Daily News- November 22- 2002- Friday

  • Opposition Leader Apologizes to Ethnic Groups
  • UN chief hails release of Myanmar political prisoners
  • Fresh influx of Rohingyas into Bangladesh
  • Myanmar to free Frenchmen detained for illegal entry: Paris
  • Burma's leaders should "hang their heads in shame" : top US official
  • U.S. May Take Burma Off 'Major' Drug List

  • Opposition Leader Apologizes to Ethnic Groups

    The Irrawaddy
    By Kyaw Zwa Moe

    November 21, 2002-Burmese opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi apologized today for the weak efforts by the country’s Burman majority in fostering national unity among ethnic races. Suu Kyi made the remarks this morning, while addressing more than 2,000 supporters during a one-hour speech marking the reopening of the National League for Democracy’s (NLD) Taunggyi office, according to NLD sources.

    NLD spokesperson U Lwin told The Irrawaddy that she made the apology as a Burman and said it was necessary for all nationalities in Burma to participate together in the country’s reconciliation process. Aung San Suu Kyi has continually called for the need for tripartite dialogue in Burma since she was released from 19 months of house arrest on May 6.

    The democracy leader has been touring Shan State for over a week now while reopening NLD offices. She has also been conducting meetings with prominent Shan leaders, including U Shwe Ohn from the Democratic League for the National Races of the Shan, which was formed in 1988 and later banned by the junta. U Shwe Ohn is a veteran politician, and has been involved in politics for over 50 years.

    According to U Lwin, Suu Kyi will leave tomorrow for northern Shan State, where she will visit Lashio and other towns. He could not confirm when she would return to Rangoon. Due to a lack of infrastructure in Shan State, Suu Kyi has been traveling by airplane when necessary. This is the first time the regime has permitted her to board an airplane in 14 years.

    To The Top

    UN chief hails release of Myanmar political prisoners

    UNITED NATIONS, Nov 21 (AFP) - UN Secretary General Kofi Annan welcomed Myanmar's release of political prisoners Thursday, while Yangon said a total of 115 would be ultimately be freed.

    According to statement from Yangon, prisoners to be released will include members of the opposition National League for Democracy, led by Nobel peace laureate Aung San Suu Kyi."The release of the prisoners started to take place in various parts of the country since this morning," a government spokesman in Yangon told AFP.

    The prisoner release by the junta in Myanmar, formerly Burma, would be the biggest single release since UN- brokered reconciliation talks began two years ago.The mass release came as pressure mounted on the government to advance a reconciliation process with the opposition, which UN envoy Razali Ismail kicked off in October 2000.

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

    Annan said through a spokesman that, during Ismail's visit to Yangon November 12-16, the envoy "strongly urged the government to release political prisoners in a large number at one time so that more than 200 political detainees would have been released by the end of 2002."

    He expressed the hope that "this first large-scale release will provide fresh momentum for the nationional reconciliation process in that country."

    The National League for Democracy won a landslide victory in 1990 elections, the results of which were never recognized by the military junta.

    To The Top

    Fresh influx of Rohingyas into Bangladesh

    By Haroon Habib
    The Hindu, India

    DHAKA Nov. 21. An estimated five thousand Rohingya refuges have reportedly entered the Bangladesh territory from Myanmar for the past several weeks posing a threat of a fresh flux of Arakanese Muslims , third time after 1978.

    Several Bangladesh dailies reported today that the news entrants have already set up new camps and settled in slums on the unauthorised compounds in various areas of Cox's bazar and Bandarban districts. They have also occupied forests and involved in indiscriminate logging and criminal activities, said leading daily Bangladesh Observer.

    Another leading Bangla daily `Bhorer Kagoj' said the fresh influx was possible mainly to `inaction' and "soft attitude" by the administration towards the refugees. The first major influx of these people started in 1978 during the regime of late President Ziaur Rahman . After series of diplomatic encounters most of them returned homes but many left behind and procured Bangladeshi passports, it was alleged . The second biggest influx of these refugees took place when Begum Khaleda Zia formed her first Government in 1991. Although many of them have returned, sources said thousands still remained in camps of Cox'bazar and Bandarban.

    The official repatriation process of the remaining refugees are now stopped. `Bhorer Kagoj', while giving the background of the Rohingyas quoted country's intelligence reports as saying " with the financial assistances of some middle eastern countries the Rohingyas set up training camps in remote forests. ... .". The daily also reported that many of these people frequently visit Chittagong without any documents "but the authorities give their deaf ears" to the problem.

    Meanwhile, the Refugee Rehabilitation Commission at Cox's bazaar said the number of the refugees rose to 1.5 lakhs. They mostly came from Kawor, Akiyab, Mondu, Buchitang, Rachitang and Anedangkul areas, the commission said.

    Newspapers suggest that the new refugees have developed keen ship with the local people through marriages and their relationships work for their safe shelter in Bangladesh .

    Talking to journalists, Upazila Nirbahi officer of Teknaf, Mohammad Motiul Haq, admitted that a large number of Rohingya entered Bangladesh and were trying to set up shelters in remote forests. "I have drawn the attention of the higher authority . Probably they will decide whether to push the intruders back or arrange particular place for them".

    To The Top

    Myanmar to free Frenchmen detained for illegal entry: Paris

    PARIS, Nov 21 (AFP) - Myanmar has agreed to free two French nationals held for nine days after crossing into the military-ruled state without visas and will deport them to Thailand, the French foreign ministry said Thursday.

