BurmaNet News: December 30-January 1 2003
editor at burmanet.org
editor at burmanet.org
Wed Jan 1 21:11:37 EST 2003
December 30 2002-January 1 2003 Issue #2147
Kyodo: Suu Kyi blames authorities for harassment in recent trip
Kaladan: Forced labor and extortion still exist in Arakan
BBC: Burmas democracy leader optimistic
DVB: Rangoon said collecting information on state employees linked to NLD
DVB: More political prisoners are to be released?
NYT: Dissidents strong critique
Myanmar Information Committee: Entrepreneurs, companies reclaim 1.2 acres
of agricultural land
SCMP: Van der Horst returns to operations
Kyodo: Karen fighters seize Myanmar camp, at least 15 killed
AFP: Vietnams drug seizures up 10 percent
NMG: Burmese activists Thailand at risk of arrest and deportation
Xinhua: Myanmars head of state to visit China
Xinhua: High-level Thai delegation to visit Myanmar in January
Myanmar Times: Landmark agreement reached on direct road link Bangladesh
visit being new era
Myanmar Times: Mega dam project for Shan State
AFP: Britain voices concern over Suu Kyi harassment
Myanmar Times: Myanmar, US at odds on drugs decision
Foreign & Commonwealth Office: Mike OBrien calls on Burmese regime to end
harassment of Aung San Suu Kyi and the democratic opposition
Daily Excelsior: Former Indian officer on threat of Chinas influence in
Irrawaddy: Bells are ringing
Irrawaddy: Economic and social chaos of the state
Kyodo News December 31 2002
Suu Kyi blames authorities for harassment in recent trip
Aung San Suu Kyi, leader of the National League for Democracy (NLD),
blamed central authorities Tuesday for harassment she encountered during a
recent trip outside the capital Yangon.
Suu Kyi branded those responsible for the harassment 'the true destructive
elements' at a press conference at her party's head office attended by
reporters and diplomats. She spoke of obstructions encountered during her
visit earlier this month to Rakhine State and the Ayeyar-waddy Division,
where local authorities used barricades to prevent the public from meeting
'There had to be some kind of instructions from above,' the 1991 Nobel
Peace Prize laureate said. 'But from how high above, that is not sure.'
'I also understand that a minister has been going around saying people
should not demonstrate their support for us, and that we are destructive
elements, and the people should not join hands with the destructive
elements,' she said.
'It is those who are trying to stop us from achieving reconciliation with
the SPDC who are the true destructive elements. Because they are the ones
who will destroy the country by blocking the process of reconciliation,'
she said, referring to the ruling State Peace and Development Council
Asked about dialogue with the junta, she said, 'The dialogue has not
'The confidence building has come to an end. Present stage is in a state
of limbo. The year 2003 is a year which we should work towards genuine
dialogue which will help this country,' she said.
Asked whether a new period of confrontation between the two sides has
started, she said, 'I leave it to you to decide who started the
Kaladan News December 26 2002
FORCED LABOUR AND EXTORTION STILL EXISTS IN A RAKAN
Forced labour and extortion are still continuing in Arakan State even if
SPDC authorities have officially denied the existence any
forced labour across the country, according to our correspondent.
The Commander of the Military Operation Command (MOC)-15 of Buthidaung
Township, Arakan State had ordered the Chairmen of the Nanragon and
Quandaung village tracts Peace and Development Councils (VPDCs)
on December 01,to provide 200 laborers daily for cultivation of seasonal
crops like chili, tomato, egg plant, potato, cabbage, pea and
etc, he further added.
About six acres of farmland had already been confiscated from nearby
villagers for seasonal cultivation. The villagers of the two village
tracts were also asked to complete the cultivation of six acres of land by
December 15 for growing vegetables, said a daily labor to our
In this connection, Abul Kalam and U Kyaw Thein, the two Chairmen
respectively of Quandaung and Nanragoon village tracts, had sent forcibly
200 laborers daily, from these two village tracts for the army camp for
the purpose of cultivation, he further said.
At present, there are a total of 1,490 houses in these village tracts. The
two Chairmen of the village tracts had collected an amount of Kyats 3,
87,000/- from 1,290 households at the rate of Kyats 300/-each per house.
The rest of the 200 houses had to supply forced labor---one person per
house--- continuing for 15 days for which they were paid Kyats 200/- each
from the money collected from the villagers. Normally the daily wage of an
ordinary labor is Kyats 800 to 1,000 in the area, a clerk from VPDC office
told our source.
British Broadcasting Corporation December 31 2002
Burma's democracy leader optimistic
The Burmese pro-democracy leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, says she remains
cautiously optimistic that political change will come to Burma in the next
Speaking at a news conference in Rangoon, Aung San Suu Kyi said she was
particularly encouraged by her reception during recent visits around the
country, and by what she called the tremendous sense of national
She said Burma's various ethnic groups were all aware of the need for
change and most were prepared to co-operate to achieve it.
Ethnic minority groups have so far been excluded from the national
reconciliation dialogue between the military government and the
opposition, brokered by the United Nations.
Meanwhile, the Chinese news agency, Xinhua, says the leader of the Burmese
military government ,Than Shwe, will begin a state visit to China next
Democratic Voice of Burma December 31 2002
Rangoon said collecting information on state employees linked to NLD
DVB has learned that the SPDC (State Peace and Development Council) has
directed regional military intelligence personnel to compile the details
of relatives, who are government employees, of active NLD (National League
for Democracy) members. The directive emerged at a time when the NLD
headquarters is planning to accept new members.
According to news report received by DVB, local authorities have
systematically compiled the details and personal history of U Win Maung,
who is the brother of U Saw Ngwe Saw, the NLD joint secretary of Kya-in
Seikkyi Township in Karen State. U Win Maung is currently an assistant
director of Rangoon Electricity Distribution Department.
