Daily News- August 23- 2002- Friday

  • Return of the Fighting Peacock
  • Myanmar migrant family complain daughter's rape has gone ignored
  • Expulsions can only hurt Thailand
  • Govt 'sullied Kingdom's image'
  • Malaysian e-business provider makes headway into Myanmar
  • Amnesty International condemn arrests of Burmese students

  • Return of the Fighting Peacock

    By Min Zin
    The Irrawaddy

    The Burmese military regime has aggressively renewed it crackdown on dissent with a series of arrests coinciding with Malaysian PM Mahathir Mohamad’s recent visit to Rangoon. According to activist sources in the Burmese capital, at least nine students were taken into custody within a three-day period beginning Aug 17. The sources added that another 40 students have been forced into hiding since the crackdown began in response to recent signs of unrest.

    At the center of the latest demonstration of the junta’s determination to keep a lid on dissent is final- year law student Thet Naung Soe, who staged a solo protest in front of the Rangoon City Hall on Sunday afternoon.

    Sources said that Thet Naung Soe and several others handed out copies of a statement at various locations around Rangoon on Aug 17, the day before the solo protest. The statement, which was signed by Thet Naung Soe alone, deplored the suffering of the Burmese people under military rule, and called on the ruling State Peace and Development Council (SPDC) to begin genuine political dialogue with the democratic opposition to address the country’s plight. The statement also called for the release of all political prisoners.

    The one-and-a-half page statement included a special appeal to the Burmese people "to make a clear decision whether they would like to live with fear or freedom." As an exercise of his right to freedom of expression, Thet Naung Soe vowed to hold a protest with the student union’s fighting-peacock flag " historically, a potent symbol of student protest in Burma " the following day.

    The statement drew the attention of both supporters and military intelligence agents. On Aug 18, around 30 people gathered at Rangoon’s Hledan Junction, a focal point of many previous student protests, with the intention of showing their support for Thet Naung Soe. Many police and intelligence officials, as well as members of a fire brigade used for crowd control, were also at the junction, located just outside Rangoon University, to take immediate action against the protest.

    However, instead of going to Hledan Junction, Thet Naung Soe went to Sule Pagoda, located near the city center. After paying homage to the Buddha at the pagoda, he walked to the nearby Rangoon City Hall, where he unfurled his fighting-peacock flag and started pacing back and forth. "He was quickly apprehended by the police," said one witness. "He followed with a smile."

    The foreign affairs committee of the Thailand-based All Burma Federation of Student Unions (ABFSU) confirmed that several other protestors were also arrested along with Thet Naung Soe.Sources in Rangoon pointed out that the protest should be seen as part of a recent resurgence of student dissident activity.

    "This was not an isolated incident," one Dagon University student told The Irrawaddy. "It can be traced back to earlier student activities in Rangoon that the outside world isn’t aware of yet. Thet Naung Soe’s solo protest is a continuation of the July student movement," the source added.

    According to reliable sources, a new movement was formed in July after students from several Rangoon universities began publishing the "Universities Literary Journal" without seeking permission from the SPDC’s censor board. At the end of July, intelligence agents arrested Thaw Thaw Myo Han, who started publishing the journal under the auspices of the University Student Literary Association. Soon after his release from custody, "The Duty of Students", an essay written by Burmese national hero Aung San, began circulating as a flyer on several university campuses in Rangoon. By early August, small-scale anti-government student gatherings began to take place at Dagon and Thanlyan Universities.

    When Thet Naung Soe’s personal statement started circulating on Aug 17, Thaw Thaw Myo Han was re-arrested, along with two of his colleagues, on suspicion of being behind the planned protest. This apparently resulted in a smaller protest than originally planned.

    "The students were initially supposed to stage a bigger protest, timed to take place during Mahathir’s visit," observed one source in Rangoon. "But the Saturday arrests seemed to limit the scale of the demonstration."

    Since these signs of unrest started reappearing on Rangoon campuses, military intelligence agents have been putting tremendous pressure on the parents and professors of students to enforce stricter discipline. "We have been given a list of students and were ordered to provide information about them," a university lecturer at Rangoon University of Technology said on condition of anonymity.

