Daily News- May 30- 2002- Thursday

  • Amid calls for more foreign aid, Suu Kyi visits Japanese-funded hospital
  • Myanmar silent on Thai defense minister's proposed visit
  • Burma bans on publishing Thai-related articles and advertising
  • Karen vow to fight despite Suu Kyi's release
  • Bangladesh foreign secretary will discuss border trade with Myanmar
  • Thai troops fire into Myanmar as tensions smoulder
  • Army must obey orders, says Thai PM

  • Amid calls for more foreign aid, Suu Kyi visits Japanese-funded hospital

    YANGON, Myanmar, May 29 - Hundreds of supporters chanting ''Long Live Aung San Suu Kyi'' greeted Myanmar's recently released democracy leader Wednesday as she visited a Yangon hospital partly funded by a Japanese humanitarian aid project.

    Suu Kyi greeted staff and patients, including a former political prisoner from her National League for Democracy, or NLD, at the 160-bed Muslim Free Hospital before meeting with the Japanese Ambassador to Myanmar, Shigeru Tsumori. The hospital provides free care to people regardless of their religious background.

    Suu Kyi was released on May 6 after 19 months of house arrest amid expectations she might reverse her support for international sanctions imposed because of the ruling military's suppression of democracy and poor human rights record. The sanctions allow only a trickle of foreign humanitarian assistance to Myanmar. Suu Kyi has not signalled any change in her stand, although she has said that her party wants ''what is best for the people of Burma as quickly as possible.'' Myanmar was formerly known as Burma.

    Heads of U.N. relief and development agencies in Myanmar last year appealed for a dramatic increase in foreign aid, warning that the country is ''on the brink of a humanitarian crisis.'' One quarter of babies in Myanmar are born underweight, only half of its children complete primary school and an AIDS epidemic is stretching the government's resources thin.

    Suu Kyi told The Associated Press last week that ''aid of any kind to be effective must be based on accountability and transparency and that independent monitoring is a basic and necessary demand.'' Her comments reflected concerns the military could siphon off funds and aid might not benefit the most needy.

    Japanese aid accounts for 60 percent of all foreign aid received by Myanmar. The hospital in Yangon has received $240,000 from the Japanese government through a grassroots aid program. Soon after Suu Kyi was released from house arrest earlier this month, Japan said it would give Myanmar $4.9 million for the renovation of an aging hydroelectric plant in eastern Kayah State.

    A Western-led embargo on most foreign aid was imposed after the military crushed nationwide democracy demonstrations in 1988, killing thousands of civilians. The regime later refused to honor the 1990 general election victory by the National League for Democracy.

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    Myanmar silent on Thai defense minister's proposed visit

    BANGKOK, May 29 (AFP) - Defense Minister Chavalit Yongchaiyudh said Wednesday that Myanmar had yet to respond to his proposal to visit the country to defuse border tensions."As of now the Myanmar government has not yet answered to my proposed meeting, but there is no problem," Chavalit told reporters.

    The relationship between the two Southeast Asian neighbours was rocked last week by Myanmar's abrupt closure of its border checkpoints with Thailand, after accusing it of supporting rebel militias.

    On May 20 both sides swapped protest notes after Thai troops and the United Wa State Army (UWSA), a Yangon-aligned ethnic militia, traded fire across the border in Thailand's northern province of Chiang Mai.Skirmishes have continued since then.But top government officials have intensified their efforts to downplay any deterioration in relations between the two countries.

    Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra insisted Wednesday that Thai-Myanmar ties were in good shape."At the national level, relations between our countries are still good. I have assigned Chavalit to talk to the Thai military and ask them not to overreact to the situation," he told reporters after meeting with Chavalit, Foreign Minister Surakiart Sathirathai and the National Security Council secretary general Khachadpai Burusapatana.

    Surakiart said Thailand was ready to hold "serious discussions" with Myanmar to solve the problem and that the militaries of the two countries should hold talks as soon as possible."The whole issue could be solved by a discussion based on fact," he said.

    Chavalit said Tuesday he planned to travel to Myanmar soon to meet with top junta officials but he did not reveal who he would meet with or where the proposed meeting would take place.Myanmar deputy military intelligence chief Major General Kyaw Win said Tuesday the regime would no longer issue visas for Thai officials."Until we can resolve the border problems, we will not issue visas to any official delegation from Thailand, or send Myanmar delegations to Thailand," Kyaw Win said.

