Daily News- October 28 - 2002- Monday

  • UN rights envoy visits major Myanmar jail
  • Wedding bridges Myanmar's political divide
  • Living on the edge is a way of life for Myanmar's refugees
  • U.N. human rights envoy meets Suu Kyi, wraps up Burma visit
  • Burma boycott campaign stepped up
  • UN rights envoy calls for Red Cross presence in Myanmar troublespots
  • U.N. rights envoy calls for unconditional release of prisoners

  • UN rights envoy visits major Myanmar jail

    YANGON, Oct 27 (AFP) - UN human rights envoy Paulo Sergio Pinheiro travelled to a major jail north of the Myanmar capital Sunday to meet with political prisoners being held there, a UN source said.

    Pinheiro was scheduled to meet prisoners at Tharwaddy jail, 145 kilometres (90 miles) outside Yangon in Bago Division, as part of his 11-day mission here to investigate the human rights situation in the country, the source said.

    The envoy has already interviewed prisoners at Yangon's notorious Insein prison and told reporters they had some complaints about their treatment.International concern has been repeatedly raised over the elderly and sick in Myanmar's jails failing to receive appropriate medical treatment.

    Since his arrival here on October 17, Pinheiro has also held talks with top members of the ruling junta, opposition, religious and ethnic minority leaders, UN personnel and diplomats.

    He met with opposition National League for Democracy (NLD) leader Aung San Suu Kyi last week, and is scheduled to meet with her a second time on Monday afternoon, the UN source said.On Saturday Pinheiro met with home minister Colonel Tin Hlaing, followed by an hour-long discussion with Brigadier General Than Tun, head of the political section of military intelligence.

    Than Tun has been one of the top government figures involved in compiling an official response refuting claims made in a report by two Shan organisations which alleged systematic rape by Myanmar's military in eastern Shan state.

    "License to Rape", published by two Thai-based Shan rights organisations in July, found that rape was being used as a weapon of war in the state and has evinced angry denials from the junta.

    Pinheiro was originally invited by the junta to investigate the allegations firsthand in Shan state, but he cancelled his planned three-day visit there. The envoy said he could not do enough fact-finding in that period of time.

    In his most recent report to the UN General Assembly, Pinheiro said the "recent mellowing on the political front" -- referring to the release of Aung San Suu Kyi from house arrest in May -- was not enough to improve the human rights situation.He urged the UN to get ready to help with the transition to democracy, saying: "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."

    Aung San Suu Kyi and the junta have been engaged in a dialogue since October 2000 aimed at shifting the country towards democracy. The talks' most substantial outcome to date has been the May granting of the Nobel peace laureate's freedom.

    Pinheiro has made three visits to Myanmar since being appointed in April 2001. His last was in February.He is due to depart for Thailand Monday.

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    Wedding bridges Myanmar's political divide

    YANGON, Oct 27 (AF) - The son of an elected member of Myanmar's opposition party and the daughter of a recently retired senior military officer married here Sunday in a rare event bridging Myanmar's political divide.

    Lieutenant Colonel Win Myint forbade the wedding during his military career but relented shortly after his retirement, family sources told AFP.

    Aung Phone Myint, son of National League for Democracy (NLD) member Ne Win Myint, wed Ma Shwe Zin Win, the daughter of Win Myint.

    Despite the wedding being allowed to take place, two separate receptions have been planned for later Sunday, with NLD leader Aung San Suu Kyi and party members invited to attend one of them.

    NLD member Ne Win Myint won a seat in the 1990 elections that were never recognised by the military.

    Myanmar society shunned NLD members in fear of retaliation by the ruling military junta after the annulled elections, which were overwhelmingly won by the NLD. A wedding between members related to each side would have been unheard of.

    Relations improved marginally when Suu Kyi and the junta began a landmark dialogue aimed at national reconciliation in October 2000, but there were few tangible results from the talks and relations between the two sides remain cool.

