Daily News- June 11- 2002- Tuesday

  • Myanmar's military burns its drugs to impress the world
  • Myanmar continues offensive against Shan rebels
  • Thai PM says he did not refer to buffer state
  • Thai army chief denies spat with govt
  • Chavalit urges government of reconciliation in Burma
  • Foreign Bank Offices Withdraw From Myanmar
  • Myanmar's Marine Products Exports up in January, February
  • Magazines Banned by Censors
  • Myanmar tells Thailand it's ready to talk
  • Shan rebels call for peace talks with Myanmar

  • Myanmar's military burns its drugs to impress the world

    LASHIO, Myanmar, June 10 (AFP) - As Myanmar faces condemnation for being the world's largest producer of opium, the ruling military generals are putting on a public relations extravaganza.

    "We try to be so clean that we've made ourselves poor," junta spokesman Colonel Hla Min complains while busily taking snapshots of millions of dollars worth of poppy seeds, refined drugs and precursor chemicals curling up in smoke.Along with other members of the international and local press, United Nations representatives and diplomats, AFP was invited to witness the latest fiery destruction of illicit drugs captured by, or turned in to, authorities.

    "If we are as dirty as some outsiders claim, we would be one of the richest tigers in this region," the colonel says.Hla Min says that since 1974 illicit drugs worth some 50 billion dollars have been destroyed by authorities: "Enough to pay our outstanding national debt ten times over."

    Drug-burning ceremonies are regular events in Myanmar that critics argue do not reflect the massive drug indistry in the country, but Jean-Luc Lemahieu, resident representative of the UN's Drug Control Programme (UNDCP), says this one is different.

    Almost 102 tons of poppy seeds are burnt in the capital of Myanmar's northern Shan State at this ceremony, along with 249 kilograms of opium, 102 kilograms of morphine powder, three kilograms of solid morphine and various precursor chemicals.

    "This is obviously different in the sense that there was less processed opium and heroin than opium seeds... which makes it more symbolic as well as indicates the willingness of all those directly involved to get rid of the opium," Lemahieu says.

    The destruction forms part of the Central Committee for Drug Abuse Control's "Project New Destiny", which aims to prevent poppy cultivation by distributing seeds for substitution crops.Farmers have been asked to grow seven kinds of alternative crops instead of opium across 21,969 acres (8,891 hectares) of land.

    It's a big ask in the country that global narcotics authorities declared earlier this year as the world's largest producer of opium in 2001, accounting for as much as 60 percent of global supply.Myanmar overtook Afghanistan after the Taliban militia's ruthlessly enforced ban on opium poppies slashed Afghan production by 90 percent.

    Critics say the Myanmar regime turns a blind eye to much of the production and trafficking in drugs by ethnic insurgent groups -- in particular the United Wa State Army, the largest armed drug militia in the world.But Myanmar's Home Minister, Colonel Tin Hlaing, is claiming success for Project New Destiny already, as evidenced by the tons of poppy seeds authorities say have already been turned in rather than seized.

    "If the local inhabitants are fully committed and (continue to) show this sort of cooperation, I am fully confident the drug scourge threatening the whole of the world will not find a place on the soil of Myanmar," Tin Hlaing booms.

    Nearby Lauk Kai, located in the infamous Golden Triangle, is one of the regime's showpieces for its previous crop subsitution programs, with expanses of rubber trees, fruit orchards and paddy where poppies -- which yield the raw ingredient for heroin -- used to thrive.

    Phone Kyar Shin, reformed druglord and leader of the Kokang, who make up the majority of the population here, pledges his commitment to the government program."I would like to predict that starting from this day there will be no such kind of destruction ceremony in the future because no more poppy will be grown in our region from this year," he says at another ceremony that sees more than 12 tons of poppy seed go up in smoke.But he appeals for the sort of help the international community is reluctant to give."I myself would like to request to the distinguished guests to understand our situation more and give us practical advice and support," he tells the assembled crowd.

