Daily News- March 22- 2002- Friday

  • ILO officer in Myanmar a positive step but problems remain: analysts
  • ICFTU for banning new investments in Burma
  • U.S. Wants Progress in Burma Talks
  • Myanmar accuses Thailand of smear campaign over drugs trade
  • Myanmar junta frees more female prisoners
  • Burmese army's head of artillery, armour directorate replaced
  • Students smash traffic lights in Mandalay, police called in
  • Business in Mergui at standstill after attempted coup
  • More than 1,000 acres of poppy fields destroyed in Myanmar
  • Officials in Burma on routes survey
  • Myanmar say it will consider extraditing major suspects
  • ILO representative in Myanmar will have broad mandate: official

  • ILO officer in Myanmar a positive step but problems remain: analysts

    YANGON, March 21 (AFP) - The International Labor Organisation's move to appoint a liaison officer in Myanmar is a positive step towards ending forced labor but falls short of its goals, analysts said Thursday.

    The ILO, which was rebuffed in its bid for a permanent representative office in Yangon, now faces more wrangles with the military regime as the liaison officer tests the boundaries of the new role, they said.The two sides struck an agreement in Geneva Wednesday on appointing the representative, after what the ILO described as "extended and sometimes difficult negotiations"

    The appointment was a "first step towards the objective of an effective representation which should continue to be pursued," it said in a statement.Myanmar's mission to the UN described the agreement in more positive terms, saying it was a "breakthrough" that would help further dialogue and cooperation with the ILO.

    Myanmar's military rulers have come under fire from Western governments for failing to curb the brutal practice of forced labour, a form of slavery now mostly used by military units working on the unstable borders.In November 2000 the ILO issued an unprecedented censure of Myanmar over its failure to curb forced labour, paving the way for further sanctions from its members that threatened to cripple the already shaky economy.

    Faced with the dire threat, the Myanmar junta issued a decree banning the practice and allowed ILO missions to visit the country with a relatively free rein in hopes of averting further punitive measures.However, the deal on the liaison officer, struck a day before the ILO's governing body debate on Myanmar scheduled for Thursday, was surrounded with some acrimony.

    Francis Maupain, the head of the ILO mission that went to Myanmar in February, said on his return the trip would have been cancelled if he had known the junta would prevent the team from pursuing talks on an ILO office.

    Myanmar observers said Thursday similar wrangles were likely in the future as both sides established the liaison officer's role."The Burmese side have been telling us, embassies here, that they are prepared to cooperate, that they want to do the right thing," one Yangon-based diplomat said.

    But it's clear that how much the ILO representative is going to be able to do when she or he is appointed may be the subject of further discussion. In a sense we have to wait to see what we happens next."

    Debbie Stothard of Bangkok-based pressure group ALTSEAN-Burma predicted conflict between the two sides, particularly over access to the border regions."The establishment of an ILO liaison office will be a significant step forward, however it is not likely to reduce the prevalence of forced labour," she said."Also likely will be problems concerning access of the ILO liaison officer to areas beyond Rangoon, or to people who are not supportive of the regime."

    A 1998 ILO inquiry found the practice of forced labour was "widespread and systematic" and targeted at ethnic minorities living in border regions.

    Refugees who escape into Thailand tell of military raids on villages, where even the old and infirm are rounded up and put to work for long hours with no pay and insufficient food, while their abandoned crops and livestock perish.In the worst cases those who are unable to keep up are beaten or killed.

    Officers in Myanmar's cash-strapped forces say privately the army continues to need porters to carry supplies and weapons across rugged areas where not even elephants or mules can travel safely.

    Stothard urged the international community to keep up the pressure on the ruling State Peace and Development Council."The regime has had to agree to ILO visits and other concessions, such as the office, because of the sanctions and other pressure," she said.

    "The SPDC tends to eke out minor concessions as part of their strategy to test the margins of international patience. Once the pressure eases and foreign exchange starts flowing into Burma, the regime will probably tell the ILO to get lost."

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    ICFTU for banning new investments in Burma

    Mizzima News (www.mizzima.com)

    March 21: The Brussels-based International Confederation of Free Trade Unions (ICFTU) has called on the governments worldwide to ban new investments in the military-run Burma by multinational companies based in their country, saying that all trade and investment in Burma constitutes financial support to the military regime. It its today’s press release, the workers body has renewed its call to the international community to keep up the pressure on the military junta. “It is time to take action”, said the release.

    Although it has welcomed the decision of the Burmese government to allow an official of the International Labor Organization (ILO) to be stationed in Rangoon, it says that Burma has to accept a permanent ILO presence in the country."(T)he posting of this liaison officer is only a first step toward a permanent and effective ILO presence in Burma, with all means necessary at its disposal to achieve the complete eradication of forced labour in the country."