    The French embassy in Bangkok would then help the two men, both in their 30s, to get to the Thai capital, ministry spokesman Francois Rivasseau said. The pair, who are from Paris and the southeastern town of Toulon, crossed into Myanmar without visas on November 12 just to "have a drink on the other side," according to a French diplomat in Yangon.They were taken into custody in an area of southern Myanmar known as Victoria Point.

    Myanmar is one of the world's most isolated nations and is intensely concerned about foreigners entering the country illegally, especially those whom it believes could be dissidents or foreign correspondents posing as tourists.

    Rivasseau urged French tourists to review the ministry's foreign travel guidelines posted on its website.

    To The Top

    Burma's leaders should "hang their heads in shame" : top US official

    Washington (AFP) -- Burma's leaders should "hang their heads in shame" over their broken economy, a senior US official said in the Bush administration's most fiercely critical outline yet of its policy towards the military-ruled state.

    James Kelly, the State Department's senior Asia policymaker, said in a strongly worded speech Thursday that signs of tentative progress in a government-opposition dialogue over the past six months stood out only because the country's plight was so "bleak."

    Kelly granted the regime marginal credit for allowing democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi to travel around the country, but savaged the Rangoon junta's treatment of dissidents and handling of claims that its troops were involved in mass rapes.

    He told a closed-door reception of academics and Burma experts, scheduled to include Burma's ambassador to the United States Kyaw Win, that he had hoped to attend the forum with "significant good news to share and even new acquaintances to make."

    "But it was not to be. I think it fair to say that Burma represents a most frustrating challenge for American diplomacy," Kelly said, according to a copy of a speech at a School of Advanced International Studies forum on Burma.

    Sources in Rangoon said earlier this week that Burmese Deputy Foreign Minister Khin Maung Win and junta spokesman Colonel Hla Min would travel to Washington for the forum among other officials.

    But they did not arrive, and US officials refused to confirm or deny whether they had been refused visas by the US government. The junta's US-based lobbying firm also declined to comment.

    "I break no new ground when I observe that Burma was once poised to be one of the most prosperous countries of Southeast Asia," Kelly was due to say in remarks obtained by AFP.

    "Now its broken economy has trouble feeding itself. This is a man-made, not a natural phenomenon, and Burma's leaders should hang their heads in shame," he said, in US custom using Myanmar's former name, which was changed by junta leaders.

    "The picture presented by events in Burma over the past year is decidedly mixed and it is a measure of how bad things are in Burma that even a mixed record represents some progress, but progress exceeded by disappointment," Kelly said.

    "Unfortunately, conditions inside the country for the Burmese people remain dire and the optimism generated by Daw Aung San Suu Kyi's release on May 6th has diminished as the regime continues to delay its dialogue with Daw Suu and her party."

    To The Top

    U.S. May Take Burma Off 'Major' Drug List

    Source : The Washington Post

    State Department officials are close to recommending Burma's removal from a list of "major" drug producers, allowing the Southeast Asian nation to press for significant counternarcotics funding, according to sources on Capitol Hill and people who have spoken with State Department officials.

    A decision by the Bush administration to reward Burma's counternarcotics efforts would be an important psychological boost for the repressive government, experts said. Burma's ruling military junta, which has been condemned for human rights abuses, has long sought to use its counterdrug efforts to gain greater international recognition.

    "This would bring the regime a great deal of prestige," said David Steinberg, director of Asian studies at Georgetown University.

    A State Department recommendation would need to be reviewed by the White House, and officials at the bureaus involved in the recommendation refused to discuss the issue. But, in a speech last night, Assistant Secretary of State James A. Kelly pointed to Burmese efforts on drugs as one of the few bright spots in a "most frustrating challenge for American diplomacy."

    "Burmese cooperation with the international community on narcotics issues has continued to improve in real terms," Kelly said.

    Removing Burma from the list of major drug producers likely would prompt fierce complaints from members of Congress, such as incoming Senate Majority Whip Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), who favor keeping the pressure on the Burmese leadership.

    "This would be a very controversial decision," one congressional staffer said. He said Burma continues to have an ongoing narcotics problem, while the Burmese government "will view this as a broader blessing for their approach."

    Adding to congressional anger, a State Department investigation has corroborated reports over the summer that the Burmese military uses rape as a "weapon of war" against ethnic civilian areas on a widespread basis, a department official said yesterday. Kelly last night said the United States is pressing for an international investigation of the rape allegations.

    The administration has maintained economic and political sanctions on the Burmese government, despite the release this year of Burmese democracy activist Aung San Suu Kyi from house arrest. But Steinberg said he had detected a distinct shift in tone by the State Department this year, suggesting a greater willingness to move toward better relations with Burma.

    The Burmese government also hired a high-powered lobbying firm, DCI Associates, to press its case in Washington. The key lobbyist on the Burma account, Charles Francis, is a friend of President Bush.

    The State Department, in a report in March, said that Burma last year became the world's largest producer of illicit opium.

    Burma is also the primary source of amphetamine-type stimulants in Asia, producing an estimated 800 million tablets per year.

    But in testimony before a congressional committee in June, Deputy Assistant Secretary Matthew P. Daley appeared to lay out steps that the Burmese needed to take to win what is known as "certification" of its antidrug program, such as enforcing money-laundering laws and targeting high-level drug traffickers. He said it was possible to "pursue better communication and cooperation with Burma [on drugs] without diminishing our support for political reform and national reconciliation."

    State Department officials appear to believe Burma has met the requirements laid out in Daley's testimony. But Bertil Lintner, an expert on the Burmese drug trade, said substantial evidence shows the government is linked to major drug traffickers, including joint ventures with the military and frequent meetings between traffickers and junta leaders.

    To The Top