Daily News- October 21- 2002- Monday

  • Embassy lied about girl's age, say police
  • Myanmar activists welcome UN envoy's decision to scrap Shan visit
  • UN rights envoy declines Myanmar offer to visit Shan state: ethnic group
  • Myanmar to issue some visas on arrival

  • Embassy lied about girl's age, say police

    By Peter Fabricius
    Independent Online, South Africa

    Police are still investigating charges that a young Asian girl was assaulted while working at the embassy of Myanmar (formerly Burma) in Pretoria. They are declining comment on news reports that she was also sexually abused.

    Police said this week that a medical examination had established that the girl was only 15 and not 21 as the embassy had claimed in their application for her diplomatic visa to enter South Africa.

    The girl has been held in protective custody by the Child Protection Unit for over a month while police investigate her claims.Police are investigating charges of fraud and assault with the intent to do grievous body harm, Senior Superintendent Mary Martins-Engelbrecht said this week.However, she added that no-one had been formally charged yet. She said the assault charges arose from claims that the girl had been assaulted while working at the embassy.

    Also, the fraud charge was initiated by South Africa authorities and involves the application which the embassy made for a visa for the child to enter South Africa. It includes the discrepancy about her age.

    Martins-Engelbrecht said she could not divulge whether or not the police medical examination of the girl had also confirmed that she had been sexually abused. According to reports in the Mail & Guardian newspaper a leaked police report said the Pretoria district surgeon who examined the girl found that she had been "sexually abused and possibly been misused for the purpose of prostitution".The embassy could not be reached on Friday for comment.

    Myanmar activists welcome UN envoy's decision to scrap Shan visit

    BANGKOK, Oct 21 (AFP) - Myanmar activists on Monday welcomed UN human rights envoy Paulo Sergio Pinheiro's decision to scrap a visit to the country's Shan state, where he was to investigate allegations of systematic rape by the military.

    The claims that rape was being used as a weapon of war, detailed in a July report released by two Thai-based organisations representing the Shan ethnic minority, has drawn angry denials from the Myanmar junta.

    Pinheiro had been scheduled to visit Shan state from Tuesday to Thursday at the invitation of the regime as part of an 11-day mission to Myanmar, but over the weekend he said he would forego the trip.

    The Thai-based Shan Women's Action Network (SWAN), one of the groups which compiled the rape report, commended Pinheiro's decision to instead investigate the claims from across the border in Thailand.

    "I think he did not trust the arrangements made by the military regime," said SWAN spokeswoman Hseng Noung. "We do not believe that he could have had the chance to see the right people." SWAN has said that according to its sources in Shan state, Myanmar authorities have already taken steps to cover up the truth in many areas where major human rights and sexual abuses were taking place.Forced relocations of villagers in affected regions had taken place and residents were forced to sign documents saying that people in the area had experienced no problems with local authorities or soldiers, it said.

    Aye Mar from Social Action for Women, a leading Myanmar women's rights group, said Pinheiro's trip would have been a "mission impossible" that could never have properly examined the report which documented the rape of 625 women and girls in Shan State.

    Debbie Stothard, coordinator of activist umbrella group Altsean-Burma, said that Pinheiro was "preserving the integrity of his position" by refusing to go along with a stage-managed trip designed only to clear the junta of blame.

    "Professor Pinheiro is finally wising up to the tactics of the military regime," she told AFP."If he had gone there and didn't find evidence of rape, which would probably have been the case, he would have been used by the military regime to justify their claims of innocence."

    However leading dissident Aung Zaw, editor of the Thailand-based magazine Irrawaddy, said Pinheiro should have pushed for a proper investigation instead of just cancelling his trip."The UN should find a new person to replace Pinheiro. He has been too soft, " he said."He should insist he wants to conduct an in-depth monitoring in Shan state. It's his job to insist, to challenge, to demand that his trips be transparent and accountable."

    Pinheiro's trip which began last Thursday comes amid rising criticism of the ruling junta and accusations of gross human rights violations.He is due to see pro-democracy opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi before his October 28 departure, but no date has been set for the meeting.

