Daily News- June 12- 2002- Wednesday

  • Unrest Closes Burma’s "West Point"
  • Yangon rejects Shan rebels' call for peace talks
  • Analysts call for clear-cut policy
  • Australia to Assist Judges
  • Myanmar's Power Generation Drops in First Two Months
  • Myanmar human rights abuse case against US oil giant to go ahead
  • GSM Phones Spell Profits for Burma's Elite
  • Aung San Suu Kyi urges Myanmar people to persevere for democracy

  • Unrest Closes Burma’s "West Point"

    By Ko Cho
    The Irrawaddy

    June 11, 2002 - Burma’s prestigious Defense Services Academy (DSA) has been closed since last week due to growing unrest among cadets, according to a report by Washington-based Radio Free Asia (RFA).

    The cadets have been upset about the quality of food at the academy, as well as recently introduced regulations that reduce the rank of new graduates, according to the RFA report. In the past, cadets automatically received the rank of second lieutenant and became registered officers upon graduation.

    The DSA, which is based in the former British hill station of Pyin Oo Lwin (also know as Maymyo) in Mandalay Division, is regarded as Burma’s West Point. Many of the country’s military leaders are graduates of the academy.

    According to the report, some cadets have been allowed to go home, but others believed to have been behind a recent series of strikes at the academy have been taken into custody. The report also said that parents have been denied permission to meet the detained cadets.

    Pyin Oo Lwin residents said they could hardly believe the school had been closed, and said that perhaps the cadets had simply been denied permission to go out on leave. They added that this was a common response to disciplinary problems at the academy.

    While the exact nature of the closure remains unclear, however, The Irrawaddy has been able to confirm that activity at the DSA has been severely restricted. Meanwhile, Burma’s tightly controlled media has been silent on the issue of unrest at the academy.

    The DSA is the alma mater of several of Burma’s leading generals, including Gen Maung Aye, the army chief and second most powerful member of the ruling State Peace and Development Council (SPDC); Lt-Gen Tun Kyi, a former trade minister who was forced to resign in 1997; and the late Maj-Gen Nyan Lin, a former junta member.

    The school, which was established in 1955, grants degrees for a four-year course of study in arts and sciences. Computer science and political issues are also emphasized in the curriculum.Every April, the school holds a graduation ceremony that is attended by the country’s top leader. This year, SPDC Chairman Sr-Gen Than Shwe urged graduates of the DSA’s 44th Intake to "work for the interests of the Tatmadaw [armed forces] and avoid self-interest."

    To The Top

    Yangon rejects Shan rebels' call for peace talks

    YANGON, June 11 (AFP) - Myanmar's military junta on Tuesday rejected calls for peace talks by the rebel Shan State Army (SSA) and vowed to continue its offensive until it retakes border camps overrun by the insurgents last month.

    "We have nothing to negotiate with SURA (the Shan United Revolutionary Army, SSA's former name)," a junta spokesman told AFP in one of Yangon's first statements since launching its offensive against the Shan."SURA like other existing armed terrorist groups are invited to exchange arms for peace," the spokesman said.

    The SSA is one of the few major armed insurgent groups in Myanmar yet to sign a ceasefire agreement with the junta. It has been fighting for an independent state for decades.Last month it captured seven Myanmar army bases along the Thai border in clashes which Yangon said left dozens dead.

    "The government is in the process of retaking the camps overrun by SURA," the spokesman said.Earlier on Tuesday the SSA called for peace talks with Yangon's military regime, which is officially called the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC)."We are ready to negotiate for peace with the SPDC, but it must be genuine, " SSA spokeswoman Nam Kher Hsem told AFP.She 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 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 recent fighting, while some 50 Shan fighters have been killed or injured.A Thai military source said earlier this week the SSA held the upper hand in the fighting that is taking place during the onset of the wet season.

    The spokeswoman said the offer of 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 Hsem said."But if the Burma (Myanmar) side wants to show goodwill they will withdraw their troops from outposts which we captured last month."Nam Kher Sham said the SSA did not intend to permanently hold the bases it captured from Yangon which Myanmar troops are now fighting to retake."We will be withdrawing," she said, without specifying when."Our main objective is to destroy the camps that are harbouring amphetamine and heroin production facilities, as well as to let Burma's army see the capability of our troops," she said.The Myanmar military has been accused in the past of turning a blind eye to the production of drugs by ethnic minority groups in exchange for their support.

