Daily News- November 01- 2002- Friday

  • King Naresuan image to sit in disputed area
  • Drugs to top Thai PM's agenda
  • Doctor's heart work in Myanmar pays off
  • Thailand to investigate Burmese embassy letter bombs
  • UN's Burma envoy calls for probes
  • The Burmese Embassy in Singapore condemned the act of terrorist groups
  • Dr. Cynthia Maung Received 2002 Magsaysay Award
  • Thai PM to present aerial maps of opium fields to Burma in Information swaps


  • King Naresuan image to sit in disputed area

    Wassana Nanuam
    The Bangkokpost

    Deputy army chief Gen Wattanachai Chaimuenwong yesterday laid the foundation stone for a statue of King Naresuan the Great, to be built on the border with Burma, without waiting for permission from the Fine Arts Department.

    The site is in Chiang Rai's Mae Sai district about four kilometres from Kuteng Nayong, a border area claimed by both Thailand and Burma.

    King Naresuan, who regained independence from Burma for the Ayudhya kingdom, is highly revered by the military.

    The 40-million-baht statue project is the brainchild of Gen Wattanachai, who has been pushing for its construction since he was the Third Army commander.The project has been stalled for two years while the Fine Arts Department designed the statue, enabling it to be registered as a national heritage.Gen Wattanachai's proposed design depicts King Naresuan brandishing a sword on horseback.

    The department, fearing the design would provoke the Burmese, alerted the Foreign Affairs Ministry which urged Gen Wattanachai to change the design.The ministry proposed a new design depicting King Naresuan on horseback with his sword hand placed on his hip.

    The ministry also wanted the site to be moved away from the border to prevent the statue of King Naresuan directly facing the statue of Burma's highly revered King Bayinnaung erected in Burma's Tachilek town opposite Mae Sai.

    Gen Wattanachai refused to change the design, and the Fine Arts Department has held back from granting its permission.A source said Gen Wattanachai wanted the statue to be completed before his mandatory retirement next year.He did not care whether the statue would be certified by the department, the source said.No reaction from the government was immediately to hand.

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    Drugs to top Thai PM's agenda

    The Nation

    Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra will show the Burma's premier aerial photographs of opium-producing poppy plantations in Burma when they meet at the upcoming Asean leaders summit in Phnom Penh, government spokesman Sita Divari said.

    Thaksin will ask General Than Shwe to speed up efforts to eradicate the plantations, Sita said yesterday.Thaksin's move is part of Thailand's anti-drugs campaign. When he took office two years ago he declared war on drugs and accused Burma of being a major source of them.

    Sita said Thaksin would also use the summit with nine other Asean leaders to discuss cooperation on countering drug trafficking and terrorism. Apart from Thailand and Burma, the grouping comprises Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, the Philippines, Malaysia, Singapore and Vietnam.

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    Doctor's heart work in Myanmar pays off

    By Liang Hwee Ting
    The Straits Times

    YESTERDAY'S trip to Myanmar may be the last one Dr Leslie Lam takes to one of the world's poorest countries to do heart work.For the last 12 years, the veteran cardiologist has been leading a team of specialists to Myanmar, where they spend a week training doctors there in the latest surgical treatments for heart diseases.

    Said Dr Lam, whose clinic here is at Mount Elizabeth Hospital: 'We've seen vast improvements in the way heart surgery is carried out there. The doctors there can now do complicated procedures like heart bypasses.'On this trip, the team will evaluate the progress of their counterparts in Myanmar.'We'll step aside if they've reached a level of competency that will serve them well in years to come. I believe they may be ready to take off on their own now,' said Dr Lam.

    The group of eight to 15 that he takes with him each time comprises top specialists, some of whom are from the public sector, but most are from Mount Elizabeth Hospital.

    Each time they go up, they spend their time at the Defence Services General Hospital on the outskirts of Yangon where, besides training doctors and hospital technicians, they also perform free operations.The hardest procedures, like the insertion of multiple stents, are reserved for them.

    'There is more satisfaction in doing this kind of work than the success we have in our own clinics,' confessed Dr Lam, whose patients include the Sultan of Brunei and the entire government of Seychelles.He cannot get over the abject poverty he has seen in Myanmar.

    'Do you know that it takes their top cardiologist 47 years to earn what I do for one visit from the Sultan of Brunei?'

    Recalling his early days in Myanmar with a chuckle, the 60-year-old said that once, the electricity went off in the middle of an operation and the team had to crank up the heart-lung machine by hand.But those days are thankfully over, he said. Today, the surgeons in Myanmar work in well-equipped and brightly-lit operating rooms.