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    Living on the edge is a way of life for Myanmar's refugees

    CHIANG MAI, Thailand, Oct 27 (AFP) - Life is returning to normal for most people living along the Thai-Myanmar border now that Myanmar has reopened its checkpoints to Thailand after a five-month closure.But for refugees sheltering in Thai border camps, life is as precarious as ever.

    "No one here feels safe but we have to stay because we are refugees and we have no choice," said Kyauk Pha, an elder from a camp in northern Mae Hong Son province.

    According to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, some 120,000 refugees from Myanmar are living in 11 camps along the Thai-Myanmar border.Most hail from ethnic minority border regions where rebel groups are fighting the ruling State Peace and Development Council (SPDC) for independence, and have fled to Thailand in a bid to preserve their lives.

    Here their lives are safe -- subject to occasional cross-border attacks by the SPDC and pro-Yangon militia groups - - but they are forced to stay in their camps and are not permitted to work, farm or forage in surrounding forests.

    Currently around 4,300 Karenni refugees in Mae Hong Son's Camp Three are being shifted under the orders of Thai authorities to Camp Two, an already overcrowded settlement of 12,000 refugees six kilometres (four miles) away.

    "The Thai authorities did not give an official reason for the move, but the rumour is it was because the nearby villagers thought the refugees were causing 'problems'," a border source said.

    So far, 222 bamboo huts have been built by the refugees themselves in the new location and nearly 2,000 people have made the move, the chairwoman of Karenni Refugee Assistance Committee Tula Paw told AFP.

    Camp Two is just two kilometres from the Myanmar border, compared to Camp Three's eight -- raising fears the refugees are more at risk of an attack by hostile forces.Two refugees were killed at the camp about five years ago when the SPDC mounted an attack, sources said.

    "One of the major problems is the camp's security. Refugees are concerned about their safety because the new camp is located so close to one of the Myanmar army's frontline bases," Tula Paw said.One man said children might be playing happily outside their new homes, but this belied the worry their parents were going through.

    "Sometimes we feel that we are just waiting for the Myanmar soldiers or their shells," he said.

    The move, which is occurring several families at a time and without assistance from the Thai authorities, was suspended last week as Camp Three ran out of space to build new huts.Other problems facing the new camp were a lack of water and increased health risks, with malaria and dysentry more prevalent than at the old camp, other border sources said.

    A teacher working in Camp Three said the move was disrupting the education of the more than 500 students at her school."The school year is going to be lost this year. The children who have already moved have to walk to Camp Two every day and back again, at least an hour each way," she said. "And the school will have to close for a few months when it is moved too."

    Many of the children suffered during the start of the move as they helped with the move, walking through monsoon-drenched mud.

    "A lot of the children had feet infections from the mud. The roads were really bad so they were helping push the stuck trucks," the teacher said.Natural disasters are another problem refugees must grapple with.

    Floods ravaged much of Thailand during August and September this year, but the worst disaster occured when a mudslide and flash floods swept through Ban Sala camp, also in Mae Hong Son province.Sixteen refugees were killed, mostly by large trees toppled over by floodwaters cascading down a mountainside. Hundreds of makeshift homes and buildings were damaged, leaving a thousand people homeless.Thai authorities blamed the disaster on illegal logging carried out by the refugees, but the refugees pointed the finger at unscrupulous Thai businessmen operating in the area last decade.

    At Thailand's largest camp in adjacent Tak province, nearly 40,000 refugees including ethnic minorities, Muslim leaders, students and political activists are living in what they feel is a secure environment, the refugees say.

    "I think our camp is lucky. There is less pressure on us (than in other camps) because we are close to major towns and we feel like we are close to the outside world," Ko Chin, a former student leader now living in the camp, told AFP.

    The border area near their camp is controlled by the rebel Karen National Union, so the refugees are not threatened by attacks, he added.Nevertheless, the refugees would still prefer to head back to their homeland, Ko Chin said.

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    U.N. human rights envoy meets Suu Kyi, wraps up Burma visit

    Rangoon (AP) - A U.N. human rights envoy wrapped up Monday a 12-day visit to investigate complaints of abuses in military-run Burma by meeting with opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, a U.N. official said.

