Daily News- March 20- 2002- Wednesday


  • U.S. says Myanmar should let U.N. envoy visit
  • Myanmar Releases 23 More Female Detainees
  • Doctor devoted to Myanmar refugees
  • Burma "shocked" at suggestion of US air strikes against drug army
  • Burma says U.N. envoy can visit in April


  • U.S. says Myanmar should let U.N. envoy visit

    WASHINGTON, (Reuters)March 19 - The United States said on Tuesday the government of Myanmar should quickly reschedule a visit by U.N. envoy Razali Ismail, postponed this week on the grounds that the government is busy dealing with a coup plot.

    The postponement raised doubts about the future of talks between the government of Myanmar, which Washington still calls Burma, and pro-democracy opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi. Razali, a Malaysian diplomat, played a key role in persuading the military government to start talks with Suu Kyi in October 2000, and has made regular visits to the country to evaluate progress and to encourage political change.

    U.S. State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said: ''We are disappointed by the postponement. ... The Burmese government postponed this mission and we would hope that they would quickly move to reschedule it.''

    ''It's very important for Razali to return to Burma, continue his mission of facilitating the political dialogue there. The delay ... reflects negatively on the sincerity of the regime in pursuing national reconciliation,'' he added.

    The spokesman said the postponement contradicted earlier indications from the government that internal problems in Myanmar would not affect talks with the opposition.

    The government said earlier this month it had uncovered a plot by relatives and associates of Ne Win, who ruled the country for 26 years until 1988, to seize power. It has arrested a son-in-law and three grandsons of the elderly former dictator. But many foreign diplomats are skeptical a coup was planned, saying the allegations and arrests may stem from disagreements in the government over how to deal with Suu Kyi and her National League for Democracy.

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    Myanmar Releases 23 More Female Detainees

    YANGON, March 19 (Xinhuanet)-- The Myanmar government Tuesday released 23 more female detainees on humanitarian grounds, an official Information Sheet said here. All of the detainees, who are either pregnant or with young children and were incarcerated for various criminal activities, were freed from various "correctional facilities," the sheet said.

    The release was another batch in a series since the government granted amnesty to criminal offenders since February 22 and the number of such release on humanitarian grounds has reached 295.

    In February, United Nations Human Rights envoy to Myanmar Paulo Sergio Pinheiro visited the country for 10 days and three days after the trip, the Myanmar government started releasing criminal offenders on humanitarian grounds.

    Meanwhile, the Myanmar government has also been setting free members of the opposition National League for Democracy and so far the total number of the freed party members and its activists since January 2001 has been brought to 237.

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    Doctor devoted to Myanmar refugees

    Shigefumi Takasuka
    The Yomiuri Shimbun

    The Japanese should be more aware of problems facing ethnic minorities in Myanmar, says a doctor providing medical services to Myanmar refugees along the Thailand-Myanmar border.

    Cynthia Maung, 42, said in a recent interview with The Daily Yomiuri that about 130,000 refugees have fled from Myanmar to Thailand for various political and economic reasons, many to avoid being conscripted for forced labor by the central government and to escape fighting between the Myanmar Army and armed ethnic groups. She visited Tokyo, Osaka, Kyoto and Nagoya in mid-March to give lectures on the border situation.

    "In addition to the refugees, over 1 million people are internally displaced and over 2 million are living in Thailand as illegal migrant workers (for similar reasons)," said Maung, herself a refugee and part of the Karen ethnic minority in Myanmar.

    Maung was born in 1959 in Moulmein, eastern Myanmar, and graduated from the medical school of Rangoon University in Yangon. Maung fled across the Thai border in 1988 after the military regime seized power because she was involved in the democracy movement.

    In 1989, Maung established the Mae Tao Clinic, a bamboo-and-brick compound in the jungle near Mae Sot, a border town in northern Thailand. Since then, her clinic has been providing free health care and humanitarian services for refugees, migrant workers and orphans in cooperation with Thai medical institutions, international nongovernmental organizations and various ethnic organizations from Myanmar.

    "About 70 percent of the border population are living in rural areas without access to the health care system," said Maung, who is not paid a salary for her work. "Ten to 15 percent of our patients suffer from malaria, but there are also many health problems, including reproductive health, malnutrition and HIV/AIDS."

    To serve internally displaced people in need of medical attention, the clinic's backpack mobile medical teams risk crossing the border and traveling into areas in Myanmar controlled both by armed ethnic groups and the Myanmar Army, she said. "They are always in danger," Maung said. "Some have been killed by land mines or Burmese (Myanmar) soldiers."

    Maung, who visited Japan for the first time, said Japan looks like a very busy country and the people here apparently have far more opportunity and freedom than those in Myanmar.

    "Since the junta took power the education, economic and health systems have nearly collapsed in Burma," Maung said.

    Maung stressed that she hoped the Japanese government would offer Myanmar assistance programs that empower ordinary citizens, instead of the government, and allow the full participation of the people of Myanmar.

