Daily News- May 15- 2002- Wednesday

  • Myanmar tourism sees profit from Suu Kyi release
  • UN Myanmar envoy to bolster Mahathir in US visit
  • Dr M tells US, Congressmen to be more tolerant with change, especially with juntas
  • Myanmar General in US for drugs talks
  • Trial of ex-dictator's relatives to resume
  • Top Myanmar Colonel meets State Department official
  • Ethnic groups want in to Myanmar reconciliation talks: statement
  • Thai military set to attack Burma drug army
  • Thailand's Shin Satellite Signs Telecoms Deal In Burma

  • Myanmar tourism sees profit from Suu Kyi release

    By Dominic Whiting

    YANGON (Reuters) - Chants of "long live Aung San Suu Kyi" met Myanmar's pro-democracy icon as she emerged from 19 months of house arrest last week.It was music to the ears of tour operators and hoteliers, desperate to make money by bringing tourists to beautiful, and military-ruled, Myanmar -- formerly known as Burma. For years they have fretted over how to persuade potential tourists to toss away reports on forced labour, torture and political repression, and pick up a guide book picturing snaking sandy beaches and sunsets over ancient temple ruins.

    But Suu Kyi, who won the 1991 Nobel Peace Prize and has spent eight of the last 12 years under house arrest, was the tourism industry's biggest obstacle. Not only was her plight well publicised, so were her views on tourism -- don't come now, the country will still be here when the ruling generals are gone. Tourism operators know that could be a long wait, so they cling to the hope Suu Kyi's release will boost visitor numbers.

    "Tour operators are extremely optimistic, some are predicting a 30 percent rise in business next year," said Jonathan Hopfner, editor of Bangkok-based Thailand and Indochina Traveller magazine.

    Suu Kyi's endorsement of tourism would be the icing on the cake, and could tempt wary Europeans and Americans to the impoverished country in their hundreds of thousands. But freedom has not changed Suu Kyi's mind.

    "The party's position has not changed, but we haven't had time to discuss it properly," Suu Kyi told a news conference inside the ramshackle offices of her National League for Democracy (NLD), which won 1990 elections by a landslide but was barred from ruling by the military.


    Suu Kyi's message is carried by rights activists in a "boycott Burma" campaign, which has been very effective in northern Europe and Myanmar's former colonial ruler, Britain, where several tour operators stay clear for ethical reasons.

    "If the NLD thinks it's the right decision as part of a strategy to gain democracy, to disagree is an arrogant position to take," said Sue Wheat, spokeswoman for London-based Tourism Concern, which campaigns for ethical tourism around the world but only advocates a total ban for Myanmar. "The point is it's not up to us to decide," she said.

    According to the Myanmar government, 440,000 foreigners visited Myanmar last year, up on the 416,000 in 2000 but still way short of its target of one million a year by 2004. Occupancy rates in Yangon hotels are only around 20 percent. Tourism industry sources say less than half of all visitors are tourists, the rest are businessmen or cross-border traders. Neighbouring Thailand receives 10 million tourists a year.

    "Hotels are hurting. They're hoping Suu Kyi's release will boost numbers, but I think they'll be disappointed," said Hopfner. "People who have travelled to Burma before, will do it again and now they'll feel less guilty about it. But those who haven't, won't until Suu Kyi changes her mind," he said.

    Tour operators say many people stay away from Myanmar because they think military rule means it is an austere destination. Many visitors to Yangon are surprised to find the typical bustling street life of a Southeast Asian capital, and not a dour city overwhelmed by military presence.


    Unless you run into one of the ruling junta, who are escorted by dozens of machinegun-wielding soldiers hanging off the back of pick-up trucks, contact with the military could be limited to the immigration and foreign exchange counters at Yangon airport. Plain-clothes military intelligence agents, armed with sunglasses and mobile phones, hang around street corners and cafes, unnoticed by most tourists.

    "It's more developed than people expect, and visitors are pleasantly surprised by the friendliness of the people and their willingness to interact," said Raymond Bragg, managing director of the 22-floor Traders Hotel in Yangon, which has 500 employees. "Speak to my staff, the man on the street, and you'll see they're pretty happy," he said.

    But tourists do not visit Myanmar's harsh prisons or witness burnt-out villages in the "restricted" areas where the military government is carrying out its fight against ethnic minority separatist armies, human rights groups say.They argue that by visiting Myanmar, tourists are endorsing a regime that has routinely used forced labour -- including on infrastructure projects linked to tourism -- often torturing, raping or killing those who refuse to work.