Similarly, it has been learned that responsible local authorities have
been compiling the names and personal histories of relatives, who are
government employees, of members of various NLD Organizing Committees, NLD
Humanitarian Assistance Committee, NLD Youth Wing, and NLD Women's group.
In some townships, houses of NLD members were searched at odd hours of the
night for unregistered guests. In certain wards, only the houses of some
NLD members were handpicked and searched. DVB has learned that in allowing
the reopening of NLD township branch offices in the states and divisions,
very active NLD township offices were still not permitted to reopen.
Democratic Voice of Burma December 29 2002
More Political Prisoners are to be released?
It is reported that some famous political prisoners in Myitkyina Prisoners
are being summoned to sign a contract of promises. The practice is also
known as Act 401 which allows the prisoners to be released early by wiping
out the remaining sentences but their sentences will be doubled in the
future if they took part in political activities again.
Among people who were summoned were the NLDs MP Dr Zaw Myint Maung of
Amarapura, Mandalay Division and U Sein Hla Oo. Dr. Daw Yu Yu May who went
to see her husband Dr Zaw Myint Maung recently at the prison told the DVB
that the action seems to point to his imminent release.
New York Times January 1 2003
World Briefing Asia: Myanmar: Dissident's Strong Critique
By Seth Mydans
The opposition leader, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, criticized the government in
the strongest terms she has used since her release in May from 19 months
of house arrest. At a news conference, she said government officials "who
are trying to stop us from achieving reconciliation" had organized a
pattern of disruptions and harassment during her just-completed tour of
Rakhine State, the fifth trip she has made to meet supporters since her
release. She also criticized the government for failing to join her in
promised talks. "I suppose they are reluctant to do something because they
do not think it will work in their favor," she said.
Myanmar Information Committee December 24 2002
Entrepreneurs, companies reclaim 1.2m acres of agricultural land
For the success of planned cultivation, the Ministry of Agriculture and
Irrigation has drawn up special projects and has carried out extended land
reclamation work to achieve extensive cultivation acreage. In the
agriculture sector, modern methods and techniques with high quality seeds
are used with the aid of machines to achieve target. Total cultivable
acres in Myanmar Burma is 45m acres, the total cultivated area is 26m
acres. Since there are still 16.5m acres of vacant and virgin soil
available, intensive efforts are being made for extended cultivation
Altogether 98 private entrepreneurs and national companies were given
farming permits and about 1.2m acres are being given to them and work for
the development of agriculture activities are being carried out. National
private companies of Kachin State, Kayin Karen State, Sagaing, Tanintharyi
Tenasserim , Bago Pegu , Magway Magwe , Mandalay and Yangon Divisions,
Shan States (South) and Ayeyarwady Irrawaddy Division, were given
altogether 1,179,840 acres of land permits cultivation. At present already
314,297 acres have been established and cultivation work had started on
76,843 acres. To avoid natural disasters, extreme weather conditions and
prevent migration of nomadic people, hill side cultivation had been
established and success had been achieved.
Beginning 2002-2003 a five-year plan for 135,000 acres hill side
cultivation is being implemented. For highland cultivation, supervisory
committees for State and Divisions have already been formed and efforts
are being made to implement the tasks in the open season with added
South China Morning Post December 31 2002
VAN DER HORST RETURNS TO OPERATIONS
Singapore: Van der Horst has announced a reverse takeover that will inject
a Myanmar oil business into the company, which sold all its operating
assets in 2001 and ended a three-year share suspension. The construction
firm will pay S $ 30 million (about HK$ 134.75 million) through the issue
of new shares to buy Goldwater, a British Virgin Islands firm which mainly
explores for and produces petroleum in Myanmar. The deal will give
Goldwater a 68 per cent stake in former construction business Van der
Horst. Reuters REGULATOR TO VOTE
Kyodo News December 27 2002
Karen fighters seize Myanmar camp, at least 15 killed
Karen National Union (KNU) fighters seized a Myanmar military stronghold
after launching a massive attack on Friday morning that killed at least 15
Myanmar soldiers, Thai military officials said Friday.
The clash occurred around 3 a.m. when some 150 Karen soldiers attacked the
Myanmar military's Burengnong Camp opposite the Phop Phra district of
Thailand's Tak Province, about 500 kilometers northwest of Bangkok. The
KNU seized the camp after both sides exchanged heavy weapons and mortar
fire for about three hours. There has been no estimate of casualties on
the KNU side, the Thai military said.
The KNU has been fighting for Karen autonomy from the central government
in Myanmar since 1949.
The Friday attack is believed the largest this year, the Thai officials
Agence France-Presse December 31 2002
Vietnam's drug seizures up 10 percent
Drug seizures by Vietnamese police rose 10 percent in the year to
November, official media reported late on Monday.
Police recovered 55 kilograms of heroin and 550 kilograms of opium in
14,000 operations across the country in the 12 months from November 2001,
according to the Vietnam News Agency. "Large numbers of civil servants and
drug users were found to be involved in distributing drugs," the agency
said in a statement.
"However, drug trafficking remains like an iceberg with the larger part
being covered, according to the Drug Control Board. Monitored drug users
have amounted to 130,000 with some 75 percent being unemployed."
Vietnam's porous borders make the country a haven for traffickers. Drugs
from China and the Golden Triangle -- which links Laos, Thailand and
Myanmar -- often transit the country before leaving for the West.
Fifty-five people were sentenced to death for drug-trafficking in Vietnam
Network Media Group December 24 2002
Burmese activists in Thailand at risk of arrest and deportation
Thailand based Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA)
released an urgent alert yesterday that Burmese students as well as
pro-democracy and human rights activists are facing the threat of arrest
and deportation in Thailand.
