Daily News- June 04- 2002- Tuesday

  • Burma Urges End to Sanctions
  • Thai forces did not join Shan raids
  • Junta deploys warships in disputed seas
  • King's advice on hill row the best way out
  • Myanmar's Imports, Exports Down in 1st Two Months
  • School bus attacked in Thailand
  • Angry Myanmar warns Thailand not to support rebels
  • Thailand touches base with Myanmar: defence minister
  • Thailand ups navy patrols along Burma border


  • Burma Urges End to Sanctions

    VOA News

    A senior Burmese diplomat is urging Western nations to consider easing sanctions on Rangoon after a series of good-will measures, including the release of opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi from house arrest.

    Deputy Foreign Minister Khin Maung Win made the comment in an interview with VOA during a visit to Singapore Sunday. He said he hopes nations critical of Burma's human rights record will reconsider their policies as the military government and the pro-democracy opposition move toward reconciliation.

    However, the Deputy Foreign Minister added that the West should understand that political change takes time. He said he hopes the international community will not be impatient because the reconciliation process is a delicate and sensitive matter that must be done in a systematic manner.

    Burma has taken a number of conciliatory steps since October of 2000 when it began U.N. brokered closed-door talks with National League of Democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi. It has released about 200 political prisoners and has allowed the NLD to reopen some offices and resume limited political activities. On May 6, the military government released Aung San Suu Kyi from 19 months of house detention and allowed her to travel outside of Rangoon.

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    Thai forces did not join Shan raids

    Wassana Nanuam Yuwadee Tunyasiri
    The Bangkokpost

    An armed forces panel yesterday denied Rangoon's allegations that Thai troops lent support to the Shan rebels in attacking Burmese troops and their Wa allies while Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra for a second day pleaded for calm.

    In a report released yesterday, the panel said Thai border troops had not fired artillery shells in support of the Shan State Army or fought alongside them when they carried out assaults last month against the Burmese and Wa outposts across from Chiang Mai's Wieng Haeng district.The panel, headed by army chief-of-staff Gen Boonrod Somtat, was ordered by Defence Minister Chavalit Yongchaiyudh to look into Burma's allegations. The panel would send its report to the defence minister today.The report rejected Rangoon's charge that Thai troops taking part in last month's Surasi 143 military exercise were involved in the Shan State Army-led operations.

    ``Our forces involved in Surasi 143 in Wieng Haeng were deployed around 40-50 kilometres from the border area,'' said an officer who asked to remain anonymous.Surasi 143, which ran on May 1-23, was the largest military exercise held in the North involving 30,000 soldiers from all regions.

    Rangoon had also claimed a number of shells were fired from army tanks taking part in the exercise in support of Shan rebels.The report admitted that Thai forces fired a number of mortar rounds in retaliation, after shells from Wa and Burmese forces landed in Thai territory.

    ``Our firing was in line with `rules of engagement' at the border. Not a single shot was fired from our artillery,'' said the officer.The report also denied that military outposts of the anti-Rangoon Karen National Union and the SSA were located inside Thai territory.

    Mr Thaksin yesterday said Burma reacted aggressively because it believed, mistakenly, that Thailand helped in Shan raids which killed more than 20 of its soldiers, including a number of battalion commanders.The opposition believes Mr Thaksin is being too conciliatory towards Burma. But Mr Thaksin said Thailand needed to give Burma time to solve its internal problems.``We have to sympathise with Burma. We have to understand what it is going through,'' he said.

    The allegations had led Burma to retaliate against Thailand by closing all border checkpoints, barring entry by Thai delegations and making insulting remarks against Thailand.The Burmese press has begun to refer to Thailand as Yodaya an ancient Thai kingdom that was defeated by Burmese invaders centuries ago.

    Mr Thaksin said Thailand and Burma were on good terms, so ``minor'' incidents resulting from shells straying into Thai border areas should not be viewed as violations of Thai sovereignty. ``There is no need to panic and think Burma is about to invade Thailand,'' he said.

    Supreme Commander Adm Narong Yuthawong, however, was more critical.Burmese soldiers lost in the Shan attacks but were afraid to tell the truth so they had to point their fingers at Thailand to divert the blame, he said.

    Burma had no right to accuse Thailand of supporting the Shan rebels since repeated Thai requests that Burma crack down on Wa drug producers had always fallen on deaf ears. Thailand's enemy was not Burma but drugs, he said.

    Adm Narong also was not happy about Burma's Yodaya jibe. ``That is an insult.''Adm Narong said the benefits from cross-border trade were mutual and Burma should realise that in sealing the border it was also losing money.

