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Burma Courier No. 247 Dec 2, 2000

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  • Eric Snider
    Burma Courier No. 247 Nov 26 - Dec 2, 2000 Please use your liberty to help promote ours. -- Daw Aung San Suu Kyi of Burma Highlights: SUU KYI REMAINS
    Message 1 of 1 , Dec 3, 2000
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       Burma Courier No. 247       Nov 26 - Dec 2, 2000

      "Please use your liberty to help promote ours."

      -- Daw Aung San Suu Kyi of Burma

















      Political developments


      RANGOON, Dec 1(Reuters) -- Burma's military regime said on Friday it had lifted restrictions on six opposition members, but pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi remained confined to her residence after more than two months of de facto house arrest.

      Suu Kyi has been kept locked in her home with her telephone cut and diplomatic access barred since a stand-off at Rangoon's railway station in late September when the authorities prevented her from travelling to Mandalay. Tin Oo, vice chairman of Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy (NLD) and NLD Chairman Aung Shwe, both of whom were placed under de facto house arrest at the same time as Suu Kyi, continue to be confined also.

      "The temporary restrictions on the six NLD central executive committee members has been lifted since 5:30 p.m. today and (they) are resuming their normal activities since then," government spokesman Col Hla Min said in a statement. "U Aung Shwe, U Tin Oo and Daw Suu Kyi are requested to continue their stay in the present position for the time being."

      The lifting of restrictions on the six NLD members comes shortly before a planned meeting of foreign ministers from the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) and the European Union in Laos on December 11-12. Burma's treatment of the NLD, has threatened to derail the meeting. Most EU states have said they will only send junior ministers or diplomats to the Vientiane meeting, and some frustrated ASEAN members have been pressing Burma to make concessions.


      Alarm sounded


      Based on news items from AP and the Myanmar Times: Updated to Nov 30, 2000

      RANGOON – A group of foreign businessmen in Rangoon has sent an open letter to the International Labor Organization (ILO) voicing dire predictions over the possible consequences of a "review of relations" with Burma which was scheduled to go into effect on Thursday this week.

      Earlier in November, the ILO’s Governing Body called on its members to "review" their relations with Burma on the basis of widespread reports of the use of forced labour in the country. The ILO decision did not specify the measures to be taken as a result of the "review".

      In their letter, the businessmen, who identified themselves as the Myanmar International Business Community (MIBC), said they believed that ''any sanction resulting from the [ILO] ruling is bound to bring destitution to millions of workers in lost employment,
      which will hurt the very people that the ILO seeks to protect.'' If sanctions were imposed,

      the letter said, it was probable that many factories ''would not be able to export their products anymore, the hotels would not have enough visitors to remain viable and vast numbers of commercial enterprises would simply have to cease operation.''

      Business interests associated with the group that sent the letter claim to provide employment to more than half-a-million workers in sectors such as oil exploration, hotels, real estate and garment manufacturing.

      Not everybody was buying into the doomsday scenario of the foreign business group. The manager of a major hotel, who wanted to remain anonymous, said he believed tourism would not be affected. "No one has been ringing up canceling rooms," he said. "Arrivals from the US and Europe are few in number anyway. And these are the places where the ILO could have most influence via localized union activity."

      The Myanmar Times said the decision to send the letter had been taken during a meeting of forty "heavyweights" of Rangoon’s business community shortly after the ILO called for the review. According to Rangoon weekly, the closed-door meeting was facilitated by Serge and Martin Pun, whose SPA investment group is involved in multi-million dollar deals with various government departments and with the Union of Myanmar Economic Holdings, the private investment arm of Burma’s ruling military elite.

      The business community is also considering a formal approach to overseas business leaders to visit Burma, as its guests, to gain a better insight into the country and to counteract negative criticism, according to Jean Pichon, a French entrepreneur. His company, Setraco, is linked to the military regime in a multi-million dollar deal to develop the port of Mergui.