"National Security Council people, last month, confirmed to me that, at
the end of the day, everyone that belongs anti-SPDC must be moved out of
Thailand. They don't care where these groups will go, back to Burma or
third country. But, the policy is they must be moved out of Thailand,"
said Sunai Phasuk, spokesperson of Forum Asia.
On December 20, soldiers from Thai ninth army raided an office of Mon
youth at Sangkhla Buri, a border town in southern Thailand, and deported 6
Mon youths across the border. The soldiers also ordered the members of
nine dissident groups based in Sangkhla Buri to move out of Thailand
within two days, reported by news agencies.
"After the incident in Sangkhla Buri, FORUM-ASIA fears further crackdowns
on pro-democracy activists and ethnic minority groups in Bangkok, Chiang
Mai, Chiang Rai, Mae Hong Son and Tak," mentioned in the urgent alert.
The Thai government adopted a security directive on July 4, 2002, which
has officially imposed a ban on pro-democracy and human rights groups with
the objective to mend relations with SPDC. And, Law enforcement and
security authorities have been specifically instructed by the National
Security Council (NSC) to use immigration laws as a principle measure to
control and stop activities of Burmese dissidents and ethnic minority
groups, according to FORUM-ASIA.
Recently in early December, Thai authorities arrested more than 20 Burmese
students who were commemorating the International Human Rights Day in Mae
Hong Son and 13 of them, who had no legal documents, were sent back to
Xinhua News Agency December 31 2002
Myanmar's head of state to visit China
Than Shwe, chairman of the State Peace and Development Council of the
Union of Myanmar, will pay a state visit to China from Jan. 6 to 11, 2003,
at the invitation of Chinese President Jiang Zemin, according to
diplomatic sources here Tuesday.
Xinhua News Agency December 30 2002
High-level Thai delegation to visit Myanmar in January
A high-level delegation of the Thai government led by two deputy premiers
will visit Myanmar next month, focusing on drug suppression, migrant labor
and development projects in border areas.
The state-owned radio here reported Monday that Deputy Prime Ministers
Chavalit Yongchaiyudh and Korn Dabbaransi will be in Myanmar for talks on
Jan. 27. Chavalit, who supervises the country's security affairs, said the
two countries have set an agenda to drastically curb the cross- border
drug trade in the next two years.
"There are good signs that the two countries will achieve this aim. Our
officials are working very hard to suppress drugs and the war against
illicit drugs will be waged around the clock from now on," he said.
Migrant labor will also be a major discussion topic in the one- day visit.
Thailand has an estimated one million illegal alien workers and most of
them are Myanmar nationals.
The country's previous attempt to control influx of illegal migrant
workers has failed due to a lack of cooperation with neighboring
Thailand is planning to negotiate a migrant-labor agreement with Myanmar
after it signed a pact with Laos in October this year.
Myanmar Times December 23-29 2002
Landmark agreement reached on direct road link Bangladesh visit begins
By Thet Khaing
VISIT to Dhaka last week by the Chairman of the State Peace and
Development Council, Senior General Than Shwe, was hailed as marking the
start of a "new era" in bilateral relations by the Bangladeshi Prime
Minister, Begum Khaleda Zia. The two-day visit, which began on December
17, produced an agreement to establish a direct road link to help boost
bilateral trade. It will involve building a road between Maungdaw in
Rakhine State and the south-eastern Bangladeshi port city of Chittagong.
The two sides also signed a memorandum of understanding on holding annual
consultations at foreign minister level as well as an agreement on
cultural cooperation which will pave the way for exchange visits by
actors, artists and writers. Senior General Than Shwe, who is the first
Myanmar head of state to visit Bangladesh in more than 16 years, held
talks with Begum Zia on the proposed road link and on efforts to expand
bilateral trade, said a Bangladeshi diplomat in Yangon. The two leaders
also discussed the Dhaka governments interest in forging closer ties with
the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, the diplomat said. During the
visit, Senior General Than Shwe stressed Myanmars desire for closer
relations with Bangladesh. "I am fully confident that cooperation between
the two countries will intensify in the coming years to the benefit of
both our peoples," he said at a dinner hosted by Begum Zia on the first
day of the visit. "Both countries face challenges and are relying on
their own resources and adopting policies and measures best suited to
their own conditions," he said. He also stressed the importance of a
robust regional approach towards economic development. In her address at
the dinner, Begum Zia expressed confidence the visit would take bilateral
relations and cooperation to a new level. "We support steps to encourage
greater people-to-people contact between our businessmen, leaders,
academics, civil and military officials," Begum Zia said. She said there
was an immediate need to boost economic ties through direct road and sea
links. A meeting between Senior General Than Shwe and Bangladeshs
President Iajuddin Ahmed was the first at head-of-state level between the
two sides in more than 14 years. Senior General Than Shwe headed a
52-member delegation which included the SPDCs Secretary 1, General Khin
Nyunt, and four cabinet ministers, including the Foreign Minister, U Win
Aung. The Myanma Airways International plane which carried the Myanmar
delegation was escorted by four Bangladeshi air force jets on its arrival
and departure from Dhakas Zia International Airport. The business
community in Yangon has responded to the visit by welcoming prospects for
increased trade with Bangladesh. The Union of Myanmar Federation of
Chamber of Commerce and Industries said an increase in the trade
relationship would result in more exports to Bangladesh. The trading
relationship is valued at about US$50 million a year, largely in Myanmars
favour. Most of the trade is conducted by ferry across the Naaf River,
which forms part of border with Bangladesh. The proposed direct road link
had the potential to increase bilateral trade 10-fold, the first secretary
at the Bangladeshi embassy, Mr Mahfuzur Rahman, told Myanmar Times.
