Daily News- June 05- 2002- Wednesday

  • Thai authorities arrest three over school bus shooting
  • Surin blames unclear policies
  • 1,000 evacuated due to fighting
  • Bangladesh to Repatriate All Rohingya Refugees by 2003
  • More Students Seek Distance Education in Myanmar
  • Thailand hunts for bus attackers, wanted "dead or alive"
  • Aung San Suu Kyi: busy first month of freedom
  • Burma says releases jailed opposition activists

  • Thai authorities arrest three over school bus shooting

    BANGKOK, June 4 (AFP) - Thai authorities have arrested three suspects in relation to a school bus shooting Tuesday near the Myanmar border that left two Thai children dead and 13 others injured.

    "Three suspects were arrested five kilometres (three miles) from where the incident occurred," National Police Chief General Sant Sarutanond told reporters in Ratchaburi province, adding that the suspects were each carrying old-fashioned muzzle-loading guns.Sant said the suspects had denied any involvement and insisted they were only poachers.

    "Police were not convinced that they were merely poachers, and will investigate further," the police chief said.

    Three unidentified gunmen armed with M-16 rifles attacked the bus at 7.30am (0030 GMT) Tuesday, as it was ferrying 27 students to Ban Kha Witthaya secondary school, in Ban Kha district of Ratchaburi province, 100 kilometres (60 miles) southwest of Bangkok.The attack occurred 23 kilometres (14 miles) from the border with Myanmar.

    Thai-Myanmar relations have been strained since last month over a border row, and Yangon has closed its four main border points with Thailand.Police mobilised in the aftermath of the attack to protect public buildings such as schools and hospitals across the province in fear the situation might escalate.

    In January 2000 an extremist Myanmar faction of ethnic Karen dissidents known as God's Army raided Ratchaburi Hospital. Ten of them were killed by Thai commandos.The group was joined in the 2000 attack by another extremist anti-Yangon faction, the Vigorous Burmese Student Warriors, who were responsible for a siege at the Myanmar embassy in Bangkok in 1999.

    The Karen National Union (KNU), an ethnic militia that has been fighting for independence from Myanmar along the Thai-Myanmar border for decades, and the VBSW have both denied involvement in the attack.

    Anti-Yangon rebels deny involvement in Thai school bus shooting

    CHIANG MAI, Thailand, June 4 (AFP) - Ethnic Karen rebels and an extremist Myanmar dissident student group responsible for two sieges in Thailand Tuesday denied responsibility an attack on a Thai school bus that left two children dead.

    The Karen National Union (KNU), an ethnic militia that has been fighting for independence from Myanmar along the Thai-Myanmar border for decades, denied involvment in the attack.

    "It was a foolish act and the KNU has never done anything like this," KNU secretary-general Pado Manh Sha told AFP.

    Three unidentified assailants armed with M-16 rifles opened fire at 7:30 am (0030 GMT) on the bus, which was carrying 27 students to Ban Kha Witthaya secondary school, in Ban Kha district of Ratchaburi province, 100 kilometres (60 miles) southwest of the capital Bangkok.

    The KNU's base and camps are far from the location of the attack, Manh Sha said."We have never killed any children," he said, adding the group was only fighting Myanmar's military directly for autonomy.

    Deputy defence minister General Yuthasak Sasiprapa said Tuesday he "suspected the attack was the work of an ethnic minority group" aiming to destabilise already tense relations between the neighbours.

    A high-ranking member of the Vigorous Burmese Student Warriors, an extremist dissident anti-Yangon group, also denied involvement in the attack."We deeply regret the deplorable incident. Our group denounces the Tuesday attack," the member told AFP on condition of anonymity.

    "I can guarantee that neither the student group, nor any members of the God's Army were involved in the attack," he added, referring to another extremist anti-Yangon Karen group.

