Daily News- November 29 - 2002- Friday

  • NLD complains of surveillance during Suu Kyi trip to Shan state
  • Rights Group Hails Boycott of Burmese Goods by U.S. Firm
  • Opposition party calls for substantive dialogue and better education on National Day
  • Suu Kyi supporter arrested after making symbolic golden hat


  • NLD complains of surveillance during Suu Kyi trip to Shan state

    YANGON, Nov 28 (AFP) - The National League for Democracy (NLD) complained Thursday about excessive surveillance of leader Aung San Suu Kyi during the two-week political trip she just concluded in Shan state in northeast Myanmar.

    "A group of people has been following her all the way and taking photos, even when she was resting at the guest house," NLD spokesman U Lwin told AFP."This is the first time" Aung San Suu Kyi's party was moved to complain about the excess surveillance, he said.

    "It was not harassment, but it was a nuisance," he added. "We presume they were security people, but not military intelligence."

    Suu Kyi, released last May from 19 months of house arrest, had demanded total freedom of movement from the ruling junta, and had been enjoying as much during several up-country trips in recent months.The Nobel peace laureate drew huge crowds along her route in northern and southern Shan state -- sensitive regions for Yangon due to simmering ethnic rebellions -- including a gathering of 30,000 people in the northern Shan city of Lashio.

    "In some townships in northern Shan state, the authorities warned people not to go and see her. There was pressure from authorities," U Lwin said. "But people didn't care about the warnings." The spokesman added "the NLD had reported (this problem) to military intelligence and they said they would enquire."

    Suu Kyi has returned to Yangon "very tired," after her longest political excursion out of the capital.U Lwin Wednesday hailed the trip as a success as Suu Kyi had been able to meet representatives of ethnic minorities and revitalize the NLD by reopening four branches closed in the wake of the repression of the 1990s.

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    Rights Group Hails Boycott of Burmese Goods by U.S. Firm

    Source : OneWorld.net

    Pro-democracy campaigners in Burma have hailed a ban on Burmese clothing by one of the United States largest coat factories.

    Free Burma Coalition, a non-profit organization based in the United States, said that the Burlington coat factory's decision indicated that more and more U.S. companies were refusing to prop up the military regime in the southeast Asian nation, due to its abysmal human rights record.

    "By selling products from Burma, companies help prop up Burma's military dictatorship," said Ko Ko Lay of the San Francisco Burma Roundtable, a member of the Coalition, in a press statement Tuesday. "Businesses like Burlington have come to realize this, and they don't want any part of it. We commend them for their principle."

    The Burlington decision was taken after an intense campaign by the Coalition, an umbrella group of organizations fighting the military rulers of Burma, pressuring companies to boycott goods made there.

    Burlington, the Coalition said, had been stocking "a significant quantity" of products from Burma. The Free Burma Coalition wrote to Burlington in March this year, pointing out that it stocked products bearing the "Made in Burma " tag. Responding to the campaign, Burlington wrote a letter to the Coalition last week saying that it would not purchase clothes made in that country.

    The group said that Burlington was the 34th company to ban products from Burma, joining companies such as top garment retailers, The Children's Place and Federated Department Stores, who have since June 2000 banned products from Burma.

    Pro-democracy outfits such as the Coalition and the London-based Burma Campaign UK (BCUK) have been working for a boycott of goods from Burma in their campaign against the military rulers who seized power in 1990 after Nobel peace laureate Aung San Suu Kyi and her party, the National League for Democracy (NLD), swept the elections.

    Since then, the pro-democracy campaigners have upped their campaign against the junta by highlighting gross human rights abuse in the country. The abuses have been documented by most global human rights bodies, including the New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW).

    Among the crimes leveled against the junta were the rape of Shan ethnic minority women by military officers on the Burmese-Thailand border and the forcible recruitment of children into the army. HRW said that 70,000 soldiers in the Burmese army were between the ages of 11 and 17.

    "Burma has a poor human rights record, but its record on child soldiers is the worst in the world," said Jo Becker, advocacy director of HRW's children's rights division, in a report released last month.

    According to a June report by the Thailand based Shan Human Rights Foundation, 625 women were raped, mostly by members of the military, between 1996 and 2001. Some of the victims were allegedly as young as five years old.

    The military regime has denied the allegations of abuse. It has also eased political restrictions in recent months. The release in May of Suu Kyi, under house arrest for 19 months and in some form of detention for the last 12 years, was followed by that of 300 jailed opposition leaders.

    The pro-democracy campaigners, however, have not abandoned their demand for an economic boycott of Burma, arguing that conducting business in that country was tantamount to supporting its military dictatorship.

