Daily News- September 26- 2002- Thursday

  • Rangoon Sees the Light
  • Myanmar foreign minister says reconciliation talks "on track"
  • Ministers make slow progress on border reopening
  • Villagers flee after threat from Karen Buddhist Army
  • Australia visit to Myanmar seen warming relations
  • Former Burma dictator's son-in-law, grandson convicted of corruption
  • Downer to meet Suu Kyi
  • Relatives of Myanmar's Ne Win sentenced to death
  • Burma's Ne Win suffers savage fall from grace

  • Rangoon Sees the Light

    By Naw Seng and Khun Tha
    The Irrawaddy

    September 25, 2002-In the throes of a rapidly plunging economy, the junta announced at a press conference today that Rangoon now has 24-hour a day access to electricity. After experiencing years of power shortages, electricity began flowing regularly in the capital in the beginning of this week, according to a government ministry official.

    "We can turn on the lights whenever we want now," said a Rangoon resident. She added that nearly all the city’s townships are now able to access a 24- hour power supply.

    While many residents welcomed the news, government ministries have been instructed to reduce power consumption and have reportedly removed many electrical appliances from government offices, such as air conditioning units and florescent lights."We have been instructed to use electricity only when necessary," said the government official.

    Rangoon residents reportedly said that implementation of the new policy would cause electricity prices to rise. Consumption of up to 50 units of electricity currently costs 2.5 kyat per unit. Additional units cost 20 kyat.

    Rangoon’s power supply is mainly provided by three local gas turbine power stations that provide 260-megawatts, and two combined cycle power stations that provide an additional 90-megawatts. The gas for the turbines originates in the Yetagun offshore gas field in the Gulf of Martaban. Currently, Rangoon’s gas turbine generators can access only six million cubic feet of gas per month, but require 18 million cubic feet for 24-hour service.

    The bulk of the country’s power was previously supplied by the Lawpita hydropower dam, which was built by the Japanese in 1952, in Kayah (Karenni) State. Japan announced in May that it would extend emergency assistance of up to 628 million yen to Burma for rehabilitating the Baluchaung No 2 Power Plant.

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    Myanmar foreign minister says reconciliation talks "on track"

    BANGKOK, Sept 25 (AFP) - Reconciliation talks between Myanmar's military government and democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi are moving "on the right track", the junta's Foreign Minister Win Aung said here Wednesday.

    Win Aung said Aung San Suu Kyi was continuing to meet with representatives of the regime, in secret contacts which began in October 2000.

    "There are people who are meeting with her. I am not the one who is meeting her but they are our people," he told reporters during an official visit to Thailand."It's on the right track," he said of the reconciliation process. "It is always moving in the right direction. It will be step by step."

    Myanmar observers are now waiting for the contacts, which have completed an initial "confidence-building" stage, to progress into a fully fledged dialogue aimed at breaking Myanmar's 12-year-old political deadlock.Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy (NLD) said in August that it expected the landmark talks to begin within weeks as both sides were eager to start a dialogue on reform.

    However, since then there has been no news of any progress and the Nobel peace laureate has hinted that some 1,500 political prisoners in the nation's jails would have to be released before the talks began.

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    Ministers make slow progress on border reopening

    Achara Ashayagachat
    The Bangkokpost

    Foreign Minister Surakiart Sathirathai and his Burmese counterpart made little headway towards the reopening of the common border during talks yesterday, with Rangoon apparently setting pre-conditions for the event.

    While stating the border should be reopened within a few weeks, Burmese Foreign Minister Win Aung said input would be required from the ministries of interior and commerce, as well as immigration and customs authorities.

    ``Things should be cleared up sooner rather than later,'' he said.He said he had discussed 10 areas of cooperation, including drug suppression and illegal immigration.``Although there are areas of dispute, we are not in conflict,'' he said. ``We have mutual respect for each other's international sovereignty and independence.''

    Meanwhile, Mr Surakiart denied Rangoon had set provisos.``Burma raised some points, but we also highlighted certain issues,'' he said. ``We agreed that once these matters are cleared up, the checkpoints will reopen.''

