Daily News- October 02- 2002- Wednesday

  • Australian FM meets Myanmar junta, scheduled to see Aung San Suu Kyi
  • Burma to have peace talks
  • Myanmar mobilises troops, clashes with ethnic insurgents
  • KNU to face complaint
  • An elected representative died
  • Japan hands 6.1 million dollars in grants to Myanmar
  • Australia's Downer says Burma junta wants reform


  • Australian FM meets Myanmar junta, scheduled to see Aung San Suu Kyi

    YANGON, Oct 2 (AFP/AP) - Downer, the first Australian foreign minister to visit Myanmar in nearly 20 years, was greeted at Yangon International Airport by officials led by Foreign Minister Win Aung.

    Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer met with top- ranking members of Myanmar's military junta and was due to see democracy campaigner Aung San Suu Kyi in efforts to nudge forward political reform, officials said.

    Downer, the first Australian minister to visit the isolated state in nearly 20 years, held talks Wednesday with General Khin Nyunt, the first secretary of the ruling State Peace and Development Council (SPDC), an Australian embassy official in Yangon said.According to an official schedule, the minister is to call on Myanmar's leader, Senior General Than Shwe, before attending a dinner hosted by Foreign Minister Win Aung.

    In the afternoon, Downer is due to travel to the lakeside home of Aung San Suu Kyi for talks with the 1991 Nobel peace laureate in a departure from original plans under which they were to meet on Thursday."Mr. Downer will be seeing Aung San Suu Kyi this afternoon," the embassy official told AFP. "I believe it will involve the usual discussions."

    An Australian government spokesman said Tuesday that Downer wanted to discuss the reconciliation process and the drafting of a constitution in the country also known as Burma.

    Downer said before leaving Australia that United Nations envoy to Myanmar Razali Ismail, who brokered a landmark dialogue between the junta and Aung San Suu Kyi in October 2000, had urged him to visit the country.

    "I hope that my visit can reinforce the special envoy's efforts," he said in a statement."My visit to Burma will enable me to obtain a first-hand impression of the current situation, including the humanitarian situation, and to register Australia's support for political reconciliation and greater respect for human rights," he said, using the country's former name.

    Aung San Suu Kyi's release in May from 19 months of house arrest raised hopes Myanmar's generals may be opening the country to democratic reform.At the time, Downer said there were "signs of progress in Burma of increasing moderation and compromise," and that Suu Kyi's gaining freedom was "a very important step forward."

    But after having completed an initial confidence-building stage before her release, the reconciliation process is now widely viewed as having stalled, failing to progress to a stage where it could address democratic reforms.

    Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy, which won an overwhelming election victory in 1990 that was never recognised by the military government, complained last week that there had not even been low-level discussions between the two sides since May.

    However, Win Aung insisted during a recent visit to Bangkok that the process was "on the right track". "There are people who are meeting with her. I am not the one who is meeting her, but they are our people," he said.

    Because of its refusal to consider political reforms, the international community has branded Myanmar a pariah nation and imposed heavy economic sanctions in a bid to force political change.But in contrast to the hardline policies of the United States and Britain, Australia has pursued a approach of engaging Myanmar, including initiatives like conducting a series of human rights workshops for civil servants.

    "The Government's 'limited engagement' policy, much criticised as a form of weakness by diehard critics, leaves a way open for the sort of dialogue that offers some hope of compromise and reconciliation," the Australian newspaper said in an editorial this week."After all, the isolation of Aung San Suu Kyi has been deleterious to progress, but so has the rejection of any dialogue with the generals."

    Downer is the latest in a series of high-profile visits to Myanmar in recent months, including Malaysian premier Mahathir Mohamad and Japanese Foreign Minister Yoriko Kawaguchi in August.

    On Thursday the minister is due to visit an Australian-funded charity project, the World Vision Street Children's Drop-in centre, before flying to Bangkok where he will brief the media on his Myanmar trip, officials said.

    Recently, Australia donated money to fight HIV /AIDS among intravenous drug users in Myanmar.

    The last Australian foreign minister to travel to Myanmar prior to Downer was Bill Hayden in 1983.

