Daily News- November 21- 2002- Thursday

  • Burma junta begins mass release of political prisoners
  • India State-owned petroleum Eyeing Stakes In Petroleum Fields in Burma
  • Bangladesh FM Morshed leaves for Burma
  • Burma has agreed to reduce natural gas prices
  • British Foreign Minister welcomes UN Resolution on Human Rights in Burma
  • Cheap Burmese Heroin is Back
  • U.S. Pension Fund Chided Over Burma
  • Situation in Bassein and Tharawaddy prisons in Burma

  • Burma junta begins mass release of political prisoners

    Rangoon (AFP) - Burma's ruling junta said it had begun freeing a group of 115 political prisoners, the biggest single release since United Nations-brokered reconciliation talks began two years ago.

    "The release of the prisoners started to take place in various parts of the country since this morning," a government spokesman told AFP.

    The mass release came as pressure mounted on the government to advance a reconciliation process with the opposition led by Nobel peace laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, which UN envoy Razali Ismail kicked off in October 2000.

    Since then more than 400 dissidents have been freed from jail in small groups and Aung San Suu Kyi has been released from house arrest, but the junta has reneged on promises to begin political talks with the opposition.

    Razali visited Burma last week in another effort to kick-start the stalled process, but came away disappointed over the lack of progress and saying he had pushed the junta to release 200 more prisoners by the end of the year.

    Aung San Suu Kyi's party, the National League for Democracy (NLD), hailed the release of the prisoners who include an unknown number of members of the opposition party.

    "We welcome this release in triple digits and hope that more such releases will follow soon," said Ohn Myint of the NLD Welfare Support Committee.

    The junta's move came shortly after the United States complained that the UN-brokered dialogue between the two sides on Burma's political divide had produced little results.

    "It appears as though not a great deal of progress was made, I have to say," Assistant Secretary of State for East Asia and Pacific Affairs James Kelly said Tuesday.

    "Hope had started to pick up with the progress of dialogue last summer and it doesn't seem to be getting very far. There are still an awful lot of political prisoners held and a lot of restrictions on freedom in Burma."

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    India State-owned petroleum Eyeing Stakes In Petroleum Fields in Burma

    NEW DELHI (Dow Jones)--India State-owned petroleum exploration firm Oil & Natural Gas Corp. (P.ONG) plans to buy stakes in petroleum fields in Burma, Iran, Iraq, Kazakhstan and the U.S. through its wholly owned overseas exploration arm ONGC Videsh Ltd., reports the Economic Times.

    "We are negotiating with oil exploring companies in those countries for acquiring oil stakes in them. The negotiations are in an advanced stage," the report quotes Petroleum and Natural Gas Minister Ram Naik as saying.

    The objective is to ensure India's energy security, Naik says in the report.

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    Bangladesh FM Morshed leaves for Burma

    Source : The Daily Star (Bangladesh)

    Bangladesh Foreign Minister M Morshed Khan yesterday left Dhaka for Burma on a three-day official visit.

    The visit is aimed at promoting and strengthening bilateral relations between the two countries, said a Bangladesh Foreign Ministry press release.

    During his visit in Burma, the foreign minister will pay a courtesy call on Senior General Than Shwe, Chairman of State Peace and Development Council (SPDC).

    Morshed Khan and his Burmese counterpart will also hold wide-ranging talks covering the entire gamut of bilateral relations and exchange views on regional and international issues of common concerns.

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    Burma has agreed to reduce natural gas prices

    Source : Hoovers (U.K)

    Thai PTT has negotiated to buy natural gas from the Premier Oil group at a reduced price.

    Thailand is now buying about 200 million cubic feet a day of natural gas from the Yetagon source in Burma, which is managed by Premier Oil. PTT originally agreed to increase the amount it buys to 260 million cubic feet a day starting in October, but negotiated to postpone the increase until January 2003. PTT also made an agreement to postpone raising the amount it buys to 400 million cubic feet a day from the original date of April 2003 until February 2005 because demand is not increasing as quickly as previously predicted.

    The owners of the Yetagon project agreed to reduce the price at which PTT will buy the gas in 2005, allowing PTT to save an estimated five billion baht.

    At present Thailand uses a total of 2,500 million cubic feet of natural gas a day -- 77 per cent for power production, 15 per cent for gas separation, and eight per cent in factories. Natural gas use is expected to rise six per cent next year.