    Their focus is on the U.S. garment industry which heavily relies on clothes from Myanmar, thanks to cheap labor costs in the Asian nation. Wages for laborers there can be as low as 85 cents a day.

    The Coalition said that since 1995, apparel imports to the United States from Burma grew by 800 percent. The imports from Burma were worth about U.S. $ 500 million a year.

    BCUK has also launched a campaign against garment retailers in Britain who buy their clothes from Burma. In September, the group said that it had written to 100 top clothing retailers, asking them to stop purchasing from Burma. In May this year, Triumph - an international lingerie maker -- closed its factory in Burma in response to the campaign.

    BCUK has set a target of December 2003 for "cleaning" the United Kingdom of clothing purchased from Burma.

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    Opposition party calls for substantive dialogue and better education on National Day

    Rangoon (AP) - Burma's opposition National League for Democracy marked a key holiday Friday by renewing its call for meaningful political dialogue with the country's military rulers.

    The party's statement celebrating National Day the anniversary of a student strike against British colonial rule in 1920 also called for the unconditional release of political prisoners and reforms to improve the education system.

    The themes are familiar ones for the opposition and underlined how little progress has been made since party leader Aung San Suu Kyi began closed-door talks with the ruling junta in late 2000.

    Hopes for a breakthrough in resolving the country's political deadlock were heightened in May this year when Suu Kyi was freed from 19 months of house arrest, but since then there have been no substantive talks between the government and opposition.

    Burma has been under military rule since 1962. The military staged a general election in 1990, but refused to honor the results when Suu Kyi's NLD party won a landslide victory. Instead, it harassed and detained party members and other pro-democracy activists.

    "Only through a meaningful political dialogue could a peaceful change be guaranteed and the country's prevailing general difficulties be solved," said a five-page statement read out at a ceremony at the NLD's party headquarters.

    "As we have passed the confidence-building phase, it is time to start the process of a meaningful political dialogue," it said.

    The government's confidence-building steps have included allowing Suu Kyi freedom of movement and freeing hundreds of political prisoners. But about 1,000 more prisoners remain in detention.

    In a brief speech, Suu Kyi stressed the importance of better education standards.

    "A good education system is necessary for the long-term development of a country and we all are responsible to work for the improvement of education system," she said.

    National Day marks the anniversary of a student boycott of a British-imposed law that was seen as a deliberate move to limit higher education to a privileged few.

    The 1920 boycott rekindled the nationalist spirit of Myanmar then called Burma and helped propel the struggle that led to independence in 1948.

    To this day students are a potent symbol of resistance, and the military has sometimes shut down universities for extended periods to keep students from organizing.

    In his official National Day message, published in the state press, junta leader Senior Gen. Than Shwe said the government "has implemented education promotion programs designed to contribute to the prevalence of peace and tranquility and development of the nation."

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    Suu Kyi supporter arrested after making symbolic golden hat

    Rangoon, Nov 29 (AFP) - A supporter of opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi has been arrested in Burma after moulding a golden bamboo hat -- the symbol of the struggle for democracy, the National League for Democracy (NLD) said Friday.

    Ko Shwe Maung was arrested in early November in the north-central city of Mandalay before he could travel south to Rangoon to present the hat, called a "khamauk," to NLD leader Suu Kyi, party spokesman U Lwin said.

    A dissident group said he was sentenced to three years in prison.

    "We aren't sure exactly when he was arrested, but what I heard is that he was arrested" before he was set to present the golden khamauk to Aung San Suu Kyi on Friday, national day, U Lwin told AFP.

    According to the Norway-based Democratic Voice of Burma (DVB), Ko Shwe Maung was arrested November 7 and sentenced four days later to three years in prison.

    He was apparently one of a handful of NLD supporters responsible for moulding the hat -- a simple bamboo head covering that became a potent symbol during the pro-democracy student movement of the late 1980s and the election of 1990 won by the NLD in a landslide but ignored by the junta.

    "Ko Shwe Maung and his friends who are very keen on politics made it," the DVB quoted comedian Par Par Lay, who helped with the hat, which was decorated with fighting peacocks, another NLD symbol.

    U Lwin said the group had begun distributing free rice porridge to poor Mandalay children as an act of charity after they completed the khamauk, an event that drew hundreds of people.

    "The reason they charged him was that the charity movement was not acceptable to the authorities," U Lwin said, adding the NLD will seek to provide legal assistance during the appeal of Ko Shwe Maung, who is not an NLD member.

    The hat is currently being kept at the NLD's Mandalay office, U Lwin said, until an appropriate time to present it to Aung San Suu Kyi is determined.

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