    Asked by AFP what impact Project New Destiny might have on the international community, the UNDCP's Lemahieu says: "I hope that this would have a positive impact and some additional funds would come forward ... but so much is depending on the political situation in this country."

    Some see hope for further political change following the May 6 release of pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi from 19 months house arrest.

    For now, the regime in particular seems to be seeking United States approval for the project, with its global announcement coming via the regime's newly-appointed public relations firm in Washington."We'll see," says Priscilla Clapp, the US charge d'affaires."It has to be a multi-faceted, sustained effort for it to work ... There should be measurable results."

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    Myanmar continues offensive against Shan rebels

    CHIANG MAI, Thailand, June 10 (AFP) - Myanmar troops continued their attacks on the rebel Shan State Army (SSA) near the Thai border Monday, but less intensely than in previous days, Thai and SSA sources said.

    Myanmar forces continued shelling positions at Pang Kan Kaw and Pang Mae Sueng but the attacks were less intense than in recent days, SSA spokeswoman Nam Kher Hsem told AFP by telephone from the border.She said the shelling followed four hours of close-range fighting near Pan Kan Kaw that began at about 6:00 pm (1100 GMT) Sunday, after a group of Shan rebels attacked one of Myanmar's military columns.The area was a former Myanmar army outpost that fell to the rebel group last month.No casualty figures were available, she said.

    Thai deputy army spokeswoman Lieutenant Colonel Sirichan Ngathong told AFP fighting continued Monday, but with little effect on Thailand.

    "There is still fighting in Myanmar in the areas opposite Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai provinces in Thailand," she said."However, the fighting has not had much effect on Thailand. There has just been some sporadic spills into the country but they haven't caused any damage."Evacuations of villagers had ceased, she added.

    Myanmar and pro-Yangon Wa 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 and warned its historic enemy Thailand not to interfere.

    Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who has urged Yangon's military junta to hold bilateral talks to defuse tensions, said Monday that Myanmar was not ready to hold talks as it was too busy battling the Shan."It is not time," Thaksin told reporters about possible talks, before setting off on a four-day official visit to Bahrain and Belgium.

    Bilateral relations have been severely strained since May clashes along eastern Myanmar's border left several dozen troops and pro-Yangon ethnic Wa militia dead or missing.After last month's clashes, Yangon closed its border checkpoints with Thailand, blocked official visiting delegations, and launched a stream of anti-Thai rhetoric in its state press.

    Vitriolic sentiment was published again Monday in Yangon's New Light of Myanmar newsaper, which accused a "neighbouring country" of "undermining development, peace and stability of Myanmar."In a separate editorial, the paper accused "Yodaya" -- a centuries-old name for the Thai kingdom whose capital Ayutthaya was sacked by the Burmese in 1767 -- of harbouring anti-Yangon insurgents, calling the act "a perpetration so wicked and lowly that it amounts to the work of accepting thieves."Thaksin has faced mounting criticism for his conciliatory approach to Yangon.

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    Thai PM says he did not refer to buffer state

    The Bangkokpost
    Post reporters

    Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra denies having mentioned the existence of buffer state policy along the border with Burma.Mr Thaksin said he had merely reiterated the government's policy of non- interference in the affairs on neighbouring countries.He accused reporters of firing leading questions at him and then expanding his responses in a way that caused confusion.

    ``They jumped to a conclusion and made a big fuss out of it,'' the prime minister said.

    Opposition leader Chuan Leekpai refused to accept the prime minister's denial. He said it was hard to believe the prime minister had come up with a statement so damaging for Thailand.

    ``The prime ministers statement has seriously damaged the country as it causes the world community to think that we still use minority groups as a buffer,'' the Democrat leader said.

    Mr Thaksin said he had not said buffer state nor referred to the existence of one. He had just emphasised to the media the government's policy not to meddle with other countries' internal affairs and its steadfast refusal to shelter any elements hostile to its neighbours.Mr Thaksin raised eyebrows when he was reported as saying he was abandoning the buffer state policy.

