BurmaNet News: September 24, 2003
editor at burmanet.org
editor at burmanet.org
Wed Sep 24 13:17:16 EDT 2003
September 24, 2003 Issue #2333
AFP: Indonesian envoy leaves Myanmar with no timeframe for Suu Kyi release
AP: Indonesian envoy says Suu Kyi detention "counterproductive"
TV Myanmar: Than Shwe Received Indonesian Special Envy
TV Myanmar: Than Shwe assigns duties to National Convention Commission
Irrawaddy: Ceasefire Groups Attend Road Map Rally
Xinhua: Chinese film festival opens in Myanmar
ON THE BORDER
Xinhua: Smuggling challenges border trade between Bangladesh, Myanmar
Irrawaddy: Karens Flee Labor Conscription
SHAN: Speed II comes to town
Narinjara: Burmese military delegation visit a hilly town in Bangladesh
JEN: Thai foreign minister to meet Than Shwe and Khin Nyunt Thursday
Economic Times: From Kunming to Kolkata
AFP: UNESCO appeals for release of "political prisoners" in Laos, Myanmar
Australian: Free places open to refugees
Australian Financial Review: Indonesia Looks For Lost Respect
Agence France Presse September 24, 2003
Indonesian envoy leaves Myanmar with no timeframe for Suu Kyi release
YANGON: Indonesian envoy Ali Alatas said Wednesday that Myanmar's military
junta had given him no indication of when democracy leader Aung San Suu
Kyi would be freed despite his urging for her to be released.
Alatas said that during talks this week with Myanmar's top generals he had
presented letters from Indonesian President Megawati Sukarnoputri pushing
for the issue to be resolved before next month's Southeast Asian summit in
"I can confirm that in the letter we did express the hope that we would
like to see the early lifting of the restrictions placed on Daw Aung San
Suu Kyi and her early release," Alatas said as he ended a four-day visit.
But the former foreign minister said that despite being told the
restrictions on the 58-year-old opposition leader were temporary, he was
not given any timeframe for when they would end.
"They did not give indications with regard to any timing," he said.
As the host of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) summit,
Indonesia is concerned the meeting will be hijacked by the continuing
detention of the opposition leader who was taken into custody nearly four
"It is in the interests of ASEAN as a whole and in the interests of
Myanmar that no extraneous issues such as a possible unresolved problem of
Daw Aung San Suu Kyi would mar our deliberations," he said.
"It is a question that we feel is becoming increasingly conterproductive,"
he added, in unusually blunt language among ASEAN members who have a firm
agreement not to interfere in each other's internal affairs.
Aung San Suu Kyi was arrested on May 30 and detained at a secret location
after violent clashes between her supporters and a pro-junta gang which
mounted an ambush on her convoy during a political tour of northern
She was admitted to a private hospital in Yangon last week for major
surgery to treat gynaecological and other unspecified conditions and is
still recuperating there.
Alatas said he had been expecting to see Aung San Suu Kyi, the 1991 Nobel
peace laureate, but that her illness forced a cancellation.
"With regard to a possible meeting with Aung San Suu Kyi I was given to
understand that before my arrival here a meeting was planned as part of
the program. But her health condition prevented me from doing so," he
However, the former Indonesian foreign minister was only appointed as a
special envoy to Myanmar on September 17, the same day the opposition
leader was admitted to hospital.
Alatas said that the release of Aung San Suu Kyi and other senior members
of her National League for Democracy (NLD) who remain in custody since the
May 30 unrest was vital to Myanmar's stated plans for reform.
Amid intense international pressure for a shift to democracy and mounting
sanctions against the military regime, Khin Nyunt last month unveiled a
seven-point "roadmap" for change including free and fair elections.
Alatas said the government did not give him any indication of when the
roadmap would be implemented but that the leaders said the issue would be
"studied in a positive manner".
Despite the apparent failure of his mission, the envoy said he was "very
satisfied" with his visit which included meetings with the nation's ruler
Senior General Than Shwe and newly appointed Prime Minister General Khin
"I was assured by both leaders that they very much appreciated the
contents of the letters that I conveyed on behalf of our president. And
that they would carefully consider the contents, the views expressed and
the suggestions made," he said.
