BurmaNet News: May 16 2003
editor at burmanet.org
editor at burmanet.org
Fri May 16 16:35:33 EDT 2003
May 16 2003 Issue #2238
AFP: Myanmars Suu Kyi encounters most serious protest
Irrawaddy: Restaurants selling wildlife raided
Feminist Majority News Wire: Burmese women suffer systematic rapes from
Mizzima: Indian government moves on arms trade with Burma
Irrawaddy: KNU warns arms suppliers not to trade with Burma
Bangkok Post: Transfers fuel fears of a purge
IPS: Villagers vs oil giant: Ashcroft to the rescue
Asia Times: Yangon approves UN envoy's return
Agence France Presse May 16 2003
Myanmar's Suu Kyi encounters "most serious" protest
Myanmar's democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi encountered a pro-junta group
of some 300 people protesting her movement as she arrived in the capital
of northernmost Kachin state Friday, her party said.
It was the "most serious" incident on this trip so far, National League
for Democracy (NLD) spokesman U Lwin told AFP.
The leader is currently on a month-long political tour, the lengthiest of
a number she has made across the country since being released from house
arrest in May last year by the ruling military junta.
The NLD and Suu Kyi have complained increasingly of government harassment
during her travels, particularly of the thousands of supporters who flock
to see her, and her current trip is being viewed as a test of whether the
regime will attempt any disruption.
U Lwin told AFP that on Friday Aung San Suu Kyi was met by a group of some
300 members of the junta's Union Solidarity Development Association (USDA)
as she attempted to cross a bridge to Myitkyina.
The members of the USDA -- officially a social organisation with some 19
million members -- were carrying catapults and small objects such as
bicycle nuts, he said.
"When she was about to cross the bridge they stopped her... They put their
faces right into the motorcade. No one was hurt," U Lwin said.
"In fact they didn't use them (the catapults) at all. They were just
showing their force, and our people suggested that they open the road.
Finally they moved away."
U Lwin said the disturbance had been the most serious on this trip, but
said no other problems had occurred.
The Nobel peace laureate has reopened six NLD offices, including the
Kachin state office, since departing from Yangon on May 6, the first
anniversary of her release from 19 months under house arrest.
Her trips are aimed at reinvigorating her beleaguered party, which won
1990 elections by a landslide but has been blocked from governing by the
In the leaders' last trip to western Chin state, USDA supporters were also
involved in shouting slogans against her at several towns.
Irrawaddy May 16 2003
Restaurants Selling Wildlife Raided
By Naw Seng
Officials from Burmas Forestry Department seized hundreds of wild animals
from Rangoon restaurants on Apr 30. Animals belonging to endangered
species were recovered in the raid.
Authorities targeted four restaurants in Rangoon known to sell dishes
featuring wild animal meat. "This seize is the biggest ever," said an
official from Burmas Forestry Department. The Forestry Department is
responsible for the protection of wildlife and the management of Burmas
The captured animals included 68 fresh water turtles, 18 tortoises, two
monitor lizards, and 283 snakes, mostly vipors, according to the
Burmese-language 7 Day News Journal.
People from Hong Kong, Taiwan and China are the main consumers of curries
made from endangered species, said a businessman in Rangoon. Most of the
wildlife poached from Burmas forests is sold in China.
"We arrested them [restaurant owners] in accordance with the law, but we
dont know how big this business is," said the forestry official.
According to Burmese law, restaurant owners can be sentenced to up to
seven years imprisonment and fined 50,000 kyat, or both, if found guilty
of killing and selling wild or endangered animals.
In 1994, Burma enacted the Wildlife Protection Act to protect rare and
endangered species. That statute replaced the Burma Wildlife Protection
Act of 1936.