Surveying work for the road was due to begin in the next three months, Mr
Rahman said. He said it would be cheaper and more convenient for Dhaka to
import rice, beans and pulses and maize by road from Myanmar. Mr Rehman
said Bangladesh wanted to export fertilisers, cement and pharmaceuticals
Myanmar Times December 23-29 2002
Mega dam project for Shan State
By Win Kyaw Oo
THAI company has reached agreement with the government to build a massive
hydro-electric dam on the Than Lwin River in southern Shan State. The dam,
expected to cost up to US$4 billion, will be the biggest of its kind in
Southeast Asia, said Mr Swarng Champa, managing director of the
Bangkok-based MDX Group, after the agreement was signed with the
Department of Hydro-electric Power in Yangon on December 20. The MDX Group
will finance the 4600 megawatt project through its own resources and loans
raised in Thailand, Mr Swarng told Myanmar Times in a telephone interview.
Most of the electricity generated by the dam will be sold to Thailand. The
company will build the dam across the Than Lwin River near Tasam township,
about 300 miles northeast of Yangon. It will be a build, operate and
transfer project, providing for the dam to be eventually returned to the
government, though these details and those surrounding the sale of
electricity to Thailand are yet to be finalised. Mr Swarng said a
preliminary study carried out seven years ago had resulted in plans for a
dam 800 metres long and about 220 metres high. He said the first phase of
the project, due to be completed in 2007, involved the installation of 200
megawatt turbine to provide power for construction purposes and to supply
nearby communities. The second phase of the project involves the
installation of another three turbines capable of Measures taken by the
committee to improve road safety have included educational campaigns and
heavy fines for those caught violating traffic regulations. The committee
has also installed road signs urging safer driving and has broadcast
traffic safety measures on television. The Yangon City Development
Committee is also working to reduce the accident rate. U Aung Zin, the
deputy head of the YCDCs engineering department (roads and bridges) said
road safety projects included the installation of yellow flashing lights
at some pedestrian crossings and cat eye reflectors in some areas to
make centre lines more visible at night.
Agence France-Presse January 1 2003
Britain voices concern over Suu Kyi harassment
Britain voiced deep concern Wednesday over reports that Myanmar's ruling
junta is harassing supporters of opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi.
Foreign Office minister Mike O'Brien called on the State Peace and
Development Council (SPDC), which holds power in Yangon, to enter into
talks with the Nobel Prize winner's National League for Democracy (NLD).
"I am deeply concerned at reports of harassment and intimidation of
ordinary people before and during Aung San Suu Kyi's recent trips within
Burma (Myanmar), and at reports of restrictions imposed on Aung San Suu
Kyi as she travels," O'Brien said. "I am also appalled by reports that a
minister in the ruling SPDC dissuaded people from meeting Aung San Suu
Kyi, and that the government-sponsored Union Solidarity and Development
Association (USDA) distributed leaflets making personal attacks on Aung
San Suu Kyi and her family," he said.
The most serious incident occurred during Suu Kyi's trip to the town of
Myauk-Oo in the western state of Rakhine, where the leader clamoured atop
a fire engine to prevent it from dispersing a crowd of 20,000 people with
"I have spoken to Aung San Suu Kyi on a number of occasions in the last
few weeks and we agreed that Burma cannot make progress until we see a
real will for political reform from the SPDC," O'Brien said.
"I call on Senior General Than Shwe to enter into a serious dialogue with
the NLD and other opposition parties in Burma.
"Part of that process of development must be to allow opposition groups
and the people of Burma the right to express their political views freely
and to make substantial steps towards restoring democracy."
The military has ruled Myanmar for the past four decades, and refused to
recognise a landslide election victory claimed by the NLD in 1990.
Myanmar Times December 23-29 2002
Myanmar, US at odds on drugs decision
By Thet Khaing
MYANMAR and the United States have made different assessments about a
decision due by President George Bush on cooperation with Washington in
drug control. A statement issued by the Myanmar government last Tuesday
said Mr Bush had declined to certify Myanmar as a country cooperating with
the US in its campaign against narcotics. The US State Department
spokesperson, Mr Richard Boucher, responded to the statement by saying the
governments assessment was premature because a decision was yet to be
made. The statement quoted a government spokesperson, Colonel Hla Min, as
saying Myanmar had fallen victim to Washingtons policy of linking
political issues with narcotics law enforcement. The decision would delay
the eradication of narcotics in Myanmar, it said, in a reference to the
aid provided by the US to countries deemed to be cooperating in the
campaign against the drug trade. "Our struggle to become a drug free
society will continue on track, with or without American recognition for
our efforts," Col Hla Min said. "Drug traffickers and their associates
will be pleased with the US Governments decision to remain on the
sidelines in one of the worlds largest narcotics control challenges," the
statement said. It said the government would continue to work with
national groups to reduce the opium harvest next year to 400 tonnes, half
the amount produced in 2002. "We are encouraged that a huge reduction in
opium production has been made, even though the certification process fell
victim to US politics an overwhelming landslide of media and political
pressure to deny our progress by connecting politics to narcotics law
enforcement," Col Hla Min said in the statement. Mr Boucher, who suggested
that the govern-ments announcement was based on an impression gained in
talks with US officials, said Washington would make its decision known in
the coming months. An announcement is expected in February. Mr Boucher
said the issue that had to be decided was whether Myanmar had succeeded or
failed to make substantial efforts to adhere to international counter
narcotics agreements as well as counter narcotics measures specified in US
law. Mr Bush last year listed Myanmar, Afghanistan and Haiti as having
failed to make substantial efforts against the narcotics trade. However,
he decided to resume US aid for drug control work in Afghanistan and
Haiti, but not to Myanmar.
