Daily News- March 12- 2002- Tuesday


  • Rights groups demand release of ageing Myanmar journalist
  • Burmese textile workers stage protest in Mae Sot
  • Talks in Phuket conducive to repatriation of illegal Burmese
  • Thai Villagers Sentenced by Myanmar for Illegally Cutting Trees
  • Joint festivities at checkpoint planned
  • Residents near Burma border warned to keep clear
  • Myanmar says coup bid won't disrupt Suu Kyi talks
  • EU team to visit Myanmar amid army power struggle
  • Myanmar junta says coup plotters planned to abduct top three


  • Rights groups demand release of ageing Myanmar journalist

    BANGKOK, March 11 (AFP) - Reporters Sans Frontieres and the exiled Burma Media Association (BMA) Monday called on Myanmar's ruling junta to release dissident journalist Win Tin who has been imprisoned for the past 13 years.

    Reporters Sans Frontieres (Reporters without Borders - RSF) and the exiled BMA said they would present a petition to Myanmar's French embassy on Win Tin's 72nd birthday which falls on Tuesday.

    "RSF and the BMA demand that Win Tin be released for medical reasons," the Paris-based RSF and the BMA said in a joint statement, adding that some 2,500 people had signed the petition calling for his release.

    Win Tin was a leading member of Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy (NLD), which won a landslide election victory in 1990 but has been blocked from assuming power in the military-run state. During his time behind bars, the high-profile dissident has suffered from high blood pressure, diabetes and inflammation of the vertebra, the media groups said.

    "(We) fear that a return to prison will worsen Win Tin's fragile health, and hope that the Burmese authorities will show compassion to a sick, 72-year-old man who has spent the past 13 years of his life in prison."

    The statement said that the UN's human rights envoy to Myanmar, Paulo Sergio Pinheiro, and former political prisoners, reported Win Tin was being treated at Rangoon General Hospital, where he was operated on for a hernia. "Even though his overall condition is stable, a return to prison could endanger his life."

    Win Tin, former editor-in-chief of the daily Hanthawathi, has been imprisoned since 4 July 1989 on a 20-year sentence for sending a previous UN envoy a document on prison conditions and mistreatment at Insein prison. RSF said that according to its records, at least 17 media professionals are still jailed in Myanmar.

    Yangon says it has released at least 29 political prisoners since mid-February and nearly 250 since the junta began secret talks with Aung San Suu Kyi in October 2000. However, many high-ranking NLD leaders remain in jail, and Aung San Suu Kyi herself has been under house arrest since September 2000.

    Officials in Yangon announced Saturday that the son-in-law and three grandsons of former dictator Ne Win, who ruled Myanmar between 1962 and 1988, were arrested last Thursday while discussing plans for a coup. The nation's chief of police, air force chief and military commander were subsequently sacked, and observers said they expected more high-profile heads to roll in coming days as the regime purges its ranks.

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    Burmese textile workers stage protest in Mae Sot

    Supamart Kasem
    The Bangkokpost

    More than 500 Burmese employees of a textile factory in Mae Sot district rallied yesterday in protest against overdue wages and poor social welfare benefits. The workers of Chiew Ki Textiles Industry Co abandoned work and gathered in the factory's compound at 9.30am in tambon Mae Pa.

    They demanded back wages and severance pay for 43 workers whose work permits had expired early this month. The protesters also called on the factory owner to provide better welfare benefits.

    The 43 workers were deported to Burma on March 7, after the factory refused to renew their work permits. The deported workers had led several protests at the factory in the past few months.Early last month some 300 workers broke into the factory's office and damaged office property in protest against delayed salary payments.

    However, the 43 workers somehow found their way back to the factory and instigated others to stage a protest when they realised that many other workers at the factory had also been unpaid for months. About 20 police were sent in to step up security at the factory.

    Maung Naing, 25, one of the 43 workers, said he was being paid 50 baht a day while many others were getting only 20-30 baht.He claimed the factory was also deducting 600 baht each month from their wages, instead of the 300 baht as earlier agreed, in work permit fees.

