Daily News- May 10- 2002- Friday

  • Sanctions send "strong" message to Myanmar regime: Suu Kyi
  • TotalFinaElf denies supporting Myanmar military regime
  • Myanmar junta accuses rebel ethnic army of bombing gas pipelines
  • Myanmar court to resume trial against Ne Win relatives Friday
  • Myanmar says opium production will decline this year
  • One killed in explosion at hotel in Tachilek
  • Malaysia helps implement "e-passport" project
  • Japan Foreign Ministry's official to visit Burma next week
  • Ex-dictator's relatives seek lawyer in Burma
  • ADB To Mull Renewed Burma Funding

  • Sanctions send "strong" message to Myanmar regime: Suu Kyi

    MADRID, May 9 (AFP) - Pro-democracy Burmese leader Aung San Suu Kyi noted the power of international sanctions to send a "strong political and economic message" to Myanmar's military regime, according to an interview published Thursday in the Spanish daily El Mundo.

    "There is no evidence that sanctions have caused harm primarily to the Burmese people," said Suu Kyi.

    The United States and European Union congratulated the military junta for releasing the 59-year-old dissident on Monday from 19 months of house arrest, but stopped short of saying they will lift economic embargoes against the Southeast Asian nation.The sanctions, imposed in protest at Myanmar's human rights record and tolerance of the narcotics trade, have contributed to the economic crippling of the military junta.

    "The majority of businesses established in Burma come from outside of the EU and the US, and the investments come from Asia," Suu Kyi said.

    The political dissident called on the EU to maintain a strong united policy in its dealings with the military junta, warning against "certain differences in attitude" by some member states.

    "The EU has always supported us. We would like for this to continue but we would hope in all events that (Europe) would coordinate its actions," she said. "I think that its strategy would be much more efficient if all of the countries worked together and put in place a common policy on Burma."

    Suu Kyi, the head of the opposition National League for Democracy (NLD) party, said she found the atmosphere in which she has been freed to be "much better" than when she was previously released, in 1995.

    Drawing attention to the hundreds of political dissidents who remain imprisoned by the regime, Suu Kyi added: "Many of people have suffered more than I have, much more. I don't have the right to complain."

    To The Top

    TotalFinaElf denies supporting Myanmar military regime

    PARIS, May 9 (AFP) - French oil giant TotalFinaElf on Thursday denied providing support to Myanmar's military junta, one day after reports said the company would be charged with crimes against humanity for working with the regime.

    "TotalFinaElf has never provided Myanmar's armed forces with either money or logistical support," the company said in a statement.

    Four refugees from Myanmar have filed a complaint with a Belgian court, charging TotalFinaElf with alleged complicity with the ruling military junta, Michel Genet of Action Birmanie, a Belgian group that backs democracy activists in Myanmar, told AFP Wednesday.

    The company "has not been officially notified by this complaint and therefore cannot comment on it," TotalFinaElf said in a statement.

    The refugees filed their suit under a 1993 law that gives Belgian courts the power to try human rights cases regardless of where the alleged war crimes took place or the countries of residence of plaintiffs and defendants.

    TotalFinaElf, the world's fourth largest oil company, and British independent Premier Oil, exploit gas fields in the Andaman Sea that power electrical general stations in Thailand via two parallel 60-kilometer (35-mile) pipelines that cut across southern Myanmar.

    In the summary of their case, posted on the Internet by Action Birmanie, the four plaintiffs -- former human rights activists in Burma now living as refugees in the United States, Britain, Germany and Belgium -- alleged that TotalFinaElf was aware that Myanmar's military regimes was "systematically" carrying out crimes against humanity.They also claimed that TotalFinaElf provided "overall moral and financial support" to the regime, and that the company had "excellent knowledge" of the use of forced labor by "partners" responsible for pipeline security.Besides the company itself, the submission named as co-respondents TotalFinaElf's chief executive Theirry Desmarest and Herve Madeo, director of its Myanmar exploration and production unit in 1992-99.

