Daily News- June 1- 2002- Saturday

  • Myanmar media slams opposition over Thailand row
  • Rangoon steps up rhetoric
  • Second White Elephant Found

    Myanmar media slams opposition over Thailand row

    By Aung Hla Tun

    YANGON (Reuters) - Myanmar state media slammed the pro-democracy opposition on Saturday for failing to back the government in a row with Thailand, a sign a 20-month truce between the ruling generals and Aung San Suu Kyi might be over.

    With Myanmar and Thailand embroiled in a war of words over military skirmishes on their common border in the last week, each side accusing the other of backing rival drug-running forces, state media criticised the opposition's silence.

    "The entire people, especially the youth, became embittered and rankled by Thailand's encroachment on their sovereignty," an article in the Burmese-language newspaper Kyemon said.

    "However, a clear blank can be seen in the political arena of Myanmar. That is the group of the people who are shouting for democracy and human rights have not said anything or issued any statement about this matter. That is some food for thought." it said.

    The article was the first public attack on the opposition by the newspaper, considered the mouthpiece of the military government, since U.N.-brokered talks between the generals and opposition leader Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy (NLD) began in late 2000.

    The "confidence building" talks led to Suu Kyi's release from 19-months of house arrest early last month. The charismatic Nobel peace laureate and daughter of independence hero Aung San wants the talks to tackle the hard issues of political change in Myanmar, which has been ruled by the military for 40 years.

    But political observers said the two sides could lurch back into the uncompromising stances held for a decade after the military prevented the NLD taking power following a landslide victory in a 1990 election.

    "I think this article can mean a new beginning of attacks on each other between the (government) and the NLD if the two can't hold meaningful political dialogue soon," a retired veteran politician told Reuters.



    Myanmar state media also carried veiled government criticism of Thailand on Saturday, quoting a speech by powerful military intelligence chief Khin Nyunt.

    "In extending relations with the neighbouring nations, Myanmar has been strictly adhering to the...principles of peaceful co-existence to always maintain its good neighbourly practice," Khin Nyunt said.

    "If all neighbours of Myanmar respond with the same conviction and attitude, peace will prevail in the entire region. On the other hand, absence of such things and practice of one-sided efforts for self-interests will harm the regional peace and prosperity," he said.

    Tempers flared between the two countries this month when Thailand sent thousands of troops to the northern border with Myanmar. They were ostensibly there for exercises but military sources said the move was a prelude to an attack on the forces of the Golden Triangle's most notorious drug baron, Wei Hsueh-Kang.

    Wei commands a faction of the United Wa State Army (UWSA), an ethnic minority army which signed a ceasefire deal with the junta in 1989 and is widely believed to be the world's biggest narco-army.

    Myanmar denied it had ever given permission for Thailand to attack the Wa army and hinted it could take military action if diplomacy failed to resolve the row. Last week Thailand's government ordered its troops to withdraw, but sporadic clashes are still erupting along the border.

    Myanmar has accused the Thai army of backing ethnic minority Karen and Shan rebel groups.

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    Rangoon steps up rhetoric

    The Nation, Agencies

    Burma's state-controlled media stepped up its warlike rhetoric against Thailand yesterday, attacking the country's "insincere", "crafty" and "spiritually weak" people.

    In a concerted media campaign apparently aimed at punishing Thailand for a series of skirmishes and artillery exchanges along the common border, Rangoon newspapers began referring to the country as "Yodaya", a local corruption of Siam's former capital, Ayutthaya, which was sacked by the Burmese army in 1767.

    "When the Burmese government is mad at Thailand, they call it Yodaya," a Rangoon-based analyst said. "This has happened before."

    "Our forefathers never acknowledged Yodayas as their rivals who had military skills and military pride," an article said yesterday in the English-language New Light of Myanmar newspaper. "They did not think highly of the Yodayas. They regarded Yodayas as spiritually and physically weak and insincere people. Yes, they were."

    The article, written under the pseudonym "Kyaw Htin Nawrahta", which is the name of an ancient Burmese king, went on to describe various acts of treachery blamed on Thailand.

    "In the past, every time Burma was weak, Yodayas began to attack the remote areas to grab them easily," it said. "Thus, Burma had to march into Yodaya to attack and crush Ayutthaya. Now, let's see whether the description of Yodayas made by our forefathers is correct or not."

