Daily News- May 20- 2002- Monday

  • Col Tin Hlaing says no political prisoners and No date set for talks
  • Burma's Suu Kyi challenges West
  • Oscar winner Angelina Jolie Visits Thailand Refugee Camp
  • 15,000 Myanmar Seafarers Serve on Foreign Vessels
  • Myanmar Destroys 9,987 Hectares of Poppy Crops in 2001-02
  • Thai army trades fire with Myanmar drug force

  • Col Tin Hlaing says no political prisoners in Myanmar

    KUALA LUMPUR (Reuters) May 19 - There are no political prisoners in Myanmar after the release of opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, Myanmar Home Minister Colonel Tin Hlaing was quoted as saying on Sunday.

    The Malaysian national news agency Bernama quoted Tin Hlaing as saying 200 supporters of Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy (NLD) still in prison were common criminals associated with terrorism and insurgency groups.

    ''There is no political prisoner now... these 200 so-called NLD members were actually involved in criminal activities such as bombings in public places and working with insurgency groups,'' he was quoted as saying ahead of a southeast Asian ministerial meeting on terrorism on Monday.

    Suu Kyi, set free from 19 months' house arrest on May 6, has said her top priority is the release of NLD party members who are still detained. More than 1,000 are still in Myanmar's jails, according to Amnesty International. Nobel laureate Suu Kyi is the leader of the NLD, which won the country's last general elections in 1990 by a landslide, but has never been allowed to govern.

    Tin Hlaing said Myanmar's ruling generals will bring in democracy, but not yet. ''Our government's intention is to establish a democratic society and there is lot of development taking place... but we cannot say when democracy will be fully restored,'' the minister was quoted as saying.

    Suu Kyi last week declared herself impatient for change in the military-ruled country, saying she hoped for substantive political talks with the junta within weeks.

    No date set for talks with Suu Kyi

    By JASBANT SINGH, Associated Press Writer

    KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia - Conciliation talks between Myanmar's military rulers and freed pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi would be held "as soon as possible" - but no date has been set - a Myanmar official said Sunday.

    "Our government intention is to establish a democratic society," Myanmar's Home Affairs Minister Col. Tin Hlaing told reporters. "We will fully cooperate with her (Suu Kyi) ... we will conduct the talks as soon as possible."

    Hlaing said no date had been set for talks because Suu Kyi had been "very busy" since her release from house arrest on May 6 after 19 months of detention. She was detained after defying a travel ban and trying to venture outside the capital, Yangon.

    Nobel Peace Prize laureate Suu Kyi has spent time since her release meeting diplomats and officials of her National League for Democracy.

    Asked if the planned talks with Suu Kyi would pave the way for elections, Hlaing said there was "a long process" involved before elections could be held. He did not elaborate.

    Hlaing also said the junta did not expect economic sanctions imposed on Myanmar by the United States and its allies to be lifted because of Suu Kyi's release."The government released her and many of her party members for the benefit of the nation," he said. "We are not hoping for reciprocal acts from the United States or other countries."

    Donor nations blocked virtually all development aid to Myanmar, also known as Burma, after the military violently suppressed pro-democracy demonstrations in 1988, killing hundreds of people.

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    Burma's Suu Kyi challenges West

    The Toronto Star
    Martin Regg Cohn-Asia Bureau

    RANGOON - Discipline, struggle, perseverance and, above all, duty. These are the values that have ruled the life of newly released democracy activist Aung San Suu Kyi. And these are the values that she says the people of Burma must embrace if they are to reclaim their heritage. "Things have to be different, we must make things different that's how we go about it," she says.

    In an interview just two weeks after being freed from house arrest, the woman who is viewed as the mother of her country has issued a challenge, not only to the people of this South Asian country but to the nations, including Canada, that have co-operated with Burma's military dictatorship.

    Unlike in the United States, which has banned new investment in Burma and whose companies have largely pulled back, Canadian investors have conspicuously ignored her calls for economic sanctions against the rogue regime. Early last year, Canada became the second-biggest foreign investor in Burma, thanks to the activities of Ivanhoe Mines Ltd., which runs the country's biggest copper mine in a joint venture with the military.

    Ivanhoe issued a news release two week ago saying it is a "conscientious, judicious enterprise (that) delivers practical, wide-ranging benefits to people, while at the same time facilitating the relief of human suffering."

    But Suu Kyi says foreign capital merely lines the pockets of the generals. "It doesn't come as a surprise to us; we've gotten used to some pretty strange things," she says of Ivanhoe's boasts. "What's the benefit in it for the ordinary Burmese?"

    She appeals to Canadians to join other Western nations in a more concerted attempt to pressure the government.

    "It's much more effective than if they just do their own thing. We have not yet achieved democracy, so we still have a lot of work to do and I'd like them (Canadians) to be aware of that."

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    Oscar winner Angelina Jolie Visits Thailand Refugee Camp

    SUAN PHUNG, Thailand (AP) - Oscar winner Angelina Jolie flew by helicopter into Western Thailand Sunday to witness living conditions at a refugee camp and make donations for thousands of refugees from neighboring Myanmar.

    Jolie, who has been in northern Thailand filming a romantic adventure about relief workers, traveled to the camp in her role as Goodwill Ambassador for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.

    The actress tossed plastic soccer balls to the throngs of children who greeted her at the Tham Hin refugee camp in Ratchaburi province, about 60 miles west of Bangkok. Wearing a blue U.N. cap and sandals, Jolie toured Tham Hin's classrooms and job training facilities. Later she put on a traditional ethnic dress given to her at the camp.