Foreign and Commonwealth Office January 1 2003
MIKE O'BRIEN CALLS ON BURMESE REGIME TO END HARASSMENT OF AUNG SAN SUU KYI
AND THE DEMOCRATIC OPPOSITION -
Following reports of the harassment of opposition groups in Burma, Foreign
Office Minister Mike O'Brien said:
"I am deeply concerned at reports of harassment and intimidation of
ordinary people before and during Daw Aung San Suu Kyi's recent trips
within Burma, and at reports of restrictions imposed on Daw Aung San Suu
Kyi as she travels. I am also appalled by reports that a Minister in the
ruling State Peace and Development Council (SPDC) dissuaded people from
meeting Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, and that the government sponsored Union
Solidarity and Development Association (USDA) distributed leaflets making
personal attacks on Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and her family. "I have spoken to
Daw Aung San Suu Kyi on a number of occasions in the last few weeks and we
agreed that Burma cannot make progress until we see a real will for
political reform from the SPDC. I call on Senior General Than Shwe to
enter into a serious dialogue with the NLD and other opposition parties in
Burma. Part of that process of development must be to allow opposition
groups and the people of Burma the right to express their political views
freely and to make substantial steps towards restoring democracy."
News Department, Downing Street (West), London SW1A 2AH
Daily Excelsior December 30 2002
Former Indian officer on threat of China's influence in Burma
The continuing and growing influence of China on the military regime in
Burma and what impact that has for India has been the subject of an
article in an independent Kashmiri daily. It noted that the US sees India
as critical in its South Asia policy of limiting Chinese influence in
Pakistan and Burma. The article criticized what it perceived as inadequate
diplomatic initiatives from Delhi towards Burma and lack of official
visits. The author called for a parliamentary debate on the issue. The
following is the text of the article by Maj-Gen V.K. Madhok (Retd)
entitled: "Future Chinese threats from Myanmar" by privately owned Jammu
based newspaper Daily Excelsior web site on 30 December
The greatest challenge which India faces in the near future is a scenario,
when two military dictatorships on India's (Pakistan) and Eastern (Myanmar
Burma ) flanks can be brought with tacit support from China, under one
umbrella (ISI). In a worst case situation, it could mean a coordinated
second proxy way by the separatist movements in the North-East, against
the Indian union with bases and arms freely available in Myanmar,
Bangladesh and Nepal. India's political leadership will therefore do well
to do some homework to obviate the development of such a possibility. Yet
it seems strange that no important Indian political leader has visited
Myanmar in the last 14 years. During this period of New Delhi's isolation,
the Chinese have expanded their influence. It is rightly said, that
Myanmar's foreign policy is being drafted in Beijing.
And with the change in China's political leadership, the scenario painted
above might turn out real unless India does something about it. The
significance of this country which is really India's strategic eastern
flank and shares a 1,600 km (approximately) long border with the sensitive
States of Arunachal Pradesh, Nagaland, Manipur and Mizoram (also
Bangladesh) has been lost over the years. Yet it was in Myanmar (erstwhile
Burma) that Indian troops fought many a battle under Indian and British
leadership against the Japanese in the Second World War. Names like
Wingate's Raiders, Slim, Irrawady and Chindwin bring back many memories of
Indian soldiers' deeds. Burma campaign was prescribed as a study for
entrance examination to India's Staff College. Yet India has kept itself
away from its neighbour for reasons difficult to explain.
Although a small beginning was made with ex-Foreign Minister Jaswant
Singh's visit to Myanmar on 12 February, 2001 for opening Rd Tamu-Kalewa.
But that is where the interaction ended. The political mileage gained from
this event was not progressed.
There is a perception doing the rounds that in the long run,
Myanmar-a-military dictatorship, which is more or less reduced to a
Chinese satellite, with Americans enforcing sanctions and taking other
initiatives to restore democracy in Myanmar, is becoming a battle ground
(initially with diplomatic and economic initiatives) between the US and
Accordingly, there is an urgent need to assess as to: What is the
situation within Myanmar? What initiatives the US is likely to take? And
how can a Sino-Myanmar nexus (like the Sino-Pak nexus) impact on India"
seven Northeastern States-Connected only with a narrow 30 km long corridor
with the rest of the country?
Myanmar faces several crucial issues in the immediate and distant future.
The roots of which lie in its military's ambitions to retain supremacy. On
top of the list is Madam Suu Kyi, leader of the Nation League of Democracy
and Military Junta's bete-noir. She wants the military to quit. Therefore
she continues to remain the chief obstacle to SLORC's (State Law and Order
Restoration Council) now renamed as SPDC (State Peace and Development
Council) future ambitions.
From amongst the remaining issues one could choose: The continuing
insurgency and pro-democracy movements inside Myanmar. The threat of an
election under international or UN supervision, redrafting of the
constitution to enable the military to retain a tight grip on the country,
foreign pressures and stern criticism of human rights violations.
Therefore, while the military is caught see-sawing in the process of
crucial decisions which it must take to meet future challenges, Suu Kyi is
kept now in and out of house arrest and prevented from conducting any
Madame Suu Kyi has now been set free for the last six months. She has been
given an option to leave Myanmar for good. But she would rather stay on
and be considered a patriot than disappearing in exile. The sympathy of
the outside world clearly lies with her - the winner of 1991 Nobel Prize
for peace. The SPDC's worry is: if they let her stay on in the country,
she will again become the focus of a pro-democracy movement, which the
military will find difficult to contain. And therefore this remains a
genuine worry for the SPDC.
On the other hand, the military has been becoming stronger. With a state
controlled media and stringent laws, it has better control over the
country. Foreign aid has been coming in. Thai, Japanese and European
businessmen have invested a lot of money to establish hotels and other
joint ventures in areas adjacent to the golden Triangle. Myanmar's armed
forces too have been expending with Chinese help. And massive arms
supplies have been pouring in from Beijing in accordance with a
Sino-Myanmar arms agreement signed in 1989. The army has already touched
half a million mark. Besides, it will become as much dependent on Chinese
defence hardware in the future as Pakistan is today.