Alatas served as foreign minister under Indonesia's former strongman
Suharto, who was considered a friend and a role model by Myanmar's ruling
His mission is the latest attempt to break the political deadlock in
Myanmar, after the junta refused to recognise 1990 elections won in a
landslide by Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for Demcracy (NLD).
Associated Press Worldstream September 24, 2003
Indonesian envoy says Suu Kyi detention "counterproductive"
By Aye Aye Win
YANGON: An Indonesian envoy pushing for the release of Myanmar
pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi said Wednesday that military rulers
repeated earlier claims that she would be freed, but could not say when.
Former Indonesian Foreign Minister Ali Alatas said at the end of a
four-day mission aimed at securing the Nobel Peace Prize laureate's
release that he was unable to meet her as planned. The junta cited
"circumstances concerning her health," he said.
Suu Kyi, 58, is recuperating from what was described as major
gynecological surgery at a private hospital in Yangon, Myanmar's capital,
However, her private physician, Tin Myo Win, said Wednesday she was in
"good shape to accept special guests."
"There are no complications - she is mentally, spiritually and physically
in top form," he said, adding that Suu Kyi had not received a request for
a meeting with Alatas.
Myanmar's ruling junta, already shunned by many Western nations because of
its poor human rights record, was further isolated when it detained Suu
Kyi in May after she and her followers were caught in a violent clash with
a pro-government mob.
Since then, Suu Kyi has been held at an undisclosed location, despite
appeals from world leaders for her release.
Alatas said the junta told him Suu Kyi's detention was temporary, and that
she had been taken into custody to protect her and "to let the tension
subside a bit."
During his visit, Alatas met Myanmar's top leader, Gen. Than Shwe, and
Prime Minister Gen. Khin Nyunt, to deliver letters conveying the concerns
of Indonesia and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.
Indonesia holds the rotating presidency of the 10-nation ASEAN, which
includes Myanmar, and earlier expressed hopes that Suu Kyi would be freed
before next month's meeting of ASEAN leaders on the Indonesian resort
island of Bali.
"We would like to believe that it is in the interest of ASEAN and Myanmar
that no extraneous issue such as the problem of ... Aung San Suu Kyi would
mar the deliberations," Alatas said, calling called her continued
detention "increasingly counterproductive."
Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy party won a national election more
than a decade ago in Myanmar, also known as Burma, but the junta refused
to yield power. Since 1990, Suu Kyi has been kept under various periods of
Alatas expressed the Indonesian government's support for Myanmar's
seven-point road map to democracy, which was announced by Khin Nyunt last
month, but without details or a schedule.
He said the leaders could not provide him with a timetable for reconvening
the National Convention, a committee charged with drafting a new
Myanmar's government organized the National Convention in 1993 but
suspended it in 1996 after Suu Kyi's party walked out, saying it was being
forced to rubber stamp decisions made by the junta.
TV Myanmar, Rangoon, in Burmese September 24, 2003
[translated by BBC Monitoring International Reports]
Burmese Leader Received Indonesian Special Envy
Sr Gen Than Shwe, chairman of the State Peace and Development Council
(SPDC) of the Union of Myanmar (Burma) and commander in chief of the
Defence Services received Mr Ali Alatas, special envoy of the president of
the Republic of Indonesia, at the hall of Zeyathiri Beikman at 1000 (local
time) in Yangon (Rangoon) today.
Attending together with Sr Gen Than Shwe, SPDC chairman and
commander-in-chief of the Defence Services were Vice Sr Gen Maung Aye,
SPDC vice-chairman and deputy commander-in-chief of the Defence Services
(Army); Prime Minister Gen Khin Nyunt; Lt Gen Soe Win, SPDC secretary-1;
Lt-Gen Thein Sein, SPDC secretary-2; U Khin Maung Win, deputy foreign
minister, and Thura U Aung Htet, director-general of the Protocol
Present at the occasion together with Mr Ali Alatas, the special envoy of
the president of the Republic of Indonesia, was Mr Wyoso Prodjowarsito,
the Indonesian ambassador to Myanmar.
