Daily News- March 25- 2002- Monday

  • Burma protest hits Bloomingdale's
  • Myanmar junta warns again rice price manipulation
  • Shan army thought to be in talks with senior Wa leader
  • Thirty killed in rebel raid on Myanmar army camp
  • Burma's dwindling tiger population under threat
  • Myanmar to Increase Paddy Production for Export
  • Myanmar trip likely next month
  • Two Thai soldiers injured in clash along Myanmar border
  • Thai queen cancels trip after Myanmar border clash

  • Burma protest hits Bloomingdale's

    By Benjamin Gedan, Globe Correspondent
    This story ran on page B8 of the Boston Globe on 3/24/2002.

    NEWTON - The Commonwealth's strained relationship with Burma, a Southeast Asian nation whose military government is accused of violating human rights, was reignited yesterday at Bloomingdale's in the Mall at Chestnut Hill as 12 students from Brandeis University protested the store's refusal to eliminate made-in-Burma apparel from its clothing racks.

    Afternoon shoppers hurried past the protesters, who blocked the store's entrance, holding signs decrying Burmese ''slave labor,'' distributing ''Boycott Bloomingdale's'' information sheets, and chanting, ''Money spent at Bloomingdale's is money spent supporting slavery.''Newton police reported no arrests, and the protest ended peacefully after a couple of hours.

    ''Burma is one of the worst countries in the world when it comes to labor,'' said Andrew Lightman of Brandeis, co-president of the Burma Action Movement, a student group. ''It's the new South Africa of the world.''

    In 1996, the Massachusetts Legislature passed a law penalizing firms that conducted business with Burma, increasing by 10 percent bids for government contracts that the companies proposed. In 2000, however, the US Supreme Court struck down the measure, ruling that only the federal government can make foreign policy.

    The anti-Burma movement has continued, modeled after the anti-apartheid protests of the 1980s, and Bay State college students also have organizations at Harvard and Tufts. With help from the New England Free Burma Coalition, the groups have targeted Federated Department Stores with a letter-writing campaign asking that clothing made in Burma not be sold by its various subsidiaries, which include Macy's and Bloomingdale's.

    When the letters were ignored, the Brandeis students adopted more aggressive tactics, said Mikael Lurie, a senior who has met with refugees in Burma, also known as Myanmar. Last Easter, the group fasted in solidarity with Burmese political prisoners, and in December, students protested at Macy's in Downtown Crossing. Each subsidiary makes individual purchasing decisions and can unilaterally refuse to sell Burmese imports.

    Burma's 42 million people live under military rule, despite the 1990 electoral victory of the National League for Democracy, the main opposition group. The military ignored the election results, and the opposition party's leader, Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, lives under house arrest.

    Officials at the Burmese embassy in Washington and consulate in New York were unavailable for comment. A Bloomingdale's spokeswoman, Lauren Thomas, referred questions to officials in the store's New York office, who did not return a call yesterday.

    Many shoppers declined to take information sheets they were offered as they pursued sale items at the popular Newton clothing store, one of 25 Bloomingdale's in the country and the only one in New England. ''You couldn't pay me to not shop at Bloomingdale's,'' said one women as she sped by. ''No one is paying attention,'' said Linda Gordon, a Newton resident and fellow shopper.

    There were, however, some apparent converts, including Kathie Feldman, a Newton resident shopping with her mother and two daughters. ''I don't believe in slave labor,'' she said, pledging to read the labels of clothing before she makes her purchases.

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    Myanmar junta warns again rice price manipulation

    YANGON, March 24 (AFP) - Myanmar's military regime Sunday warned rice traders to curb excessive price manipulation of the staple in the wake of a failed coup attempt, saying fluctuations would harm the nation's poor.

    Junta number three Lieutenant-General Khin Nyunt warned "destructionists" were taking advantage of "unstable" conditions to hike prices of commodities such as rice, edible oil, gold and silver.