      In a rare editorial, the Myanmar Times, which has close connections with a senior member of Burma’s military intelligence, announced that the ILO’s call for a "review of relations" over the use of forced labour amounted to what the newspaper termed "political chicanery". The country would have to "rely upon the reason and sense of ILO member nations to not turn this paper decision into practical action that could damage Myanmar’s economic development", the editorial said.

      For the moment, no one in the Burmese capital was publicly expressing any concern about whether the practice of forced labour was continuing or not.


      Forced labour


      From the November, 2000, report of the Shan Human Rights Foundation

      CHIANG MAI -- On October 10th, a patrol of about thirty SPDC troops from Kunhing-based Light Infantry Battalion 524, led by Capt. Win Maung, conscripted 18 civilian porters, including young and old men from villages in Kyaingtawng area of Mongnai
      township, and requistioned them to carry their supplies and equipment while they were on patrol in the district.

      Upon arrival at a field where several draft-oxen were grazing, the troops shot all of the animals and ordered the porters to butcher the carcasses and dry the meat. Afterwards, they directed the group to carry the meat back to the military unit’s base in Kunhing.

      After they had gone some distance, two of the porters who were elderly became too weak and exhausted to continue carrying the meat which was in 20 viss (33 kg) sacks. Drops of sweat were running down their faces and bodies and they were unable to speak coherently.

      Under the impression that the old men were pretending, some of the soldiers began to beat and kick them so hard that they fell down. When they were unable to get to their feet, they were pulled them up by their hands and told them to walk along with the patrol.

      The elderly men, however, were too badly beaten to be able even to walk slowly. At that, the officer in charge of the patrol became very angry and said that the men were defying orders and told his men to shoot the two. Aterwards, the remaining porters were obliged to carry the sacks of the two elderly men until the patrol reached the base at Kunhing where the civilians were released.

      Left beside the road at the mercy of the elements were the bodies of Lung Nyaa, 61, and Lung Saw-Na, aged 57, both of Kun Kawk village.


      International focus


      News from AFP and the Japan Times: Updated to December 2, 2000

      TOKYO – Japan will not allow a decision by the International Labour Organization calling for a "review of relations" with Burma to stand in the way of a seminar on the reform of Burma’s economy planned for December 4 and 5 in Tokyo.

      The ILO’s Governing Body decided to call for the review because of the use of forced labour by Burma’s military government in contravention of an international convention banning the practice.

      A senior government official said there was no conflict between the ILO measure and Japan's decision to proceed with the seminar, the second in a series begun last June.

      "Japan's technical assistance for Myanmar's economic reforms does not run counter to the ILO decision, because the ILO sanctions call on its member governments to stop any economic aid that may encourage the use of forced labor in Myanmar," the official told the Japan Times, requesting anonymity.

      More than 20 government officials, businessmen and economists from the two countries, including the military regime’s David Abel, are expected to attend the workshop starting on Monday.

      However, Tokyo has no plans to announce fresh aid to the country, a foreign ministry spokesperson said. Japan would propose "intellectual support such as raising human resources". But "we will make no agreement to provide yen loans during the upcoming meeting," the official said.

      Japan suspended all but a small amount of humanitarian aid to Myanmar in the aftermath of the 1988 military takeover, but agreed in February last year to help finance reconstruction of Rangoon international airport. Japan has stated its willingness to increase its supply of humanitarian aid if the military government embraces reform.




      Based on news from Xinhua (with file additions): November 28, 2000

      RANGOON – Singapore has retained its place as Burma’s largest trading partner in the first six months of this year, according to statistics released by the military government statistical bureau.

      Bilateral trade between the two countries amounted to US$ 448 million during the half-year period with imports from Singapore valued at US$ 392 million while exports came to only $US 56 million. During the same period last year imports were at $367 million while exports were valued at $53.5 million.

