Daily News- June 10- 2002- Monday

  • ILO sees Myanmar army contacts as vital in bid to end forced labour
  • Press rights groups call on Myanmar to release journalists, others
  • Offensive claims lives of 100 Myanmar troops
  • Thai PM flayed for Burma gaffe
  • Myanmar's Karen Rebels Attack Pro-Government Minority Group

  • ILO sees Myanmar army contacts as vital in bid to end forced labour

    GENEVA, June 8 (AFP) - The International Labour Organisation should have its own special contacts inside Myanmar's army because the armed forces are a vital factor in the UN agency's aim of ending forced labour in the south-east Asian country, an ILO report recommended here Saturday.

    "Actions taken by the authorities to date, including orders concerning forced labour, had centred on the government administration," said a report commenting on a visit by Leon de Riedmatten, an official tasked to prepare the way for a future ILO officer overseeing efforts to wipe out forced labour in Myanmar, formerly Burma.

    But "because the army would have to play a key role in any solution to this problem, it was vital for the liaison officer to have a interlocutor from the army," said the document.

    "Because contacts with the army were often difficult, he suggested that one possibility would be to include a representative from the army in the Implementation Committee, which currently had representatives only of the governement's administration," said the report reflecting Riedmatten's findings.

    Riedmatten met junta ministers and opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, and reported on his return here to the ILO Committee on the Application of Standards.

    Myanmar's military rulers have come under fire from western governments for failing to curb forced labour, a form of slavery now mostly used by military units working on the unstable borders of the country, which was formerly known as Burma.

    The International Confederation of Free Trade Unions has branded Myanmar "the biggest labour camp in the world."The ILO issued an unprecedented censure of the country in 2000 over its failure to curb the practice, paving the way for further sanctions from its members that threatened to cripple the country's already shaky economy.Faced with the threat, the Myanmar junta issued a decree banning forced labour and allowed ILO missions to visit the country in hopes of averting punitive measures.

    Reports by the US State Department and human rights groups have said forced labour and child labour were rife, with victims coerced into building roads, railways and military installations.

    Refugees escaping to Thailand have in the past reported military raids on villages, where even the old and infirm were rounded up and put to work for long hours with no pay and insufficient food, while their abandoned crops and livestock perished.

    Officers in Myanmar's cash-strapped armed forces have been quoted as saying privately that the army continued to need porters to carry supplies and weapons across rugged areas where not even elephants or mules could travel safely.

    The report on the visit by Riedmatten, who headed the International Red Cross delegation in Myanmar until 2000, said: "It would also be important for the liaison officer to be able to meet with regional and local commanders when he travelled to the field."

    The ILO in March ratified an understanding with the military junta for the liaison officer to be appointed no later than June.

    Opposition leader Aug San Suu Kyi was quoted by the report as telling Riedmatten "the point needed to be made to the army that forced labour was not necessary, provided the required resources were provided to replace it..."

    The Myanmar government authorities had expressed reservations about the idea of an independent ombudsman to receive individual complaints about forced labour, arguing that "people would not have any way to contact this person ... many parts of the country were extremely remote..."

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    Press rights groups call on Myanmar to release journalists, others

    BANGKOK, June 8 (AFP) - An international press-freedom watchdog has called for Myanmar's ruling junta to release a journalist who led a hunger strike as well as hundreds of political prisoners held in the country's jails.

    Reporters Sans Frontieres (Reporters Without Borders - RSF) said in a statement received in Bangkok Saturday that it "condemned the reprisals against the photographer Sunny (Khin Maung Win) and at least 25 other political prisoners who had started a hunger strike" March last year.

    "It is now becoming a matter of urgency for the military junta to proceed to the massive and unconditional release of the hundreds of political prisoners, and notably the 16 journalists, who are languishing in prison," RSF Secretary General Robert Menard said in a letter to Home Affairs Minister Colonel Tin Hlaing."This would be a significant gesture towards the international community."

    The Paris-based group was joined by the Burma Media Association, a group of exiled Myanmar journalists, in its condemnation of the junta.

    Sunny's family and friends have had no news of him since May 21, when he was transferred from Kalay prison in Myanmar's remote northwest to an undisclosed location, RSF said.The groups said prisoners in Kalay went on a hunger strike in early March in support of their demands for the release of pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi and other political prisoners.

    Aung San Suu Kyi, the Nobel peace laureate who heads the National League for Democracy (NLD), was released May 6 after 19 months of house arrest.

