Daily News- May 19- 2002- Sunday

  • Thai army poised to attack Wa
  • Controversy abounds over druglord's whereabouts
  • Shan and Karen lobby EU's next president
  • Burma to sell million dollars in teak wood to India
  • US to watch and wait before changing Burma policy
  • Burma hands over Chinese "Golden Triangle" smuggler

  • Thai army poised to attack Wa

    The Nation

    Hundreds of Thai troops have been mobilised to areas along the northern border to prepare for an offensive against the Wa drug army with the aim of capturing Wei Hsueh-kang, a senior commander in the pro-Rangoon drug army.

    Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra has given the Army the green light to put one elite unit on standby to enter the Wa area and capture Wei, said a senior Defence Ministry official on condition of anonymity.

    General Maung Aye, the commander of the Burmese army, was informed of the plan during his recent visit to Bangkok and did not object, the source said.

    Army officers along the border told The Nation yesterday that they were "spoiling for a fight with the Wa".

    Wei, an ethnic Chinese drug lord who controls a sizeable number of troops within the 20,000-strong United Wa State Army (UWSA), has been indicted by both the Thai and American courts on charges of heroin trafficking.

    A strike against the Wa could put the Burmese junta on a crash course with the drug army and damage its relations with other armed ethnic groups that it has made cease-fire agreements with. The UWSA agreed to a cease-fire with Rangoon in 1989 in return for limited self-rule.

    Armoured vehicles, Special Forces units, soldiers from Cavalry squadrons and artillery have been seen being put into position along the northern border since Thursday.

    Deputy Defence Minister Yuthasak Sasiprapha, while playing down the development, admitted that there was an understanding between the Thai and Burmese governments that they would tolerate to some degree each other's military incursions in pursuit of insurgent groups.

    Thailand and Burma have a long and rugged common border. Over the decades, the area has been occupied by a number of ethnic rebel armies, including the Shan, Karen and Mon, holding out for better deals with Rangoon. All of the armed groups except the Shan State Army and the Karen National Union have entered Burma's "legal fold" through cease-fire agreements in return for some degree of autonomy. Some of these groups, notably the Wa and the Kokang Chinese, have turned to the lucrative drug trade and have developed global networks.

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    Controversy abounds over druglord's whereabouts

    Shan Herald Agency for News- No: 05 - 14

    Border sources are in disagreement about where drug fugitive Wei Hsuehkang is since he was last seen in public on 18 January, according to news coming from Chiangrai.

    "He was seen driving off from Tachilek in the direction of Monghsat to the west in full view of the public after his audience with Gen Khin Nyunt on the previous evening," remembered S.H.A.N. reporter Liangparng. Generals Chavalit Yongchaiyudh and Khin Nyunt were officially opening the 10-day Thai-Burma trade fair on that day.

    While many reports agreed Wei was in Panghsang, the Wa capital near the Chinese border, one recent report says the 56-year old commander of the United Wa State Army's 171st Special Brigade has gone to live in northern Shan State's Tangyan township, where he had received a 2,000 acre land grant from Rangoon, with 100-trusted followers. "The grant is east of Tangyan and west of the Salween," added the source.

    However, a Shan businessman who claims to be close to the Wa, said, "He is no more in Burma because he went abroad with an assumed name and a passport several months ago." Even so, he was unable to name which country Wei went to.

    The day to day affairs of the 171st are overseen by his younger brother, Wei Hsuehying, with headquarters in Hwe Aw, some 25 miles from the Thai border, opposite Chiangmai province.

    Hongpang Company, meanwhile, continues business without a signboard, agree several sources. "If it isn't Hongpang, who's collecting our money at the tollgates from the passing vehicles?" asked a driver rhetorically.

    A new tollgate had been set up at Pang Kham Noi before Monghpyak, 40 miles north of Tachilek. Wa officials from both towns charge K. 400 from each pickup or sedans, K. 5,000 from oil tankers and K. 8,000 from cargo trucks.

    Hongpang has been renamed Greenland, according to Bangkok Post, but S.H.A.N. sources has yet to be able to confirm it. "Everything's been pulled down in front of the Hongpang buildings," reported a source who went to look for it.