    To The Top

    Analysts call for clear-cut policy

    Achara Ashayagachat Bhanravee Tansubhapol
    The Bangkokpost

    Analysts on Burma yesterday called for an end of efforts to politicise Thai- Burmese conflicts through the media, and urged policy-makers to have unity and transparency in dealing with Rangoon. Surachart Bamrungsuk, a security and defence analyst at Chulalongkorn University, said

    Thailand lacked a clear-cut policy towards Burma and other neighbouring countries. Patriotic prejudice and personal interests were a driving force for the country in responding to present problems, he told a seminar. Mainstream policy-makers looked at Burma with a negative attitude and seemed ready to wage war as they were obsessed with the love-hate historical perception, while those in support of talks with Rangoon were suspected of pushing for their vested interests. That was one answer why Thailand had no sustainable solution to bilateral problems, he said. All parties should stop giving conflicting interviews and politicising the bilateral dispute for the sake of the country, he cautioned. Problems with Burma were being complicated by the lack of a clear borderline, which in turn led to drug trafficking and other threats, he said.

    Chaichoke Julsiriwongse, a political scientist, recommended Thailand stay more neutral when dealing with Burma's ethnic minorities, including the Wa and Shan rebels who were fighting for control of the drug trade. Ethnic groups in Burma also created situations to stir conflicts between Thailand and Burma, he said. It was good of Thailand to propose itself as mediator for Burma's national reconciliation.

    However, to suggest the formation of a Burmese cabinet with Karen National Union leader Bo Mya as border minister, was going too far, he said. Thai-Burmese issues remained vulnerable to mistrust and misunderstanding as long as the government had conflicting policies towards Burma.

    At the Foreign Ministry, spokesman Rathakit Manathat yesterday declined to comment on the role of Thailand as a mediator as raised by Defence Minister Chavalit Yongchaiyudh, saying the ministry had not been informed about the move. Sunait Chutintaranond, an expert on Burmese history, told the seminar that major powers always wanted to occupy or exploit Burma due to its abudance of natural resources and strategic location, while Burma knew how to play regional and world politics. He called for a careful watch on Burma's politics, saying that the Burmese generals Maung Aye and Khin Nyunt might be in conflict, but they both knew that a break-up would mean the end of their role and power.

    Mr Sunait expected Burma's politics to become more violent as suppression of ethnic minority groups remained prevalent, and said personal relations could help heal Thai-Burma conflicts in the short run. The long-term solution needed a transparent and relevant policy towards Burma, he said.

    To The Top

    Australia to Assist Judges

    By Naw Seng
    The Irrawaddy

    June 11, 2002 - The Australia government announced that it would be sending two Burmese judges abroad to participate in a three- week judicial training seminar in hopes of promoting judicial reformation in Burma, according to an official announcement from the Australian government. However, Burmese lawyers in exile say they are adamantly opposed to the idea.

    The judges will travel to the Philippines from Rangoon to partake in the seminar, which is being held at the International Development Law Institute in Manila. The actual date of the training remains unclear.

    This marks the first time that the Australian government has assisted Burmese judges in traveling abroad to seek judicial training. During the seminar, the two judges will reportedly study international human rights law among other things.

    The exiled Burma Lawyer's Council (BLC), however, sent a rebuffing letter to the Australian government voicing their objection to the government's decision to provide such training, according to an interview broadcast on the Washington DC-based Radio Free Asia (RFA) with BLC Chariman U Thein Oo."We are worried that the junta will be able to legitimize itself through the support of the Australia government," said U Thein Oo in the interview.

    A Thai-based member of the BLC told The Irrawaddy that he would rather see more money aimed at training Burmese living in exile due to what he sees as a lack of transparency in the Australian Government's programs being run inside Burma.

    Australian Foreign Affairs Minister Mr Alexander Downer, however, said last month that the judicial training and human rights workshops will help aid in breaking the country's political impasse.The Australian government has sponsored seven human rights' workshops in Burma since 2000 that were attended by police and prison officers as well as civil servants. However, exiled politicians' say they are not convinced that these workshops have had any positive impact on the country.

    "We haven't seen any reports of how these [workshops] have been advantageous to Burma," says U Desmond Than Naing, chairman of the Committee for a Democratic Burma (CDB), who is also opposed to the Australian government's aid to the regime.

    Burmese analysts have long said an unbiased judicial system does not exist in Burma due to the government's totalitarian rule, where summary judgements and arbitrary arrests are commonplace. The country's ruling State Peace and Development Council (SPDC) also appoints all judges in Burma.

    Next month, the Australian government is conducting two human rights workshops in Mandalay, Burma's second largest city, and the Shan State capital of Taunggyi.The Australia government has allocated approximately US$ 6.2 million in humanitarian aid to Burma for 2002-2003. The funding will target several different projects—including HIV/AIDS prevention and primary health care programs.