    Vipaporn Puriwattana, a representative of the company, yesterday conceded the factory owed the workers back wages but promised to settle the problem soon. She claimed the wages were lower than the legal limit because they were paid based on the volume of work. ``The more they work, the more they are paid,'' she said.

    Ms Vipaporn said since the factory employed nearly 3,000 workers, welfare benefits might not cover all of the workers. The protesters dispersed after the factory paid the overdue wages to the 43 workers and an extra 1,000 baht to each of them as travelling expenses. The 43 workers were then handed over to the immigration authorities for deportation.

    Pongtai Musikapong, a social welfare official, yesterday said the textile factory was required to clarify their employment conditions by today or face legal action. He said Chiew Ki Textiles Industry Co was one of the factories in the province which had been repeatedly warned to comply with the minimum wage law. The minimum wage in Tak is 133 baht a day.

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    Talks in Phuket conducive to repatriation of illegal Burmese

    Achara Achayagachat
    The Bangkokpost

    The first batch of about 200 Burmese workers could be repatriated in a couple of months under an arrangement emerging between Thai and Burmese authorities, a Foreign Ministry source said yesterday.

    During a weekend meeting in Phuket of a joint Thai-Burmese task force, Thailand offered to submit to Burma the names of the workers to be repatriated, together with their photographs, parents' identities, and domiciles.The information would be submitted to the Burmese embassy in Bangkok, with copies sent to the Thai embassy in Rangoon and Tak authorities. Burma was expected to take 7-10 days to verify the information and approve the repatriation, the source said.

    The joint task force subsequently would hold a meeting in Burma's Myawaddy border town so that they could see for themselves how the repatriation was going, the source said.Burma is holding about 800 migrant workers deported from Thailand at a reception centre in Myawaddy, opposite Tak's Mae Sot district.

    The Phuket meeting, co-chaired by the permanent secretary for foreign affairs, Tej Bunnag, and Burmese Deputy Foreign Minister Khin Maung Win, followed an earlier discussion in Rangoon in February. The Phuket meeting took place in a ``cordial atmosphere'', and both sides were positive about its outcome.

    Thailand submitted a draft memorandum of understanding on the employment of cross-border workers in a bid to regulate the movement. Burma was expected to submit a counter-draft and its foreign ministry was compiling information from other agencies concerned, the source added.Burmese comprise the majority of about 500,000 unregistered migrant workers in Thailand.

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    Thai Villagers Sentenced by Myanmar for Illegally Cutting Trees

    BANGKOK, March 11 (Xinhuanet) -- Seven Thai villagers including a pregnant woman had been sentenced to five years in jail by Myanmar court on charge of illegally cutting trees, a military source said Monday.

    Phadesh Chaiman, deputy military commander of the special military unit 11, said that on December 6 last year, the seven villagers and three other Karen villagers were arrested by Myanmar soldiers at a military base opposite Prachuapkirikhan province, 280 kilometers south from Bangkok. At that time, the Myanmar soldiers also captured cutting equipment, a weapon and some logs, Phadesh said.

    Last Friday, the Myanmar authorities attending the joint Thai-Myanmar border committee told Thai delegation that those villagers were accused of illegally cutting trees in the Myanmar Kaosendal mountain forest and had been sentenced in jail for five years by the court of Madrid City.According to the source, Thai Foreign Affair Ministry would contact the Myanmar side to help those jailed villagers immediately.

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    Joint festivities at checkpoint planned

    Wassana Nanuam
    The Bangkokpost

    Thailand and Burma will jointly organise a Songkran festival in mid-April at Mae Sai-Tachilek checkpoint to foster ties. Gen Pat Akkhanibut, chief adviser to the defence minister, said it was the first time the two countries have agreed to hold the festival together, which is expected to boost economic co-operation. The event, to be held in Chiang Rai's Mae Sai checkpoint on April 15, will be co-chaired by Gen Pat and Air Marshal Kyaw Than, Burma's former air force commander and now chairman of the Thai-Burmese Economic and Cultural Association.

