Daily News- May 20- 2002- Tuesday

  • Aung San Suu Kyi to travel outside Yangon soon: NLD
  • Bangkok, junta swap protests
  • Thai army hits Wa hard in dawn raid
  • Myanmar alleges Thai army supports ethnic rebel attacks
  • Spurred by US talks, Myanmar launches new anti-drugs drive
  • Worker Shareholders Challenge Unocal's Plans for New Investment in Burma
  • Failure to meet Myanmar troika led to coup plot: official
  • Prosecution witness testifies in Myanmar treason trial
  • Thailand and Myanmar spar over border clashes

  • Aung San Suu Kyi to travel outside Yangon soon: NLD

    YANGON, May 20 (AFP) - Myanmar's newly freed pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi is ready to travel outside Yangon as soon as work and weather permit, her National League for Democracy (NLD) said Monday.

    "Daw Aung San Suu Kyi will take a trip outside the capital Yangon just as soon as her heavy work-load, the weather and road conditions permit," NLD spokesman U Lwin told AFP.

    The Nobel peace laureate was released May 6 from 19 months of house arrest, and while she has made a handful of visits within city limits she has yet to venture outside the capital area.She made a cautious first visit to a party office outside central Yangon on Friday, but an NLD source stressed at the time the party leader had not left the capital.

    U Lwin said Aung San Suu Kyi's weekdays are filled with appointments with diplomats, United Nations personnel and representatives of ethnic political parties allied with the NLD.

    "With so many visitors, I am having a difficult time arranging the appointments for her," U Lwin said. "Her programme is full until the end of the month and she also has to fit in meetings with organising committees of her own party."

    According to Lwin there are three scheduled visits to NLD offices inside Yangon itself, including one to form a youth group.One of the township offices targeted for a visit by "The Lady" -- as she is widely known here -- is in the dockyard town of Daw-bon in eastern Yangon where the weather has made roads unfit for travel.

    "Recent bad weather is not very conducive to such trips, especially where the roads have become muddy with the recent heavy rains," he said.

    Aung San Suu Kyi's second period of house arrest -- the first lasted from 1989 to 1995 -- was imposed in September 2000 after she made several attempts to leave Yangon on party business.Her attempt to travel to the township of Kawhmu, which defied an order confining her to Yangon, culminated in a nine-day standoff.When she again attempted to travel, this time to northern Mandalay on party business, the junta escorted her home before placing her under house arrest.

    Aung San Suu Kyi has said the military regime has not placed any conditions on her release this time, and that she is free to travel wherever she wishes.

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    Bangkok, junta swap protests

    Bangkok Post

    Improved relations with Burma suffered a setback yesterday when the two countries traded protest notes after Thai troops and the United Wa State Army traded artillery fire across the border.

    The Thai ambassador to Burma was handed a formal protest about a heavy artillery barrage claimed to have been fired earlier in the day by Thai forces in support of the Shan State Army, an anti-Rangoon rebel group.

    Burmese Military Intelligence spokesman Col San Pwint told a press conference in Rangoon the Thai ambassador was summoned to the Foreign Affairs Ministry and was handed a protest ``in the strongest terms'' by Deputy Foreign Minister Khin Maung Win.He said a similar protest was given to the Thai military attache in Rangoon by Military Intelligence officials.

    Maj-Gen Picharnmet Muangmanee, the Third Army deputy commander, said Thai troops fired warning shots after stray shells from fighting between the Shan and the Wa fell on Thai territory. Thailand also sent a protest note to Burmese authorities through the joint Thai-Burmese border committee, he said.

    The Burmese protest notes accused Thai forces of supplying heavy artillery support to anti-government Shan rebels who attacked four military positions held by Burmese and allied ethnic Wa forces along the border opposite Chiang Mai province.

    Col San Pwint said Shan State Army guerrillas attacked Burmese military positions at Pan Mai Swan, Nyaung Pin Kone, Pan Gant Gaw and Yan Pine Swan, which are located between 200 and 400 metres from Thai army positions.He said the artillery attacks on the Burmese government and Wa army positions began about dawn yesterday and continued until noon. He made no mention of casualties.The United Wa State Army, reportedly financed through the sale of illegal drugs in Thailand, is in alliance with Burma's ruling junta.

    An army source, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said Thai forces responded to stray shells from Burma by firing several warning shots from 105mm artillery into Burma.When these warning shots failed to stop the firing from inside Burma, more artillery rounds were fired into Burma by Thai troops, he said.

