Daily News- May 27- 2002- Monday

  • Aung San Suu Kyi addresses college graduation by videotape
  • Irrawaddy, Myanmar Times Spar in Bangkok
  • Burma re-opens checkpoint
  • Chavalit tells troops to fire flares, not shells
  • Suu Kyi appeals for Burmese public support

  • Aung San Suu Kyi addresses college graduation by videotape

    Las Vegas Sun

    ANNANDALE-ON-HUDSON, N.Y.- Myanmar opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, in a videotaped college commencement address Saturday, said the Burmese people thirst for education and should be allowed to pursue it.

    "We would like to see a country where our people are free from the economic and social handicaps that force them to choose between education and survival," Suu Kyi said in the address taped May 19 for students at Bard College.

    "In other words," she said, "we would like to make basic education available to all. Then we would like our education to be of a quality that opens up a wider spectrum of choice to our young people on the threshold of adulthood."

    The 1991 Nobel Peace Prize laureate, freed earlier this month after 19 months of house arrest, received an honorary doctorate of humane letters in absentia.

    In her address to the more than 350 graduates, Suu Kyi said the small liberal arts college has opened it's doors to many Burmese students.

    She said her country lost both economic and intellectual ground when it lost democratic rule, and education is one of the elementary rights they're now struggling for. "Half a century ago, as a newly independent, democratic nation, Burma was seen as one of the most promising countries in Southeast Asia," she said.

    Suu Kyi's pro-democracy movement began closed-door talks with the country's ruling military junta in late 2000. However, she recently warned that achieving democracy in Myanmar - formerly known as Burma - would not be an easy task. Her party handily won a general election in 1990 but the military refused to let it take power, harassing and jailing party members instead.

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    Irrawaddy, Myanmar Times Spar in Bangkok

    By Neil Lawrence and Shawn L. Nance
    The Irrawaddy

    May 25, 2002 - The release of Burmese democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi became the occasion for a sparring match between advocates of two radically different visions of media freedom in Burma, as the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Thailand played host to a panel of Burma specialists last Wednesday night.

    On hand at the gathering to discuss the significance of Suu Kyi’s release were TIME correspondent Robert Horn, Shan academic Chao-Tzang Yawnghwe, Myanmar Times editor Ross Dunkley, and Irrawaddy editor Aung Zaw. The evening began with a screening of television footage showing Suu Kyi’s ecstatic welcome by a crowd of supporters shortly after her release, followed by coverage of her press conference at National League for Democracy headquarters.

    Suu Kyi’s release remained the focal point of discussions throughout most of the evening, although Dunkley, who established the Rangoon-based Myanmar Times two years ago, introduced his remarks by speaking at length of his love of freedom, instilled in him as a youth staring up at the Southern Cross in his native Australia. He later praised the role of Asian leaders in bringing Burma’s generals to the realization that "it is appropriate to deal with Suu Kyi, because perhaps they all believe that democracy, a multi-party government, could be the winning recipe [for the country]".

    All four panelists made cogent observations about the significance of Suu Kyi’s release, but as the presentations ended, attention shifted to the issue of press freedom in Burma. This set the stage for an exchange between Dunkley and Irrawaddy editor Aung Zaw, an outspoken critic of Dunkley’s claims that the Myanmar Times, which is backed by the Burmese regime’s Military Intelligence Services (MIS), actively promotes press freedom in Burma.

    During the question and answer session, Dunkley and Aung Zaw talked about their respective public service roles and offered their opinions of each other’s publications. Aung Zaw expressed his desire to return to Burma in the future to run a newspaper free of editorial interference while Dunkley said that the ambition of his paper is to discover the fine line of censorship in Burma, and to "creep up on it every week relentlessly."

    But the two editors soon started exchanging verbal salvos when Aung Zaw said that the Myanmar Times "should be writing more hard news". He added that he would like to be in Rangoon to run a rival newspaper, to which Dunkley retorted, "Well, if the US government funds you, you might run one." He then asked Aung Zaw, "Who the hell is going to buy your stuff?"

    Robert Horn cut in to say that many people in Burma would buy Aung Zaw’s publication if it were available inside the country—a comment that drew applause from several members of the audience.

