Daily News- November 20 - 2002- Wednesday

  • Myanmar says reform process moving forward, thanks UN envoy
  • Suu Kyi Arrives in Border Town
  • Myanmar to hold annual gems exhibition
  • Dozens feared dead as infighting hits Myanmar ethnic army
  • Political Prisoner Dies in his Cell
  • Burmese refugees camp in Bangladesh

  • Myanmar says reform process moving forward, thanks UN envoy

    WASHINGTON, Nov 19 (AFP) - Myanmar insisted Tuesday that its reconciliation drive with the political opposition was "moving forward" despite a pessimistic assessment by a UN go-between who visited the military-ruled state last week.

    United Nations envoy Razali Ismail said he was disappointed that two years after he launched his brokering effort, only low-level contacts were taking place between the government and the opposition party of Aung San Suu Kyi, which were short of a full dialogue.

    But Myanmar, the former Burma, insisted in a statement issued here that "the process is moving forward," although it implicitly recognised that progress was slow when it praised Razali for his "persistent and patient" efforts on behalf of national reconciliation.

    "The government notes Mr Razali's balanced approach and determination to assist the ongoing dialogue in the national reconciliation process," the statement, issued through Myanmar's Washington-based political lobbying firm, said.

    "We very much appreciate the hard work of UN special envoy Razali and hope that friends of Myanmar worldwide will support this process with patience and understanding of the complexity of the situation," junta spokesman Hla Min said, adding: "We are encouraged after Mr Razali's five-day visit last week."

    Contacts brokered by Razali between the junta and the opposition have completed a confidence-building stage, but since Aung San Suu Kyi's release from house arrest in May, a hoped-for political dialogue has failed to materialise.

    "I am always disappointed where there are no full results, but that's the nature of my mission," Razali, a Malaysian diplomat, told reporters on his return to Kuala Lumpur after talks with top junta leaders and Aung San Suu Kyi."I now understand how complicated the issues are. Nevertheless, the UN will keep on insisting that the reconciliation process must continue."

    Earlier, a government spokesman denied in comments to the semi-official Myanmar Times that talks between the two sides had stalled.Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy won a landslide victory in elections in 1990 never recognised by the military.Since then, the party has seen hundreds of members detained, and Aung San Suu Kyi, a Nobel laureate, has endured periods of house arrest.

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    Suu Kyi Arrives in Border Town

    The Irrawaddy

    November 19, 2002-On her fourth trip outside Rangoon, opposition leader Daw Aung San Suu Kyi arrived today in Tachilek, Shan State. Close to the Thai border town of Mae Sai, Tachilek was the scene of clashes between the Thai and Burmese armies.

    Suu Kyiís nine-day trip to Shan State began last Wednesday after she met with the UN special envoy Razali Ismail in Rangoon. Suu Kyi has already visited towns such as Aungpan, Taunggyi and Nam San to meet local people and reopen National League for Democracy (NLD) offices. She arrived to a warm welcome yesterday in Kengtung, eastern Shan State.According to sources, Suu Kyi stayed at the house of NLD member U Sai Phat in Kengtung, who died in detention last month.

    Suu Kyiís trip to Shan State is the leaderís first visit to the area since her release in May. On this trip, the junta allowed Suu Kyi to fly by plane, the first time in 14 years.Since her release in May, Suu Kyi has already traveled to Mon State and to Mandalay, to meet with local NLD representatives. On her trips through, Burma, the junta always provides "security" to monitor as well as protect the opposition leader.

    This visit to Shan State is significant as it Suu Kyiís first chance to visit the area after the release of "License to Rape", a report on sexual abuse and human rights abuses by the military on Shan people. It will also give Suu Kyi a chance to consolidate local NLD offices, who are fighting for relevancy against the popular ethnic nationality-based Shan National League for Democracy.

    Next on her schedule is a visit to Lashio in the north of Shan State, Maymyo and Mandalay.

    Coincidentally, Vice Sen Gen Maung Aye, vice chairman of the junta was also in the Shan State last weekend meeting junta officials in eastern and southern areas of the state.

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    Myanmar to hold annual gems exhibition

    YANGON, Nov 19, 2002 (Xinhua via COMTEX) -- Myanmar is making arrangement to hold its 40th annual gems emporium in March next year to put on sale its domestic qualified gems, jade, pearl and jewelry through competitive bidding and at fixed prices.

    This was announced Tuesday by the state-run Myanma Gems Enterprise, the sponsor of the emporium, following the end of its 11th mid-year event early this month which set a new record of the proceeds with 30.7 million US dollars against the past highest sale of 24.17 million dollars in March 2000.The last mid-year gems display attracted a total of 969 merchants from 10 countries and regions, mostly from China and Thailand, the highest number ever before.

    Myanmar started holding annual gems emporiums in 1964 and introduced mid- year ones in addition since 1992 to boost the country's dollar earner.Since 1964, Myanmar has earned a total of 390.62 million dollars from its gem emporiums.

