Daily News- November 24- 2002- Sunday

  • No Dialogue With Thugs
  • Junta's Massive troop buildup puts Thai army on alert
  • Thai army awaits influx of 1bn pills
  • Dhaka proposes Chittagong-Burma route
  • God Army twins still remain at refugee camp
  • Burma prisoner release fails to mollify junta's critics
  • UN Rights expert welcomes release of political prisoners in Burma

  • No Dialogue With Thugs

    Washington Post-Editorial
    Saturday, November 23, 2002; Page A22

    FOR THE UNITED STATES to increase its cooperation with the thuggish rulers of Burma, on the grounds of mutual interest in fighting illegal drugs, would reflect a surprising gullibility and lack of judgment. This is a regime, after all, that shelters drug lords and reaps uncounted millions in the shadow of the drug trade. For Bush administration officials to consider such a move now, just as Burma's dictators are ratcheting up their defiance of U.N. mediators, would be almost unthinkable. And yet, according to The Post's Glenn Kessler, such an upgrading of relations is being promoted by midlevel State Department officials. Surely the White House will know better.

    Burma is a Southeast Asian nation, rich in resources and natural beauty, that has been run into the ground by a corrupt and brutal military regime. Its generals fired on pro-democracy demonstrators in 1988, killing thousands. It annulled a 1990 election in which the National League for Democracy won 82 percent of parliamentary seats. It has kept the league's leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, under house arrest for eight of the past 14 years. Its army has doubled in size since 1988 and includes more child soldiers than any other fighting force in the world. It uses rape as a weapon against ethnic minorities. It has been repeatedly condemned by the United Nations for countenancing forced labor.

    It's a regime that would fit comfortably on the axis of evil (and, not surprisingly, that maintains warm relations with Saddam Hussein). Last spring, responding to international pressure, the regime freed Ms. Suu Kyi, the daughter of Burma's independence hero, from house arrest and promised to begin a dialogue with her aiming toward establishing democracy. But after that initial gesture, the generals have gone nowhere. They are not talking to the democrats. They are not permitting her to publish any kind of newspaper. They are in fact locking up more pro-democracy activists. The U.N. mediator who brokered her release recently talked about throwing in the towel.

    America's international anti-drug bureaucrats no doubt would welcome a chance to expand their playing field. They are willing to be persuaded by a few crop burnings staged for maximum effect. But officials with a wider horizon should know that the only hope for progress in combating the drug trade in Burma, as in fighting AIDS and promoting prosperity, is to bolster Aung San Suu Kyi, not to undermine her.

    To The Top

    Junta's Massive troop buildup puts Thai army on alert

    Sermsuk Kasitipradit Subin Khuenkaew
    The Bangkokpost

    A massive troop buildup and deployment of heavy weapons in Burma could be a prelude to a new offensive on Shan State Army bases.Maj-Gen Nakorn Sripetchphand, Pha Mueng Task Force commander, said a new dry season offensive seemed inevitable, probably next month or in January.

    Rangoon suffered heavily during its last offensive, which failed to dislodge SSA fighters from bases in Koh Wan, Koh Hom and Koh Mueng, opposite Mae Fah Luang in Chiang Rai.

    No troop buildup has been reported around SSA's headquarters in Doi Tailaeng, opposite Mae Hong Son's Pang Ma Pha, but the army is said to be preparing regardless.

    Maj-Gen Nakorn was worried a new round of fighting between Burmese troops and the Shan State Army could intensify border tension between Thailand and Burma.``Any cross-border operation would be dealt with in accordance with the army's rules of engagement,'' said Maj-Gen Nakorn.Border encroachments would not be tolerated, he said.

    It would not be easy to dislodge SSA fighters since their bases were in rugged terrain.Shan border sources said Rangoon was holding military exercises in border provinces until next month.They involved 2,000 infantry soldiers, artillery and air force units.

    ``This could be seen as preparation for an onslaught on SSA bases. The assault could be fierce,'' said one source.