    Sunny was arrested in 1997 and sentenced to seven years imprisonment for his part in making a video of an interview with Aung San Suu Kyi and smuggling it out of the country, RSF said.Late last month RSF expressed concern about the unknown health status of two other jailed Myanmar journalists.An estimated 1,500 political prisoners are languishing in Myanmar's harsh jails.

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    Offensive claims lives of 100 Myanmar troops: Thai military source

    CHIANG MAI, Thailand, June 9 (AFP) - Around 100 Myanmar troops have been killed and some 150 wounded since they launched an offensive against the rebel Shan State Army (SSA) last week, a Thai military source said Sunday as fighting continued.

    "About 100 Myanmar troops have been killed and another 150 injured since the offensive began," a Thai military intelligence official based along the border told AFP.He said up to 50 fighters with the SSA had been killed or injured in the offensive.

    Myanmar troops carried out long-range shelling attacks throughout Saturday night and Sunday, SSA spokeswoman Nam Kher Hsem told AFP from the border area in Chiang Mai province.Clashes were heaviest around the areas of Pang Kam Kaw and Pang Mae Sueng opposite Chiang Mai province, Nam Kher said.

    Myanmar and pro-Yangon forces are attempting to recapture border bases Yangon says were overrun by the rebels last month. Yangon declared last week its intention to stage an all-out offensive against the SSA.Another Thai military source said the SSA was in a superior position for the fighting, which is occurring during the onset of the wet season.

    "I think the Myanmar troops have been suffering more casualties during the recent attacks because the Shan positions are on the mountain tops. The bad weather is a major problem for Yangon forces," the source told AFP.

    Another border source in Mae Hong Son province told AFP of eyewitness reports that Myanmar soldiers had rounded up some 200 civilians in eastern border towns to use as porters.Eyewitnesses had seen handcuffed Myanmar prisoners in the battle zones carrying arms and ammunitions for government troops, the source said.The SSA spokeswoman said Shan fighters had also reported seeing prisoners handcuffed and shackled to each other.

    At least 3,000 Myanmar soldiers and their allies, the United Wa State Army's fighters, are involved in the offensive against the SSA, one of two 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.

    Largest-ever attack against SSA planned

    source :The Bangkokpost
    Post reporters

    An impending Burmese attack on the Shan State Army could be the biggest assault ever by Rangoon, involving thousands of troops and heavy artillery, Thai intelligence sources said.Never before had Rangoon marshalled such a large force to attack the Shan, whose military camps are sited alongside the border in rugged terrain opposite Chiang Rai's Mae Fa Luang and Mae Hong Son's Pang Mapha districts.The SSA headquarters are at Doi Tailang, opposite Pang Mapha.

    A junior SSA officer predicted Rangoon's forces would begin a major offensive in the next few days against Kaw Wan and Kaw Muang, two significant Shan bases opposite Mae Fa Luang.He expected an extensive artillery bombardment of Kaw Muang following Bangkok's refusal to allow Burmese troops to launch an attack on the base through Thai territory. The terrain on the Burmese side is very difficult for troops to carry out an assault.

    A veteran Thai border watcher said Burmese troops now had no option but to use artillery to bombard Kaw Muang.``What concerns us most is that shells that miss their targets could land on our side of the border and cause extensive damage,'' he said.

    Thai cavalry soldiers from Pha Muang Task Force deployed at Mae Fa Luang's border area remain on full alert.There have been indications the Burmese might use the same strategy they did last year, when their troops crossed the border and briefly occupied Ban Pang Noon as a base for a cross-border operation against the SSA base at Kaw Wan, four kilometres west of Kaw Muang.``Our orders are clear, that no foreign forces will be allowed to use our territory for any military operation,'' a cavalry officer said.

    Tachilek township, on the Burmese side of the border, was without electricity last night following reports that local Burmese officials had asked Thai authorities to cut the supply to the town.

    ``It was very quiet in Tachilek and we don't really know what's going on there, but this could have something to do with Rangoon's coming military operation,'' a local official said, adding reports of the build-up were causing widespread concern among local people.

    The Irrawaddy newspaper reported the Burmese military was forcing local people in the border town of Myawaddy to work as porters for troops preparing to attack the Shan.

    Since the junta closed the Thai-Burmese Friendship bridge between Myawaddy and Mae Sot two weeks ago the Burmese army had been arbitrarily arresting young men in the marketplace and at tea shops, the report.The border crossing is normally a major thoroughfare for Burmese migrant workers seeking jobs in Thailand.With the bridge closed, workers must illegally cross the Moei river into Thailand. Border sources said young Burmese men were also crossing to dodge arrest and conscription.

