Daily News- November 28 - 2002- Thursday

  • Rights group slams Lauda Air for launching Myanmar route
  • To the North-East through Myanmar
  • Thai army denies giving out drug estimate
  • Antibiotics in Myanmar Often Duds, Maybe Dangerous
  • Weakening cyclone moves from India coast to Burma
  • Burma's Suu Kyi arrived Rangoon ending sensitive Shan state trip

  • Rights group slams Lauda Air for launching Myanmar route

    BANGKOK, Nov 27 (AFP) - Human rights monitor Forum-Asia on Wednesday criticized Austria-based Lauda Air for launching flights between Vienna and Yangon this month, saying the deal ignored Myanmar's "human rights crisis".

    "The decision to open this service between Austria and Burma is based on purely commercial economic interests," the Bangkok-based group's secretary general Somchai Homlaor said in a statement.

    On November 6 Lauda Air inaugurated a non-stop service to Yangon from Vienna -- the first direct flight to Myanmar's capital from a European city -- with the return routing via the Thai resort island of Phuket.

    But Somchai rejected the notion that engaging Myanmar by opening the service would assist the troubled country.

    "To claim the move will benefit the people of Burma in any way is to ignore the political and humanitarian realities, and the human rights crisis in Burma, " he said, calling the country by its former name.

    "ASEAN (the Association of Southeast Asian Nations) has been engaging Burma for years now and there has been no improvement in the humanitarian or human rights situation in the country."

    Forum-Asia said it demanded to see "substantial improvement" in key areas of human rights and democracy, including the release of political prisoners, and an end to alleged abuses such as forced labour and rape of ethnic minority women, before supporting commercial engagement of the military leadership.

    Several Western nations including the United States and the European Union continue to impose strict sanctions on Myanmar, whose economy has been decimated in the four decades of military rule.

    Myanmar's tourism industry is in its infancy, and the country's efforts to boost it have been dogged by the wide- ranging sanctions.

    Myanmar has been widely criticised for its human rights performance and refusal to hand over power to the National League for Democracy, led by Nobel peace laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, which won an overwhelming election victory in 1990.

    To the North-East through Myanmar

    By C. Raja Mohan
    The Hindu, India

    NEW DELHI Nov. 27. In a significant bid to expand India's access to the remote northeastern provinces, New Delhi and Yangon are ready to begin feasibility studies on building a transport corridor through Myanmar. Yes, there could soon be commercial traffic moving from Kolkata to Mizoram via Myanmar.

    Given the reluctance of Bangladesh to allow the movement of Indian goods across its territory, India has been exploring the option of developing connections to the North-East through Myanmar. Bangladesh's loss of revenue from a lucrative transit trade could soon be Myanmar's gain.

    The Foreign Secretary, Kanwal Sibal, is in Myanmar this week for annual foreign office consultations with the military Government in Yangon. The two sides would also review the progress in the project along the mighty Kaladan river that runs through Mizoram and Myanmar before disgorging itself into the Bay of Bengal.

    At present, all Indian commerce to the North-East skirts the long border with Bangladesh and travels through the narrow Siliguri corridor in northern West Bengal. The new transport corridor through Myanmar offers a cheaper and quicker alternative.

    Nearly six decades ago, during the Second World War, American engineers built the Stillwell Road between British India and South Western China through Myanmar, then called Burma, to facilitate supplies to Chinese nationalists fighting the Imperial Japanese Army. Now India is developing the transport infrastructure of Myanmar to improve the economic prospects of the North-East.

    The project involves upgrading the port facilities at Sittwe, where the Kaladan joins the Bay of Bengal. Sittwe is about 250 km from the border between Mizoram and Myanmar. Goods from Kolkata and other Indian ports will be able to use Sittwe to reach Mizoram and other northeastern provinces once India improves the Kaladan waterway and builds a modern road.

    There are also plans to construct a natural gas pipeline along the Kaladan river. Officials from the two countries have already done initial surveys. Myanmar's coastline is believed to be rich in hydrocarbon resources. Indian companies are also expected to start drilling operations off the Rakhine coast of Myanmar for hydrocarbons early next year.