    UN rights envoy declines Myanmar offer to visit Shan state: ethnic group

    YANGON, Oct 20 (AFP) - United Nations human rights envoy Paulo Sergio Pinheiro has declined an invitation by Myanmar to visit Shan state to investigate alleged human rights violations there, an ethnic party source said Sunday.

    Pinheiro is in the midst of an 11-day fact-finding tour of the country and held talks Saturday with senior leaders of the ruling military junta as well as representatives of ethnic minority political parties, official sources said.

    He was invited by the authorities to investigate a July report released by two Thai-based organisations representing the Shan ethnic minority which claimed the military used rape as a weapon of war.

    An official schedule listed a three-day visit to Shan state beginning Tuesday.But Pinheiro, who was given an official report on Yangon's assessment of the rape allegations upon his arrival, has decided to forego the visit, according to Khun Tun Oo, chairman of the Shan Nationalities League for Democracy (SNLD).

    "He described the official report as sketchy," Khun Tun Oo told AFP, adding that Pinheiro had opted instead to conduct his independent investigations from inside Thailand, where most of the victims of alleged rape cases were said to be residing.Earlier, Shan groups had said they had little faith the military government would allow Pinheiro, on his third trip to Myanmar, to investigate the issue thoroughly.

    "We told him there was hardly any change since he was here last and that there was still no political freedom as far as we were concerned," Khun Tun Oo said.

    The SNLD was among six ethnic-based political parties who met with the Brazilian academic Saturday to brief him on the latest political developments as well as the issue of political prisoners languishing in jail.Khun Tun Oo, who said the meeting was positive, quoted Pinheiro as promising to "push for more freedom for political parties and the release of all political prisoners."

    Meanwhile, Pinheiro on Sunday visited Insein prison in suburban Yangon, the first of several trips he is expected to make to jails throughout the country.He is also expected to meet with pro-democracy opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi before leaving Myanmar but no date has been set for the meeting.Pinheiro's visit comes as Yangon fends off mounting criticism of its human rights record.

    In addition to the rape allegations, US-based watchdog Human Rights Watch said last week it believed more than a fifth of the soldiers serving in Myanmar's army could be under the age of 18 and that some of them were forced to participate in atrocities.Myanmar's government has repeatedly denied all the allegations.

    Myanmar to issue some visas on arrival

    YANGON, Oct 20 (AFP) - Myanmar is to launch a visa-on-arrival program aimed at boosting flagging tourism to the military-ruled state, a report here said.

    The immigration ministry said it will begin issuing the visas to individual travelers who arrive at Yangon's international airport on flights operated by Austria-based Lauda Air, according to the Myanmar Times.

    A similar arrangement would be made with other airlines but would take time, U Khin Maung Latt, the director general of the ministry of hotels and tourism, was cited as saying in the semi-official weekly's edition to be published Monday.

    It said the move follows an October 13 decision approved by the minister for hotels and tourism, Brigadier General Thein Zaw, adding that pre-arranged visas-on-arrival were already available to travelers arriving on package tours.

    Lauda Air is due to inaugurate a non-stop service to Yangon from Vienna on November 6, the report stated. The flight returns to Vienna via the Thai resort island of Phuket.

    "It will have a positive effect on the airline and will also benefit FITs (foreign individual travelers), business people and those making last-minute bookings," U Aung Naing, managing director of Myanmar travel company EPG, told the Times.

    Myanmar's tourism industry is in its infancy, and the country's efforts to boost it have been dogged by wide- ranging sanctions against the military regime imposed by western governments.

    Myanmar has been criticised for its human rights performance and refusal to hand over power to the National League for Democracy, led by Nobel peace laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, which won an overwhelming election victory in 1990.

    The number of tourist arrivals at Yangon's airport slipped three percent last year to 204,862, a decline attributed to the industry's global downturn in the wake of the September 11 terror attacks in the United States.

    To The Top