Daily News- September 03- 2002- Tuesday

  • Myanmar to take action against student protesters
  • EU mission to urge Myanmar to start democracy talks
  • Mudslide in Thai refugee camp kills four, 10 missing
  • Kyat plumbing new depths

  • Myanmar to take action against student protesters

    BANGKOK,(REUTERS) Sept. 3 - Myanmar's military government said on Tuesday it would take legal action against two students arrested last month for staging an anti-government protest.

    Thet Naung Soe and Khin Maung Win were detained after mounting a protest in front of the city hall in the capital Yangon. Rights groups say Thet Naung Soe unfurled the flag of Myanmar's underground student union, which shows a fighting peacock, while Khin Maung Win handed out leaflets. The two were among around 15 students arrested last month ahead of a visit by Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad. The other students -- detained, rights groups say, for belonging to a literary discussion group -- have been released.

    The fighting peacock flag is a potent symbol of student protest in Myanmar. Students were at the forefront of pro-democracy protests in 1988 that were bloodily put down by the military, earning international condemnation for the junta.

    Asked about the fate of the two students, Major-General Kyaw Win, deputy chief of military intelligence, told a news conference on Tuesday: ''Action will be taken against the two students who remain in custody, in accordance with the prevailing laws.'' He did not say which laws they had broken.

    The arrests last month raised concerns among rights groups that the junta was planning a new crackdown on opponents.

    The government has freed hundreds of political prisoners over the last two years, including more than 300 members of the National League for Democracy (NLD) led by Nobel peace laureate Aung San Suu Kyi. The releases began after the ruling generals started confidential talks with Suu Kyi, which they said were aimed at eventually bringing democracy to Myanmar, formerly called Burma. Following strong international pressure, Suu Kyi was released from 19 months of house arrest in May. But since then she has had no meetings with senior members of the junta.

    Sporadic talks held with the junta over the last two years have yet to move beyond ''confidence building,'' officials say. Suu Kyi has repeatedly called for meaningful talks to begin as soon as possible. The 57-year old Nobel peace laureate has also said the release of all political prisoners is a precondition for political progress in Myanmar. Suu Kyi's NLD was the overwhelming winner of an election held in 1990, but the military refused to hand over power. (Additional reporting by Andrew Marshall in Bangkok)

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    EU mission to urge Myanmar to start democracy talks

    YANGON,(REUTERS)Sept. 3 - A four-member European Union delegation will visit Myanmar next week, officials said on Tuesday, in a trip aimed at pressing the junta to free political prisoners and start talks with the pro-democracy opposition.

    ''The EU troika delegation is scheduled to visit Myanmar from September 8 to 10,'' foreign ministry official U Thaung Tun told Reuters in Yangon.

    Many EU foreign policy missions are undertaken by a so-called troika, a team led by an official from the country currently holding the presidency of the bloc. Diplomats said a Danish official would lead the EU team visiting Myanmar.

    The team is due to meet senior leaders of the military government and members of the opposition National League for Democracy (NLD), including Nobel peace laureate Aung San Suu Kyi.

    ''Their terms of reference include discussing the release of all political prisoners, the chances of holding meaningful political talks between the military and the NLD, and granting humanitarian assistance to Myanmar,'' said a European diplomat in Yangon.

    The visit is the fourth by a EU delegation since 1999. The previous visit, in March, shed little light on the country's murky political machinations. Some senior members of the ruling junta said they were too busy to meet the delegation, and members of the EU team were unable to reveal any fresh insights into Myanmar's political future.

    Since then, the one significant change has been Suu Kyi's release from 19 months of house arrest in May. But the military government has held no talks with Suu Kyi since her release from house arrest, and her demands for a substantive dialogue on the country's political future have so far gone unanswered.

    The military began confidential meetings with Suu Kyi in October 2000, but the two sides have yet to begin substantive political discussions. Last month, the United Nations special envoy to Myanmar, Razali Ismail, said meaningful talks would begin soon. But since then, hopes of an imminent breakthrough have faded.

    Diplomats say the main reason the junta has eased its stance towards Suu Kyi is the dismal state of the economy -- the ruling generals want to get international sanctions lifted. But they say the junta hopes to avoid making any further concessions to Suu Kyi and the NLD.

    The EU maintains a range of sanctions on Myanmar, and has said it will not ease sanctions unless there is political change. The NLD won Myanmar's last elections, in 1990, by a landslide. But the military refused to hand over power. (Additional reporting by Andrew Marshall in Bangkok)

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    Mudslide in Thai refugee camp kills four, 10 missing

    BANGKOK, Sept 3 (AFP) - At least four refugees were killed and 10 other people include Thai and foreign aid workers are missing after a mudslide hit a refugee camp on the Thailand-Myanmar border, officials said Tuesday.

    Northern Thailand has been inundated with rain for the past month, and further heavy downpours in the last few days caused flash floods that hit the Ban Sala refugee camp in Mae Hong Son province on Monday evening.

    "Based on the latest reports there are four dead, and 10 more are missing including foreign and Thai aid workers," Interior Minister Purachai Piumsombun told reporters at Government House.Purachai said he had assigned Apai Chandanachulaka, director general of the Local Administration Department to inspect the disaster site before he arrived on the scene later in the day.

    Refugee authorities in Bangkok and the border town of Mae Sot said they had no further details of the disaster.

    The Ban Sala camp in Mae Hong Son's Mae Sariang district shelters thousands of refugees, mostly ethnic Karen and Karenni, who have escaped fighting between Myanmar troops and rebel armies including the Karen National Union.

    Refugee sources said Ban Sala is also home to many students and dissident politicians who have fled anti- democracy purges in military-run Myanmar.

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    Kyat plumbing new depths

    Supamart Kasem
    The Bangkokpost

    The value of Burmese currency, the kyat, has plunged to a record low at 1,150 kyats per US dollar, or 0.38 baht per kyat.Travellers cannot exchange kyat into other currencies at border markets.

    The fall in the kyat's value has intensified since the Thai-Burmese border was closed after May 22's border skirmishes. A border trader in Tak said the exchange rate had been about 5 baht per 100 kyats before the border closure, and dropped to 4.45 baht after the border was sealed.

    Most Burmese workers chose to keep their wages in Thai currency. Panithi Tangphati, an adviser to Tak's Chamber of Commerce, said the border closure and import restrictions had cut border trade by 80% and lowered market demand for kyats.

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