    Putting into practice what they have been taught, they now perform complex procedures, like clearing blocked arteries through a procedure called balloon angioplasty.The learning process has not been one-sided, said Dr Joseph Sheares, a regular on the team.''Some of the cases there are severe ones that we don't see here. So we've learnt much from them as well,' he said.

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    Thailand to investigate Burmese embassy letter bombs

    Source : MSNBC

    BANGKOK, Nov. 1 Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra on Friday ordered an investigation into letter-bombs sent to Burmese embassies in Japan, Malaysia and Singapore in the past week that Rangoon blames on political exiles.

    Burma's embassy in Singapore called in the city state's bomb squad on Wednesday to destroy a letter containing a small detonator that was posted from Thailand.

    Similar letters turned up in the post at Burma's diplomatic missions in Japan and Malaysia, prompting Burmese authorities to blame what they called dissident terrorist groups of exiles living outside the military-ruled state.

    Thaksin said he told Thai diplomats in the three countries to gather evidence for a report to be handed to Burma.

    ''Myanmar wants us to take action on the incidents...which they think were committed by anti-government activists in Thailand,'' Thaksin told reporters.

    Four decades of military rule in Burma have created a large population of Burmese political exiles in neighbouring Thailand, many of whom are hostile to Rangoon's ruling generals.

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    UN's Burma envoy calls for probes

    Source : Marwaan Macan-Markar
    Asia Times

    BANGKOK--The United Nations human-rights envoy to Burma, Paulo Pinheiro, has asked the country's military government to permit independent investigations into rights violations, in the face of recent reports that sexual violence, rape and conscription of child soldiers are commonplace there.

    Human-rights allegations "are not to be denied; allegations are to be investigated", Pinheiro, the UN special rapporteur on human rights for Burma, said at a news conference here on Wednesday. "There is a need to have credible, independent investigations. That is the case in any part of the world, where you have to have credible assessments," said Pinheiro, who finished his 11-day fact-finding mission in Burma on Monday. This mission, his third since being appointed to the UN post last year, began on October 17.

    "I have expressed to them [the military government] that it is necessary to put in place independent investigations. I am convinced that there are very serious human-rights violations that need to be investigated, because in some of them there is a pattern of repetition of these allegations in the last 15 years," he said.

    The Brazilian diplomat's call will serve as a crucial indicator as to how far Rangoon's rulers are willing to change their practice of dismissing allegations of human-rights violations as fabrications. That was the stance Rangoon maintained after a report released earlier this month by the New York-based rights lobby Human Rights Watch (HRW), which charged that Burma had the highest number of child soldiers - as many as 70,000 - in the world. The majority of these children had been "forcibly conscripted", according to the report titled "My Gun Was as Tall as Me". But Rangoon denied the charge and accused HRW of attempting to tarnish Burma's image.

    The junta was as dismissive of another report released in mid-June by two minority-rights groups, which accused the Burmese army of raping close to 625 women and girls between 1996 and 2001 in the country's eastern state of Shan. The military government forced village elders in Shan state to sign petitions that the rapes did not occur, says Hseng Noung, spokeswoman for the Thai-based Shan Women's Action Network, one of the rights groups that contributed to the report. The pressure that Pinheiro is applying on the Burmese government is necessary, she says, because "right now, inside the Shan state, no team can investigate freely".

    "Pinheiro's call is unprecedented and it is a slap in the face of the Burmese government," added Sunai Phasuk of Forum-Asia, a Bangkok-based regional human-rights watchdog. "It means he has been convinced that there have been serious violations, such as sexual violence and rape."

    The UN envoy's position also challenges a common practice of the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC), as the military government is officially known, of appointing government teams to investigate rights violations, Sunai points out. "After the report on the rapes, the SPDC appointed its own investigation teams, including a military one, that said no systematic rapes took place," Sunai said.

    However, as another UN agency revealed on Wednesday, securing space for independent human-rights investigation in Burma is a daunting task.

    Rangoon bluntly refused to permit the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) to conduct a study of child soldiers conscripted by the government and ethnic rebel groups in Burma. "We did make a request to conduct interviews inside Myanmar, but could not do so," said Bo Viktor Nylund of the East Asia and Pacific division of UNICEF at a press conference. "So we had to conduct the interviews along the [Thailand-Myanmar] border."

    "We need to engage the Myanmar government in greater depth on this issue," added Carol Bellamy, UNICEF's executive director, during the news conference to launch a study on the shattered lives of child combatants in six countries across the region.