    Burma to have peace talks

    ABC Online, Australia -This is a transcript of PM broadcast at 1800 AEST on local radio-Monday, September 30, 2002

    MARK COLVIN: The Foreign Minister, Alexander Downer, is about to set off on a diplomatic assignment on behalf of the international community.At the urging of the United Nations, he's going to Burma to tell the Generals there, ever so gently, that it's time they held formal talks with the leader of the Opposition, Aung San Suu Kyi.Suu Kyi was released from house arrest in May, and frustration at the lack of progress on the future of the country is starting to show in the language of the opposition.

    Southeast Asia Correspondent, Peter Lloyd's been gauging the situation, for PM.

    [sounds of computers humming]

    PETER LLOYD: The gentle hum of a bank of computers inside a high security control room in the Burmese capital, Rangoon. The Generals who run the country with an iron fist have branched out into the Internet business, and this is the headquarters of an operation that plans to open a series of street front Internet cafes in the coming weeks.

    In a stark reminder that George Orwell's vision of the future has already arrived, ordinary Burmese will find it difficult to get full access to the World Wide Web.

    Ong I Too [phonetic] is the chief financial officer.

    ONG I TOO [phonetic]: They can not get into, let's say, free mail, like "Hotmail", or "Yahoo Mail". They can not get into anti-Government site, if there is a anti-Government site they will not be able to get access.

    [sounds of a street in Rangoon]

    PETER LLOYD: The absurdity of the General's IT enterprise is of no interest to ordinary Burmese, for whom daily life is becoming more and more difficult as the economy falters.

    B.K. SEN [phonetic]: Economic condition is very, very bad. For example, price of rice rise has shot up and there are long queues in Burma.

    PETER LLOYD: B.K. Sen is a Burmese lawyer who lives in exile in northern Thailand.

    B.K. SEN [phonetic]: So Aung San Suu Kyi is just urging the SPDC to come to a speedy settlement.

    PETER LLOYD: How significant is it that the NLD is now saying that they will work with the military in future?

    B.K. SEN [phonetic]: Yes, very significant.

    PETER LLOYD: Why?

    B.K. SEN [phonetic]: Because we are not going for peoples' power struggle or any violent struggle and instability of the country, you see, because that will bring the country back to the civil war, which is not very fair upon the country.

    PETER LLOYD: Does that mean that it's possible that Aung San Suu Kyi would in fact become a Minister in a shared Government?

    B.K. SEN [phonetic]: Yes, but that power sharing, I think it is not what Aung San Suu Kyi is demanding now. She's not demanding power sharing. All that she wants is freedom of speech, freedom of movement, freedom of political parties, relieve the politicalness. You see, unless an environment is created, you see, we can never solve any problem, we can not discuss, we can not talk, you see. So she is not asking for power sharing at the moment.

    PETER LLOYD: How long can the NLD last with those type of concessions? When will they demand a free and fair example?

    B.K. SEN [phonetic]: You see, I think the present situation is depending on the international community's pressure.

    PETER LLOYD: How genuine do you think these Generals are in their commitment to a dialogue and to eventual power sharing?

    B.K. SEN [phonetic]: It'll take long, that's my view, it'll take some time and mostly I don't think, what you call, internal pressure, or domestic pressure can do much at this stage. And international pressure, the international community attention is much diverted now on the issue of Afghanistan and Iraq and Israel, Palestine issues, you see, so that is to our disadvantage.

    MARK COLVIN: The Burmese lawyer, B.K. Sen, speaking to Peter Lloyd.

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    Myanmar mobilises troops, clashes with ethnic insurgents

    CHIANG MAI, Thailand, Oct 1 (AFP) - Myanmar's ruling military has mobilised troops into mountainous ethnic areas in recent weeks as it launches dry-season operations against minority insurgents, rebel groups said Tuesday.

    Yangon's soldiers carried out at least three attacks on positions held by the Karenni National Liberation Army (KNLA) last week, injuring dozens of people, a spokesperson for the Karen National Union (KNU) said.

    The clashes, which took place in the Kyar-Inn Seik Kyee and Kawkareik districts of southern Kayin state, "are pre-attacks for major dry-season military operations," the KNU's Mahn Nyein Maung told AFP."Myanmar's military rulers have been sending more troops to our region. They might have plans to pound against ethnic minorities who have refused to sign ceasefire agreements with Yangon," he added.