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    Burma "shocked" at suggestion of US air strikes against drug army

    Rangoon, March 20 (AFP)

    Burma's military regime said Wednesday it was shocked at suggestions from a Thai politician that the US consider launching air strikes against ethnic minority druglords operating within its borders.

    Foreign Minister Win Aung rejected an editorial in The Nation newspaper which backed Kobsak Chutikul's comments that Washington should not rule out a military option in the fight against the Red Wa drug army.

    "We are totally shocked by the editorial of the Nation," Win Aung told reporters, adding the remarks were "irresponsible," and "a blatant attack on the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Myanmar."

    "While every attempt is being made by the Myanmar government to combat narcotic drugs in cooperation ... Mr. Kobsak, apparently unaware of these energetic efforts, has blown out of proportion a non-issue, and to our consternation, recommended the most violent means," he added.

    Burma's Wa minority has ended its armed insurgency against the military government in return for wide-ranging autonomy.

    The international community accuses the Rangoon regime of turning a blind eye to the Wa's drug businesses which churn out vast amounts of opium and methamphetamines.

    Thanks to the former Taliban regime's ban on growing opium in Afghanistan, Burma is now the world's top heroin producer. Methamphetamines produced by the Wa mostly end up in Thailand which is struggling to cope with the crisis.

    The Nation's March 12 editorial, headlined "Drugs: let loose the dogs of war", said there was some sense in the comments from Kobsak, deputy leader of the Chart Thai party which is part of the ruling coalition.

    "Drugs and terrorism are two sides of the same coin... And if our leaders are serious about fighting drugs and terrorism, perhaps the option of giving the military more flexibility should be given a high priority," it said.

    During a briefing for diplomats, United Nations agencies and reporters, Win Aung also struck out at what he called "regrettable" reports that a US Senate committee had called the United Wa State Army a terrorist group.

    Priscilla Clapp, head of the US mission in Rangoon, expressed regret over the misunderstanding and said the State Department had clarified the matter.

    "Although the United States remains doubtful about the Wa's non-involvement in narcotic drugs, it has no intention of listing it as a terrorist group," she told the meeting.

    Burma's junta has come under harsh international criticism for its failure to clamp down on illegal drug producers.

    The military regime insists however that the Wa people have renounced their involvement in the narcotics trade and are earnestly involved in crop substitution programs aimed at ridding their region of drugs by 2005.

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    Burma says U.N. envoy can visit in April

    Rangoon, March 20 (Reuters)

    Burma's ruling military said on Wednesday it will allow U.N. envoy Razali Ismail to visit the country next month and dismissed suggestions that a split in the government was behind a delay in his trip.

    Razali played a key role in persuading the junta to start reconciliation talks with pro-democracy opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi in October 2000, and has made regular visits to the country to evaluate progress and to encourage political change.

    He was due to arrive in Rangoon this week for the seventh visit in his capacity as U.N. special envoy, but was asked at the last minute to postpone his trip. The U.N. has now asked for permission for a visit in the first week of April.

    The government first said the trip had been postponed because the deputy foreign minister had suffered a heart attack, and then that it was too busy to meet Razali due to the discovery of an alleged coup plot involving relatives of former dictator Ne Win.

    The postponement of Razali's visit raised fresh doubts about the future of the talks with Suu Kyi.

    But Foreign Minister Win Aung told Reuters the government was still sincere about pursuing dialogue with the opposition, and Razali would be allowed to visit soon.

    "We're still working out the date but we can say it will take place in April," he said.

    "There are a lot of people Mr Razali has to meet here and most of them are very busy and fully occupied at the moment. There's no other problem as reported by some outside media. Sincerity is still there."

    COUP PLOT

    The government said earlier this month it had uncovered a plot by relatives and cronies of Ne Win, who ruled the country for 26 years until 1988, to seize power. It has arrested a son-in-law and three grandsons of the elderly former dictator.

    But many foreign diplomats are sceptical a coup was planned, saying the allegations and arrests may stem from disagreements in the government over how to deal with Suu Kyi and her National League for Democracy (NLD).

    The NLD won elections in 1990 by a landslide, but the military refused to hand over power. Suu Kyi, winner of the 1991 Nobel Peace Prize, has been under house arrest for the last 18 months.

    Analysts say a faction in the government led by military intelligence head Lieutenant-General Khin Nyunt favours dialogue with the opposition, but supporters of army chief General Maung Aye are against making any concessions to Suu Kyi.

    Ne Win's family is seen as close to Khin Nyunt, and some analysts say the current purge could be a bid by hardliners to get the upper hand and scupper any easing of military rule.

    Concerns about Burma's political stability in the wake of the alleged coup bid have pushed Burma's kyat currency to a record low of around 820 to the dollar on the black market. The official exchange rate -- unchanged for nearly four decades -- is six kyat to the dollar.

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