    Agencies of the two Governments have completed a detailed project report on the transport corridor. Given the extraordinary strategic significance of the project, the Foreign Office is keen to get the project moving at a pace faster than what the Indian Government is known for.

    The Kaladan project could emerge as the showpiece of rapidly expanding relations between New Delhi and Yangon. Given its role in improving the connectivity between the mainland and the North-East, the Kaladan scheme is likely to dramatically expand the weight of Myanmar in India's neighbourhood diplomacy.

    India has begun to see Myanmar as a valuable gateway out of its near land-locked northeastern provinces and as a bridge to South-East Asia. It has already built a road linking Moreh on the Indian side of the Manipur border with Kalemyo in central Myanmar.

    In another project involving Bangkok, New Delhi and Yangon have agreed to develop a road from Moreh to Thailand through Myanmar. In this mutually-beneficial cooperation, India liberates the North-East from its geographic constraints and Myanmar gains by Indian investment in developing its infrastructure.

    Meanwhile, the two countries are working together for effective border management and to tackle cross-border insurgency and narcotics trafficking. Border trade has begun to grow and the two sides are looking at the possibility of opening additional points for commerce besides the current facility at Moreh.

    India and Myanmar have also expanded diplomatic representation in each other's territory. Mr. Sibal is slated to formally inaugurate the new Indian Consulate at Mandalay. To the credit of the Foreign Office it has chosen a Burmese-speaking officer, Pramod Bhutiani, to head the consulate. Myanmar has re-established its own consulate in Kolkata.

    The last few years have also seen increasing high-level political contacts between India and Myanmar and the steady injection of valuable economic content into the bilateral relations. But the Kaladan project, which India must now take up on a war footing, is in a class of its own.

    Thai army denies giving out drug estimate

    Wassana Nanuam
    The Bangkokpost

    The army has denied giving out a figure on the number of methamphetamine pills expected to be smuggled from Burma into Thailand next year.Deputy spokesman Maj-Gen Palangkul Klaharn said neither the Defence Ministry nor the army had ever issued a formal estimate. They were in no position to arrive at such a figure.

    The estimate of one billion pills attributed to Maj-Gen Naris Srinet was the Third Army chief's personal view, not an official figure.

    Rangoon earlier lashed out at the forecast, holding the army responsible for releasing the estimate which it called ``regretful and perplexing''.The junta's anti-drugs spokesman Col Kyaw Thein was also quoted as scoffing at Thai authorities' inability to suppress the flow of drugs into the country.

    Drug production along the Burmese border is largely controlled by the pro- Rangoon United Wa State Army. Most production bases are only a stone's throw from Thailand.

    Maj-Gen Palangkul said the army's duty was to combat drug trafficking in compliance with government policy.He insisted the army was not being too quick to appease Rangoon.The drug situation would improve through closer bilateral cooperation in tackling the problem, he said.

    Antibiotics in Myanmar Often Duds, Maybe Dangerous

    NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - A random sampling of antibiotics often sold as treatment for sexually transmitted diseases in a province in Myanmar--the country formerly known as Burma--reveals that only a fraction contain as much of the drug's active ingredient as the label claims.

    Drugs that are not as powerful as they should be can lead to many problems, Dr. Thierry Prazuck of CHR Orleans La Source in France and his colleagues report. For instance, people who take the drugs may not totally clear their bodies of an infection, which could render them very sick and put their entire communities at risk by helping the bacteria in their bodies become resistant to antibiotics.

    Prazuck and his team obtained their findings from analyzes of random samples of antibiotics taken from the capital city in a northern province that borders China. The investigators analyzed the contents of antibiotics sold at the State Hospital pharmacy and by five drug sellers and five doctors in the region who sold drugs.

    Reporting in the November issue of the journal Sexually Transmitted Diseases, Prazuck and his team discovered that 8 of the 21 products they examined did not contain the amount of the active drug claimed, with most containing less. Another five drugs could not be analyzed, they note, because the drugs did not state how much of the active ingredient they contained. At worst, the authors note, two products contained only half of the stated dose.