TV Myanmar, Rangoon, in Burmese September 23, 2003
[translated by BBC World Monitoring]
Burmese leader assigns duties to National Convention Commission members
Text of Declaration No 11/2003 issued by the State Peace and Development
Council of the Union of Burma on 23 September, as broadcast that day by
The full declaration reads:
Assignment of duties as members of the National Convention Convening
To be able to continue the National Convention systematically,
successfully, and smoothly, the State Peace and Development Council SPDC
has assigned duties to the following persons as members of the National
Convention Convening Commission:
1. U Aye Maung , Attorney-General - Member
2. Maj Gen Lun Maung, Auditor-General - Member
3. U Thaung Nyunt, Law Adviser - Member
4. Brig-Gen Soe Maung, Inspector-General of Defence Services - Member
5. Maj-Gen Kyaw Win, Ministry of Defence - Member
6. U Thein Sein, Deputy Minister, Ministry of Information - Member
7. U Thein Soe, Deputy Chief Justice - Member
8. Dr Tun Shin, Deputy Attorney-General - Member
9. Dr Tin Aung Aye, Chief Justice, Supreme Court - Member
10. Brig Gen Than Tun, Ministry of Defence - Member
11. Brig Gen Nyan Win, Office of Strategic Studies - Member
12. Lt-Col Ko Ko Hlaing, Research Division, Ministry of Defence - Member
13. U Myint Thein, Director General , Pyithu Hluttaw Office - Joint
Signed by Than Shwe, senior general, chairman of the State Peace and
The Irrawaddy September 24, 2003
Ceasefire Groups Attend Road Map Rally
By Naw Seng
Representatives of the two ceasefire groups in Kachin State today attended
a public rally in support of the road map to democracy forwarded by
Burmese Prime Minister Khin Nyunt.
The Kachin Independence Organization (KIO) and New Democratic Army-Kachin
(NDA-K) both sent 20 representatives to the gathering at Myitkyinas city
stadium early this morning. Ten thousand residents also attended. The
rally was organized by the Union Solidarity Development Association, which
has staged similar rallies throughout Burma over the last week.
The KIO plans to participate in the National Convention only if the
delegates are drawn from all political parties, including the National
League for Democracy.
Mukyin Dau Hawng, an NDA-K liaison officer in Myitkyina, said his group
supported the resumption of the National Convention, the body set up to
write Burmas constitution, which was suspended in 1996. Reconvening the
National Convention is the first step in the seven-point road map the
Prime Minister outlined in a policy speech on August 30.
"A constitution has to be drafted, otherwise, we will never reach the
answer," said Mukyin Dau Hawng. Five delegates of the NDA-K attended the
previous National Convention and the group plans to participate again when
the convention resumes, he said.
The NDA-K is a remnant of the Communist Party of Burmas 101st war zone in
Kachin State. It signed a ceasefire with the Burmese junta in 1989.
An officer from the KIOs Myitkyina office, who asked not to be named,
said members of his organization attended todays rally only to observe
the proceedings, which he deemed important to the people of Kachin State.
The KIO plans to participate in the National Convention only if the
delegates are drawn from all political partiesincluding the National
League for Democracyall ethnic nationalities and the military, according
to a letter the KIO sent to Khin Nyunt early this month. KIO delegates
attended the previous National Convention as observers after signing a
ceasefire in 1994.
Officers from both the KIO and NDA-K said they hope to attend the
proceedings as representatives of all Kachin people. A Kachin youth leader
in Myitkyina prefers that delegates from the ceasefire groups represent
only their own membership at the convention.
Xinhua General News Service September 24, 2003
Chinese film festival opens in Myanmar
YANGON: Chinese Film Festival opened at the Naypyidaw (Capital) Cinema
here Wednesday to mark the upcoming 54th anniversary of the founding of
the People's Republic of China, which is falling on October 1.
Under the cultural exchange program between China and Myanmar, the six-day
film festival is jointly sponsored by the Chinese Embassy in Myanmar and
the Myanmar Ministry of Information.
At the opening ceremony, a film titled "Gua Sha-The Treatment" was screened.
During the film festival, other five Chinese films will also be screened.
----ON THE BORDER----
Xinhua September 24, 2003
Smuggling challenges border trade between Bangladesh, Myanmar
DHAKA: Formation of a task force to stop smuggling in the unguarded water
of the Bay of Bengal has been urged as the trend has challenged the border
trade between Bangladesh and Myanmar.
