Daily News- September 27- 2002- Friday

  • US fetes Myanmar democracy party, calls on junta to open talks
  • Myanmar invites UN rights envoy to visit after abuse allegations
  • Death sentences mark the end of Myanmar's Ne Win dynasty
  • Myanmar's Suu Kyi says willing to work with junta
  • Australia's Downer to meet Myanmar ministers
  • Burma Rulers Send Power Message
  • U.N. expert: Burma's people suffer continuing right violations, junta must change track


  • US fetes Myanmar democracy party, calls on junta to open talks

    WASHINGTON, Sept 26 (AFP) - The United States on Thursday called on Myanmar's junta to reopen a substantive dialogue with Aung San Suu Kyi's opposition, and congratulated the Nobel peace laureate on her party's 14th anniversary.

    "September 27 is the 14th anniversary of the establishment of the National League for Democracy (NLD) in Burma," said State Department spokesman Richard Boucher in a statement using the country's former name outlawed by its ruling military.

    "We commend their courage in continuing to work for dialogue despite many obstacles placed in their path."We once again call for the regime to resume substantive talks with the League and to release all political prisoners unconditionally."

    The NLD won an overwhelming general election victory in 1990 which was never recognised by the military.It has since endured a campaign of intimidation and seen hundreds of members imprisoned and offices closed. Aung San Suu Kyi has faced several periods of house arrest, the latest of which ended earlier this year.

    "In May 2002, (Aung San Suu Kyi) was released, and the National League for Democracy has reopened some of its offices across the country."We hoped these positive steps would signal a new move toward reconciliation on the part of the regime, but have been disappointed by lack of progress."

    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 going nowhere.

    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 also accuses Yangon of doing too little to crack down on the trade in illegal narcotics.

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    Myanmar invites UN rights envoy to visit after abuse allegations

    YANGON, Sept 26 (AFP) - Myanar's military government said Friday it had invited UN human rights envoy Paulo Sergio Pinheiro to visit the country to investigate allegations of systematic sexual abuse against ethnic minority Shan women.

    "Responding to the allegations of human rights abuses in the Shan state, today the government of Myanmar extended an invitation to Professor Paulo Sergio Pinheiro... for an official visit," it said in a statement.Governor spokesman Colonel Hla Min said Pinheiro was asked to visit Myanmar from October 12-22.

    "The government welcomes Professor Pinheiro for further cooperation and to witness the ongoing progress with regards to human rights on behalf of all Myanmar citizens," Hla Min said in the statement received here.

    In a report entitled "Licence to Rape" released in July, two Thai-based Shan rights organisations accused the Myanmar military of using rape as a weapon of war against the Shan minority.The report, which drew international outrage, detailed the sexual assault of 625 girls and women, mostly between 1996 and 2001.Myanmar's government has repeatedly rejected the rape allegations as "preposterous" and said they are politically motivated.

    Its invitation to Pinheiro follows renewed calls for an independent investigation into the allegations from members of the US Congress earlier this week.It was also issued hours after the US State Department congratulated the opposition National League for Democracy (NLD) on the 14th anniversary of its founding, which is to be celebrated at party headquarters Friday.

    "We commend their courage in continuing to work for dialogue despite many obstacles placed in their path," said State Department spokesman Richard Boucher."We once again call for the regime to resume substantive talks with the League and to release all political prisoners unconditionally.

    Pinheiro, a Brazilian academic, has made three visits to Myanmar since being appointed in April 2001. His last was in February.

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    Death sentences mark the end of Myanmar's Ne Win dynasty

    YANGON, Sept 26 (AFP) - Death sentences handed to four relatives of former Myanmar dictator Ne Win for plotting to overthrow the military regime mark the end of the ageing autocrat's era of domination, analysts said Friday.

    The arrests of the four in March transformed Myanmar's political landscape by dispelling the popular notion that Ne Win continued to wield significant influence despite standing down in 1988 after leading the country for 26 years.

    On Thursday, a special tribunal set up in the grounds of Yangon's notorious Insein jail delivered the final blow to the dynasty by sending Ne Win's son-in-law, Aye Zaw Win, 54, and three grandsons to the gallows.However, the four accused appeared nonchalant as the sentence was read out, bolstering speculation that Myanmar's former "First Family" had cut some kind of deal to spare their lives.

    "Not only were they not surprised but they seemed to take it in their stride, even chatting away with each other while the judge reeled out the incriminating testimonies," said one political observer.

    Judge Aung Ngwe left the door open to an appeal, saying the Supreme Court would have to confirm the sentences before they could be carried out.

    But as he finished speaking, the eldest of the 20-something grandsons, Aye Ne Win, who is a qualified lawyer, called out defiantly "We are not going to appeal".And as the four were being led away from the court, he challenged his government-appointed lawyers and accused them of being lackeys of the junta.

    "Since you have been hired by the authorities you may as well do their bidding," he said as military intelligence photographers snapped away.

    Few analysts believe the Ne Win relatives were seriously attempting to mount a coup, but suspect the junta took the opportunity to sideline them after their behaviour and business interests became increasingly unruly and troublesome.They also note that the high-profile case has reaped many benefits for the ruling generals, serving as a useful diversionary tactic as well as a public exhibition of their power.

