Daily News- October 08- 2002- Tuesday

  • A Q&A with James Mawdsley, author of The Iron Road
  • Thailand, Myanmar agree on reopening of border next week
  • Myanmar, Others Repress Religion
  • Myanmar junta maintains tight grip on religious activity

  • A Q&A with James Mawdsley, author of The Iron Road

    TIME MAGAZINE -October 14, 2002 / VOL. 160 NO. 14

    James Mawdsley was imprisoned in Burma twice for his protests against the junta, and now works in London for the Metta Trust for Children's Education. He spoke with TIME:

    TIME: How different was your prison experience from that of an ordinary Burmese political prisoner?

    Mawdsley: Burmese prisoners are treated far worse than I was. If I was getting a little food, I knew others were getting less. If I was being denied exercise, or visits, or medicine, I knew others were getting less. If I was being beaten up, I knew others were treated still more savagely.

    TIME: How were your actions in Burma linked to your Christian faith?

    Mawdsley: All of us, regardless of faith, are called to seek, promote and defend truth. But for me personally, I would not have lasted a day in prison and I would not have come out of it alive, if it were not for the love that God poured into me while I was there.

    TIME: What do you think about the developments in Burma since your last release?

    Mawdsley: Aung San Suu Kyi's release is Burma's biggest step to freedom since the 1990 election. The kyat gained about a third of its value immediately following her release. But it has slid back since then, as the generals are too afraid to take the next step. They do not need to be afraid of Suu Kyi or of the NLD (National League for Democracy). Transition is inevitable. The regime should be doing everything it can to establish good relations with the NID who will be their best protection when change comes.

    TIME: In your book you wrote that you keep going to Burma because there "I am a better man." Do you feel this is still true?

    Mawdsley: In 1997, 1998 and 1999, I felt compelled to visit prisons in Burma so that I could learn about the situation there. Now I think I should try to use on the outside what I learned on the inside. It is hard, but I don't care about being a "better man." I just care about being effective. Maybe I should care; the two are connected.

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    Thailand, Myanmar agree on reopening of border next week

    BANGKOK, Thailand - Myanmar has agreed to reopen its border with Thailand on Oct. 15, ending a bitter five-month political standoff, a senior Thai foreign ministry official said Monday.Tej Bunnag, the ministry's permanent secretary, announced the news to reporters on his return from a one-day trip to Myanmar.

    State television in Myanmar also reported the agreement Monday night following talks that Tej the ministry's highest-ranking civil servant held with Myanmar Deputy Foreign Minister Khin Maung Win.

    The border was closed by Myanmar's ruling military in May after it accused the Thai military of aiding ethnic guerrilla attacks against Myanmar territory. The land border accounts for a huge amount of trade between the two countries, and Thai merchants had been suffering heavy losses from its closure.Myanmar's military junta accused the Thai army of firing shells in support of attacks by Shan ethnic rebels on several small outposts on May 20. Thailand claimed it only fired warning shots when the fighting spilled into its territory.In addition to closing the border, the Myanmar government banned the import of Thai goods, prohibited most visits by Thai officials and published a barrage of anti-Thai propaganda in its state-owned media.After rebuffing several attempts by Thailand to mend relations and have the border reopened, Myanmar Foreign Minister Win Aung said in a visit to Thailand last month that the border would be reopened "in a few weeks."

    Tej said pending issues had been resolved and expressed optimism that future disagreements would be solved jointly.He also said that the border checkpoint at Mae Sot, in the northern Thai province of Tak, would be temporarily opened Tuesday to allow Myanmar goods to be shipped to a trade fair in Bangkok.

    Myanmar state television said Tej's meeting with Deputy Foreign Minister Khin Maung Win, "reaffirmed the determination of both sides to transform the common border between the two countries to one of peace and harmony and prosperity and to cooperate in ensuring peace and stability."

    It also mentioned that the two sides had agreed to cooperate in the suppression of crossborder drug trafficking , a major Thai concern. Thai and independent drug experts say hundreds of millions of illegal methamphetamine tablets are produced by ethnic minority groups and smuggled into Thailand. Trafficking and abuse of the illegal stimulant is considered such a severe social problem as to be a threat to Thailand's national security, and the Thai army has been deployed along the border to stop it.

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    Myanmar, Others Repress Religion

    Guardian, UK

    WASHINGTON (AP) - China and five other countries engage in widespread repression of religion, seeing religious worship as a threat to the dominant ideology, a new State Department report says.The department's 2002 report on international religious freedom, released Monday, puts Myanmar, Cuba, Laos, North Korea and Vietnam in the same category as China.It acknowledged that repression of religion exists in a number of other countries.