      Following Singapore, other major Asian trading partners during the first six months of calendar 2000 were China at $US 224 million (1999: $203 million; 1998: $184 million), Thailand at $US 204 million (1999: $175 million; 1998: $250 million), South Korea at $US 158 million (1999: $US 103 million; 1998: $81 million), Japan at $143 million (1999: $150; 1998: $150) and Malaysia at $US 135 million (1999: $117 million; 1998: $119 million).

      Total trade with its largest partners during the period from January to June was $US 1,312 billion, while the total trade for calendar 1999 with the same six came to $ US 2,516 billion. Burma’s imports from the six countries normally outrun exports to them by almost 5 to 1. With the exception of Singapore, the six month figures do not include a breakdown of imports and exports.

      The only large trading partners with which Burma usually enjoys a surplus are India which imports large quantities of pulses and beans and the U.S. which is accepting increasingly large quantities of cheap garments. Figures cited in one recent report estimated the total value of garments imported into the U.S. from Burma would amount to $US 340 million in calendar 2000. Apparel constitutes about 82% of U.S. imports from Burma.

      Trade figures with Thailand obviously do not include the value of gas exports to the country. In July, 2000, Thailand paid up $US 280 million to comply with shipments contracted for in 1999. Furthers payments are expected in 2000.

      Another area in which there has been a dramatic increase in Burma’s exports over the past year and a half has been in the mining sector. With the start in 1999 of full-scale production at Myanmar Ivanhoe Copper (MICCL) near Monywa, more than 26,000 tonnes of copper cathode were exported from Burma bringing in revenues of more than $US 41,000,000 to the joint venture company that operates the mine. Repayment of debt by the joint venture partners to Japanese lenders over a number of years will absorb a considerable portion of MICCL’s revenues. Most of the cathode produced at the mine is being exported to south and east Asia with primary markets being copper wire rod mills in Thailand.




      Based on news from Xinhua, MNA and MTBR: Updated to Dec 1, 2000

      RANGOON -- A leading Chinese telecommunication and information enterprise, Shanghai Bell, signed a contract with Myanmar Posts and Telecommunications (MPT) here Friday to upgrade and expand Burma’s telephone network in four major cities.

      Under the agreement, Shanghai Bell will supply S-12 digital switching systems for 55,000 lines to replace the 40-year old analog equipment in exchanges in Rangoon, Mandalay, Toungoo and Pye. The contract, worth nearly 20 million U.S. dollars, is scheduled to be completed in two years time.

      Shanghai Bell, a Sino-Belgian joint venture established in 1984, has acquired the largest market-share in the Chinese domestic market and has taken on contracts in more than twenty countries worldwide. Gunther Strobel, president of SB, was in Rangoon for the signing ceremony.

      The deal has taken over two years to come to fruition. Negotiations were underway as long ago as January, 1999, when SB was reported as donating a 3,000-line exchange to MPT.

      With only about 260,000 installed phone lines, Burma has one of the lowest phone densities in the world averaging about one for every 200 people nationwide. Last month Communications Minister Win Tin was quoted as vowing to match Bangladesh's per capita connection rate of 0.8 per cent. No time frame was set.


      Company news


      Based on an article in the Business Times: December 2, 2000

      SINGAPORE – Burma’s ailing flagship air carrier is to get a much needed shot in the arm from Singapore’s Region Air which has taken up a 49 per cent stake in Myanmar Airways International (MAI) and will take charge of management of the airline.

      Region is a Singapore based company in the business of leasing, buying and selling of aircraft and also in the maintenance and operation of aircraft for airlines.

      Sources did not reveal the investment terms of the agreement worked out by Region’s principal shareholder, Ong Beng Seng, but under the deal the Singapore company will effectively manage the marketing, accounting, cost control and technical operations of the Myanmar government airline. The arrangement will come into effect on Jan 1, 2001.