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    Shan and Karen lobby EU's next president

    Shan Herald Agency for News -No: 05 - 13

    Shan and Karen representatives were just back from their week-long lobbying campaign in Greece, the country that would be chairing the European Union's Presidium by the end of the year, according to a report received by S.H.A.N. yesterday (17 May).

    The duo, Sai Wansai a.k.a. Sai Myo Win, General Secretary of the exiled Shan Democratic Union, and Saw Zarkis, Karen National Union's representative from Europe, were in Athens from 8-15 May, to brief the Greek government on democratization process in Burma, the United Nations Drug Control Program's support plan to aid Burma's drug war, the international humanitarian aid programme and ongoing human rights abuses in Burma and to solicit Greek support for Tripartite Dialogue that would include the non-Burman nationalities apart from the ruling military council and the opposition led by Aung San Suu Kyi.

    "Most Greek politicians are uninformed about Burma and only regionally motivated," said Wansai. "Now they know they must do their homework. Both Zarkis and I feel solid ground work has been laid."

    On 8 may, the two were interviewed by Elefterotipia (Free Press), one of Greece's two leading newspaper. On the following day, the two were met by Paul Charalambous, Deputy Head, Division for Asia and Oceania, and Nicolas Tsamados, Deputy Director General of Hellenic Aid, which deals in international cooperation and development. Both were from the Greek foreign ministry. On 14 May, the two had meetings with Panos Trigazis of Synaspismos Party and Fotios Papantoniou, a senior member of Asia and Pacific Research Department for the ruling Pasok Party.

    "(The latter) told us that it was like godsend for he (had been) asked to prepare a position paper for the party," reported Wansai. "He concluded that the solution of Burma's problems could only be reached with ethnic nationalities' participation."

    The two representatives had also worked together during their previous trips to Portugal in February and Spain in April.

    "The ENSCC (Ethnic Nationalities Solidarity and Cooperation Committee) should be happy, because not only we are toeing their line but we are helping them with their job too," concluded Wansai. The ENSCC was formed on 30 August last year to speak on behalf of the non-Burman nationalities to bring about a Tripartite Dialogue, as called for by the United Nations General Assembly in its annual resolutions. It is chaired by Saw Ba Thin, who is also President of the Karen National Union.

    The group also coordinates the work of other non-Burman political groupings: National Democratic Front, United Nationalities League for Democracy, ceasefire groups and non-ceasefire groups.

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    Burma to sell million dollars in teak wood to India

    Source : AFP

    Cash-strapped Burma, one of the world's largest exporters of teak, has inked a deal to sell one million dollars worth of the highly prized wood to neighbouring India.

    An Indian business delegation visiting Burma struck the agreement with Rangoon's ministry of forestry last week for 1,000 tonnes of the wood, according to the Myanmar Times.

    "This is the biggest achievement of our visit to Myanmar," G.L. Goenka, president of the Indo-Myanmar Chamber of Commerce and Industries, was quoted saying by the weekly newspaper in its edition to be published Monday.

    Seventy percent of Burma's timber is exported to India, Goenka said, although large shipments are known to be made to countries such as Thailand and Japan, a major importer of hard woods.

    Military-ruled Burma, which mainly controls the exploitation of the country's vast teak forests through state-owned enterprises, has been accused by international environmental groups of rampant deforestation.

    Teak is among Burma's largest exports, with hundreds of millions of dollars worth of the wood exported each year, according to the commodity group International Tropical Timber Organization.

    Last month India, Burma and Thailand agreed to forge ahead with plans for a "highway of opportunity" linking the three nations and boosting regional trade and development, particularly the exploitation of natural resources.

    Burma's export value to India was 240 million dollars in fiscal year 2000-2001, while imports from India stood at 40 million dollars, Goenka told the newspaper.

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    US to watch and wait before changing Burma policy

    Source : AFP

    The United States will watch and wait before changing its hardline stance towards Burma, refusing to lift sanctions, and to shed its repugnance of the ruling military without clear steps towards civilian rule.

    After years of agony for Burma's impoverished people, there is at last a glimmer of hope and Washington is strongly backing UN envoy Razali Ismail's painstaking effort to foster dialogue between democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi and the military government.