    Critics said his comment was equivocal and could be interpreted to mean the government had previously held to the policy but had decided to drop it now.

    Mr Thaksin said the media had gone overboard in reporting the buffer state issue. ``I appeal to you to talk less and let the government get on with its work.''Confusion was often the product of lop-sided interviews with people who knew only half the truth, he said.

    Defence Minister Chavalit Yongchaiyudh said Thailand dropped the buffer state policy about 20 years ago.``We have shifted from the buffer state policy to intelligence operations outside Thai boundaries, or defence diplomacy as it is called by this government.``The prime minister understands it well. Do not hit out at him,'' he said.``We have no buffer state policy and do not even think about it.''

    The Karen National Union said it never made any deal to act as Thailand's buffer state.Gen Bo Mya, KNU vice-president and defence minister, said Thailand had never negotiated with the KNU or any other minority groups on the buffer state proposition.

    Rangoon, on the other hand, did sponsor a buffer state. It was made up of the forces of KNU renegades and the Democratic Karen Buddhist Army.

    Gen Bo Mya said Rangoon hammered out a deal with the DKBA in Karen state's Hlaingbwe district about five years ago entrusting the rebels to function as buffer troops. In return, the DKBA was promised a share of the benefits from border trade activities.

    Thai army chief denies spat with govt

    Wassana Nanuam
    The Bangkokpost

    The army never over-reacts to border problems with Burma and always follows ``rules of engagement'' when defending Thai sovereignty, the army chief said yesterday.

    Gen Surayud Chulanont, who returned from Washington on Sunday night, said the army did what the government told it to do. It was not pursuing its own agenda.``We haven't done anything of that sort. The army always follows the Defence Ministry's policy and never has any objections,'' he said.

    Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra has told the army not to over-react to stray shells crossing the border from fighting betwen Burmese and ethnic forces.Gen Surayud said he did not believe the prime minister had mean to criticise the military, but others might have seen it differently.

    Soldiers were concerned more with defending the country's sovereignty than fighting Burmese soldiers.The army was not in conflict with the government and nor was the government interfering in military affairs.

    ``The government hasn't interfered in the army. The prime minister is in charge of policy,'' he said.``I want to be a good army chief And I intend to pull the military out of politics,'' he said.``There can be no conflict between the army and the government whatsoever. I reiterate this.'' Gen Surayud said.

    Asked if he intended to see the prime minister to clarify the situation, Gen Surayud said there were procedures to follow.``I will have to wait. I have to report to my immediate supervisors, the supreme commander or the defence minister, he said.``The prime minister can summon me, but I can't see him just like that.''

    Asked about rumours he planned to step down, Gen Surayud said he never made decisions in haste.``Moreover, there's nothing so serious that would justify such a decision. If possible I'll stay on until my mandatory retirement,'' he said.

    There have been reports the prime minister and Gen Surayud do not see eye to eye on the question of how to handle Burma.The prime minister's over-reaction comment was cited as having stemmed from this difference.Mr Thaksin has also denied reports that Gen Surayud was being pressured to step down. The general reaches retirement age next year.

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    Chavalit urges government of reconciliation in Burma

    Wassana Nanuam
    The Bangkokpost

    Leaders of all minority groups inside Burma should be made cabinet ministers in a national reconciliation government that Thailand is willing to help mediate, Defence Minister Gen Chavalit Yongchaiyuth said yesterday.

    Gen Chavalit, also deputy prime minister, said Aung San Suu Kyi, the National League for Democracy leader, should be interior minister, while Gen Bo Mya, the Karen National Union chief, should be border minister. Wa leaders should also get ministerial seats, he said.

    Thailand was willing to mediate between them and then assist in the drafting of a constitution and organising of a general election.

    ``We must help minority groups follow a peaceful path and allow them to join the national reconciliation government because Shan people love their land and are also the country's owners.``We must support them to reunite, not to kill each other,'' he said.

    Gen Chavalit said he first broached the general idea of a reconciliation government with Burma last year.

