Daily News- June 07- 2002- Friday

  • Burma’s military junta losing its shirts
  • Burma Barks For Home Audience
  • Dozens of Myanmar troops killed in border offensive: Thai army source
  • Thai PM denies incurring army displeasure for Myanmar stand
  • Burma AIDS Campaign Focuses on Migrants
  • Burma reinforces for fresh assault on rebel army

  • Burma’s military junta losing its shirts

    Source: Free Burma Coalition

    (WASHINGTON DC) According to statistics released at the end of May by the U.S. Department of Commerce, apparel imports from the Southeast Asian country of Burma dropped 35% in January through March of this year. Concerned with human rights abuses including forced labor and forced child labor, dealing with a sudden cancellation of import licenses for foreigners, and facing legislation that would ban all imports from the country, 30 U.S. importers and/or retailers have announced they will not sell goods from Burma since June 2000, including retail giants Wal-Mart, Kenneth Cole, Hanes, and Gart Sports.

    We’re heartened that American companies are extricating themselves from Burma’s brutal system of forced labor,said Judy Nutter, a national officer for the one million member United Methodist Women, one of 30 organizations calling for companies to stop production in the country.

    Companies sourcing goods from Burma have come under increasing criticism from human rights groups as the pervasive use of forced labor by Burma’s pariah military dictatorship has come to light. The U.S. State Department Country Report on Human Rights released on March 4th, 2002 drew the connection between forced labor and the export of garments: Forced labor, including forced child labor, has contributed materially to the construction of industrial parks subsequently used largely to produce manufactured exports, including garments.The U.S. Department of Labor estimates that millions of persons have been pressed into forced labor in Burma.

    A group of 22 Senators, led by Tom Harkin (D-IA) and Jesse Helms (R-NC), has introduced legislation that would ban all imports from Burma in response to the International Labor Organization’s call for its member countries to ensure they do not contribute to forced labor in Burma.

    However, many companies doing business in Burma have already expressed their concern over human rights abuses in the country. Gart Sports, the United States’ second largest retailer of sports apparel and operator of 180 stores in 25 states, recently cancelled plans for $1 million in new orders from Burma, stating, “We thought it was the right thing to do.

    Adding uncertainty to Burma’s already unstable investment and production market, the dictatorship recently stopped issuing import licenses to foreign companies in an apparent bid to give local companies an advantage. The move especially hurt citizens of Burma’s fellow Southeast Asian countries.

    The decline in imports from Burma marks a major reversal of recent trends. Since 1997, when the United States imposed a ban on new U.S. investment in the country over human rights, democracy, and drug concerns, apparel imports from the country skyrocketed 480% to over $400 million per year in the regime’s apparent attempt to garner more foreign exchange. However, apparel imports from Burma decreased from $116.886 in January-March 2001 to $75.967 million January-March 2002.

    A notable exception to the move to stop selling goods from Burma is The Children’s Place Retail Stores, Inc., according to Dr. Zar Ni, a Burmese dissident in exile and founding director of the Free Burma Coalition. “Until this company stops selling goods from Burma, The Children’s Place is no place for children.

    To The Top

    Burma Barks For Home Audience

    Far Eastern Economic Review, Issue cover-dated June 13, 2002

    Burma's almost daily anti-Thai protests may be creating the impression of impending hostilities between the neighbouring countries. But a senior Thai government official says it might all be show. One theory seriously considered by intelligence agencies in Bangkok is that the Burmese may be making their harsh statements more for domestic consumption.

    This would be to counter any impression--carried in the Thai and foreign press--that Burma's powerful army commander Gen. Maung Aye may have quietly given Bangkok support for cross-border attacks against the minority Wa community in northeast Burma's Shan State. Maung Aye is known to dislike the Wa, who are blamed for the massive flood of methamphetamine tablets into Thailand.

    But, as the Thai official points out, while Maung Aye may have made a misleading gesture about the Wa to Thai leaders during a visit to Bangkok in April, he certainly gave no go-ahead for an attack.