Feminist Majority New Wire May 16 2003
Burmese Women Suffer Systematic Rapes From Military
A new report reveals that Burma's army has been using rape as a weapon of
war against ethnic women. The Washington-based Refugees International (RI)
documented 43 rapes of women from the Karen, Karenni, Mon, Tavoyan and
Shan ethnic groups. The US State Department found the report "appalling"
and credible, according to the New York Times. Veronika Martin, one of the
authors of the RI study No Safe Place: Burma's Army and the Rape of Ethnic
Women, told the Times that "Women are raped during forced labor
assignments, they are raped while farming, they are raped in their own
homes and raped also when they are trying to flee to Thailand." The report
found that almost one-third of the rapes were committed by higher-ranking
officials, and in only two cases did the perpetrator receive even a
The Burmese government has rejected the report and accused the US
government of rehashing discredited allegations to attack it. But the
State Department has said that its consulate in the northern Thai city of
Chiang Mai had found evidence supporting the accusations, according to
Agence France Presse. The State Department conduced its own interviews in
three locations in December to confirm the allegations. Its investigators
talked to 12 women who said they had been gang raped by Burmese soldiers
during the past five years.
The State Department reported that "all of the victims under 15 appeared
severely traumatized by their experiences, were disturbed mentally and
spoke in whispers, if at all ... "The older women sobbed violently as they
recalled horrific incidents of their own rapes as well as inhumane rapes,
torture and execution of family members."
Refugees International has called on the United Nations High Commissioner
for Refugees to condemn rape and violence against ethnic women by the
Burmese military and to insist that Thailand provide a safe haven for
women fleeing rape and sexual violence in Burma.
Mizzima May 14 2003
Indian government moves on arms trade with Burma
After focusing on increasing cross-border trade, the Indian Government is
making moves to supply arms and ammunition to Burma in a bid to strengthen
the bilateral relations between the two countries. A decision to supply
medium-size and small arms to the Burmese junta has created a sensation in
the Southeast Asian countries.
The signing of a border trade agreement in 1994 greatly improved bilateral
relations between India and Burma. Moreover, an increasing of volume of
trade between India and Burma has brought the two countries closer. The
current move on the armament front is likely to give fresh impetus to
Indo-Burma relations. Yet many political parties in India do not lend
their support to it.
Burma has faced a situation of turmoil during the last decade in view of
political instability and continuous economic crisis. The Burmese junta
also faces a challenge from underground groups operating in the country.
The economy has come to a grinding halt. To overcome these problems, the
Burmese junta is seeking help from neighboring countries including India
and China. The Indian government has lent a helping hand to the Burmese
junta regarding the improvement of the economic and trade situation.
Now the question arises: why has the Indian Government taken such a strong
interest in Burma? The North East of India (which comprises seven states)
has been hit badly by insurgent militancy and the free flow of illegal
arms from Burma. Chinese arms and Burmese ammunition have exacerbated the
militancy problem as militant groups bring arms into the region taking
advantage of the porous Indo-Burma border. According to the Indian Home
Ministry, as many as twelve North East Indian underground organizations
are now operating from Burmese territory, with strong bases in Kachin
State and the bordering areas.
Although Indian security forces have carried out counter-insurgency
operations along the Indo-Burma border they have not been able to contain
the problem of arms smuggling and cross-border insurgency.
Recently Indian Deputy Prime Minister LK Advani revealed that cross-border
insurgency in Kashmir and the free flow of arms and ammunition were
causing a serious situation for the country. In the wake of his comment
the Indian Home Ministry submitted a list of militant camps to the Burmese
junta with a request to take stern action against them. But so far this
request has not been complied with.
Despite repeated requests from the Indian side the Burmese Junta is not in
a position to take harsh action against militant groups operating from
hide-outs in Burma due to its lack of military competence.
Political analysts observe that the supply of arms and ammunition is
likely to foment trouble in Southeast Asian. India, on its part, has
started to mobilise the world community on a campaign against the dumping
of arms and ammunition in the Southeast of Asia. This campaign, however,
has been predicted to lead to the escalation of tensions in neighbouring
Irrawaddy May 16 2003
KNU Warns Arms Suppliers Not to Trade with Burma
By Aung Su Shin/Mae Sot
May 16, 2003The Karen National Union (KNU) wants Russia, China, India,
Singapore and Poland to stop helping Burmas army fight its civil war
against ethnic minorities, according to a statement released today.