    Gen Pat initially planned to invite Defence Minister Chavalit Yongchaiyudh and Lt-Gen Khin Nyunt, first secretary of the State Peace and Development Council, to preside over the ceremony. But as there were some internal problems in Burma, the invitations were dropped. Gen Sanan Khachornklam, secretary to the defence minister, will visit Rangoon during March 18-20 to discuss preparations and trade co-operation.

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    Residents near Burma border warned to keep clear

    The Nation

    A senior Prachuab Khiri Khan provincial officer yesterday urged residents living near Burma to keep out of the border area amid speculation of heavy fighting between Karen and Burmese troops in coming days.

    Muang district chief Panya Kithikun said Burmese government troops were closing in on rebel Karen units along the border and warned that the fighting could spill over on to Thai soil.

    In a separate development, cross-border trade between the two countries in the northern area has come to a halt after former dictator Ne Win's son-in-law, Aye Zaw Win, and his three sons were arrested on charges of plotting a coup in the military-run state.

    Border officials said Burmese merchants were buying up the baht as a precautionary measure amid reports of the planned coup attempt.

    Meanwhile Thai troops in the northern area of Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai provinces have been put on alert to prevent any fighting between Burmese troops and members of the Shan State Army from spilling over the border.

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    Myanmar says coup bid won't disrupt Suu Kyi talks

    source : REUTERS

    YANGON, March 12 Myanmar's ruling junta said on Tuesday that landmark peace talks with pro-democracy opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi would not be derailed by the discovery of a coup plot led by the cronies of an elderly former dictator.

    The government says the conspiracy was masterminded by the son-in-law and three grandsons of Ne Win, the military strongman who ruled the country for more than a quarter of a century to 1988 and presided over its retreat into isolation and poverty.

    ''They did not intend to rule the country themselves but to form a puppet government under the influence of Ne Win,'' Kyaw Win, deputy chief of military intelligence, told reporters. Senior military officials are being questioned about the plot, and diplomats say a purge of more officials is likely.

    The news rekindled speculation of a rift among the secretive country's most powerful generals over how to deal with Suu Kyi and her National League for Democracy (NLD), which won elections in 1990 by a landslide but was never allowed to take power. The military has been holding confidential talks with Suu Kyi since October 2000, saying it wants to agree a framework for a transition to civilian rule. But Suu Kyi remains under house arrest, and the talks have produced no concrete results.

    POWER STRUGGLE

    Diplomats say the ruling junta is divided on the talks. A faction led by military intelligence head Lieutenant-General Khin Nyunt favours a flexible approach, while supporters of army chief General Maung Aye oppose any concessions to the NLD, they say.

    Ne Win's family is seen as close to Khin Nyunt, and some analysts say the current purge is a bid by hardliners to get the upper hand and scupper any concessions to Suu Kyi.

    But the government -- which took the rare step at the weekend of saying there was no rift among its top leaders -- told a news conference on Tuesday the talks would go on. ''Because we uncovered this coup attempt in time, it won't have any impact on the ongoing talks,'' Kyaw Win said.

    The government said on Tuesday no foreign groups had been involved in the plot, and made no suggestion that the NLD or other dissident groups were implicated.

    It said Ne Win's son-in-law, Aye Zaw Win, and grandsons Aye Ne Win, Kyaw Ne Win and Zwe Ne Win had planned the coup to boost their family's waning influence in business and politics.

    The government said four senior officials were being questioned about the coup plot -- air force commander-in-chief Major-General Myint Swe, police chief Major-General Soe Win, Triangle Region military commander Brigadier-General Chit Than, and Coastal region military commander Major-General Aye Kywe. It said the conspirators planned to take advantage of the country's armed forces day on March 27, when thousands of troops converge on Yangon, to launch their coup.

    FAR-FETCHED

    Kyaw Win said the plan was to burst into the home of the country's top leader, Senior General Than Shwe, and force him to hand over power to commanders loyal to Ne Win. He said the conspirators had won support from some in the military.