    "The stability of rice prices is linked to the food, clothing and shelter needs of the people and the stability of the State" he told the annual meeting of the government-sponsored Myanmar Rice Wholesalers Association.

    "The manipulation of prices, which will be burdensome and harmful to grassroot level hand-to-mouth workers, the poor and service personnel, must be prevented," he said, in comments reported in the official press.

    The warning came as commodity prices spiralled amid uncertainty after the coup attempt, with gold prices at an all-time high and the value of the local currency, the kyat, at new lows against the greenback.The ruling junta announced on March 7 that it had arrested four relatives of former dictator Ne Win for plotting to seize power in a military coup.

    Khin Nyunt said the government would now allow only excess rice to be exported and that rice merchants could only trade after the government had bought 12 percent of production for service personnel and "emergency needs". Some 200,000 tons of Myanmar rice was exported last year, he said.

    "There is a surplus of paddy (unhusked rice) in the country," Khin Nyunt said, warning "some persons in the economic sector" not to create "instability of commodity prices" and not to "seek excessive profits". "If there is stability in basic commodity prices, such as for rice and edible oil, then basic needs of the people such as food, shelter and clothing will be easily met, and their standard of living will be raised," he said.

    When a price manipulation incident occurred in 1999, authorities interceded by arresting offending merchants and distributing some 1.5 million bags of rice through 446 official outlets, Khin Nyunt said.

    The Myanmar Rice Wholesalers Association, formed in 1992 to help stabilise rice prices, had now taken a similar step by opening rice shops at tax-free markets where rice is available at 90 to 100 kyat per pyi (1.5 kilograms), he said. The going rate of poor quality rice is 210 kyat per pyi, while good quality rice sells from 250 kyat. The kyat currently trades at 820 to the dollar on the black market.

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    Shan army thought to be in talks with senior Wa leader

    Sermsuk Kasitipradit Subin Khuenkaew
    The Bangkokpost

    Drug trafficking in the upper North will worsen if reports are true about a new military alliance between the Shan State Army and Wei Sai-tang, a senior United Wa State Army figure.

    ``Co-operation between these two Burmese minority groups will undoubtedly aggravate the situation,'' said a senior 3rd Army officer who asked not to be identified. He said the 3rd Army was keeping a close watch on the movements of the SSA and the UWSA, the biggest drug trafficking minority forces in the Golden Triangle.

    The SSA has always denied any involvement in drugs and its reported drug alliance with UWSA would be a big blow to the movement, he said. A source close to SSA, led by Col Yawd Serk, admitted there was an informal approach from Wei Sai-tang with a view to military co-operation. SSA maintains military bases along the Thai border close to the area under the UWSA's influence.

    ``Income from the drug trade is so huge that Wei Sai-tang will do anything to protect his interests in the area, even make a deal with its arch-rival SSA,'' the source said. There were rumours along the border about an internal rift among senior UWSA members following Wei Sai-tang's refusal to comply with a UWSA order to return to headquarters in Pang Sang, on Burma's border with China.

    Wei Sai-tang is now deputy commander of UWSA's southern command. He played a crucial role in the mid-80s to defeat opium warlord Khun Sa and push his Mong Tai Army troops from Doi Lang, which is now a disputed territory claimed by both Burma and Thailand.

    The officer said Wei Sai-tang commands 1,500-2,000 soldiers and operates in Mong Yawn town. His rival, Wei Hsueh-kang, agreed to move to move north to Ban Hong, 25km north of Mong Yawn, opposite Chiang Rai's Mae Fa Luang district.

    ``Mong Yawn is known worldwide as a drug city, so Burma tried to clean the town and improve its image by moving people directly linked to drug trafficking,'' the officer said.

    An intelligence officer from the Pha Muang Task Force said Friday's seizure of 1.6 million speed pills from drug traffickers protected by SSA soldiers partially confirmed suspicions of the alliance. Two of the 13 drug traffickers killed during the ambush by 3rd Army soldiers were wearing SSA uniforms. Col Yawd Serk denied his forces were involved in the drug trade and said the two fighters were SSA renegades.