The KNU, which has been fighting the Burmese Army for autonomy for more
than 50 years, called on foreign governments and arms suppliers to stop
selling weaponry to the regime and end training for soldiers fighting for
the countrys dictatorial government.
The KNU says the Burmese army continues to violate human rights and
suppresses ethnic minorities. It does not deserve support from
international arms suppliers, the KNUs general secretary Padoh Mahn Sha
Instead of selling arms to the dictators, these countries should
cooperate and help to bring democracy and a workable federal state which
will be beneficial to the people of Burma, said Padoh Mahn Sha.
According to the KNU, the Burmese government has imported US $1.5 billion
in tanks and gun ships from China. Padoh Mahn Sha says the regime has also
imported 75 mm mortar shells from India.
The KNU says the Tatmadaw (Burmas armed forces) uses the arms to control
ethnic groups and fight its civil war in border areas. The Burmese
government, however, claims the military hardware is needed to protect
Burma from neighboring countries that threaten regional stability.
Burma has MIG fighters and a nuclear reactor to threaten neighboring
countries. Increasing troops in the country is not the right answer
either, said Padoh Mahn Sha.
Increasingly, the Burmese army is using military force to launch seasonal
attacks against ethnic minorities who are seeking autonomy.
The KNU leader says money should be spent on providing education and
health care, not on arms, and that ultimately, the people of Burma are the
real losers in the regimes arms build-up.
Bangkok Post May 16 2003
Transfers fuel fears of a purge
Minister viewed as stifling free thought
The lightning transfer of two top officials in the Americas department of
foreign affairs has generated fears of a wider purge aimed at curbing free
thinking and ensuring subservience, sources close to the ministry said.
Indicative of the climate of insecurity that has descended on the
ministry, reports were rife but unconfirmed yesterday that Laxanachantorn
Laohaphan, ambassador to the United Nations in Geneva, would be the first
of about five other envoys to be moved.
In her previous post as director-general of the International
Organisations Department, Ms Laxanachanthorn had questioned as potentially
harmful to the country's credibility a directive from the prime minister's
secretariat that ambassadors to Western countries ask host governments to
stop funding non-government organisations.
In addition, Ms Laxanachanthorn, who has served in Geneva for only about
three months, was in the hot seat on April 29 when Thailand lost its bid
to secure a second term on the United Nations Human Rights Commission.
Thai ambassadors in Vienna, Brussels, Phnom Penh and Rangoon were cited as
other targets of the purge many saw as propelled by petulance and a
hankering for complete control of the office.
Ambassador Somkiati Ariyapruchya reportedly displeased Foreign Minister
Surakiart Sathirathai for being late to meet him at Vienna airport last
week. A career diplomat, Mr Somkiati has one more year to serve before
Surapong Posayanonda, ambassador to the European Commission in Brussels,
is said to have irked the minister by speaking critically of the
government's understanding of Thai-European trade issues at a meeting of
Chatchavet Chartsuwan, the ambassador to Cambodia, is expected to be
transferred to Poland, apparently because he informed Prime Minister
Thaksin Shinawatra before the foreign minister of the anti-Thai riots in
Phnom Penh in late January. The minister was then visiting Egypt, and the
prime minister himself called ambassador Chatchavet in Phnom Penh for
information on the situation.
Oum Maolanon, the ambassador to Burma, was also expected to be moved.
The transfer of Apiphong Jayanama, director general of the Americas and
South Pacific Affairs department, and his deputy, Isorn Pokmontri, could
complicate matters today, when plans for the prime minister's visit to the
United States next month are to be discussed.