    Though the two ministers met on the sidelines of an Asean meeting in July and the Earth Summit in Johannesburg, South Africa, earlier this month, Mr Win Aung described yesterday's talks as ``preliminary.''

    Mr Surakiart said permanent secretary for foreign affairs Tej Bunnag would visit Rangoon for talks next week.Topics requiring further discussion included border crossings, consular services and clamping down on black market goods, he said.

    Pointing to the abatement of Rangoon's smear campaign against the country, Mr Surakiart said relations had normalised, adding the issue that led to the border closure had been ironed out.Rangoon closed the border on May 20 after accusing Thailand of assisting Shan rebels based along the border in their fight against Burmese troops.

    Mr Win Aung said HRH Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn had accepted an invitation to visit Burma early next year.``The princess has fond memories of her last visit to Burma 16 years ago,'' he said. ``We are grateful for the many humanitarian and educational projects she established.''

    During talks with Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, Mr Win Aung requested assistance in Rangoon's bid to eradicate the cultivation of opium crops.

    Thai govt to aid Burma in crop substitution

    The government has agreed to provide assistance to Rangoon in promoting the substitution of opium crops in Burma in an attempt to curb production of the drug in the country.During a meeting yesterday with Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, Burmese Foreign Minister Win Aung said Rangoon would begin closing opium plantations and distributing alternative seeds to farmers before month-end.He said Rangoon wanted bilateral ties restored as soon as possible.

    Mr Thaksin vowed to help Rangoon find markets for the produce that will be harvested by former opium farmers.There was currently enough opium in Burmese plantations to process 55 tonnes of heroin, he said.However, no agreement was reached during yesterday's meeting on the production of methamphetamine in Burma, the trafficking of which has left more than 1 million Thais addicted.

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    Villagers flee after threat from Karen Buddhist Army

    Supamart Kasem
    The Bangkokpost

    About 500 people in three border villages in Tha Song Yang district have moved out after the pro-Rangoon Democratic Karen Buddhist Army threatened to attack them.People from Mae Usu, Tinoto and Thungnam have spent three nights at temples and schools.

    Troops from the DKBA's 555th division threatened to attack after they found some villagers had provided food and shelter to two Karen National Union fighters.

    Pradit Siricharoen, a local leader, said the DKBA claimed a Karen family in Mae Usu gave assistance to the KNU fighters on Saturday night.On Sunday morning the KNU fighters spotted a DKBA long-tailed boat on the Moei river and reportedly opened fire, killing the boatman and a pregnant passenger.The KNU men were part of a unit that attacked a DKBA base in Burma and killed two civilians, according to the DKBA.

    Mr Pradit said the DKBA told the village heads to reveal the names of the KNU fighters or they would be attacked.Premporn Khantikaew, 35, said the border villagers treated DKBA and KNU fighters alike and did not side with any group.Anuchit Songkhao, a security official, said the threat was unlikely to materialise, but authorities would not take any chances. Border patrol police and volunteers were deployed to protect the the three villages.

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    Australia visit to Myanmar seen warming relations

    CANBERRA, (Reuters)Sept. 25 - Australia said on Thursday relations with military ruled Myanmar are warming but no dramatic outcomes are expected from a visit next week by Foreign Minister Alexander Downer, the highest level Western visit in years. Downer will visit Myanmar on October 2-3 to meet with top military leaders and pro-democracy opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, re-opening ministerial level relations with the ruling military junta for the first time since 1983.

    ''This is not a visit that is aimed at producing any dramatic outcomes. The relationship is now changing gradually, signified by this visit, so we're not looking for any breakthroughs...it is more a sounding out,'' the spokesman said.

    Downer's visit is the first by a Western government minister to Myanmar following the release of Nobel Peace Prize winner Suu Kyi from house arrest in May. Her release raised hopes that the military may be opening Myanmar, formerly known as Burma, to democratic reform.

    A spokesman for Downer said the visit symbolised the warming relations between Australia and Myanmar, but he cautioned against any suggestion two days of meetings would bring an end to decades of isolation of the southeast Asian nation.