    Jao Kawnzuen, commander of SSA's Kengtung Force, said he had also heard reports of a big troop build-up.Heavy weapons were on the move including 76.2mm anti-tank artillery, 84mm rifles, 120mm mortars and 105mm artillery.Border sources said Burma had imported three million litres of fuel oil from Thailand since the border reopened on Oct 15.

    Jao Kawnzuen was not optimistic about the outcome of truce talks with Burma, saying Rangoon's precondition that the Shan State Army lay down arms was unacceptable.

    Relations between Thailand and Burma dropped to an all-time low earlier this year when a Burmese offensive against the SSA resulted in stray shells landing in Thailand.Thai forces fired smoke rounds to warn Burmese forces and when that failed to stop the stray shells, they fired live ones.

    Thai army awaits influx of 1bn pills

    Sermsuk Kasitipradit
    The Bangkokpost

    The Third Army warned yesterday up to 1 billion methamphetamine pills were expected to be trafficked across the Burmese border by the United Wa State Army next year. The forecast represented a significant increase on the 700 million speed pills thought to have been smuggled into the country this year by the UWSA, the largest drug producer in the region.

    ``We estimate that between 900 million and 1 billion methamphetamine tablets will be shipped across our borders next year,'' said Third Army chief-of-staff Maj-Gen Naris Srinetr.

    Third Army commander Lt-Gen Udomchai Ongkhasingh planned to wage a war against the traffickers on three fronts: along the Burmese border; within border villages; and at checkpoints set up 50 kilometres from the border.The border would be monitored by troops under the direct command of Pha Mueng and Naresuan task forces.

    Naresuan Task Force commander Maj-Gen Suthep Posuthon said a crackdown on traffickers in Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai had forced the UWSA to deal with the Democratic Karen Buddhist Army, which shipped drugs into Tak province.

    ``Drug trafficking along border areas of Tak has intensified,'' he said. ``The situation will be critical next year as there are hundreds of million methamphetamine tablets awaiting shipment.''

    Maj-Gen Naris said the Third Army would increase border patrols, especially at night.``Night-vision equipment has proved very helpful to our forces,'' he said.Anti-drug forces would also be equipped with X-ray machines capable of detecting narcotics hidden inside vehicles.He said the Third Army also intended to push ahead with its plans to relocate border villages to at least 30km from the Burmese frontier.

    Gen Panlop Pinmanee, deputy director of Internal Security Operations Command, said around 120 million methamphetamine tablets were seized by authorities last fiscal year.

    To The Top

    Dhaka proposes Chittagong-Burma route

    Source : The Daily Star(Bangladesh)

    The government has proposed to ESCAP a new route in the Bangladesh portion of the proposed Asian highway to connect Chittagong with Burma, Bangladesh Communications Minister Nazmul Huda told BBC yesterday.

    He however said, "A final decision on the proposed route is yet to be taken by the government though it is important for us and for our commerce ...

    We also have to see if the ESCAP-proposed route (through Bangladesh) is a threat to our national security".

    But Bangladesh's priority is to build relations with ASEAN countries by linking Chittagong with Rangoon (in Burma) through Cox's Bazar through the proposed highway, he added.

    ESCAP is working on a plan to build a 65,000-kilometer highway linking South and Southeast Asian countries.

    The ESCAP proposed that the highway in its Bangladesh part would cross through Tamabil border in Sylhet, Benapol in Jessore and Banglabandha in Panchchagar. But experts say this will put our national security at risk.

    They however say the route of the proposed highway will depend on political considerations instead of economic and commercial matters, which would be the main barrier in its construction.

    To The Top

    God Army twins still remain at refugee camp

    Source : Bangkok Post

    Washington has given up on its plan to resettle the child twins who led the Karen rebel militia God's Army because it is preoccupied with the war against terrorism, a senior military officer said.