    To The Top

    Myanmar junta accuses rebel ethnic army of bombing gas pipelines

    YANGON, May 9 (AFP) - Karen rebels were responible for recent explosions that damaged two gas pipelines and halted the gas supply to a French-built cement factory, said Myanmar's ruling junta on Thursday.

    The blasts were set by the Karen National Union (KNU) on April 30 and May 6 and damaged two 10-centimetre (four-inch) pipelines, one from the capital Yangon and the other from the country's off-shore reserves, said Lieutenant Colonel Min Lwin, a military intelligence official.

    "The pipelines were operational within a matter of days," he said, adding that two civilian security officers were injured in the attacks. He also accused the KNU of carrying out further attacks elsewhere on each of those dates.

    On April 30, they shot at a car travelling between the border town of Myawaddy and Kawkariek in Karen state, injuring three civilian passengers, he said. They were also held responsible for a bomb explosion Monday on the streets of Dawei in southern Mon state."These attacks were found to be instigated on the direct orders of KNU central," Min Lwin said.

    In a likely reference to the regime's release of pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi earlier this week, he added it was disappointing to see the KNU engaging in terrorism while the government was seeking to build a "modern and developed" nation where "peace and tranquility" prevailed.The KNU is one of the oldest ethnic-based insurgencies in Myanmar, and has yet to strike a cease-fire deal with the military.

    To The Top

    Myanmar court to resume trial against Ne Win relatives Friday

    YANGON, May 9 (AFP) - A Myanmar court will on Friday resume hearing a case against the son-in-law and three grandsons of former dictator Ne Win who are accused of plotting a military coup, the military junta said Thursday.

    "The trial of Ne Win's family has been set for tomorrow (Friday) at 10:00 am at the special court at Insein," the notorious main prison on the outskirts of Yangon, Brigadier-General Than Tun told a press briefing.

    Than Tun, who acts as a liaison officer between the military junta and the recently freed pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi, said only selected journalists would be allowed to attend the trial.

    "Only select people can go to the session," he said, adding that no cameras or recording equipment would be allowed inside.

    Myanmar's secretive junta has rarely allowed the press to attend trials of a political nature, but has gone to great lengths in recent weeks to publicise its account of dramatic events which led to the disgrace of the once-mighty Ne Win family.

    The military regime said last month that Ne Win's daughter Sandar Win, her husband Aye Zaw Win and their three sons are to be charged with high treason, an offence punishable by death, over their alleged attempt to seize power.Aye Zaw Win and his sons Aye Ne Win, Kyaw Ne Win and Zwe Ne Win were arrested in March and held at Insein jail, while Ne Win and Sandar Win remain under virtual house arrest.Four judges in two separate tribunals began hearing the case a week ago.

    Myanmar's deputy military intelligence chief, Major-General Kyaw Win, has said the family of the one-time autocrat, who is now in his 90s, also committed serious economic crimes.It was not clear whether charges had been officially laid in the case or whether they would be announced Friday.

    The maximum penalty for high treason is death, with a minimum set at 20 years imprisonment with hard labour, however observers say the four accused are not likely to face the gallows.

    The arrest of the Ne Win family, until then considered untouchable even though their influence had waned after their patriarch stepped down in 1988, caused a huge stir in Myanmar's political, military and diplomatic circles.Some observers said the "exorcism" of the hardline Ne Win legacy would clear the way for the junta to proceed with democratic reforms and break the deadlock with Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy.The Nobel peace laureate was released from 19 months of house arrest on Monday.

    To The Top

    Myanmar says opium production will decline this year

    YANGON, Myanmar (AP) _ Opium production in Myanmar, the world's biggest producer of the drug, will drop significantly this year due to the destruction of poppy plants, crop substitution programs and bad weather, the government said Thursday.

    Brig. Kyaw Thein, a member of the state's Central Committee for Drug Abuse Control, told a news confergnce that opium production had declined to 865 metric tons (954 US tons) in 2001 compared to 1,065 metric tons (1,174 US tons) in 2000 and would drop even further this year. Kyaw Thein said more than 10,500 hectares (26,000 acres) of opium poppy plantations had been destroyed this year.

