Daily News- October 22- 2002- Tuesday

  • EU's stance known soon
  • Trade Union Group Charges Burma with Using Forced Labor
  • Myanmar attaches importance to border areas development
  • Myanmar's oil, gas production rises in first half of 2002
  • Myanmar's rice export up sharply in first half of 2002
  • ILO mission visits Myanmar to probe work conditions
  • TotalFinaElf denies Myanmar rights abuses
  • Osama’s right hand in Burma
  • U.N. rights envoy to meet Suu Kyi

  • EU's stance known soon

    Bhanravee Tansubhapol

    The Bangkokpost

    The European Union will discuss the situation in Burma this week before announcing its position by the end of the month.

    James Moran, the European Commission's Director-General for External Relations, said the release of the National League for Democracy's leader Aung San Suu Kyi in May was not enough and the EU would announce its position on Oct 29. Winston McColgan, his deputy, added that EU would like to see real progress in Burma especially on the three parties' agreement between the National League for Democracy, ethic minorities and the State Peace and Development Council.``The EU wants Burma to encourage the resolution,'' said Mr McColgan.

    Some EU officials want Burma to take some kind of action but if it has no further political change by 2004, the year in which Vietnam will host the Asia- Europe Meeting (Asem), the EU would oppose the entry of Burma to the grouping.

    Vietnamese ambassador in Brussels, Ton Nu Thi Ninh, said the first priority of the 2004 Asem in Hanoi was taking the remaining three Asean countries, Laos, Cambodia and Burma, into Asem.

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    Trade Union Group Charges Burma with Using Forced Labor

    Voice of America

    The International Confederation of Free Trade Unions says Burma is using more forced labor, often in projects involving foreign companies. The International Confederation of Free Trade Unions wants foreign investment in Burma to be cut to curb the use of forced labor.

    The trade union report was issued just before the European Union's general council meets to evaluate progress on political reform and human rights in Burma.The EU review will rely on the views of a delegation that visited Burma in early September. There are signs the EU delegation may recommend that the European Union ease its economic sanctions against Burma's military government.

    But International Confederation of Free Trade Unions spokesman James Lorenz says that would send the wrong signal to Rangoon. Although the government has released opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi from house arrest and freed some political prisoners in the past several months, critics say progress is too slow.

    "What is particularly frightening is the world is basically saying, 'OK, the situation seems to be easing.' So the ICFTU is saying, no, the situation is not easing, if anything it is getting a lot worse and until something is done it will continue to get worse," said Mr. Lorenz.

    The labor confederation's report highlights evidence that forced labor has been used particularly in oil and gas projects involving foreign companies. Mr. Lorenz says instead of easing sanctions against Burma, the European Union should adopt a tougher stance.

    "We would like them to say that companies can not invest in Burma, because any investment in Burma is a strengthening of the junta," said Mr. Lorenz. "And that means that forced labor can continue to go on in the country."

    The European Union's assessment on Burma's human rights progress coincides with a visit to the country by the U.N. special human rights envoy.His visit follows reports of rights abuses against the minority Shan people as well as a Human Rights Watch report accusing Burma's military government of drafting child soldiers. The government denies the charges.

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    Myanmar attaches importance to border areas development

    YANGON, Oct 20, 2002 (Xinhua via COMTEX) -- Myanmar has injected in border area development projects a total of 356.57 million US dollars by the two sectors of government and national race groups, according to the latest figures released by the Ministry of Progress of Border Areas and National Races and Development Affairs.

    During the more than 13 years from April 1989 to August 2002, the investment made in the development projects by the government sector amounted to 25,971 million kyats (about 86.59 million dollars), while that by the national race groups went to 46,479 million kyats (about 155 million dollars) plus 949 million yuan renminbi (about 115 million dollars).

    The figures also revealed that as of the end of August 2002, Myanmar had built in border areas 7,177 kilometers (km) of earth, gravel and tar roads, and 86 bridges and repaired 4,328 km of existing roads.According to the figures, Myanmar has had 195 health infrastructure projects in border areas including hospitals, dispensaries, rural healthcare centers and branches, 678 primary, middle and high schools, 11 tractor stations, 41 veterinary centers and 93 television retransmission stations.Moreover, Myanmar has also built 40 dams in the areas during the period with 17 others under implementation.Furthermore, a total of 182 towns in the areas have got electricity.

    Although Myanmar has made some achievements in the border area development but the border areas are still backward as compared with other parts of the country. The main factors restricting the development include insufficient investment in the sector, heavy tasks in drug control and disturbances of some anti-government armed groups.

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    Myanmar's oil, gas production rises in first half of 2002

    YANGON, Oct 20, 2002 (Xinhua via COMTEX) -- Myanmar produced 2.657 million barrels of crude oil in the first half of 2002, recording an increase of 15.27 percent over the same period of last year, said the latest data published by the Ministry of Energy.During the period, Myanmar yielded 4,449.58 million cubic- meters of natural gas, up 1.12 percent from the corresponding period of last year.

