Daily News- July 31- 2002- Wednesday

  • Recipient says award is for Burmese folk
  • Envoy to Return: Emotions Mixed
  • Myanmar willing to negotiate with Karen rebels, but not Shan fighters
  • Myanmar defence museum spotlights army's sweeping control
  • 10,000 agreed damages for rights activist
  • Thai army confirms 12 Thais from Chiang Rai province detained in Burma
  • Rohingyas and Acehnese seek UN help for refugee status
  • EU envoy urges Myanmar to continue reforms, democratization
  • Myanmar releases 13 political prisoners
  • Burma's ethnic minorities under the spotlight as UN envoy visits


  • Recipient says award is for Burmese folk

    The Nation

    Burmese doctor Cynthia Maung, who has been named one of this year's Ramon Magsaysay Award winners for her medical work at the Thai border, has called on her compatriots to be "strong as our lady Aung San Suu Kyi".

    Maung and Philippine chief justice Hilario Davide, who presided over his country's first impeachment trial of a president, were among this year's winners of the Asian equivalent of the Nobel Prize.

    The other winners were Pakistani nun Ruth Pfau for public service; Nepalese journalist Bharat Koirala for journalism, literature, and creative communication arts; Korean Buddhist monk Sukho Choi for peace and international understanding; and Indian activist Sandeep Pandey for leadership.

    "I attribute the award to all Burmese people," said Muang, who won in the category of community leadership. "My message to them is they must be strong as our lady Aung San Suu Kyi."

    Maung, founder of the Mae Tao Clinic in the border town of Mae Sot, Thailand, was cited for her "fearless response to urgent medical needs of thousands of refugees and displaced persons along the Thailand-Burma border".

    The winners will each receive a medallion and cash prize of US$50,000 (Bt2.1 million) in a ceremony August 31 in Manila.

    Karen doctor cares for refugees

    The Bangkokpost
    Supamart Kasem

    Dr Cynthia Maung, winner of this year's Ramon Magsaysay Award in community leadership, says she will use the US$50,000 prize money to help displaced people along the Thai-Burmese border.

    Dr Cynthia, 43, who won the award for founding a clinic in Tak to treat refugees, said she did not consider the money as her personal reward, but would use it to extend help for the underprivileged along the border.She would continue serving needy people in border areas and would be willing to return to work in Burma once political problems in that country are cleared.

    ``I have received this honour because of support from all co-workers, especially Thailand, for allowing me to set up the clinic and work here. Without this hospitality, we could never have reached this point.

    ``Even if there is unity and democracy in Burma, I still would not wish to be a politician. My only hope is to work in a stable environment with acceptance from all parties. If I have a chance to return to Burma, I will work to help ill people there,'' Dr Cynthia said.

    The number of patients at Mae Tao Clinic, founded in 1989, had increased by 38% every year during 1996-1999. Malaria was common.

    In the past few years, the number of patients at the clinic had risen to between 27,000-28,000, with more cases of tuberculosis, Aids, drug addiction and mental disease. The clinic has also offered health care training for minority groups along the border, so they could help those living in border areas.

    International organisations and NGOs have given the clinic support in the form of doctors, volunteers, subsidies, medicine and medical kits, while Thai health agencies have provided it with technical assistance and patient transfers.

    Currently, Mae Tao Clinic is taking care of some 200 displaced orphans from Burma, and giving health care support to more than 700 displaced Burmese children in 16 child care centres in Tak's border districts.

    Dr Cynthia is a Karen. She was born in Moulmein on Dec 6, 1959 and graduated from Rangoon University's medical faculty in 1985.She opened a clinic in Bassein, Irrawaddy Division and moved to Eindu, Pa-an district in Karen state. The political situation in Burma in 1988 forced her to flee to Thailand along with other wanted activists. She is married and has two children _ a 10-year-old son and an 8-year-old daughter.