Prime Minister Thaksin will address the US-Asean Business Council during
his June 9-11 visit. Some analysts saw the officials' failure to arrange a
meeting of the prime minister with US President George W Bush as the
Others said the two had upset Foreign Minister Surakiart by acting without
his prior consent. Mr Apiphong recently received the Iraqi ambassador who
was expelled from Sri Lanka.
Mr Isorn reportedly had responded to a call from Pansak Vinyaratn, the
PM's chief adviser, for an update on preparations for the prime minister's
coming trip. This reportedly annoyed the minister, whose relations with Mr
Pansak have been cool since the minister had to him as chief adviser to
former Prime Minister Chatichai Choonhavan in the late 1980s.
Earlier reports said the two officers had been punished for leaking a
report on the expulsion of Iraqi diplomats from the country. The two
officers were informed of their transfer verbally because a formal order
to this effect would give them concrete evidence to appeal to the
Inter Press Service May 16 2003
Villagers vs oil giant: Ashcroft to the rescue
By Jim Lobe
WASHINGTON - In a move that has provoked outrage from human-rights groups
here, US Attorney General John Ashcroft has asked a federal appeals court
in effect to nullify a 214-year-old law that has provided foreign victims
of serious abuses access to US courts for redress.
Ashcroft's Justice Department has filed a "friend of the court" (amicus
curiae) on behalf of California-based oil giant Unocal in a civil case
brought by Myanmese villagers who claimed that the company was responsible
for serious abuses committed by army troops who provided security for a
But the department's brief was not limited to defending the company
against the plaintiffs. Instead, the document, which was submitted last
week to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in California, asked the court
to reinterpret the 1789 Alien Tort Claims Act (ATCA) in a way that would
deny victims the right to sue in US courts for abuses committed overseas.
"This is a craven attempt to protect human-rights abusers at the expense
of victims," said Kenneth Roth, executive director of New York-based Human
Rights Watch (HRW). "The Bush administration is trying to overturn a
long-standing judicial precedent that has been very important in the
protection of human rights."
Other rights activists agreed. "The brief is a broadside attack designed
to wipe the law off the books," said Elisa Massimino, director of the
Washington office of the Lawyers Committee for Human Rights (LCHR), while
Terry Collingsworth, director of the International Labor Rights Fund
(ILRF) and one of the lead lawyers in the Myanmar case, called the move
"They're not just saying a bunch of Burmese peasants can't sue a US oil
company," said Tom Malinowski, director of HRW's Washington office.
"They're saying Holocaust survivors were wrong to have sued German
companies for enslavement during World War II, and that victims of
genocide in Bosnia were wrong to try [Serb leader Radavan] Karadzic in US
courts. I don't think this administration wants to be seen as denying
victims rights in these cases."
ATCA, which was enacted by the first US Congress as a tool for piracy on
the high seas, permits non-citizens to sue foreign and domestic
individuals or companies in the United States for abuses "committed in
violation of the law of nations or a treaty of the United States".
Since 1980, the act has been used successfully by victims of abuses
committed by foreign governments and militaries overseas against
individual defendants who were served with notice while living or visiting
in the United States.
The first case was brought by the father and sister of Joel Filartiga, a
17-year-old Paraguayan who was kidnapped and tortured to death by a
Paraguayan police officer who subsequently came to the United States. In
that case, another appeals court ruled that ATCA permitted victims to
pursue claims based on violations of international human-rights law.
Subsequent cases have been brought against national leaders, such as
former Philippine president Ferdinand Marcos, and senior army officers
from Guatemala, Indonesia, Argentina, Ethiopia and El Salvador, among
other countries. While damages have been awarded in almost all those
cases, they have rarely been collected, primarily because defendants fled
the United States once they received legal notice.
Lawyers began bringing cases against US and foreign corporations - usually
involving, as in the Unocal case, alleged abuses committed by foreign
armies or police that provided security for the companies - under ATCA in
1993. About 25 such cases have since been filed, although most of them
have been dismissed by the courts.