    Meanwhile, during the first six months of 2002, the country exported 4,260.1 million cubic-meters of gas, 25.49 percent more than the same period of last year, earning 402.92 million US dollars, which accounted for 27.73 percent of the period's total export earning.

    In an effort to meet its domestic demand, Myanmar imported only 14.61 million dollars worth of crude oil during the period, 90 percent less than the same period of last year.

    In the 2001-02 fiscal year, which ended in March, Myanmar produced 4.826 million barrels of crude oil and 8,787.4 million cubic-meters of natural gas, both marking the highest yield in the past seven years. Of the gas yielded, 6,713.4 million cubic-meters or 76.3 percent were exported to earn hard currency, registering also the highest export in the past four years.

    There have been seven new oil and gas fields found at the country's inland blocks, while three discovered at its offshore areas.

    According to official statistics, Myanmar has a proven recoverable onshore natural gas reserve of 1.7 trillion cubic- meters (TCF) (48,110 million cubic- meters) and offshore gas reserve of 14 TCF (396,200 million cubic-meters).

    Meanwhile, foreign investment in Myanmar's oil and gas sector has reached 2.563 billion dollars since late 1988. These investments include those under 34 contracts in exploring oil and gas at 47 inland blocks and 15 joint venture contracts with Myanmar in the same undertakings at 25 offshore blocks at Mottama, Tanintharyi and Rakhine coastal areas.

    Myanmar's rice export up sharply in first half of 2002

    YANGON, Oct 19, 2002 (Xinhua via COMTEX) -- Myanmar's rice export grew sharply by 191.53 percent to 627,100 tons in the first half of 2002 from the same period of last year, said the latest figures released by the Ministry of National Planning and Economic Development.

    Export earning through rice increased by 212.18 percent to 77. 64 million US dollars during the period compared with the corresponding period of last year.The rice export earning during the first six months of 2002 accounted for 5.34 percent of Myanmar's total exports during the period.

    In the 2001-02 fiscal year, which ended in March, Myanmar produced 22.3 million tons of paddy from 6.47 million hectares and exported 939,100 tons of rice.

    It is reported that in the current fiscal year of 2002-03 ending in March, 6.63 million hectares have been cultivated with paddy and the output is expected to reach about 22.78 million tons during the year.

    Myanmar's cultivable land stretches 18.225 million hectares, of which 10.12 million hectares or 55.5 percent have been put under crops.The country's agricultural sector, the mainstay of its economy, contributes 48 percent of the gross domestic product with 18.3 percent in the export sector.

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    ILO mission visits Myanmar to probe work conditions

    The Star (Asia)

    BANGKOK, Thailand (AP) - The International Labor Organization has launched its latest mission to monitor work conditions in Myanmar, whose military government is frequently accused of using forced labor.

    A team headed by the organization's Vice Director General Kari Tapiola started work Monday, a statement by the junta's U.S. public relations firm, the DCI Group, said Tuesday.

    "We welcome this mission and pledge to assist and cooperate fully,'' the DCI Group statement said. It did not give details or say how long the mission will last.

    The mission "will assist and further develop Myanmar's labor practices,'' the statement said, quoting junta spokesman Col. Hla Min. "The Government of Myanmar is committed to a program of labor practices which comply fully with international norms.''

    Myanmar has been under pressure from the International Labor Organization since November 2000 when the agency urged its 175 member governments to impose sanctions on the country and review their dealings with Myanmar to ensure they are not abetting forced labor. The labor organization and other international observers have long accused the Myanmar military of using unpaid labor on public works and forcing civilians to serve as army porters.

    In March, the junta signed an agreement allowing the organization to put a representative in Myanmar to ensure "the prompt and effective elimination of forced labor.''

    Hong-Trang Perret-Nguyen, a Vietnamese citizen, was appointed to the position this month. Meanwhile, U.N. human rights envoy Paulo Sergio Pinheiro has been visiting the isolated country since late last week to investigate possible abuses. His 12-day visit was due to end next Monday.

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    TotalFinaElf denies Myanmar rights abuses

    By Tom Miles

    BRUSSELS, Oct 21 (Reuters) - A body representing trade unions on Monday accused oil giant TotalFinaElf of knowingly profiting from human rights abuses in Myanmar, an allegation the French company denied.

    The 350-page report by the Brussels-based International Confederation of Free Trade Unions (ICFTU) is not the first time an oil firm has been accused of wrongdoing in the resource-rich country. The report also alleged abuses by Myanmar troops.

    Many Western firms have stopped sourcing goods from Myanmar following pressure from human rights groups. The southeast Asian nation, formerly known as Burma, has been treated as a pariah by many Western countries for many years.

    "The ICFTU has uncovered new proof that the oil giant TotalFinaElf directly and knowingly profits from forced labour imposed by the Burmese army on civilians," the ICFTU said in a statement. The military has ruled the country since 1962.