    "There will be more crackdowns on the students, since there are at least 40 on the run and the schools are still open," predicted one student activist in Rangoon.

    Nine months ago, Salai Tun Than, a retired university professor in his seventies, was arrested for holding a one-man protest against military rule in front of Rangoon City Hall. He was given a 7-year sentence for challenging the regime’s iron-fisted hold on power.

    To The Top

    Myanmar migrant family complain daughter's rape has gone ignored

    CHIANG MAI, Aug 22 (AFP) - The family of a 12-year-old Myanmar migrant girl allegedly raped by a worker for World Vision have complained that their case has been ignored by police and the international aid agency.

    The girl, who lives in the Islam Bankalone slum in the Thai border town of Mae Sot, was assaulted on August 5 by the 47-year-old man who acted as a volunteer outreach worker for World Vision, her parents said.

    After consulting with religious leaders they reported the case to police the following day, despite fearing their actions would prompt Thai authorities to deport them as illegal migrants.

    Both the family and the accused, a Myanmar citizen identified only as Salawut, are members of the Muslim refugee community living in Thailand.

    Police took the girl, Sarida, for an examination which confirmed she had been sexually assaulted, hospital authorities confirmed Thursday. Her injuries were so severe she still cannot walk properly.The family said that a World Vision staff member visited their home shortly after the incident and promised to take resonsibility for the case and provide assistance to the victim, but after that they heard nothing from the agency.The police investigation has also made no progress, they say.

    "We want the truth. We are not happy with it (the lack of any arrest or investigation)," said the victim's father Khin Maung Win, who works illegally from dawn to dusk each day on a construction site."I do not understand the procedures of criminal investigation by police. But I know they haven't arrested a suspect," her mother Lei Lei Win told AFP.

    "I feel so sorry for my daughter. She is not a healthy child like others now. We didn't have any contact from World Vision since the first visit by a senior representative... we did not get any assistance from them."

    Social workers said the family's case was being ignored because they are illegal migrants, one of the most disadvantaged and poorly treated groups in Thai society.

    "I want to help them because they are poor and uneducated people," said Moe Moe, a member of the Social Action for Women (SAW) group who helped the family report the case to authorities.World Vision conceded that not enough had been done to help the family.

    "We haven't followed up on it as fast as we should have," said Chiang Mai-based spokesman John Whanyoon, admitting the case had not been properly reported to him by World Vision officials in Mae Sot until now."It seems that at Mae Sot they have done all that they could, it's just that the information didn't come to the central office so we didn't know about it," he said. "I would think it's an omission."

    Whanyoon said World Vision would now carry out a full investigation into the case and "whatever action we need to take we will"."World Vision is looking for ways to help her (the victim), we are in the process of doing that," he added.

    Mae Sot police also admitted the investigation had made little progress, saying that the accused man had fled the town."We are carrying out an investigation to find the suspect but he fled the day the girl reported the case to police," said Police Lieutenant-Major Somyos Thaitieng."It is quite difficult because he is an immigrant who does not have a permanent address, but we are looking for him."

    To The Top

    Expulsions can only hurt Thailand

    The Nation: EDITORIAL

    It has been said many times before, but it bears repeating if Thais want to understand just how far their government is prepared to go to appease the military junta in Rangoon: the country's security in exchange for economic interests is not acceptable under any circumstances. Yet somehow it does not seem to bother the Thaksin administration.

    The crackdown on the Burmese exiles in Thailand early this week is bringing condemnation from around the world.The decision to round up the 31 Burmese activists in Sangkhla Buri in Kanchanaburi province was clearly a move to please the junta leaders and supposedly a prerequisite for the resumption of border trade.

    But it is like a rerun of a B movie, with some special effects. Yet it works every time with this government, which is willing to dance to Rangoon's tune.

    The saddest part is that our top policy-makers and the provincial authorities still view the opening of border checkpoints with Burma as an indicator of normalcy. It is not.

    Thai-Burmese relations involve a much bigger picture than that, especially such transnational issues as drugs, human trafficking and displaced people that need attending to.