The smuggling of fish, spices, textile goods and drugs worth millions of
taka from Myanmar is rampant in the Bay of Bengal, The Bangladesh Observer
The concerned officials and trade bodies have appealed to the Ministry of
Home Affairs for the formation of a high-powered task force comprised of
police, customs and coast guard to stop this smuggling. Presently items
like spices, fish, drugs, weapons and fishing nets are being smuggled
directly from Sittwe, western provincial city of Myanmar to the southern
port city of Chittagong and other parts of the country through the open
unguarded high seas, which has threatened the formal border trade.
In the 2002-2003 fiscal year, the government of Bangladesh realized 380.98
million taka (6.568 million US dollars) as duty from the southeastern
Teknaf land port. The amount was 80 million taka (1.38 million dollars)
more than that of the fiscal 2001-2002.
The legal traders in the country are also facing financial loss, as the
price of smuggled goods is just a fraction of the imported ones. Many
traders have meanwhile stopped doing trade with Myanmar as the imported
goods cannot see profitability.
The Irrawaddy September 24, 2003
Karens Flee Labor Conscription
By Aung Su Shin/Mae Sot
Villagers from Karen State are fleeing to Tak Province in Thailand to
avoid providing free labor to the Burma Army and the Democratic Karen
Buddhist Army (DKBA), say the refugees and Thai border security officials.
About 150 villagers from throughout Karen State have arrived at the
Thai-Burma border after being told by Burma Army battalions 701, 702 and
706, and DKBA battalion 999 to provide soldiers with food and labor.
"From August until now, the Burma army and DKBA summoned our villagers in
Kaw Ka Reik Township of Karen State to construct their barracks," said Saw
Le War, 24, of Pawwipho, who recently arrived in Thailand. "We also have
to carry rice sacks and ammunition to their border camp. We cant bear it
so we ran away to the border."
"We have to go there with our own food," he added. "So we have to neglect
our paddy field which is our familys ration for the whole year. We also
have to provide them with rice."
The Burmese government repeatedly denies that its armed forces use forced
The Karens arriving in Thailand are being provided food and health care by
Thai authorities and non-governmental organizations in the area. Makeshift
huts have been constructed to house them along the Moei River which
separates the two countries.
The new arrivals have not yet been given permission to stay in the Karen
refugee camps run by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees in Tak
Shan Herald Agency for News September 24, 2003
Speed II comes to town
According to a reliable source from the border, a new type of yaba
(methamphetamine) produced by the Wa has entered the drug market since the
beginning of this month.
The new speed pill is thicker than the standard yaba, maroon color and is
at least five times as "high" as the original, said the local businessman.
"With the old yaba, you may need 5-6 pills each day to 'to stay alive'",
the 50-year old native of Mongton, opposite Chiangmai, told S.H.A.N..
"With the new one, half a pill each day will keep you in shape."
The pills were manufactured, beginning July, at Hwe-hok, east of Hoyawd at
the foothills of Hpahompook mountain range. The refinery is under the
protection of Ta Rong, Commander of Brigade 214, United Wa State Army.
The compressor used for the purpose is said to be one that turns out 39
pills each time.
On 20 September, two buyers from Thailand: one, an ethnic Chinese from
Tham-ngob, Chaiprakarn District, and the other, a Muser (Lahu) from Phrao
District, arrived in Hoyawd, that lies east of the township seat, Mongton.
"Each took a few thousand pills to test the waters in Thailand," he said.
"The wholesale price is 150 baht per pill while the retail price is 200."
Nevertheless, entry into Thailand is still a problem for drug operators
because of the continued crackdown in the kingdom, he conceded. "We
therefore diverted them into Laos through the Golden Triangle, to the
seaways via southern Burma and to India through Tamu," he said.
Drug prices have also gone down, according to him. Heroin is 120,000 baht
per block (700 g) and opium is 10,000 per viss (1.6 kg) down from over
200,000 baht per kg and 11,000 baht per viss last month respectively. "If
it's opium from west of the Salween, the price is even lower, only 8,500
baht," he confided.
Narinjara news September 24, 2003
Burmese military delegation visit a hilly town in Bangladesh
Dhaka: The visiting Burmese military delegation on Sunday visited a hilly
district town in the southeastern part of Bangladesh.