    Unlike the European Union and the United States, Australia has not imposed political or economic sanctions on Myanmar, which has been ruled by the military since 1962 despite a landslide election victory for Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy (NLD) in 1990. Australia has imposed an unofficial sanction on visa applications from Myanmar, granting entry on a case-by-case basis rather than operating a blanket policy for the entire nation, as it does with other countries.

    The military government has said it is committed to democracy, but that moving too fast could unleash anarchy.


    Australia has slowly increased involvement in Myanmar. Mid-level officials have conducted nine human rights workshops since 2000 in a bid to encourage the military to reconcile with democracy advocates.

    ''We have the view that that aim of national reconciliation and political change is not actually served by isolating Burma, so obviously this visit demonstrates that, if anything, our relationship with Burma is warming rather than cooling,'' Downer's spokesman said.

    Trade with Myanmar has stagnated under the sanctions and investment restrictions imposed by Brussels and Washington.

    Two-way trade between Australia and Myanmar totaled just A$59.5 million ($32.5 million) in 2000/01, putting Myanmar 75th on Australia's list of trading partners.

    An EU delegation visited Myanmar in September to assess the extent of political progress. But while they met with Suu Kyi, a planned meeting with a top military leader failed to materialise. The 15-nation bloc has said it needs to see significant political progress before it reviews its position on Myanmar.In August, 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.

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    Former Burma dictator's son-in-law, grandson convicted of corruption

    Rangoon (AP)- A former dictator's son-in-law and grandson were convicted of corruption and sentenced to prison Thursday but face a possible death sentence on separate charges of treason arising from an alleged coup attempt.

    A special tribunal ruled Aye Zaw Win, 54, the son-in-law of Burma's former dictator Ne Win, guilty on two counts of smuggling satellite phones. His son, Kyaw Ne Win, 23, was convicted of eight counts of importing 15 unregistered vehicles and satellite phones.

    The court also found two friends of Kyaw Ne Win guilty of smuggling, but on fewer counts.

    The court sentenced each defendant to seven years in prison on each charge, but it was not immediately clear if the sentences would run concurrently or consecutively.

    A verdict on the treason charges against Aye Zaw Win, Kyaw Ne Win and his brothers, Aye Ne Win, 25, and Zwe Ne Win, 21, was expected later Thursday.

    They are accused of recruiting army officers for an alleged coup that the government said was aimed at reinstalling Ne Win, 91, in power. The defendants have denied the charge, saying they have no interest in politics.

    During the 3 1/2 month trial, the prosecution built a strong circumstantial case against the defendants, portraying them as a family hungry for power and whose members resorted to black magic and treachery but who were exposed by loyal army officers.

    The two tribunals were held at Rangoon's Insein prison, where the defendants are detained.

    The unexpected arrests of Aye Zaw Win, 54, and his three sons, exploded a popular belief about the Ne Win clan's influence over the junta.

    Ne Win, 91, and his daughter Sandar Win — Aye Zaw Win's wife — have been placed under house arrest at their sprawling lakeside mansion since the arrests.

    The government has said that Ne Win's relatives planned the coup because they were upset at losing some of their economic and political privileges as he became sidelined from absolute power.

    Ne Win, who came to power in a 1962 coup, stepped down in 1988 in the face of pro-democracy demonstrations that were crushed by the military. The generals, who took over power, continue to rule today.

    On Sept. 12, a military tribunal sentenced more than 80 soldiers to 15 years in prison for their role in the alleged coup plot. The soldiers were from a regiment responsible for guarding Ne Win's 28-acre (11-hectare) lakeside compound.

    Prosecutors have suggested that the Ne Win family used voodoo during the coup plot. As part of evidence they displayed three miniature dolls of the junta's top three leaders, generals Than Shwe, Maung Aye and Khin Nyunt, apparently used in black magic rituals.

    Of its 46 witnesses, the prosecution relied mostly on Col. Than Htay, a senior army commander who said he tipped off military intelligence officials that the four wanted his help with the coup plot.