    After months of intensive talks, Burmese government and the ILO signed a Memorandum of Understanding on Tuesday in Geneva allowing an official of the ILO to be stationed in Rangoon from June 2002 to oversee efforts to eliminate forced labor in the country. The ILO Governing Body is scheduled to meet today in Geneva for a special discussion on Burma.

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    U.S. Wants Progress in Burma Talks

    FEER, Issue cover-dated March 28, 2002

    The United States government is getting increasingly impatient for results in the talks between the ruling junta in Burma and opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi. Speaking at a conference on U.S.-Thai relations in Washington on March 13, Assistant Secretary of State James Kelly said, "After 18 months, the talks haven't moved beyond the confidence-building stage.

    It's time to see some real results in Rangoon." Kelly said the next visit to Rangoon by United Nations special envoy Razali Ismail would be "a good opportunity for the Burmese to show the international community their sincerity about reform and national reconciliation, and take some of the actions they have been hinting at--like the release of Aung San Suu Kyi without restrictions--for some time."

    Razali, a Malaysian diplomat, had been scheduled to visit on March 19, but the Burmese government postponed the trip.

    The top American diplomat on Asia, a text of whose speech was seen by the REVIEW, gave no indication that Washington would stop supporting Razali's mediation efforts if little progress is made soon in the dialogue between the junta and the opposition.

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    Myanmar accuses Thailand of smear campaign over drugs trade

    YANGON, March 21 (AFP) - Myanmar on Thursday accused elements within Thailand of conducting a smear campaign against the ruling junta by accusing it of being involved in drugs trafficking along their common border.

    Three former members of the rebel Shan State Army (SSA) were paraded in front of the media at a press briefing here, alleging that they had helped stage a drugs "raid" on a Myanmar military outpost.

    "Certain Thai politicians and some elements inside the Thai army are pointing their fingers in the direction of Myanmar with fabrications that the Myanmar military was trafficking in illicit drugs, in order to cover up the own misdeeds," said military intelligence deputy chief Major General Kyaw Win.

    "We do not wish our bilateral relations to be adversely affected by the un-neighbourly and insincere behaviour of some elements in Thailand," he told reporters.

    The briefing followed a statement from the foreign ministry Wednesday which expressed shock at a Thai politician's suggestion that the US consider launching air strikes against drug barons operating in Myanmar.

    The junta insisted that the United Wa State Army (UWSA) accused by Thailand and Western governments of dominating the drugs trade was earnestly trying to stamp out narcotics, and that the Thai-allied SSA were the real "drug terrorists".

    Kyaw Win accused Thailand of harbouring SSA chief Yawd Serk and said that two of the surrendered SSA fighters present Thursday were eyewitnesses to the April 2001 border post raid where a huge haul of drugs was seized.

    "We were asked to plant nearly 200,000 stimulant tablets inside the captured military outpost before the Thai media was invited in to record the whole show," said 27-year-old Kwan Kham, identified as an SSA unit commander.

    Kyaw Win screened video clips of the alleged drugs planting and said the SSA fighters had been assisted in the raid by Thai artillery and troop support.The accusations come after a period of relative harmony between the two countries over drugs and border issues, which have plagued relations in the past.

    A serious border dispute flared up in February 2001 when fighting between the SSA and the Myanmar-allied UWSA sparked a clash between the two national armies.A half-year diplomatic standoff ensued, with both sides exchanging increasingly hostile language until a series of high-level visits resolved the row.

    Nevertheless, Kyaw Win Thursday described overall relations with Thailand as "excellent"."We, on our part, will do our utmost to keep these good relations intact," he said.

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    Myanmar junta frees more female prisoners

    YANGON, March 21 (AFP) - Myanmar's ruling junta Thursday freed 23 more female prisoners from jail, bringing to more than 300 the total number released in a series of batches over the past month.

    "Another 23 female detainees, all either pregnant or with young children, were released today on humanitarian grounds from various correctional facilities," a junta spokesman said in a statement."They are all in good health and reunited with their respective families," he said."Altogether 318 female detainees incarcerated for various criminal activities have been released recently," he added.

    The earlier releases were believed to be a "merit-making" gesture, a Buddhist tradition where good deeds accrue merit for the next life, linked with ceremonies surrounding the consecration of a giant stone Buddha image in the capital.

    The United Nations's human rights envoy to Myanmar, Paulo Sergio Pinheiro, last week hailed the moves as a "positive step" and said he was "encouraged that the government of Myanmar is beginning to address this concern."In a report compiled after his third visit to Myanmar last month, Pinheiro said female prisoners with children or who are pregnant were one of the most vulnerable groups of the prison population.