    But a counter argument that contact with foreigners brings welcome relief to Myanmar's long-suffering, isolated population is gaining countenance. And some guidebooks say they show tourists how to avoid military-related companies and channel their money to the grass roots of society.

    "Many Burmese citizens eke out a living from tourism, however small," the Lonely Planet guidebook said a statement. "In fact, keeping the Burmese isolated from international witnesses to internal oppression may only cement the government's ability to rule."

    Suu Kyi's position on tourism could change in coming months. Diplomats say the next step in negotiations between Suu Kyi and the ruling generals is likely to be the establishment of a joint committee of NLD and government officials to tackle humanitarian and social issues, and perhaps even the economy.

    Tourist dollars would be a welcome shot in the arm for an economy hit by Western sanctions and on its knees because of a slumping currency, near hyperinflation and daily power cuts. Although Suu Kyi will want to deny the junta legitimacy, she may be reluctant to be seen opposing an important money spinner.

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    UN Myanmar envoy to bolster Mahathir in US visit

    WASHINGTON, May 14 (AFP) - The UN envoy to Myanmar, Razali Ismail, will bolster the prestige of Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad during his visit to Washington which includes talks with President George W. Bush on Tuesday.

    US and diplomatic sources said that Razali, a retired Malaysian diplomat, was in town to meet American policymakers to discuss his role in brokering a dialogue between Myanmar's military government and newly released opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

    Mahathir's visit is being seen here as a chance to rehabilitate strained relations between Malaysia and the United States, as well as his personal reputation.

    It was not clear which officials Razali would meet during his stay in Washington, but his presence here at the same time as Mahathir will be seen in the context of the veteran prime minister's bid to tout his credentials as a key Asian statesman.

    Malaysia is seen as an ally of Myanmar in the 10 member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), but has exerted gentle pressure on Yangon to continue the dialogue with the opposition.

    Mahathir was warmly regarded in the West, and viewed as an important pioneer for Asian capitalism during the 1980s and early 1990s.But his reputation soured in the aftermath of the Asian financial crisis which erupted in 1997, which prompted him to launch several biting attacks against the policies of world financial bodies, and western banks and securities traders.

    The United States was also outraged at the sodomy and abuse of power convictions handed down to Malaysia's former deputy premier Anwar Ibrahim, who claims he was the victim of a political conspiracy hatched by Mahathir.US-Malaysia antipathy burst into the open during an Asia-Pacific summit in Kuala Lumpur in 1998, when then former vice president Al Gore broke with diplomatic tradition and criticised Mahathir's government.Mahathir, who has a reputation for outspokenness, has also criticised US policies in the Middle East, and is sure to bring up the plight of Palestinians during his talks with Bush.

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    Dr M tells US, Congressmen to be more tolerant with change, especially with juntas

    From Hardev Kaur in Washington-New Straits Times

    MALAYSIA wants the world to be made safe again, by reverting to achieving greater understanding between people and to building friendships, Datuk Seri Dr Mahathir Mohamad said in Washington today.

    The Prime Minister said the world must acknowledge "we are living in fear and no longer feel safe even if we fly a short distance.""The events of Sept 11 shocked all into realising that no one is truly safe, that borders and distances are no longer the protective wall that we believe them to be," he said.

    Addressing the Malaysia-America Friendship Caucus at Capitol Hill, Dr Mahathir said as much as the world must agree to universal systems for international relations and business, there was also a need to get the world to co-operate in fighting those who abuse the new internationalism."In fighting terrorists," he said, "we must agree to act together and play our part."

    The Prime Minister, who earlier launched the Malaysian Trade, Security and Economic Co-operation Caucus, said the first meeting was an auspicious moment in the relations between US and Malaysia."It will serve as a mechanism to further strengthen cooperation in trade," he said, "and security and seek ways to respond to international issues affecting the country."

    Dr Mahathir told the 30 Congressmen from the Republican and Democratic Parties in the Speaker's dining room that the United States must be tolerant of the different sense and values.

    "Celebrate the difference," he said, "for that is what makes the world more interesting. If we can accept that there will always be differences between us, differences in culture, values and opinions than we will be more tolerant of each other.""In fact, we can be great friends despite our differences. Then we will be able to live in peace and friendship with each other."

    Citing an example, Dr Mahathir said while he was not trying to hold Malaysia as a shining example to the world, he asked the Congressmen to agree with him that "being sensitive and tolerant help peoples of different races, different countries to be at peace with each other."Dr Mahathir pointed out that not many multi-ethnic countries are able to enjoy peace, harmony and development. "We have," he said, "because we accept the differences between us."

