Daily News- October 15- 2002- Tuesday

  • Border trade to restart with bang
  • Britain to help Myanmar fight HIV/AIDS
  • UN urged to prepare for work in Myanmar
  • UN watchdog urges Myanmar to speed rights reforms
  • Thailand, Myanmar open border checkpoints after five-month closure
  • Hosts win but gutsy Myanmar runner wins hearts

  • Border trade to restart with bang

    Supamart Kasem- Theerawat Khamthita

    Burmese importers have placed orders worth tens of millions of baht in preparation for the reopening of the border with Thailand today. Banpot Korkiatcharoen, vice-president of the Tak Chamber of Commerce, said Burma was badly in need of consumer goods.

    Rangoon closed its border with Thailand in May. Mr Banpot said closing the border had done nothing to solve problems between the countries but instead created hardship for border villagers and sowed greater distrust.

    The kyat, Burma's currency, was worth about 0.42 baht on Sunday, up from 0.34-0.35 baht days ago.

    Chamber president Chawapan Chawacharoenpan believed the checkpoints would stay open for good this time. But Samruay Patan, owner of a pier on the Moei river, said the border could be closed again because several problems remained unresolved.

    Mr Samruay said Burma could again resort to accusing Thailand of aiding minority rebels, in the event the Karen National Union or other forces attacked Burmese troops, just as it did to justify closing the border in May.

    In Chiang Rai, governor Rungrit Makarapong said Burma was expected to open its Tachilek checkpoint opposite Mae Sai district today. Mr Rungrit said the provincial administration and police were looking forward to working with Burma again to fight drugs. Sermchai Kittirattanapaibun, president of the Chiang Rai Chamber of Commerce, said local businesses had lost three billion baht since May. Mae Sai residents hoped tourists would return and that the checkpoint would stay open this time.

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    Britain to help Myanmar fight HIV/AIDS

    YANGON, Oct 14, 2002 (Xinhua via COMTEX) -- Britain has decided to help Myanmar fight HIV/AIDS with some related projects planned for the next three years, local newspaper Myanmar Times reported Monday.

    An aid of 15 million US dollars would be extended through United Nations agencies for use in the planned projects under the UN-Myanmar Joint Action Plan on the disease, the British embassy in Yangon was quoted as saying.Meanwhile, the World Food Program is also working out a 4.7- million-dollar project next year involving a program to feed AIDS- infected orphans..

    At present, under Myanmar's National AIDS Program, a 1.7- million-dollar project to promote 100-percent condom use in 10 townships in the country is also being funded by the UN Population Fund..

    According to the UN AIDS agency in Myanmar, the country needs 34 million dollars for the planned projects in the current fiscal year, of which about one third had been extended..

    HIV/AIDS is recognized as one of the three priority communicable diseases inMyanmar. The other two are malaria and tuberculosis.According to the World Health Organization, 3,817 AIDS cases were reported and 510,000 HIV infections estimated in Myanmar by the end of 2000 with 760 cases per 100,000 people..

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    UN urged to prepare for work in Myanmar

    UNITED NATIONS, Oct 14 (AFP) - The UN special rapporteur for human rights in Myanmar urged the United Nations on Monday to get ready to help with the transition to democracy in a country that was treated for years as a pariah.

    In a report to the UN General Assembly, rapporteur Paulo Sergio Pinheiro said "the present delicate situation... needs to be handled with great care and generosity on the part of those who wish the people of Myanmar well."

    It was "essential to discourage international public opinion" from accepting a simplistic good-and-bad explanation of events in Myanmar, he said.

    Pinheiro noted "the recent mellowing on the political front" since the release by the military junta on May 6 of opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi after 19 months of house arrest.But more fundamental reforms were needed, notably to give people access to justice, he said.

    The international community should start thinking about how it could help in such ways as reviewing prison conditions, examining national laws and training police and judicial officials, he said.

    The United Nations "should begin assessing the priorities for its engagement, including through the involvement of the executive boards of some of its agencies, funds and programmes," he said.

    Pinheiro, who last visited the country in February, said he was "not in a position to accept statements made by government sources in May 2002 that there were no more political prisoners in Myanmar."

    The report was dated August 9 and transmitted to the General Assembly on Monday by UN Secretary General Kofi Annan.On Thursday, the junta said it had freed 31 political prisoners, including seven pro-democracy opposition members, in one of the largest of a series of releases announced over the past two years.

    Pinheiro said he had written to the authorities in March, giving the names of 104 political detainees who should be immediately released.They included 19 elected members of parliament, 22 people who had been arrested for communicating with the UN about human rights, and 33 people who had been held after serving their sentences in full.

    The release of all political prisoners was one of four fundamental conditions for a credible, democratic transition, he said.

    The others were: including all components of society in a political dialogue; lifting restrictions on political parties and rebel groups that had signed a ceasefire with the government; and the holding of free elections.

    UN human rights rapporteur to visit Myanmar this week

    UNITED NATIONS, Oct 14 (AFP) - The United Nations special rapporteur for human rights in Myanmar, Paulo Sergio Pinheiro, will start his third visit to that country this week, a UN spokeswoman said Monday.

    Spokeswoman Hua Jiang said Pinheiro would arrive in Yangon on Thursday, five days later than originally scheduled. She did not say how long he was expected to stay in Myanmar.

    Pinheiro visited Myanmar from February 11 to 19 and met officials including General Khin Nyunt, leader of the ruling junta. He also had meetings with opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, who was released from 19 months of house arrest on May 6.

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    UN watchdog urges Myanmar to speed rights reforms

    By Irwin Arieff

    UNITED NATIONS, Oct 14 (Reuters) - Myanmar remains the target of many credible allegations of human rights violations despite recent moves toward democracy, a U.N. watchdog reported on Monday, urging a faster pace of reforms for the Southeast Asian nation formerly known as Burma.

