Daily News- May 17- 2002- Friday
U.N. Seeks Democracy in MyanmarAung San Suu Kyi briefed by U.N. agenciesJournalist released from prisonPolitical Prisoners TransferredKyat on the MoveGovernment intervention sees gold prices plummetBurmese shelling forces 2,000 to fleeANTI-LANDMINE TALKS :Burma, S'pore no-show disappoints hostsSuu Kyi leaves Myanmar capital in freedom testAung San Suu Kyi rallies partyINTERVIEW-Suu Kyi impatient on talks with Burma juntaBurma vows crackdown on poppy farmers in KL
U.N. Seeks Democracy in Myanmar
By EDITH M. LEDERER, Associated Press Writer
UNITED NATIONS (AP) - The United Nations should seize the momentum following the release of Myanmar's opposition leader to push for an early transition from military to democratic rule, the U.N. special envoy to Myanmar said Thursday.
But Razali Ismail, whose mediation was crucial in securing Aung San Suu Kyi's freedom from house arrest after 19 months, cautioned that "the movement towards democratic government must be home-grown" and can't be imposed from outside.
"Her release sets the momentum, and from the point of view of the U.N., we would like to maximize that momentum to bring early conclusions," Razali told a news conference."I think there is a commitment on the part of the military to make the transition from military government to civilian constitutional government. This commitment has been confirmed over and over, over a course of time. The U.N. must make the military beholden to those commitments," he said.
Myanmar, also known as Burma, has been under military rule since 1962.The current junta came to power in 1988 after crushing a pro-democracy movement and two years later it annulled the results of the 1990 general elections that Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy party won. She was put under house arrest from 1989 to 1995 and again in September 2000 until May 6.With Razali's mediation the junta and Suu Kyi have been holding closed-door reconciliation talks since October 2000, raising hopes of an eventual political settlement.
Suu Kyi's release was preceded by an unusual promise by the junta to allow "all citizens to participate freely in the life of our political process." But her release and this promise made in a statement distributed to foreign media outlets were blacked out in the state-controlled media.
When asked about the possibility of elections, Razali said "pressure is the last thing you utilize when you deal with governments, particularly when you deal with one as nationalistic as the present one in Myanmar."
"The government of Myanmar understands clearly how interested the international community is, the U.N. is, in seeing the evolution towards representative, civilian, democratic government," he said.
"If you're talking in terms of an election there must be a lot of preparations. But what we are trying to facilitate here is the ability of the parties to have confidence in each other to work out something even at the transitional stage ... where they begin to share efforts and responsibilities in dealing with the interests of Myanmar."
National reconciliation, he said, should include release of political prisoners, greater political activity for all parties not just the National League for Democracy, and the ability for Suu Kui and others to deal with issues confronting the country, "perhaps even looking at economic reforms.""Some economic reforms in Myanmar can precede political reforms," Razali noted.
He said he had no idea what a transition would look like, in terms of political power-sharing. Suu Kyi has said she wants to move to discussions on the political process and democratization, and Razali said her party must have a timetable, but it wouldn't help to make it public.
Any transition must be "home-driven," he stressed. "It is what level the various political parties are comfortable with. We can't push the envelope too far. It may take six months (for a) transition, it may take longer. They must find their comfort zone in doing this. And they know very well what are the expectations of the international community."
Razali, a Malaysian businessman and former U.N. ambassador who made seven trips to Myanmar to try to break the deadlock between the junta and Suu Kyi, said he will continue trying to facilitate the reconciliation process though perhaps in "a more unstructured way."
To The TopAung San Suu Kyi briefed by U.N. agencies
YANGON, Myanmar (AP) _ Newly released pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi showed keen interest in aid programs for Myanmar during a meeting with U.N. agencies Thursday but failed to say whether Western countries should lift their aid embargo on her country, a U.N. official said.
Most Western governments, disapproving of the military government's suppression of democracy and human rights record, bar most aid to Myanmar, also known as Burma. Suu Kyi has long supported such sanctions, but there has been speculation the pro-democracy leader might soften her stance on that issue since the junta released her from house arrest May 6 after 19 months of confinement. She so far has signaled no change in her position.