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    Downer to meet Suu Kyi

    By Kimina Lyall
    The Advertiser

    ALEXANDER Downer will next week become the first Australian foreign affairs minister to visit Burma in 20 years when he arrives in Rangoon for scheduled meetings with Aung San Suu Kyi and Burma's top generals.

    The trip - the first since Bill Hayden visited in 1983 and the first since the country was thrown into international isolation after the military junta nullified the results of 1990 elections - takes Australia's "limited engagement" policy with Burma to a new level.

    Organised at the urging of the UN special envoy to Burma, Razali Ismail, it is designed to prod the military junta to move along in talks aimed at reconciliation and democracy. The meeting will give Mr Downer a "first-hand appreciation of the situation, including the humanitarian situation" in Burma, his spokesman said.

    It will be the first visit of a senior Western government member since National League for Democracy leader Ms Aung San Suu Kyi was released from house arrest in May.

    During the one-day trip, Mr Downer will meet with Ms Aung San Suu Kyi as well as senior officials from the State Peace and Development Council, Burma's ruling junta. Officials are optimistic he will meet with the head of the military junta, General Than Shwe.

    The Generals have been informed Mr Downer intends to meet Ms Aung San Suu Kyi, and are understood to have accepted that.

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    Relatives of Myanmar's Ne Win sentenced to death

    YANGON(Reuters / AP), Sept. 26 - A Myanmar court on Thursday sentenced to death by hanging four relatives of former dictator Ne Win found guilty of plotting to overthrow the junta with the help of army officers and black magic.

    The court found the husband of Ne Win's favourite daughter, Sandar Win, and the couple's three sons, guilty of high treason, a charge which carries the death penalty, the court said.

    Some diplomats say they are sceptical that a coup was ever seriously planned and see the trials as a way of isolating Ne Win and of giving more power to other members of the military government.

    Ne Win's grandsons told the court they would not appeal the verdict, while their father remained silent. The lawyer for the men said he would try an persuade them to lodge an appeal within the seven-day period allowed. Myanmar's supreme court must endorse the verdict, with deliberations starting in seven days.

    One of the sons, Kyaw Ne Win, 22, was earlier on Thursday sentenced to a total of 49 years in prison for graft, including illegally importing and selling cars.

    Myanmar court sentences Ne Win relatives to death for coup plot

    source : AFP

    A Myanmar court sentenced the son-in-law and three grandsons of former dictator Ne Win to death by hanging for conspiring to overthrow the military government.

    "I hereby sentence Aye Zaw Win, Aye Ne Win, Kyaw Ne Win and Zwe Ne Win to death by hanging for having been found guilty of conspiring against the state," Judge Ngwe Aung said Thursday.

    "And I also sentence them to life for trying to lure military personnel to help them in the coup plot."

    The judge said the death sentence must be confirmed by the Supreme Court before it can be carried out and that the four, who were arrested in March, have seven days to lodge an appeal.The sentence is surprisingly harsh as observers had expected any death penalty to be immediately commuted to life imprisonment.

    Ngwe Aung said the evidence presented to the court of the men's involvement in a plot to overthrow the ruling State Peace and Development Council (SPDC) was irrefutable.

    "My decisions have been based on the evidence provided by the two prime prosecution witnesses... as well as the letter sent by Aye Zaw Win to Senior General Than Shwe in which he admitted having planned the plot," he said."This was very incriminating evidence that they had been plotting a coup."

    After the death sentence was handed down, the eldest grandson Aye Ne Win called out defiantly "We are not going to appeal".

    However, his lawyer Tun Sein said later that he was speaking in the heat of the moment. "We will try to convince them to appeal," he said.

    The defiant mood continued as the four were being led away from the court, with Aye Ne Win challenging his lawyers and accusing them of being lackeys of the junta.

    "I have not been able to see my mother since we were arrested. What are you doing about it? Since you have been hired by the authorities you may as well do their bidding," he said.

    During their two-and-a-half-hour court appearance the four appeared unconcerned about their fate, and were seen whispering, smiling and joking to each other.

    The court was packed with journalists representing foreign news organizations, diplomats, relatives and girlfriends of the sons. The relatives wept as the men were led out of the court.