Concurrently, Madame Suu Kyi cannot be held without international and
superpower support. Therefore towards this end a personal letter from
ex-Present Bill Clinton to Suu Kyi which was delivered to her by the then
American ambassador and which promised full support to her is significant.
Besides, an Amnesty International report released sometime ago stated that
life in Myanmar was characterized by fear, intimidation and widespread
human rights violations. So far as drugs and narcotics and concerned,
Myanmar continues to remain the largest producer of opium in the world.
Which along with other narcotics is being smuggled all over Asia, Europe
and the US. The Americans are in the process of finalizing their policies
in South Asia which will take concrete shape in the coming months and as
soon as they have settled scores with Iraq.
The situation in Myanmar therefore indicates the types of issues the US
will be confronted with and for which its foreign policy is likely to be
tasked. That is, to support the democratic movement more vigorously,
condemn human rights violations, combat drug and narcotic traffic, overall
encouragement and to help establish a regime which is sympathetic towards
its foreign policy goals. Finally, to neutralize Chinese influence.
India should therefore be prepared to see fresh initiative by the US,
specially to tackle those issues, which concern the restoration of
democracy. One of these is the visible friendly relations-US is trying to
establish with Myanmar's neighbour Bangladesh. Further, US sees a role for
India in its foreign policy and considers India as the centre of gravity
in South Asia. At an appropriate time, along with support from various
Nobel Prize winners and their countries, there is likely to be pressure on
SPDC to give full freedom of Suu Kyi, let her stay in the country and
permit her to campaign for elections. And when that is done, to canvass
for elections under UN supervision. Thereby exerting sufficient pressure
on the military to abide by people's verdict.
This appears to be a tricky situation for the SPDC but that appears to be
its fate. However, the military have embarked on a plan to pre-empt all
this by redrafting the constitution for which the first convention was
called in January 1994 and for which subsequent meetings have been held.
Therefore, with this tool, the elections can be delayed on one pretext or
the other. Conversely, should an elected government come into power with a
popular leader like Suu Kyi, it may scrap the constitution drafted by the
military regime. So far as insurgency is concerned, though under control
it has not been totally eliminated. The Karens tribe and Kachins tribe
continue to agitate for independent states. Although some efforts have
been made by China and Thailand to persuade the dissident leaders to
negotiate for a settlement but not concrete results have been achieved so
far. Nor does there seem to be a final and visible resolution of the
problem in the near future.
As regards India, after Rajiv Gandhi's visit to Yangon in 1987, the only
high dignitary who visited Myanmar was India's foreign secretary and that
too only for two days towards the end of March 1993. This visit was
followed by Indian Army and Naval Chief's in 1994 and January 2001
respectively. Therefore one wonders as to what were the reasons that no
Indian president or prime minister visited Myanmar for more than a decade.
A country with which India has really no dispute worth the name.
During Rajiv Gandhi's visit a proposal was mooted to have more cooperation
between Indo-Myanmar armed forces particularly to resolve border
incidents. This made sense. In any case, this was a good starting point.
But this was not followed up. Accordingly, majority of the current
problems like the drug trade, which has had disastrous effects on the
Manipur youth, the current activities of NSCN (K) National Socialist
Council of Nagalim-Khaplang - the Burmese Nagas, could have been
eliminated. In addition, the provision of training bases and other support
to ULFA United Liberation Front of Assam across the border inside Myanmar,
smuggling of arms inside Mizoram and a host of other connected activities
could have been nipped in the bud had the agreed cooperation taken place.
India's policy makers need to understand that the main issue in Myanmar is
the increasing Chinese influence.
And how it can be used to support the separatist movements in India's NE
Northeast together with support from Bangladesh and Nepal. That by keeping
away from Myanmar would only aggravate future threats now seen at the
horizon and therefore, the issues need to be debated in the Parliament.
Irrawaddy December 27 2002
Bells are Ringing
By Aung Din
Christmas Bells are ringing. The New Year is a few days away. Houses are
decorated with Christmas trees, lights and flowers. City sidewalks,
buildings, shopping malls and parks are festively decorated. Parents are
impatiently awaiting the return of their sons and daughters who are away
at work or school. Their family reunions are definitely coming. This is
the time for gathering of the relatives and friends and meeting loved
In Burma, which has been under military rule for over four decades, the
phrase "family reunion" is meaningless for many families-especially for
those of the more than 1,300 political prisoners. They have been waiting
every Christmas, every New Year and every day with little hope since 1988.
Even though they suffer the hardships and countless struggles of the
economic crisis in Burma, they still long to have their family members
back. They would cherish any precious little time they could spend with
their loved ones. They would even pay any ransom to the jailer-Burma's
military regime, which killed thousands of peaceful demonstrators in
1988-to bring them back home.
Some political prisoners will never return. They have died in prisons.
Torture, harassment, depression and lack of health care made them say
good-bye forever to their loved ones. So far this year, 82 prisoners have
died in detention and in interrogation centers. U Aung May Thu, chairman
of the Min Hla Township Organizing Committee of the National League for
Democracy (NLD) died in Tharawaddy prison on Sept 17 as number 80. U Sai
Phat, Central Committee Member of the NLD died in a detention center on
Oct 9 as number 81. U Maung Ko became number 82 when he died in the
Tharawaddy prison on Nov 15.The numbers keep growing as their prison terms
become longer. The prisoners' hope for freedom is lessened, and their
health deteriorates day by day. Senior leaders of the NLD, U Win Tin, Dr
Than Nyein, U Khin Maung Swe, U Sein Hla Oo, U Ohn Kyaing and Myint Soe
are suffering from serious health problems in the prisons. Other
activists, U Thu Way and U Htwe Myint of the Democracy Party, Dr Min Soe
Linn of the Mon National Democratic Front, Dagon University student Phone
Thet Pyine, and many others are also in bad shape.