In Thursday's meeting, Suu Kyi was briefed by representatives of agencies including U.N. Development Program, the U.N. Children's Fund, the World Food Program, the U.N. International Drug Control Program and the World Health Organization. They play a key role in providing the small amount of foreign assistance given to Myanmar.
Suu Kyi showed keen interest in all the projects, especially those concerning HIV/AIDS, which is a serious and fast-growing problem, said the U.N. official, speaking on condition of anonymity. She failed, however, to give her own views on aid to Myanmar, he said.
Last year the heads of nine U.N. agencies in Myanmar made a collective plea to their respective organizations and the international community to lift sanctions against the junta on humanitarian grounds. The U.N. representatives said humanitarian assistance was a moral and ethical necessity and to deny the country such aid would cause unnecessary suffering.
Suu Kyi has kept up a busy schedule of political activities since her release, including meetings with diplomats and members of the National League for Democracy, Myanmar's main opposition party.The party won a 1990 general election, but the military government never allowed Parliament to convene, and carried out a campaign of harassment against party members.
To The TopJournalist released from prison
New York, May 15, 2002 - The Committee to Protect Journalists welcomes the release of journalist Sein Hlaing, one of nine political prisoners freed this week by Burma's military rulers. The journalist had spent more than 11 years in prison.
A spokesman for the regime announced yesterday, May 14, that the prisoners, all members of the opposition National League for Democracy (NLD), "are in good health and reunited with their respective families."Their release comes a week after NLD leader and Nobel laureate Daw Aung San Suu Kyi was freed from house arrest.
Sein Hlaing, publisher of the magazine Pe-Phu-Hlwar, and Myo Myint Nyein, the magazine's editor, were arrested in September 1990 and sentenced to seven years in prison.The two were jailed for publishing a pamphlet featuring a satirical poem titled "Bar Dwae Phyit Kon Byi Lae" (What's Happening To Us?), which the Burmese junta claimed was anti-government propaganda.
On March 28, 1996, prison authorities extended Sein Hlaing and Myo Myint Nyein's sentences by another seven years each. They were convicted, along with at least 22 others, of producing clandestine publications including a report presented to Yozo Yokota, the United Nations special rapporteur for human rights in Burma, describing the horrific conditions of Insein Prison.
Myo Myint Nyein was released along with four other political prisoners on February 13, 2002, during a visit by United Nations envoy Paulo Sergio Pinheiro.
To The TopPolitical Prisoners Transferred
By Kyaw Zaw Moe
May 15, 2002 - Since her release on May 6, opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi has maintained that her party’s priority is the release of all political prisoners. And while the military regime has obliged her by releasing nine National League for Democracy (NLD) party members yesterday, some political prisoners have been recently transferred to other prisons without reason, according to a reliable source in Rangoon.
The source told The Irrawaddy that the move occurred some time last week. The transferred prisoners all from the NLD include: Khun Myint Tun, a member of parliament, poet Nyein Thit, a.k.a. Thaung Tun, and Thwe Thwe Win. Other prisoners were also transferred although who has been sent to which prisons has not yet been confirmed.
"The move from one prison to another is not very unusual," one former political prisoner said. "But we don’t understand why the generals transferred the prisoners now while they are trying to appease the opposition and the world by releasing political dissidents."
The military junta tends to move political prisoners who supposedly don’t follow the restrictive prison rules to other remote prisons as punishment in order to deprive them of meeting their families and receiving basic supplies from them. Thus, while international and domestic demands mount for the junta to release all political prisoners and show their sincerity in forging ahead with national reconciliation, the transfer of prisoners under such cloudy circumstances seems contradictory.
On May 9, international press associations called on Burma’s military regime to immediately release respected journalist Win Tin, who has been jailed for 13 years. The World Association of Newspapers (WAN) and the World Editors Forum, both based in Paris, represent more than 18,000 publications around the world, and one of their main objectives is to defend and promote press freedom. In WAN’s letter to the ruling State Peace and Development Council, they urged the SPDC to release Win Tin as "the next step in the confidence-building process" between Aung San Suu Kyi and the junta.Win Tin, former editor of the daily newspaper Hanthawathi, vice chairman of the Burmese Writer’s Association, and founder of the National League for Democracy, was arrested in July 1989. Though he was originally sentenced to three years, his term was increased first by another eight years and again by 12 years, due to his clandestine political activities inside the prison. Now 72, he is suffering from hypertension, diabetes, hernias and spondylitis (inflammation of the vertebra) in a Rangoon hospital reserved especially for prisoners.