    "Opium production in Myanmar will drop due to the government's crop substitution efforts, destruction of opium poppy cultivation and unfavorable weather conditions forecast," Kyaw Thein said. He is scheduled to attend an anti-narcotics conference in Washington next week.

    After the former Taliban rulers of Afghanistan banned opium poppy cultivation, Myanmar returned to its position as the world's largest producer of illicit opium, according to the U.S. State Department. Myanmar is also the primary source of amphetamine type stimulants in Asia, the State Department says.

    The Myanmar junta says with the help of the United Nations it is doing everything it can to eradicate the production of opium and heroin, which is refined from opium. Among its chief tools are U.N.-sponsored programs that give opium farmers incentives to grow other cash crops such as maize, beans and lentils.

    Kyaw Thein said some trading companies along the border that were allegedly engaged in drug business had been shut down. Others had been warned to stay away from drug trafficking, he said. He refused to say how many companies had been closed and who their owners were.

    The government also publicizes drug raids, which lead to confiscation of substantial amounts of drugs. On Wednesday, the government said authorities exposed 221 drug-related cases in March, seizing large quantities of opium, heroin, morphine, marijuana, stimulant pills and other ingredients used to make drugs. A total of 307 people were arrested in March, it said.

    To The Top

    One killed in explosion at hotel in Tachilek

    BANGKOK, Thailand - An explosion severely damaged a hotel in a Myanmar border town Thursday and reportedly left one person dead and dozens injured, Thai police said.

    The cause of the blast in Tachilek town was not immediately known but a bombing was suspected, said police Col. Wichai Rupelek in the neighboring Thai border town of Mae Sai, about 700 kilometers (430 miles) north of Bangkok.

    The destroyed roof of the three-story Riverside Hotel could be clearly seen from the Thai side, Wichai said. The two towns are separated by a river 30 meters (100 feet) wide.

    He quoted witnesses who came to Mae Sai as saying that one person was killed and several dozen people injured. The nationalities of the victims were not known.No one claimed responsibility for the attack and there was no immediate comment by the Myanmar authorities in the capital, Yangon.Ethnic Shan rebels are fighting for autonomy in this region of Myanmar, but are generally active in the countryside rather than towns.

    To The Top

    Malaysia helps implement "e-passport" project

    BBC Monitoring Service - United Kingdom; May 8, 2002
    Source: The Myanmar Times, Rangoon, in Burmese 8 May 02 pp1, 3

    Many projects are being planned for the emergence of an "e-government" in Myanmar [Burma] and one of the projects to be implemented initially is the "e-visa" project. Malaysian experts have said they will help implement the project.

    Matters concerning the project were discussed at a meeting between Malaysia's Multimedia Development Corporation and the Myanmar National Electronic Work Group at a meeting held at the MICT [Myanmar International Cyber Technology] Park last week.At the meeting, Mr Christopher Chu, speaking on behalf of the Malaysian experts, was full of praise for Myanmar. He said, "Myanmar has done well in preparing for the e-visa project. Since the project is linked to the electronic tourism industry of ASEAN countries, it will become a model for others to follow once the project is completed."

    Mr Chu, who is the managing director of KUB Systems, said Malaysia will provide the necessary equipment as part of its cooperation with Myanmar. "For instance, Myanmar does not have a Payment Gateway here yet, and we can help with that," said Mr Chu in an interview with Myanmar Times.He said he expected the experimental phase of the system to be launched in the next three months.

    U Thaung Su Nyein and other departmental personnel also discussed the project on behalf of Myanmar.

    Meanwhile, Assistant General Manager Mr Li Wei Sun of Malaysia's Irish Cooperation Company [company name printed in English] said technical details concerning the issuance of 5,000 electronic passports on an experimental basis will be discussed in May.As part of the pilot project the passports will be issued to government staff personnel and entrepreneurs, said Mr Li.He added, "Once the pilot project is completed, the results will be reviewed and decisions will be made on the expansion of the project."