    "They were anxious to get public attention away from the myriad of problems facing the nation," one long-time Yangon analyst said, pointing out that they had effectively killed "three birds with one stone".

    "Not only did they manage to convince the world that Ne Win no longer wields power over them -- in one single stroke they got rid of a perpetual nuisance posed by some of the family members while at the same time sending out a clear warning to doubting members of the military to stay in line -- or else."

    The move not only signalled the end of the Ne Win era but also strengthened the notion that the regime which has ruled the nation for the last 14 years was consolidating its role and silenced perennial talk of splits in the junta.

    The reaction Friday to news of the heavy penalties against the family, which was universally detested in Myanmar thanks to its thuggish and greedy behaviour, was predictably mild.

    "We had anticipated this as we knew the conspiracy charge would stick but whether these sentences will be carried out or not still remains to be seen," one observer told AFP.

    Legal experts say there are three options available that could see them find a way out of their predicament, one of them involving an appeal letter from Aye Zaw Win to Myanmar's leader, Senior General Than Shwe.

    "Aye Zaw Win's appeal letter, which proved damning, may also save them if Senior General Than Shwe who is the de facto head of state decides to use his powers to pardon the convicted criminals," one lawyer said.

    The nation's penal code also empowers the home minister to suspend the sentences or remit them "wholly or partially", he said."Convicted persons may also appeal for clemency to the head of state to either suspend, remit or quash the sentences using legal channels," he added.

    There is also the possibility of pardoning the four in one of the general amnesties declared from time to time to mark auspicious religious occasions.

    Experts pointed to two instances in the past when famous drug baron Lo Hsing Han and notorious communist leader Thakin Soe were given their liberty after being sentenced to death, thanks to an amnesty declared in 1980 by the Ne Win government after they had languished in jail for just five years.

    "We feel that the 'fearsome foursome' will get to enjoy the benefit of such options open to them at some time or the other," the lawyer said.

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    Myanmar's Suu Kyi says willing to work with junta

    YANGON(Reuters) Sept. 27 - In a major gesture of reconciliation, Myanmar opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi said on Friday she was willing to work with the ruling military to better the lives of ordinary people in the impoverished country.

    Speaking on the 14th anniversary of the founding of her National League for Democracy (NLD) party, Suu Kyi said she would not hesitate to cooperate with Yangon's generals.

    ''We will never hesitate to cooperate with the armed forces, based on sincere goodwill,'' the Nobel peace laureate told 400 party members and diplomats gathered her headquarters. ''It is high time we all worked for the country holding hands together.''

    Washington issued a statement on Thursday to mark the NLD's anniversary, urging the regime to resume talks with the group and to release all political prisoners.

    After strong international pressure, Suu Kyi was released from 19 months of house arrest in May, raising hopes of progress towards political change in Myanmar. But since then she has had no meetings with senior members of the junta. She has repeatedly called for talks to begin as soon as possible and for the release of all political prisoners.

    The NLD won 1990 elections in Myanmar by a landslide, but the military refused to recognise the poll result and has locked up many of her party members in repeated crackdowns on dissent.

    The United Nations special envoy to Myanmar, who brokered talks between the junta and Suu Kyi in 2000, has said the NLD would be willing to cooperate with the generals in some areas. The NLD has said this means they would be willing to allow Myanmar to receive some international aid, it it were closely monitored.But the extent of possible cooperation between the military and the NLD has never been made clear and all recent overtures by the opposition to the junta have been rebuffed. (Additional reporting by Dan Eaton in Bangkok)

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    Australia's Downer to meet Myanmar ministers

    CANBERRA, (Reuters) Sept. 27 Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer will meet Myanmar's military leader, Senior General Than Shwe, and pro- democracy opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi during a landmark visit, officials said on Friday.

    The October 2-3 visit is the highest level Western visit in years and follows the release in May of Nobel Peace Price winner Suu Kyi from 19 months of house arrest, which raised hopes the military junta may be opening Myanmar to democratic reform.

    Foreign officials said they expect Downer's scheduled meetings to go ahead as planned, despite the experience of previous visitors who have had meetings cancelled at the last minute upon arrival in Myanmar, formally known as Burma.

    ''The government of Burma is hosting Mr Downer's visit so I think that sends a message about expectations,'' a senior foreign official told reporters.

    During the visit Downer is scheduled to meet General Than Shwe, Foreign Minister Win Aung, Home Affairs Minister Tin Hlaing and Secretary One of the ruling State Peace and Development Council Khin Nyunt, as well as Suu Kyi.

    The visit is the first by an Australian government minister to the Southeast Asian nation since 1983. All of the meetings are scheduled for Wednesday, with the government meetings to be followed by an afternoon meeting with National League for Democracy leader Suu Kyi.

    The foreign officials said Downer only considered the visit because Suu Kyi had been released from house arrest in May, and said a meeting with the democracy leader was a condition of the trip.