    The Prime Minister told his audience that Malaysia understood Americans' anxiety and hoped that they can tolerate Malaysia's different sense of values. "One day, perhaps, we will be comfortable with your values," he said. "But for the moment we are not comfortable."

    Dr Mahathir, who is on a working visit to Washington DC, told the Congressmen that the world had welcomed the role of the US as the policeman and lawkeeper of the world when confrontation ended with the defeat of the Communist bloc.

    "Today, you can afford to use your power and strength," he said but but hastened to add: "It would do the US no harm to be friendly to other countries, to be patient with them and to win them over to your side."

    Dr Mahathir reminded Caucus members that it was America's tolerance and appreciation for the recognition and support of whatever country, irrespective of their ethnic and religious differences, that had won America recognition and co-operation from an Arab Muslim country first. "With the passage of time, the whole world came to recognise and respect you," he said. "And you grew into the great country that you are today."In his usual direct and blunt manner, Dr Mahathir told the lawmakers: "I would be lying if I say that the world still sees the United States of America as the friend that they knew."

    "There is every possibility for the US and Americans to be once again the universal friend of the world," he said. "All that is needed is to be more gentle when faced with recalcitrant nations and people."People tend to respond more positively to the friendly approach than to confrontations. Pushed into a corner, even the weakest will fight. Victory over them will really not mean much."

    But Dr Mahathir noted that the West was "very impatient" and wants change overnight, reminding his audience that sudden change, even if it is for the good, is disruptive."For those who are not used to it, democracy can undermine stability, resulting in war," he said. Stressing the need for patience, he said it is well to remember that democracy is only a means and not an end in itself. "It is the good that democracy brings that counts," he said, "not democracy per se."

    Referring to the release of Aung San Su Kyi, Dr Mahathir stressed persuasion must take time. United Nations Special Envoy to Myanmar Tan Sri Razali Ismail secured her release from 18 months of house arrest.

    Even though Malaysia was not been asked to do anything, the Prime Minister said Burma would be aided to make the transition by assuring the military government leaders that they will not end in jail if they opt for democracy.

    "There are examples of this. When Ershad of Bangladesh and Choon Doo Hwan were persuaded to accept democracy, they both ended in jail," he said. "Choon Doo Hwan is being sentenced to death and the fate of Indonesia's Suharto is not encouraging either."

    Dr Mahathir, who played a major role in the change in attitude of the Burmese government which helped with Su Kyi's release, said the Burmese junta is now less resistant towards a switch to democracy. It has released a number of political prisoners.

    "But it is not easy for them," Dr Mahathir said. "There are already attempts to topple the junta and they have to be careful if they want to stay in power and make the transition."

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    Myanmar General in US for drugs talks

    The Times Of India

    WASHINGTON: A senior member of Myanmar's ruling military embarked on a contentious four-day visit to Washington on Monday to discuss drug eradication in his country, which is branded by the United States as the world's number one source of opium.

    Colonel Kyaw Thein, who coordinates Yangon's counter-narcotics operation arrived only a week after Myanmar's junta released opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi from her latest period of house arrest.

    Myanmar's embassy in Washington declined to give details of Kyaw Thein's programme. But diplomatic and official sources said he had meetings planned at the State Department, the Drug Enforcement Administration, the Justice Department and the Central Intelligence Agency -- which has conducted heroin crop surveys in Myanmar.

    Officials stress that Kyaw Thein's visit has been planned for some time -- and was in no way related to Aung San Suu Kyi's release.But it is still being vigorously opposed by some in Congress, where Myanmar, the former Burma, has a long list of critics.

    Tom Lantos, a veteran member of the House of Representatives and a human rights campaigner, reacted furiously to the invitation, in a letter to Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs, James Kelly.

    "The administration's decision to grant Colonel Kyaw Thein a visa to the US and to engage in a dialogue about greater cooperation with the Burmese government is a profound mistake," Lantos wrote."The decision sends the signal to the international community that the US is softening its stance towards Burma in response to the release of Aung San Suu Kyi instead of waiting for far reaching political reform."

    State Department officials say that the visit was cleared after Myanmar indicated it wanted to do more to cut down on the narcotics trade in the country, which critics claim bankrolls the military government.

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    Trial of ex-dictator's relatives to resume

    YANGON(Reuters) May 15 - The trial of four relatives of elderly former dictator Ne Win, accused of plotting to overthrow Myanmar's ruling junta, will restart next week after lawyers were found to represent the defendants, officials said on Wednesday.