    Mr Li patiently explained that his company will provide the technical expertise needed in the issuance of electronic passports which are more secure and reliable than ordinary passports.

    Electronic passports will have microchips embedded in the last page to store particulars and personal data of the passport holder and that make them more secure. In addition, the passports can be instantly checked with automatic check-in devices making them more convenient, explained Mr Li.

    "Malaysia began issuing electronic passports in 1998 and there are four million people holding those passports today," added Mr Li. "In addition, about 40 automatic check-in devices have been installed at entry points all over Malaysia," he said.

    To The Top

    Japan Foreign Ministry's official to visit Burma next week

    BBC Monitoring Service - United Kingdom; May 8, 2002
    Source: Kyodo News Service, Tokyo, in English 1146 gmt 8 May 02

    Tokyo, 8 May: Japan decided Wednesday [8 May] to send the Foreign Ministry's Asian and Oceanian Affairs Bureau Director-General Hitoshi Tanaka to Myanmar [Burma] next week to meet with the military government as well as pro-democracy leaders, a senior ministry official said.

    The move follows Monday's release by the junta of pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi from nearly 20 months of virtual house arrest and is aimed at finding ways to promote dialogue between the two conflicting parties, the official said.

    Tanaka will meet with junta representatives in Yangon [Rangoon] on Monday [13 May] and Tuesday and is hoping also to talk with Suu Kyi, the official said. The bureau chief is expected to try to find out how much freedom Suu Kyi actually has in carrying out political activities.

    Based on Tanaka's trip, the Japanese government will review its policy towards Myanmar, including its economic cooperation with a view to supporting the country's democratization and nation-building processes, according to the official.

    Japan is planning to expand its grant aid to the country, which has been stalled because the junta has not shown clear signs of moving towards democratization and because the country has been slow to repay its debts to Japan, government officials said earlier. They added they will not immediately resume yen loans.

    Japan had long been the biggest provider of official development assistance to Myanmar, but has virtually stopped offering new loans since the military coup in 1988 and concentrated on humanitarian grant aid.

    To The Top

    Ex-dictator's relatives seek lawyer in Burma

    Source : MSNBC

    Rangoon, May 10 --- The trial of four relatives of former Burma dictator Ne Win, accused of plotting to overthrow the junta, was adjourned on Friday after they were unable to find a lawyer willing to take on the ruling military.

    The son-in-law and three grandsons of the geriatric former strongman were arrested at a Rangoon restaurant in March and accused of planning a coup together with a clique of military officers and a practitioner of black magic.

    They face the death penalty if found guilty.

    ''We have tried, but no lawyer could be found,'' Aye Zaw Win, son-in-law of the former dictator who ruled Burma with an iron fist for more than a quarter century, told the court.

    Judge Aung Ngwe adjourned the trial until May 15, saying the court would seek a lawyer for the accused.

    ''Although they can afford their own lawyer, it is necessary for the court to find lawyers on their behalf as the punishment is the death sentence,'' he said.

    He said a fifth man accused of treason had confessed and agreed to appear as a prosecution witness.

    More than 100 people, including four top military men, were rounded up last month and questioned in connection with the plot.

    But foreign diplomats in Rangoon and analysts said it was unlikely the accused had been seriously planning a coup, and the arrests were more likely a sign of a struggle between hard-liners in the junta and those seeking more cooperation with the pro-democracy opposition.

    The trial is being held inside the notorious colonial-era Insein prison in Rangoon. Friday's hearing was the third since the trial began at the start of the month.


    Ne Win and his daughter have been confined to their home in Rangoon since the arrests, although the junta has not yet directly implicated them in the plot.

    Pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi, one of Ne Win's most bitter political enemies, was released from 19 months under house arrest on Monday, just days after the trial opened.

    However, diplomats and analysts say her release did not necessarily indicate a major step towards political reform. It was more likely a bid to placate Western criticism and get international sanctions lifted.