    ``Parents have been advising their children to cross the river and hide in Mae Sot until the situation cools down," said Moe Swe, head of the Mae Sot-based Burmese Labour Solidarity Organisation. To deter this exodus, the Burmese government has issued a directive stating that anyone caught crossing the river faces six months in jail, according to people who recently crossed into Thailand.There was no information on how many people had been arrested on the Burmese side.

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    Thai PM flayed for Burma gaffe

    The Nation-Published on Jun 10, 2002

    Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra's announcement on Saturday that he would end the buffer-zone policy with Burma drew rebukes from parliamentarians and academics who told him to talk less about Burma and to be more discrete when talking about foreign policy.

    "The prime minister should not have said that he wanted the end of the policy. This is because we have denied the existence of the policy for a long time. His statement will send the message to other countries that we are unstable," said Kraisak Choonhavan, chairman of the Senate Committee on Foreign Affairs.

    Thaksin, a former foreign minister, said on Saturday that he would cease using Burma's insurgent groups as a buffer between Thailand and Burma. He also accused non- governmental organisations operating at the Thai-Burmese border of interfering in both countries' efforts to mend ties.His statement came amid ongoing border tensions in which Burma demanded that the Thai Army stop providing assistance to ethnic rebels fighting against Rangoon.Late last week the Thai government agreed to move villagers from along the border after Burma informed it that it would attack the rebels and also the Thai Army if it continued to help the insurgents.

    "Thaksin should pay more attention when he talks about foreign policy, particularly when Burmese issues are concerned. He should be more skilful when talking about these things," Kraisak told The Nation.Talking about foreign policy is not easy and should be done by a person skilled in it, he said.

    "The premier should be more skilful when talking about these issues. They are different from other policies and not as simple as the Bt30-healthcare programme that he can boast about in his radio programme," Kraisak said, referring to a radio show hosted by Thaksin every Saturday morning.

    Thaksin yesterday apparently tried to tone down his statements on Saturday, saying the government had never adopted the buffer policy because it had never wanted to interfere in other countries' internal affairs.He also said that he believed that the Army had never used this policy to deal with Burma either, though it would not have been wrong to do so.

    Meanwhile Deputy Democrat Party leader Abhisit Vejjajiva said that Thaksin should have been more cautious when he spoke on the issue because his statement clearly admitted that Thailand supported the Burmese rebels.

    "It is not true that Thailand extended assistance to the Burmese insurgents. The previous Thai governments never implemented this policy. Thaksin's statement caused great confusion," Abhisit said."Moreover the prime minister should not have said anything that hurts the feelings and dignity of the people. He should speak less, because his statements could cause damage given the fact he does not know the real truth of what he is talking about," Abhisit said.

    Earlier Thaksin called for the Thai Army not to "overreact" when dealing with Burma, drawing intense criticism from many. He was accused of trying to please Burma for the sake of his family's business there.

    Somchai Homla-or, a representative of non-governmental organisation Forum Asia, said that Thaksin's call to end the buffer policy betrayed his confusion about foreign policy."Thailand annulled the policy about six years ago. If the policy was still on, the Burmese rebels would have more freedom and be stronger than they are now," Somchai said.The Thai government should clearly inform Burma that any contact it has with Burmese insurgents is just part of the anti-narcotics campaign, he said.

    Myanmar rebel leader disappointed in Thai premier's plan to stop tolerating rebels as buffer

    BANGKOK, Thailand - A Myanmar guerrilla leader expressed disappointment Sunday over a decision by Thailand's prime minister to distance his country from ethnic minority rebel groups fighting Myanmar's military government.

    Col. Yawd Serk of the Shan State Army was speaking a day after Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra said that he had decided to end a long-standing policy of tolerating rebels who operate along Thailand's border with Myanmar as a "buffer zone." That policy has recently strained tensions with Myanmar's junta as skirmishes with the rebels have intensified.

    Yawd Serk, whose ethnic minority army has been fighting for years for autonomy in the country formerly known as Burma, called Thaksin's announcement unwise and unfortunate."Thailand needs to think about with whom it wants to be friends," he said in a telephone interview with The Associated Press.

    Thailand's military has traditionally maintained close ties with rebels of the Shan and Karen ethnic groups, who were considered to provide a security buffer for Thailand by tying up Mynamar's army along the border.While discouraging attacks by the rebels across the frontier, the Thai army has allowed them to supply themselves in Thailand and organize political support among refugees who fled there. There are more than 100,000 Karen refugees in Thai camps.

