Daily News- November 09- 2002- Saturday

  • U.S. Calls for Substantive Dialogue in Myanmar
  • Terrorism menace saps resources from drug fight
  • Opponents of the regime in Burma held for possession of banned newspapers
  • Rangoon angry with Thailand over death of two Burmese villagers
  • UN: UN envoy to return to Myanmar to help national reconciliation process

  • U.S. Calls for Substantive Dialogue in Myanmar

    WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The United States called for "substantive dialogue" between the government and opposition in Myanmar on Friday and said it strongly supported a visit next week by U.N. special envoy Razali Ismail.

    Ismail, on a visit between Nov. 12 and 16, expects to meet pro-democracy opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi and several members of the ruling military junta. He will try to accelerate dialogue between the two sides.

    The military rulers released Suu Kyi from house arrest earlier this year but the dialogue has made little progress.

    State Department Richard Boucher said in a written statement: "We expected that dialogue between the regime in Burma (the old name for Myanmar) and Aung San Suu Kyi would be well under way by now. Instead, we have seen no signs of the discussions critical to the future of Burma.

    He said the United States strongly supported Ismail's mission.

    "We reiterate our call for a substantive dialogue with the democratic opposition and the immediate and unconditional release of all of the many remaining political prisoners," Boucher said.

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    Terrorism menace saps resources from drug fight

    The Straits Times, Singapore
    Hurt by travel warnings from the West, narcotics hubs such as Myanmar and Cambodia have no money to fight drugs

    By Edward Tang

    BANGKOK - The terrorism problem is stretching the resources that poor South-east Asian countries have at their disposal to deal with an equally menacing problem - drugs.

    Myanmar, Laos, Cambodia, and Vietnam are expected to face serious setbacks in their battle against drug crimes due to financial constraints brought on by weakened economies.Investments and tourism in these countries have been hurt by Western travel warnings in the wake of last month's Bali bombings.Among the poorest countries in the region, they are unlikely to be able to spare any more resources for drug law enforcement.

    Thailand, which is financially better off, would also be affected because its economy is heavily dependent on tourism.All five countries are either major producers or transit points for international drug syndicates.

    Myanmar and Laos, the world's two largest producers of opium, are desperately in need of funds to support their anti-narcotics programmes. So are Cambodia, a major producer of cannabis, and Vietnam, which is fast becoming a market for heroin and a drug route to the West.Laos has estimated it needs US$80 million (S$140 million) to fund crop substitution programmes for its opium-growing farmers.

    Myanmar, also a major producer of amphetamine-type stimulants or ATS drugs, is in a financial dilemma as it cannot receive loans due to western sanctions against human rights violations in the country.

    'Myanmar and Laos depend a lot on foreign assistance,' said Mr Yngve Danling, a Bangkok-based official with the regional office of the United Nations Drug Control Programme (UNDCP), which oversees East Asia and the Pacific.

    The UNDCP had been allocated US$3 million this year to provide technical and financial assistance programmes to the six countries in the Greater Mekong region to reduce money laundering and cross-border trafficking.The region, which also includes southern China, has become a major source of illicitly produced opium, heroin, cannabis and synthetic drugs like methamphetamines and ecstasy.

    Heroin seizures in Yunnan province, which shares a border with Myanmar, increased to 8,000 kg last year, three times that of the previous year, according to a recent UNDCP report.China had replaced Thailand as a major transit route for the drug to final destinations in Europe, the US and Australia, it said.But Mr Danling noted that there had been no slackening of commitment by major donors like the US, Japan and Sweden.

    'On the contrary, I understand that major donors have become more interested in issues like money laundering which is one of the areas they have tightened to stop drug money from being used to finance terrorists,' he said.

    But the UNDCP cannot be expected to tackle the problem alone. Law enforcement agencies in South-east Asian countries must ultimately bear the major portion of the responsibility.

    Two recent major arrests in Thailand by its Office of the Narcotics Control Board (ONCB) highlighted the importance of having a well- established drug-busting agency.One arrest which took place last week involved a record seizure of 60,000 ecstasy pills, while the other in September uncovered almost 140 kg of heroin which has a street value of 1.5 billion baht (S$60 million) .The drugs were suspected to have originated from Myanmar or Laos.'These countries need more support than us,' said a senior ONCB official.

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    Opponents of the regime in Burma held for possession of banned newspapers

    Source : Asian Tribune

    Reporters Without Borders and the Burma Media Association have condemned the arrests of dozens of dissidents for their involvement in distributing newspapers that have been banned by the junta. Some of them have been held in undisclosed locations for more than ten days.

    "Although 18 political prisoners were released in September, this new crackdown is evidence of the military regime¹s hostility towards the pluralism of information. It is intolerable that dozens of Burmese people should be imprisoned simply for having read or distributed a newspaper," state Robert Ménard, Secretary-General of Reporters Without Borders, and U Thaung, President of the Burma Media Association, in a joint letter addressed to Burma¹s Home Affairs Minister, Colonel Tin Hlaing.

