Daily News- October 16- 2002- Wednesday

  • Myanmar recruits world's largest number of boy soldiers
  • Bomb blast rocks Thai-Myanmar border checkpoint
  • U.N. envoy visits Myanmar as rights criticism grows
  • Myanmar welcomes visit by U.N. official to probe rape allegations
  • Myanmar military jets crash, 2 pilots killed
  • Myanmar makes efforts to improve rural water supply
  • Five-month border closure cost exporters B1.8bn

  • Myanmar recruits world's largest number of boy soldiers

    BANGKOK, Thailand (AP), Oct. 15 - Children are being snatched off the streets of Myanmar and forced to fight and commit atrocities in an army with the world's largest number of boy soldiers, according to human rights investigators.

    A report released Tuesday by Human Rights Watch claims that as many as 70,000 soldiers in Myanmar's national army were under 18, with the vast majority forcibly conscripted.

    Myanmar, also known as Burma, fields an army of some 350,000 to fight a variety of ethnic minority groups that also reportedly recruit boys into their ranks.

    ''To be a boy in Burma today means facing the constant risk of being picked up off the street, forced to commit atrocities against villagers, and never seeing your family again,'' the New York group said in the report. Myanmar denied the allegations.

    ''The government finds it very difficult to understand on what basis it is making such claims, saying that 20 percent of the national army is made up of underage children,'' it said in a statement.

    The human rights group said the report drew on interviews with current and former child soldiers to examine recruitment by the army and 19 opposition groups.

    The report said recruiters for the army apprehend boys at bus and train stations, markets and other public places, threatening them with jail if they refuse to join. Recruits are allegedly sent to camps where they undergo weapons training, are routinely beaten and brutally punished or killed if they attempt to escape.

    Boys as young as 12 are sent into combat and forced to commit abuses against civilians, rounding up villagers for forced labor, burning villages and carrying out executions, according to Human Rights Watch. The report quotes one 14-year-old boy who said the army conscripted his 11-year-old friend, who was beaten by guards for crying because he didn't get enough food.

    Another boy soldier described how his unit rounded up 15 women and children, shooting the mothers and beating babies to death against rocks. He was 13 at the time, the report said.

    Children are also found in the ranks of rebel groups, some of which have long been fighting for greater autonomy from the central government.

    The United Wa State Army, known for involvement in drug trafficking, has the largest number of boy soldiers while the Kachin Independence Army also recruits girls, the report found. Youngsters are also enlisted in forces of the Karen, Shan and Karenni rebels, although the three have official policies against recruiting anyone under 18.

    One rebel group, the Karen National Union, says it takes in orphans but denies using child soldiers in combat. ''We don't give them military training. Our policy is not to let the children soldiers fight,'' Mahnshar Laphan, the group's general secretary, said in an interview.

    In early 2001, two 12-year-old twins, Luther and Johnny Htu, sought refuge in Thailand after leading a rebel band of Karens known as God's Army.

    Myanmar leads the world in the number of boy soldiers because the army has difficulty finding adult recruits and desertion rates are high in a force that has doubled since 1988, said Jo Becker, the children's rights advocacy director for Human Rights Watch.

    The Coalition to Stop the Use of Child Soldiers last year estimated that more than 300,000 children were fighting as soldiers in 41 countries. The London-based coalition said the children, about 120,000 of them in African armies, were used as front-line fighters, minesweepers, spies, porters and sex slaves. International law prohibits recruiting children under the age of 15, while several United Nations conventions condemn the practice of having anyone under 18 serve as a soldier.

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    Bomb blast rocks Thai-Myanmar border checkpoint

    MAE SOT, Thailand, Oct 16 (AFP) - A border checkpoint between Thailand and Myanmar was rocked by a bomb blast Wednesday and another device was found undetonated, a day after the crossing was reopened, officials said.

    The small bomb went off near a pier controlled by the Democratic Karen Buddhist Army (DKBA), a militia group aligned with the Myanmar army which has been linked with illegal smuggling during the five-month border closure.

    Myanmar slammed the border checkpoints shut in May after bloody clashes between its troops and another ethnic militia. They were reopened on Tuesday after intensive diplomacy between the neighbours defused the row.

    Border patrol police officials said the explosion occurred soon after dawn on the Myanmar side of the River Moei, which separates the town of Myawaddy with the Thai settlement of Mae Sot.There were no reports of injury but a a truck loaded with consumer products was partly damaged. A second device fitted with a timer was located nearby and safely defused by the Myanmar army.

    There were no indications yet as to who was responsible for the bombs, or another explosion Tuesday morning at a market in Myawaddy province, some 2.5 kilometres (1.5 miles) from the Thai border. No one was injured in the blast.

    Thai immigration officer Colonel Rachata Seubsaian said the explosion would not affect relations with Myanmar, which were severely bruised by the five-month border closure."This will have no affect because the incident did not happen in Thailand," he said. "Thai and foreign tourists will remain safe."

    Police in Mae Sot said they had already stepped up security after the weekend blasts in the Indonesian resort of Bali, in line with a plan to increase precuations at all Thai tourist sites."We increased security checks since the blast in Bali but we don't believe anything will happen here because few foreign tourists come to Mae Sot," said Police Colonel Songkran Sangkorn.

