Daily News- May 26- 2002- Sunday

  • Thailand-Burma trade suffers from border closure
  • Burmese man sentenced to death for murder of Japanese businessman
  • Thai Official injured amid raids on checkpoints
  • Thaksin says matters will be resolved soon
  • Thai Third Army chief: We didn't help Shan

  • Thailand-Burma trade suffers from border closure

    Source : AFP

    Traders on both sides of the Thai-Burmese border say they have grown angry and restless over last week's sudden border closures which are costing over a million dollars a day in lost business.

    Last Tuesday, Burma's military junta sealed the border at three key crossings -- Tachilek-Mae Sai, Myawaddy-Mae Sot and Kaw Thaung-Ranong -- without informing Thailand, catching several traders and villagers off guard and effectively bringing commerce to a halt.

    "Closing down the border is just ridiculous," said a businessman in Mae Sot, Thailand, who does business with Burmese traders.

    "Many people especially in Myanmar are suffering shortages of food, medicine and petrol as well as many other basic needs," said the businessman who asked not to be identified.

    Thai-Burmese trade, much of it on the black market, amounts to over a million dollars per day, traders have said, and in many cases serves as a lifeline for Burmese citizens desperately short of commodities, medicine and hard currency.

    Burma's agriculture sales are also being badly hurt, traders warned.

    A source in Tachilek said agricultural goods bound for Thailand were being held in poor-quality go-downs near the border gate and risked being damaged or ruined.

    "The situation is serious," he said.

    A registered Burma trawler bearing fish and lobster bound for Thailand was forced to turn back by the Burmese navy on Wednesday, residents of Kaw Thaung said.

    Sources in the border towns also said dozens of Burmese nationals were stranded in Thailand following the border closures.

    "Some of them were going to Thai doctors for medical treatment and are now not allowed to return home to their relatives despite appealing to local officials," Nyunt Win, a resident of Burma's Kaw Thaung, told AFP by telephone.

    Tourists have also been forbidden from crossing, cutting into border revenues earned on day-trips into Burma which are allowed under normal conditions.

    Panavit Chaiyarote, a Thai businessman in Mae Sot, said a senior military official in Myawaddy told him he understood the difficulty of people living in the area.

    "But he said he could do nothing, as the order was issued by central authorities," Panavit Chaiyarote said.

    Burma's currency, the kyat, rose on the black market Friday as there was less demand for greenbacks at the border. One US dollar was selling for 810 kyats Friday compared with 860 kyats a week earlier, a businessman said.

    But he warned that any gains made on the strengthening kyat would be eroded by rising prices of Thai goods.

    Business sentiment is depressed, the businessman said, stressing it was a far different mood than earlier this month, when the junta freed opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi from 19 months of house arrest and the kyat rallied from all-time lows of 1,200.

    In Tachilek, the military has laid sandbags and mounted additional machine guns at the border gate, an eyewitness told AFP.

    Tensions rose last weekend after Thai troops and the United Wa State Army, a Rangoon-aligned ethnic militia, traded fire across the border in Thailand's northern province of Chiang Mai, some 750 kilometres (469 miles) north of Bangkok.

    Both sides swapped protest notes over the incident and Burma's Colonel San Pwint of military intelligence told reporters "another option" could be employed if the border spat could not be resolved by diplomatic means.

    To The Top

    Burmese man sentenced to death for murder of Japanese businessman

    Source : AFP

    A Burmese national has been sentenced to death for the murder of a Japanese businessman and a Burmese woman earlier this month.

    A court at Insein prison found Wai Lin, a 24-year-old bellboy at Rangoon's Inya Lake Hotel, guilty of murdering Shuho Yamanokuchi, resident general manager of Mitsubishi Corporation, and Ma Kyi Pya, the Myanmar Times said.

    Yamanokuchi, 52, and Ma Kyi Pya, 21, were found stabbed to death on May 13 in the hotel where the Japanese man had been a long-term resident, the weekly newspaper said in its edition to be published Monday.

    The defendant was arrested by intelligence officers two days later.

    Wai Lin was not questioned during the Friday trial as he had confessed to the crime, nor were there any defence witnesses, his court-appointed lawyer San Myint Tin told the newspaper.

    Judge Tin Mhwe also sentenced the defendant's father, San Wai, to seven years in jail for hiding evidence related to the case, the paper said.

    Wai Lin had reportedly stolen property from Yamanokuchi's room, although the newspaper did not say if theft was a motive for the murder.

    At the beginning of the investigation police suspected it may have been a crime of passion, an Inya Lake Hotel source told AFP days after the murder.

    Yamanokuchi had suffered 21 stab wounds, the source said.

    Wai Lin has seven days to lodge an appeal with the Supreme Court, the newspaper added.