    It was United Nations Human Rights rapporteur Paulo Sergio Pinheiro's second meeting with Suu Kyi during his visit and his final engagement of a busy schedule that included meetings with political prisoners, judicial officials, state security chiefs, diplomats and ethnic parties.

    Burma's military junta faces severe criticism in the West for human rights abuses including complaints of forced labor, imprisonment of political dissidents, and rape, torture and killing of ethnic minorities.

    Details of Pinheiro's meeting with Suu Kyi were not immediately known. Last Tuesday, Pinheiro talked to her and her senior party members for nearly two hours. They discussed the issue of political prisoners and national reconciliation process.

    According to human rights groups, the junta holds more than 1,000 political prisoners and dozens have allegedly died in detention, from old age and medical neglect.

    Prisoner releases are a major demand of Suu Kyi, the 1991 Nobel peace laureate, whose party won general elections in 1990 but was not allowed to take power. The two sides began reconciliation talks in October 2000 but there has been no political breakthrough.

    On Sunday, Pinheiro interviewed several political prisoners at the Tharawaddy prison, notorious as a dumping ground for political dissidents, about 130 kilometers (80 miles) north of Rangoon. He also met with political dissidents in Rangoon's main Insein prison last week.

    Pinheiro spent three days in Karen and Mon states as part of his investigation, but turned down a government offer to travel to Shan State to investigate allegations that the military uses rape as a weapon of terror against women there, saying there was not enough time to make a full evaluation.

    Pinheiro, a political science professor from Brazil, is scheduled to leave Burma late Monday. He is expected to present his report to the U.N. General Assembly next month.

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    Burma boycott campaign stepped up

    Source : BBC

    An international trade union group has released a new list of foreign firms investing in Burma or pursuing business links with its military rulers.

    The International Confederation of Free Trade Unions (ICFTU) lobbies for overseas firms to boycott Burma and for foreign governments to ban investment there.

    Despite some successes for boycott campaigners - who persuaded bra maker Triumph International to close its Burma factory - the ICFTU's latest list contains 92 new names.

    Burma's military government has been widely condemned by human rights groups since it refused to hand over power to the victorious National League for Democracy (NLD) after a general election in 1990.

    Forced labour

    The United Nations has sent an envoy to Burma to explore the prospect of talks between the military junta and NLD leader Aung San Suu Kyi, who was released from house arrest in May.

    Altogether, 325 foreign firms appear on the ICFTU's list.

    The group believes that any foreign company doing business in Burma is providing support to "one of the world's most savage dictatorships".

    It says the military junta approves foreign investments individually, and is directly responsible for the widespread and growing use of forced labour, often on infrastructure projects connected to the needs of foreign firms.

    The ICFTU rejects the view of some multinational firms that investment brings benefits to the Burmese people.

    "We are calling for all these companies to sever links with Burma and for governments to take stronger action to stop investment in the country and ensure a return to democracy," said ICFTU General Secretary Guy Ryder.

    According to Burma's official statistics, the country attracted $7.39bn of foreign investment between start of 1998 and August 2001, much of it in the oil, agricultural and manufacturing sectors.

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    UN rights envoy calls for Red Cross presence in Myanmar troublespots

    YANGON, Oct 28 (AFP) - UN human rights envoy Paulo Sergio Pinheiro on Monday urged the Myanmar junta to allow the International Committee for the Red Cross (ICRC) to monitor troublespots where it is accused of rights abuses.

    During his 11-day mission to Myanmar which concludes Monday, Pinheiro declined an invitation to visit Shan state where activists groups have claimed rape is being used as a weapon of war against ethnic minority women.

    "A short visit would be inappropriate to conduct a comprehensive assessment, " he told reporters."(Instead) I urged the authorities to consider allowing an adequate presence of the International Committee of the Red Cross in all conflict areas of the country."

    Pinheiro said the ICRC could assess the humanitarian situation on an ongoing basis, report to the government and devise ways to ensure the security and protection of the civilian population.