    The article concluded with a denunciation of Thailand's "bend with the wind" foreign policy, saying it was a lack of principles that kept the Kingdom from falling to communism or colonialism.

    Foreign Minister Surakiart Sathirathai downplayed an earlier verbal attack from Rangoon accusing the Thai leadership of telling "bare-face lies" about its relationships with insurgent groups sheltering on Thai soil.

    "It's hearsay. I have yet to see anything in writing," Surakiart said, adding that the report quoting Maj-General Kyaw Win could have been exaggerated by international news agencies in Rangoon.

    Speaking to reporters in Sydney while accompanying Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra on his state visit to Australia, Surakiart managed to squeeze out of commenting on a statement made by Kyaw Win. Burma's deputy intelligence chief had accused Thailand of supporting rebel armies, namely the Karen National Union and the Shan State Army (SSA).

    "We have solid proof that they have allowed the Sura [Shan United Revolutionary Army] to establish military bases inside Thailand and are giving them support, including recruitment and providing them with food supplies," Kyaw Win said. Sura is the name the Burmese government has tagged the SSA outfit.

    "For years they [Thailand] have provided both moral and material support to groups taking up arms against our government.

    "Now responsible leaders are denying such bases exist," he said. "This is tantamount to telling bare-faced lies."

    Kyaw Win produced area maps to pinpoint exact locations where Shan and Karen ethnic militias had set up camps within Thai territory.

    Ties between the two countries took a nosedive last week following border clashes between Thai soldiers and the pro-Rangoon United Wa State Army, suspected of involvement in the cross-border, illicit drug trade. Burma accused Thai troops of violating its sovereignty by attacking the Wa army.

    Defence Minister Chavalit Yongchaiyudh said he had proposed to Rangoon that he be allowed to meet with top Burmese officials in an effort to defuse the conflict.

    Rangoon responded by slapping a blanket visa ban on all Thai officials.

    Thaksin insisted on Wednesday that Thai-Burmese ties were in good shape, and Surakiart urged the militaries of both sides to hold talks as soon as possible.

    Kraisak Chonhavan, chairman of the Senate committee on foreign affairs, told reporters that the government could not deny that it was aware of the military exercise along the border.

    "The military exercise and the operation's Bt200-million budget has to get approval from the government. So Thaksin can't try to calm tensions by cancelling the exercise and saying he knew nothing about it," Kraisak said.

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    Second White Elephant Found

    By Ko Cho

    May 28, 2002(www.irrawaddy.org)—Another rare white elephant was captured in western Burma's Arakan State in January, according to reports yesterday from the country's state-run press. The capture marks the second white elephant found in the area in less than twelve months. According to wire reports, the most recent white elephant is twenty-five years old and has all the characteristics associated with white elephants—including pearl-colored eyes and light pink skin.

    White elephants have been seen as symbols of royalty, power and prosperity throughout Southeast Asia for hundreds of years. Burmese Kings felt an increased sense of power when they possessed a white elephant.

    As Burma becomes embroiled in another border dispute with Thailand some Burmese feel the regime is attempting to use the elephant as a display of its power.

    "[Burma's military government] showed the first white elephant last year during the border crisis with Thailand," says an editor from Rangoon. "They know the Thais love white elephants and that they respect people who possess them."

    Others feel the elephant is a pretext for war between the two countries, citing the story of King Bayin Naung, who ruled Burma from 1550-1581. The former king sent a request to the King of Siam asking for one of the king's white elephants, according to Shway Yoe’s book "The Burman", which was first printed in 1882. After the King of Siam refused Bayin Naung requests, Bayin Naung reportedly waited for an opportunity to break off diplomatic relations before invading present day Thailand.

    "People who still believe in the monarchy believe in white elephants," says Ko Thar Nyunt Oo, a member of the All Burma Federation of Student Unions' Foreign Affairs Committee. "The junta tries to use the white elephant as a sign of coming prosperity for the people of Burma, but I think the white elephant just has damaged skin."

    The last white elephant was found late last year and in the same area that the second one was found. The first is being kept at Minn Dhama hill, outside of Rangoon, where one of the Buddha’s teeth is believed to be stored.

    If an elephant's skin turns red after having water poured on it, they are declared to be a rare white elephant but if the skin becomes darker, they are simply thought to be normal elephants.

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