    Of its 46 witnesses, the prosecution relied mostly on Col. Than Htay, a senior army commander who testified that he had tipped off military intelligence officials that the four wanted his help with the coup plot.

    He said one of the sons had told him that a change was needed in the country and that he was asked to provide security for Ne Win while the coup plotters carried out a plan to abduct the junta leaders and force them to take an oath to form a new regime loyal to the former leader.

    Alleged coup plotters have never been treated leniently by Myanmar courts.

    In 1976, the ring leader of a group of army captains accused of plotting to assassinate government leaders including Ne Win was found guilty and executed. The others were given prison sentences. A former Socialist Party member was found guilty of treason in 1977 and was also found guilty but not executed.

    Burma's Ne Win suffers savage fall from grace

    source : MSNBC / REUTERS

    Rangoon, Sept. 26 — Forty years after seizing power in Burma in a coup, elderly former dictator Ne Win has suffered a sudden and savage fall from grace.

    A court in Rangoon's notorious Insein prison sentenced his son-in-law and three of his grandsons on Thursday to death by hanging for plotting to overthrow the government with the aid of renegade officers and black magic.

    Although Ne Win was not implicated in the alleged plot he is being held in de facto house arrest, forbidden from leaving his family's lavish compound on the palm-fringed shores of Rangoon's Inya Lake and shunned by the military junta that he created.

    The man who ruled Burma, with an iron grip for more than quarter of a century looks set to end his days in his lakeside prison home, his name blackened.

    Ne Win's name means ''Brilliant Sun'' but most people refer to him as ''The Old Man.'' Different accounts of his life give various dates for his birth, but he is thought to be 92 years old.

    He seized power in 1962, establishing himself at the head of a military dictatorship and ruling the country according to ''The Burmese Way to Socialism'' -- a mixture of communist central planning and Buddhist mysticism.

    Astrologers were among his top advisers, and many of his decisions were based on the pronouncements of fortune tellers. Deeply superstitious, he replaced the country's banknotes with denominations which were multiples of nine -- his lucky number.

    Under his rule, Burma went from being one of the richest countries in Asia to one of the poorest and most isolated.


    Ne Win formally relinquished power in 1988, handing it to a new generation of generals.

    But long after he stepped down he was widely believed to wield influence behind the scenes, until the junta he helped install turned on him in March, accusing his relatives of plotting a coup to return the family to power.

    The death sentences pronounced on his relatives are seen by analysts as the final sign he has used up the dregs of his power.

    Born into a Sino-Burman family in a small town 190 miles (305 km) northwest of Rangoon, Ne Win studied at a Rangoon University before becoming a postal clerk.

    During the World War Two he became one of the legendary ''Thirty Comrades,'' a group of young men trained by the Japanese to fight British rule. It was then he took ''Ne Win'' as his nom de guerre, replacing his real name, Shu Maung.

    The Thirty Comrades were led by General Aung San, a national hero for his fight against British rule. Aung San was assassinated in 1947, when the country was on the brink of independence.

    His daughter Aung San Suu Kyi, emerged in 1988 to challenge the leadership of Ne Win and his generals, becoming the leader of the pro-democracy movement, and spending several years in house arrest in a mansion that faces Ne Win's compound across Rangoon's Inya Lake.

    She was freed from her latest spell of detention in May, two months after the junta made Ne Win a prisoner in his villa.

    After Burma won independence in 1948, Ne Win was appointed vice commander-in-chief of the military, and was later promoted to commander-in-chief.

    In 1958, amid political uncertainty following a split in the ruling party, he was asked to form a caretaker government and served as prime minister. His caretaker government won respect, and in 1960 he held democratic elections and handed over power to the winning party.

    But in March 1962 he seized power, saying the country was in danger of disintegration, and imprisoned large numbers of opponents including politicians, journalists and students.

    He was ruthless in purging those whose loyalty was in question. In 1976, he uncovered an alleged plot by army officers to kill him.

    The alleged ringleader was sentenced to death and executed in 1977 after a trial in Insein prison -- where Ne Win's relatives have now also stood trial for high treason.

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