    Myanmar, a well-known producer of gems in the world, is in possession of nine gems -- ruby, diamond, cat's eye, emerald, topaz, pearl, sapphire, coral and a variety of garnet tinged with yellow.

    Myanmar claimed that it has owned the world's biggest ruby weighing 21,450 carats, the largest star sapphire weighing 63,000 carats, the biggest peridot weighing 329 carats, and the largest jade stone of about 3,000 tons.

    To develop the gem mining industry, Myanmar enacted the New Gemstone Law in September 1995, allowing national entrepreneurs to mine, produce, transport and sell finished gemstone and manufactured jewelry at home and abroad.In April 2000, the government started mining of gems and jade in joint venture with 10 private companies under a profit sharing basis.

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    Dozens feared dead as infighting hits Myanmar ethnic army

    BANGKOK, Nov 20 (AFP) - Fighting between factions of the Democratic Karen Buddhist Army (DKBA), an ethnic militia aligned with the Myanmar junta, is feared to have left dozens dead, Thai military sources said Wednesday.

    "There was internal fighting and a massacre in the DKBA, but we cannot confirm the number of casualties, we are checking," said Major Prayoon Phonok, commander of a civil affairs taskforce in the Myanmar border region."Initially I heard some 50 DKBA militia were killed, but it is still unclear," he told AFP.

    The Karen National Union (KNU), a rival militia which is waging a decades-old guerrilla war against Myanmar's military government, said some two dozen DKBA members were killed in the gun fight on November 16.

    KNU secretary general Pado Mahn Sha said an armed group of 60 junior and low-ranking DKBA left their base inside Myanmar and took a position on a nearby hill to wage an all-day assault on their former headquarters.

    Myanmar government troops joined the battle to support the DKBA leaders at the headquarters in Myaing Gyi Ngu, he said."The DKBA leaders have good contacts with Myanmar's military which are making them rich while low-ranking members are poor, with not even enough food, " Pado Mahn Sha said."I believe this is the result of a divide-and-rule policy over the DKBA by the Myanmar government and I feel sorry for the low-level DKBA members."

    Prayoon said the rebel faction's leader, Captain Pa Aee, went into negotiations with Myanmar soldiers but he was ambushed and committed suicide to avoid being held captive. The Thai officer also said he believed the conflict stemmed from a lack of funds in the DKBA, caused by a business conflict within the ethnic army.

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    Political Prisoner Dies in his Cell

    The Irrawaddy

    By Naw Seng

    November 20, 2002 -Another political prisoner inside Tharawaddy Prison in central Burma died last Friday, sources close to his family told The Irrawaddy. U Maung Ko, aged over 50, died of a heart attack while in detention.

    U Maung Ko was arrested in 1996 under charge 5(J) of Burmaís Emergency Provision Act 1950. Authorities accused him of sympathizing with the Communist Party of Burma (CPB) and he was sentenced to seven years in prison.

    "We have found that the death rate of political prisoners is rising rapidly these days, because of poor medical treatment and torture," said Bo Kyi, from the Association for the Assistance of Political Prisoners (Burma) (AAPP), based in Thailand.

    According to AAPP, U Maung Ko is the 82nd political prisoner to die while in the custody of the current military regime.

    U Maung Ko is the fourth political prisoner to die this year. Other political prisoners who have died since July include: Mai Aik Pan, leader of Palaung State Liberation Front; U Aung May Thu, also held inside Tharawaddy Prison; and U Sai Phat, a National League for Democracy (NLD) leader from Shan State.

    Paulo Sergio Pinheiro, UN human rights rapporteur, said during his visit to Burma last month that conditions for political detainees held in Burmese prisons are improving. He estimated about 1,450 political prisoners are still being held in Burmese prisons.

    In 1990, another U Maung Ko, from the NLD, died while being held in an interrogation center. Also in the early 1990s, a third U Maung Ko, who was an alleged underground cell leader of the CPB, died during interrogation by the junta.

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    Burmese refugees camp in Bangladesh

    (From the newsroom of BBC World Service)

    Officials in Bangladesh say at least 4,000 Rohingya Muslims from neighbouring Burma have taken shelter outside a government building in Teknaaf town in the south-eastern district of Cox's Bazar.

    They say the Rohingyas, who have been living in camps since Sunday, had crossed into Bangladesh illegally and were living in and around the town. They were forced from their homes by local residents after the Bangladesh army launched an anti-crime drive a month ago.

    A senior official from Teknaaf said the district administration had been informed about the fresh wave of refugees, and was waiting for a decision. About a quarter of a million refugees fled to Bangladesh in the early 1990s to escape alleged persecution by the military authorities in Burma. Most of them have since returned home. But Bangladeshi officials say Rangoon is reluctant to take back the remaining refugees despite agreeing to do so.

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