    In fact, the proliferation of drugs from Burma has increased over recent weeks while the Thai Army has been squabbling over its next reshuffle. The sidelining of Army chief General Surayud Chulanont also brought joy to the junta. Now they can turn their attention from drug suppression to quelling internal dissent.But the Burmese junta wants more. So, the wish list grows longer by the day. Now, the Thai government must destroy the Burmese democratic forces living here if border trade is to resume.

    The junta has nothing to lose. It can give concessions on national resources or resorts without consulting the people at large in exchange for Thai appeasement.

    That kind of shrewd calculation works. Indeed, any ploy, real or imagined, that could undermine the country will be exploited. Burma has used Thailand's eagerness to trade as leverage against Thais. It knows full well that gullible elements along the border and within the ruling party are more than willing to do whatever it takes to make money.

    Burmese opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi has reacted strongly to the Thai decision. We share her disappointment. The Burmese exiles are law-abiding people and they are learning from Thailand's democratic experience. One day they will return home.Those who hope for a better future for Burma know that democracy will come to that country sooner or later. When it does, the government and the Thai people who elect it will be sad that they failed to become a part of their democratic aspirations.Lessons from around the world prove that such appeasement measures do not work in the long run.

    Thailand will pay a very high price for its policy in the future. Its current action will not only alienate democracy-loving Burmese and their future government, but the rest of the world community as well. As part of the free world and with its proximity to Burma, Thailand has been looked to as a country that can contribute constructively to national reconciliation and democracy in that country.Instead, what has happened in the past 18 months is that the Thai government has chosen to prop up the dictators.

    Govt 'sullied Kingdom's image'

    The Nation
    Subhatra Bhumiprabhas

    Thailand has sullied the Kingdom's hard-won reputation as a haven for democracy by arresting Burmese pro-democracy activists and deporting them back into the hands of the country's ruthless junta, academics and human rights groups said yesterday.

    The arrest of 31 Burmese dissidents was a "short-sighted" act that put the interests of a small group of business people before the principles of democracy and human rights, said the secretary-general of Forum Asia, Somchai Homla-or.

    "The policy harms the dignity of the Thai people who have been praised by the international community as defenders of democracy," Somchai said. "It is so disgraceful of this government to bow to small business interests and the unlawful junta."

    Observers said the crackdown might stem from the government's eagerness to have the borders with Burma reopened by showing the Burmese generals that it does not support anti-junta activists.

    Aung San Suu Kyi's criticism of the Thai government's crackdown on Burmese activists was remarkable because she had never directly faulted Thai policy towards Burma before, Somchai said.

    "Aung San Suu Kyi is well respected by the international community," he said. "Her direct criticism will definitely damage the image of Thailand."

    The Burmese opposition leader was quoted by the Chiang Mai-based Irrawaddy magazine as saying that it was "inappropriate" to crack down on the 31 dissidents and pro- democracy activists as they did not break the law.

    Somchai said Forum Asia would send a letter of protest to the Thai government. The letter will ask the government to review its policy.

    By arresting and deporting people who had fled onto Thai soil to escape death the government had violated humanitarian principles, said Dr Charnvit Kasetsiri of Thammasat University.

    The Burmese government in exile, based in Washington DC and Bangkok, yesterday issued a statement urging the Thai government to seriously reconsider its decision to deport the activists.

    "We can understand why Thailand would want to build confidence with its neighbours, particularly Burma," said Sein Win, president of the National Coalition Government of the Union of Burma. "But sacrificing peaceful Burmese pro- democracy elements is not the way to go about it. It will only tarnish the good image that Thailand has maintained over many years in the international community," Sein Win said.The crackdown will make Thai authorities co-conspirators with the ruthless Burmese military junta in suppressing democracy, he added.

    To The Top

    Malaysian e-business provider makes headway into Myanmar

    The Star

    YANGON: Local e-business systems, solutions and services provider Skali said it would export its expertise into neighbouring Myanmar, with the signing a memorandum of understanding for technical collaboration with Myanmar World Distribution Co Ltd (MWD).

    The collaboration will see Skali (www.skali.net) providing total e-business solutions and services to the Myanmar market, the Malaysian company said in a statement. "We are thrilled with our inroads into Myanmar, which is gaining incredible momentum in the development and deployment of ICT (information and communications technology) in its private and public sectors," said Skali president Tengku Farith Rithauddeen.