    But conversations with US officials reveal no evidence that the United States, Rangoon's chief critic, plans to offer the military inducements for reform.

    Firstly, no one here can read the minds of Rangoon's generals, and no one knows where the ultra-secretive dialogue will lead.

    Furthermore, policymakers absorbed in the global anti-terror fight are loath to spend political capital on Burma in Congress which is a hotbed of opposition to the junta.

    Burma has never been a strategic priority for the United States, and as a small state with little influence, is the ideal foil for politicians keen to burnish human rights credentials with warm support for the opposition.

    So the administration would face a fight even if it changed tacks and decided to lift investment sanctions imposed in 1997 any time soon.

    "I think that the administration is not going to use up any ammunition with Congress on Burma, it is just too low a priority, there are some many things going on Asia," said David Steinberg, a Georgetown University professor and author.

    US officials are privately sceptical of the previously raised idea of a carrot and stick strategy to prod the generals into reform.

    Such an approach was in vogue several years ago but foundered when details leaked to the media of a secret meeting at Chilston Park in Britain of donors who discussed an "aid for reform" initiative.

    Still, the administration has told Burma's State Peace and Development Council as the government is known, that genuine steps towards ending military rule will stir a positive US response.

    A small step came Wednesday, a week and a half after Aung San Suu Kyi was released from house arrest.

    The State Department pledged to work with Congress to provide aid for NGOs not linked to the military which are tackling Burma's explosive HIV/AIDS crisis -- a measure some observers say is way overdue.

    If Aung San Suu Kyi and the SPDC were to make clear progress, the United States would have a number of options -- short of lifting sanctions -- what one US official this week described as a "full diplomatic toolbag."

    Steinberg said a first step might be to lift the ban on Burmese officers of the rank of general and above travelling to the United States.

    A second step could be to fill the vacant ambassador's post at the embassy in Rangoon.

    If progress leads to a fundamental shift in Burma's political climate, the United States may consider easing prohibitions on lending to the military government by international financial institutions.

    US officials privately reject the idea that they might establish a "road map" which the Burma government could follow to gain rewards.

    However, careful reading of administration statements on the issue over the last week reveals the next steps that Washington would like to see.

    "We urge the Burmese regime to release all prisoners unconditionally to take advantage of the historic opportunity it now has to move forward together with the democratic opposition to create a better life for all of Burma's people," said State Department spokeswoman Lynn Cassel on Wednesday.

    Another barrier to a rapid change in policy towards Burma, is the repugnance with which Burma's generals are viewed in the State Department and diplomatic corps.

    Many officials see them as no more than a bunch of xenophobic thugs who have raped their land politically and ruined the economy.

    Any future changes to US policy are dependent on just how free Aung San Suu Kyi is to continue the work of political opposition, 12 years after the opposition's election landslide which was never honored by the military.

    And optimism on Burma is a commodity in short supply here.

    "According to what I hear from Razali and others, they haven't reached agreement on any of the critical issues, that's why it is going to be a very dicey business," Steinberg said.

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    Burma hands over Chinese "Golden Triangle" smuggler

    BEIJING (Reuters)- - Police in Burma recently handed over a Chinese heroin smuggler to police in the southwestern Chinese province of Yunnan, state media said on Sunday.

    Burmese police had arrested Liu Quan, a key member of a Burma smuggling ring, on April 13 based on claims made by Chinese authorities, national broadcaster China Central Television (CCTV) said on Sunday.

    Video footage showed Liu delivered in a Burmese police pick-up truck and handed over to Chinese police waiting at the border. CCTV did not give the date for the hand-off and said only that it happened recently.

    Yunnan also borders Laos, which along with Burma, and Thailand make up the "Golden Triangle," a leading source of heroin.

    A Yunnan native, Liu had entered Burma in 1999 and has smuggled 241.5 kilograms (531 lb) of heroin to Guangzhou, Qingdao and other Chinese cities during 2000, CCTV said.

    China has intensified its crackdown on drugs as sweeping economic reforms have boosted incomes and caused the number of known drug addicts to jump in recent years.

    China has about 900,000 registered drug addicts -- most of them hooked on heroin -- up from 148,000 in 1991. However, some foreign experts say the number of addicts in the country of 1.3 billion people may be as high as seven million.

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