Daily News- September 19- 2002- Thursday

  • US expresses disappointment over Myanmar talks on coup anniversary
  • US activists deal new legal blow to Unocal, Myanmar junta
  • Thai delegation heads for talks
  • ADB blasts Myanmar for delaying reforms, haphazard policies

  • US expresses disappointment over Myanmar talks on coup anniversary

    WASHINGTON, Sept 18 (AFP) - The United States on Wednesday accused Myanmar of failing to press forward with a promised national reconciliation drive, in a statement marking the Yangon junta's 14th anniversary.

    "Today is the 14th anniversary of the suppression of the people's hopes for democracy, and the establishment of the military regime, in Burma," said State Department spokesman Richard Boucher, using the country's former name.

    "We encourage the Burmese regime on the anniversary of its takeover to move rapidly toward its own stated goal of instituting democracy in Burma."We are disappointed that the regime has failed to follow through on steps toward national reconciliation after releasing Aung San Suu Kyi from house arrest in May of this year."

    "We encourage the regime to pursue substantive dialogue with the democratic opposition and to release all of the many remaining political prisoners unconditionally."

    Military leaders took full control of Burma and imposed martial law on September 18 1988, little more than a month after democracy protests were crushed in a bloody army crackdown in which thousands are thought to have died.They established the State Law and Order Restoration Council (SLORC) and later renamed the country Myanmar.Despite allowing a general election in 1990, the SLORC refused to accept its results, which amounted to an overwhelming victory for Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy.

    Boucher's statement came amid renewed speculation in the political and dissident communities here that a landmark dialogue between Aung San Suu Kyi and the junta, brokered by UN envoy Razali Ismail may be in trouble.

    Myanmar, which is treated as a pariah state by Washington and its Western allies has recently made attempts to improve its standing in the US capital, hiring a lobbying firm and making major policy announcements here rather than in Yangon.

    In July, the junta claimed it was victim of a vicious "smear" campaign designed to frustrate its goal of improving poisoned relations with the United States.The tirade followed allegations that Myanmar troops had systematically raped women and girls in Shan state.

    The United States has warned junta that a bevy of sanctions and investment restrictions will be lifted only when substantial progress is made towards democratic reform.Washington is a staunch supporter of Aung San Suu Kyi, who's NLD won an overwhelming election victory in 1990 that was never recognized by the government.It also accuses Yangon of doing too little to crack down on the trade in illegal narcotics.

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    US activists deal new legal blow to Unocal, Myanmar junta

    WASHINGTON, Sept 18 (AFP) - US activists hailed a new victory over Myanmar on Wednesday, after an appeals court gave the go-ahead to a case alleging energy giant Unocal was complicit in human rights abuses by the Yangon regime.

    The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals reversed an earlier Federal District Court decision to dismiss the case, delighting campaigners who have waged a six-year battle against the company's conduct on a gas pipeline they claim was built using forced labor.

    Ironically, the judgment was handed down on the 14th anniversary of the imposition of martial law in Myanmar, the former Burma, the debut of a regime pilloried ever since for its human rights record and suppression of democracy.

    "This is a landmark decision," said Richard Herz, a Washington-based lawyer with EarthRights International, co- counsel in the case launched on behalf of 11 Myanmar villagers.

    The Federal District Court ruled in September 2000 that although Unocal knew or should have known that Myanmar's military was committing human rights abuses related to the pipeline, it could not be held liable as it did not control the regime's actions.

    Wednesday's decision reversed that ruling, holding that the plaintiffs need only demonstrate that Unocal knowingly assisted the military in the perpetration of abuses, and that they had presented evidence that it had done so.

    "This ruling puts the plaintiffs one step closer to having their day in court," said co-counsel Anne Richardson."We are confident that a jury reviewing the facts of this case will be horrified, we expect a huge verdict on their behalf."

    A related state court case against Unocal, involving similar plaintiffs and charges on the Yadana gas pipeline, a joint venture with the Myanmar government, got the go-ahead in California in June.