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    Junta deploys warships in disputed seas

    Wassana Nanuam Achathaya Chuenniran
    The Bangkokpost

    A navy source said the Burmese had sent three Chinese-made corvettes armed with missiles, three patrol vessels and five armed fishing boats. They were patrolling waters off Song, Lam, Khan and Khinok islands, the site of outstanding border disputes with Thailand.Other Burmese warships were patrolling an 80-square-kilometre area in the Andaman Sea, from Victoria Point to St Matthew naval base and these islands, the source said.St Matthew naval base on Yan Chuak Island had deployed the naval ships, while patrol helicopters had been sent to an airbase on Song Island.

    In response, navy chief Adm Praset Boonsong sent a frigate, an armed patrol vessel and six patrol vessels from the Thai Third Fleet to patrol Thai waters in the area. They were instructed to avoid confronting the Burmese warships.The navy said Thai fishing boats which entered the troubled area could be attacked.

    ``If such a thing [attack] happens, the navy would go to the aid of the fishermen and a clash with Burmese warships might follow,'' the source said.

    Supreme Commander Adm Narong Yuthawong said the Burmese military had every right to deploy its ships in Burmese waters as long they stayed there and did not enter Thai waters.``Burma has sent its warships out. So have we. Naval officers perform their duties by patrolling and providing security,'' he said.

    In Phuket, Third Fleet commander Vice-Adm Pairoj Thirachai said while the Third Fleet had not sought reinforcements from other areas, its vessels were patrolling more often in response to the Burmese threat.Units were put on alert to brace for possible skirmishes as Burmese warships look for Thai fishing boats encroaching on their waters.Ships could be sent from Phangnga naval base for support operations to points of conflict.

    Vice-Adm Pairoj Thirachai urged Thai fishing boats to refrain from entering Burmese economic zones and troubled areas around the mouth of the Ranong river off Lam, Khan and Khinok islands.

    King's advice on hill row the best way out

    Wassana Nanuam
    The Bangkokpost

    Defence Minister Chavalit Yongchaiyudh has urged Thais to observe His Majesty the King's guidelines for resolving the disputed territory of strategic Hill 491 with Burma.Maj-Gen Palangkoon Klaharn, deputy defence spokesman, said the government was implementing the monarch's guidelines, which call for peaceful negotiations to resolve the two-decade-old conflict.

    His Majesty had advised that the government resolve the conflict over Hill 491 in Chumphon through negotiations, and in the process show sincerity and help develop Burma.Maj-Gen Palangkoon said negotiations were the only way to improve deteriorating relations, but the process would take time.The prime minister is expected to visit Rangoon and raise the matter with Burmese military leaders, he said.In the meantime, Rangoon had yet to respond to Gen Chavalit's proposed talks on the border tension.

    Asked about a mass protest in Burma against Thailand's alleged backing for Shan rebels, Maj-Gen Palangkoon said it was the Burmese people's right to do so. He said the military was keeping a close watch on ``a third party'' believed to have instigated the border tension, but refused to elaborate.The spokesman also denied Burma was putting pressure on Thailand by sending out patrol vessels. He said patrols were conducted on a regular basis.

    Maj-Gen Palangkoon also cautioned the Thai media about use of news ``sources'' in their reporting, saying it could cause misunderstandings.According to authorities, certain newspapers quoted ``military sources'' as saying that Thai troops received the green light from Burmese military leaders in recent attacks on Wa troops.The military and the government have strongly denied supporting any group of ethnic rebels in their attacks on Burmese or pro-Burmese troops.Meanwhile, Gen Yuthasak Sasiprapa, deputy defence minister, is to visit Thai troops along the border in Chiang Mai, Chiang Rai and Tak this week, to boost morale.

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    Myanmar's Imports, Exports Down in 1st Two Months

    YANGON, Jun 3, 2002 (Xinhua via COMTEX) -- Myanmar's imports and exports went down by 21.73 percent, registering 614.46 million U.S. dollars in the first two months of this year compared with the same period of 2001, said a latest report of the country's Central Statistical Organization.

    Of the total, imports amounted to 327.14 million dollars, reducing by 24.12 percent; while exports were valued at 287.32 million dollars, dropping by 18.8 percent. The trade deficit stood at 39.82 million dollars during the two- month period, 48.3 percent less than the corresponding period of 2001, the report said.

    During the period, the import value of intermediate goods, consumers goods and capital goods respectively accounted for 41.45 percent, 31.21 percent and 27.34 percent of the total imports. Over the period, Myanmar's private sector took up 245 million dollars or 75 percent of the total import value, while it made up 193.26 million dollars or 67.3 percent of the total export value.