    To The Top

    Thai Official injured amid raids on checkpoints

    Source : Bangkok post

    Tension along the border with Burma mounted as a border official and civilian were injured in four attacks by unidentified troops against at least two Thai military checkpoints and a border village early yesterday.

    The 13th Infantry Regiment Task Force's base in Mae Sot district survived an attack after a rocket fired by assailants failed to go off.

    A group of between 10 and 12 attackers fired 81mm mortars, RPG rockets and rifles at the 344th border patrol police company's checkpoint on Mae Sot-Mae Sariang road at Ban Huay Pang Yang in Tha Song Yang district about 1am.

    Pol L/Cpl Thirapol Surapol, 26, sustained wounds in the neck and face from shrapnel and was admitted to Tha Song Yang hospital.

    Other border patrol policemen fought back but had to withdraw. The attackers were able to seize M16 assault rifles.

    Meanwhile, another group opened fire on Ranger Unit 3504 at Ban Mae La on the same road.

    Thai rangers retaliated with 60mm mortars and M79 grenade launchers. The attackers retreated into a forest.

    In Mae Sot district, troops fired an RPG rocket at Mae Tao village in tambon Tha Sai Laud about 2am.

    One shell hit a house, leaving the owner Sumalee Wongkham, 21, seriously injured.

    About the same time, at least 10 assailants gathered outside Mae Tao village and fired RPG rockets, AK47 and M16 assault rifles at the village and a military checkpoint. They missed.

    The group left behind an RPG launcher and two rockets with a timer and set the devices for 8am. They failed to go off.

    Deputy 13th Infantry Regiment Task Force commander Col Sitthi Chansomboon took a bomb clearance team from Naresuan task force into the area to destroy the RPG launcher and rockets.

    Maj-Gen Suthep Phothisuwan, Naresuan task force commander, yesterday inspected Mae Sot and the scenes of four ambushes.

    He said the attacks were well-planned and might be the work of the same group.

    He had told military units to step up safety measures.

    A border official in Tak who requested anonymity said an earlier ambush occurred at Ban Morker Thai checkpoint in Phop Phra at 3.15am on Friday after soldiers taking part in the Surasi military exercise had withdrawn.

    Meanwhile, Burmese troops have reinforced an area near two Burmese military outposts, Pang Mai Soong and Pang Kam Kor, about two kilometres from Wiang Haeng's Ban Lak Taeng border pass in Chiang Mai.

    The outposts were captured earlier by the Shan State Army.

    ``The move is a clear indication that Burmese troops will launch a military drive to take back the outposts,'' a local security officer said. Nine battalions of Burmese infantry were moved in.

    Col Yawd Serk, the SSA military commander, said Burmese troops would try their utmost to take the posts back. ``What we did last week was to launch a military operation against drug traffickers taking refuge with Burmese border troops,'' said Col Yawd Serk. The Burmese military junta had lost face, he said.

    To The Top

    Thaksin says matters will be resolved soon

    Source : Bangkok post

    Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra said yesterday he believed problems that led to Burma closing the entire length of its border with Thailand would be resolved in a few days.

    ``I believe we will be able to adopt methods soon that will solve this problem permanently,'' he said. ``All concerned parties must come together and discuss the issues involved, and reach an agreement.''

    He expressed disappointment at the stand-off, saying the government and Rangoon had made much progress toward improving bilateral relations.

    ``I know what the problem is, but I cannot say,'' he said ``Burma knows, too.''

    Rangoon had also begun to increase pressure on the United Wa State Army's drug activities around the northern border, he said.

    Gen Chavalit Yongchaiyudh, defence minister, said the National Security Council would meet early this week to discuss the border situation.

    According to Yuthasak Sasiprapa, deputy defence minister, Rangoon had closed its border to investigate attacks on its outposts by the Shan State Army, which caused heavy military casualties.

    Surakiart Sathirathai, foreign minister, said border committees should ensure their counterparts were aware that skirmishes on the border were a Burmese internal issue.

    Some Burmese may have misunderstood the situation as the Third Army had been conducting military exercises near the border, he said.

    He encouraged military leaders to hold talks in Burma to create better understanding.

    Burma's closure of its border since Wednesday has halted border trade, caused shortages of consumer goods and pushed up fuel oil prices in that country's Tachilek area.

    According to Decha Satthapol , Mae Sai district chief, petrol prices in Tachilek town had rocketed to 30-50 baht per litre.

    Smuggling and hoarding of goods were likely to follow if the border was not reopened soon, he said.

    More than 300 local merchants had been able to return from Burma via Mae Sai since Wednesday, he added.

    A border closure from Feb 11-June 24, 2001, caused more than 3 billion baht in damage to cross-border trade through Chiang Rai.

    Border officials in Kanchanaburi were reportedly negotiating with the Burmese military to ease border restrictions in the area.

