Daily News- July 29- 2002- Monday

  • Brunei talks will thaw freeze
  • Shan women testify troops raped them

  • Brunei talks will thaw freeze

    Source : The Bangkok Post

    A long-awaited meeting between the Thai and Burmese foreign ministers in Brunei will give the governments a chance to end border tensions, a Burmese analyst said.

    Thai and Burmese foreign ministry officials are arranging talks for their ministers, Surakiart Sathirathai and Win Aung, on the sidelines of the Asean ministerial meeting opening today.

    The meeting is likely to take place tomorrow, in what will be the first diplomatic effort by Bangkok and Rangoon to put their relationship back on track.

    Chayachoke Chulasiriwongs, the Chulalongkorn University analyst on Burmese affairs, believes the meeting will help break the impasse. Other means of communication, particularly defence contacts, appeared to have shut down.

    ``The meeting will improve the situation,'' he said.

    Defence relations, once a channel to resolve conflicts, turned sour last month after the Thai military attacked Burma over the airwaves in retaliation for criticism of the monarchy by the state-controlled New Light of Myanmar newspaper in Rangoon.

    Thai authorities banned Ma Tin Win, a columnist of the Burmese daily newspaper. A few days later, Rangoon barred 15 Thai journalists from entering the country in apparent retaliation.

    The testy exchange took relations to their lowest point in years. ``Diplomacy is the only means left,'' Mr Chayachoke said. ``The Burmese government has lost trust in the Thai military.''

    The regime accused Thai armed forces of aiding Shan rebels fighting government forces in northern Burma near the Thai border.

    Thai military chiefs denied it, and added they were unhappy about Rangoon's continued reluctance to crack down on the Wa ethnic group, which has smuggled millions of methamphetamine tablets into Thai territory.

    Mr Chayachoke said the meeting could clear the way for Thai and Burmese leaders to sit down together when other problems arose.

    At the very least it could prompt a revival of interest in both capitals in convening meetings at the local level to sort out conflicts.

    Local committees are the traditional mechanism for sorting out such disputes.

    Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra has insisted on diplomacy as his favourite tool to put an end to the wrangling with Burma.

    Two months ago Rangoon shut down the main trade outlets between the countries in Chiang Rai's Mae Sai, Tak's Mae Sot and Ranong's Kawthaung. Traders said billions of baht in exports had been lost.

    But Mr Chayachoke expected no immediate re-opening of the border after the meeting in Banda Seri Begawan, Brunei's capital, the venue for this year's Asean ministerial gathering.

    The ministers missed a chance to meet last month when Burma decided not to join Thailand and other Asian countries in Cha-am, Phetchaburi's seaside district, to launch the Asia Co-operation Dialogue forum.

    Thailand and Burma are members of Asean, which also groups Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore and Vietnam.

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    Shan women testify troops raped them

    Source : The Bangkok Post

    Frail and pale, Naang Oun, 17, speaks in a voice no louder than a whisper.

    Recounting how she was brutally raped by a gang of Burmese soldiers last month, the teenager lifted the veil of silence that traditionally cloaks sexual attacks by the Burmese against minority groups.

    Eleven Shan girls and women, all of whom say they were raped, recently slipped into Thailand to tell their story. They came amid an escalation of fighting between the Shan State Army and the Burmese junta troops.

    They were granted asylum after getting help from an NGO. Speaking from a village in Thailand's northernmost province, they agreed to an interview on the basis that their real names and location are not revealed. The women still have relatives stranded in the Shan state.

    Talking to the Bangkok Post, Naang Oun evidently struggled with powerful feelings of shame. Rape is probably the worst offence to commit against Shan women, whose tradition puts stress on female chastity.

    ``It was during the twilight. I was on my way to fetch water when a patrol approached me,'' Naang Oun said through an interpreter. ``Then three of them grabbed me, cast aside my bucket, and pushed me into a bush.

    ``I was kicked and slapped. They took turns [assaulting me] and took off after they had finished,'' she said, her body turning rigid as she recalled the ordeal.

    The Shan women who accompanied Naang Oun said the teenager, once bright and talkative, had said little since last month's attack.

    Naang Oun is not alone. All 11 victims _ one of whom was 12 when the rape took place _ show signs of suffering from severe trauma. The youngest child, now 13, smiled from time to time, but it was the smile of someone who had lost her senses.

    Last year, the girl, Jung, was tending to her family's rice barn when a group of Burmese soldiers raided it. They hit her on the head with their rifles, and a scar is still evident on her forehead.

    Jung's mother, 37, came to her child's rescue. She was raped as well.

    This family is no stranger to tragedy. Two years ago, Jung's eldest brother was assaulted by Burmese patrollers. ``They tied him to a tree, stabbed him through his heart with a knife, and took all his clothes,'' said Jung's mother.

    A few months later, the head of the family died of heart failure, a broken man after the untimely death of his eldest child.

    The Burmese military has faced many such allegations in the past, particularly of sexual violence against ethnic minority women. Most victims live in the shadows of fear and shame.

    Two NGOs, the Shan Human Rights Foundation and the Shan Women's Action Network, surveyed the problem in May. Called ``Licence to Rape'', the report documents 173 incidents, involving 625 girls and women, that took place between 1996 and 2001. The US Department of State said it was ``appalled'' and urged Burma to investigate. The ruling junta, State Peace and Development Council, dismissed the report as ``unverified testimonies of so-called victims''.

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