    Meanwhile, the government sector represented 82.11 million dollars or 25 percent of the total import value, while it accounted for 94.05 million dollars or 32.7 percent of the total export value. The report added that Myanmar received 131.31 million dollars from customs duties during the first two months of this year, 4.8 percent more than the same period of 2001.

    The main source of Myanmar's customs duties income is import through normal trade, which took up 99.4 percent of the total earned during the period.

    According to official statistics, in 2001, Myanmar's imports and exports totaled 5,077.58 million dollars. Total income from customs duties during the year amounted to 881.25 million dollars.

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    School bus attacked in Thailand

    BANGKOK(Reuters) Thailand, June 4 - Masked gunmen armed with M-16 automatic rifles opened fire on a Thai school bus near the border with Myanmar on Tuesday, killing six teen-agers and badly wounding at least 11 others, officials said.

    EDUCATION AND defense ministry officials said police were investigating the motive for the attack by at least three gunmen in Ratchaburi province.The attack took place on a road about 13 miles from the border west of Bangkok, where tensions have been running high for two weeks.

    A total of six students were killed, Deputy Defense Minister Yuthasak Sasiprapha told reporters after a weekly Cabinet meeting.Two students were killed instantly in the bus,he said. Another four students have been pronounced dead in the hospital.The victims ranged in age from 13 to 17.

    There were about 25 students on the bus. Authorities initially said two students had died and 15 were injured. Nine badly wounded students were admitted to a local hospital.Provincial officials said Thai security forces had launched a manhunt for the unidentified gunmen who fled the scene.

    They wore black masks and green jungle uniforms. I heard a series of loud shots and many of my friends were hit. My school uniform was splattered with their blood, Siriporn Sornpad, a 13-year-old girl on the bus, told a radio station.The girl, who was among five or six students who escaped unscathed, said the gunmen raked the bus with M-16 bullets from front to back.I first thought it was firecrackers going off, and realized later that they were real bullets when I saw blood on my friends, said one boy survivor. Fortunately, the driver was safe and could speed away.

    TASKFORCE TO HUNT FOR ATTACKERS

    An army spokeswoman told Reuters a special taskforce of more than 30 armed soldiers and police, backed by a helicopter, had been dispatched to pursue the gunmen.They were believed to have fled on foot into the hills near the border, which has been closed since last week after to a series of skirmishes involving Thai and Myanmar troops.

    Yuthasak, the deputy defense minister, was quick to counter speculation that Myanmar troops were responsible for the bus shooting.At this stage, we have analyzed that it was not done by Myanmar soldiers, but it was an act of an armed ethnic group, he said. The prime minister ordered in the Cabinet meeting today that we must get those gunmen.

    There are a number of armed ethnic groups on the Thai-Myanmar border.Provincial officials quoted students on the bus as saying the gunmen stopped the vehicle at a bend in the road and two of them opened fire with their rifles.Bus driver Thongmorn Khemthong told the radio station he was unhurt and managed to drive from the attack scene for almost another mile to deliver the wounded to a hospital.Ratchaburi province was the scene in 2000 of a two-day stand-off at a Thai hospital between Thai forces and ethnic rebels, which ended in the death of a dozen guerrillas.

    Angry Myanmar warns Thailand not to support rebels

    YANGON(Reuters) June 4 - Myanmar's military government said on Tuesday it was poised for an attack on ethnic Shan rebels near their tense border with Thailand and warned Bangkok to stay out of the battle or face retaliation.

    Tempers have flared between the two countries, with Myanmar accusing Thailand of supporting ethnic Shan and Karen armies fighting the junta's rule, a charge Bangkok has denied. Myanmar sealed major border crossings last month and its state-run media have bitterly criticised Thailand.

    At a news conference in Yangon, the deputy chief of Myanmar's military intelligence said that if Thai troops got involved in the upcoming battle they would face retaliation. ''We want the Thai military to stay away from this,'' Major Kyaw Win said. ''If they give support to the Shan rebels we will have to retaliate.''

    Tensions between the two countries flared last month after Thailand moved thousands of troops to its northern border. The troops were ostensibly there for a training exercise, but military sources said they were preparing for a strike on Wei Hsueh-Kang, a notorious drug baron who commands a faction of the United Wa State Army, an ethnic army allied to the Yangon junta. Thailand withdrew the troops after protests from Myanmar but relations between the two countries have hardly improved. Shan rebels seized the chance to attack Myanmar troops and their Wa allies in the area, capturing four army camps.