    To The Top

    Envoy to Return: Emotions Mixed

    By Htet Aung Kyaw
    the Irrawaddy

    July 30, 2002-Burma's main opposition group is hoping that UN special envoy to Burma Razali Ismail can coax the country's recalcitrant generals in to entering a more substantive dialogue, when he visits the military ruled state on Friday, according to the National League for Democracy's (NLD) main spokesperson.

    However, Burmese dissidents in exile said they question the sincerity of the generals regarding Burma's ongoing reconciliation process, and are not so optimistic that the retired Malaysian diplomat can bring about immediate change.

    "I expect [Razali] will stress two important points on this trip," NLD spokesperson U Lwin told the Oslo-based Democratic Voice of Burma (DVB). "First is the need to release all political prisoners, and second is the need to enter meaningful dialogue."

    The trip marks Razali's eighth to Burma since Kofi Annan appointed him in April 2000. Burmese opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi has credited Razali with helping to break the country's political impasse by brokering a series of secret talks between Suu Kyi and the regime over the last two years.

    Shortly after Razali completed his seventh trip in April, Suu Kyi was released from 19 months of house arrest. NLD members have noted that the party has made much progress since the release-including the reopening of party offices, the continued release of political prisoners as well as two significant political organizational trips made by Suu Kyi to Mandalay, Burma's second largest city, and another to the Mon State capital of Moulmein.

    U Lwin also told the DVB that now ''only about 300-members [of the party] are still in jail''.However, activists in exile and international right groups say it is imperative not to forget the other estimated 1,500-political prisoners, who are not NLD members, but also remain incarcerated for their political beliefs.

    ''Political prisoners are not just NLD members," says Bo Kyi, a former political prisoner now working with the Thailand-based Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (Burma) (AAPPB). "There are many students and youth still in jail. I can show you where they are being held."

    Bo Kyi added that if the regime was committed to the dialogue process, they would release all prisoners-including some of the more prominent prisoners such as Min Ko Naing and U Win Tin, both of who have been incarcerated for well over a decade. "I think [the regime] is just playing a game,'' he adds.

    Amnesty International also recently released a report on Burma, entitled: "Lack of Security in Counter-Insurgency Areas", which specifies areas in the country where the regime's armed forces continue to carry out attacks against civilians, mainly in the country's ethnic minority areas. The report states that ''extrajudicial executions, torture, forced labor, land confiscation, demands for money and food" remain commonplace.

    Meanwhile, ethnic leaders in Rangoon said they are still prohibited from publicly organizing their political parties, and that their constituents in the border areas continue to be attacked by the military.

    Htet Aung Kyaw is a correspondent for the Democratic Voice of Burma.

    To The Top

    Myanmar willing to negotiate with Karen rebels, but not Shan fighters

    YANGON, July 30 (AFP) - Myanmar's junta said Tuesday it was willing to negotiate a ceasefire with the rebel Karen National Union (KNU), but would only accept total surrender from the Shan State Army (SSA), another ethnic militia.Both insurgent groups have for decades been fighting an independence campaign against the military regime in Yangon.

    Deputy military intelligence chief Major-General Kyaw Win told reporters that the government acknowledged the KNU was fighting for the cause of the Karen minority.As such it was entitled to "exchange arms for peace", a phrase used by the military to describe what is in effect a ceasefire.

    "We are ready at any time to exchange arms for peace with the KNU, who have traditionally fought for the Karen cause, but the SURA (Shan United Revolutionary Army) are nothing but off-shoots of Khun Sa's drug army, and as such don't deserve anything," Kyaw Win said.

    Myanmar's government refers to the SSA as SURA, while Khun Sa was a notorious drug lord who surrendered to the regime in 1995, along with 15,000 of his followers.

    Kyaw Win said the military had only accepted unconditional surrender from Khun Sa's rebel army, who were obliged to give up their arms.But other ethnic groups fighting for their people have been allowed to exchange arms for peace.

    "Exchanging arms for peace is our standing policy when dealing with ethnic groups representing their own people and that is why we are leaving the peace-door open for the KNU," Kyaw Win said."When the time for a political solution arrives and (these groups) contemplate turning themselves into political parties under a new state constitution, they obviously wouldn't be able to keep their arms."