    "The fighters of the Vigorous Burmese Student Warriors and the God's Army ... have moved since 2000 from the area opposite Thailand's Ratchaburi province," the spokesperson said by mobile telephone from a secret location near along the border.

    The Warriors stormed the Myanmar embassy in Bangkok in 1999, seizing several hostages and demanding that Myanmar's military junta release political prisoners and enter into talks with Aung San Suu Kyi's party, the National League for Democracy.They obtained passage to the Myanmar border by helicopter and escaped.Three months later the group joined God's Army and seized a hospital in Ratchaburi province. Ten of the assailants were killed by Thai military commandos.

    KNU denies involvement

    Supamart Kasem
    the Bangkokpost

    The anti-Rangoon Karen National Union has denied any involvement in yesterday's shooting of a school bus in Ratchaburi which left two young students dead and 13 others injured.

    Gen Bo Mya, the KNU military leader, said his fighters had nothing to do with the school bus shooting since the group had no reason to launch such an attack.He urged Thai officials to clearly name the suspected assailants instead of saying vaguely that the attack was the work of ``a third party''.

    Gen Bo Mya said the KNU and the Shan State Army were often thought to have created chaos along the border although the pro-Rangoon Democratic Karen Buddhist Army and the Red Wa were also among those suspected of involvement in yesterday's school bus attack.

    ``If the KNU's Fourth Division really did it, what would be the motive? We are not the enemy of the Thai government and Thai people but the military dictators who are now ruling Burma.

    ``If the KNU acted against the Thai government and Thai people, where would more than 100,000 Karen refugees living in Thai border areas go? They cannot return home for fear of being abused or killed by Burmese soldiers,'' Gen Bo Mya said.

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    Surin blames unclear policies

    The BangkokPost

    The problems with Burma are rooted in the government's unclear bilateral policies and equivocal orders on how to contain the deteriorating diplomatic rift, former foreign affairs minister Surin Pitsuwan said.Orders, directives and even media interviews given in attempts to curb the tension were all ambiguous.This murkiness reflected the government's inability to take a firm grasp of the problem.Efforts to ensure vital co-ordination and establish communication were reckless and downright inefficient, said Mr Surin, a Democrat list MP.

    On diplomacy, the government preferred ``four-eye'' high-level negotiation with the Burmese leadership. This approach called for one-on-one closed door discussions with details shrouded in secrecy.It was anyone's guess what agreements the two sides had hammered out. Often the negotiations yielded rather bewildering results, Mr Surin said.

    After the government's top-level meeting with the Burmese leadership, reports emerged that Rangoon had given Thai forces the go-ahead to suppress the Wa ethnic minority rebels.That information was ``very bizarre'' and may have in part touched off the present diplomatic friction, he said.Confusion reigned because the information came from the top decision-maker. It appeared as though approval was given to crush the Wa.

    At the same time, Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra had urged the military not to overreact and appealed for compromise.``The consequence was confusion and panic along the 2,400km common border,'' Mr Surin said. Calm would have been restored if the government had shown itself capable of putting the brakes on the problem. In reality, tension was on the rise.It was unrealistic of the government to try to curtail opinions on the issue, since Thailand was a democratic country.

    The former foreign affairs minister said the leadership must allow the public to freely express its concerns about the situation. It was not enough for the prime minister simply to try to win people's confidence in his handling of the issue.The government's stance was unclear, and this fuelled scepticism about foreign policy. ``If we had nothing to do with the meddling along the border, we must make that clear,'' he said.The military, regional administrators and the government must show a clear, cohesive policy direction. Communication gaps must be plugged,he said.

    The government came to office promising improved relations with Thailand's neighbours but the situation was now back to square one, Mr Surin said. Bilateral disputes could not be settled when vested interests were at stake.Shin Satellite was one of the Thai firms investing in Burma. The company is managed by Shin Corporation, controlled by Mr Thaksin, and recently clinched a deal with the Burmese government.