    "Our study found substandard drugs were sold by any official healthcare provider, including the State Hospital," Prazuck and colleagues write. "As a consequence, the whole Myanmar population is victim to the poor quality of drugs."

    Antibiotics that contain less of the active ingredient than they claim can increase antibiotic resistance by failing to completely rid a person's body of the bug they are trying to beat, the authors note. When the relatively few remaining bacteria begin to multiply again, the ones that tend to take over are resistant to the antibiotic, Prazuck and his team note, putting a person at risk of having a body full of bacteria that won't be cleared by standard drugs.

    Selling drugs that don't work well also reduces patients' faith in this type of treatment, the authors add. "In addition to decreasing the efficiency of treatments, this circumstance weakens the population's trust in both the public and private healthcare systems," they write. "The low efficiency of antibiotherapies also discredits Western medicine.

    "Although our study focuses on Myanmar, the production of counterfeit drugs is found throughout developing regions, and should generate a worldwide public health concern about an increase in bacterial resistance to antibiotics," Prazuck and his team conclude.

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    Weakening cyclone moves from India coast to Burma

    CALCUTTA, India (Reuters) - A cyclone swirling in the Bay of Bengal off India's eastern coast has weakened and is heading towards Burma, an Indian weather official said.

    "The cyclone is moving eastwards towards Myanmar but is weakening and is in the process of becoming a deep depression," T.K. Sarkar, director of the regional India Meteorological Department, told Reuters.

    Sarkar said the cyclone was accompanied by winds of 55-60 km (34-38 miles) per hour but could not give details on where and when the storm might hit Burma's coast.

    Weather officials in neighbouring Bangladesh said their warning to fishermen not to go to sea still stood as the cyclone moved east. They added, however, that the storm was expected to weaken over the next 24 hours.

    On November 12, a cyclone hit the low-lying coast of West Bengal and Bangladesh. More than 100 fishermen are still listed as missing after that cyclone.

    Bangladesh's worst cyclone was in 1991 when at least 138,000 people were killed. In 1999, a cyclone killed at least 10,000 people in the eastern Indian state of Orissa.

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    Burma's Suu Kyi arrived Rangoon ending sensitive Shan state trip

    Rangoon (Reuters) - Burma's pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi returned to the capital Rangoon from eastern Shan state, party officials said on Thursday, ending her most sensitive trip since military rulers freed her from house arrest.

    Nobel peace laureate Suu Kyi been allowed to travel freely to visit members of her National League for Democracy (NLD) in central Burma and Mon state since her release in May.

    But her 15-day visit to Shan state was much more sensitive because of allegations by rights groups that the army carried out human rights abuses in the region, including forced conscription of child soldiers and systematic rape of Shan women and girls.

    NLD officials told Reuters Suu Kyi returned to the capital at around midnight on Wednesday.

    Party spokesman U Lwin said earlier Suu Kyi was allowed to travel freely in the region and was warmly welcomed by locals.

    "She covered almost the entire Shan state and she received a tumultuous welcome from the local people wherever she went," he told Reuters late on Wednesday.

    "During this trip she opened altogether five NLD offices, four township offices and one division office. She will make similar political trips in future but it's too early to say where or when."

    Suu Kyi's last period of house arrest began in 2000 after a tense road-side stand-off when the military, fearing her popularity would spark unrest, prevented her from travelling outside Rangoon.

    But since entering into a U.N.-brokered reconciliation process with the NLD in late 2000, Burma's ruling generals have freed more than 400 political prisoners and given more freedom to the NLD, but have yet to start talks on political transition.

    Diplomats and analysts say the military is taking a calculated risk, giving Suu Kyi more freedom in the hope of ending their international isolation, but have no intention of loosening their grip on power.

    Many Western countries, including the United States and European Union members, have imposed political and economic sanctions on poverty-stricken Burma for its human rights record.

    Suu Kyi's party won 1990 elections by a landslide, but has never been allowed to govern by the military, which has been in power for the past four decades.

    An estimated 1,200 political prisoners, including hundreds of NLD members, still languish in Burma's prisons.

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