    She said refugees at Tham Hin were ``really taking care of and taking responsibility for themselves ... this camp is a real example of a working camp.'' The camp was established in 1997 and houses about 9,000 predominantly ethnic Karen refugees. In addition to financial support, Jolie offered soccer balls, volleyball nets, an audio system for training programs and 4,000 sarongs for female refugees.

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    15,000 Myanmar Seafarers Serve on Foreign Vessels

    YANGON, May 19 (Xinhuanet) -- About 15,000 maritime workers out ofa total of 53,000 in Myanmar are serving on foreign vessels, said a report of the Myanmar Ministry of Transport available here Sunday. The Myanmar seafarers earn more than 80 million U.S. dollars a year in salaries and wages, the report said.

    To be competitive in maritime labor market, the government has formed the Myanmar Overseas Seafarers Association and preparation is under way to establish a Myanmar maritime university to offer related training following the enactment of the country's MaritimeUniversity Law in February this year. The university, the first ever in the country, is due to open in August this year.

    Myanmar seafarers are enjoying trust and confidence of foreign ship owners and employers. The Department of Marine Administrationof the ministry is making efforts to maintain and upgrade the proficiency of these seafaring professionals through exact training and examination procedures and has secured bilateral recognition of competency certificates from many countries, including the Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) of Britain.

    Myanmar amended its Merchant Shipping Act in 1999 and 2000 and the country was included into the White List of the International Maritime Organization (IMO) along with 95 other member nations at the 74th session of the IMO Maritime Safety Committee held in May-June 2001.

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    Myanmar Destroys 9,987 Hectares of Poppy Crops in 2001-02

    YANGON, May 19 (Xinhuanet) -- The Myanmar authorities destroyed 24,678.34 acres (9,987.07 hectares) of illegally-grown poppy crops inthe country during the 2001-02 poppy cultivation season ending April, according to a report of the Myanmar Central Committee for Drug Abuse Control available here Sunday.

    The poppy crops, destroyed by the army units, police force and anti-drug squad, included 4,775.66 acres (1,932.66 hectares) grownin the country's northern Kachin state. The rest of the plantations destroyed mostly lie in Myanmar's eastern and southernShan state and western Magway division. The plantations, destroyed during the 2001-02 cultivation season, were 16 percent more than 2000-01, when 8,603 hectares were spoiled.

    Meanwhile, Myanmar's opium production has been declining steadily since 1997, according to a Myanmar-U.S. joint survey of Myanmar's opium yield in the country's Shan state beginning 1993.

    The survey shows that the opium production dropped from 2,365 tons in 1997 to 865 tons in 2001, representing a drop of 64 percent, while the country's poppy cultivation area decreased from151,201 acres (61,189 hectares) in 1997 to 61,824 acres (25,019 hectares) in 2001, a reduction of almost 60 percent.

    However, the figures of the United States show that the poppy cultivation area in Myanmar in 1997 was 381,669 acres (154,457.6 hectares), while that in 2001 was 260,000 acres (105,220 hectares),a reduction of only 31.87 percent.

    The International Narcotics Control Board of the United Nationssaid Myanmar is the largest opium producing country in the world with its output accounting for about 50 percent or 60 percent of the world's opium supply.

    Meanwhile, according to official statistics, in 2001 the Myanmar authorities exposed 2,933 drug-related cases, seizing 1,770.76 kilograms of opium and 96.74 kilograms of heroin as well as32.438 million tablets of stimulant drugs. During the year, a total of 4,256 people were punished for being involved in the cases.

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    Thai army trades fire with Myanmar drug force

    CHIANG MAI (Reuters) May 20 Thai troops traded cross-border artillery and mortar fire with a Myanmar ethnic minority drug militia on Monday, military sources said, in a possible prelude to larger-scale clashes along the frontier.Sporadic shelling erupted in areas bordering Thailand's Mae Hong Son and Chiang Mai provinces. There was no word on any casualties.

    Senior Thai officers in northern Chiang Mai told reporters on condition of anonymity that Thailand fired at least six mortar bombs on positions of the United Wa State Army (UWSA), one of the world's most powerful drug militias, after shelling by the group into Thailand. The officers said thousands of Thai soldiers, backed by hundreds of tanks, had been dispatched to Chiang Mai, Mae Hong Son and two other border provinces in early May for month-long military exercises.

    Last week senior Thai officers said that Thai forces planned a major incursion into Myanmar to seize the UWSA's headquarters close to the border. They said Thai troops were planning the strike against the UWSA, which signed a ceasefire deal with the Myanmar military government in 1989, after being given the go-ahead by Myanmar in a bid to smooth relations with Thailand. But the Thai officers on Monday denied the reports that their troops were planning a push into Myanmar.

    The UWSA has some 20,000 troops and an arsenal that includes surface-to-air missiles, according to Jane's Defence Weekly. International anti-narcotics agencies say the group produces large amounts of heroin and Thailand says it expects to be flooded with more than 900 million methamphetamine stimulant pills produced by the UWSA this year.

    Thai troops have clashed with the UWSA sporadically in recent years along the 2,400 km (1,490 miles) border. A Thai army spokesman in Bangkok on Monday said Thai forces would operate only inside Thailand.

    ''We will drill within areas under Thai sovereignty. We can move anywhere in the four Thai provinces but we cannot violate their (Myanmar's) sovereignty,'' he said.

    A Thai military statement said recent clashes between forces of the UWSA and another ethnic minority guerrilla group, the Shan State Army (SSA), had pushed some 500 Shan refugees into Thailand since May 7.

    Major General Pichanmeth Muangmanee, deputy commander of the northern region, told reporters in Chiang Mai about 150 refugees fled to Thailand on Monday after a morning clash between the UWSA and SSA.

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