    The military estimates there are 7,000 rebels in the KNU, while the SSA is comprised of just 800 fighters.Another government spokesman also described Tuesday what he said were atrocities committed by the KNU and SSA in which hundreds of innocent people had died.

    "These two groups are both based inside Thailand and are being aided and abetted by that country," Colonel San Pwint said, repeating an oft-made claim -- rejected by Thailand -- that it provides military support to rebel groups."There are no more KNU or SURA bases inside our territory ... They are all on the other side in so-called refugee camps," he said, adding the military had therefore halted offensives against ethnic groups along the border.

    As of May 2000, over 122,000 ethnic Karen, Karenni and Mon refugees, who had fled Yangon's military government, lived in at least 17 camps in the Thai border provinces of Tak and Mae Hong Son.Myanmar has long claimed that rebels use the camps as bases from which to launch attacks against their troops.

    To The Top

    Myanmar defence museum spotlights army's sweeping control

    YANGON, July 30 (AFP) - The iron rule exerted by Myanmar's military regime has long been condemned by human rights groups and western governments.But in the country's defence museum, an eerily thorough testament to the dictum that might is right, the junta boasts openly about its control over every aspect of life in this isolated and desperate country.

    The little known museum, opened in 1995 in a tranquil Yangon neighbourhood, has all the elements one would expect of a temple to military power: the spit-polished weaponry and weather-beaten war planes, collections of objets de guerre, and tributes to military leaders old and new.But its director, Colonel Ye Htut, says it is more than just a repository of outdated guns and dreary exhibits on army and navy history.

    "One objective is to let young people fully appreciate how the ruling military, since taking over state powers in 1988, has practically worked miracles to successfully achieve overall development and bring about peace and stability through its national reconciliation efforts," Ye Htut said during a recent visit.

    The colonel's nationalist fervor is a perfect accompaniment to the museum itself, which aims to glorify the accomplishments of a million-strong military that came under fire from the outside world for its brutal suppression of pro-democracy demonstrations in 1988.Two years later the junta held nationwide elections, which were won in a landslide by the National League for Democracy (NLD), led by Aung San Suu Kyi, but the generals refused to recognise the results and stayed in power.

    The museum sidesteps such unpleasantries to focus on what it considers the positive aspects of a modern military dictatorship.

    Visitors are told how the army has built Myanmar's roads, laid its telecommunications grid, perfected its education and agriculture, supplied and staffed its hospitals, promoted religion and suppressed armed ethnic groups which have fought for decades against Yangon's rule.

    In numbing detail, exhibits show the army's control of the country's energy resources and timber industry, its transportation sector, and even traditional industries such as handicrafts and artwork.

    Walls are crowded with photographs of the country's military rulers in various poses, including Secretary One of the ruling State Peace and Development Council, Lieutenant General Khin Nyunt, inspecting a local poultry farm.

    "Proper evolution of the market-oriented economic system" is the title of one exhibit, a perverse twist given that Myanmar is hopelessly mired in poverty and corruption.

    "These military commanders are like governors here," said one foreign defence attache assigned to Yangon who has visited the museum, explaining that these leaders exert absolute rule over their regions.

    Scant attention, however, is given to the regime's efforts to stamp out narcotics production. That noble pursuit is commemorated in a vast new complex in a Yangon suburb, the Myanmar Drugs Elimination Museum.

    Both institutions are part of a museum-building trend in Myanmar, according to scholars associated with the Royal Anthropological Institute in London who say the junta has built more than two dozen new museums in recent years in order to enhance its prestige.

    The intention, wrote anthropology expert Gustaaf Houtman in the institute's journal, is also to compete with revered Buddhist pagodas which enjoy a loyal following among Myanmar's citizens.

    But on a recent visit, a lone reporter, a local family of four, and a trio of maroon-robed monks appeared to be the only visitors at the Defence Museum, despite the five kyat (less than a cent) entrance fee for Myanmar nationals.