    Thousands of Thai soldiers, backed by hundreds of tanks, were deployed in Chiang Mai, Mae Hong Son and two other border provinces in early May for month-long military exercises.However, he denied that Thai forces were supporting Shan rebels and said any rebels who crossed into Thailand were disarmed. They were later allowed to return to Burma but without their weapons.

    About 150 Shan villagers have fled across the border from the fighting between the Shan and the Wa. Clashes between the two forces took place opposite Mae Hong Son's Pang Ma Pha district and Chiang Mai's Wiang Haeng district, army sources said.The fighting in Burma caused Thai authorities to evacuate hilltribe villagers at Ban Paek Saeng to Ban Jong school in tambon Piang Luang.However, the situation along the border ranging from Tak, Mae Hong Son, Chiang Mai to Chiang Rai was under control with no need for reinforcement.

    A border source said the SSA had seized eight UWSA strongholds in Toh and Tha towns.The SSA attacked and seized the UWSA's Ban Khai Luang stronghold, a major drugs production factory, early yesterday morning, the source added.

    The Third Army commander has meanwhile urged his troops to exercise caution. Lt-Gen Udomchai Ongkhasingh was concerned about possible interference by a third party, said Col Banyong Sirasunthorn, head of the information office.``The situation is volatile. A third party might interfere and provoke clashes between Rangoon and Thai soldiers,'' said Col Banyong.

    Thai army hits Wa hard in dawn raid

    The Nation-Published on May 21, 2002

    Thai infantry units and armoured vehicles supported by artillery launched an all-out dawn offensive yesterday, destroying positions manned by the United Wa State Army (UWSA) along the Thai-Burmese border.

    Shelling of UWSA positions, which went on throughout the day, could be heard well inside Thai territory in border villages in Chiang Dao district. Artillery fire supported the advancing Thai soldiers, who are carrying out search-and-destroy missions against the UWSA's drug labs and military outposts just kilometres from the Burmese border.

    At Ban Na Wai, a small Thai village about two kilometres from the border, about 60 Thais, mostly women and children, took refuge at a temple after fleeing their homes.

    In a related development, rebel soldiers from the Shan State Army (SSA) also attacked both Wa positions and Burmese government positions, forcing more civilians from Burma's Shan State to flee over the border into Thailand.

    Maj-General Pichanmeth Muangmanee, deputy commander of the Thai Third Army Region, told reporters that 150 refugees had fled into Thailand yesterday after a morning clash between the UWSA and SSA. Officially, the Army maintained that no Thai soldiers had crossed into Burmese territory.

    Meanwhile in Bangkok Army spokesman Colonel Somkuan Saengpataranet denied any such raids had taken place, saying troops in northern Thailand were only taking part in an exercise, "Surasi 143". But eyewitnesses and intelligence officers, speaking on condition of anonymity, said this was not the case.

    A dozen of the Wa's minor positions were destroyed in yesterday's raids but not the UWSA's three main strongholds of Kiw Cheng Kap, Don Fai and Kong Her Bin. Each of these is manned by between 200 and 300 soldiers, according to one estimate.

    Armoured vehicles, soldiers from Special Forces units, Cavalry squadrons and artillery units have been seen taking up positions along the northern border in Chiang Mai, Chiang Rai and Mae Hong Son provinces in the past few weeks. In response to the moves by the Thai military, the Wa have reinforced their positions.

    Military sources said the Burmese Army would not intervene to thwart the plan to destroy the UWSA, which Thailand claims is its main enemy because of its drug-related activities, adding that Rangoon had given the UWSA plenty of warnings to stop its illegal activities.

    However, in Rangoon yesterday the Burmese Foreign Ministry summoned the Thai ambassador to receive a strongly worded official protest note over the incident. Burmese Deputy Foreign Minister Khin Maung Win said the note contained details of an incident in which the Thai army used heavy artillery against outposts in Mongtong in eastern Shan State from before dawn. "We protested in the strongest possible terms that the unprovoked attack violated our sovereignty and territorial integrity," Khin Maung Win was quoted as saying by Agence-France-Presse.

    The Thai artillery attack came simultaneously as forces of Yawd Serk's Shan State Army crossed the border and attacked not only military outposts but also four other positions manned by the Wa, he said. The 20,000-strong UWSA, a remnant of the now defunct Communist Party of Burma, entered into a cease-fire agreement with Rangoon in 1989 in return for limited self-rule.