    So the Rangoon protests, accusing Thai troops of supporting Shan separatists who are battling the pro-Rangoon Was by lobbing shells across the border since May 20, may have been partly calculated to dispel any impression Maung Aye was colluding with the Thais. Other observers think the protests, including closing the border, may be exploiting an evident rift between Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who is against confrontation, and his hawkish army leaders.

    To The Top

    Dozens of Myanmar troops killed in border offensive: Thai army source

    CHIANG MAI, Thailand, June 6 (AFP) - Up to 70 Myanmar troops were killed and another 100 injured during a heavy offensive against ethnic Shan rebels, a senior Thai army source said Thursday.

    At least 3,000 Myanmar troops and their allies in the United Wa State Army clashed with Shan ethnic insurgents this week in what the source described as the most intense fighting of the year along the Thai-Myanmar border.

    Speaking by telephone from the border area in Chiang Mai province, the source said heavy shelling from the clashes spilled into Thailand on Thursday.The source said the Shan State Army (SSA), an anti-Yangon ethnic militia, has been under heavy attack since Myanmar troops began their offensive to retake border bases which Yangon said were overrun by the Shan last month.

    "About 100 Myanmar troops were believed injured and it is likely that 50-70 have been killed, while the number of SSA injuries average about 20 per day," the source said.

    An SSA official said Myanmar's casualty figures were far higher."We estimate since Monday night there have been about 300 casualties on the Burmese side," the SSA's Nam Kher Hsem told AFP in Chiang Mai.She did not distinguish between killed and wounded in her figures.

    A second SSA source told AFP he believed 100 troops had been injured."As far as we know about 100 Myanmar soldiers were wounded, but nobody knows exactly how many soldiers were killed," the SSA source said.

    Clashes were heaviest in three mountainous areas of Pang Kam Kaw, Doi Tai Laeng, and Kaw Hom opposite Chiang Mai province, Nam Kher Hsem said.

    "There have been heavy clashes between Shan and Myanmar troops over the past two days," a Thai villager in Mae Hong Son said, adding that shells on Thursday were falling near the border "every five to 10 minutes."

    Myanmar on Tuesday declared its intention to stage an all-out offensive against the SSA, which it deems a terrorist group.The SSA are one of the only major armed insurgent groups in Myanmar yet to sign a ceasefire agreement with the ruling junta. They have been fighting for an independent state for decades.The offensive came after tensions deteriorated rapidly between Myanmar and Thailand following last month's clashes along the border which Yangon has said left several dozen soldiers and ethnic rebels dead.

    Yangon quickly sealed off its border, canceled official visits to the country, and embarked on a vitriolic anti-Thai campaign in its state press.

    Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra acknowledged Thursday that Myanmar had informed Thailand in advance of its offensive.Yangon warned Thailand not to interfere in its operations against the Shan, which junta spokesman Colonel San Pwint said was being launched in order "to recover our losses and to restore security in the region."

    No junta attack on Shan from Thai soil

    Wassana Nanuam Supamart Kasem
    The Bangkokpost

    The government has rejected a request from Rangoon for its troops to use Thai soil while staging attacks against strongholds of the Shan State Army.Meanwhile, the navy moved warships yesterday to the Andaman Sea to contain Burmese vessels in disputed waters near Ranong province.

    ``Burma asked if its troops could move through Thai territory to attack the SSA, who have vantage points in mountainous areas,'' said Gen Yuthasak Sasiprapa, deputy defence minister.``We rejected the request citing sovereignty rights,'' he said.

    Gen Yuthasak played down the rising tensions, saying diplomatic channels with Rangoon were still open.``Burma wants only to establish order on the border,'' he said. ``Their initial target is the SSA, then they will focus on other rebel groups.''

    Adm Prasert Boonsong, navy commander-in-chief, said ships were being sent from the Gulf of Thailand to the Andaman Sea to support vessels from the Third Fleet and Phangnga naval base in containing Burmese ships near Ranong.``The reinforcements are needed because the resources of Phangnga naval base may prove to be insufficient,'' Adm Prasert said.He described the Burmese navy's deployment of larger warships to the disputed area, five nautical miles by 10 nautical miles, as ``unusual''.