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    Thirty killed in rebel raid on Myanmar army camp

    By Somchit Rungchamrasmi

    Tak, Thailand (Reuters) - Separatist ethnic Karen fighters launched one of their biggest attacks on the Myanmar army since the mid-1990s on Saturday, leaving about 30 dead, the Thai army said.

    A Thai military source told Reuters about 100 fighters from the Karen National Union (KNU) raided the large military camp, opposite Thailand's Phop Phra district of Tak province, 420 km (260 miles) northwest of Bangkok.A Karen villager who fled over the border to Thailand told Reuters that four civilians living in the camp were killed and several wounded.

    The KNU is one of several ethnic armies fighting for independence from the Yangon military government.The Thai army source said around 30 people were killed in the attack, but did not say how many were Myanmar troops or soldiers of the Democratic Karen Buddhist Army (DKBA), which split from the KNU in the mid-1990s to become allies of the Myanmar army.

    The fighting, which began shortly before dawn and lasted over three hours, spilled into Thai territory when mortar shells fired at fleeing KNU soldiers landed over the border, damaging several houses and wounding a Thai man. The Thai army said it had detained more than 30 KNU soldiers who had crossed into Thailand after the raid and would disarm them before sending them back into Myanmar. Thai soldiers were also preparing to move about 1,000 villagers on the Thai-Myanmar border in Tak province further into Thailand.

    The KNU, accused by Yangon of being heavily involved in the production of opium and metamphetamines, has carried out sporadic hit-and-run raids on Myanmar army units since its main mountain-top base was overrun by troops in late 1994.

    Over a week ago, the KNU attacked a Myanmar army outpost near the Thai border, killing six soldiers. Thai army sources said some 80 KNU fighters launched the night attack on Myanmar troops near the border town of Myawaddy.

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    Burma's dwindling tiger population under threat

    source : abc.net.au

    Burma's tiger population has probably decreased to less than 150 animals and urgent action is needed to save the survivors, according to the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS).

    "Unless we take decisive action now to save [Burma's] tigers they could soon be gone, a memory only to be found in zoos and circuses or on the walls of ancient temples," WCS conservationist, Antony Lynam, told the Myanmar Times. In its edition to be published on Monday, Mr Lynam says that up to 150 tigers were believed to survive in the wild in Burma, but this was only an estimate.

    In 1995 Burma was designated a high-priority tiger conservation area, "not because we knew the tiger population but because large areas of potential habitat existed for tigers in Myanmar (Burma)," he said.

    The New York-based WCS has been drafting a National Tiger Action Plan following an approach from the Forest Department in 1998, when preliminary surveys and training programs began, the newspaper reports. Surveys conducted across the country with the help of the Forest Department and WCS Burma have found the most promising areas for conservation work were the Htmanthi Wildlife Sanctuary in Sagaing Division, the Hukaung Valley Wildlife Sanctuary in Kachin State and the Htaung Pru Reserved Forest and Pe Chaung catchment in Tanintharyi Division.

    Mr Lynam said that about 100 tigers were believed to live in these areas, and that once the National Tiger Action Plan was finalised, the WCS would provide funds for medium and long-term conservation schemes.

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    Myanmar to Increase Paddy Production for Export

    YANGON, March 24 (Xinhuanet) -- Myanmar produced over 830 million baskets (17.347 million tons ) of paddy in the fiscal year of 2001-2002 ending March out of 15.45 million acres, according to the latest figures released by the Myanmar Ministry of Agriculture and Irrigation.

    The paddy production in the fiscal year was 3.553 million tons or 17 percent less than the previous fiscal year, while the cultivated area of the crop also went down by 0.26 million acres or 1.65 percent from the previous fiscal year.Myanmar set an annual target of producing 1,000 million baskets (20.9 million tons ) of paddy out of 18 million acres grown including monsoon and summer paddy.