    Myanmar alleges Thai army supports ethnic rebel attacks

    By AYE AYE WIN, Associated Press Writer

    YANGON, Myanmar - Myanmar's military government accused the Thai army of firing artillery to back up ethnic rebel attacks on four Myanmar army border bases Monday.

    Ethnic Shan rebels launched attacks early Monday on outposts in Mong Ton township, 500 kilometers (310 miles) northeast of Yangon, near the border with Thailand, Myanmar military intelligence officer Lt. Col. San Pwint said.

    Thai artillery and tanks gave supporting fire, he said at a news conference. The Myanmar government had issued a strong diplomatic protest to Thailand, San Pwint said.However, Thai Army spokesman Col. Somkuan Saengpataranet denied that any raid on Myanmar had taken place.

    Thai officials had earlier reported fighting in the same area, but gave conflicting accounts.One Thai military intelligence officer told The Associated Press in Bangkok on condition of anonymity that the military action was a Thai raid on a base making illegal drugs and belonging to an ethnic guerrilla group, the United Wa State Army.

    Thai officials have long accused the Wa army, which has reached a cease-fire with Myanmar's military government, of producing massive quantities of the stimulant methamphetamine for smuggling into Thailand.However, Thai Army spokesman Col. Somkuan Saengpataranet denied that any raid on Myanmar had taken place, saying troops in northern Thailand were taking part in an exercise that had "nothing to do with cross-border operations or any drug suppression mission."

    According to San Pwint's account of the fighting, anti-government guerrillas from the Shan United Revolutionary Army, or SURA, attacked the four outposts while the Thai army fired heavy artillery from inside Thailand in support of the rebels.As Myanmar government troops retreated from one of the outposts at Yanpaingson, they saw the rebels hoist a Thai flag over the outpost, he said.

    Myanmar has frequently accused the Thai army of supporting the Shan rebels. Similar confrontations early last year led to several back-and-forth shelling incidents and a cooling of relations between the neighbor countries.The Shan are one of about a half-dozen ethnic groups in Myanmar who have long sought autonomy from the central government.

    "The Thai army at the lower levels is deliberately trying to create problems to damage friendly bilateral relations," said San Pwint.

    Myanmar Deputy Foreign Minister Khin Maung Win said at the news conference in Yangon that he had summoned the Thai ambassador to hand him a strong protest.

    At least two reporters on the Thai side of the border witnessed Thai forces firing into Myanmar. They said they believed it was a response to fighting between Shan rebels and Myanmar soldiers spilling over into Thailand's Chiang Mai province, about 675 kilometers (420 miles) north of Bangkok.Thailand and Myanmar share an 1,800-kilometer (1,120-mile) border that is poorly marked in many spots, sometimes leading to disputes.

    Another Thai army officer stationed near the border, also speaking on condition of anonymity, said 150 Myanmar civilians fled into Thailand Monday morning to escape fighting in the area. He said five of them had been wounded.

    Spurred by US talks, Myanmar launches new anti-drugs drive

    WASHINGTON, May 20 (AFP) - Myanmar promised Monday to launch a new anti-drugs drive, codenamed "Project Hell Flower" to combat heroin production, after high level talks last week with US officials who view the military state as the world's top source of opium.

    The Yangon government made the announcement through the same Washington-based lobby group which gave the first details of the release from house arrest of democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi two weeks ago.The program is an exchange project designed to convince farmers to swap opium seeds for rice, wheat, maize and corn, the military government said in a statement.

    Myanmar's top anti-drugs officer Colonel Kyaw Thein met last week with top State Department officials and officials from the US Justice Department and the Drugs Enforcement Administration.The statement represented Myanmar's first public comment on the talks, the first such contact in Washington between the two sides for years.

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    Worker Shareholders Challenge Unocal's Plans for New Investment in Burma

    BREA, Calif., May 20 /PRNewswire/ -- Worker shareholders at Unocal Corporation's annual meeting today challenged the company's reported plans to increase its investment in Burma, and announced new investor support for a resolution on worker rights shareholders voted on at the meeting.

    In a letter hand-delivered to company chairman and CEO Charles Williamson, AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer Richard Trumka asked him to explain to shareholders how Unocal does not violate U.S. government sanctions against new investment in Burma in light of a recent press report indicating that Unocal intends to pursue a new Burma-India gas pipeline. In addition, documents available on Unocal's web site show a proposed new pipeline linking the company's Burmese offshore gas fields to the Burmese capital Rangoon.