    The Burmese navy has stationed three Chinese-made corvettes equipped with C-801 guided missiles, five other armed vessels and three patrol ships in the area.

    ``If fishing boats enter the area, they will certainly draw fire from the Burmese ships,'' Adm Prasert said. ``We are on full alert.''

    The Third Fleet's current presence in the area comprised 11 warships one frigate, one anti-submarine vessel, seven patrol ships and two personnel carriers and two reconnaissance aircraft, which had been ordered to make regular sorties.

    Gen Yuthasak also revealed 64 illegal logging operations, run in conjunction with the pro-Rangoon Democratic Karen Buddhist Army, had been uncovered in border areas of Tha Song Yang, Mae Ramat, Mae Sot, and Phop Phra districts.Logs cut on the Thai side of the border were sent to Burma and processed into timber, before being shipped back to be made into furniture, he said.At least 8,000 teak trees were found to have been felled.

    To The Top

    Thai PM denies incurring army displeasure for Myanmar stand

    BANGKOK, June 6 (AFP) - Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra Thursday denied he had been rapped on the knuckles by a key elder statesman for taking a soft stand over a border row with Myanmar.

    Thaksin, who has faced mounting criticism for his conciliatory approach to Yangon's ruling military junta, confirmed he had met with retired General Prem Tinsulanonda on Wednesday.But he categorically denied a front page report in the Bangkok Post which said Prem had vented his displeasure to the premier.The paper said Prem, who was prime minister from 1980 to 1988 and who is now chief privy councillor to the king, expressed "concern and displeasure" at Thaksin's handling of the border row.It also alleged that Prem told the premier he had "trampled on the sensitivity" of troops safeguarding Thai territory.

    "It was not true at all," Thaksin said of the article."What the Bangkok Post reported can be considered as being used by a source for his own benefit," he said."Prem was alarmed by the report," he added.

    The editorial team of the Bangkok Post declined to comment on the prime minister's remarks.

    Thaksin also brushed aside speculation of military discontent over his border policy, which has called for patience and understanding with Myanmar following fatal border clashes between Yangon forces and ethnic minority insurgents along the border.Myanmar has accused the Thai army of harbouring and supporting the Shan State Army, a militia against which Yangon has announced it will launch a major military offensive.

    Thaksin recalled several army forces late last month after a Thai build-up near the border for military exercises.Diplomats said while they were not privy to Wednesday's talks between the two men it was clear that military forces have been at odds with the administration over Myanmar.

    "They do not see eye to eye on policy towards Myanmar at the moment, and Prem is the person seen as protecting the dignity of the Thai army," said one Western diplomat who asked not to be named."He (Prem) is echoing the displeasure of the army," a second Western diplomat told AFP.

    Tensions were highlighted Tuesday when masked gunmen killed three teenagers in an attack on a schoolbus in Ratchaburi province which borders Myanmar.Thaksin launched a mammoth manhunt for the assailants and ordered authorities to "get them dead or alive".

    Thaksin tours border area to boost manhunt team's morale

    BANGKOK, June 6 (AFP) - Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra Thursday toured the border area where three schoolchildren were shot dead earlier in the week in a bid to boost morale as the manhunt for the killers continued.

    "I will go there to boost the morale of those who are hunting the killers," the premier told reporters before departing for the province of Ratchaburi, 100 kilometres (60 miles) southwest of Bangkok.

    The schoolchildren, aged 13 to 14, were shot dead on Tuesday when three masked gunmen raked their open-air bus with M-16 assault rifles some 23 kilometres from the Myanmar border before escaping into mountainous forest.

    Thaksin said security officers had found traces of the suspects, but no arrests had been made.On Wednesday Thaksin said he had instructed authorities to capture the killers "dead or alive".

    After a briefing by Ratchaburi governor Komes Daengthongdee, Thaksin told reporters that officials had two theories of motive: "that someone had a personal or business conflict with the bus driver, or that an ethnic minority wanted to create a situation," he said.He added he was confident the suspects remained in Thailand, although the manhunt was being hampered by dense jungle in the area.The premier paid a visit to four injured students at Suan Phung hospital.

