Daily News- March 24- 2002- Sunday

  • Burma Appeals for ILO to Withdraw Sancrtions Threat
  • Dr Salai Tun Than imprisoned in Burma
  • Shan rebels spurn Rangoon's press meet a farce
  • Thirteen slain in caravan ambush
  • Eight Karen killed during border clash
  • Rangoon may seek payment to supply dam
  • Two top Myanmar leaders in rare show of unity
  • Myanmar tourist arrivals down at airports, up at border crossings
  • GSM mobile network launched in Burma

  • Burma Appeals for ILO to Withdraw Sancrtions Threat

    Dan Robinson
    VOA News

    The military government in Burma is calling on the International Labor Organization (ILO) to withdraw a threat to impose sanctions because the practice of forced labor has not yet been eliminated in the country.

    Burmese representatives made the appeal during a debate in the executive council of the ILO in Geneva.

    During the debate, details of which emerged on Friday, Burma's representative referred to an agreement reached with the ILO this past week clearing the way for appointment of a liaison officer to help with efforts to eliminated forced labor.

    Describing this as a "landmark agreement, he said the military government in Rangoon is "fully committed" to eliminating forced labor. And he went on to ask the ILO governing body to consider withdrawing the threat of sanctions against Burma.

    Two years ago, the ILO called on its 174 member countries, worker and employer organizations and U.N. agencies to review all relations with Burma's government to make sure they were not supporting forced labor. This was the first time in the ILO's history that a member was threatened with sanctions.

    The next scheduled discussion of the situation in Burma takes place in June at the International Labor Conference in Geneva. Observers say the decision by the Rangoon military government to allow a U.N. labor official to be based in Burma was, in part, an effort to head off sharp criticism at that conference.

    According to details of this past week's debate, the request to the ILO to consider withdrawing the threat of sanctions was formally submitted by Malaysia on behalf of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), of which Burma is a member.

    Malaysia has been a key player in efforts to bring about a settlement of in the long-running political dispute between the ruling military and the democratic opposition led by Aung San Suu Kyi. The Malaysian diplomat, Razali Ismail, was appointed two years ago as U.N. special envoy for Burma, and is credited with getting reconciliation talks started. His seventh visit to Rangoon was to have taken place this past week, but was postponed by Burmese authorities and is being rescheduled for next month.

    If the ILO eventually decides to withdraw its sanctions threat against Burma, the earliest this could happen would be June 2003. However, despite the agreement to appoint an ILO liaison officer, critics such as the United States used the ILO debate to voice concerns about continuing forced labor.

    Francis Maupain, who led several ILO delegations toBurma, said the ILO expects the person appointed as liaison in Rangoon to have wide flexibility in carrying out their duties, including complete freedom of movement. This is a first step, said Mr. Maupain, toward a future expanded ILO presence.

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    Dr Salai Tun Than imprisoned in Burma

    Foreign and Commonwealth Office- Mar 21 2002

    Following the imprisonment of Dr Salai Tun Than in Burma, Foreign Office Minister Ben Bradshaw said:

    'I am dismayed to hear that Dr Salai Tun Than has been imprisoned in Burma for seven years. His only crime was peacefully to express his hope to see democracy in Burma soon - an aspiration which the Burmese government claims to share. His detention is completely unjustified and I call on the Burmese authorities to immediately release him, if for no other reason than on humanitarian grounds due to his age.

    "The detention of Dr Salai Tun Than underlines the need for an urgent and systematic commitment by the Burmese authorities to release all political prisoners and to permanently end the arrest and detention of people for political reasons. We have welcomed the gradual release of political prisoners in Burma since the beginning of 2001, but have questioned the sustainability of this progress. Such an unjustified and severe penalty only serves to call into question the authorities which claimed commitment to pursuing democracy and national reconciliation in Burma.'

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    Shan rebels spurn Rangoon's press meet a farce

    Shan Herald Agency for News -23 March 2002 -No: 03 - 12:

    Shan State Army officers of Col Yawdserk quickly treated accusations made by Rangoon authorities at the press conference on Thursday (21 March) of Thai Army involvement in last year's Shan rebel assault on a Burmese border stronghold that reportedly netted nearly 200,000 speed pills as a complete joke.

    "I don't know why they had to hold a press conference after all these months," said Lt. Col. Awng Kham, whose troops formed part of the combined assault force that took Parkhee Base in Mongton Township, opposite Fang District of Chiangmai Province, on 22 April 2001, "but all of us can guarantee that the three deserters they put on show were not from my unit (HQ Special Security Force). And if the two among them really were what they claimed to be, a company commander and a platoon commander during the battle, I would have recognized them anyplace."