    Burmese army's head of artillery, armour directorate replaced

    BBC Monitoring Service - United Kingdom; Mar 21, 2002
    Text of report by Burmese opposition radio on 19 March

    It has been reported that the director of the Directorate of Artillery and Armour [DAA] was dismissed yesterday [18 March]. Col Mya Win, [Serial No] 13066, deputy director of DAA, was promoted to the rank of brigadier-general to fill the vacant position.

    It is still not known whether these personnel changes are connected with the unsuccessful coup led by U Ne Win's family.

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    Students smash traffic lights in Mandalay, police called in

    BBC Monitoring Service - United Kingdom; Mar 21, 2002
    Text of report by Burmese opposition radio on 19 March

    It has been reported that problems have cropped up between students and the traffic police last Friday at the traffic light near the corner of 73rd and 35-A Streets near the Mandalay University.

    The incident took place when the traffic police on duty tried to take action against a student riding a motorcycle without a safety helmet. The students nearby tried to prevent the policeman from taking action. Meanwhile, the number of students grew to a considerable size and they damaged a traffic police booth at the corner and several traffic lights. The situation subsequently got out of control and security units had to be called in.

    Although the number of injuries and arrests are not known, the traffic lights at several places in Mandalay are being guarded by additional traffic policemen, security personnel in plain clothes wearing arm bands, and ward security units.

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    Business in Mergui at standstill after attempted coup

    BBC Monitoring Service - United Kingdom; Mar 21, 2002
    Text of report by Burmese opposition radio on 20 March

    Large economic enterprises in Mergui, Tenasserim Division, have been at a standstill and the situation is getting complicated with disbursing and selling of shares following the dismissal of Coastal Region Commander Maj-Gen Aye Kywe. DVB [Democratic Voice of Burma] correspondent Myint Maung Maung filed this dispatch.

    [Myint Maung Maung - recording] After Coastal Region Commander Maj-Gen Aye Kywe who went for a meeting at the War Office in Rangoon on 10 March was arrested, those involved in the fisheries and export businesses - relatives of late former Coastal Region Commander Maj-Gen Sit Maung, people engaged in businesses carried out with approval of Maj-Gen Aye Kywe, and relatives of Maj-Gen Aye Kywe have been selling their shares and stakes since 12 March.

    Furthermore, since the Tenasserim International Company Ltd, Htoo Htoo Toe Company, and Ne Min Fisheries Company, all jointly owned by U Aye Zaw Win, Daw Sandar Win, and family and Coastal Region Commander Maj-Gen Aye Kywe, were all impounded, about 35 per cent of all private businesses in Mergui have come to a halt. In addition, there were over 20 former employees and pensioners who have jointly invested in the industrial export and import business of Daw Sandar Win and family worth over 20m US dollars.

    All these enterprises have also been closed and investigations carried out. Although there were no significant political and social consequences related to the attempted coup by U Ne Win's family, the affect on economic enterprises is high. [End of recording]

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    More than 1,000 acres of poppy fields destroyed in Myanmar

    BANGKOK, March 21 (AFP) - Myanmar authorities have destroyed over a 1,000 acres of poppy fields in the country's northern hillside region, state-run media reported late Thursday.

    Some 1,336 acres (151 hectares) of poppy fields, located in northern Myanmar's Kachin state, were destroyed between February 12 and March 14 by civilian and anti-narcotics officials, TV Myanmar said in a dispatch monitored here.

    According to a recent report by the United Nation's International Narcotics Control Board, Myanmar is the world's largest producer of opium, accounting for some 50 or 60 percent of the global supply of the drug.

    Myanmar overtook Afghanistan in poppy cultivation, from which both opium and heroin are produced, after a ban on poppy-growing by the now-defunct Taliban militia slashed Afghan opium production by 90 percent, and world production by some 60 percent.

    Myanmar forms part of the infamous "Golden Triangle" poppy-growing region which includes border areas of Thailand and Laos.

    Myanmar's ruling military has come under harsh international criticism, particularly from western nations, for its failure to clamp down on illegal drug producers and failing to do not enough to eradicate drug crops. The junta denies the charges.

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    Officials in Burma on routes survey

    Supamart Kasem
    The Bangkokpost

    A three-day car rally from Tak's Mae Sot district to Pa-an of Burma began yesterday as Thai officials and businessmen survey possible new routes for the Asian Highway.The 26-member delegation consists of Foreign and Finance ministry officials and members of the Thai Chamber of Commerce and Tak's Chamber of Commerce.