    Ethnic insurgencies have plagued border areas since Myanmar gained independence from Britain in 1948. By the end of the 1990s, the junta had signed cease-fire accords with 17 ethnic groups, but some rebel armies including the KNU and KNLA continue to fight Yangon's rule.Myanmar's State Peace and Development Council (SPDC) routinely launches operations into ethnic territories at the beginning of eastern Myanmar's dry season in efforts to pressure minority groups into signing ceasefire agreements.

    On Sunday night, the Thai village of Ban Mae Kokine was bombarded by shells launched in clashes between the KNU and the Democratic Karen Buddhist Army (DKBA), which is aligned with Yangon, Thai defence officials said.

    "Usually when the Burmese and Karen fight, the Burmese soldiers open fire on the Thai side," the KNU's Mahn Nyein Maung said, adding that this was designed to create misunderstandings between Thai authorities and ethnic groups.

    Another leading armed ethnic rebel group, the Shan State Army (SSA), said it had been engaged in almost daily clashes with SPDC troops in recent weeks.At least two SPDC soldiers were killed and two others wounded in a firefight with the SSA September 24 near Namsan town in northern Shan state, the group's spokeswoman Nang Khur Hsen said from a mountain base near the Thai border.

    She also said the group's informants reported that SPDC troops on September 22 executed 10 villagers, including seven men aged between 50-80, whom they had suspected of having links with the SSA.The apparent killings took place near Kho Lan village in southern Shan state's Nam Sarng township, she said."We had no contact with these people. They are old, and far from these bases," Nang Khur Hsen said.The deaths could not be independently verified.

    Tensions between Yangon and the Shan have been running high since the release of a July report by two Thai-based Shan rights organisations which detailed the rapes of 625 girls and women in the state, prompting outrage in Washington.

    KNU to face complaint

    Supamart Kasem
    The Bangkokpost

    Local leaders will complain to the Karen National Union about stray shells landing on Thai soil during weekend fighting with Burmese forces.Narong Huaypad, kamnan of tambon Mahawan, said they would take that matter up with KNU defence minister Gen Bo Mya today.

    Five shells landed on the Thai side of the border during fighting. One villager was injured and two houses and a pick-up truck damaged.Mr Narong said border community villagers' lives were put at risk.

    KNU fighters attacked the Burmese army's 210th light infantry battalion and the pro-Rangoon Democratic Karen Buddhist Army's 907th division at Min Lat Pan village, along the Moei river, opposite Mae Konkaen village on Sunday. The two sides exchanged gun fire for more than 30 minutes before the KNU retreated.

    The 13th Infantry Regiment Task Force said no Thai military units were involved in Sunday's fighting.

    KNU secretary-general Pado Mahn Shar Lapan said his men had been told to avoid firing into Thailand. He also denied his troops had launched the attack from Thai soil.

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    An elected representative died

    Source: Democratic Voice of Burma, Oslo, in Burmese 1430 gmt 1 Oct 02

    Naing Khin Maung, 69, elected representative (MP) for Kyaikmayaw Township constituency - 2 in Mon State died of heart attack on September 29.

    The deceased was hospitalized at Asia-Taw Win Hospital on September 22, and passed away a week later after suffering from heart attack. Representatives from political parties, ethnic representatives and his acquaintances attended the funeral that was held this afternoon at 1:00 PM at Htein Pin cemetery in Hlaing Thar Yar, Rangoon.

    Naing Khin Maung, an engineer, was a Central Exclusive Committee member of Mon National Democratic Front (MNDF) that won 5 seats in 1990 election and was dissolved in 1992.

    He also served as a Presidium member of United Nationalities League for Democracy (UNLD) and one of the leaders of United Nationalities Alliance (UNA). 50 Members of Parliament (MP) have been died since 1990 including 3 MPs who died in prison and 2 MPs who were assassinated in exile.

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    Japan hands 6.1 million dollars in grants to Myanmar

    BANGKOK, Oct 1 (AFP) - Japan announced Tuesday it had inked two grants to military-ruled Myanmar worth 746 million yen (6.1 million dollars) for an anti-desertification programme and scholarships for students.

    Japanese ambassador to Myanmar Yuji Miyamoto signed and exchanged notes for the two grants on Monday with Myanmar's minister for national planning and economic development, the Japan Information Service (JIS) in Bangkok said.

    Some 480 million yen will be provided for a project to plant trees in Myanmar's dry belt aimed at stopping productive land turning into desert, the JIS said.