    Chavalit, who is known to be close to high-ranking Myanmar generals, said he had shown goodwill in trying to defuse the "misunderstanding" and bring the situation along the 2,400-kilometre (1,500-mile) border back to normal."It is the wish and intention of the government to make the situation return to normal. Nobody wants to see conflict or hostilities," Chavalit said.Chavalit's aide told AFP that Thai officials were coordinating with his Myanmar counterpart to plan the trip but he could not confirm the details."He intends to meet with top junta officials," the aide said.

    Burma bans on publishing Thai-related articles and advertising

    Mizzima News (www.mizzima.com)

    May 29: The Paris-based Reporters Sans Frontiers (RSF) and exiled Burmese media organization - the Burma Media Association (BMA) - today condemned the military regime in Burma for forbidding the publication of articles about Thailand and Thai advertisements in Burmese newspapers and magazines.

    "The military junta has just issued yet another grotesque directive which, in addition to depriving the population of news about Thailand, threatens the very existence of private publications that are dependent on advertising", deplores Robert Ménard, General Secretary of RSF (Reporters Without Borders), in a letter to Colonel Tin Hlaing, Home Affairs Minister of the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC).

    They said that the junta's latest action not only represents an unfair financial sanction of the private press, but also that it is an act of censorship.

    According to a joint press release of BMA and RSF issued today, the Literary Works Scrutinizing Committee (one of the military junta's censorship agencies) told the managing editors of Rangoon's private press on 22 May 2002 that publication of articles referring to Thailand and were forbidden, as well as Thai advertisements. The editors had to sign an agreement undertaking to comply with the directive. According to the dissident radio Democratic Voice of Burma (DVB), the editors were also ordered not to use the terms 'Thailand' and 'Yodaya' (the name formerly used for the Kingdom of Siam).

    Thai companies are the principal source of advertising revenue for many newspapers and magazines in the military-run Burma. The issuing of this directive is believed to be linked to the current diplomatic and military crisis between Burma and Thailand. The SPDC decided to close frontier checkpoints between the two countries after border skirmishes between troops from Rangoon and armed rebel groups.

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    Karen vow to fight despite Suu Kyi's release

    source : CNN

    YANGON, Myanmar (AP) -- The main ethnic group still at war with the Myanmar government has said it has no plans to stop the fighting, despite recent political developments in the capital Yangon.

    The Karen leadership, which has been battling the central government for more than fifty years, says it's too early to say what the release of National League for Democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi from house arrest will mean for their struggle for autonomy. But while in Yangon the talk is of political progress, at the Wah Ler Kee Camp on the Thai border it's the same old guerrilla war.

    This Karen National Liberation Army (KNLA) patrol has had a successful morning. It's just ambushed troops of the S.P.D.C -- the government -- in the surrounding jungle, leaving two of their enemies dead, and three of their weapons captured. For a force that's starved of hardware, the rifles are a God-send. Once checked to see if they're in working order, they'll be turned against their former owners.

    Soldiers here believe the armed struggle will continue in spite of Suu Kyi's release and that the future for Karen people remains uncertain. That's also the view of the Karen National Union (KNU) leadership, meeting here in Mae Sot for the first time since Suu Kyi walked free. These men are part of a complex political question.

    There are seven main ethnic groups in Myanmar, all of which have fought wars against the majority Burmese in the last fifty years -- the country's stability depends on their cooperation.

    Whilst welcoming Suu Kyi's release, the KNU leaders now hope it will lead to the fulfillment of a key demand: a place at the on-going talks in Yangon for the ethnic groups, alongside the government and the National League for Democracy. But in public, they remain cautious.

    There are clashes every day along the Thai-Myanmar border, with each side trying to gain a local advantage before the imminent summer rains bring a halt to the war, once more. Much could change before the guns fire again, but the Karen are taking nothing for granted.

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    Bangladesh foreign secretary will discuss border trade with Myanmar

    Sheikh Rakib Uddin

    Foreign Secretary Shamser Mobin Chowdhury is due to hold official talks with Deputy Minister for Foreign Affairs of Myanmar Khin Maung Win in Yangon in the third week of June to bolster Dhaka-Yangon ties.