    "Despite the recent release of Burmese democracy leader and Nobel Peace laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, we think that this is not the time to make plans for business expansions in Burma," said Trumka. "Ms. Suu Kyi reiterated her stance opposing foreign investments after her house arrest ended this month. We ask Unocal to disclose to shareholders any expansion plans it has for its Burma operations in light of the high risks in this country."

    A May 14 report from World Markets Analysis stated that Unocal, Brown & Root, and the Indian government are believed to have conducted initial feasibility studies to construct a 1,100 km undersea gas pipeline from Burma to India. Unocal and the Burmese military dictatorship have been looking to find new markets for Burmese gas.

    The resolution offered at the meeting urges the board of directors to adopt and implement a company-wide employee policy based on the International Labor Organization's (ILO) Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work, including bans on child and forced labor. The Longview Collective Investment Fund of the Amalgamated Bank and Paper, Allied-Industrial, Chemical & Energy Workers International Union (PACE) are the sponsors of the proposal.

    A similar proposal submitted at last year's Unocal annual meeting received approximately 23 percent of the vote. Investors are increasingly critical of Unocal's global operations. Institutional Shareholder Services Inc. (ISS), the leading independent proxy advisory firm in the United States, has recommended that Unocal shareholders vote in favor of a proposal concerning worker rights. Several institutional investors have already come out in favor of this proposal, including the New York City Employees' Retirement System, the New York State Common Retirement Fund, the UK-based Cooperative Insurance Society and Walden Asset Management (a division of U.S. Trust Company of Boston) with combined total assets of more than $198 billion. They joined the California Public Employees' Retirement System (CalPERS), one of the world's largest pension funds with assets totaling $156 billion, which had already announced its support for the shareholder proposal.

    "Investors are increasingly concerned that workplace and human rights violations will impact Unocal's bottom line," said ICEM North America Regional Coordinator Kenneth Zinn. "Worker shareholders and institutional investors alike care that Unocal adopt best practices in its worldwide operations and minimize unnecessary risk to shareholders." Demonstrators outside today's shareholders meeting protested against Unocal's participation in a $1.2 billion natural gas joint venture with a firm owned by the Burmese military dictatorship that has been widely condemned for its systematic use of forced labor and other human rights abuses.

    In addition, Unocal's investments in Burma have exposed the company to significant potential liabilities resulting from two lawsuits filed by Burmese refugees in U.S. courts.

    "We are extremely concerned about Unocal's business operations in countries with poor human rights records," said James Norris, president of PACE Local 8-675, who is a former Unocal refinery employee. "In Burma, for example, thousands of Burmese citizens have been pressed into forced-labor gangs, up to a third of Burmese children work instead of attend school, and trade unions are banned," Norris continued. "Unocal should stop propping up the Burmese dictatorship with its investments and start improving its image."

    The AFL-CIO represents 13 million working men and women who participate in the capital markets as investors through defined benefit and defined contribution plans, as well as through mutual funds and individual accounts. The ICEM is a global trade union federation representing 20 million workers in 110 nations, including more than nine million energy workers.

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    Failure to meet Myanmar troika led to coup plot: official

    YANGON, May 20 (AFP) - The relatives of former dictator Ne Win plotted a coup against Myanmar's military junta because their attempts to meet with its top officials failed, the investigating officer told a court hearing Monday.

    "Although they had tried repeatedly to meet with Senior General Than Shwe, General Maung Aye and Lieutenant General Khin Nyunt, they did not succeed, so that was when they concluded they needed the help of some military officers to initiate the coup," Police Lietenant Colonel Sein Win told the court.

    "Futile efforts to meet the leadership led them to come up with this plot to change government," the officer, assigned by Special Branch police to lead the investigation, said during a detailed submission to the court.

    Ne Win's son-in-law Aye Zaw Win and three grandsons, Aye Ne Win, Kyaw Ne Win and Zwe Ne Win, are accused of plotting to overthrow the ruling State Peace and Development Council (SPDC), with the help of elements within the nation's military.The offence is punishable by death, but observers say the four defendants are not likely to face the gallows.

    The men were arrested in March and have since been held at Insein jail, while Ne Win and his daughter Sandar Win remain under virtual house arrest.

    The investigating officer also named the senior commanding officer whom the accused allegedly planned to use in their plot as Colonel Than Htay, commander of the 77th Light Infantry Division.

    The defendants were present in court Monday with their court-appointed lawyers.Handcuffed and wearing white shirts and traditional longees, they looked more relaxed than in previous appearances, and whispered to each other during the proceedings.