In 2001, Win Tin received the Guillermo Cano World Press Freedom Prize awarded by the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) for his efforts in promoting press freedom around the world. Many more prisoners are still incarcerated for their politically divergent views.
Since October 2000, when the talks between the SPDC and Aung San Suu Kyi began, the junta has released about 270 political prisoners, including those freed yesterday.
Nevertheless, in December 2000, four NLD members, including NLD Member of Parliament Saw Nine Nine, were sentenced to 21 years each for releasing a political statement. And Dr Salai Tun Than, who staged a peaceful solo-protest demanding political reform, was sentenced to seven years at the beginning of this year.
Nobel Peace Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi said after her release, "I, and my party, have been disappointed by the slow rate of the release of political prisoners." She added, "Their release is not only important in humanitarian terms but also political terms."
Though the SPDC and NLD agree that the confidence-building phase between them has been completed, nearly 2000 political prisoners, including NLD members, are still languishing in the prisons’ notoriously harsh conditions due only to their wishes to see democracy established in their country.
Among the remaining prisoners, 52 have already completed their respective sentences but are still in detention, according to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners. Moreover, since 1998, at least 68 political prisoners have died from various diseases while in jail.
Kyat on the Move
By Ko Cho
May 16, 2002 - Pointing to the recent wild fluctuations in the Burmese currency, analysts are saying that the instability of the kyat is closely tied to the country’s uncertain political conditions. Currently, the exchange rate is 890-900 kyat per US dollar.
"The exchange rate is about 900 to the dollar but we’re not sure," one businessman in Rangoon said this morning. "The rate may be more than 900 per dollar soon."
The kyat was strengthened immediately after the release of Aung San Suu Kyi from under house arrest earlier this month. The official exchange rate is 6.9 kyat to the dollar.In March, the currency dropped in value when the military junta arrested the son-in-law and three grandsons of former dictator Ne Win for attempting to seize state power. Shortly after the arrest, the currency was valued at about 1,000 kyat to the dollar.
That was the second lowest record in recent years. The currency had also fallen in value in 1997 when the junta refashioned its image by renaming itself the State Peace and Development Council and by sacking numerous senior ministers.
This week, Burmese democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi called for dialogue with the ruling military junta, saying that there has been no change of her party’s policy concerning economic sanctions and international aid.The 1991 Nobel Peace Prize winner said in a recent interview with CNN that her partys policy stance remains unchanged because political conditions have not improved in Burma.
"We have always said that the minimum necessary requirement (for aid) is independent monitoring, and certainly the National League for Democracy should be part of the independent monitoring process, as a basic requirement," Suu Kyi told the network.Governments, NGOs and investment companies have been waiting to see signs of improvement before changing their positions on dealing with the regime.
Today, the investment climate remains unstable while the bureaucratic red tape still presents a formidable obstacle to efficient business operations. The kyat is incontrovertible to foreign currencies.
To The TopGovernment intervention sees gold prices plummet
By Soe Than Lynn The Myanmar Times(May13-19)
GOVERNMENT intervention in the gold market has resulted in a big fall in the price of the precious metal. The decline follows an order issued by the Central Bank of Myanmar on May 7 requiring private banks to return all gold deposited by their customers within two weeks.
The order, which followed a speech by Secretary 1 of the State Peace and Development Council, Lt-Gen Khin Nyunt, at the Central Bank, triggered a sell-off which led to the market price of gold falling from K160,000 a tical (0.576 ounces) in early May to K116,000 a tical last Wednesday evening.
Gold was selling last Wednesday morning for K135,000 a tical, indicating how quickly the price had fallen. A gold shop owner said people had rushed to sell when the price began falling because a day’s delay could mean a big difference in their return. A tacit agreement requires the shop owners to buy back gold sold to a customer.