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    1,000 evacuated due to fighting

    The BangkokPost

    About 1,000 tribespeople were evacuated from 10 border villages in Chiang Rai province yesterday as fighting raged between Burmese troops and Shan State Army rebels in Burma.The villagers were taken to Ban Pha Jee in tambon Thoedthai, about 5km away from the frontier.People were cautioned to stay away from the border.

    The sound of 81mm mortar and rifle fire were heard from 5am to 2pm and appeared to be coming from near the Shan State Army's Kor Muang base.Thai troops were deployed to seal the border as security was increased from Mae Hong Song to Tak.Armed Burmese soldiers were seen stationed at Tachilek checkpoint, opposite Chiang Rai's Mae Sai district, and along the Sai river.All stores in Tachilek were ordered closed.

    A rumour that stray mortar shells had landed behind Mae Sai police station frightened shop owners in Mae Sai and they shut their doors about noon.District chief Decha Sathapol said Burmese authorities in Tachilek had warned of the possibility of stray bullets as troops moved against minority rebels in Tachilek and opposite Chiang Rai.Some schools near the border were temporarily closed for safety reasons.

    In Mae Hong Son, a border official said Burmese soldiers had blocked the entrances to three border crossings in Muang, Khun Yuam and Mae Sariang districts with large logs on Sunday.

    Two battalions of Burmese troops were sent across the Salween river to reinforcement Ban Ho Mong and apparently strike at military bases along the border opposite Pang Ma Pha district, the official added.Burmese soldiers were believed preparing to to attack the SSA's stronghold at Doi Tai Laeng soon.

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    Bangladesh to Repatriate All Rohingya Refugees by 2003

    DHAKA, June 4 (Xinhuanet) -- The government of Bangladesh is making an all out effort to complete repatriation of remaining 21,982 registered Rohingya refugees by June 2003 through negotiation with Myanmar.

    As part of the move, Foreign Secretary Shamsher Mobin Chowdhury will pay a visit to Myanmar on June 16 to discuss the issue with the neighboring country, the daily Independent reported Tuesday.

    Most of the refugees have been back to their homeland, but a sizable number still remain in Bangladesh. The border forces of the country reportedly have been asked to check further influx of refugees from Myanmar.

    A total of 250,877 Muslim Rohingya refugees from the Arakan State of Myanmar have entered Bangladesh Since 1991 allegedly to avoid persecution. The Rohingyas took shelter in different places of the country's eastern Cox's Bazar district.

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    More Students Seek Distance Education in Myanmar

    YANGON, June 4 (Xinhuanet) -- A total of 400,000 students have sought admission to the University of Distance Education (UDE) based in Yangon and Mandalay, two major cities of Myanmar, for the tertiary academic year starting February this year.

    According to the latest figures released by the UDE, the number of students seeking such education for the academic year was 100,000 more than last year.

    The UDE offers 19 subjects covering economics, law and science.Of them, economics and its related subjects of public policy, business management and home economics drew more students, and lectures for the UDE students are transmitted to the 304 electronic(e)-learning centers in the country every weekend.

    According to official estimation, about 55 percent of the university students in Myanmar are applying distance education to study for a degree.

    Myanmar started introducing e-education data broadcasting system in January 2001, integrating the system into the country's education system. Myanmar has a total of 142 regular institutes of higher learning including 110 universities and colleges added in the past 13 years, and the total number of students studying in these institutions so far reached 556,456.

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    Thailand hunts for bus attackers, wanted "dead or alive"

    BANGKOK, June 5 (AFP) - Thailand on Wednesday stepped up a manhunt for three mystery gunmen who killed three children when they ambushed a schoolbus as the country was left reeling in shock over the attack.

    A third teenager died early Wednesday from wounds sustained in Tuesday's attack in western Ratchaburi province near the border with Myanmar, doctors at Ratchaburi Hospital told AFP.Two schoolchildren died at the scene when three masked gunmen raked the open-air bus with M-16 assault rifles in the border region 100 kilometres (60 miles) southwest of Bangkok before escaping into mountainous forest.