    There was no immediate comment on the decision from Unocal but the company has long argued that it was in no way party to human rights abuses and did not request or receive services from the Myanmar army.

    Plaintiffs allege that Unocal -- and its partners including France's Total oil -- were aware forced labour was used in Myanmar before they agreed to build the pipeline, but went ahead with the project anyway.

    The villagers claim that some of them were forced to help build the pipeline while others suffered abuse -- including sexual assaults -- from military officials offering "security" to the lucrative energy scheme.

    Unocal spokesman Barry Lane strongly denied the company was in any way responsible for the rights abuses he conceded were committed by the military of Myanmar, formerly known as Burma.

    Rights activists have estimated that Myanmar's military regime, which seized power in 1988, receives around 150 million dollars annually in precious income from the Yadana pipeline, cash that they allege bankrolls the junta's oppressive rule.

    Myanmar is pilloried for a catalogue of alleged human rights abuses, and is outlawed by the United States and its western allies for its suppression of the democracy movement of Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi.

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    Thai delegation heads for talks

    Wassana Nanuam
    The Bangkokpost

    The Thai-Burmese Cultural and Economic Cooperation Association will discuss reopening of the border, economic issues and lifting of an entry ban on 14 Thai journalists during a three-day visit to Burma starting today.

    Association secretary Sanan Kachornklam, who heads the nine-member delegation, said the visit reflects an improvement in bilateral relations.They would meet Lt-Gen Kyaw Than, the Burmese head of the association. The meeting was postponed from July.

    Gen Sanan said he would offer to arrange a meeting between junta leaders and the Thai media and to ask for the lifting of the ban on 14 Thai reporters.The delegation would offer to lend 300 million baht to Burma to build a 200- kilometre road linking Tak's Mae Sot district with Myawaddy in Burma, he said. Thailand would help build the first 18km free of charge.

    Airline cooperation on the Mae Sot-Rangoon route between Air Andaman and Burma's Air Mandalay would also be discussed, along with fisheries cooperation and joint development of border areas in Tak, Ranong and Kanchanaburi, Gen Sanan said.

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    ADB blasts Myanmar for delaying reforms, haphazard policies

    source : The Daily star

    AFP, Manila -Myanmar's military rulers came under scathing criticism Wednesday from the Asian Development Bank (ADB) for delaying reforms and making haphazard policies.

    "There are no clear prospects for the introduction of necessary widespread economic reforms by the government of Myanmar to correct macroeconomic imbalances and reduce poverty," the ADB said in its Asian Development Outlook 2002 report.

    It said the military junta "lacked the necessary policies, and its strategies are ad hoc and respond to a variety of problems in, at times, contradictory ways."Moreover, the capacity to implement policies is lacking," the Manila-based ADB said in the report.

    Citing an example, it said the junta had declared the "laudable intention" of eliminating fiscal deficits over a five-year period "but lacks the capacity and tools to actually do this."The bank said the junta should, perhaps, consider only reducing these fiscal deficits.

    Myanmar, formerly Burma, has suffered under decades of failed socialist policies, government control of the economy, and crippling sanctions that followed the bloody repression of 1988 pro-democracy protests and 1990 elections the junta refused to recognise.The economy has been propped up to a large degree by cash from the illegal trade in opium and methamphetamines which some observers say constitutes 20 per cent of all business in the country.

    The ADB said Myanmar's problems were as much structural as macroeconomic.It said the country's exchange rate continued to be "grossly overvalued," with the official exchange rate of the national currency, the kyat, at around 6.8 to the dollar.

    "However, by the end of April, the free market rate was over 1,000" kyat to the dollar, the ADB said.The dual exchange rate system is a problem since it distorts prices and resource allocation and stunts growth.

    The ADB also charged that the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC), the official name of Myanmar's military junta, was reluctant to accept the market based rate for fear that debt repayments would become more difficult.

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