Market sources say many investors have bought gold to use as collateral for loans to increase their stocks of the precious metal. Banks were willing to lend up to 90 per cent of the market value of gold deposits before the government intervention, the sources said.
The decline in the gold price has corresponded with a rise in the value of the kyat. That is good news for consumers because the stronger kyat has resulted in cheaper prices for some imported goods. Meanwhile, traders at Yangon’s biggest consumer goods market were wondering about a paucity of customers last week, despite falling prices for a range of products.
"It’s as if we have to go around shouting into microphones to let the people know that the market is open," said U Tin Aung, the secretary of the Mingalar Market Welfare Society, a group which represents the traders. U Tin Aung told Myanmar Times that prices had fallen by an average of 15 per cent. "As prices go down, customers usually wait and see if they might fall further," he said. With a new school year due to begin in June, green cotton longyis and white synthetic shirts used as uniforms were selling well. But sales of other consumer goods were disappointing. Popular brands of longyis had dropped by about K20 to K930 and were expected to fall further.
Traders said a strengthening of the kyat in border areas has resulted in cheaper prices for products imported from China, India and Thailand, including the cotton used for longyis. A trader at the market said the expectation of further price falls was the main reason why business was far from brisk.
To The TopBurmese shelling forces 2,000 to flee
Mortar shells fired from inside Burma forced about 2,000 people, 500 of them schoolchildren, to flee Ban Mae Konken village in tambon Mahawan of Mae Sot district, Tak province, yesterday.No one was hurt but the village school was ordered closed for half a day.The shelling by an unidentified force inside Burma began at 12.15am.
Three mortar rounds landed near the homes of Ming Khammukdee, 45, Seerai Ruankham, 48, and Tha Chaichana, 55, causing damage to the houses and some of their belongings, as well as power lines and fruit trees.Another mortar round landed near Wat Huai Mahawong and five others on a rice field near the village.
Narong Huayphat, the kamnan of tambon Mahawan, said that before the shelling he had received a telephone warning from a Burmese man that the village would be shelled in retaliation for Wednesday's attacks on two Burmese outposts by Karen National Union rebels.A formal protest against the shelling would be made to Burmese authorities.
ANTI-LANDMINE TALKS :Burma, S'pore no-show disappoints hosts
Anti-landmine campaigners are disappointed that Burma and Singapore failed to turn up for Thai-hosted regional talks to tackle the landmine problem.
Yeshua Moser-Puangsuwan, a member of the Thailand Campaign to Ban Landmines, an NGO umbrella outfit, said while Singapore was virtually free of the problem, Burma produced and deployed more landmines than any other country in Southeast Asia.
Thailand wants Rangoon to sign an international pact to ban landmines, but Burma continues to deploy them against minority groups.
International Campaign to Ban Landmines co-ordinator Liz Bernstein said the number of people injured or killed by mines in Burma was increasing.
Despite the absence of the two countries, the talks managed to put the problem into a regional perspective and boost confidence in attempts to find a solution, the NGO said.Thailand, Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, the Philippines and Vietnam joined the two-day meeting.
Southeast Asia is one of the world's most heavily mined areas. One person is killed or maimed by mines in Asean every two hours. In Thailand, people in 19 border provinces live in fear of landmines.
To The TopSuu Kyi leaves Myanmar capital in freedom test
YANGON, May 16 - Pro-democracy opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, released last week from house arrest, put her new freedom to the test on Friday with her first unrestricted trip outside the Myanmar capital in more than four years.
Party officials said her visit to a provincial office of her National League for Democracy (NLD) in Shwepyitha, some 20 miles (32 km) north of Yangon, met no objections from the authorities.
''It all went smoothly,'' NLD Secretary U Lwin told Reuters. ''She had no problems with the authorities. The trip had already been arranged.''
All previous attempts to leave Yangon in recent years were blocked by the ruling military. Her most recent spell in house arrest came after she made several high-profile attempts to travel outside Yangon in 2000 in defiance of travel restrictions.
Suu Kyi was driven away from her lakeside home at around 9 a.m. (0230 GMT) on Friday and returned around 1:45 p.m. NLD officials said Suu Kyi met party officials in the township and gave a short speech.