    TotalFinaElf flatly rejected the criticism."TotalFinaElf reaffirms that it has had complete control, from start to finish, of its operations in this country, and that it has taken into account the daily needs of people employed on its projects," the company said in a statement.It said it had provided electricity, medicine, schools and sponsored agricultural projects for the local population.

    TotalFinaElf has been in the spotlight already this year when Myanmar refugees in France and Belgium said they were taking the firm to court, alleging they were forced into hard labour for the company. The company has called it "unimaginable" that it could ever make use of forced labour.


    The ICFTU statement on Monday said the report included allegations that forced labour was being used for road building and other infrastructure work connected to TotalFinaElf's Yadana pipeline operation.

    "Multinationals such as TotalFinaElf have long maintained that there is no link between their investments in Burma and the growing use of forced labour," ICFTU Myanmar expert Janek Kuczkiewicz said in a statement.

    "This new evidence poses real questions about the connections between multinational enterprises, the Burmese military and the use of forced labour," he said.

    The report's other allegations, unconnected with the oil firm, included accounts of the Burmese army attacking trade union facilities, looting migrants' food stocks and razing elementary schools, a hospital and a workshop for the disabled.

    It said it was common practice for the army to force people to march at the front of columns as "human shields" to protect the military against rebel ambushes.

    An ICFTU spokesman said most of its evidence, collected between October 2001 and last month, came from interviews and activists in Myanmar, notably members of underground trade unions.ICFTU said it had sent the report to the United Nations' International Labour Organisation. It also called on European Union foreign ministers, who are meeting in Luxembourg on Monday and Tuesday, to ban investment in Myanmar by EU firms.

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    Osama’s right hand in Burma

    Source : Indian Express

    Dhaka-- Al Qaeda militants fled to Bangladesh from Afghanistan late last year, US magazine Time reported on the weekend, drawing strong denials from officials in Dhaka.

    A ship carried 150 Taliban and Al Qaeda fighters and a huge supply of arms and ammunition from Afghanistan on December 21, 2001, to Bangladesh’s southeastern Chittagong Port, Time reported.

    Later some of the militants had been transported to Kashmir, it said.

    ‘‘Indeed, one Bangladeshi newspaper last month even quoted an unnamed foreign embassy in Dhaka as saying Osama bin Laden’s number two, Egyptian Ayman Al-Zawahiri, had been hiding out in the country for months after arriving in Chittagong.’’ Time quoted an unnamed Bangladesh military intelligence agency official as saying ‘‘Al-Zawahiri is believed to have left Bangladesh in summer, crossing over the eastern border into Burma with Rohingya rebels.’’

    Bangladesh’s government and the country’s biggest Islamic group both said the report, in the Time issue dated October 21, was baseless and fabricated.

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    U.N. rights envoy to meet Suu Kyi

    Source : CNN

    BANGKOK, Thailand (Reuters) -- A U.N. envoy is due to meet pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi amid rising skepticism over an army pledge to loosen its grip on power.

    Paulo Sergio Pinheiro, special human rights rapporteur for Burma, will meet Nobel peace laureate Suu Kyi for the first time since her release in May from 19 months of house arrest, an official of Suu Kyi's party told Reuters.

    Pinheiro is in Burma to probe alleged human rights abuses and spur political change.

    The talks are likely to focus on the prospects for political dialogue between Suu Kyi and the junta.

    The two sides have not talked since Suu Kyi's release, which had raised hopes of political change.

    After a visit to Rangoon earlier this month, Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer, said Suu Kyi was "not very confident" about the junta's promises to move towards democracy.

    Suu Kyi's opposition National League for Democracy party won 1990 elections in Burma, but has never been allowed to govern by the military that has been in power for four decades.

    Pinheiro has already held talks with the junta's powerful intelligence chief, Khin Nyunt, and visited political prisoners in Rangoon's notorious colonial-era Insein Prison.

    The Brazilian academic, who arrived last week for his fourth trip to Burma, had met Suu Kyi during his earlier trips. He leaves on October 28.

    "(Pinheiro) feels that the situation of the political prisoners has become better," a diplomat told Reuters.

    Human rights abuses

    The junta invited Pinheiro to visit Burma to dispel several allegations of human rights abuses in recent weeks, including systematic rape by the army.

    Diplomats say Burma is desperate to improve its image and attract foreign investment to shore up its listing economy.

    But the United States and several European countries show no signs of lifting political and economic sanctions on the regime amid mounting allegations of human rights abuses.

    Washington criticized the ruling generals this month after a report from two minority rights groups said Burmese troops had raped at least 625 girls and women between 1996 and 2001 in Shan state in the East of the country.

    On Monday, a body representing trade unions accused oil giant TotalFinaElf of knowingly profiting from forced labor imposed by the Burmese army, an allegation the French company denied.

    Last week, pressure group Human Rights Watch accused the Burmese 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.

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