      The Myanmar airline's fleet currently comprises only two 146-seater Boeing 737-400s leased from Malaysian Airlines. It flies to regional destinations such as Bangkok, Singapore, Kuala Lumpur and Hong Kong. Region Air intends to upgrade MAI's systems and procedures and introduce new technology to improve aircraft management, yields and load factors.

      Ong, who controls Singapore-listed Hotel Properties Ltd (HPL) with his in-laws, was hit badly during the regional financial crisis between 1997 and 1998. He had to sell off a string of assets, including stakes in the Four Seasons hotels in Milan and London, Hotel Pennsylvania in New York, a prime site at Surfers Paradise on Australia's Gold Coast -- and even his personal jet.

      In recent years MAI has had at least two other minority shareholders: Highsonic Enterprises of Singapore and EVA of Taiwan. Neither partnership survived beyond a trial period and no reasons were given for the failure to follow through, although pressure from Beijing was suggested as one of the reasons for the break with the Taiwan airline.


      Sector check


      Based on news reports from AP and MNA: Updated to November 30, 2000

      YANGON, Myanmar (AP) -- Burma is self-sufficient in food and could become a major food exporting country in the future, the head of the country’s military regime said this week.

      In a speech to leaders of the mass membership Union Solidarity Development Organization, Gen. Than Shwe said every effort was being made to develop the agricultural sector, the base of Burma’s economy, which employs 63 percent of the country's labour force.

      "Most of the large-scale infrastructure projects under implementation in the agriculture sector are about to be completed in not many years, and thus, Myanmar will become one of the major food-exporting countries in future,'' said Than Shwe .

      The confidence exuded by the general in the public gathering was in seeming contrast to remarks the previous day at a meeting of the country’s senior military brass in which Than Shwe was reported as saying that work on infrastructure projects such as dams, reservoirs, roads and bridges would have to be speeded up if the country was to achieve its primary development goals.

      Only when the midland region of Burma was able to become self-sufficient in rice would it be possible to export surplus rice from Lower Burma, the general told the junta’s Special Projects Implementation Committee. And that was critical if the nation was to earn the hard currency from agricultural exports that it needed for other "higher level" development projects. Than Shwe was also reported to have emphasized the need for "thrift" and "better quality control" in construction projects.

      In related news, Thailand’s Deputy Commerce Minister Paitoon Kaewtong, who was in Rangoon this week to open a trade exhibition, told reporters that he had proposed to the junta’s commerce minister, Brig-Gen Pyi Sone, that the military government sign an agreement with major rice-exporting countries such as Thailand and Vietnam so that "there won't be price-cutting.'' Paitoon did not give his counterpart's reaction to the proposal.

      Thailand is the world's biggest rice exporter, followed by Vietnam. According to government statistics, Burma exported 59,700 metric tons of rice in the 1999-2000 fiscal year, down from 120,400 metric tons the previous fiscal year.




      MONYWA – The joint venture company which operates Burma’s only large copper mine says that it has installed stations to provide purified drinking water for mine workers and residents in the area near the S & K mine across the Chindwin river from Monywa.

      In its first-ever Safety and Environment report released in November, Myanmmar Ivanhoe Copper said that it is making potable water available because mine town residents had been using untreated river water which was a source of bacterial exposure and infections.

      In a separate statement, President Dan Kunz, president of Ivanhoe Mines, one of the joint venture’s two equal partners, denied there was any "hazardous contamination of groundwater" caused by mining activities at the site. He said that an ongoing program was in place to contain any inadvertent leaks and to monitor the quality of the groundwater at potential leakage points.

      But Kunz pointed out that Ivanhoe has also taken steps to indemnify itself against any responsibility for environmental impacts at Monywa caused by previous mining activity at the site before the company became involved in the mine redevelopment project.

      Full scale operations at the S & K mine were begun in 1984 after facilities developed by the RTB-Bor Copper Institute of Yugoslavia were completed. The mine was operated from then until 1997 by Burma’s state-owned Mining Enterprise No. 1, now Ivanhoe’s partner in operating the mine.