    Myanmar says Thai soldiers helped the Shan assault. Thailand denies this but says it returned fire across the border when stray artillery shells from Myanmar landed on Thai soil. Kyaw Win said Myanmar was now preparing a battle to retake the camps. He said Myanmar troops would not encroach on Thai soil, but there was a risk stray fire could cross the border.

    THAILAND OFFERS OLIVE BRANCH

    Thailand's government has repeatedly tried to defuse the mounting tension. On Tuesday ministers said Myanmar troops massing at the border were not a threat as they were there to battle rebel groups rather than launch a strike into Thai soil.

    ''After Myanmar finishes its campaigns against the ethnic groups, the situation will ease,'' Deputy Defence Minister Yuthasak Sasiprapa told reporters after a cabinet meeting.

    Thai newspapers have attacked the government's handling of the dispute, saying Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra and his cabinet have been too soft on Myanmar. The row has also provoked disagreements between the Thai government and the military.

    Tensions heightened on Tuesday when masked gunmen, dressed like rebels from the Karen National Union (KNU) ethnic army, opened fire with M-16s on a Thai school bus near the Myanmar border, killing at least two teenagers. But Thaksin told reporters he did not believe that Myanmar soldiers or Karen rebels were to blame for the attack.

    ''I do not believe that it was done either by Myanmar soldiers or the Karen KNU group because around 80 percent of Thai children living in the area are Karen by descent,'' Thaksin told reporters. Thailand has said it wants high-level talks with Myanmar to calm tensions, but so far has received no reply. ''I think that if we open our hearts for talks, it won't be difficult to resolve the problems,'' Yuthasak said.

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    Thailand touches base with Myanmar: defence minister

    BANGKOK, June 4 (AFP) - Thai Defence Minister Chavalit Yongchaiyudh on Tuesday contacted Myanmar's military junta for the first time since a border crisis erupted last month, but he declined to give any details.

    "Now we have established contact with Myanmar, which is a good sign as we have not been able to contact them recently," Chavalit told reporters at Government House.He did not clarify how contact was made or with whom, nor what Yangon's response was.

    The neighbouring nations have been engaged in a steadily escalating crisis fueled by a border row last month which was followed by the swapping of official protest notes, Myanmar's closure of the border and a flurry of anti-Thai rhetoric and caustic criticism from Yangon.

    While he insisted Thailand was ready to open "straightforward" talks with Myanmar, Chavalit issued a warning to Yangon that broaching sensitive issues would damage already strained relations.

    "Do not ever touch on issues so sensitive to Thailand, otherwise ties would reach an irresolvable point," he said, declining to elaborate.Yangon has accused the Thai army of harbouring what it called ethnic minority "terrorists".

    Last week Myanmar's deputy military intelligence chief, Major Kyaw Win, said Yangon had evidence and eye-witness accounts that anti-Yangon Shan rebels were being supported from within Thailand.The Shan State Army has waged a military insurgency against Yangon from the border regions for years.

    Chavalit admitted the border tension stemmed from movements and operations by ethnic minorities.In Tuesday's Nation newspaper, Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra pleaded for public understanding over the row and said Myanmar "is going through some internal problems".

    A rare front-page commentary in the paper urged "cool heads" over the crisis, and said the government needed to urge Thailand's military to be more sensitive when handling border security.

    Chavalit said he has proposed setting up a "joint border patrol task force" to both Yangon and Thaksin."I have proposed offensive measures which include setting up a joint border patrol comprised of four or five troops from both countries to patrol and oversee every common checkpoint along the border," he said.

    On Tuesday mystery assailants attacked a Thai school bus in Ratchaburi province near the Myanmar border, killing two students and injuring 13.Authorities have not said whether the incident was related to the border crisis.

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    Thailand ups navy patrols along Burma border

    Source : Straits Times / AFP

    BANGKOK -- Thailand's navy has upped patrols of its border waters in the Andaman Sea in response to a similar increase by Burma, a Royal Thai Navy source said on Tuesday as tensions remained high between the two countries.

    Burma normally keeps two armed frigates and three rotating patrol vessels deployed in the area opposite Thailand's western province of Ranong, some 568 km south of Bangkok, the source said.

    A Thai navy source said that they are gathering intelligence reports to determine the reason for Burma's increased deployment to the area.

    When asked whether the build-up was in response to the current tensions between Thailand and Burma, the source responded: 'It's possible.'

    Burma has been driving a steadily escalating crisis, fueled by a border row last month.

    Thai Defence Minister Chavalit Yongchaiyudh said on Tuesday that he had made contact with Burma's ruling military junta in a bid to schedule talks to solve the crisis, but declined to give details.

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