    Lt-Col. Khun Jaw of the SSA's 241st Brigade, whose troops also participated in the battle, rejected likewise there were any desertions from his unit.

    The three Shans who were present at Thursday's press conference were, according to Rangoon's spokesman, Maj Gen Kyaw Win, Platoon Commander Aik Maung, Company commander Kuan Khan and Private. Sain Pi. "Granted that the guys were from the SSA, they could have added which units they were serving with also," pointed out Khun Jaw, who said Brigade 757 that Kuan Khan was supposed to be from was operating only west of the Salween and nowhere near Pakhee during the battle.

    Maj Gen Kyaw Win told the 45 minute long press meeting that the three had testified the Thai army was behind the SSA's successful storming of Pakhee and that the speed pills were brought in by the attackers in order to portray the Burma army in a bad light.

    "The drug seizure wasn't a concoction," insisted Khun Jaw laughingly. "And we certainly did not arrive at the battlefield on Thai military trucks but on our own sore feet, fuelled by cooked rice."

    Lt-Col Kawnzuen, Commander of the Kengtung Force, explained earlier to S.H.A.N. that the Thai policy towards the SSA was "not of support but of tolerance" because of the latter's anti-narcotics stand.

    Another officer, Maj Khiaofah of Khunsang Tonhoong Column, was not available for comment. Both the two interviewees maintained there wasn't another Shan commander at Pakhee except for Col Yawdserk, Commander-in-Chief of the SSA. According to Rangoon, the insurgent troops numbering about 250 were led by "Kun Khaon, Sain Aung Kan, Kun Kyaw and Cho pa."

    The Battle of Pakhee, 22 April-3 May, brought Rangoon and Bangkok into a military confrontation that ended only after a landmark visit by Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra later in June.

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    Thirteen slain in caravan ambush

    Sermsuk Kasitipradit
    The Bangkokpost

    Thirteen suspected drug traffickers, including two wearing uniforms of the Shan State Army (SSA), were killed yesterday during a brief raid on a caravan by the Pha Muang Task Force in which 1.6 million methamphetamine tablets were seized.

    Pvt Panya Sriputh of the task force was also killed during the exchange of fire, which took place in Wiang Haeng district of Chiang Mai, about 30km from the Burmese border.The drug caravan was accompanied by about 50 armed men, some believed to be SSA renegades.

    According to Lt-Gen Udomchai Ongkhasingh, Third Army commander, a unit of the Pha Muang Task Force led by Maj Vichakul Kongpoolsilp Noonpakdi was deployed to verify intelligence reports confirming the caravan was making its way across the border.He said the drugs belonged to the United Wa State Army, and were en route to Wiang Haeng district for further distribution.

    Aside from the 13 suspected drug traffickers who died, Lt-Gen Udomchai said many had also been seriously wounded in the clash, which continued for about 30 minutes.Two bodies found at the scene were clad in SSA military uniforms, he said.Also recovered were sixteen back-packs, each containing 100,000 speed pills, as well as two AK-47 rifles and a satellite mobile phone.

    Lt-Gen Udomchai said the operation was conducted under new military strategies in which small units of elite forces were deployed for night patrols along suspected drug routes within a 50km radius of the border area.``We have made our missions more effective by using small units backed up with good intelligence,'' said the army commander.

    Despite the discovery of SSA uniforms at the scene, SSA commander Col Yawd Serk denied his forces were directly involved in the drugs trade a charge repeatedly made by Burma's ruling State Peace and Development Council.``They cannot be our soldiers. Our forces are not involved in the drugs trade,'' he said.

    However, a source confirmed the area where the drugs were stored before the attempt to smuggle them across the border was under SSA control.

    Col Somsak Nilbanjerdkul, Pha Muang Task Force chief-of-staff, deployed more troops to the site on suspicion armed survivors from the drugs caravan may be hiding out in the area.According to another intelligence report, an attempt to smuggle a consignment of about 20 million speed pills across the border via the Mae Taeng district of Chiang Mai was expected in the near future, said a source at Pha Muang Task Force.Soldiers from the 127th Cavalry Battalion had been deployed to the area.

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    Eight Karen killed during border clash

    Supamart Kasem
    The Bangkokpost

    At least eight Karen villagers were killed and three wounded during a fierce battle between Karen National Union rebels and pro-Rangoon Democratic Karen Buddhist Army soldiers opposite Phop Phra district early yesterday.

    Stray shells which landed on Thai soil seriously wounded a Thai villager. About 500 Thai villagers had to flee for safety.