    The envoy, who is visiting Myanmar for the fourth time, said the ICRC was already working closely with the junta and had made 200 visits to 80 prisons since being allowed to operate in the country two years ago.

    Pinheiro said that during his mission he had looked into a range of rights abuse allegations including charges that the military was forcibly recruiting child soldiers.

    US-based watchdog Human Rights Watch said earlier this month that it believed more than a fifth of the soldiers serving in Myanmar's army could be under the age of 18 and that some were forced to participate in atrocities.

    The envoy also said that during visits to some of Myanmar's toughest jails he met with a range of prisoners to check on the treatment they were receiving.

    "The conditions in the prisons were very harsh but the prisoners I spoke to, both political prisoners as well as students, told me they had not been subjected to any kind of cruelty," he said.

    Myanmar's junta had been hoping that Pinheiro's visit could help clear the air after a series of damning reports, including the rape allegations, which portrayed the regime as a gross human rights abuser.Pinheiro said the government had given him its full cooperation and that no one he had spoken with had suffered any retaliation.

    "This was a condition I set and if the conditions had not been met I would have gone straight to the airport," he said.

    But the Brazilian academic gave few other details on his findings, saying he would give a full briefing to the United Nations on November 6.

    After two meetings with democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi, including one on Monday, the envoy said that efforts to introduce political reform in Myanmar were not proceeding "as fast as either you or I wish it to go".

    "I see some movement in terms of contacts and exchange of information" between the government and Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy, he said."But for political transition to occur, you need political negotiations."

    Pinheiro is due to travel to Thailand late Monday where he will investigate the Shan rape allegations and also meet with UN special envoy Razali Ismail who brokered landmark talks between Aung San Suu Kyi and the junta in October 2000.

    U.N. rights envoy calls for unconditional release of prisoners

    By AYE AYE WIN, Associated Press Writer

    YANGON, Myanmar - A U.N. human rights envoy told Myanmar's military rulers Monday to unconditionally and immediately release all political prisoners, as he ended a 12-day visit to asses complaints of widespread abuses.

    "This release is something essential for any substantial political dialogue" between the junta and pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi, said the envoy, Paulo Sergio Pinheiro.

    Suu Kyi, the 1991 Nobel peace laureate, has held reconciliation talks with the junta since October, 2000 but little progress has been reported. The government refuses to hand over power to Suu Kyi's party, although it won the 1990 general elections. Since the start of the reconciliation process, a few hundred dissidents have been released.

    "I have heard many cases of prisoners that are being released under conditions. I think that is not acceptable. For any political transition, the immediate and unconditional release of prisoners is necessary," Pinheiro said.

    He also said the junta must also allow "adequate presence of the International Committee of the Red Cross in all conflict areas of the country." The Red Cross could assess the humanitarian situation, report confidentially to the authorities and work out with them appropriate steps to ensure the security and protection of civilians, he said.

    The ICRC is allowed to see political detainees. Red Cross officials have made 200 trips to 80 prisons in the last two years, said Pinheiro, who visited 28 political prisoners at two prisons since his arrival Oct. 17 at the invitation of the military junta.

    "They are in stable condition, physically and mentally. In the past two years they have not been subjected to mistreatment," he said.

    Prisoner releases are a major demand of Suu Kyi, whom Pinheiro met twice. Human rights groups say the junta holds more than 1,000 political prisoners and that dozens have died in detention from old age and medical neglect.

    The junta faces severe criticism in the West for its antidemocratic stand and alleged human rights abuses including forced labor, imprisonment of political dissidents, and rape, torture and killing of ethnic minorities.

    Pinheiro told a news conference that during his mission he considered investigating allegations of "widespread human rights violations attributed to the military and armed groups operating in ethnic minority areas." He did not say when he would launch the probes or make his fifth visit to the country.He said he also was looking into the allegations of forced conscription of child soldiers.

    Pinheiro, a Brazilian politics professor, will report to the United Nations next month.

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