    “Myanmar remains an exciting export market and our venture offers a unique exposure to the Myanmar economy. We hope it will open doors to more Malaysian netpreneurs in collaborating and sharing their experience with their counterparts in the region," he added.

    The business and technical collaboration will also bring enormous benefits to the growth of Myanmar’s ICT sector, and is in line with the call by the governments of both countries to narrow the development gap for closer Asean integration, said Skali, a Multimedia Super Corridor (MSC) status company.

    "We are basically offering all our services to the Myanmar market," said Farith. "Skali shall provide its dedicated team with business experience and technology expertise to support MWD and its customers in such areas as technology, marketing and project management," he added.

    The MOU will accelerate technology transfer efforts by our Malaysian counterpart, besides encouraging further technical cooperation between both parties,” said MWD managing director Patricia Su. “We believe this will not only bridge the technical gap, but (that we) stand to gain long term commercial benefits as well," she added.

    One of the Internet pioneers in Malaysia, Skali was a "dotcom" long before the term became popular, or fell into disrepute. It now focuses on designing and developing in-house e-business systems and solutions, to clients from industries like manufacturing, finance and banking, enterprises, e-businesses and telecommunications.

    The company also offers consultancy and incubation services to budding "netpreneurs," putting them in contact with venture capitalists and investors through its dedicated Skali Netpreneurs Acceleration Programme (SNAP ).

    Skali experienced almost 100% revenue growth in 2001, claiming to have registered revenues of more than RM5mil (US$1.3mil) compared to the year before. It is projecting double-digit growth this year with the expansion of its core operations. MWD’s expertise and experience in software development, systems integration, network implementation and hardware distribution.

    To The Top

    Amnesty International condemn arrests of Burmese students

    Source : MSNBC / Reuters

    BANGKOK, Aug. 23 ---Eight students have been arrested in military-ruled Burma for alleged subversion, a sign the ruling junta is taking a harder line despite promises to foster democracy, human rights groups said on Friday.

    The arrests last weekend, on the eve of a visit by Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, have dimmed hopes that the junta may soon begin substantive political talks with pro-democracy opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

    The government has freed hundreds of prisoners over the last two years, including more than 300 members of Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy (NLD).

    The releases began after the ruling generals started confidential talks with Suu Kyi, which they said were aimed at eventually bringing democracy to Burma.

    But this month's arrests have raised concerns among rights groups that the junta is planning a new crackdown on opponents.

    Amnesty International said five university students were arrested during the night last Saturday.

    The following day another student held a peaceful protest in front of Rangoon City Hall about economic and social conditions, and was swiftly arrested. Two other students were arrested at the same time, although it was not known whether they had joined the protest or were onlookers, Amnesty said.

    ''It is not known where they are being held or if they have been charged,'' Amnesty said in a statement. ''Amnesty International fears for the safety of all eight men, who are at risk of being tortured by military intelligence.''

    The eight have been named as Thet Naung Soe, Thaw Thaw Myo Han, Nyunt Win, Htoo Kyaw Win, Khin Maung Win, Thoung Htite, Kyaw Swa and Kyaw Zin Oo.

    Sources close to their families confirmed the men had been arrested. The government has made no comment.


    Amnesty said the five student arrested on Saturday may have been arrested for involvement in planning the protest -- in which Khin Maung Win stood outside Rangoon City Hall holding a banner of red cloth bearing the image of a peacock, a symbol of student resistance in Burma.

    But another human rights group, the Free Burma Coalition, said the students may have been arrested for taking part in a discussion group that studies politics and history.

    Aung Din, director of policy and strategy at the Free Burma Coalition, said the arrests suggested recent concessions by the junta were not a sign that real political change was on the way.

    ''While the military regime has initiated an international diplomatic charm offensive, the people of Burma continue to suffer under its rule,'' he said in a statement.

    After 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 Burma.

    The military has ruled the country for four decades. Students were at the forefront of pro-democracy protests in 1988 that were brutally suppressed by the authorities. Universities were closed for several years in a bid by the junta to stifle dissent.

    Suu Kyi's NLD was the overwhelming winner of an election held in 1990, but the military refused to hand over power.

    To The Top