    At about 5am, 100 KNU soldiers from the 201st Special Force Battalion, led by Maj Nada, launched an attack on the position of DKBA's 907th Battalion of the 99th Division, opposite Ban Valey. The two sides exchanged mortar and rifle fire for nearly three hours.During the exchange, 13 rounds of mortar, RPG and M79 rounds landed at Ban Valey.

    Kam Tana, 37, a villager, was seriously wounded. He was admitted to Mae Sot hospital, where both his legs were amputated.About 500 Thai villagers, most of them women, elderly people and children, were evacuated to Phop Phra district town, 10km from the border.Eight houses and a school building had their roofs damaged. The fighting ended at about 8am.

    A 45-year-old Karen man, who was seriously wounded in the cross-fire, and his two wounded sons, 1 and 4, were sent across the border for treatment.The Karen man said he, his wife, and four children were in a shelter inside a furniture factory when a mortar shell crashed through the roof. His wife and two of their children were killed instantly. He said at least eight Karen villagers were killed.

    Soldiers of the 3rd Infantry Battalion of 13th Infantry Regiment at Ban Valey fired ten mortar rounds as a warning to the two sides.

    About 30 KNU soldiers, repulsed by DKBA troops, fled across the border to Ban Valey on the Thai side, but they immediately withdrew on seeing the Thai soldiers.They left behind an RPG launcher and two rounds of rockets, three M79 grenade launchers, 12 M16 rifles, 10 AK47 rifles and two carbines.

    Maj-Gen Tomorn Kittisophon, commander of the Naresuan Force, ordered reinforcements to the area to prevent fighting from spilling over to the Thai side.He said the situation was under control and insisted foreign forces, be they KNU or DKBA, would not be allowed to use Thai soil to attack one another.

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    Rangoon may seek payment to supply dam

    The Bangkokpost

    Thailand will probably have to pay Burma if it wants to divert water from the Salween river on the northern border to feed Bhumibol dam, a Foreign Affairs official said.

    Thailand feels it owns part of the Salween river because it is an international waterway, but Burma claims full control of the river because only 58km runs on the border while a much longer stretch covers Burmese territory, said the official, who asked to remain anonymous.

    ``If Thailand wants to use the water, it might have to pay for it,'' he said.He was also concerned about the high cost of piping water from the Salween river through a mountain range and wondered if the project was feasible.

    A Burmese embassy official said the two governments had not recently held formal talks on the use of water from the Salween.``I only learned about the progress of this matter through the Thai media,'' he said.

    The Department of Energy Development and Promotion conducted a study on the diversion of water from border rivers, including the Salween, to solve water shortages at Bhumibol dam.

    The Salween was the best option because of its large volume of water during the rainy season. The other rivers were Moei, Pai, Huay Mae Lamao and Ngao.The plan calls for diverted water to be stored at a reservoir before being sent through an underground pipe to Bhumibol dam in Tak province.

    Water diversion would take place in rainy season and only about 3,700 million cubic metres of excess water would be taken, said Panich Pongpirodom, deputy director-general of the department.

    He said the amount of water to be diverted would be enough to satisfy increased demand in 20 years of people living along the Ping and Nan rivers in the North and Chao Phraya and Tha Chin rivers in the Central Plains.These areas suffered water shortages of around 1,700 million cubic metres last year and the drought is expected to get worse every year.

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    Two top Myanmar leaders in rare show of unity

    YANGON,(Reuters) March 24 - Two leaders of military ruled Myanmar, rumoured to be locked in a long-running power struggle, have appeared together for the first time in months in a show of unity after an alleged coup plot.

    Photographs of Army Chief Maung Aye and Military Intelligence Chief Khin Nyunt, officially number two and three in the military government, inspecting troops together were prominent on the front pages of all state-run newspapers on Saturday.

    The two men, rarely seen together without the leader of the military government Than Shwe, were shown on state television on Friday at the same military parade. The high-profile media coverage appears to be an attempt to play down speculation of serious rivalry between the two men, which diplomats and analysts say could have been the reason behind an alleged coup plot unearthed and foiled by authorities this month.

    Three weeks ago, military intelligence arrested a son-in-law and three grandsons of former dictator Ne Win along with three high ranking military officers, accusing them of plotting to overthrow top government leaders. Ne Win, 92, and his daughter Sandar Win have both been confined to their house, and the military say they have interrogated 100 suspects in the alleged coup plot.