    ``When Lt-Gen Khin Nyunt [Burma's State Peace and Development Council first secretary] visited Thailand in September, I took him to Suan Son resort and we discussed the issue _ Thailand's friendship for Burma _ from sunrise till sunset,'' Gen Chavalit said.

    Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, however, said Burma did not seem to be in the mood for talks to settle border conflicts with Thailand. It was too busy battling ethnic rebels along the border.``It is not time,'' he said before leaving for an official visit to Bahrain and Belgium yesterday. ``They are not happy at the moment because they have lost their bases and have suffered casualties.

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    Foreign Bank Offices Withdraw From Myanmar

    YANGON, June 10 (Xinhuanet) -- A majority of foreign bank representative offices have withdrawn from Myanmar during the past five years, bank sources here said Monday. Before the Asian financial crisis broke out in mid-1997, there were 43 foreign bank offices in Myanmar. But there remain only over 10 now, the sources disclosed.

    The withdrawal of the foreign bank offices was due to the unavailability of banking operation licenses to do international business in Myanmar, complains the bank circle here.

    Meanwhile, there are so far over 10 local private banks in Myanmar with a total of about 350 branches. The government allowed the private sector to run banks again in 1992, nearly three decades after nationalization of private banks and termination of foreign bank branches operation in the early 1960s.

    Of the present over 10 private banks, the Asia Wealth Bank,Myanmar Mayflower Bank, Yoma Bank, Kanbawza Bank and Myanmar Oriental Bank are in the leading position..

    All private banks give 12 percent annual interest for deposits and 15 percent for loans fixed by the Central Bank of Myanmar. There are also five state-owned banks in Myanmar.

    Myanmar's Marine Products Exports up in January, February

    YANGON, June 10 (Xinhuanet) -- Myanmar exported 39,100 tons of fish and prawn in the first two months of this year, up 189.62 percent over the same period of 2001 when 13,500 tons were sold abroad, the government Economic Indicators said in its latest issue.

    The sharp increase of the export was due to high export volume of fish during the two-month period, registering 36,200 tons or 92.58 percent, while the prawn export was recorded at 2,900 tons or 7.42 percent.

    Export earning from the marine products during the period totaled 24.17 million U.S. dollars, accounting for 8.4 percent of Myanmar's total export earning. In 2001, Myanmar exported 61,000 tons of fish and prawn,fetching 119.37 million dollars.

    Myanmar is endowed with rich fishery resources and the fishery sector is the third productive mainstay of the country's economy after agriculture and forestry, contributing 7.3 percent to its gross domestic product and standing as the third largest dollar earner.

    Myanmar catches about one million tons of fish and prawn annually, the export of which covers 49 countries and regions.Meanwhile, a three-year fishery development plan is being implemented by the government since 2000, aimed at encouraging the local private enterprises to engage in the sector by setting up fishery joint ventures with the government and foreign companies.

    Official statistics show that since Myanmar opened to foreign investment in late 1988, foreign companies have so far injected 197 million dollars into the country's fishery sector. Meanwhile, to raise the international awareness of Myanmar's fishery and livestock products, find more markets, attract foreign investment and get technical expertise, Myanmar held a fishery and livestock fair in Yangon in February, winning a large number of contracts worth 27.25 million dollars with 33 local and foreign companies on sale of a total of 7,823.73 tons of fish and prawn.

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    Magazines Banned by Censors

    By Ko Cho
    The Irrawaddy

    June 10, 2002 - Burma’s draconian Press Scrutiny Board (PSB), which is responsible for censoring all private magazines and journals, prohibited two magazines from publishing this month. The Living Color business magazine and Mhyar Nat Maung Mingalar magazine were both told that their current issues were not fit for distribution, according to sources close to the magazines.

    The sources told The Irrawaddy that the "Mhyar Nat Maung Mingalar" was barred from distributing this month’s magazine because it placed an advertisement ahead of the government’s mandatory propaganda page, which states the "three national causes". "Living Color" was censored for printing an advertisement from the MK Billiard Company.