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    U.N. envoy visits Myanmar as rights criticism grows

    YANGON, Oct 16 (Reuters) - A United Nations human rights envoy arrives in Myanmar on Thursday for a 10-day visit the country's ruling generals hope will silence mounting criticism of their human rights record and ease their international isolation.

    The Myanmar government said on Wednesday it had invited Brazilian academic Paulo Sergio Pinheiro to make his fourth visit to the country in a bid to dispel allegations its troops used rape as a weapon of war against ethnic minority girls and women.

    "The government welcomes Professor Pinheiro's independent review of the situation, and we will cooperate fully with him, so that he may report on these outrageous allegations of human rights abuses in Shan State," Myanmar government spokesman Colonel Hla Min said in a statement faxed to Reuters.

    The invitation to Pinheiro follows criticism by Washington and a report from two minority rights groups saying Myanmar troops had raped at least 625 girls and women between 1996 and 2001 in Shan state in the east of the country.

    On Wednesday, pressure group Human Rights Watch accused the Myanmar military of widespread use of force to recruit an estimated 70,000 child soldiers. It said many of them had been forced to commit atrocities against ethnic minority civilians.

    Analysts are sceptical Pinheiro will see an accurate picture of the human rights situation during his trip to Myanmar, which will include separate meetings with the junta and pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi, as well as a trip to Shan State.

    "The problem is there's a climate of fear," said Aung Zaw, editor of Irrawaddy Magazine, run by Myanmar exiles in Thailand. "If villagers tell him something they could be punished after his visit, there's no guarantee for them if they cooperate with him."

    In recent years the junta has been more responsive to the international community's pleas to clean up its human rights record, allowing the Red Cross to visit political prisoners and letting the United Nations investigate claims of forced labour.

    The United States and several European countries have imposed political and economic sanctions on the military regime, since it refused to recognise an election victory by Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy (NLD) in 1990.

    Myanmar welcomes visit by U.N. official to probe rape allegations

    BANGKOK (AP) Thailand - The military government of Myanmar on Wednesday welcomed a planned investigation by a U.N. official into allegations that its troops raped women of an ethnic minority group fighting for autonomy.

    The probe will be conducted by Paulo Sergio Pinheiro, the U.N. special rapporteur on human rights in Myanmar, who is scheduled to arrive in the country on Thursday for a 12-day visit.

    "The government of Myanmar looks forward to an independent third party review of the situation since false reports of a systemic government policy of rape have been distributed," said a statement from Myanmar's junta, received in Bangkok.

    Myanmar has repeatedly denied allegations that its soldiers raped ethnic Shan women to retaliate against Shan guerrillas. The allegations were made in a June report by the Shan Women's Action Network and the Shan Human Rights Foundation, two Thailand-based rights groups.Their report, which claimed to document 173 cases of rape and sexual violence against girls and women, received widespread publicity in July when the U.S. State Department took note of it.

    "The notion of rape as a systemic national policy is abhorrent to the government of Myanmar which has never ordered, supported or condoned rape," the junta statement said."We believe an unbiased report from Mr. Pinheiro and the United Nations will affirm what we have been saying all along: these accusations are false."

    The Shan are one of several ethnic minorities in Myanmar, also known as Burma, who are seeking autonomy from the central government. Armed Shan guerrillas in eastern Myanmar frequently battle government troops.

    In Geneva, the United Nations said Pinheiro will travel to the capital Yangon as well other places in the country. He will hold meetings with government officials, judicial authorities and other members of the legal profession, as well as with representatives of different political parties and social organizations, a U.N. statement said.

    The West has generally taken the junta's claims of an unblemished human rights records with a pinch of salt because of its refusal to give up power it assumed undemocratically in 1988.

    In a report released Tuesday, Human Rights Watch claimed that as many as 70,000 soldiers in Myanmar's army were under 18, with the vast majority forcibly conscripted. The group said that guerrilla groups fighting the government also recruit boys into their ranks.

    Pinheiro has prepared an interim report on the country's rights situation, which he will present at the 57th session of the General Assembly later this year along with his preliminary observations on his latest visit to Myanmar, his fourth.

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    Myanmar military jets crash, 2 pilots killed

    source : the Times of India

    YANGON (AP) Myanmar: Two Chinese-made military jets crashed recently in Myanmar during routine training flights, killing their two pilots, an official said on Wednesday.

    A Nanchang A-5C jet, the Chinese version of the MiG-19,crashed in late September near Meiktila in central Myanmar, killing the pilot, Lt. Wai Hin Tun, said a government official, who did not want to be identified further.

    He said a Chengdu F-7M, the Chinese variant of the MiG-21,crashed in Twante outside Yangon on October 1, killing its pilot, Lt Phyo Kyaw Hlaing. No damage or injuries were reported on the ground, the official said.The causes of the crashes were not known, but accidents during training are not uncommon.

    The crashes were also reported by the US government-funded Radio Free Asia, which said the first plane was airborne for about 30 minutes before going down in an unpopulated area outside Htan-ta-bin township on September 21.