    Relations between Myanmar and Thailand have deteriorated dramatically in the past fortnight following clashes along the border which have reportedly left dozens of Myanmar troops and ethnic insurgents dead.But Thaksin has stressed that the incident was not related to current tensions.

    Meanwhile local television reported from Ratchaburi that some 100 villagers had gathered in front of the Ban Kha district office to demand Thai authorities speed up their search for the killers.Governor Komes said the hunt for the killers would be modified if no arrests were made soon."If we still cannot find the suspects by the end of today we may adjust the plan, however officers are closely chasing the culprits," he told reporters.

    Manhunt closing in on killers, arrests expected

    Sunan Ochakachorn Wassana Nanuam i
    The Bangkokpost

    Police say they have found traces of the fugitive gunmen who attacked a school bus in Ratchaburi on Tuesday, killing three children. The manhunt has been narrowed down and arrests are expected in a couple of days.Police are looking for three men, though they say the number involved could be higher. The search zone has been concentrated on a border area where about 20 heavily-armed men were spotted. Evidence of cooking fires has also been found in deep forest.

    Joint military and police search teams have been combing an area from Ban Huay Nam Sai's Jamook hill to Huay Pachi wildlife reserve, Phu Rakam pass and Huay Bua Thong.If the suspects are not found by this evening, searchers will rethink their approach.

    Deputy Defence Minister Yuthasak Sasiprapa said police found evidence of cooking and 10 bamboo water containers 8-10km from the scene of the atrocity.The military was keeping an eye on anti-Rangoon Karen National Union insurgents and a young Karen group at work in the area. The Karen were seen with M16 assault rifles.The Surasi task force's manhunt teams were using helicopters and sniffer dogs to look for two suspects who cut down bamboo to make water containers.

    National police chief Pol Gen Sant Sarutanont said he did not believe reports the prime minister had set a three-day deadline for arrests, as the search was in rugged terrain and not that easy.

    Yesterday, eight student survivors, school bus driver Thongmon Khemthong, several monks and villagers were questioned by 20 investigators, psychologists and the provincial prosecutor.A police source said monks from Wat Chedi Hoi, near the scene of the killing, had fled during the shooting and had only just returned.Police believed the attackers might have used an escape route behind the temple leading to a Mon village and Krachang border crossing, the police source said.

    Another theory was that the shooting was connected to business conflicts involving the school bus driver's karaoke bar. The driver rejected that idea, saying someone was distorting information to find a scapegoat.Kobkiat Thaoprayoon, Ratchaburi's public prosecutor, said three men in military-like uniforms and red scarves speaking poor Thai had tried to stop the school bus.Psychologists had helped police question the children, who were still scared and confused.

    An army source said that pro-Rangoon Democratic Karen Buddhist Army guerrillas used red scarves as described by the witnesses.

    In Ban Kha sub-district, 200 local people rallied yesterday to demand swift action, while Ratchaburi governor Komet Daengthongdee urged villagers to come forward with anything they knew, and refrain from talking to strangers and non-Thais.The governor believed local conflicts of interest or foreign troops wanting to create chaos were to blame.

    Yesterday, Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra inspected the scene of attack and visited the injured students at Ratchaburi hospital.He promised quick action against the assailants and gave money to the victims' families.

    The condition of three of the injured children, Pailin Khlamcharoen, Wanwisa Preefak and Sathit Jaiman, has improved and they have been taken off respirators.Vijitra Jai-on, 13, another victim, had a second operation on her spine yesterday.The senseless tragedy has left many students scared, and bereaved families depressed and angry.

    To The Top

    Burma AIDS Campaign Focuses on Migrants

    Ron Corben
    Voa News-5 Jun 2002

    Using international donations, Burma (Myanmar) hopes to slow the spread of HIV/AIDS by focusing on vulnerable migrant groups. While Burma is denied most international aid, the United Nations and other organizations are leading efforts to head off a threatening AIDS epidemic.