The twelve-member high-level military team led by Lieutenant General Aung
Htwe, commander of the Burmese defence ministry, called at a Buddhist
monastery in Rangamati Town in the Chittagong Hill Tracts, about three
hundred kilometres southeast of Dhaka. The team met the abbot of the
monastery, popularly known as Bana Bhante (the forest monk) who is well
known for his rigorous meditation and respected by a huge number of
followers. Later they had a boat ride in the Kaptai Lake built by
erecting a hydro-electrical power station by damming the River Karnafuli.
According to an inter-services press report the Burmese military
delegation also visited a naval base and the Bhatiary Military Military
Academy in Chittagong, the second city of the country.
The Burmese team has come to Dhaka on a six-day visit on Friday with an
intention to discuss sharing of military intelligence to curb sea piracy,
insurgency and arms smuggling, reported the Daily Star on 21 September.
Another significant aspect of the tour is Dhakas willingness to shop
defence hardware from Burma. The long shopping list contains: 5.56 mm
light machine gun, assault and automatic rifles, 7.62 mm light machine
guns, prototype of Chinese type-58 stake mines and type 59 pressure mines.
Other items include a special combat vehicle (SCV) roof mounted with 12.7
mm Herstal machine gun, a bonnet-mounted 7.62 mm light machine gun,
bonnet-mounted 84 mm Carl Gustav M2 rocket launcher, and 81 and 60 mm
mortar, the paper added.
Meanwhile Bangladesh and Burma have been trying to patch up a number of
differences and eying at improving relations since the beginning of this
year when the Burmese junta leader, General Than Shwe, and the premier of
Bangladesh Begum Khaleda Zia visited each others country.
Since the end of last month reports in the local newspapers have confirmed
a large scale offensive against a number of Burmese insurgent groups along
the common border by the Bangladesh defence forces.
Japan Economic Newswire September 24, 2003
Thai foreign minister to meet Myanmar junta figures Thurs.
BANGKOK: Thai Foreign Minister Surakiart Sathirathai will meet with
Myanmar junta leaders Thursday to discuss plans for restoration of
democracy, a senior Thai official said Wednesday.
The official, who requested anonymity, said that during his one-day,
low-profile visit to Yangon, Surakiart would meet with Sr. Gen. Than Shwe,
chairman of the ruling State Peace and Development Council (SPDC), and
with Prime Minister Lt. Gen. Khin Nyunt.
He noted that it would be the first opportunity for Surakiart to meet with
Myanmar's new premier and to explain to him his ideas on how Myanmar
should go about restoring democracy.
On the junta's own road map towards democracy, the official said, 'It is
vital that the Myanmar's road map needs to be recognized by the
international community. And Thailand is ready to render our full support
to ensure progress of the road map.'
Surakiart's visit will follow on the heels of one by former Indonesian
Foreign Minister Ali Alatas, who arrived in Yangon on Sunday as special
envoy of President Megawati Sukarnoputri in an apparent bid to secure the
release of pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi before a summit of
Southeast Asian leaders next month on Bali.
Suu Kyi has been held incommunicado at an undisclosed location in Yangon
since what the junta claims was a clash between her supporters and
pro-government demonstrators in northern Myanmar on May 30.
The Economic Times (India) September 24, 2003
From Kunming to Kolkata
By N Vidyasagar
Though it's too early to bring out the bubbly, bright days are up ahead
for West Bengal if a proposal floated by China's Yunan province to promote
economic cooperation between its capital city Kunming and Kolkata
(predictably dubbed K2K) becomes real.
The idea is to build a passage through Myanmar to facilitate and promote
trade and tourism flow in the region. Yunan - China's landlocked
southwestern province - is building a highway to connect with Myanmar and
eventually link this to eastern India.
Industry experts said Yunan province will benefit in expanding trade
cooperation with West Bengal and the North East. And, Indian industry can
use Yunan as a gateway to expand into China.
Senior government officials of China, Myanmar, Bangladesh and India are
scheduled to meet at Yangon in November this year to deliberate on this
Experts feel the world's two-fastest growing economies will benefit from
this economic cooperation. However, they maintain that this initiative
will take a long process and expected to move in baby steps initially.
Agreements have to be signed between the countries for the construction of
a highway running through China, Myanmar and India.