    Numerous political prisoners remain in custody, national laws often conflict with international human rights principles and courts judge individuals accused of political crimes with "a high degree of arbitrariness," said Paulo Sergio Pinheiro, a special investigator for the U.N. Commission on Human Rights.

    In a report to the 191-nation U.N. General Assembly, he said there was evidence that arrests of political prisoners were diminishing, and that the government was trying to root out and discipline officials who tortured such prisoners.

    He said he was shown documentary evidence that 3,646 police officers had been tried and imprisoned over the past seven years for abuse of power or misconduct including torture.Thousands of others have been been dismissed, demoted or otherwise punished, he said.

    But "restrictions on the freedom of information, expression and the press have yet to be fully lifted and the remaining political prisoners have yet to be released," Pinheiro said."In that context, the issue of reform of the system of administration of justice is crucial," he added.

    After four decades of military rule, Myanmar is one of the poorest nations on earth, its economy in tatters and its human rights record one of the world's worst.Diplomats say the country suffers from chronic bad management, and sanctions imposed by countries including the United States and the European Union have also taken a heavy toll.


    With encouragement from the United Nations, secretive reconciliation talks began in late 2000 between Myanmar's military and the National League for Democracy, the political party of 56- year-old democracy leader and Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi.Under international pressure, the government freed Suu Kyi from 19 months of house arrest last May.But the talks have so far yielded few concrete results beyond the release of Suu Kyi and several hundred other party members from various jails.

    Pinheiro said reports of rights violations in Myanmar were particularly prevalent in Shan and Karan states, where the military is conducting counterinsurgency operations and armed opposition groups are suspected of operating from bases along the border with Thailand.

    There, rural populations are forcibly relocated from suspected rebel areas to zones under army control.Villagers are given only a few hours or days to pack up their things and have to start their lives from scratch once relocated, without outside help or compensation, he said.

    "They are prohibited from returning to their villages and if caught, are shot on sight," he said.

    His report said the United Nations and the international community needed to help ease Myanmar along the path to substantive political and constitutional reform.

    As for Myanmar itself, its society "is at the threshold of great changes and is becoming more sensitive to the moral and practical need to move at a faster pace than heretofore towards a democratic, tolerant and peaceful future," he said.

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    Thailand, Myanmar open border checkpoints after five-month closure

    MAE SOT, Thailand, Oct 15 (AFP) - Thailand and Myanmar on Tuesday opened border checkpoints which were closed five months ago when fighting involving ethnic militias sparked a bitter diplomatic row.

    Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra told reporters the three main crossings, which serve as vital arteries for trade between the neighbours, were opened in the early morning and the situation in the region was calm.The premier said the move, which was agreed on during several high-level meetings between Myanmar and Thai officials, would improve bilateral ties and boost local economies."The opening of the checkpoint will boost relations for people on the border," he told reporters.

    The closure of the three main checkpoints -- Tachilek-Mae Sai, Myawaddy-Mae Sot and Kawthaung-Ranong -- has cost Thai traders more than a billion baht (22. 8 million dollars), according to estimates in the local press.Myanmar ordered the move in May after deadly clashes erupted between government troops and ethnic Shan rebels, which Yangon accused Thailand of assisting.

    Chaing Rai Governor Rungrit Makarapong, who presided over the opening ceremony at Mae Sai, told reporters the political climate between the two nations was positive."With things off to a good start, the relationship should be long-lasting," he said. "Tourism will also be boosted as visitors come to the province for the cool winter months."

    Soon after dawn in Mae Sot, some 15 Myanmar army officers moved wire barricades which had been rolled out to block the Thailand-Myanmar Friendship Bridge which links the Thai town with the twin settlement of Myawaddy.Crowds of people waiting to cross, including a procession of monks and vendors anxious to resume their business, then headed over in both directions.

    However, Myanmar traders remain worried that the continuing instability of the kyat currency, as well as perennially rocky bilateral ties, may hinder trade even though the border gates have been unlocked.The kyat has plummetted dramatically since the border closed, trading at around 1,260 against the dollar on the blackmarket last week compared to 860 beforehand.Traders also remain concerned that when the next diplomatic scuffle breaks out between the argumentative neighbours, Yangon could again slam shut the checkpoints.

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    Hosts win but gutsy Myanmar runner wins hearts

    The Star (Asia)

    SOUTH Korea’s Lee Bong-ju comfortably won the Asian Games men’s marathon here Monday, but the gutsy performance of a totally exhausted Myanmar runner Zaw Min Htwe stole the show.

    Bong-ju, forced to change tactics because of the slow pace, finished the closing track and field event in a modest 2’14:04, continuing South Korea’s dominance of the race. But the home crowd, accused of being too partisan at times, saved their loudest cheer for Zaw Min Htwe who was drained of every ounce of energy as he staggered, and at times fell and crawled over the final 400m.

    Zaw Min Htwe, who had long lost his shoes and finished barefoot in the ultimate endurance race, collapsed across the line in 13th place, 27 minutes behind Lee. Unable to move any further, he was taken from the track on a stretcher as the applause for his brave effort continued.

    Bong-ju’s performance in the marathon, the closing track and field event at the Games, won’t go down as a great race, although he finished almost four minutes ahead of Japan’s Koji Shimizu with another Japanese, Ryuji Takei, in third. The 2001 Boston marathon runner is no stranger to running a sub-2:10:00 race but in the heat, and on the hilly circuit of Busan, he was not called upon to produce a better effort.

    “Before the 20km mark the race was pretty slow,” Bong-ju explained on why he put in a burner 10km earlier than expected. "I was confident I would win and I still felt strong at the finish, he said. AFP

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