    Myanmar was a great exporter of rice, exporting over one million tons in the 1950s. After 1988, rice was not exported to ensure domestic sufficiency and Myanmar's foreign rice market was almost lost.

    In recent years, the country exported rice to gain foreign exchange, while ensuring domestic demand. According to official statistics, Myanmar exported 557,900 tons in the first 10 months of 2001 and its foreign exchange earned during the period amounted to 64.44 million U.S. dollars.

    Myanmar's cultivated land stretches 18.225 million hectares, of which sown area has reached 15.04 million hectares. The country's agriculture accounts for 42 percent of its gross domestic product and 25 percent of its export value.

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    Myanmar trip likely next month

    KUALA LUMPUR: UN special envoy to Myanmar Tan Sri Razali Ismail is expected to visit the country early next month after his latest trip, which was scheduled for last Tuesday, was postponed by the Myanmar government as they were busy dealing with an alleged coup plot.

    Razali said talks with the Myanmar government to fix a suitable date were ongoing. “We are talking to them about doing it early next month. We have to see when," he said yesterday after opening Restaurant Paradise Palace and Souvenir Shop at Sogo Shopping Complex.

    The restaurant was jointly opened by the Myanmar ambassador to Malaysia representative U-Khin Maung Lynn. The ceremony was hosted by educationistTan Sri Prof Dr Awang Had Salleh.

    It was reported last Wednesday that Myanmar was too busy dealing with the alleged coup plot to meet Razali, raising doubts about talks with pro-democracy opposition leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, who has been under house arrest for the past 18 months.

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    Two Thai soldiers injured in clash along Myanmar border

    BANGKOK, March 25 (AFP) - Two Thai soldiers were injured Monday in an ambush near the Myanmar border just days after a fierce gunbattle there left 12 alleged drug traffickers and a soldier dead, military officials said.

    Army spokesman Somkuan Saengpattaranetr said an unidentified group fired on Thai soldiers on a mid-morning patrol near the border in Wieng Haeng district of Chiang Mai province in the country's north.Two soldiers were sent to hospital with gunshot wounds, he added, but the extent of their injuries was not known.Somkuan said authorities were unable to determine if the group who attacked the troops were drug traffickers.

    Wieng Haeng was the scene Friday of a fierce gunbattle with a Thai border patrol which left 12 alleged drug runners and a soldier dead. Police there seized a haul of 1.6 million amphetamine tablets from a caravan which according to intelligence reports was making its way across the border from Myanmar.

    Lieutenant-General Udomchai Ongkhasingh, commander of the Third Army which patrols the region, reportedly said the traffickers were with the United Wa State Army (UWSA), which is allied to the Myanmar junta.Heroin and amphetamine trafficking is rife along the Thai-Myanmar border, and clashes between narcotics-financed ethnic armies are common during the dry season.

    Thai queen cancels trip after Myanmar border clash

    BANGKOK, March 25 (Reuters) - Thailand's Queen Sirikit cancelled a visit to a royal project on the border with Myanmar on security grounds on Monday after Thai troops clashed with an unidentified armed group in the area, a senior army officer said.

    "We feel the situation is not safe and it could upset Her Majesty if she visited the area," Lieutenant General Udomchai Ongkasing, commander of the Third Army stationed on the border, told reporters.

    One Thai soldier was killed and another critically injured when a Thai platoon clashed with an armed group of some 30 men, Udomchai said. The gunbattle erupted just three hours before the queen was due to fly from her palace in Chiang Mai, 700 km (435 miles) north of Bangkok, to a village just three km (1.8 miles) from the Myanmar border town of Jod, Udomchai said.

    Military sources said the armed group in Monday's clash was believed to be a unit of the United Wa State Army, a Myanmar ethnic militia group allied with the ruling military in Yangon. The ethnic Wa army is accused by Thailand and the United States of producing and trafficking narcotics.

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