''Yunan province is keen to have economic cooperation with Kolkata. They
are planning to bring a delegation here next year,'' said Piyush Bahl who
heads CII's China desk at Shanghai. Xiao Boren of the China Council Of
Promotion for International Trade (CCPIT) in Yunan has initiated this
trade cooperation with its India partner CII.
West Bengal government has asked CII to identify a Chinese partner for the
toys business. ''Yunan has excellent climatic conditions and is an ideal
place for India to promote infotech and electronics. You don't need an AC
in this province,'' said Bahl.
Yunan has close economic ties with Myanmar, Laos, Thailand, Vietnam and
Cambodia - and is keen to bring India into the loop.
This comes on the heels of China's decision to open up border trade with
India through the Nathu La pass, which has sparked off a flurry of
activity in state of Sikkim. It also hopes to benefit from trading with
China through the renowned 'Silk Route'.
Sino-Indian bilateral trade has crossed US $ 4 billion during the first
seven months of calendar year 2003.
Agence France Presse September 24, 2003
UNESCO appeals for release of "political prisoners" in Laos, Myanmar
PARIS: The United Nations cultural organisation Tuesday appealed for the
release of two "political prisoners", one a former Laotian government
minister, Latsami Khamphoui, and the other a researcher in Myanmar, Khin
Latsami Khamphoui, 63, a former deputy economy minister, has been
imprisoned in Laos since 1990 and "is in poor health and the conditions of
his detention are said to be very harsh," the United Nations Educational,
Scientific and Cultural Organisation said in a statement.
In 1992, he was tried and given a 14-year sentence for "preparing a
rebellion, propaganda against the Lao Peoples Democratic Republic, it
He has served more than 13 years of his sentence and UNESCO's Committee on
Conventions and Recommendations expressed concern over the Lao governments
indication that Khamphoui "might not be released at the end of his
sentence unless he appeal for clemency.", the statement said.
UNESCO issued "a humanitarian appeal for clemency" to the Lao government.
The organisation also appealed for clemency for Khin Zaw Win, 52, a
dentist and researcher who received a 15-year sentence after he was
arrested in 1994 at Yangon airport on his way to Singapore where he was to
resume studies in political science.
He is alleged to have been carrying documents about the National League
for Democracy opposition party founded by Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Aung
San Suu Kyi.
"He is said to be suffering from several medical problems exacerbated by
harsh conditions and insufficient medical care," UNESCO said.
The Australian September 24, 2003
Free places open to refugees
By Jim Buckell
AFTER internal dissent killed an attempt to provide education to
asylum-seekers in detention centres last year, RMIT University has
switched focus and will open its doors to refugees.
The university is one of three in the Australian Technology Network that
will offer free places to refugees holding temporary protection visas next
RMIT will provide the equivalent of 10 full-time places. Perth's Curtin
University and the University of South Australia will each make five
places available. The proposal is also being investigated at the
University of Technology, Sydney and the Queensland University of
TPV holders are usually classed as international students and are required
to pay full fees. These have been waived by the universities participating
in the scheme.
RMIT pro vice-chancellor (students) Helen Praetz said that in addition to
the special higher education places, TPV holders and East Timorese on
special visas will also be eligible for free places in TAFE programs at
RMIT. These are being paid for by the Victorian Government as part of a
wider access program.
The fresh focus on tertiary education for refugees extends beyond our shores.
In Thailand, five Karen people in makeshift camps along the Thai-Burma
border began studying business administration this year through an online
program offered free by the Australian Catholic University.
The project was initiated by Jesuit priest Michael Smith after a visit to
the camps last year.
"I was disturbed by what I saw there. These people are not classed as
refugees, they are displaced persons," Dr Smith said.
"They are going nowhere, they have virtually no access to tertiary
education, and are desperate for opportunities.
"About 95,000 Karen are waiting out their lives in the hope that at some
time in the future they may be granted nation status so they can return to
their homeland in Burma."
He called together a group of educators from ACU and Deakin universities,
who helped formulate the plan to offer the business course.
Components of the ACU course had already been delivered online to
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students in Queensland, so it was
easily adapted for delivery to the Karen students.
They receive online assignments and assessments and are assisted with a
tutor on the ground in a makeshift classroom with computers and internet
access near the Mae La camp.
Although there are plans for expansion, these rest on funds being raised.