    The tragedy dominated Wednesday's media, with the Nation daily mourning the "blood of innocents" in a banner headline and saying the attack was seen as a plot to ignite a border war.Focus has quickly turned to who could be responsible for the attack, and Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra has vowed a mammoth effort to find the killers.

    "I have instructed authorities to get them dead or alive, as authorities have asked for three days to arrest the gunmen."They have blocked all roads in the area, which is mountainous so it won't be easy to escape to another country," Thaksin told reporters at Government House.While he hesitated to point a finger directly at any one group, Thaksin warned Thai forces may pursue the suspects across international borders.

    "If we knew who the culprits were and their whereabouts, and their protectors failed to send them to us, we would fetch them even if they were in a foreign country" he said.

    Despite the strong posture, Thaksin stressed the incident was not related to current tensions between Thailand and Myanmar, or to Thailand's recent decision to shut down a centre in the area which housed exiled students from Myanmar.

    "This incident has nothing to do with border tension or closure of the Maneeloy centre. On the government level Thailand and Myanmar still understand each other," he said.

    Military-ruled Myanmar on Wednesday adamantly denied involvement, and said in its official media that the ambush was launched by ethnic rebels intent on destabilising already strained bilateral relations."At a time when there is tension between the two countries due to problems at the common border, Thailand may put it in their head to accuse us of perpetrating the incident," the Mirror daily quoted unnamed military authorities."We declare that we had nothing to do with it. This is a deliberate attempt by the KNU (Karen National Union) or other rebels who have taken refuge inside Thailand to create problems between our two countries, as well as distrust."

    The KNU, an ethnic militia that has been fighting for independence from Myanmar for decades, has also denied involvement in the attack and countered by accusing Myanmar's ruling State Peace and Development Council (SPDC) of orchestrating the killings.

    Relations between the two countries have deteriorated dramatically in the past fortnight following last month's clashes along the border which reportedly left dozens of Myanmar troops and ethnic insurgents dead.

    Thaksin has also discounted any likelihood of complicity in the killings by Myanmar army's or the KNU."It was unlikely the work of Myanmar soldiers or the KNU, as most of the children living in that area are Karen," he told reporters Tuesday.

    But assistant army chief of staff Lieutenant General Lertrat Ratanavanit appeared less dismissive of ethnic minority involvement."They may have been ethnic people staying near the border or members of a movement hidden in Thailand and could be aiming to create more tension by this attack," he said, quoted by the Bangkok Post.

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    Aung San Suu Kyi: busy first month of freedom

    BANGKOK, June 5 (AFP) - Since being freed from house arrest one month ago, Myanmar opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi appears to have been tasting her new found freedom by managing to undertaking a flurry of political activities without irritating the generals of Yangon.But that freedom is balanced on a razor's edge and she has been operating with extreme care, analysts say.

    "It is still early, but it seems to be going along smoothly and I don't see any concern at this time," noted one analyst in Yangon. "She can perform her duties as secretary general of the NLD (National League for Democracy) and reinvigorate her party."

    On May 6, after 19 months under house arrest, Aung San Suu Kyi -- a slight and charismatic 56-year-old woman -- appeared for the first time in public and in front of the cameras and microphones of the international press which had been invited to Yangon by Myanmar's military junta.Since then it has not granted any more visas to foreign journalists, but the Nobel peace laureate has been adhering to an extremely busy schedule catching up on wasted time -- except for the weekends, which according to a source at the NLD "are reserved for personal and religious matters."

    She has received numerous visits from diplomats, met with non-governmental organisations and representatives of small political parties and ethnic minorities, inspected humanitarian projects and, especially, worked in the delapidated Yangon headquarters of the NLD and visited its township offices.