It was the first time since October 1997 that Suu Kyi had been allowed to make a trip outside Yangon. Suu Kyi was released from 19 months of house arrest on May 6 after protracted secretive talks with the military generals who have ruled the impoverished country for the last 40 years. She said in a radio interview on Thursday night that all restrictions on her movements had been lifted and although this had yet to be tested she did not anticipate problems.
Aung San Suu Kyi rallies party
By Somchai Suwanban -Head of the BBC's Burmese Service
Friday, 17 May, 2002
Aung San Suu Kyi has the revival of her National League for Democracy political party as one of her top priorities. The military government has systematically dismantled the organisation and infrastructure of the NLD during the past 10 years.
Many NLD political workers and grass roots activists have been forced to abandon their membership, some coerced into joining the government-sponsored Union, Solidarity and Development Association (USDA).
The USDA has apparently become stronger during Aung San Suu Kyi's house arrest and it could turn into a political party should there be an election.
It is essential for Aung San Suu Kyi to go out and meet demoralised NLD members in order to breath new life into the party which won an overwhelming majority in the May 1990 elections. The party is now almost defunct and left with an ageing executive committee and little inspiration among the rank and file.
Aung San Suu Kyi needs to rebuild the NLD's political structure and attract younger members up and down the country to work with her, 'to empower the powerless' as she put it.
Aung San Suu Kyi will also be pushing for the release of more political prisoners. But this will be difficult. The military government has no interest in setting free key political activists who would be able to strengthen the NLD's political appeal.
The government is actively supporting the USDA as a political proxy when the electoral battle lines are eventually drawn up.
But that may be a long way off. After almost 19 months of 'confidence building' talks, many people are now asking what comes next. Some ethnic leaders have said they want to be part of the next step.
But ethnic political aspiration has always been a thorny and complicated issue in Burmese politics. Some historians believe that the issue may be partly behind the 1947 assassination of Aung San, Aung San Suu Kyi's father.
After the confidence building phase, the military government and Aung San Suu Kyi will next engage in 'talk about talk' before the actual reconciliation can begin. Burma has turned a new page, but it will take quite a long time to fill in the blanks.
To The TopINTERVIEW-Suu Kyi impatient on talks with Burma junta
Source : MSNBC / Reuters
BANGKOK, May 17 ---Burma opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, declaring herself impatient for change in the military-ruled country, said on Friday she hoped for substantive political talks with the junta within weeks.
The winner of the 1991 Nobel Peace Prize, released from 19 months of house arrest on May 6, told Reuters in an interview she was cautiously optimistic on the chances of a move towards democracy in the country formerly known as Burma.
''The sooner that the talks start, the better for the country because there is so much work to be done in Burma,'' she said by telephone from the Burmese capital of Rangoon.
''I think that we would like something substantive to begin within a matter of weeks.''
Suu Kyi, 56, is the charismatic daughter of Burma's independence hero Aung San. She leads a party that won the country's last general elections in 1990 by a landslide, taking 80 percent of the seats, but has never been allowed to govern.
Instead the military, in power for 40 years, merely tightened its grip. Suu Kyi and her colleagues in the National League for Democracy (NLD) have been arrested, locked up and harassed.
Since emerging as the leader of the pro-democracy movement in 1988, Suu Kyi has spent more than six years confined to her lakeside villa in suburban Rangoon and most of the rest of the time her movements have been severely restricted.
But the attitude of the government appears to have softened over the last year, thanks in part to talks brokered by U.N. special envoy Razali Ismail, who has visited the country seven times over the past two years.
TRIP OUTSIDE RANGOON
Suu Kyi has said the military has promised not to restrict her movements and she put this to the test on Friday, venturing out by car on her first unrestricted trip outside the Burmese capital since October 1997.
Suu Kyi visited an NLD office in Shwepyitha, some 20 miles (32 km) north of Rangoon, and made a speech to party activists.
The trip passed off without incident and party officials said later that the military had been notified of the trip in advance.
Asked whether the trip had been a success, Suu Kyi replied: ``Yes. It was. It went very well.''