    To The Top

    Myanmar's Power Generation Drops in First Two Months

    YANGON, June 11 (Xinhuanet) -- Myanmar's electric power generation was reduced by 10.82 percent to 730.22 million kilowatt-hours (kwh) in the first two months of this year, compared with the same period of 2001, said the government's latest Economic Indicators Tuesday.

    Meanwhile, there was no increase in the installed generating capacity (IGC) of the Myanma Electric Power Enterprise (MEPE),which is the main electricity supplier of the country. The IGC remained at 1,172 mega watts (mw) over the period from April 2000 to February 2002, according to the indicators.

    Official statistics show that in 2001, electric power generated by MEPE totaled 4,799.36 million kwh, 4.5 percent less than 2000.

    To ease serious electricity shortage in the country, Myanmar is adding more hydropower plants, of which two are being built by China. Meanwhile, the Japanese government decided in May this year to provide a financial aid of 628 million yens (about 5 million U.S. dollars) to Myanmar for the rehabilitation of the country's Baluchaung No.2 hydropower plant.

    To The Top

    Myanmar human rights abuse case against US oil giant to go ahead

    LOS ANGELES, June 11 (AFP) - A lawsuit claiming US energy giant Unocal was complicit in human rights abuses committed by Myanmar's military regime will go ahead in California in September, lawyers said Tuesday.

    A Los Angeles judge made the ruling on the six-year-old case Monday, according to attorneys for villagers who lived near a disputed pipeline built with "slave labour" to carry natural gas from Myanmar to neighbouring Thailand.

    "This is a huge victory for us and means that the heart of our long-running case against Unocal will go to a jury and be heard in open court for the first time," said civill rights lawyer Paul Hoffman, an attorney for the villagers."We hope that this will serve as a message to Unocal and other firms that deal with regimes engaged in human rights violations that if you do business with the devil you can be held responsible for the devil's work."

    The lawsuit, originally filed in 1996, claims Unocal was partly responsible for human rights violations committed by Myanmar's military junta during the construction of the Yadana pipeline commissioned by the company and its joint venture partner, the Myanmar government.They have long alleged Unocal -- and its partners including France's Total oil -- were aware forced labour was used in Myanmar before they agreed to build the pipeline, but went ahead with the project anyway.

    The villagers claim that some of them were forced to help build the pipeline while others suffered abuse -- including sexual assaults -- from military officials offering "security" to the lucrative energy scheme.They claim one infant died after "being kicked into a cooking fire" by Myanmar military personnel.

    The airing of the case of John Doe et al v. Unocal Corp. in California Superior Court will mark the first time such claims against a US corporation's overseas conduct would been heard in a US court, Hoffman said.

    "We presented the court with evidence that the Burmese (Myanmar) military forced villagers to perform hard labour against their will and committed widespread human rights violations for the benefit of Unocal's project," said another lawyer, Dan Stormer."Unocal was dealing with the devil. Now they have to answer to a jury," he added following Judge Victoria Chaney's rejection on Monday of California-based Unocal's bid to have the case dismissed.

    Unocal spokesman Barry Lane strongly denied the company was in any way responsible for the rights abuses he conceded were committed by the military of Myanmar, formerly known as Burma."We were not party in any way to any rights abuses. We are not partners with the military, did not request anything from the military and did not receive services from the military," he said."There has not been any decision so far in this case yet and the judge has indicated that there are a number of areas of the case that she is not going to proceed with."

    Lane also said while the case would go ahead in September following the judge's rejection of Unocal's bid for dismissal and the plaintiffs' request for a summary judgement, it remained unclear which arguments would be heard.

    A similar lawsuit brought in a US federal court by the villagers, backed by the organization EarthRights International, was rejected in September 2000, forcing them to refile the suit in a California state court.

    Rights activists have estimated that Myanmar's military regime, which seized power in 1988, receives around 150 million dollars annually in precious income from the Yadana pipeline, cash that they allege bankrolls the junta's oppressive rule.The pipeline also ran into trouble with environmentalists who forced a brief suspension of construction last year, while Myanmar opposition leader, Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, has called for companies to boycott the country.

    To The Top

    GSM Phones Spell Profits for Burma's Elite

    By Kyaw Zwa Moe
    the Irrawaddy

    June 12, 2002—The launching of Burma's first digital mobile phone system has become the latest cash-cow for Burma's privileged elite, according to reliable business sources in Rangoon. Sky-Link Communications, a British Virgin Islands-based company, in a joint venture with Myanmar Sky-Link launched Burma's first Global System for Mobile Communications (GSM) satellite in March of this year after two years of setbacks.