    ''They would arrest those who would not follow Ne Win's instructions and form a government with those who would obey Ne Win,'' Kyaw Win said.But some Western diplomats in Yangon said the claim that a few individuals had been seriously planning to install a puppet government seemed far-fetched, and suggested the real reason for the purge was an internal power struggle.

    ''Certainly we are seeing jostling for position,'' said one diplomat in the Myanmar capital. ''But we have yet to see evidence that a full-blown coup was on the cards.''

    Ne Win seized power in a coup in 1962 and ruled the country until he stepped down amid bloody demonstrations in 1988. His critics say he was a mysticism-obsessed despot who presided over Myanmar's decline from one of the richest countries in Asia to one of the poorest and most isolated. Various official versions of his life give several alternatives birthdates, but he is believed to be at least 90. He was widely believed to wield considerable influence behind the scenes even after he formally renounced power. (With additional reporting by Andrew Marshall in Bangkok)

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    EU team to visit Myanmar amid army power struggle

    source : REUTERS

    BANGKOK, March 12 - A European Union mission arrives in Myanmar on Wednesday to revive talks between the military junta and pro-democracy opposition, but a growing power struggle among senior generals may foil their efforts.

    Myanmar's rulers said at the weekend they had thwarted an attempted coup, arresting four relatives of 92-year-old former dictator Ne Win and firing three high-ranking officials. Analysts say a purge may be under way with more arrests likely.

    Foreign diplomats in Yangon and Myanmar analysts in exile say the arrests may be linked to a power struggle between army head General Maung Aye and intelligence chief Lieutenant-General Khin Nyunt, officially number two and three in Myanmar's ruling junta. Khin Nyunt is seen as a supporter of efforts to break the political deadlock through talks with pro-democracy opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi. Maung Aye is said to be against concessions to Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy (NLD).

    Myanmar's government on Tuesday denied the recent events could derail its negotiations with Suu Kyi. ''Because we uncovered this coup attempt in time, it won't have any impact on the ongoing talks,'' Deputy Military Intelligence Chief Kyaw Win told a news conference. ''The leaders are ready to carry on with the talks,'' he said.

    The talks, which began in secret in late 2000, have yet to yield any accord. The military has been gradually releasing political prisoners, but the EU team wants faster progress.''After one and a half years, visible results need to be shown if the military wants to avoid the impression it's not just buying time,'' an EU official in Bangkok told Reuters. Nobel prize-winning laureate Suu Kyi has been confined to her Yangon house since September 2000.

    OPTIMISM EVAPORATING

    The State Peace and Development Council (SPDC) has ruled the impoverished Southeast Asian country of around 52 million people under one guise or another since rejecting the results of the NLD's 1990 landslide election victory.

    A year ago, an EU team left the country hailing the nascent talks between the ruling generals and the NLD as the ''most interesting development'' for more than a decade. Now optimism is evaporating, and confusion over the alleged coup plot has done nothing to help. The EU says the military must free political prisoners quickly and show progress towards a political settlement.

    The two-day EU visit aims to assess the human rights and political situation in Myanmar a month before the group's ''common position'' is reviewed. The EU currently maintains a visa ban on the junta's leaders, as well as trade and aid sanctions.

    Top of the EU's demands is the immediate release of Suu Kyi, who had insisted the junta first free the estimated 1,500 political prisoners before diplomats persuaded her she could further her cause better by being freed first.

    According to rumours in diplomatic circles, Suu Kyi was close to freedom in January. ''I heard it almost from the horse's mouth six weeks ago and nothing has happened,'' said the EU diplomat. He said the EU team would consult Yangon-based diplomats about the coup allegations. The EU diplomat said talk of internal power struggles was credible. ''They're incompetent at macroeconomic governance, but not as far as power struggles are concerned,'' the diplomat said.