    A further 266 million yen is to be spent on providing Myanmar nationals with scholarships to obtain masters degrees in Japan across various fields, a separate statement said.

    "The Japanese government hopes that these scholars will serve Myanmar with their acquired knowledge, thus contributing to the further development of Myanmar," it said.Both grants fall under Tokyo's official development assistance (ODA) grant aid programme, it added.

    In August, Japan said it was ready to increase aid to Myanmar once the ruling junta and the democratic opposition struck a deal on how to receive the assistance.The comments were made after the country's democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi told visiting Japanese Foreign Minister Yoriko Kawaguchi that she would no longer oppose foreign aid provided it fell within strict guidelines.

    Aung San Suu Kyi has been a staunch supporter of heavy sanctions introduced following the brutal repression of 1988 pro-democracy protests and 1990 elections won by the National League for Democracy which the junta refused to recognise.

    Under the sanctions led by the United States and the European Union, which have crippled the Myanmar economy, all but a small amount of humanitarian aid is banned.

    In July, Japan reportedly said that its overseas aid agency expected to spend more than 21 million dollars in Myanmar during the current financial year, the same amount as the previous 12 months.Japan is the biggest creditor nation and aid donor to Myanmar. It suspended all but a small amount of humanitarian aid in the aftermath of the 1988 military takeover, but the flow of funds resumed in 1994.Its aid-for-reform strategy has been criticised in the West, notably by the United States.

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    Australia's Downer says Burma junta wants reform

    Source : MSNBC / Reuters

    Rangoon, Oct. 2 Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer said on Wednesday Burma's ruling generals had told him they were committed to greater democracy for the impoverished country but gave him no timetable for reform.

    Downer, the most senior Western politician to visit in two decades, met the junta's three top leaders and opposition National League for Democracy (NLD) chief Aung San Suu Kyi in Rangoon on Wednesday.

    He said he told leaders of the ruling State Peace and Development Council (SPDC) that political reform was key to resurrecting the country's crumbling economy, which has been brought to its knees by years of neglect and international sanctions.

    ''We would like to see genuine dialogue between the SPDC and the NLD and we'd like to see that progress very soon,'' he told reporters at a news conference.

    But asked when talks between Suu Kyi and the generals might begin, he said: ''I have absolutely no idea.''

    ''They told me they were committed to greater democracy and the lesser rule of the military. They didn't give me any timetable.''

    Downer arrived in Burma on Wednesday morning and his two-day trip is being billed as a fact-finding mission by Australia, which has long taken a more conciliatory approach to Burma than many other Western countries.

    The United States and European Union have imposed economic and military sanctions on the junta over its human rights record and refusal to relinquish power to the NLD, which won 1990 elections but has never been allowed to govern.

    Burma's opposition has welcomed Downer's visit as an attempt to open dialogue with the military that has ruled the country for four decades.

    But the opposition is increasingly doubtful the ruling generals have any intention to move towards democracy and relinquish power, despite their repeated claims to the contrary.

    SUU KYI SCEPTICAL

    That scepticism is shared by diplomats and analysts.

    ''I see no signs the military is considering giving up control of the country,'' said journalist Bertil Lintner, the author of several books onBurma's history and politics.

    Downer, whose visit is the first by an Australian minister to the Southeast Asian nation since 1983, said Suu Kyi expressed scepticism that Australian aid-funded workshops teaching human rights to government officials would produce results.

    Hopes for change were raised in May when Nobel Peace laureate Suu Kyi was released from 19 months of house arrest.

    Suu Kyi's release was brokered by United Nations special envoy Razali Ismail, who has said that meaningful talks on the country's political future could begin soon.

    But although the military and Suu Kyi have been holding sporadic meetings since October 2000, they have yet to start discussing substantive political issues, and since Suu Kyi's release the talks have stopped.

    Even a visit by Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, who is reported to have close personal ties with some members of the ruling military, failed to produce a breakthrough.

    Diplomats say junta leader Than Shwe opposes any move towards democracy now and believes Burma can engage the outside world without committing itself to reform.

    Than Shwe appears to be firmly in control of the country following a trial of members of the family of former dictator Ne Win, which ended last week with death sentences for all four accused on charges of masterminding an attempted coup.

    On Thursday, Downer leaves Burma for a half-day visit to Bangkok before heading to Indonesia and Malaysia.

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