    Thaksin has yet to spell out his new policy toward the Myanmar rebels, saying only that the "buffer zone (concept) must be totally abandoned."His government is seeking closer business ties with Myanmar, which with relations deteriorated badly after shells were fired across their border last month.

    Buffer state policy ended years ago

    Wassana Nanuam
    The Bangkokpost

    The army says remarks by the prime minister that Thailand would end its ``buffer state'' policy on Burma was not an indication the policy abolished two decades ago had ever been revived.

    Lt-Gen Udomchai Ongkasingha, the Third Army commander, said Thaksin Shinawatra was merely saying that the government would not revive the policy.The commander said Rangoon might have taken the remark the wrong way and thought the government had been pursuing the policy all along.

    ``The prime minister referred to a policy in effect 20 years ago. The government does not want to dust it off, but to concentrate on forging a cordial relationship,'' Lt-Gen Udomchai said.

    Mr Thaksin said on Saturday his government did not advocate a buffer state policy and did not want to interfere in Burma's affairs.The government wanted to foster national reconciliation in Burma so refugee and drug problems would not spill across the border.

    The country was in no hurry to negotiate with Burma on the border issue. ``Burma is not comfortable with what happened. Four of its military camps were sacked by ethnic rebels. We'll have to wait until troops retake them [before starting any talks],'' Mr Thaksin said.

    An army source, however, said Mr Thaksin's buffer state remark, whether or not inadvertently made, was damaging to the already fragile state of Thai- Burmese relations.The source said Rangoon would lose no time seizing on the comment to launch a fresh round of verbal attacks.``What did he [the prime minister] say that for? Did he not know what's what?'' the source said.

    In reality, the buffer state policy was repealed during the Prem Tinsulanonda administration.An army general who asked to remain anonymous said Mr Thaksin appeared keen to substantiate Rangoon's charge that the military had been helping Shan State Army rebels.Burma has accused the government of harbouring rebels fighting its troops on the border.The general said the military may have fostered loose ties with the SSA in the past but those days were long gone.

    Rangoon, on the other hand, had the Wa minority rebels at its disposal and turned them into its own ``buffer force'' against Thailand. The Wa, who smuggled drugs into Thailand, were a dangerous buffer agent.

    ``It emerges that we have no buffer in place while Burma still commands one. Who's at a disadvantage here?'' the general said.The army occasionally offered humanitarian aid to the SSA, but that was all. The rebels may have entered the country to buy provisions or medicine but they came in as villagers, unarmed.The general said Mr Thaksin had misconstrued the ``buffer state'' concept in the first place. The term referred to an overt policy of supporting minority groups.

    Lt-Gen Udomchai said there was no point these days in engaging the SSA or the Karen National Union in the buffer equation.Technically, buffer states had ceased to exist once Rangoon annexed areas occupied by the Karen, Kaya and Shan groups. Only pockets of breakaway armed rebels remained but it would be wrong to define them as ``states''.Buffer states must be self-ruled, run their own military, and uphold territorial integrity. The SSA and KNU could not function as buffer states on such a basic definition.

    The Wa, on the other hand, did occupy a buffer state, because Rangoon had granted them a special-administered zone. ``They [the Wa] are on our doorstep but we have no buffer against Burma,'' he said. The SSA, by contrast, were forces without a territory, Lt-Gen Udomchai said.

    Chamni Sakdiset, the deputy Democrat secretary-general, said Mr Thaksin's buffer state comment would not help border relations.Restoring goodwill would be an uphill task if commercial interests were involved. Shin Satellite Co has interests in Burma. The firm is affiliated to Shin Corp, a company controlled by Mr Thaksin.

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    Myanmar's Karen Rebels Attack Pro-Government Minority Group

    BANGKOK, June 9 (Xinhuanet) -- Soldiers of the Karen Nation Union (KNU), a Myanmar anti-government minority group, Sunday morning attacked the rival Karen DKBA group's two bases opposite Tak province of Thailand, 500 kilometers west from Bangkok.

    According to a reporter of Ban Muang newspaper, around 200 soldiers of the KNU started the attack at around 02:00 am. They fired shells of heavy weapons, automatic rifles and mortars at the bases of the DKBA and the two sides exchanged fire for more than two hours, the reporter said.

    Many villagers living near the border fled from their home to escape the fighting and Thai soldiers also were ordered to keep security on the border. At the same time, another group of KNU soldiers attacked the DKBA's base opposite Chiang Mai province of Thailand, 700 kilometers north from Bangkok. Till now, there is no report of casualties from both sides.

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