    In China, the report says, ``Unapproved religious and spiritual groups remained under scrutiny and, in some cases, harsh repression.''It said the government continued to restrict religious practice to government-sanctioned organizations and registered places of worship.The government also continued to control the ``growth and scope of the activity of religious groups to prevent the rise of possible sources of authority outside of the control of the government,'' the report said.

    The State Department has been issuing reports on religious freedom annually since 1999, as required by Congress.

    Releasing the report, Secretary of State Colin Powell said the study sheds a much-needed light on governments that make it ``difficult and even dangerous for people to follow the dictates of their conscience and to practice their faith.''The United States, he said, ``categorically reject the notion that the security or stability of any country requires the repression of members of any faith.''

    The report's findings on the other five countries, in addition to China, considered to be major violators:

    -Myanmar: The government continued to view religious freedom in the context of threats to national unity.

    -Cuba: Citizens worshipping in officially sanctioned churches often were subject to surveillance by state security forces.

    -Laos: The government inhibited religious practice by all persons, especially those belonging to minority religions, particularly Christianity, that fall outside of the mainstream Buddhism.

    -North Korea: Religious freedom and human rights groups in general that outside the country provided numerous reports that members of underground churches have been beaten, arrested, or killed.

    -Vietnam: There were credible reports that in past years Hmong Protestant Christians in several northwestern villages were forced by local authorities to recant their faith.

    The report listed Iran, Iraq, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan as countries which are hostile to certain minority religions.

    The report credited only Afghanistan with making a significant improvement in the area of religious freedom over the past year.This, it said, was brought about by the fall of the Taliban and the subsequent establishment of an interim government.``The ultra-conservative, Islamic state system created by the Taliban collapsed following the onset of Operation Enduring Freedom in October 2001,'' the report said.``In its place, an interim governing body now administers a far more tolerant regime.'' the report added.

    Myanmar junta maintains tight grip on religious activity

    WASHINGTON, Oct 8 (AFP) - Myanmar's ruling junta maintains a tight grip on religious activity, fearful of the Buddhist clergy's support of democracy while discriminating against Muslims and Christians, the United States said.

    In its annual report on religious freedom worldwide released Monday, the US State Department gave a generally positive picture on neighbouring Thailand, saying its citizens were free to practice their faiths.

    The survey said that despite the right to religious freedom enshrined in Myanmar's constitution, successive military regimes over the past four decades have routinely imposed restrictions on religious activities.

    "It systematically has restricted efforts by Buddhist clergy to promote human rights and political freedom... and in some ethnic minority areas, has coercively promoted Buddhism over other religions," it said.

    "Through its pervasive internal security apparatus, the government generally infiltrated or monitored the meetings and activities of virtually all organizations, including religious organizations."

    While a sharp increase in violence against the Muslim minority reported in 2001 had abated, there were accounts that restrictions on Muslim travel and worship countrywide had increased, it said.

    "The government continued to discriminate against members of minority religions, restricting the educational, proselytizing, and building activities of minority religious groups."

    Ethnic minority groups including the Karen and the Kachin, who are predominantly Christian, were particular targets.

    The report said the junta continued to control and restrict the activities of the Buddhist clergy, and added that more than 100 monks were imprisoned during the 1990s for supporting democracy and human rights.

    "Since the early 1990s, the government increasingly has made special efforts to link itself with Buddhism as a means of boosting its own legitimacy," it said.

    In Thailand, the State Department report said the government generally respected the right to freedom of religion in the Buddhist majority nation, which has a five-10 percent Muslim minority.However, it raised alarm over a January 2002 immigration "blacklist" which included the names of at least 10 Falungong practitioners, all believed to be overseas residents arrested elsewhere for Falungong-related activities.

    "The government gave no reason for its decision to place these names on the list, and has refused to release information about the individuals placed on the list."

    In February 2001, it added, Thai Falungong members voluntarily decided not to proceed with plans to organize an international meeting in Bangkok, in part because of the government's opposition to such a meeting."There were reports that the government of China had exerted significant economic pressure on the government in connection with this issue," it said.Beijing has outlawed the spiritual movement as an "evil cult."

    Cambodia was given the all-clear on the religious rights front, however government officials were cited as saying they were concerned foreign groups used the guise of religion to become involved in illegal or political affairs.

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