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    British Foreign Minister welcomes UN Resolution on Human Rights in Burma

    Source : Foreign and Commonwealth Office (U.K)

    British Foreign Office Minister Mike O'Brien today welcomed the adoption of a resolution at the 3rd Committee of the United Nations General Assembly that expressed grave concern over the human rights situation in Burma.

    The resolution, which was co-sponsored by the European Union, expresses concern over the ongoing systematic violation of human rights, including civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights of the people of Burma. Particular concern was expressed over the continued detention of political prisoners and the human rights abuses in the ethnic minority areas of Burma.

    Mike O'Brien said:

    'This new-look resolution accurately reflects the state of human rights in Burma today. I look forward to it being formally adopted at the Plenary session next month. There have been some modest improvements, such as the release of over 350 political prisoners and the reopening of some political offices belonging to democracy groups. However, as I discussed with Daw Aung San Suu Kyi when we spoke on the telephone on 1 November, the overall situation remains a serious concern of the international community.

    'Burma's continuing poor human rights record underlines the urgent need for action by the Burmese authorities to bring about national reconciliation and democracy in Burma. The UK is concerned that after his meeting with Senior General Than Shwe last week, the United Nations Envoy, Tan Sri Razali Ismail, has reported that the political process in Burma has not been maximized or developed. I urge Senior General Than Shwe to take advantage of Mr Razali's good offices. If the Burmese authorities genuinely want to take credible steps towards a more prosperous and peaceful future, action can no longer avoided.'

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    Cheap Burmese Heroin is Back

    Source : Far Eastern Economic Review

    Cheap heroin is back on the streets in two of the main markets for Burmese producers and traffickers of the narcotic--Australia and China.

    The police in Sydney have warned senior officers about an increase in user and dealer activity in the entertainment district of Kings Cross and the suburb of Cabramatta, home for many suspected drug dealers of Southeast Asian origin.

    In 2000, the Australian police seized hundreds of kilograms of Burmese heroin, which led to a sharp reduction in the availability of the drug. But now the police are saying that there is more--and cheaper--heroin in the streets than at any time in the past two years. Meanwhile, authorities in the Chinese province of Yunnan, bordering Burma, announced on November 8 that they had made their largest-ever seizure of heroin from across the border.

    Police found 672 kilograms of heroin hidden in hollowed-out tree trunks. Seven men from Hong Kong and six of their mainland accomplices were arrested. It was the biggest heroin seizure in China since the mid-1990s.

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    U.S. Pension Fund Chided Over Burma

    Source : Far Eastern Economic Review

    One of the biggest pensions funds in the United States has come under shareholder pressure to pull out of investments that are seen to help the repressive military government in Burma.

    In a November 7 letter, 104 shareholders of TIAA-CREF urged it to use its position as a shareholder in Unocal Corp. to demand that the U.S. oil-and-gas giant pull out of a major project in Burma. Unocal, in a joint venture with Total of France and the Petroleum Authority of Thailand, operates a natural-gas pipeline in southern Burma.

    The letter also called on TIAA-CREF to dump its shares in Singapore Technologies, whose subsidiary Chartered Industries, the letter said, has been a key arms supplier for Burma's military. "We do not want our retirement funds . . . to be generated from repression and abuse," the letter said. "If Unocal refuses to withdraw from Burma, we strongly urge TIAA-CREF to then divest its Unocal shares as well."

    Those signing the letter included former U.S. Congressman Robert Drinan and noted political activist Noam Chomsky of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

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    Situation in Bassein and Tharawaddy prisons in Burma

    Source : Asian Tribune

    Some students imprisoned in Pathein Jail were released on the 5th November. According to information received in Bangkok, to the vacant wards, U Kyaw Mya and those transferred from Taungoo prison were moved.

    The person in charge of the special and death cell ward where U Kyaw Mya and the Toungoo group were moved has been also replaced.

    U Kyaw Mya was seen to be responsible for the conflict and was removed to a cell in the Leper ward. He suffers from gastric disorder and there is great fear for his health.

    Because of conflict between the Toungoo group and Thein Myint, the new man in charge, a petition for his transfer was presented to the Chief jailor Ye Hla. His response was that it was not within his power because it was a special appointment by the military intelligence.

    In the meanwhile, according to news monitored in Bangkok, U Maung Ko, another political prisoner inside Tharawaddy Prison in central Burma, died last November 15. He 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.

    U Maung Ko was arrested in 1996 under charge 5(J) of Burma’s 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. U Maung Ko, aged over 50 years old, died of a heart attack while in detention.

    It must be noted that, 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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