      A large tailing area remains from earlier operations. The joint venture company says that it is working to reclaim an area covered by a tailings spill from previous operations.

      An independent environmental audit carried out at the mine in April this year by PKK Environment and Infrastructure of Australia exposed at least twenty five areas in which improvement was needed in mining operations at the S & K project. The Safety and Environment Report produced by the joint venture company did not provide details, but says the recommendation made as a result of the audit were being "addressed".


      At the borders


      Reports by Saeng Khao Haeng and Maihoong of S.H.A.N.: Updated to Dec 3, 2000

      CHIANG MAI –

      Wa fighters arriving at the border facing Thailand’s Chiangmai province are telling the local populace that their leadership has bought the area from Burma's strongman, Gen. Khin Nyunt, sources report to the Shan Herald.

      "Of course, we have not heard it straight from their commander's mouth", said a source who owns a shop in Hweyao opposite Piangluang village in Wiang Haeng district. "But we kept hearing from these young fighters, 'Khin Nyunt has sold us this territory, so we can stand on anybody's head if we want to'".

      Troops from the United Wa State Army's 171st Division, headed by druglord Wei
      Hsueh Kang, moved into the Mongtaw-Monghta area, west of Mongton, on Thursday in 45 Tiger Toyota four-wheelers "We saw 6 M-79 rocket launchers with the 140-strong unit that entered Hweyao Friday (1 November)", said a source. "Each squad carries an RPG-7 and everyone is armed with either an AK-47 or M-16 assault rifles".

      Another third of the estimated 450-strong Wa expeditionary force is reported today to be farther west close to the villages of Namkad and Maekun opposite the Pangmapha district in Thailand’s Mae Hong Son province.

      Hundreds of troops also arrived in Hwe-Aw between Mongton and Border Post-1, in 50 four wheelers and 50-60 six wheelers or ten-wheelers on the same day. Hwe-Aw and the neighboring village of Nakawngmu to the north are connected to the road that branches into the Mongtaw-Monghta area. Wa fighters told villagers from 80-household villagers of Huey Aw that their job was to destroy Shan resistance forces from BP-1 to the border with Karenni.


      Refugee update


      BANGKOK, Nov 28 (BKK Post) – The Maneeloy Safe Area in Ratchaburi province will be shut down early next year when half of the Burmese students housed there are sent to third countries, according to Kachadpai Burusapatana, secretary-general of Thailand’s National Security Council.

      Kachadpai made the comments after discussions with Assistant US Secretary of State for Refugee Affairs Julia Taft, who was in Bangkok for meetings this week. The NSC boss said that 1,095 of the students and their families from the Maneeloy refugee centre had already been sent to be to third countries, 455 had been accepted for resettlement and 555 were awaiting interviews. The US is expected to take the bulk of the students, he said.

      According to the security chief, Rangoon was showing signs of being open to discussions on the question of repatriating thousands of other refugees along the border. Kachadpai said he had sought to allay concerns over repatriation expressed by Ms Taft, assuring her that refugees sent back during the last two years were safe.




      RANGOON, Dec 2 (APF) – One of Burma’s leading journalists, writer and social critic Tin Maung Than, has fled to Thailand and is seeking political asylum to escape increasing pressure from the country's military government, sources said Saturday. He is believed to have left Rangoon with his family about two weeks ago.

      In August Rangoon soldiers took the Harvard-educated writer in for questioning on suspicion he was secretly distributing copies of a speech by Zaw Htun, a deputy cabinet minister who was dismissed after accusing the government of economic mismanagement.

      Tin Maung Than, a medical doctor by training, has had several brushes with Myanmar's censors, particularly in his capacity as editor of a private magazine entitled "Thintbawa", or "Your Life". An article where he described the deterioration of Burma’s education system since the days of British colonial rule was famously completely censored from the publication in 1996.