    The international community withholds most aid from Burma because of its human rights failings. A special United Nations program, however, is an exception, as agencies rush to help Burma fight the spread of AIDS. Burma, with a large mobile population, is highly vulnerable to the spread of AIDS and HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, says Lee-Nah Hsu, who heads the U.N. program. "One needs to be able to go into and assist in tackling the HIV situation in any country because we also know as we have demonstrated very clearly with the data AIDS does not respect national boundaries," she said.

    Burma's Health Ministry and UNAIDS estimate there are 200,000 people in Burma living with HIV/AIDS. Seventy-five percent contract the virus through heterosexual sex. As many as 35 percent of sex workers are infected. The U.N. estimates that two percent of pregnant women in the country are infected. Large numbers of Burmese workers move about the country and throughout the region in search of work. Many Burmese men work as seafarers, stopping at foreign ports. For this reason says Ms. Hsu, the international community can not ignore Burma in fighting AIDS.

    "We can not leave Myanmar isolated because of the movement of people in and out," she said. "It influences the entire epidemic in the region as well as beyond."

    The UN Children's Fund UNICEF plans to spend $2.5 million on HIV/AIDS prevention programs. UNICEF will focus attention on preventing mother-to-child transmission covering 12 townships. Australian-based CARE International aims an education program at seafarers, migrant workers and even traditional theatrical workers. Medecins Sans Frontieres is working with ethnic minorities such as the Kachin and Shan, while Britian's Save the Children Fund has developed youth education, care and support programs. Such broad ranging assistance is essential, notes Ms. Hsu, adding that "medical responses alone are totally insufficient in dealing with the HIV issue. We must look more holistically at the social-economic side, in addition to medical technology that has improved."

    The United Nations hopes to help Burma's health ministry fill funding gaps in combating the disease in one of the world's poorest nations.

    To The Top

    Burma reinforces for fresh assault on rebel army

    Source : MSNBC / Reuters

    BANGKOK, June 7---Burma has sent reinforcements for a fresh assault on ethnic Shan rebels near the border with Thailand after days of fierce fighting that has fuelled tension between Rangoon and Bangkok, military sources said on Friday.

    Burma troops and their allies in the United Wa State Army, an ethnic army widely blamed for producing much of the Golden Triangle's output of heroin and methamphetamines, launched an offensive earlier this week to try to recapture border outposts held by a rival ethnic militia, the Shan State Army.

    Burma has accused Thailand of backing the Shan rebels -- a charge it denies -- and has warned Bangkok it will face retaliation if Thai troops get involved in the fighting.

    The Thai army has promised restraint but says it will respond if stray bullets or shells land in Thai territory.

    Military sources say the Shan army has beaten back all the attacks so far. Its soldiers are entrenched on hilltops on the frontier with Thailand, and Bangkok has refused permission for Burma troops to use its soil to attack the Shan from behind.

    The Shan army says more than 300 Burmese and Wa troops have been killed in the fighting so far. Thai military sources said they estimated scores had been killed on both sides.

    Lieutenant-General Korn Juen, a Shan army commander, said the Burmese army had suffered heavy casualties and had sent 1,000 reinforcements. He said that unless the Burmese army crossed into Thai territory it would not manage to dislodge the Shan.


    Burma is a mosaic of rival ethnic groups. Most have signed peace deals with the ruling junta but some ethnic guerrilla groups -- most notably the Shan State Army and the Karen National Union -- are still fighting the military government's rule.

    The remote Golden Triangle region, where the Shan and Wa armies are based, is the source of much of the heroin reaching the West and most of the methamphetamine pills flooding Thailand.

    Thailand says the Wa produce most of the drugs, but the Burmese junta says the Shan rebels are the main culprits.

    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 Wa army. Thailand withdrew the troops after protests from Burma but relations between the two countries have hardly improved.

    The government of Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra has been keen to improve relations with Burma. The stance has been heavily criticsed by Thai newspapers which say the government has been too soft on Burma in the face of aggression and insults.

    Newspapers say there is also a serious rift between the Thai government and military on how to deal with Burma.

    Burma sealed major border crossings last month and its state-run media have bitterly criticised Thailand. The junta has so far rebuffed Thai requests for talks.

    To The Top