    Military rulers said they had arrested a son-in-law and three grandsons of Ne Win for plotting a coup after they were muscled out of lucrative business deals because of the waning influence of their family elder.Although not announced officially, diplomats said the chief of police, the head of the air force and a senior army general had also been sacked because of links to Ne Win's relatives. Ne Win seized power in 1962, relinquishing it only in 1988. Many believe he continued to wield influence after officially stepping down. His family was seen as close to Khin Nyunt.

    The EU diplomat said the main impetus for progress may come from Myanmar's need to shore up its crumbling agricultural economy which benefits from foreign currency earnings from tourists visiting the country's Buddhist sites.

    ''Their only reflex to preserve power and maintain influence is to avoid people rioting,'' said the diplomat. ''Has the economy reached intolerance and the beginning of rioting? I suspect we're not yet there.'' The United States also has aid and trade sanctions against Myanmar, citing Yangon's human rights record, failure to cooperate on fighting drugs, and political repression.

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    Myanmar junta says coup plotters planned to abduct top three

    By AYE AYE WIN

    YANGON, Myanmar (AP) _ Myanmar's military government said Tuesday that the alleged coup plotters arrested last week planned to seize power in a military operation after abducting the junta's top three leaders.

    The abortive coup plot by four relatives of former dictator Ne Win was aimed at forming a new government after coercing the junta leaders into swearing allegiance to Ne Win, Maj. Gen. Kyaw Win, the deputy head of military intelligence, told a news conference.

    He said details of the coup plot were revealed by the alleged mastermind, Aye Zaw Win, 54, during interrogation. He is the son-in-law of former dictator Ne Win, who ruled for 26 years until 1988, leading the country to authoritarianism and economic ruin. Aye Zaw Win and his three sons, Aye Ne Win, 25, Kyaw Ne Win 23, and Zwe Ne Win, 21 were arrested on Thursday night at a Chinese restaurant. Their plot amounted to criminal offense and legal action would be taken against them, Kyaw Win said.

    Their conspiracy "could disintegrate the unity (of the country), create disunity in the army and destabilize the country," Kyaw Win said.

    He said authorities have confiscated a gun, 15 unregistered motor vehicles, 59 communications sets, transmission cables, 27 rubber batons, two mine detectors, army uniforms, badges and berets that were to be used in the planned coup. He said all the equipment displayed at the news conference was seized from a Yangon hotel managed by Aye Zaw Win's wife and Ne Win's daughter, Sandar Win. "There could be more weapons at Ne Win's house but the house has not yet been searched," Kyaw Win said.

    He said the coup plotters had planned to win over military commanders and use their units to overpower and disarm security at the residences of the military government's top three officials junta leader Gen. Than Shwe, army chief Gen. Maung Aye and Secretary One Lt. Gen. Khin Nyunt, head of military intelligence.

    The three leaders were then to be taken to Ne Win's house and coerced and pressured in his presence to agree to establish a new government, Kyaw Win said. If they had refused, the plan was to detain them at the house. The leaders who agreed would have been asked to form a puppet government under Ne Win's authority, Kyaw Win said.

    He said the plot came to the authorities' attention when a divisional military commander approached by Aye Zaw Win informed the government. Aye Zaw Win and his sons were supposed to meet the commander at the Chinese restaurant when they were arrested, Kyaw Win said.

    Asked if Ne Win was directly involved in the conspiracy, Kyaw Win said: "Investigations are still in progress."

    On Tuesday, Ne Win and Sandar Win remained in their homes both in the same compound apparently under house arrest. Barbed-wire barricades were placed around the compound.

    Following the arrest of Ne Win's son-in-law and grandsons, the government also sacked the air force chief, the national police chief and a top regional military commander. Asked about their dismissals, Kyaw Win said: "They are not directly involved in the coup plot but they (were) organized by Aye Zaw Win and his sons."

    Ne Win, a leader of Myanmar's struggle for independence from Britain, seized power in a bloodless coup in 1962. His reputation was sullied by authoritarian rule and disastrous socialist economic policies. He retired in 1988 just before a popular uprising for democracy that saw the rise of Nobel peace laureate Aung San Suu Kyi. The current military regime that succeeded Ne Win has refused to allow democracy.

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