The most successful have been brought by survivors of the Nazi Holocaust
against foreign companies and banks, which rejected their efforts at
recovering their money or insurance claims after World War II. While the
case was never fully tried, it helped induce Swiss banks to negotiate
settlements worth more than US$1 billion.
The Unocal case was originally filed in 1996. Last September, the Ninth
Circuit Court overturned the dismissal of a trial-court judge and ruled
that the company could be sued for such abuses as forced labor, rape and
murder committed by Myanmese soldiers guarding the Yadana gas pipeline, if
plaintiffs produced evidence showing that the company knew about and
benefited directly from the troops' conduct.
In its brief, the Justice Department was far less concerned about the
specific case than about all litigation under ATCA, which, it said, "has
been commandeered and transformed into a font of causes of action
permitting aliens to bring human rights claims in United States courts,
even when the disputes are wholly between foreign nationals and when the
alleged injuries occurred in a foreign country, often with no connection
whatsoever with the United States".
The brief said that ATCA could not be used as a basis to file civil cases
and that victims should sue under other laws; that the "law of nations"
covered by the act did not include international human-rights treaties;
and that abuses committed outside the United States should not be covered
by the law.
"Although [ATCA] is somewhat of a historical relic today, that is no basis
for transforming it into an untethered grant of authority to the courts to
establish and enforce (through money damage actions) precepts of
international law regarding disputes arising in foreign countries," the
Moreover, it warned, the use of the act "bears serious implications for
our current war against terrorism, and permits [ATCA] claims to be easily
asserted against our allies in that war". In that respect, it "raises
significant potential for serious interference with important
But human-rights activists pointed out that if US foreign-policy interests
were at risk, the State Department always has the option of intervening in
an ATCA case - as it did last summer when it asked a judge to dismiss a
case brought by plaintiffs from the Indonesian province of Aceh against
oil giant ExxonMobil.
Indeed, the State Department was explicitly asked to comment on the
foreign-policy implications of the Myanmar case and reportedly prepared a
letter that said it had no problems with the action proceeding. But the
Justice Department, which represents the rest of the government, failed to
deliver the letter and instead filed its own brief, which makes no
reference to a State Department position.
"I don't think this has anything to do with the war on terror," said
Malinowski. "I think this is motivated by a very hardcore ideological
resistance within the Justice Department to the whole concept of
international law being enforced. The notion that international norms are
enforceable by anyone is repugnant to some in the Justice Department."
Collingsworth agreed that the move contradicted the avowed aim of the
administration of President George W Bush to end terrorism. "Particularly
today, with all this talk of the war on terror, to remove one of the few
tools we have to address human-rights violations is the epitome of
hypocrisy," he said, adding that he thought the Ninth Circuit Court would
reject Ashcroft's arguments. "The Department of Justice filed the almost
identical brief in the Marcos case in the late 1980s, and it was
Asia Times May 16 2003
Yangon approves UN envoy's return
By Larry Jagan
BANGKOK - United Nations envoy Razali Ismail's return to Yangon in June
after an absence of more than six months will signal yet another
opportunity to see how much of a push he can give to the stalled dialogue
between the generals and opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi.
"Mr Razali will be visiting Burma for four days from the 6th June,"
government spokesman Colonel Hla Min said. Yangon gave permission this
week for Razali to visit.
Razali has been trying for months to return to Myanmar, formerly known as
Burma, to help restart the process, but the generals have rebuffed his
repeated attempts to visit the country over the past three months. The
authorities continually found excuses - the country's banking crisis, the
visit by the UN rapporteur on human rights Paulo Pinheiro or trips abroad
by key government ministers - to delay his visit.
In the past few weeks, the UN envoy has begun to express his frustration
and annoyance publicly. "I am perplexed and disappointed," he said
recently when he was in Bangkok to see Thai Foreign Minister Surakiart
Sathirathai. "I thought I was a good friend to all sides, so can't
understand why I'm unable to visit," he said.