    The talks, to cover the entire gamut of bilateral relation, would put special focus on border issues, border trade, general trade, economic cooperation and the refugee issue. The talks will also follow up the trade talks between Bangladesh and Myanmar in Yangon in March on the occasion of the Bangladesh Trade Fair.

    During his three-day visit to Myanmar beginning June 15, the Foreign Secretary will also call on Myanmar Foreign Minister Win Aung. The repatriation of the Rohingya refugees is one of the bilateral issues between Bangladesh and Myanmar.

    Of a quarter of a million Myanmar refugees who crossed into Bangladesh territory in early 1991, 2,30,000 voluntarily returned to their homesteads in the western Arakan state of Myanmcr during the last 12 years.

    The more than 20,000 remaining Myanmar refugees are living in cramped camps in Teknaf thana of Cox's Bazar awaiting repatriation, which now remains stalled. Even the repatriation process under the tripartite agreement between Bangladesh, Myanmar and the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) is virtually stopped now.

    The meeting of senior officials, which handles the refugee problems between the two countries, has been pending for the last two years. It was learnt that Yangon is yet to respond positively to repeated requests by Dhaka for a fresh meeting of the senior officials. It was also learnt that Myanmar government did not give clearance to the last list of the refugees submitted to them about a year ago.

    According to the UN mandate, there are three ways for resolution of the refugee problem. The first way is that the refugees should return safely to their own countries, the second is that the refugees should be locally invegrated into the countries from where they have come and the third is that they should be settled in a third country through mediation.

    Bangladesh has taken a move to further strengthen both its economic and political relations with all its neighbouring and South Asian countries. With this end in view, the Bangladesh Foreign Secretary is likely to visit capitals of the other South Asian countries the in near future.

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    Thai troops fire into Myanmar as tensions smoulder

    BANGKOK(Reuters) May 30 - Thai troops exchanged mortar fire with unidentified soldiers across the border with Myanmar on Thursday as Yangon maintained a stony silence on efforts by the Thai government to arrange talks to defuse simmering tension.

    Thai Defence Minister Chavalit Yongchaiyudh, who has often boasted that his close personal ties with Myanmar's ruling generals can aid diplomacy between the two countries, said the Yangon junta had yet to respond to an offer of talks.

    ''Our efforts to contact the Myanmar authorities should soon get some response,'' Chavalit told reporters. ''We will meet halfway, anywhere. In the meantime, we are looking at the causes of the border problems, and solutions. So far we have done what we can in resolving the problems and we believe Myanmar has also tried to resolve them constructively.''

    Tempers flared between the two countries this month when Thailand sent thousands of troops to the northern border with Myanmar. They were ostensibly there for exercises but military sources said the move was a prelude to an attack on the forces of the Golden Triangle's most notorious drug baron, Wei Hsueh-Kang. Wei commands a faction of the United Wa State Army (UWSA), an ethnic army which has signed a peace deal with the Myanmar junta and is widely believed to be the world's biggest narco-army.

    Myanmar angrily denied it had ever given permission for Thailand to target the Wa army and hinted it could even take military action if diplomacy failed to resolve the row. Last week Thailand's government ordered its troops to withdraw. But sporadic clashes are still erupting along the border.

    Thai military sources on the western frontier say more than 20 shells landed on Thai soil in the early hours of Thursday, believed to be fired by Myanmar soldiers or their allies in the Democratic Karen Buddhist Army during clashes with the Karen National Union, an ethnic militia fighting the Yangon government. Thai soldiers responded by firing back into Myanmar.


    The row has exposed divisions between Thailand's government, which is pursuing a conciliatory approach to the Yangon junta, and Thai army commanders who want to take a tougher line.

    Thai newspapers say many top generals were furious their government ended the exercise at the border early. The Nation daily said the move ''clearly shows the government's unprofessionalism and lack of co-operation with the army.''

    Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, on a visit to Australia, said the border tensions would soon be resolved. ''The situation in the borders, because of the conflict between the minorities...the problem created a little bit of misunderstanding,'' he told a news conference. ''But now at government-to-government level there is no problem of conflict.'' Thaksin has been trying to work with the junta to win agreement on cracking down on the production of heroin and methamphetamines. The flood of methamphetamine pills into Thailand is considered one of the country's biggest problems.