    After entering Myawaddy, the team will follow the Asian Highway past Kawkareik, Naunglon, Pa-an and Moulmein on the first day, and use the Moulmein-Mudon-Thanbyuzayat-Kyine route on the second day.On the final day, they will survey the Moulmein-Moktama-Thaton-Pa-an route and return to Thailand on Pa-an-Myawaddy road.

    Sunant Gliengpradit of the Highway Department, who led the survey team, said study results would be sent to the government for improving regional land transport links.The Myawaddy-Rangoon route was an important trade link for towns in southeast Burma and Thai border towns.

    The United Nations plans to develop Asian Highway to link countries in this region and also to other parts of Asia, Middle East and Europe.Routes linking Asian Highway to towns are crucial for enhancing Thailand's ties with its neighbours under the East-West Corridor Plan.

    ``If this route is developed for more convenient, faster and safer travel and transport, it will benefit economic and social development co-operation between Thailand and Burma,'' Mr Sunant added. At a Thai-Burmese meeting in Rangoon in November, Burma proposed a land transport link between Thailand, Burma and India in a bid to boost trade, investment and tourism.

    Niyom Wairatpanij who chairs the Thai Chamber of Commerce's committee on border trade, said Burma wanted to see a land transport link with Thailand and India so it should improve a route linking Rangoon to Mandalay and Tamu which is close to India.

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    Myanmar say it will consider extraditing major suspects

    MAE SOT, Thailand (AP) _ Myanmar would consider extraditing two major drug trafficking suspects to Thailand, one of whom is wanted by the United States, a Myanmar official said Thursday.

    It is the first time Myanmar's military government has indicated its willingness to extradite alleged drug lords Wei Hsueh-kang and Bang Ron. Wei is one of the top members of the United Wa State Army, which has been named by the U.S. State Department as a major drug producing and trafficking group in Southeast Asia.

    If Thailand makes a formal request for their extradition, "we will treat it as a special case," police Lt. Col. Tin Maung Htay of Myanmar's Central Committee for Drug Abuse Control told reporters.

    He was in the western Thai town of Mae Sot to attend a meeting with Thai officials on setting up border liaison offices in the two countries to cooperate in the fight against illegal drugs. Mae Sot is 370 kilometers (230 miles) northwest of Bangkok.

    Myanmar, also known as Burma, is the world's biggest heroin producer. It also exports huge amounts of the stimulant methamphetamine to Thailand, according to Thai and other experts.

    Tin Maung Htay said Myanmar had improved its drug suppression efforts by setting up border liaison offices along the frontier with China.

    Wei, an ethnic Chinese, is wanted by the United States where he is under indictment of a federal court in New York on a charge of heroin trafficking. The U.S. government has offered a dlrs 2 million reward for his capture. He is also wanted by Thailand to serve a life imprisonment imposed in 1987 on drug trafficking charge. He fled after jumping bail.

    The United Wa State Army is a former guerrilla group that signed a cease-fire with the Myanmar government and now enjoys virtual autonomy in eastern Myanmar.

    Bang Ron, a Thai also known as Surachai Ngernthongfoo, is wanted in Thailand for allegedly running one of the country's largest methamphetamine rings. Thai officials believe that after he jumped bail in 1998, he fled to Myanmar.

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    ILO representative in Myanmar will have broad mandate: official

    GENEVA, March 21 (AFP) - A representative from the International Labour Organisation (ILO) appointed to help stop the use of forced labour in Myanmar will have a broad mandate, the international labour body said Thursday.

    The comments, by Francis Maupain, head of several missions to the country come after the military junta reached agreement with the ILO on Wednesday over the appointment.

    "Irrespective of the name which is used -- liaison officer -- which does not seem terribly impressive, the range of activities is indeed quite wide," Maupain told journalists in Geneva, the body's headquarters.

    "The first paragraph of the understanding clarifies that the functions of the liaison officer shall cover all activities relevant to the objective, of the eradication of forced labour," he added.

    On his return from a visit to Myanmar at the end of last month, Maupain criticised the country's regime for refusing to allow any ILO presence greater than a liaison officer, but said Thursday he hoped this would follow in time.

    "It is clearly indicated in the understanding that this is only the first step, which should be followed by a fuller representation of the ILO in the future," he said."The Liaison Officer will be in a position to do something for the objective of the full eradication of forced labour in Myanmar," Maupin insisted, adding that the representative would have freedom of movement to carry out his mandate in the country.

    "He should be able to move around in the country, even if it is only to identify the technical cooperation needs, etcetera," he added.

    Myanmar's military rulers have come under fire from Western governments in recent years for failing to curb the practice of forced labour and in November 2000 the ILO made an unprecedented censure of the country.

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