What did they do to be in the prisons? Are they terrorists? Are they
criminals? Are they murderers? No, their only crime was expressing their
desire for democracy and human rights, as many people around the world
enjoy. They took to the streets and expressed their desires peacefully,
unarmed. Their actions were completely non-violent, but the response of
the military regime was entirely violent. Thousands of peaceful
demonstrators were gunned down in the streets. Thousands more were forced
to flee from the country and thousands of others were imprisoned and
continue to suffer. According to the International Committee for the Red
Cross and Paulo Sergio Pinherio, Special Rapporteur of the UN Commission
on Human Rights, there are still more than 1,300 political prisoners in
Burma including 18 elected Members of Parliament.
Look at Dr Salai Tun Than. He was 72 years old in 2001 when he made a solo
protest in front of the Rangoon City Hall. He was a former rector of the
Agricultural University in Burma. He graduated from the University of
Georgia and University of Wisconsin in the 1950s. He has had a beautiful
and successful life-but he couldn't stay away from the suffering of the
people. He decided to do something about it. He dressed up in a
professor's gown. He wrote his sincere demands on paper, which were to
release all political prisoners and to start the political dialogue
between the generals and Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, leader of the democracy
movement. He stood in front of City Hall and distributed pamphlets with
these demands to passersby. He spoke to the audience that formed around
him of his demand for less than 15 minutes before he was brought forcibly
into the City Hall compound by the security. Now he sits in the notorious
Insein prison serving a seven year jail term. As a Christian, he will miss
celebrating this Christmas with his family and for many more years.
In August of this year, Rangoon University Law students Thet Naung Soe,
20, and Khin Maung Win, 18, followed Dr Salai Tun Than's lead. They made
their peaceful protest at the same place he did. They also were arrested
within 15 minutes. Now they are in prison with 14-year and seven-year
terms respectively. They all will miss this Christmas, this New Year and
many more, unless the military regime releases these political prisoners
as encouraged by Paulo Sergio Pinheiro and Razali Ismail, the UN Special
Envoy to Burma.
Since taking over the duties of the special envoy, Razali always brought
the news of the possible release of the political prisoners after his
periodic trips to Burma. Our expectations were high whenever he returned
from Burma, but each time the regime had only released a few. Razali could
claim that he has helped secure the release of more than 450 political
prisoners in two years. But 300 of them were already due for release soon
anyway having nearly completed their prison sentences. Only about 150 were
granted early release.
After his ninth visit to Burma in Nov 2002, Razali said that he strongly
urged the regime to free more than 200 political prisoners by the end of
this year. During his third visit to Burma in October, Pinherio urged the
regime to release all political prisoners by the end of the year.
According to Pinherio's report to the UN General Assembly in November, the
military regime told Pinherio that it was not possible to release all but
the releases will continue.
A few weeks ago, the military regime made a surprise announcement through
their Washington, DC-based lobby firm DCI Associates, that they would
release 115 "security detainees"-their euphemism for political
prisoners-in one day, on Nov 22, 2002. As a Burmese who has witnessed and
experienced the ways the regime cheats and lies all too often, we greeted
this news with skepticism. Our suspicions were confirmed again when they
only released 60 political prisoners in five days, not 115 in single day
as they had promised.
We have no doubt that the release of political prisoners has been at the
top of the agenda whenever Razali and Pinherio have met with the generals.
We believe that both Razali and Pinherio will try their best to persuade
the regime to release all political prisoners, at least as a special
gesture to encourage more official visits. But it seems that by releasing
a small number of political prisoners-always right before or after the
official visits, the regime is convincing them to believe that Burma is
moving in the right political direction. This deception is necessary for
the regime to prolong their rule for at least another decade. The regime
is using the political prisoners as hostages to demand ransom from the
international community, and they are using Razali and Pinherio as their
messengers, hoping to convince the world that they only release political
prisoners like Suu Kyi because of engagement and cooperation, not because
It is easy to see the discrepancies between what the regime says and what
they really do, and it is imperative to apply strong and consistent
pressure so that the regime will not continue to cheat the world again and
again. International pressure-economic and political-is required now more
than ever. We can't let the regime continue their slow and insincere
homegrown process as they declared. We must make political progress a
reality. We must make the reunion of these unfortunate people and their
loved ones happen as quickly as possible by throwing every kind of
pressure we have at the regime.
As Razali and Pinherio are still playing important role in the conflict of
Burma, they have to ensure that they are not being used by the regime.
While they may relay the messages of the regime to the world, while they
make people expectant by sharing their optimism, they have a duty to hold
the regime accountable when it fails to keep its promises. The end of the
year is almost here. We hope both Razali and Pinherio will try their best
to secure the release of 200 political prisoners in the next few days to
justify their previous optimism.
The families of Burma's political prisoners will keep a candle lit
everyday and night because their expectation for their heroes' return will
never fade away. Reunions between these democracy supporters and their
loved ones will not seem too late, because this is the life that we have
grown accustomed to under the military regime over four decades.
Aung Din is a former political prisoner in Burma. He was in prison between
1989 and 1993. He is currently working at the Washington, DC-based Free
Burma Coalition as a Director of Policy and Strategy.
Irrawaddy December 26 2002
Economic and Social Chaos of the State
By Danu Maung
The Burmese military regime has been in power for the past 14 years. If we
add the Socialist dictatorial regime of Gen Ne Win, the total number of
years under authoritarian rule is nearly half-a-century. People of Burma
have grown under it, lived by it and are dying under it. If we look back
and assess the end result, nothing comes out of it and the future of any
government, whether it be democratic or authoritarian, is quite gloomy.
