount was lost at Ranong.

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    Myanmar says it won't derail ASEAN comment over political situation

    By JASBANT SINGH, Associated Press Writer

    BANDAR SERI BEGAWAN, Brunei - Myanmar said Friday that it won't try to block comment on its political situation ahead of Asia's largest annual security talks next week.

    The military government released opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi from house arrest in May after U.N.-backed mediation, but remains under Western pressure to move ahead more quickly to democratic rule.

    Senior diplomatic officials from Myanmar said they are concerned that a declaration adopted during next week's meeting of foreign ministers from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations reflect progress made toward political reconciliation.The declaration is expected to do that, but discussions could run into trouble if Myanmar feels it is being pushed to change faster than it wants.Still, Myanmar says it won't seek significant changes in the declaration.

    "We have never proposed any major changes," said Thaung Tun, director-general of Myanmar's Foreign Ministry. "I don't want to jump the gun, but basically we will go along with the ASEAN consensus.""I think they will acknowledge the achievements that we have made in the past year and they will encourage us to carry on with whatever we are doing," Thaung Tun said.

    The ASEAN ministers will meet before hosting their Regional Forum, which brings together their counterparts from a dozen other countries with strategic interests in the Asia-Pacific region, among them the United States, the European Union, China, India, Japan, both Koreas and Australia.

    The Southeast Asian group rejects interference in each other's internal affairs and has resisted Western pressure for sanctions on Myanmar, promoting dialogue with the ruling generals to bring about change.

    "We all support the Myanmar government in the national reconciliation process, which includes the release of Suu Kyi," said Tej Bunnag, permanent secretary of Thailand's Foreign Ministry. "Myanmar is already making good progress on the reconciliation process."

    The United States and European Union have shown wariness that the Myanmar government may stall on reforms after releasing Suu Kyi, who has been confined to her home or restricted in her movements for most of the past 14 years.

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    Myanmar committed to building democratic state: newspaper

    YANGON, July 26 (Xinhuanet) -- The Myanmar government is committed to building a democratic state and striving to attain the objective, pledged the state-run newspaper The New Light of Myanmar Friday.

    "The government is fully aware that if the new democratic state is weak and not strong enough, it may have to face the challenges from unscrupulous elements," the paper said in an article. The paper warned that many countries are eying Myanmar which enjoys a strategic geographical position at the junction of Southeast, Northeast and South Asia. Under the circumstances, it said, "there are some countries, which if possible, wish to tear away at least part of our country even if the situation does not permit to swallow the whole country."

    The paper also warned that there exist certain quarters in Myanmar who are inviting foreign nations to take a slice due to its past history of divide- and-rule policy exercised by the colonialists. Moreover, some other elements, instigated by many outside forces, are trying to disturb the ongoing process which is moving towards the direction of achieving the said objective, the paper added.

    The paper acknowledged that the underdeveloped economy and failure in eliminating poverty remain as one of the basic causes why democracy did not flourish in Myanmar in the past. The paper pledged to give priority to developing infrastructure,a pre-requisite for economic development.

    The paper admitted that in its economic development endeavors, the government has to face economic and investment sanctions, complaining that various opposition groups abroad are also attacking the dignity of the country by campaigning not to have commercial links with the country.Out of such hindrances, Myanmar's journey towards democracy is being delayed, the paper concluded.

    The Myanmar military took over the power of state in late 1988 and declared a multi-party democratic political system to pursue.

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    Japan seeks dialogue with Burma's democracy leader

    ABC Radio Australia News

    Japan's Foreign Minister, Yoriko Kawaguchi, says she will visit Burma early next month to meet leaders of the country's military junta and its pro-democracy movement.The trip, likely to be held from August the 3rd until the 5th, will be the first to the nation by a Japanese foreign minister since 1983.

    Ms Kawaguchi says she wants to meet pro-democracy leader and Nobel Peace Prize winner, Aung San Suu Kyi and officials from the government.

    The Foreign Minister says she would like to urge them not to let the democratisation process regress.

    She is due to visit Burma after attending an Association of Southeast Asian Nations security forum, which will be held next week in Brunei.

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    Thai-Myanmar officials to meet soon

    BANGKOK, July 26 (Xinhuanet) -- Myanmar and Thai officials are scheduled to meet soon to discuss ways to enhance bilateral cooperation, the Thai News Agency said Friday. Deputy Prime Minister and Defense Minister Chavalit Yongchaiyudh was quoted as saying that Thailand and Myanmar are close neighbouring countries, maintaining good relations for a long time. He said the discussion will help restore peace and order along the border.

    Earlier, Udomchai Ongkasing, commanding general of the Third Army Area Command, said that a positive change had taken place lately over situations along the Thai-Myanmar border. With the positive trend, he hoped relations between the two countries would improve though it would take some time to restore the sound bilateral relationship. Udomchai the Thai military would do the best to protect the country's sovereignty.

    The Thai-Myanmar relations have soured since clashes along the border in May, leading to Myanmar's closure of its border checkpoints with Thailand. Myanmar accused Thailand of supporting armed ethnic groups fighting against Myanmar government forces. Thailand has denied the accusation.

    Meanwhile, the House Committee on Commerce reported that Yangon's closure of its border checkpoints with Thailand over the past two months had caused business losses to both sides up to five billion baht (125 million U.S. dollars), as trade and tourism had come to a standstill.

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