    The March arrests stunned Myanmar observers, who had seen the rich and powerful family as untouchable thanks to Ne Win's influence, which persisted long after he stepped down in 1988 after 26 years in power.The family members of the one-time autocrat, who is now in his nineties, also stand accused of committing serious economic crimes, including smuggling vehicles from Thailand and illegally selling mobile telephone handsets.Communications equipment that was allegedly seized from them was exhibited to the court and is likely to be submitted as evidence.Hearings in the case are scheduled to take place every Monday, Wednesday and Friday.

    Prosecution witness testifies in Myanmar treason trial

    YANGON, Myanmar - Testimony began Monday in the treason case against relatives of former dictator Ne Win, with a police officer who interrogated the accused explaining the circumstances that led to their arrest.

    Myanmar's military government alleges that Aye Zaw Win, the husband of Ne Win's daughter Sandar Win, and their three sons tried to recruit military units to kidnap junta leaders and force them to form a new regime loyal to Ne Win. They were arrested on March 7.The charges against the four men include high treason, which is punishable by death, inciting military personnel to commit high treason and the illegal importation and use of telecommunications equipment.

    Under Myanmar's legal system, defendants enter a plea of guilty or innocent after testimony have been given. The accused have not issued any public statements on the charges against them.

    At Monday's hearing in Yangon Division court, Police Lt. Col. Sein Win, who interrogated the defendants, gave an account of their backgrounds and the circumstances of their arrest.Sein Win said investigations showed that they had often criticized the country's military leaders, and expressed dissatisfaction with the government's economic policies.

    The junta has claimed that the family planned the coup because they were upset about Ne Win's eroding influence in the government, causing them to lose their economic and social privileges.Ne Win, 91, seized power in a bloodless coup in 1962. He led Myanmar, formerly known as Burma, to economic ruin before stepping down in 1988 in the face of pro-democracy demonstrations that were quashed by the military.

    Sein Win testified that Aye Ne Win, the eldest son of Aye Zaw Win, met Col. Than Htay, commander of army division 77, at the latter's office on March 7 and told him that the country and the military were in chaos. Aye Ne Win said a leadership change was necessary and allegedly tried to enlist the colonel's support for the coup plot.

    Than Htay arranged for Aye Ne Win, his brothers and father to meet him at a Chinese restaurant that evening, but also informed military intelligence. As they talked before dinner, the alleged plotters were arrested.

    Sein Win also testified how Aye Zaw Win and sons tried to recruit a Maj. Thet Myo Aung and his unit to be in charge of Ne Win's security.Thet Myo Aung, who was paid with cash and gifts, became a witness for the state after he was detained, said Sein Win.

    Items alleged to have been prepared for the coup, which were seized at various properties belonging to the family, were displayed as evidence at the court, including communication equipment, military uniforms, badges, rubber batons and transmission cables.Also displayed as evidence were three miniature dolls of the junta's top three leaders, generals Than Shwe, Maung Aye and Khin Nyunt, apparently used in black magic rituals. Ne Win, the former dictator, is famously superstitious.Proceedings were adjourned until Wednesday when Sein Win was supposed to continue his testimony.

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    Thailand and Myanmar spar over border clashes

    BANGKOK (Reuters) May 21 - Myanmar's military government angrily denied on Tuesday that it planned to cooperate with Thai troops in attacking an ethnic army widely accused of drug trafficking and warned Thailand not to encroach on its soil.

    In the latest salvo in a war of words between Myanmar and Thailand over a series of clashes along their common border, Myanmar's deputy military intelligence chief, Major-General Kyaw Win, said the junta would use ''other means'' if diplomatic methods failed to resolve tension along the border.

    The Thai army has moved thousands of troops to its northern border with Myanmar in the Golden Triangle region where much of the world's heroin and methamphetamines are produced. The deployment is ostensibly for exercises, but military sources say the move is a prelude for a strike against a faction of the United Wa State Army led by Wei Hsueh-Kang, the Golden Triangle's most notorious drugs baron.

    Thai military sources say the second most powerful member of Myanmar's junta, General Maung Aye, gave the green light for an attack on Wei's forces during a visit to Thailand last month. But Kyaw Win told a news conference in Yangon that there had been no such agreement.

    ''It is utterly wrong that General Maung Aye agreed to Thailand's plan to attack the Wa ethnic group during his visit to Thailand,'' Kyaw Win said. ''Even if General Maung Aye agreed to that plan, they should have contacted us to coordinate further actions.'' Kyaw Win warned Thai troops not to encroach on Myanmar soil in any attack on Wei's forces. ''We will never allow any foreign troops into our territories,'' he said.

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