    Furthermore, Johnny and Luther Htoo were happy living with their family and friends at a refugee camp in Sangkhla Buri district of Kanchanaburi, said Surasi Task Force commander Maj-Gen Mana Prachakchit.

    The twins had been living at the shelter since surrendering to authorities in January 2001, after which the United States offered to resettle them under a refugee repatriation programme.

    Maj-Gen Mana said the boys were attending a school at the camp, where they were learning maths, among other subjects. However, they continued to smoke cigarettes and were underweight.

    ``Their academic records aren't good. They enjoy playing,'' he said. ``They were living in forests for years.''

    Maj-Gen Mana said he expected a new round of fighting between Karen rebels and Burmese troops from next month until early 2003. The army would ensure ethnic rebel militias did not use Thai soil to launch offensives against troops loyal to Rangoon, he said.

    With regard to cross-border drug smuggling, Maj-Gen Mana said traffickers had switched their points of entry from Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai to Tak.

    To The Top

    Burma prisoner release fails to mollify junta's critics

    Rangoon Nov 24 (AFP) - The Burma junta's announcement of a major release of political prisoners has failed to appease its critics, with the United States and rights group Amnesty International labelling the move inadequate.

    The prisoners began making their way home from jails around the country on Thursday, in the largest release since the regime began a UN-brokered dialogue with the democratic opposition two years ago.

    But Amnesty said in a statement that most of the dissidents, among an estimated 1,200-1,300 behind bars in the country, had already served long jail terms for minor crimes.

    "We welcome these releases but stress that they are long overdue, and must be followed by the unconditional release of other prisoners of conscience who have been suffering in Myanmar's prisons for too long," it said.

    "Among those already released are individuals who have served six or more years for acts which not be considered crimes under international law, such as talking to foreign journalists about torture of political prisoners."

    Amnesty also said the junta must ensure that the dissidents, including 57 members of the opposition National League for Democracy, would not be forced to serve the rest of their terms if they were arrested again.

    "The (government) must ensure that these releases are unconditional, and that prisoners are not subjected to harassment after their release," it said.

    Stinging criticism also came from the United States, with the State Department's senior Asia policymaker James Kelly saying the government's move was "welcome, but highly incomplete and inadequate".

    "Burma's population continues to be denied basic human and political rights across the board," he said Thursday, using the country's former name which was ditched by the military government.

    Kelly hit out at the junta's handling of claims this year by two Thailand-based groups that its troops were guilty of mass-rape of women in Shan province where an insurgency has raged for decades.

    "For a regime spokesman to deny categorically all charges of rape without any investigation does more than strain credulity," he said calling for a probe into such "egregious human-rights abuses."

    In the Bush administration's most fiercely critical outline yet of its policy towards the military-ruled state, Kelly also said Burma's leaders should "hang their heads in shame" over their broken economy.

    And he said recent signs of tentative progress in the dialogue between the government and Nobel peace laureate Aung San Suu Kyi's opposition stood out only because the country's plight was so "bleak."

    To The Top

    UN Rights expert welcomes release of political prisoners in Burma

    22 Nov 2002

    The following statement was issued today by the Special Rapporteur of the Commission on Human Rights on the Situation in Myanmar:

    Paulo Sergio Pinheiro, Special Rapporteur of the United Nations Commission on Human Rights on the situation in Myanmar, welcomes the release in that country yesterday of 115 prisoners, including members of the National League for Democracy (NLD) and other "security" detainees. This is the largest single release of prisoners since the beginning of the process of confidence building between the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC) and the NLD in October 2000.

    During his last mission to Myanmar in October 2002, the Special Rapporteur reiterated his call for the immediate and unconditional release of all remaining political prisoners and received assurances that releases would continue.

    The Special Rapporteur believes that yesterday's release demonstrates the continuing good will of the SPDC to ease the political atmosphere. He hopes this positive step, taken not long after his visit, will be followed by further releases in the near future. This would contribute to the process of credible change in the political and human rights climate in the country, which is necessary for national reconciliation to take place.

    To The Top