The UN envoy was largely responsible for brokering secret talks between
the two sides more than two years ago, while the opposition leader was
under house arrest.
He also persuaded the Myanmese generals to free Suu Kyi a year ago. But
since then, there has been little contact between the military government
and the opposition leader.
"There's nothing happening on the political front," said an Asian diplomat
in Yangon. "The whole national reconciliation process has stalled and
needs Mr Razali to return to give it new momentum."
Since Razali started his diplomatic mission more than three years ago, he
has visited Yangon every three months or so. "It is crucial that I see all
parties involved in the dialogue process as regularly as possible," Razali
It will now be more than six months since his last visit - the longest
interval ever between trips. Diplomats in Yangon believe the military
regime's reluctance to allow the UN envoy to return to Myanmar is a clear
sign that the dialogue process is in real trouble. So Razali will be
returning to Myanmar at a very crucial time.
There has been no real contact between the two sides for more than six
months. In recent weeks there had been fears that the dialogue process was
degenerating into a war of words between the two sides, fought through
press conferences and press releases.
Four weeks ago, Suu Kyi went on the offensive and for the first time since
her release a year ago publicly accused the military government of not
being sincere about their promises to introduce democratic reform. "I have
come to the conclusion that the SPDC [State Peace and Development Council,
as the military government is called] is not interested in national
reconciliation," she told reporters in Yangon.
Since then there have been signs that the military government was anxious
to repair its relations with the opposition leader. These include the
release of more than 20 political prisoners more than a week ago.
Diplomats in Yangon also expected a face-to-face meeting to take place
between Suu Kyi and senior representatives of the military government, but
this does not appear to have happened.
It is unlikely to take place now, as the opposition leader is touring
Kachin state in the north of the country and is not due back until a few
days before Razali is scheduled to arrive in Yangon.
But even if the regime seems to have mellowed and agreed to allow Razali
to return to Yangon to talk to both sides, as yet there has been no sign
that Myanmar's top generals are prepared to start the serious political
talks they promised after the release of the opposition leader from house
According to UN officials, Razali hopes to able to convince them to do
just that on this trip. But Razali will have his work cut out for him.
"Ambassador Razali is likely to be exploring ways in which the two sides
can actively cooperate with each other as a preliminary stage before
substantive political negotiations," said a UN official.
The envoy is anxious to find ways of moving the process on from the pure
confidence-building stage to active cooperation between them, which could
lead to substantive talks.
Razali is likely to try to resurrect some of the recommendations he has
made to both sides in the past. "He's looking for a project or two on
which both sides can work together on," UN officials in New York said.
Razali is believed to feel there is scope now to pursue this as the
humanitarian crisis is rapidly worsening and both sides realize Myanmar's
desperate need for humanitarian and development assistance.
Both the opposition leader and the senior military officials say the two
sides should cooperate on humanitarian and development issues such as
AIDS, health and education. "They [the generals] have shown that they are
not willing to cooperate with us in matters of humanitarian aid," Suu Kyi
told a news conference in Yangon last month.
"The government actively welcomes meaningful and constructive help in all
areas of national development - particularly in education, health care and
economic development," said Colonel Hla Min in a recent statement to the
Razali remains convinced that he can help all sides in their
reconciliation process - the government, the opposition and the ethnic
Diplomats feel that the generals and Aung San Suu Kyi are unable to talk
to each other without some form of international mediation, and that
otherwise Myanmar's political deadlock will never be resolved.
UN officials insist the organization has a very important role to play in
all conflict situations - not just in Myanmar - that goes beyond
facilitation. In recent months the international community has also begun
to suggest that Razali's role should be boosted.
Now Razali will have another opportunity to see if he can help push the
dialogue process forward. Interestingly, the Myanmese authorities agreed
to this last trip just as the United States and the European Union are in
the process of strengthening economic sanctions against Yangon because of
the lack of progress in the dialogue process (see Another blow for Yangon,
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