    In his weekly radio talk, the prime minister yesterday expressed regret at fresh border tension with Rangoon, saying it stemmed from a misunderstanding that apparently threatened to disrupt attempts at wiping out the narcotics trade.

    ``I'm sorry for what's happening. Everything was going well _ pressure against drug-running was under way. We received such a good co-operation. But when a misunderstanding like this arises we may have to start all over again and that worries me,'' Mr Thaksin said.

    He said the recent attacks by Shan rebels on Burmese military outposts caused uneasiness in Rangoon, which alleged that Thailand provided support to the rebels.

    The incident coincided with a full-scale army exercise in the northern border area, which involved nearly 30,000 troops, tanks and armoured personnel carriers.

    At the same time, there were media reports that Thai troops would attack the Wa army with permission from Defence Minister Gen Chavalit Yonchaiyudh and the prime minister.

    Mr Thaksin also denied reports that the Thai government had requested permission from Burmese military leader Gen Maung Aye, who visited Thailand in April, to attack the United Wa State Army.

    It was impossible for Thailand to make such a request because that would amount to infringing on a neighbour's sovereignty, Mr Thaksin said.

    The prime minister praised Gen Maung Aye, saying he had been true to his word that Burma would help crack down on narcotics production and trafficking.

    ``They've shown sincerity in doing what we've asked. Rangoon managed to pressure the Wa army after he returned. But with the border tension, it's a pity,'' he said.

    Mr Thaksin urged foreign-language media to exercise caution when reporting sensitive issues such as security and relations with the neighbouring country.

    ``News based on rumours or sources may affect national security. Please don't do it just because you want to make news,'' he said.

    The premier expressed confidence tensions would ease soon, but stressed he would need co-operation from the media.

    ``I believe we can correct the misunderstanding because we have nothing to do with Burma's internal affairs. With good personal ties between both sides, we can normalise relations with each other,'' he said.

    Defence Minister Chavalit Yongchaiyudh, meanwhile, plans to visit the border following the censure debate to get first-hand information.

    The minister played down the border skirmishes, saying there was nothing unusual about it.

    ``Burma has ethnic minority problems along the border while we have drug trafficking problems. It's difficult for us both, as we don't know what groups are between us,'' he said.

    Meanwhile, AP reported that Burma's military junta has lodged an official protest with Thailand over allegations that the Thai army has been providing support for two ethnic minority rebel groups, state-run media said yesterday.

    The protest was made Friday in a Burmese defence ministry note handed to the defence attache at the Thai embassy in Rangoon, the New Light of Myanmar newspaper said.

    To The Top

    Thai Third Army chief: We didn't help Shan

    Source : Bangkok post

    Burmese and Wa military outposts along the border opposite Wiang Haeng district would have been wiped out if Rangoon's allegation that the Thai army provided artillery support for Shan rebels was true, said Lt-Gen Udomchai Ongkhasingh, the Third Army Region commander.

    ``Three artillery battalions, each with 18 artillery pieces, had been fully deployed during the exercise in border areas where Shan rebels clashed with Burmese and Wa forces.

    ``If we had given the Shan our artillery support as alleged by Burma then all military posts located near the border would have been wiped out within half an hour. Not a single shot from our artillery was fired across the border,'' Lt-Gen Udomchai said.

    The Thai military previously said only mortars were used to retaliate against cross-border shelling.

    The commander said new border tension between Thailand and Burma stemmed from fighting among ethnic minority groups inside Burma and had nothing to do with the Thai army.

    The Third Army commander hoped the situation would soon return to normal following Defence Minister Gen Chavalit Yongchaiyudh's order to cancel the military exercise, which was aimed at testing the army's war readiness and involved nearly 30,000 troops equipped with tanks, armoured personnel carriers and other heavy machinery.

    Lt-Gen Udomchai said a handful of army officers might be unhappy about the defence minister's order. However, soldiers had to obey orders.

    ``Gen Chavalit is the defence minister and our direct commander,'' Lt-Gen Udomchai said.

    He said the Post's report on Friday regarding dissatisfaction among senior army officers over the defence minister's order had worried statesman and former premier Gen Prem Tinsulanonda.

    ``Pa Prem called me this morning and asked me about the story in the Bangkok Post since he wanted to know the real situation,'' said Lt-Gen Udomchai, who played down the report and said ``those who aren't happy (with Gen Chavalit's order) could be officers who don't like the defence minister''.

    Gen Chavalit's order calling for swift withdrawal of troops undergoing the exercise was an issue for discussion among army generals, who felt it was highly improper for the defence minister to have issued such an order, regarded as appeasing Rangoon.

    ``Such an order means we have already lost the battle [with Burma],'' said one army general, adding that the border tension with Burma was highlighted at yesterday's intelligence briefing headed by Army commander Gen Surayud Chulanont.