    The son-in-law and three grandsons of the former strongman were arrested in a Yangon restaurant in March and charged with planning a coup in league with a group of military officers and an expert in black magic hired to provide astrological advice. They could face the death penalty if found guilty.

    Their trial began earlier this month but was adjourned because the defendants could not find a lawyer to represent them. But on Wednesday two lawyers were appointed to plead their case. ''Since the two defence lawyers have now been appointed, we are now in a position for the trial to start,'' said presiding judge U Aung Ngwe. ''As the defence lawyers have requested some time to prepare their defence, the trial will be conducted three days a week starting May 20.''

    Ne Win seized power in 1962, heralding the start of four decades of military rule in the country, then known as Burma. Establishing himself at the head of a military dictatorship, Ne Win embarked on what he called ''The Burmese Way to Socialism,'' running the country according to a mixture of communist central planning and Buddhist mysticism. Under his rule, Burma went from being one of the richest countries in Asia to one of the poorest and most isolated.

    Simmering resentment against the military regime exploded in mass protests in 1988. The demonstrations were bloodily suppressed by the military, but Ne Win stepped down, handing over power to a new generation of generals. Increasingly reclusive, he was rarely seen in public, but was rumoured to still pull the strings behind the scenes. But in March this year he was placed under house arrest after the arrest of his relatives.

    Diplomats have said they doubt whether a coup had ever been seriously planned, and that the arrests may be an attempt by Myanmar's current leaders to erase Ne Win's influence and purge the government of those loyal to him.

    The junta says it is committed to building democracy in Myanmar but that moving too fast could unleash anarchy. Last month it released pro-democracy opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi from 19 months of house arrest. The international community welcomed the release but said the ruling generals should take concrete steps towards eventually handing power to a democratically elected government. (Additional reporting by Andrew Marshall in Bangkok)

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    Top Myanmar Colonel meets State Department official

    WASHINGTON, May 14 (AFP) - A senior member of Myanmar's military has met a State Department official for a "frank" talk on drug eradication in his country, which the United States says is the world's top source of opium, officials said Tuesday.

    Colonel Kyaw Thein held talks with US Assistant Secretary of State for International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Rand Beers on Monday, a State Department official said on condition of anonymity."They had a frank discussion on the narcotics situation in Burma," the official said.

    Colonel Kyaw Thein, who coordinates Yangon's counter-narcotics operation arrived only a week after Myanmar's junta released opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi from her latest period of house arrest.Myanmar's embassy in Washington has declined to give details of Kyaw Thein's program.

    But diplomatic and official sources said he also had meetings planned at the Drug Enforcement Administration, the Justice Department and the Central Intelligence Agency -- which has conducted heroin crop surveys in Myanmar.

    Critics however say that peace deals signed between the Yangon junta and ethnic insurgent groups were reached after the government turned a blind eye to drugs cultivation in areas controlled by provincial warlords.

    According to the latest State Department anti-narcotics report published earlier this year, Myanmar is the world's largest producer of illicit opium. It is also the primary source of amphetamine-type stimulants in Asia, the report said.

    US officials say however that they have no evidence that the government itself is involved in the drugs trade -- however they believe individual officers, especially in the provinces are implicated.

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    Ethnic groups want in to Myanmar reconciliation talks: statement

    Five pro-democracy ethnic groups within Myanmar have called for inclusion in national reconciliation talks between the ruling military junta and newly freed opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

    The ethnic groups, led by the Shan National League for Democracy (SNLD), said in a statement that they welcomed the May 6 release of Aung San Suu Kyi from 19 months of house arrest."We welcome this development and hope that such meaningful dialogue will commence soon," they said.

    "In this period of the dawning of a new day, we, the political parties of the national groups, declare that we will take on any responsibilities assigned to us towards establishing national reconciliation which is inevitably needed."Development of national reconciliation will succeed in as much as the tri-partite talks are successful."

    The SNLD statement represented political parties of the Shan, Mon, Zomi (Chin), Karen and Arakanese ethnic minorities within the country's borders, it said.

    Several minority groups have waged armed struggles against Myanmar's four-decade military rule, while many have signed shaky ceasefire agreements with the junta.Minority groups have yet to be included in the secret talks which began in October 2000 between Aung San Suu Kyi and the junta and which were brokered by United Nations envoy Razali Ismail, the personal envoy of UN chief Kofi Annan.