    To The Top

    10,000 agreed damages for rights activist

    Ananova

    The Guardian is to pay 10,000 agreed damages to human rights activist James Mawdsley over an article which he claimed painted him as a hypocrite.Mr Mawdsley, had brought libel proceedings over an item published in the newspaper's Weekend magazine in June last year.Mr Justice Morland, in the High Court in London, ruled the article was false and defamatory.

    He said it was capable of bearing a meaning that Mr Mawdsley was a hypocrite who cared little for the effects of his activities on Burmese people or the cause for democracy in Burma, being more concerned to use his fame to build a career as a politician in the UK.

    Following on from an earlier successful application by the newspaper for the claim to be dealt with by the summary disposal procedure, where damages are capped at 10,000 maximum, the judge read out an agreed order.

    It said that The Guardian accepted that Mr Mawdsley had the greatest respect for the leadership and policies of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, the campaigner for Burmese democracy, and continued to work hard for the movement, lobbying and speaking at meetings here and abroad.It also accepted that the camp which Mr Mawdsley lived in was a rebel camp, not a refugee camp, which was near the border with Thailand but not located in Burma.

    The Guardian apologised to Mr Mawdsley, withdrew the allegation and regretted the inaccuracies in the article.It had agreed to pay him 10,000 in damages and 75% of his costs.

    Mr Mawdsley, who is currently in America, intends to donate the sum to the Metta Trust for Children's Education, which helps Burmese children.

    To The Top

    Thai army confirms 12 Thais from Chiang Rai province detained in Burma

    The Nation

    The Third Army Region yesterday confirmed that Burma had detained 12 Thais from Chiang Rai province on charges of spying and drug trafficking. Details have yet to be verified, said the region's commander, Lt-General Udomchai Ong- kasingh.

    "From what we learnt so far, the report that a group of 12 Thais were detained in Burma is true. Some are suspected of being spies while others are charged with being involved in drug trafficking," Udomchai said.

    Detainees are now in the Kientung province of Burma, he said, adding that the Army is verifying these reports. Earlier reports said that the group had sneaked onto Burmese soil from Chiang Rai's Mae Sai province.

    It is believed that Burma will detain the group for a number of days, and when suspicions are cleared, release and deport them, Udomchai said.The Army may resort to using its personal relationship with Burma to secure freedom for the Thais, he added.

    To The Top

    Rohingyas and Acehnese seek UN help for refugee status

    NEW STRAITS TIMES

    KUALA LUMPUR, Mon.-About 150 Rohingyas from Myanmar and Acehnese from Indonesia today congregated in front of the United Nations High Commission for Refugees in a bid to secure refugee status before the expiry of vje amnesty period.

    With just two days left before the amnesty period for illegal immigrants ends, they were seeking assistance against arrest under the strict immigration laws which will come into effect on Aug 1.

    The 100-odd Rohingyas, comprising men, women and children, arrived outside the UNHCR office at Jalan Bukit Petaling about 2.30pm and were later joined by about 50 Acehnese asylum seekers.A spokesman for the Rohingyas said they had come from all over Malaysia to plead for refugee status as they would be persecuted if sent back to their country.

    United Nations officials allowed the Rohingyas into the compound where they were interviewed individually before ushering in the group of Acehnese.

    Under the new provisions in the Immigration Act, illegal immigrants risked being whipped and fined a maximum of RM10,000 or a jail term not exceeding five years.

    The Rohingyas have asked the UNHCR for help, fearing that a return to their country could lead to persecution by the junta-led Government for ethnic and religious reasons.An estimated 10,000 Rohingyas are currently living here.Some 10,000 Acehnese are also said to be living in refugee-like circumstances in Malaysia. Most claim to be fleeing from torture and ill-treatment by the Indonesian military forces.

    On June 17, nine Rohingya Muslims climbed over the perimeter fence to seek help from UNHCR officials. A UNHCR officer said the nine entered the premises via a small hole between the front and second gate.The following day, nine more immigrants broke into the compound to demand refugee status. However, the 18 immigrants were later arrested by police after the UNHCR turned down their request.