This is similar to the waning days of the Soviet Union. The Soviet regime,
which lasted roughly 70 years, had spent a substantial amount of its
resources and wealth on military build up and on wasteful projects such as
the space program after World War Two. It had also built up
infrastructure. It was a closed society: trade with the international
community hardly existed and wars were waged in numerous republics within
the system. The government had subsidized energy, transportation, housing
etc., and financing was done by printing more money to sustain the
economy. There are other innumerable instances of mismanagement of the
Soviet economy that led to the downfall of the regime in 1991.
Burma has come to resemble the former Soviet regime, and we are presently
witnessing the same economic and social chaos. The Burmese junta continues
to build up its military, despite agreeing to peace with 17 ethnic armed
groups. Needless infrastructure projects have been launched one after
another, while people in the streets are saying: "Who needs these roads
and dams? You cant eat them or buy food for us."
One businessman said: "In fact, in other countries, infrastructure and
construction projects come only after the economy is booming. If these are
built first, before the market economy is growing, you get the "hollowed
out" status, or a Thingyan shell syndrome (A powerful sound or action not
backed by substance)."
Indeed, millions of dollars were spent on such projects. But is it solely
for the benefit of the people, as the regime has stated in its propaganda
articles? No, it is for the Agriculture Minister and people in his
department who gain billions of kyat in kickbacks from such schemes.
Millions of dollars in commission were paid to high officials by
Caterpillar, Komatsu and other heavy equipment suppliers before sales
contracts were signed. Hundreds of thousands of barrels of diesel fuel,
imported with hard-earned dollars from abroad, are pilfered by Energy
Ministry officials, engineers and bulldozer drivers all the way down to
But in inaccessible regions such as border areas, it is well know that
army commanders exploit villagers by forcing them to build infrastructure
projects. The same is true in the construction of bridges and roads by the
Construction Ministry. This writer has personally witnessed an engineers
wife trying to buy prime real estate in Rangoons top notch suburb of
Golden Valley, in cash. The government has created such unnecessary
projects simply to line their pockets.
Burma receives one of the highest annual rainfalls in the world. And the
countryside could witness a deluge of floods, if and when Mother Nature
strikes. A military regime, to an extent, can rule the population with an
iron fist but they cannot control the weather. If rainfall exceeds the
norm in the monsoon season, these dams will become death traps. In August
2002 a large numbers of residents were killed and their possessions lost
after such dams burst during heavy rains.
While the entire nation is in the dark when it comes to electricity, the
government, meanwhile, is colluding with multinational companies in
selling natural gas to Thailand, putting over US $700 million in its
At the same time, the populace is suffering from the highest inflation
rate in Asia. Food prices are up over an estimated 30 percent a year, but
figures are useless when a poor family from Hlaingtharyar, a Rangoon
suburb, is struggling to make ends meet. It is estimated that a family
needs a minimum of 50,000 kyat (US $50) a month to sustain their health
and well being. It is perplexing to think how a government worker with a
salary of 2,000 kyat per month can cope with hyperinflation.
Social disorder has also descended on Burma. Many young beautiful college
girls are entering prostitution by working in restaurants and karoake
bars. A large number of these establishments have sprung up in Rangoon,
Mandalay, Taunggyi and other cities to let rich desperate people exploit
poor desperate people. Girls can be arranged for the night at less than
10,000 kyat (US $10). No wonder that the international community is
concerned with the AIDS epidemic in Burma. Doctors in the largest hospital
in Rangoon, the Yangon General Hospital, have said that hundreds of cases
are being diagnosed each month. The cases, however, are officially
reported as tuberculosis, endocrine disease, malaria and other types of
Crime has recently risen in Rangoon and Mandalay. Criminal activity is
indicative of lawlessness and disorder in an otherwise pious Buddhist
society. Due to the hyper-inflation and small pool of available work in
the labor market, people have also resorted to the illegal two-figure and
three-figure lotteries known as "Chai". Large dividends are gained by the
bookies from small inputs of money. Roadside vendors, teachers, students,
housewives, farmers, businessmen and high army officialsincluding former
SPDC member Win Myintare involved in this form of gambling from a few
hundred kyat on into the millions.
Meanwhile, legitimate business interests are being hobbled by bribery,
corruption and bureaucratic red tape. The Trade Ministry and the Trade
Policy Council have tried their best to implement schemes that would milk
businessmen involved in import-export businesses. Trading agencies,
industrialists and merchants have had their hands tied by such
unreasonable rules and regulations drawn up under Trade Minister Lt-Gen
Pyae Sone and Gen Maung Aye.
With the pushing of such agendas, it is no wonder that the country is now
faced with a severe currency crisis due to lack of exports. But as far the
regimes cronies are concerned, no problems exist so long as they continue
to be awarded projectswhether they be private agriculture undertakings,
resorts or road works in Rangoon, Mandalay, or anywhere else.
It seems from the regimes perspective that the nations economic and
social problems can be solved by pampering white elephants in their
elaborately decorated stables at Min Dharma Hill, a sacred place in
Rangoon. This practice of owning white elephants for the prosperity of an
empire is not new. Indian maharajas, Thai monarchs, Cambodian princes and
Burmese kings did it centuries ago. But this is the 21st century, and
everyone knows that a countrys economic problems cannot be solved by
rearing white elephants. Gen Khin Nyunt, who is an expert in presiding
over ceremonies of no substance, has assigned himself zookeeper in order
to further pamper the already overfed white elephants.
The ruling generals excesses cannot be resolved overnight, if and when
democracy returns to Burma. Problems that were kept under a lid may arise
as people demand that their voices are heard. Therefore, we are faced with
a vulnerable democracy for some time to come. It will be necessary for all
parties concerned to call for restraint and understanding to resolve a
myriad of crises that will come one after another. The recent death of Gen
Ne Win means that power struggles within the ruling elite may come to the
surface, and hopefully this will equate to regime change in Burma.
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