    Senior members of the ruling junta have held sporadic meetings with Suu Kyi over the past two years, but the talks have yet to start addressing substantive political issues and the junta has held no meetings with Suu Kyi since she was freed.

    Downer will depart Myanmar for a half-day stop in Thailand before travelling to Indonesia on October 4-5 to attend the inaugural South West Pacific Dialogue ministerial meeting and to Malaysia on October 6-8 for a regional World Economic Forum meeting.

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    Burma Rulers Send Power Message

    BANGKOK (AP)- -Burma's military rulers sent a clear signal they will brook no challenge to their authority when four relatives of the country's former dictator Ne Win were sentenced to death for treason, analysts said Friday.

    A special court convicted Ne Win's son-in-law Aye Zaw Win and three grandsons of plotting to overthrow the government and sentenced them to death by hanging.

    Observers say the sentences will likely be commuted to life in prison since Burma rarely executes people.

    The verdict Thursday made it clear that the junta which controls the media and courts in Burma has quashed all remnants of Ne Win's influence and forestalled any ambitions his family may have had of returning him to power.

    "The whole episode was embarrassing to the rulers and to have given anything less than (death) would have sent a new message that the threat was not seen by them as serious," said Josef Silverstein, a Burma specialist at Rutgers University in New Jersey.

    "All these steps confirm for me that this military is going nowhere, certainly (has) no intention of giving up power," he said in an e-mail interview.

    Aye Zaw Win, 54, the husband of Ne Win's favorite daughter Sandar Win, and the couple's three sons Aye Ne Win, 25, Kyaw Ne Win, 23, and Zwe Ne Win, 21 were arrested March 7 after an army officer told authorities he had been approached by the family to mount a coup on Ne Win's behalf.

    It is not clear if the ailing 91-year-old Ne Win remains interested in power, or whether the family merely wanted him as a figurehead.

    The four have denied the treason charges, saying they have no interest in politics. They have until next Thursday to appeal the verdict in the Supreme Court.

    The government says Ne Win's family planned the coup because they were upset at losing privileges as his influence declined.

    Gen. Ne Win ousted a civilian government in a 1962 coup and ruled with an iron grip for 26 years, leading Burma, into isolation and economic ruin. He and his daughter have been under house arrest since the latest coup plot emerged.

    The current crop of generals took power in September 1988 after Ne Win stepped down during pro-democracy demonstrations that were crushed by the military, killing thousands of civilians.

    Ne Win was long thought to retain influence behind the scenes.

    All three official newspapers reported the verdict on Friday without comment. The newspapers sold out early but there was no sign of any discontent as the family was not particularly liked because of Ne Win's past.

    "The junta has exorcised the ghost of Ne Win," Sann Aung, a Thailand-based Burmese dissident, told The Associated Press in Bangkok.

    He said the junta has found in Ne Win a scapegoat for political, social and economic problems ailing the country.

    Critics fear the junta will cite its preoccupation with the Ne Win episode to slow down the reconciliation process with pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi. Since releasing her from house arrest in May, the government has held no talks with her.

    "They will use every issue to postpone the dialogue. Their main aim is to prolong their grip on power," Sann Aung said.

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    U.N. expert: Burma's people suffer continuing right violations, junta must change track

    GENEVA (AP)- -Burma's people are suffering from severe economic hardship and continuing human rights violations that can only be solved if the government cooperates with all sectors of society, a U.N. expert said in a report Friday.

    Paulo Sergio Pinheiro said political and economic factors in the country were leading to a humanitarian crisis.

    "Poverty is widespread and the economy has continued to suffer the effects of a growing deficit, rising inflation, shortfalls in energy supplies and foreign exchange, poor education, HIV and drug-related problems," he said.

    Pinheiro, the special expert on human rights inBurma, will present his report to the U.N. General Assembly later in the current session. He last visited Burma in February.

    He said the situation in the country will not improve until there is "substantive progress in the process of national reconciliation and political transition."

    Pinheiro said the release from house arrest of opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi on May 6 was an important development and a test of confidence-building.

    The atmosphere is much better than the last time Suu Kyi was released from detention, in 1995, he said, but there are still restrictions on political parties, freedom of expression and the press.

    Pinheiro said he could not accept government assertions in May that there are no more political prisoners, especially as a number have since been released.

    Despite improvements, there are still reports of human rights violations in Burma, Pinheiro said.

    Hundreds of villages where rebels are suspected of hiding have been emptied by government forces and the population forcibly relocated without compensation.

    Asylum-seekers continue to move into a Thailand, which is "a symptom of a complex internal situation which is essentially man-made, and whose roots are as economic as they are political," Pinheiro said.

    Burma was taken over by a military junta in 1988 after soldiers massacred hundreds of pro-democracy demonstrators. The military staged a general election in 1990, but refused to recognize the results after a landslide victory by the opposition National League for Democracy.

    The junta has consistently faced criticism over alleged human rights abuses, most notably forced labor and imprisonment of political prisoners.

    The Burmese government has invited Pinheiro to visit the country next month to investigate allegations that government soldiers raped scores of ethnic minority Shan women to retaliate against Shan guerrillas.

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