    The movements of "The Lady" have not been blocked by the junta, but plainclothed military intelligence have followed her every step. On her release, Suu Kyi had said she was promised freedom "without conditions"."She has been cautious in her moves", and "used a clear pattern of careful phraseology not to take a confrontational stance", said one Myanmar expert in Yangon.

    She has ventured out of the city centre and visited four NLD offices in the suburbs over the last month and attracted hundreds of people. Not all of them are NLD members; many are simply residents who flock to her out of curiosity.Witnesses said that when she visited the Muslim Free Hospital in Yangon last week, a crowd of 1,000 spontaneously gathered around her, practically blocking traffic.

    "When there are so many people she is forced to speak to them, to thank them, to say to them not to remain in the sun," a Yangon-based diplomat noted."But her messages since her release have always been centred on NLD members and for internal use", he said, adding that she was careful not to deliver any political addresses to crowds.

    Before being put under detention in September 2000, Aung San Suu Kyi carried out public discussions, microphone in hand, with hundreds of people in front of the gates of her garden.She has indicated that this time she believes that sort of approach is out of the question.In the same way, her residence on University Drive is still off limits to the general public and even lower rank party members as the access to her street is still blocked by a checkpoint, under an agreement with the junta.In her gradual approach to freedom, Aung San Suu Kyi still has not ventured outside of the capital.

    "Obviously her trip outside of Yangon to destinations like Mandalay or other places nearby would be the real test of how genuine her freedom really is," explained a Myanmar analyst. The opposition leader had been placed under house arrest when she tried to go to Mandalay, in the country's central-north, in September 2000.

    "For the moment she wants to wait and see before she pushes things further, " a diplomat noted. "She wants to see if she gets harassed, if the people she meets get harassed."

    As for her first month of freedom the diplomat noted: "On the surface everyone is playing the game (and) the conditions placed on Suu Kyi are much more flexible than when she was released from an earlier period of house arrest in 1995."But, the diplomat added, there remained "the fundamental question" of the future process of dialogue which Suu Kyi started with the junta in October 2000.

    Aung San Suu Kyi has met throngs of people in the last month, although notably not a single representative of the government, suggesting the national reconciliation dialogue has taken no steps forward.

    The secret dialogue brokered by the United Nations is to lead one day to a democratic transition with a civil government to bring an end to 40 years of military rule in the country.But talks with Aung San Suu Kyi do not seem to be a priority at the present time for the generals, who are deeply absorbed in vitriolic verbal jousting with Thailand over border problems.

    "The dialogue process seems to have taken a back seat with the deterioration of relations between Myanmar and Thailand, which appears to have taken precedence in the minds of the generals," one analyst said.

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    Burma says releases jailed opposition activists

    Source : MSNBC / Reuters

    Rangoon, June 5---Burma's military government released nine opposition activists from jail on Wednesday, the second batch of political prisoners to go free since their leader Aung San Suu Kyi emerged from house arrest last month.

    The junta said in a statement the nine were all members of Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy (NLD), which won the country's last elections in 1990 but has never been allowed to govern.

    ''They are all in good health and reunited with their respective families,'' the statement from the office of the military spokesman said.

    ''The government will continue to release those who will cause no harm to the community nor threaten the existing peace, stability and unity of the nation,'' it added.

    After mounting international pressure, Suu Kyi was released from 19 months of house arrest on May 6 and called for immediate talks with the ruling generals aimed at political reform.

    She has said her top priority is the release of NLD party members still in jail. Nine NLD members were released from jail on May 14.

    Amnesty International says around 1,500 political prisoners languish in Burma's jails. The government says there are no political prisoners and that all the NLD prisoners still in jail are common criminals associated with terrorism and insurgency.

    Secretive reconciliation talks between the military and NLD began in late 2000, but have yielded few concrete results beyond the release of Suu Kyi from house arrest and the release of some 250 party members from various jails.

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