    Among the Burmese child soldiers interviewed for the report "Adult Wars, Child Soldiers", was a boy who was 12 when he was conscripted. "I still want to take revenge because I am separated from my family. I want to give them [the government soldiers] the same suffering I have had," he told UNICEF researchers. "I feel I was coerced," added another child from Myanmar, who was conscripted into the army when he was 13. "I knew nothing. I regret it now. I am not satisfied with my situation."

    One in four of the world's 300,000 child soldiers is found in the East Asian and Pacific region, states the UNICEF report. The six countries it surveyed are Cambodia, East Timor, Indonesia, Papua New Guinea, the Philippines and Burma.

    Apart from charges of child conscription and the military's rapes of girls and women, Burma has also been taken to task for forced labor, suppressing press freedom and jailing political opponents.

    Pinheiro will present his findings of his visit to Burma to the UN General Assembly in New York next Wednesday. "The cycle of human-rights violations needs to be broken, and there is a need for policies and mechanisms in place to prevent the repetition of these violations," he said.

    He conceded, however, that his recent trip provided some evidence that Rangoon has been willing to address criticism about its political prisoners by making periodic releases of detainees, and by not disputing the number of the prisoners it holds - estimated at more than 1,200.

    "The SPDC has not contested these numbers. What is positive is a serious concern [by the government] to discuss the issue without denial," Pinheiro said.

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    The Burmese Embassy in Singapore condemned the act of terrorist groups

    Source : Channel NewsAsia

    The Burmese Embassy in Singapore says the suspicious looking envelope it received on Wednesday, was the work of terrorist groups based in Thailand which are opposed to the Burmese government.

    In a statement, the Embassy says it strongly condemns the act.

    The Embassy called the police after receiving a suspicious looking envelope with Thai stamps.

    It was later destroyed by the SAF's Explosive Ordnance Disposal Unit.

    Investigations showed the letter contained a low-grade detonator, but there were no explosives.

    Burmese embassies in Japan and Malaysia have recently also received similar letters.

    Meanwhile, SingPost says it is operating at a higher state of alert.

    But for security reasons, it is unable to reveal the steps it has taken.

    It says guidelines have been issued to employees on how to handle suspicious mail, following the Burmese Embassy incident.

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    Dr. Cynthia Maung Received 2002 Magsaysay Award

    Source : Asian Tribune

    Bangkok, October 31 -The Magsaysay Award Foundation held the Ceremonial Conferment of 2002 Award for Community Leadership to Dr. Cynthia Maung on October 28, 2002 at Cabbages and Condoms Restaurant in Bangkok, Thailand.

    At the ceremony, Carmencita T. Abella, president of Ramon Magsaysay Award Foundation made welcome remarks and then read the citation. Dr. Gelia T. Castillo, vice-chairperson of Ramon Magsaysay Award Foundation conferred the award to Dr. Cynthia Maung. And Dr. Cynthia Maung addressed the response speech. In response speech, Dr. Cynthia said, " We all come from different parts of the world, but I'm sure that we all have the same concerns about the global refugee crisis."

    Dr. Cynthia said, " In our country, over one million people are displaced internally and approximately two million people are displaced into neighbouring countries. For over 40 years, the military regime has controlled Burma. This has left the country isolated and very divided with civil society almost totally disrupted. Children are born everyday without birth registration. Children and young people continue to drop out of school. They are vulnerable to being forced into military activities such as child soldiers and porter as well as trafficking and prostitution. All of these problems affect the psychological well being of the whole nation."

    " This award recognizes the courage and dignity of the people who are working towards freedom and peace for Burma. Thank you very much for supporting our struggle and for helping us to build a new partnership with all of you." said Dr. Cynthia Maung.

    Former Prime Minister of Thailand and 1997 Magsaysay Awardee for Government Service, Anand Panyarachun made the closing remarks on behalf of the Magsaysay Awardees. At the ceremony, six Bangkok-based awardees as follows attended:

    1. Sen. Prateep Unsongtham-Hata, who works in Klong Toey slum;

    2. Dr. Prawase Wase, a medical doctor at the Sirisaj Hospital of the Mahidol University;

    3. Dr. Aree Valyasevi, a medical doctor at the Thailand Health Research Institute;

    4. Sen. Thongbai Thongpao, a human rights lawyer;

    5. Sen. Sophon Sophapong, formerly with the Bangchak Petroleum;

    6. Anand Panyarachun, former Thai Prime Minister.

    Dr. Cynthia Maung is a Karen doctor and has been treating the thousands of Burmese-refugees for fourteen years in Mae Sot (of Thailand), a sanctuary for Burmese refugees in flight from upheaval and civil war at home.