    Some diplomats and exiled Myanmar analysts have suggested the crackdown was a sign that Maung Aye was getting the upper hand in a power struggle with Khin Nyunt, seen as Ne Win's hand-picked choice to lead the country. Others say the military wants to sideline Ne Win and his clan so that it can come to some kind of political settlement with Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi and her National League for Democracy (NLD). The NLD won the country's last general elections in 1990 by a landslide, but was never allowed to rule. Suu Kyi has been under house arrest for the last 18 months.

    Talks between the military and the NLD, brokered by United Nations envoy Razali Ismail in late 2000, have raised the prospect of some kind of power sharing. Although 200 political prisoners have been released since the talks began, many in the NLD say negotiations are progressing too slowly. Little headway has been made on the country's political future and about 1,500 political prisoners remained in Myanmar's jails, they say. Razali, under international pressure to show the talks are progressing, had to postpone a visit to Myanmar last week after the government said at the last moment it was too busy dealing with the alleged coup plot to meet him. Myanmar says Razali can visit the country in early April.

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    Myanmar tourist arrivals down at airports, up at border crossings

    YANGON, March 24 (AFP) - Tourist arrivals at Myanmar's international airport fell slightly last year, but the traffic through border checkpoints increased by 16 percent, the military government said according to a report.

    The Myanmar Times quoted Deputy Minister for Hotels and Tourism, Brigadier General Aye Myint Kyu, as saying 475,106 tourists entered Myanmar through border checkpoints last year, up 16 percent on 2000.

    However, the number arriving at Yangon's international airport slipped three percent to 204,862, a decline attributed to the industry's global downturn in the wake of the September 11 terror attacks in the United States.

    The Myanmar Times said in its edition to be published Monday that the deputy minister announced the figures at a tourism industry meeting earlier this month.Aye Myint Kyu said the ministry hoped to achieve 15 million tourist arrivals a year within 30 years.

    Yangon's efforts to boost tourism have been dogged by wide-ranging sanctions against the military regime imposed by western governments.Myanmar has been criticised for its human rights performance and refusal to hand over power to the National League for Democracy, led by Nobel peace laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, which won an overwhelming election victory in 1990.Aung San Suu Kyi is staunchly opposed to the development of the tourism industry, although elements within her National League for Democracy disagree with her stand.

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    GSM mobile network launched in Burma

    Source : AFP

    Burma's long-awaited GSM mobile telephone network has been launched, paving the way for the release of 100,000 handsets in Rangoon and Mandalay, the Myanmar Times reported.

    Myanma Posts and Telecommunications (MPT) project manager for the GSM project, Kyaw Win, told the weekly that the first phase of the system involved 70,000 GSM handsets in Rangoon and 30,000 in Mandalay.

    Under the current CDMA and AMPS systems operating in tandem in Burma, only 15,500 handsets are in circulation, and they exchange hands for up to 3.0 million kyats (3,660 US dollars at the current blackmarket rate).

    Kyaw Win declined to reveal the cost of the network, which uses equipment provided by Germany's Siemens and Chinese company ZTE, but other reports have valued it at 144 million dollars.

    The MPT project manager said the system was established by Sky-Link Communications, a company incorporated in the British Virgin Islands, under a "build and transfer" arrangement.

    Sky-Link has ties to the family of former dictator Ne Win, whose son-in-law and three grandsons were arrested earlier this month for allegedly plotting to overthrow the ruling junta in a military coup.

    Ne Win's daughter Sandar Win, who is being held under virtual house arrest along with her father at their Rangoon home, is a prominent businesswoman who was a major shareholder in Sky-Link.

    The family's involvement in the project was one of the elements believed to have led to their downfall, after they began selling the handsets before being given permission by MPT, cheating other powerful investors in the scheme.

    Burma's communications minister was forced to resign amid the scandal.

    Kyaw Win said the two-year delay in the launch of the GSM system was caused by extensive trials to ensure the system was reliable and operated smoothly.

    But the Thailand-based magazine Irrawaddy said last year that the launch was delayed due to conflicts among shareholders.

    But it was not immediately clear what links the disgraced Ne Win family now have with Sky-Link.

    Kyaw Win told the Myanmar Times that agreements would have to be struck with overseas telecom operators before the new GSM system could offer a roaming service for visiting GSM handset-owners.

    The first international agreements would be with other Southeast Asian countries, he said.

    The initial payment to sign on to the network has been set at 500,000 kyat, and tariff rates are two kyat per minute for incoming calls and four kyat a minute for outgoing calls.

    Even at that price, the licences mandatory to own a mobile phone in Burma, are likely to be snapped up.

    In January 2001, MPT sold 3,000 CDMA handsets after applications were invited through the state media. MPT was obliged to set up two more stations to receive the flood of thousands of applications.
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