    To The Top

    EU envoy urges Myanmar to continue reforms, democratization

    By JIM GOMEZ, Associated Press Writer

    BANDAR SERI BEGAWAN, Brunei - A top European Union envoy on Wednesday praised Myanmar's efforts at reform and dialogue with opposition leaders and urged the small Asian country to continue moving toward democracy.

    Javier Solana, the EU's high representative for foreign and security policy, said he would try to relay the message to Myanmar Foreign Minister Win Aung on the sidelines of the ASEAN Regional Forum, Asia's biggest security conference.

    "Things have moved in a very positive manner lately," Solana said. He said he hopes Myanmar will "continue the dialogue, continue the democratization, the reforms."

    Wing Aung said no meeting had been arranged between him and Solana or other Western leaders attending the forum. But he earlier had expressed readiness to defend Myanmar if Western countries raised the issue of human rights.

    European countries, among Myanmar's harshest critics, suspended ministerial talks with ASEAN for three years after the trading bloc admitted the military-run country, also known as Burma, as a member.Myanmar has been ostracized by much of the world since a bloody crackdown on pro-democracy protesters in 1988, followed by its refusal to honor the 1990 election victory of the opposition party led by Aung San Suu Kyi.

    The London-based human rights group Amnesty International noted several human rights improvements in Myanmar since the end of 2000 but said many impoverished villagers in its eastern regions still fear executions, torture, forced labor and land confiscation.More than 300 political prisoners have been released including Suu Kyi, freed from house arrest in May. Several international delegations have been permitted to visit the country, and the U.N. International Labor Organization was permitted to set up an office in Yangon, the capital.

    Early this month, the U.S. State Department said it was appalled by reports that Myanmar's soldiers systematically rape ethnic Shan women and girls while fighting rebels near the Thai border. The United States planned to raise the issue with Myanmar, which has denied the accusation in a letter to American officials.The claims, made in human rights reports, say that in some cases pregnant women were stabbed with bayonets and men were burned to death as they watched their daughters being raped.

    Win Aung disputed the allegations Tuesday, claiming the reports came from sources that "try to tarnish our image whenever possible" and that the army was highly disciplined."Action will be taken against those who are found to have committed such crimes," Win Aung said. "This is not policy. We would never dream of that."

    To The Top

    Myanmar releases 13 political prisoners

    YANGON, Myanmar (AP) _ Myanmar's military government said it released 13 political prisoners Wednesday, ahead of the expected visits next month by a special U.N. envoy and the Japanese foreign minister.

    The "13 individuals serving sentences for breach of law were released from various correctional facilities," a government statement said. "They are all in good health and reunited with their respective families."

    On Sunday, the government freed 32 political prisoners including 14 members of the opposition National League for Democracy party headed by Aung San Suu Kyi, the 1991 Nobel peace laureate. None of those released Wednesday were NLD members.

    The government has been regularly freeing political prisoners since early 2001 to show its good faith in reconciliation talks with Suu Kyi. Her party won a 1990 general election but was never allowed to take power.At least 297 NLD members and 41 non-members have been released since the start of the reconciliation talks. According to official figures, another 261 members of the opposition party remain in prison. It is not known how many other non-NLD political prisoners are in jail.

    The closed-door discussions began in October 2000 at the instigation of Razali Ismail, a special envoy of U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan. Razali, a Malaysian diplomat, will make his eighth visit to Myanmar on Aug. 2.Japanese Foreign Minister Yoriko Kawaguchi is expected to visit Myanmar on Aug. 3-5 when she will likely meet with Suu Kyi.Japan is Myanmar's biggest aid donor.

    The government statement said Yangon "will continue to release more individuals who will cause no harm to the community nor threaten the existing peace, stability and unity of the nation."