    The two organizations call for the release of all those imprisoned for possession of opposition publications. "The ending of censorship and of restrictions on opposition publications would be an unprecedented gesture of openness in Burma," emphasize Ménard and U Thaung.

    Reporters Without Borders and the Burma Media Association have also asked the Home Affairs Minister to do all he can to persuade the government to allow the National League for Democracy (NLD) to launch a newspaper. The military junta has never responded to the request made in May 2002 by Aung San Suu Kyi, General Secretary of the NLD, for a licence to publish.

    On 25 September 2002, about thirty activists, mostly former political prisoners, were arrested and interrogated by intelligence services for possessing opposition publications, notably the newspaper Khit Pyaing (New Era, published in Thailand). According to Irrawaddy magazine (based in Thailand) this is an intimidation strategy by the military intelligence service (MIS) aimed at preventing opponents from gaining access to banned publications. To date, more than a dozen people are still being held in undisclosed locations.

    According to Reporters Without Borders and the Burma Media Association, almost forty people have been arrested over the last two years for having distributed or read an opposition newspaper printed in Thailand. Some of them have been tortured or given heavy prison sentences for this offence alone.

    In July 2002, Aung Thein and Kyaw Naing Oo, two members of the youth section of the National League for Democracy (NLD), were arrested and sentenced to three years in prison for possessing copies of Khit Pyaing. They were apparently badly beaten up when they were arrested.

    On 12 February 2002, Ko Tin Saw, alias Tharkhan, was arrested at Bayintnaung market in Kawthaung (in the east of the country) on his way back from Ranong (Thailand). In possession of a mobile phone and the February issue of Khit Pyaing, he was accused of sending information to radio stations abroad. The same day, Ko Tin Saw was taken to the intelligence service¹s n°3 Base in Kawthaung, where he was tortured under interrogation.

    In 1999 and 2000, seven members of the underground network that distributed the banned journal Mojo, a publication linked to the NLD, were arrested. The seven are Mg Hla Soe, Ko Win Naing, Mg Kyaw Wae Soe, Joseph, Tint Wae, Ko Myo and Ma Htay Htay. Most of them have been sentenced to seven years in prison for distributing this monthly opposition publication, printed in Thailand, which has now ceased to appear. Three thousand copies used to be sent to Burma on a regular basis.

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    Rangoon angry with Thailand over death of two Burmese villagers

    Source : Bangkok Post

    The Thai army chief fears that drug suppression operations on the border could undermine efforts to normalise relations with Burma.

    Gen Somdhat Attanant said Rangoon had complained after Thai soldiers shot dead two Burmese villagers they suspected of being drug traffickers.

    The Third Army said a border patrol unit had stopped three villagers near the border in Mae Chan district in Chiang Rai on Oct 26, having received a tip-off about a drug deal.

    When the villagers started shooting, the soldiers returned fire, killing one suspect on the Thai side of the border. The other two crossed back into Burma.

    The unit gave chase but ran into Burmese soldiers. One of the two villagers who fled to Burma died later. They were carrying some 10,000 speed pills.

    The incident threatened to start another row with Rangoon, which has demanded an explanation.

    Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra has asked Gen Somdhat to give a full account.

    Gen Somdhat said drug patrols should take care to avoid conflict, and soldiers should not hunt down suspects beyond the border.

    ``Our soldiers must give up the chase when they get to the border and let Burmese troops take over from there,'' he said.

    ``Since it's impossible to move our country geographically, we might as well make an effort to co-exist amicably with our neighbour,'' he said.

    Defence Minister Thammarak Isarangkura na Ayudhaya said Thai and Burmese drug patrols had to play by the rules. ``If one strays from the rule, we must smack him on the head and explain the reason for the smacking.''

    Gen Thammarak said Thai soldiers were not siding with Burmese minority groups. Gen Somdhat is likely to join Gen Thammarak on an official visit to Burma.

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    UN: UN envoy to return to Myanmar to help national reconciliation process

    Source : UN News Center

    United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan's Special Envoy for Myanmar is scheduled to travel next week to the country in his latest bid to help facilitate the national reconciliation process, a UN spokesman announced today.

    Razali Ismail is scheduled to visit Yangon from 12 to 16 November for his ninth mission as Special Envoy. Mr. Razali has requested meetings with Senior General Than Shwe, Chairman of the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC), General Maung Aye, Vice Chairman of SPDC, General Khin Nyunt, Secretary-1 of the SPDC, and other government leaders during his stay in the capital.

    The Special Envoy is slated to also meet with Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and other senior members of the National League for Democracy (NLD), as well as representatives of ethnic nationality groups.

    In a recent report to the General Assembly, the Secretary-General voiced concern that the positive momentum generated for the on-going national reconciliation process in Myanmar since the restoration of Ms. Suu Kyi's freedom of movement on 6 May could dissipate unless some tangible progress is made in the near future.

    "In this context, the Secretary-General attaches importance to Mr. Razali's upcoming mission, and in particular his discussion with Senior General Than Shwe," the spokesman said.

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