    Permits to purchase the GSM phones are being distributed by the state-run Myanmar Posts and Telecommunications (MPT), the country's sole provider of telecommunications services. Although anyone is eligible to apply for these permits, sources say the vast majority of the permits are being awarded to people with close ties to the regime.

    "Relatives of the generals or people with close ties to them can get the GSM phones," says one Rangoon businessman. "But it’s rare for other ordinary people to get that chance."

    Sources say that reselling the phones, or simply the permit, on the country's black market at a substantial markup is generating significant profits. According to the businessman in Rangoon, the GSM phones are sold by the MPT for 500,000 kyat (US$ 500) and can be immediately sold on the black market for five times that amount.

    "If a person receives the permit [and buys a phone], they can profit nearly 2,000,000 kyat (US$ 2400)," says the Rangoon-based businessman. Although it is unclear how much the MPT is selling just the permits for, the source said that as much as 1,000,000 kyat can be earned by selling them on the black market as well. GSM phones are also reportedly being rented, particularly to businessmen, for 50,000 kyat per month.

    According to the Rangoon-based Myanmar Times weekly journal, the MPT has sold 100,000 GSM mobile phones since March; 70,000 in Rangoon and 30,000 in Mandalay, Burma's second largest city.Prior to GSM phones being available in Burma, CDMA and AMPS mobile phones were used, according to the MPT. There were reportedly only 17,000 of them being used in Rangoon and Mandalay. Former users, however, say the phones received poor reception.

    A GSM phone owner in Rangoon said that it costs 2 kyat to receive a call and 4 kyat per minute to make a call inside Burma. He added that overseas calls could cost as much as US$ 1.50 per minute.

    Sky Link Communications spent US$ 144 million to install the GSM system and awarded the contract to the locally owned Myanmar Sky Link. One of Myanmar Sky Link's original shareholders was Sandar Win, daughter of former Burmese strongman Ne Win, both of whom are under house arrest after a supposed coup that was planned by her husband and three children was thwarted on March 7.

    Sources say the installation of the GSM system had been marred with setbacks since the inception of the idea over two years ago due to internal rifts among the company's shareholders. Sandar Win and her husband, Aye Zaw Win, at one point pre-sold GSM phones without either possessing them or receiving authorization from the MPT, which according to sources familiar with the incident infuriated other shareholders and subsequently delayed the GSM project.

    Shortly after that incident Brig-Gen Win Tin, who was the Communications, Post and Telegraphs Minister at the time, was arrested and forced to resign for his alleged role in the affair. The company was later sold to ethnic Wa and Chinese businessmen. Aik Htein is the current managing director of Myanmar Sky-Link Company.

    To The Top

    Aung San Suu Kyi urges Myanmar people to persevere for democracy

    Myanmar's pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi urged a crowd who gathered to see her in eastern Yangon to be responsible and persevere in their fight for democracy.

    In an impromptu speech to some 1,000 people outside the National League for Democracy (NLD) office in the township of Taketha, Aung San Suu Kyi said that the arrival of democracy would depend on the people themselves.

    "My father once said a free nation deserves democracy. I also firmly believe that only democracy can guarantee freedom for its people. But as I have said repeatedly, with rights and privileges comes responsibility," she told the crowd from the NLD office balcony.

    Aung San Suu Kyi's father, General Aung San, is hailed as the father of Myanmar's independence. He was assassinated in 1947, just months before the country achieved independence in 1948.

    "So you must be not only spiritually and mentally strong but you must also be responsible people, because one day it is the people who will be ruling the country, and you must be prepared spiritually and mentally for this time," she said, as usual wearing traditional dress and flowers in her hair.

    "You ask me how soon are we going to get democracy? Well, how soon really depends on how much desire you have for it. You must persevere and this perseverance must be based on desire," she added.

    Aung San Suu Kyi has been engaged in talks aimed at national reconciliation with the country's ruling military regime since October 2000, one month after she was placed under house arrest.She was released on May 6 this year.

    The leader also commended chairman of the NLD office, U Soe Myint, who was jailed four years ago. The 62- year-old remains in Insein jail along with three youths from Taketha town.

    "This is one sign that this is one of the townships that have been very active," she said.

    The visit to Taketha was the Nobel peace laureate's fifth visit to a Yangon township since her release from house arrest. She is yet to make any visit outside Yangon, which observers believe would be a true test of the military regime's commitment to allow her freedom of movement.She visited the NLD office to assist in reorganising its youth committee.

    To The Top