    MK Billiard reportedly infuriated the government last month for refusing to donate snooker tables to the state-owned Myanmar Billiard and Snooker Association, which is under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Sports.

    "I think the government is just upset with MK," said a source familiar with the Mhyar Nat Maung Mingalar. "The ban will only affect this month’s issue."

    Some readers say they were surprised that Living Color was censored because the magazine’s masthead lists Ye Naing Wyne, the youngest son of Sec-1 Lt- Gen Khin Nyunt, Burma’s third most powerful general, as the magazine’s publisher.However, a source familiar with Living Color told The Irrawaddy that: "They only rent a publishing license from [Ye Naing Wyne]. Their magazine has to endure the same censorship as all the other magazines in Burma."

    The PSB also told all publications in Burma last month that they were prohibited from mentioning or advertising anything about Thailand. The move comes in response to allegations from the Burmese government that Thailand has been aiding the Shan State Army (SSA) against Rangoon troops and their United Wa State Army (UWSA) allies.

    Living Color was established in June 1995. This is the first time the magazine has been banned. Mhyar Nat Maung was first published in April 1991 and it focuses on love, marriage and literature. It was unclear whether the magazine had been kept off newsstands in the past.

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    Myanmar tells Thailand it's ready to talk

    BANGKOK, June 11 (AFP) - Myanmar Tuesday contacted Thailand for the first time since a border row last month to say it wants to hold talks, Thai Defence Minister Chavalit Yongchaiyudh said.

    "Today I was contacted by Myanmar and told that they want to meet, and they asked how they could meet with us. We informed them that we had already proposed a meeting, and insisted that we wanted to make peace," Chavalit told reporters.

    Chavalit told reporters the meeting would take place "at half way" between the two capitals, at a location of Myanmar's choosing.He urged Myanmar to conduct the talks as soon as possible for the sake of Myanmar people, who are suffering as a result of the border closure.

    "The timing of negotiations is very important because there will be further problems with more delays. I am sympathetic towards the situation inside Myanmar where the price of goods is high and the currency is falling," he said.

    Local Thai television has reported that the prices of basic necessities along the border have gone up drastically since the closure.

    Chavalit's comments come a day after Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra told reporters Myanmar was not ready to hold talks as it was too busy battling the Shan."It is not time," Thaksin told reporters before setting off on a four-day official visit to Bahrain and Belgium.

    Shan rebels call for peace talks with Myanmar

    CHIANG MAI, Thailand, June 11 (AFP) - Myanmar's rebel Shan State Army (SSA), which is fighting an offensive by Myanmar and pro-Yangon forces along the Thai border, called Tuesday for genuine peace talks with Yangon's military regime.

    "We are ready to negotiate for peace with the SPDC (State Peace and Development Council), but it must be genuine," SSA spokeswoman Nam Kher Sham told AFP, using the official name of Myanmar's junta."The peace offer is not for the SSA but for the sake of the Shan people," she said.However, Nam Kher Sham said the group would not lay down its arms before coming to the peace table.

    "We will not surrender. The SPDC has always said all minorities joining peace talks must give up their arms first. It's the policy of the junta. But we don't agree to that condition," she said."They hold their arms and we hold our arms. It's fair," she added.

    The rebel group has proposed ceasefire arrangements to Yangon on several occasions in the past, but the junta has rejected them.Yangon warned last Tuesday that its forces were about to stage an all-out offensive against the SSA, which it describes as a terrorist outfit.According to a Thai military source, up to 100 Myanmar troops have been killed in the fresh fighting, while some 50 Shan fighters have been killed or injured.

    The spokeswoman said the offer to attend peace talks was unrelated to the current fighting."The SSA does not fear the ongoing offensive because the SSA is now at an advantage in the fighting," Nam Kher Sham said. "But if the Burma side wants to show goodwill they will withdraw their troops from outposts which we captured last month."

    The SSA is one of a few major armed insurgent groups in Myanmar yet to sign a ceasefire agreement with the ruling junta. It has been fighting for an independent state for decades.

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