    But many newspapers and analysts say the Myanmar government has no intention of stemming the flood of drugs and that the Thai government's ''personal diplomacy'' is not working. ''As Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra is learning once again, the verbal assurances from Yangon are no better than the paper they are written on,'' the Bangkok Post said in an editorial.

    One of Thailand's recent diplomatic gambits to soothe tensions -- sending copies of some Thai soap operas to Myanmar's ruling generals -- met with particular scorn in the Thai media. ''Thaksin's order to withdraw troops from the northern border together with the gift of videotapes has turned the Thai army and the kingdom's foreign policy into subjects for a real life soap opera,'' the Nation said.

    Army must obey orders, says Thai PM

    The Bangkokpost

    The army must strictly follow the government's policy to strengthen ties with Rangoon and not over-react to the situation along the border with Burma, Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra insisted yesterday.

    Army chief Gen Surayud Chulanont, however, has again instructed his troop commanders to retaliate if Burmese forces intrude on Thai soil or fire across the border.Army spokesman Col Somkhuan Saengpattaranate said the army chief told a meeting of more than 200 commanders yesterday that in the event of cross-border shooting Thai soldiers should first fire a smoke bomb as a warning, followed by real bullets.If Bumese forces moved into border areas they must be disarmed and detained or sent back to their country, Col Somkhuan said.

    Mr Thaksin said he had told Defence Minister Gen Chavalit Yongchaiyudh to tell the army ``not to over-react to the situation''.He was optimistic that Thailand and Burma would soon clear up their ``misunderstanding''. The relationship had gradually improved since ``the basic understanding between the two governments is very good'', he said.

    Third Army commander Lt-Gen Udomchai Ongkhasing said the army was duty-bound to protect national sovereignty, but itwould be careful not to ``over-react''.An army source said the commanders had paid no attention to Burma's threat to bar entry of official Thai delegations.``They said no one wants to go to Burma anyway,'' the source said.

    Mr Thaksin cautioned: ``We should not take the view that a fight is looming. This is only a minor problem of ethnic minority groups inside Burma. We have to be neutral since our two countries have good bilateral ties.'' The prime minister said troops deployed along the common border with Burma should try to avoid unnecessary confrontations.

    Gen Prem Tinsulanond, chief privy councillor and former prime minister, yesterday expressed his dissatisfaction with Burma in talks with the army chief at yesterday's 120th anniversary celebration of the founding of Suan Kularb school.Gen Prem was reported to be surprised by the harsh statements made by Burma's deputy intelligence chief Maj-Gen Kyaw Win, who has been strong in his accusations the Thai military has been supporting anti-Rangoon Shan rebels.Gen Prem felt Maj-Gen Kyaw Win's statements were too harsh and suggested the army should reply to avoid public confusion.

    The defence minister said he was quite optimistic Rangoon would respond to his proposal for a meeting with Burma's military junta leaders to clear the air over the border issue. Confrontation would benefit no one, he said.

    ``It is vital we see each other to discuss and resolve problems. This should not be misinterpreted as a sign of weakness,'' Gen Chavalit said.``We have to clearly show our intention, that we want talks to settle the dispute. If the other side does not respond positively to this, so be it.''

    Foreign Minister Surakiart Sathirathai said he welcomed Maj-Gen Kyaw Win's demand for ``serious discussions''to prevent further border tension.``The door is now open and the Defence Ministry and the army will have to straighten things out with Burma,'' he said. Gen Chavalit would decide at what levels such talks should be held.``We are ready to respond to Burma's proposal,'' he said.

    The foreign minister brushed aside Maj-Gen Kyaw Win's statement no entry visas would be issued for official Thai delegations until Bangkok showed it was serious about settling the border issue.Instead he considered it confirmation that Burma would continue to grant entry visas to tourists and businessmen.``Diplomats and officials need no visas. They can go there whenever they want.''The foreign minister was speaking after a meeting with the prime minister, the defence minister and the National Security Council secretary-general.

    Foreign Ministry spokesman Rattakit Manathat said Burma had not banned entry visas for Thai officials.Opas Chantrasap, the Thai minister counsellor in Rangoon, had reported the Burmese foreign ministry had issued no such order. The Burmese embassy in Bangkok also said its visa section was functioning normally, Mr Rattakit said.He also pointed out that holders of Thai official or diplomatic passports normally enter Burma without a visa.The foreign minister had tried to defuse the situation by consulting his Burmese counterpart Win Aung.

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