    Suu Kyi herself was freed from 19 months of house arrest on May 6, and since then has traveled to the northern city of Mandalay and southeastern city of Moulmein for political organizing, a freedom she was previously denied.Since her release, Suu Kyi has expressed disappointment with the slow pace of prisoner releases and also called for more substantive political negotiations, saying otherwise "hopes for any immediate changes will fade."

    To The Top

    Burma's ethnic minorities under the spotlight as UN envoy visits

    Source : AFP

    As UN envoy Razali Ismail prepares to make another visit to Burma, his first since Aung San Suu Kyi's release from house arrest in May, ethnic minority groups are hoping the diplomat will this time secure a breakthrough for their cause.

    Burma's minorities are not engaged in the national reconciliation talks between democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi and the ruling State Peace and Development Council (SPDC) which began in October 2000.

    Razali is credited with brokering the secret talks, which opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi says have moved beyond an initial "confidence-building" phase and are ready to broach the issue of democratic reform.

    But the minorities, who make up one third of the military-run country's population of 50 million, want their voices heard too.

    Pro-democracy parties representing all seven major ethnic groups have now assembled an informal coalition known as the United Nationalities Alliance (UNA).

    "Our objective in forming this alliance is to prepare for the eventual tripartite talks," says Khun Tun Oo, spokesman for the alliance and chairman of the Shan Nationalities League for Democracy (SNLD).

    "Considering the social, economic and political woes Myanmar is presently facing, not to mention the still-to-be-solved ethnic minority issue, the sooner tripartite talks start, the better."

    All the parties except the SNLD were deregistered after the 1990 elections, which Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy (NLD) won in a sweeping victory never recognised by the junta.

    The UNA is scheduled to meet with Razali on August 4, when it will ask him to help the parties win reinstatement, Khun Tun Oo says.

    "These parties must on their part try their best to get reinstated if they are to take advantage of the military's promise to give all political parties more freedom of movement in the future."

    Aung San Suu Kyi has acknowledged the need for minorities to be involved in drafting a future for the impoverished country.

    "The important thing is to bring them to the negotiating table for an amicable solution," she said several weeks after her release at an event attended by Shan, Mon, Chin, and Arakanese leaders.

    When the NLD leader visited Mon state last week, her first trip to a minority region since ending 19 months under detention, thousands turned up to support her wherever she appeared, attesting to her broad appeal.

    "So far we have complete confidence and trust in Aung San Suu Kyi herself and I hope she does not get side-tracked in this respect by others around her," Khun T Oo says.

    International rights groups are also calling on the SPDC and the democratic opposition to broaden their dialogue to include at minimum the concerns of ethnic minorities.

    In a July report, Human Rights Watch also urged Razali to take up the plight of the country's Muslim community during his visit, and detailed a spate of attacks on the community and the steady erosion of religious freedom.

    Problems facing other minorities were highlighted in two other reports by rights groups in recent weeks, including one which alleged the military systematically used rape as a weapon of war in southeastern Shan state.

    Amnesty International also accused Burma's military of carrying out a reign of terror in minority regions which has forced many to flee their homes for neighbouring Thailand.

    The regime has vehemently denied the allegations, and in a tartly worded statement this week said a smear campaign was being mounted ahead of Razali's eighth visit to Myanmar. "There has been a series of allegations thrown at the government of Myanmar recently for a) racial discrimination b) religious intolerance c) forced labour, torture, rape etc, just in time before Mr. Razali's visit to Myanmar," it said.

    "Let us wait and see what these elements will come up with next ... I believe while cooking allegations in a hurry they forgot to mention in their smear campaign list 'Myanmar's Secret Production of Weapons of Mass Destruction'."

    Ethnic insurgencies have plagued border areas since Burma gained independence from Britain in 1948. By the end of the 1990s, the junta had signed cease-fire accords with 17 ethnic groups, but some rebel armies continue to fight Rangoon's rule.

    The UNA believes it can bring even these disparate groups into the fold for talks.

    "We want to talk to the cease-fire groups as well as with the armed groups currently engaged in conflict with the government ... to seek common ground, a common policy and approach to the tripartite talks," Khun Tun Oo says.

    To The Top