Suu Kyi declined to give a timetable for political change in her country, saying it would be ''very foolish'' of anyone to say exactly when Burma was going to become a full democracy.
''I don't think anybody can say. As soon as possible is what we say -- and the sooner the better.''
But she said she was optimistic.
''I have always said I am a cautious optimist and nothing has ever happened to make me change my mind. My view is that when you set out to achieve something you don't just depend on hope, you put in a lot of hard work,'' she said.
''What is important now is that everyone who wants to see change in Burma should put in a lot of hard work, rather than sit around wondering whether one can trust the regime or not.'' Asked how long the political talks with the government would last, Suu Kyi laughed:
''That is very difficult to say -- especially as the talks haven't even begun!''
Suu Kyi said she thought the pro-democracy movement and the junta had a similar understanding of what constituted democracy.
GOAL OF DEMOCRACY UNDISPUTED
The military government has always said it wanted to move towards democracy but that the impoverished country, which is made up of dozens of different ethnic minorities, was simply not ready for the kind of freedoms enjoyed by other nations.
Suu Kyi rejected suggestions that Burma was not ready for democracy or needed a strong, military government, saying no one should underestimate the capability of the people.
''I don't think a country falls apart simply because there isn't a 'strong' government -- 'strong' in a totalitarian sense. I think a truly strong government is one that has the support and trust of the people.''
The goal of democracy itself was not at issue, she said.
''I think this is something on which we both can agree -- that Burma has to work towards democracy. I think the questions that will have to be settled are how we are going to work towards democracy and how quickly.''
The people of Burma were impatient for change, she said, and no one was less patient for change than her.
''You could say that we are the least patient of the lot because after all we are the ones who have had to struggle very, very hard,'' she said. ''We are certainly not patient in the sense that we are prepared to wait and wait and wait. But what we have is perseverance.
''We are prepared to persevere whatever the obstacles, and if it were up to us to decide when we get democracy, we would have got it many, many years ago.''
Suu Kyi, who was unable to travel to see her dying husband, British academic Michael Aris in the last stages of terminal cancer in 1999, said she hoped soon to see the rest of her family and meet up with her two sons.
''I hope so,'' she said. ''I would very much like to see them and I am sure -- I hope -- they would very much like to see me. I hope we will be able to arrange something.''
To The TopBurma vows crackdown on poppy farmers in KL
KUALA LUMPUR, May 17 (Reuters)- - Burma will crack down on poppy growing in a bid to stem drug output in the country, which in 2001 regained its spot as the world's top opium producer, a Burmese official said on Friday.
Colonel Sit Aye, director of International Affairs at Burma's Home Ministry, said on the sidelines of an ASEAN meeting in Kuala Lumpur that farmers had been told to turn to other crops.
"If they grow illicit crop, we will destroy it and take legal action," he told reporters.
Burma forms one corner of the infamous "Golden Triangle" opium-growing region -- along with parts of Thailand and Laos -- which officials say has overtaken Afghanistan as the world's primary source of heroin.
Burma is the only country on which the United States has imposed limited sanctions on grounds that it has not cooperated in efforts to crack down on drugs.
Officials from the 10-member Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) began three-day talks on Thursday to seek ways to fight cross-border crimes such as terrorism and drug trafficking.
Their work precedes a May 20-21 meeting of ASEAN home (interior) ministers on terrorism in the Malaysian capital.
ASEAN comprises Brunei, Burma, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.
Sit Aye said his government had given poppy farmers seeds for alternative crops such as corn and sugar cane ahead of the next poppy planting season beginning in September.
"If their land is filled with these crops, there will no room for them to plant poppies," he said.
"So far, the cultivation of rice, corn and sugar cane have been successful. The only problem is marketing," he said.
Burma was described in the U.S. State Department's 2001 report on narcotics flows as the largest producer of illicit opium, though its opium yield survey conducted jointly with the United States showed a drop of more than 20 percent from 2000.
Colonel Kyaw Thein, head of Burma's counter-narcotics operations, met a senior U.S. official in Washington this week in the first such visit for years as glacial relations thawed a bit.
Improving the mood was the recent release by Rangoon's military regime of opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi from 19 months of house arrest.