    Radio Free Asia said the Myanmar military purchased 42 Chengdu F-7M and Nanchang A-5C aircraft from China in the 1990s.Both the F-7M and the A-5C are ground-attack fighter-bombers.In 2001, Myanmar's military junta added 10 MiG-29 warplanes to its fleet.

    The information could not be independently verified. The junta almost never releases any military information.The last reported military air crash in Myanmar occurred in February 2001, when a helicopter went down in the southeastern part of the country, killing the junta's fourth-highest official, Lt Gen Tin Oo, and two Cabinet ministers.

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    Myanmar makes efforts to improve rural water supply

    YANGON, Oct. 16 (Xinhuanet) -- Myanmar has been making efforts to improve rural water supply and 1,923 tube-wells have been sunk in its three divisions of arid zone under a 10-year rural water supply project which began in 2000-01.

    According to a report of the Ministry of Progress of Border Areas and National Races and Development available here Wednesday,there were 8,042 water-scarce villages in the three divisions of Sagaing, Mandalay and Magway, and about 50 percent of them now have tube-wells providing clean and safe water. There are also 15,813 villages in the border areas still facingwater shortage, the report said.

    According to the report, under the arid-zone rural water supplyproject, the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA), which is Japanese government's overseas aid agency, will offer assistance for digging 250 tube-wells in the country's northern Shan state. In addition, another organization, the Bridge Asia Japan and the UN Children's Fund are also assisting to sink tube-wells in the arid zone.

    Meanwhile, the JICA has also proposed to Myanmar a 1.5-billion-US-dollar project to improve the water supply system in the capital of Yangon which has a population of 5.5 million.

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    Five-month border closure cost exporters B1.8bn

    Source : Bangkok Post

    Burma reopened its border checkpoints with Thailand in Chiang Rai, Tak, Ranong and Kanchanaburi yesterday after almost five months, ending a trade hiatus which cost businesses on both sides billions of baht.

    Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra said the most important outcome was not the prospect of a trade revival but that Thai and Burmese people could contact one another again.

    The Mae Sot-Myawaddy border checkpoint reopened at 6.30am without ceremony, although barbed-wire barricades had to be taken down from the middle of the Thai-Burmese Friendship bridge.

    About 30 Thai officials, led by Thai-Burma Border Committee chairman Col Jirasak Chomprasom, shook hands with about 20 Burmese officials led by Lt-Col Kyaw Se Ya on the bridge to mark the event.

    Mae Sot district chief Samart Loifa said immigration, customs and other services started at 7am.

    Mae Sot customs checkpoint chief Boonthiam Chokwiwat said the border closure deprived Thai traders of opportunities to export goods worth 1.8 billion baht, resulted in losses to Burma of more than 300 million baht in revenue, and also affected the local economy.

    ``Before the border was closed on May 22, the value of goods crossing the checkpoint was 18 million baht a day, three million baht of which was from imports.

    ``After the closure, the value of goods crossing the border dropped to only four million baht, 0.89 million baht of which was from goods coming in,'' he said.

    In Chiang Rai, the Mae Sai-Tachilek border checkpoint reopened at the same time with Mae Sai customs checkpoint chief Ronnarong Sukthavorn leading more than 500 Thais across Mae Sai-Tachilek bridge to the Tachilek checkpoint gate, which was unchained and opened by a Burmese official.

    At 8.30am, Chiang Rai governor Rungrit Makarapong, Mae Sai's TBC chairman Col Apichart Meesommon and senior staff visited Mae Sai checkpoint and stopped at the gate to greet Burmese officials.

    Sermchai Kittirattanapaiboon, who chairs the provincial chamber of commerce, said the closure of Mae Sai-Tachilek checkpoint cost Thai entrepreneurs three billion baht.

    Amporn Sinsamut, a petrol trader in Mae Sai, said Burmese merchants were ordering tens of thousands of litres of petrol from Mae Sai.

    In Ranong, the reopening of Ranong-Kawthaung border checkpoint at 6.30am was witnessed by Ranong governor Nopporn Chantarathong and staff.

    However, it failed to attract the attention of Thai and Burmese villagers. Only about 200 Burmese people crossed the border into Ranong and fewer than 10 Thais entered Kawthaung.

    The atmosphere at the Ranong-Kawthaung pier was lively though few people used the 50 passenger boats there.

    In Kanchanaburi, Thai and Burmese people, mostly Thai vendors, were waiting at the border at 5am.

    They crossed Three-Pagoda checkpoint when it opened at 6.30am.

    Thai trucks carrying clothes, consumer goods and petrol headed for Phaya Thone zu market where many stores reopened for the first time in months.

    In Mae Hong Son, three Burmese checkpoints with Thailand _ Ban Huay Phung permanent border checkpoint in Muang district, Ban Sao Hin crossing in Mae Sariang district, and Huay Ton Noom crossing in Khun Yuam district _ remained closed.

    However, Burmese troops on duty at the checkpoints let Thai and Burmese merchants cross over via passages near the gates, saying border reopening there was not allowed yet.

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