    The strongest reactions, however, came in response to comments made by Priscilla A Clapp, the charge d’affaires at the US Embassy in Rangoon. Since the US downgraded diplomatic relations with Rangoon in 1988, the charge d’affaires has been the highest-ranking US diplomatic official in Burma.

    Clapp said she was initially skeptical of Dunkley’s publishing mission in Rangoon, but then said: "As much as I have been critical of him two years ago, he is one of my heroes today."

    She then addressed Aung Zaw, praising his "very good journalism with The Irrawaddy" before changing tack by saying, "I remind him that he is highly supported by the American government and we did notice his editorial in the Thai press saying that America deserved the attack on Sept 11." Aung Zaw denied the allegation as the audience became palpably agitated by the exchange.

    Clapp continued sternly: "That does not go unnoticed in Washington."

    A Dutch NGO worker immediately protested Clapp’s comments, saying: "I think this is a threat from the American embassy. This is ridiculous. Who do the Americans think they are?"

    After the conference, Aung Zaw commented: "I was shocked, particularly because that groundless accusation came from an American diplomat. It was undiplomatic, unprofessional."

    The Irrawaddy, a donor-funded magazine, is partially funded by the National Endowment for Democracy (NED). NED is a private, non-profit organization funded by the US Congress.

    "It would be understandable if the NED complained about our stories", Aung Zaw said. "But to receive threats from a US government official is completely unwarranted." Aung Zaw said that he would send a letter to the US State Department asking them to clarify under what capacity Clapp was acting.

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    Burma re-opens checkpoint

    The Bangkokpost

    Burma has reopened a checkpoint opposite a village in Mae Hong Son's Muang district, but told its soldiers to check imported goods to prevent illicit drugs coming in.On Saturday Burmese soldiers removed barbed-wire barricades from Ban Na Mon checkpoint, opposite Mae Hong Son's Huay Pueng village, to allow merchants to resume trading.

    Rangoon shut its border with Thailand last Tuesday, from Mae Hong Son in the North to Ranong in the South.The move was in retaliation for cross-border shelling the day before.Poolsak Sunthornpanitkii, chairman of Chamber of Commerce Region 9, said Burma's move was welcome.

    The border situation in Mae Hong Son was not as tense as in Chiang Mai or Chiang Rai, which probably explained why the border crossing was re-opened.Meanwhile, Wa forces yesterday opened fire on a ranger unit in tambon Nong Ouk in Chiang Mai, slightly injuring one Thai soldier. Twenty Wa raiders retreated into Burma after Thai rangers retaliated with mortar shells.

    Lt-Gen Udomchai Onkhasing, Third Army commander, said Wa forces might have wanted to take revenge. They probably believed, mistakenly, that Thai forces had shelled their base.

    Chavalit tells troops to fire flares, not shells

    The Bangkokpost

    Wassana Nanuam

    Defence Minister Chavalit Yongchaiyudh has ordered soldiers to fire flares as warning shots if stray shells from fighting inside Burma land in Thai territory.Troops have been told not to fire artillery shells in retaliation for cross-border shelling by Rangoon troops.

    Sources said Gen Chavalit's softer approach was in contrast with that of army chief Surayud Chulanont, who told soldiers to observe the rules of engagement and retaliate against any border intrusions.Gen Chavalit yesterday said changes were needed to rules on cross-border attacks to avoid further violence and misunderstanding.

    Under the new rules, warning shots would not be fired from mortar or artillery pieces even if stray shells land on Thai territory. Thai troops would fire flares instead, he said.The defence minister also proposed that Thai soldiers and Burmese troops form a joint border patrol unit to keep the peace and patch up their differences.

    ``Border checkpoints should be manned jointly by Thai and Burmese soldiers. They will work, eat and play takraw together. If there are any border intrusions or misunderstandings, they can discuss the problems and settle them calmly.''

    Gen Chavalit said he had put the proposal to Burmese army chief Gen Maung Aye. Burma had asked for time to study the matter.A source said Gen Maung Aye and Lt-Gen Khin Nyunt, first secretary of Burma's ruling State Peace and Development Council, would send staff to discuss border problems with Gen Chavalit. The source said Gen Chavalit preferred a meeting because the Foreign Ministry was already holding diplomatic talks on the matter with his Burmese counterpart.Gen Chavalit said he would inspect the troubled border areas next week. He believes Burma would reopen the border checkpoints soon.