Australian Financial Review September 24, 2003
Indonesia Looks For Lost Respect
By Andrew Burrell
A huge earthquake struck central Burma early on Monday, toppling three
ancient pagodas, destroying a bridge and causing some minor damage as far
away as Bangkok.
On the scale of things, it was hardly a major news event, but diplomats
and politicians across South-East Asia and many around the world will be
hoping that the quake was a portent that may knock some sense into the
despots who have ruled Burma for 40 years.
The earthquake coincided with the arrival in Rangoon of Indonesia's
influential former foreign minister, Ali Alatas, who is on a special
mission to press for the release of detained pro-democracy leader Aung San
It is a crucial mission. The annual leaders' summit of the Association of
South-East Asian Nations starts in less than a fortnight in Bali, and
Burma's nine fellow member nations are desperate to avoid Suu Kyi's
detention becoming the major issue of the meeting when security and
economic co-operation should be centre stage.
For ASEAN, the Suu Kyi impasse looms as the group's biggest credibility test.
It has so far failed to convince Burma's military rulers to release the
popular Suu Kyi, let alone hand over power to her National League for
Democracy, which won democratic elections in 1990.
ASEAN these days is trying to project an image on the world stage of a
region that espouses democratic values and open economies, but Burma's
hardline rulers have remained steadfastly opposed to both of these
Alatas, who is in Rangoon as a special envoy of Indonesian President
Megawati Soekarnoputri, is following up the strong concerns conveyed to
Burma at an ASEAN foreign ministers' meeting in Phnom Penh in June.
Yesterday, Alatas met Burma's leader, Senior General Than Shwe, but it
seemed unlikely he would meet Suu Kyi herself, who is recuperating in
hospital after a major operation believed to be a hysterectomy last week.
United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan said yesterday he would also
send his envoy, Razali Ismail, to Burma later this month to press for Suu
Kyi's release, but Ismail has been talking to the military men in Rangoon
for several months without much apparent success.
Suu Kyi, the 1991 Nobel Peace Prize laureate, has been held incommunicado
since May 30 after a bloody clash between her supporters and members of a
She has spent about half of the past 13 years under house arrest.
There have been mounting concerns in recent weeks about her health and
safety, and reports surfaced last month that she was refusing to eat,
although the International Red Cross later dispelled this.
If Suu Kyi is still locked up when the summit starts on October 7, ASEAN
will be deeply embarrassed, Burma will become even more isolated and the
rogue state's membership of ASEAN will be further questioned.
The urgency in dealing with Burma is heightened by the fact that it is due
to take over the ASEAN chairmanship in 2005.
ASEAN copped plenty of criticism for admitting Burma as a member in 1997,
and it was not until the ASEAN foreign ministers' meeting in June that Suu
Kyi's imprisonment was openly debated.
Part of the problem is that ASEAN has been largely drifting aimlessly
since the 1997 economic crisis. Before that, its success rate was not much
For all its faults, signs are emerging that ASEAN is attempting to assert
itself as a relevant institution, and Burma is providing a real and
immediate test of this.
The region's giant, Indonesia, can take much credit for ASEAN's
increasingly proactive approach, particularly on the Burma issue.
Indonesia wants to re-establish some of the authority it held in the
region before its economy crashed and the strongman Soeharto fell from
power, leaving behind a political mess. It has just assumed the ASEAN
chairmanship for the next 12 months and will host the crucial Bali summit.
Two new ideas will be on the table in Bali that will further test whether
ASEAN can act with unity and decisiveness.
The first is Jakarta's proposal to establish an ASEAN security community
to more effectively deal with common defence issues, as well as the
security threat posed by Jemaah Islamiyah and other groups throughout
It is fitting that the terrorism threat will be discussed in Bali on the
eve of the first anniversary of the Kuta nightclub bombings that
dramatically altered the regional security landscape.
The other idea is a proposal, championed by Singapore and Thailand, for an
ASEAN economic community to be created before 2020 to meet the growing
competition for investment from behemoths China and India.
This concept of a single market is an extension of the already-adopted
ASEAN Free Trade Area, under which tariffs are being slashed to no more
than 5 per cent.
These are bold ideas that will make ASEAN more relevant and attractive to
It is a shame that a few ageing tyrants in Rangoon could overshadow them.
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