    Ne Win's four relatives are charged with high treason, but legal sources said if they were found guilty they were unlikely to get the death penalty, but serve long prison terms instead.

    Ne Win seized power in a military coup in 1962. He stepped down in 1988 and handed power to a new generation of generals when the country was convulsed by pro-democracy protests which were bloodily put down by the military.

    Astrologers were among his most important advisers and many of his decisions were based on the pronouncements of fortune tellers.

    Deeply superstitious, Ne Win even replaced the country's banknotes with denominations which were multiples of nine, which he believed was his lucky number.

    To The Top

    ADB To Mull Renewed Burma Funding

    SHANGHAI (Dow Jones)--Starved of Asian Development Bank funding since 1986, Burma's first steps toward reconciliation with the opposition this week have heightened the prospects of a resumption in aid, a bank official says.

    Burma opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi was released Monday from 19 months of house arrest, raising hopes that the military government that has controlled the country since 1988 will loosen its grip on power.

    As part of international pressure on the military government, the ADB has withheld loans to Burma since 1986 and ceased technical assistance programs a year later.

    Amid that backdrop Burma's economic growth outlook and prospects for lasting poverty reduction remain uncertain, according to the ADB's recent economic outlook.

    The release of Suu Kyi presaged the ADB's annual meeting this weekend in Shanghai, providing the board of directors their first opportunity to review the bank's policy toward Burma.

    "This is a great opportunity as everyone is here," Asian Development Bank Mekong Department director general Rajat M. Nag told Dow Jones Newswires Thursday in an interview. "I presume they are weighing it up carefully and closely."

    Nag said the ADB hopes the process of reconciliation will continue to lead to something more advanced "but this is a very important step."

    Burma Finance Minister U Khin Maung Thein is in Shanghai for the ADB meeting, also providing the ruling government a prime opportunity to lobby the international community for the resumption of development lending.

    Nag said the ultimate decision on renewed assistance remains with the bank's board of directors. However, he added that he hoped the international community will "respond very positively to this development."

    Brushing Up On Homework

    The current ADB board is made up of representatives from the U.S., Japan, South Korea and the European Union. Japan, which traditionally holds the ADB presidency, has previously been a strong supporter of resuming economic assistance to Burma, while the U.S. has adopted a more cautious approach due to concerns about human rights.

    But with brighter prospects in Burma, Nag said the bank's Mekong department hopes to begin to upgrade its knowledge base, particularly in sectors such as agriculture and finance, in readiness for the resumption of direct development lending. He also expected any new funding would be coordinated with other multilateral agencies such as the World Bank and the United Nations Development Program, or UNDP.

    Nag said the department wanted to have the fundamental homework in place so that "once the board of directors gives us some guidance we can be ready."

    "There is a lot of work to be done, we haven't had any operations in Myanmar for more than 10 years - so what we need to do is build up our knowledge base as soon as we can," Nag said.

    "We would start really in the macroeconomic sense - macroeconomic reform, macroeconomic adjustment would have to be seriously looked at," he added.

    The precise state of Burma's economy is hard to gauge. The Southeast Asian nation, also known as Myanmar, has been ruled by the military since 1962.

    The government doesn't issue detailed economic statistics and independent verification of the figures it gives is difficult. Most economists believe the government's figures are exaggerated.

    The country has a limited industrial base and is heavily reliant on its agricultural sector and commodities for export earnings. Inflation is estimated to have averaged more than 25% a year for more than a decade.

    Burma continues to have a trade deficit and only sufficient foreign reserves to cover about a month's imports. Closed off from most of the international community, the government has little recourse to overseas aid funding to modernize its economy. Overall public sector debt is estimated to average about 5% of GDP, according to ADB figures.

    But Suu Kyi's release this week has rekindled hopes of reconciliation between the opposition party and the ruling government.

    Her National League for Democracy party has pledged to work with the military to resolve divisive issues such as the drafting of a new constitution and a resolution of the 1990 election, which the party won by a landslide. A key demand of the NLD during the past decade has been that the military honor that election result.

    To The Top