    Born to a Karen family in Moulmein in 1959, Cynthia Maung studied medicine at the University of Rangoon. She was practicing in a Karen village near her hometown when, in 1988, Burma's military junta launched its bloody crackdown against democracy advocates. Packing a few clothes and a medical reference book, she fled with some students to Mae Sot, Thailand, where she joined other exiles. Trauma and illness were rampant among the refugees. In a dilapidated building with bare dirt floors, Dr. Cynthia went to work.

    Her makeshift clinic had hardly any supplies at all. She improvised by sterilizing a few precious instruments in a kitchen rice cooker and by soliciting medicines and food from Catholic relief workers and nearby refugee camps. As she and her companions lived from hand to mouth and shared in all the work, Dr. Cynthia treated the local scourges of malaria, respiratory disease, and diarrhea as well as shrapnel and gunshot wounds and injuries from land mines. To keep up, she trained health workers to assist in the clinic and to serve as "backpack medics" across the border.

    By 1996, she was supporting six thatch-and-tin clinics in the Karen-controlled war zone. Here her medics treated common illnesses, set broken bones, and performed simple frontline surgery. They also trained midwives, installed sanitary toilets, and brought lessons of hygiene, nutrition, and reproductive health to villagers-all this until the Burmese Army, uprooting thousands and raising the flood of refugees to Thailand, overran the villages.

    Dr. Cynthia expanded her clinic to meet the need. She attracted volunteer doctors, nurses, and medical interns from abroad and tirelessly solicited help from relief agencies and NGOs. They responded and, year-by-year, the clinic grew.

    Today, staffed by five doctors and dozens of health workers and trainees, Dr. Cynthia's clinic provides free comprehensive health services to thirty thousand people a year. Last year, 563 babies were born there and 700 patients received new eyeglasses. The clinic operates its own laboratory and prosthetics workshop and receives support from some international organizations. Meanwhile, sixty teams of Dr. Cynthia's backpack medics continue to assist displaced villagers across the border and to support two field clinics in the war zone.

    Life along the border is hard in many ways. At Dr. Cynthia's clinic, injuries from domestic violence are equal to injuries from war. This is why, aside from treating patients, she fosters women's organizations, youth programs, and other efforts to redress the corrosive social consequences of refugee life.

    Dr. Cynthia lives above her clinic in Mae Sot with her husband and two children. She dreams of going home to Burma. The World Health Organization has said that Burma's health care system is one of the worst in the world. Dr. Cynthia would like to change that. In Mae Sot, she says, "We have already started."

    In electing Cynthia Maung to receive the 2002 Ramon Magsaysay Award for Community Leadership, the board of trustees recognizes her humane and fearless response to the urgent medical needs of thousands of refugees and displaced persons along the Thailand-Burma border.

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    Thai PM to present aerial maps of opium fields to Burma in Information swaps

    Source : Bangkok Post

    Thailand government will forge closer cooperation with Burma in fighting drugs through information exchanges, said government spokesman Sitha Thiwaree yesterday.

    The Nov 2-5 Asean summit in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, would in general touch on cooperation against illicit drugs and terrorism, he said.

    Bilateral talks with Burma would focus on drugs eradication. Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra would present to his counterpart aerial maps of areas in Burma where opium was still being cultivated, so Rangoon could take measures to suppress opium cultivation.

    Sqn-Ldr Sitha said Mr Thaksin would suggest to the summit that the role of the Asean secretariat be expanded to represent the region in attracting foreign investment.

    In the past, Mr Thaksin noted, cooperation within the grouping in terms of solidifying the region's investment potential had been disappointing. This explained the limited interest expressed by foreign investors towards the region.

    Sqn-Ldr Sitha said Asean would also work to tighten cooperation in a wide range of aspects by materialising the Free Trade Area between Asean and China, Japan, and South Korea. The framework would better reciprocate economic interest and increase trade volumes at least two-fold.

    The prime minister would also draw the summit's attention to the proposed establishment of the Asia Bond to help prop up small and medium-sized enterprises.

    The spokesman added Mr Thaksin would head a delegation to the first Greater Mekong Sub-Region Summit, also to be held in the Cambodian capital.

    The GMS meeting would precede the Asean summit and memorandums of understanding on trans-border freight transport and on electricity supply networks between member countries would be signed.

    The GMS groups Burma, Cambodia, China, Laos, Thailand and Vietnam.

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