      Significantly, in a week in which the military regime’s abnormal fear of criticism and the power of the written word was once again at the centre of attention, two of the writers it has jailed, journalists San San Nweh and U Win Tin, were awarded the 2001 Golden Pen of Freedom award by the Paris-based World Association of Newspapers, "in recognition of their outstanding contribution to the cause of press freedom." The two journalists are serving long prison sentences, and have reportedly been mistreated while in detention. U Win Tin is said to be near death, and both he and San San Nwe are in urgent need of medical attention.




      Courier News Service: December 1, 2000

      TORONTO – Canada’s largest independent labour union is to honour Nobel peace laureate Daw Aung San Suu Kyi with its Nelson Mandela Human Rights Award at a ceremony in Toronto on December 9.

      The presentation will be made during the union’s annual meeting involving a thousand delegates from locals across the country. The 250,000-member CAW Union embraces workers in the auto, transport, health care, mining, fishing and railroad sectors.

      Peggy Nash, a CAW representative, said it was the first time the award, aimed at raising awareness of the struggle for human rights, was being presented. The award was intended to encourage activities in solidarity with the people of Burma, in much the same way as the CAW had joined with others in supporting the move to liberate South Africa from racial oppression in the years leading up to the abolition of apartheid.

      A glass sculpture prepared by the renowned Quebec artist Sylvie Belanger was presented to Suu Kyi in a special ceremony in Rangoon before her arrest in August and footage taken of the event will be shown during the Toronto event.

      There is no monetary value to the award. Instead, the union and its locals are looking for ways of signaling their active and ongoing support for human rights and the restoration of democracy to Burma. A special invitation to attend the event is being extended to members of the Burma exile community in Toronto and southern Ontario.




      Letter to the editor of the Vancouver Sun: November 27, 2000

      It is a traveler's dream to discover virgin land unsullied by tourism: thus Bob Riche's astonishing article extolling the magnificence of a cruise on Burma's Ayeyarwady River (On the river from Mandalay, Travel, Nov. 18). But it was shocking to see that Mr. Riche took such an uncritical approach to supporting the tourist industry in Burma, a country notorious for having one of the worst human rights records in the world.

      I was incensed at Mr. Riche's irresponsible journalism, particularly after having attended a screening of Inside Burma: Land of Fear at the recent Fifth Annual Amnesty International Film Festival. This documentary illustrated something unique to Burma -- it is the only country with an elected leader who urges foreigners not to support its
      tourist industry.

      Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi has said that tourism only serves to support the regime, one that made a bloodbath of the student democratic movement in 1988, and suppressed the elected government in 1990.

      While the river from Mandalay might hold idyllic vistas of jungle and pagodas, until the people of Burma have attained the democracy and human rights standards that they have been fighting for, tourism serves as funding for the regime's armaments, human rights abuses and drug trade. There may be untold personal gratification in the discovery of such an untouched tourist destination, the fact remains that the tourist's footprint is not without significant impact.

      Elin Sigurdson


      Briefly noted


      Based on a news item from The Irrawaddy

      BANGKOK, Nov 24 (Irrawaddy) -- Burmese media were banned from reporting on their national team's defeat in the Tiger Cup soccer tournament held in Thailand in mid-November. After the Burmese national side was eliminated from the competition, Burma's official censorship board reportedly warned sports writers that "News about the Burmese national football team must be written in constructive ways." Fearful of displeasing the junta, Burmese sports journals, which are among the country's only non-state media, simply made no more mention of Burma's participation in the tournament.



      RANGOON, Nov 24 -- A new album by the Irish rock band U2 has been banned in Burma, apparently because it features a song dedicated to detained democracy activist Daw Aung San Suu Kyi. A page on the band's website discusses forced labor, ethnic cleansing and other human rights violations in Burma. The Irish band won an award in Dublin last year at the same as Suu Kyi was similarly honoured.

      Check it out:



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