    Aung San Suu Kyi said after her release that the talks had completed an initial "confidence-building" phase designed to put aside years of hatred and mistrust, and were ready to begin tackling policy issues.Deputy chief of military intelligence Major General Kyaw Win said last week that the talks would be resuming "very soon," but did not provide a timeframe.

    Following Aung San Suu Kyi's release the junta also said it would allow "all citizens" to freely participate in political development.Analysts and diplomats have said inclusion of ethnic groups in national reconciliation will be vital in any transition to democracy, but the process has yet to include minorities."We haven't reached this stage yet," Aung San Suu Kyi said last week.

    The SNLD said the Nobel peace laureate, who heads the National League for Democracy (NLD) which won a landslide election victory in 1990 but was barred from assuming power, told them they should address matters pertaining to the ethnic groups. "We take her comments seriously and accept them," the statement said.

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    Thai military set to attack Burma drug army

    Source : MSNBC / Reuters

    BANGKOK, May 15---Thai troops plan to strike across the Burmese border against one of the world's most powerful drug militias, the United Wa State Army (UWSA), after approval by Rangoon, military sources said.

    Burma gave permission for an attack on the UWSA, an ethnic army which has signed a ceasefire deal with Rangoon, in a bid to smooth relations with Thailand and try to persuade the world it is cracking down on drugs, the sources said.

    The Thai army deployed hundreds of tanks and thousands of troops this month to northern Thailand along the Burmese border in a series of ''drills'' close to positions held by the UWSA.

    ''The drills were a preparation for a fully-fledged battle in cooperation with Myanmar against the drug-running UWSA,'' a general in the Thai Third Army Region told Reuters.

    ''It will be a major blow against the ethnic groups that are involved in drug making, which will run in parallel with the Yangon forces,'' said the general, who declined to be identified.

    The strike could come as early as next week, the sources said.

    The Thai army described its troop deployment last week as a revolving exercise designed to boost the efficiency of the Third Army Command's operations.

    But Deputy Defence Minister Yutthasak Sasiprapha said on Tuesday the Thai troops might do more than patrol the border and could engage the UWSA.

    ''If the Wa troops happen to run away from the suppression by Myanmar troops to Thai soil, we won't yield to them. If we have to fight, we will,'' Yutthasak told reporters.

    Burma army chief General Maung Aye, who paid a four-day visit to Thailand last month, approved the joint strike against the UWSA, the sources said. Burma signed a formal peace treaty with the UWSA in 1989. The UWSA has some 20,000 troops and an arsenal that includes surface-to-air missiles, according to Jane's Defence Weekly.

    Rangoon is on a serious charm offensive to improve its image and stave off tougher international sanctions. Last week, it released opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi from 19 months of house arrest. The government is also under pressure to crack down on the production of opium and methamphetamines.

    Thailand, which expects to be flooded with over 900 million methamphetamine stimulant pills this year, says the UWSA is a major producer and supplier of the drug.

    Thailand has sought to strengthen diplomatic and military ties with Burma over the last year to get cooperation on drugs eradication.

    Thai troops have clashed with the UWSA sporadically in recent years along the Thai-Myanmar border, which stretches some 2,400 km (1,490 miles) from Laos to the Andaman Sea.

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    Thailand's Shin Satellite Signs Telecoms Deal In Burma

    BANGKOK (AP / Dow Jones)--Thailand's Shin Satellite said Wednesday that it's signed a deal to provide telecommunications services to Burma villages, many of which have no telephones.

    The $12 million deal with the semi-government Bagan Cybertech was signed Tuesday in Bangkok, said a Shin Satellite spokeswoman who spoke on customary condition of anonymity.

    The contract calls for Shin Satellite, which operates three telecommunications satellites, to provide hardware and satellite links for rural telephone services throughout Burma by the end of this year.

    Shin Satellite is a public company affiliated with Shin Corp. PCL (H.SWC), a telecommunications group controlled by Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra's multimillionaire family. Shin Satellite owns and operates three satellites, Thaicom 1A, 2, and 3.

    A company statement said Shin Satellite and Bagan Cybertech will jointly set up the infrastructure while Bagan Cybertech will be responsible for its operation and maintenance.

    It said 5,000 satellite signal receiving stations would be set up throughout the country, most of them to serve 3,000 villages that have no communication services.

    The project is being carried out in conjunction with the government's Myanma Post and Telecom.

    The company statement said Bagan Cybertech is a "semi-government full service telecommunications company," which offers dedicated satellite communications and high speed Internet and intranet connectivity.

    In March, Shin Satellite said that its largest customer, the Indian government's Department of Space, had renewed a contract to lease transponders on its satellite for another six months.

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