    Burma's closure of its border last week brought two-way border trade to a halt, causing a severe shortage of consumer goods and pushing up fuel prices in Tachilek.Gen Chavalit dismissed a claim by Burma that he and Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra had a hand in ordering the shelling by Thai troops of Burmese military bases.Thai soldiers had fired mortar shells as warning shots only, he said.A military exercise by Third Army troops along the border was necessary and was not intended to threaten anyone.

    Last week, the prime minister told troops to withdraw from the exercise in a bid to ease tensions after Rangoon closed its border in response to the skirmishes.Meanwhile, the army chief has told soldiers guarding the border in Chiang Mai's Chiang Dao district to retaliate against any border intrusions.

    Col Somkhuan Saengpatnate, army spokesman, condemned a raid by Wa forces on a ranger unit in Chiang Dao.Col Somkhuan said 30 Wa rebels shelled the ranger unit in Ban Nong Na Nua village about 3.45 am yesterday before retreating into Burma.He said the army chief was upset about the cross-border attack and told the Thai Border Committee to send a protest letter to its Burmese counterpart.He quoted Gen Surayud as saying that the military would retaliate against further attacks.Col Somkhuan said the military was ready to retaliate in kind as the Wa action clearly showed that it wanted to provoke a confrontation.

    Sources said the army yesterday sent letters to printing houses and international news agencies urging them to present inaccurate reports of the border attacks. Reports that Thai soldiers had crossed the border to attack Wa forces or the prime minister gave the green light were groundless, the sources quoted the letter as saying.

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    Suu Kyi appeals for Burmese public support

    Source : MSNBC / Reuters

    Rangoon, May 27--- Burma opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi appealed for public support in her quest to bring democracy to the military ruled country on Monday before her biggest audience since she was freed from house arrest this month.

    Speaking to more than 600 supporters and diplomats gathered to mark the 12th anniversary of her National League for Democracy's (NLD) sweeping victory in Burma's last elections in 1990, Suu Kyi urged the public to be more active in politics.

    ''Most people think they have done their duty if they have voted in the elections,'' Suu Kyi said at the NLD's ramshackle headquarters in central Rangoon.

    ''What I would like to tell them is that voting for the NLD in the election alone does not fulfil their duty. They have to take part themselves.''

    ''It is necessary to carry out organisational activities among the people relentlessly as much as we can,'' Suu Kyi urged her supporters.

    The military government's strict rule has effectively suppressed most open forms of public support for the NLD since the party was prevented from taking power after its 1990 election win.

    While lauded abroad, eight years of house arrest since 1990 and no domestic media coverage mean the Nobel peace laureate has faded from public view in her country.

    Suu Kyi's release on May 6 from her latest 19-month period of house arrest was not reported in the state-run media. Diplomats say the ruling generals are afraid the charismatic daughter of independence hero Aung San will become a focus of public discontent over a crumbling economy.


    Suu Kyi's release was the culmination of 18-months of U.N. brokered ''confidence building'' talks between the military and the NLD.

    Under intense pressure from the international community, the junta also loosened restrictions on the NLD, allowing some Rangoon party offices to reopen and freeing about 200 prisoners.

    But according to Amnesty International about 1,500 political prisoners still languish in Burma's prisons, including an estimated 800 NLD members.

    On Monday, the NLD reiterated its commitment to talks with the ruling junta.

    ''Holding meaningful dialogue is the only way to tackle the matter concerning the results of 1990 multi-party general election and to resolve the political, economic, social, health and education problems facing the country,'' the NLD said in a statement.

    Suu Kyi's party also pledged to support a body formed by opposition elected members of parliament to act as a forerunner to a fully fledged parliament -- a move likely to irk the generals.

    Suu Kyi has always insisted that the junta recognises the 1990 election results, but diplomats say she could ease her position as part of any bargaining with the generals.

    The military wants Suu Kyi to endorse a National Convention which has met intermittently since 1993 to draw up a new constitution. The NLD withdrew from the convention in 1996 complaining it was undemocratic and biased in favour of the military.

    The NLD issued 20 other resolutions on Monday, including many past demands, such as the immediate release of all political prisoners and a call for the ''confidence building'' phase of the reconciliation talks to move into more meaningful political dialogue.

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