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Burma Related News - April 02, 2002.



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BURMA RELATED NEWS - April 02, 2002.
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HEADLINES
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Reuters - Myanmar to try coup plotters for high treason
AFP - Ne Win's relatives to be charged with high treason: Myanmar junta
Reuters - Myanmar slaps protectionist ban on foreign traders
AFP - Myanmar seizes heroin, shoots trafficker in border raid: Thai police
AFP - Five relatives of Ne Win to be charged with treason: Myanmar junta
AP - Myanmar suspends import licenses of foreign companies
Reuters - Aid Agency Urges Better Care for Myanmar Refugees
Xinhuanet - Chinese Yunnan Airways Opens Air Link with Myanmar
Bkk Post - Durable solutions hinge on Burmese politics alone
Bkk Post - Wa standoff `will be resolved'
Bernama - Better Thai-Myanmar Ties To Solve Problem Of Illegal Workers: U.N. Official
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Tuesday April 2, 12:28 PM
Myanmar to try coup plotters for high treason
By Aung Hla Tun
 
YANGON (Reuters) - Four relatives of Myanmar's former dictator Ne Win, who were arrested last month on suspicion of plotting a coup, will stand trial on charges of high treason, an offence carrying the death penalty.
 
Myanmar's Deputy Military Intelligence Chief General Kyaw Win said late on Monday authorities had charged Ne Win's son-in-law and three grandsons with high treason, but were still putting together a case.
 
"They will be put on open trial for high treason," Kyaw Win told a news conference. He gave no date for the trial.
 
"Investigation and questioning are still being carried out at the moment in order to gather necessary information for setting up the case."
 
Early last month, Myanmar's military swooped on the unpopular relatives of elderly Ne Win, accusing them of plotting to overthrow the junta's top leaders with the help of an astrologer using black magic.
 
But diplomats are sceptical a coup was being planned, saying the arrests and accusations could be a ruse by the junta's leader Than Shwe to strengthen his own power base by rooting out potential opponents.
 
Authorities also arrested three high-ranking military officers with close links to Ne Win and have interrogated more than 100 others. Ne Win, now in his early 90s, and his daughter Sandar Win have been confined to their home.
 
"KIND OF CRAZY"
 
"The idea of a revival of the Ne Win era is kind of crazy," said a Yangon-based diplomat.
 
"But they're using it to make a very wide sweep through the armed forces as well as civilians -- Ne Win's old cronies."
 
Ne Win ruled the country with an iron fist from 1962 until he stepped down in the midst of a pro-democracy uprising in 1988. The military eventually crushed the uprising.
 
The most optimistic pro-democracy advocates say the military junta is drawing a line under the Ne Win era in order to press forward with talks with opposition leader and Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi and her National League for Democracy (NLD).
 
But many diplomats say the military is dragging its feet in the talks and a strengthened Than Shwe is unlikely to loosen his grip on power.
 
The military is talking to Suu Kyi in the hope of greater international legitimacy which could bring much needed aid, trade and investment to the impoverished country, they say.
 
"It was a big step for them to talk to her and things have moved on, but at the same time I think they'd like to string it out," said the diplomat of the preliminary "confidence building" talks between the generals and Suu Kyi, the daughter of the country's independence hero, Aung San.
 
"They hoped to get more from the international community during the confidence building."
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Tuesday April 2, 4:01 PM
Ne Win's relatives to be charged with high treason: Myanmar junta
 
YANGON 2 (AFP) - Former dictator Ne Win's daughter, son-in-law and three grandsons are to be charged with high treason -- an offence punishable by death -- for attempting to mount a military coup, a junta official said.
 
Myanmar's deputy military intelligence chief, Major-General Kyaw Win, told reporters that the family of the one-time autocrat, now aged in his 90s, had also committed serious economic crimes.
 
"We will charge them not only with high treason but with economic offences," he said, adding that they were suspected of smuggling vehicles from Thailand and illegally selling mobile telephone handsets.
 
Early last month the junta arrested Ne Win's son-in-law Aye Zaw Win and his three sons, accusing them of having plotted to overthrow the current military regime which has been in power since 1988.
 
Since then Ne Win and his daughter Sandar Win have been under virtual house arrest at their heavily guarded Yangon residence, but Kyaw Win said she would be taken into custody without delay "when the time comes".
 
Kyaw Win said Ne Win remained in good health despite his advancing age and was being cared for by his daughter, a medical doctor in her 50s.
 
"We are still providing him with needed medicine and his daughter, Dr. Khin Sandar Win, is still looking after him," he said. "(But) we believe she is the key player in the scenario for the coup which has now backfired," he said.
 
The military authorities, however, now face a headache in deciding what to do with Ne Win, particularly if his daughter is taken into custody.
 
"We've been hearing that the old man and Sandar Win were looking for refuge in Singapore and are waiting for the Singaporeans to agree to that," one diplomat said. "It would probably be an all-round good solution for everyone."
 
It was possible that Ne Win and his daughter could leave Myanmar for medical treatment in Singapore, where he had a pacemaker fitted late last year, and simply never return, he said.
 
Even though Ne Win's once considerable influence has waned with his age, the aggressive action against his relatives came as a major surprise to Myanmar-watchers who believed them to be untouchable.
 
The junta said the family, which had long enjoyed special privileges that allowed them to build a sizeable business empire, had grown unhappy with the lack of favours now being extended to them.
 
Kyaw Win said that since the junta began investigating the coup plot, 100 people including military and police officials had been arrested.
 
The four highest-ranking figures netted -- the air force chief of staff, the chief of police and two regional commanders -- remain in custody, he said, adding more people could be apprehended in the ongoing investigation.
 
Diplomats in Yangon said the treason charges were the logical conclusion of a carefully choreographed series of actions against the Ne Win family.
 
"Certainly against the son-in-law and the boys, the way this whole thing has been played out is by the book with all the evidence that's been presented, and the pattern has been clearly laid out for all of us to see," one said.
 
The high treason charges are expected to be tried in a special court before moving up the chain of appeal. The maximum penalty is death, with a minimum set at 20 years imprisonment with hard labour.
 
The death penalty has not been carried out for at least a decade in Myanmar and observers said it was likely that if such a sentence was handed down to Ne Win family members it would be commuted to life imprisonment.
 
Economic offences also carry stiff penalties, while the alleged smuggling offences are also likely to bring separate charges.
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Tuesday April 2, 5:27 PM
Myanmar slaps protectionist ban on foreign traders
 
YANGON, April 2 (Reuters) - Myanmar has banned all foreign trading firms in a bid to protect local companies as the military government battles a plummetting currency and traders said the move would further isolate the impoverished country.
 
Colonel Kyaw Thein, a senior officer in Myanmar's military intelligence, said the permits of all foreign trading firms had been suspended indefinitely.
 
"According to the new measure, expired trading permits were not allowed to be renewed effective January 2002. For the current valid trading permits, permits were suspended effective March," Kyaw Thein told reporters.
 
When asked for the reason behind the ban, Kyaw Thein said:
 
"As a measure of protecting local trading companies, which cannot afford as much capital as their foreign counterparts."
 
Diplomats say massive macro-economic mismanagement and a severe slump in investment since the 1997 Asian economic crisis has crippled Myanmar's economy.
 
The kyat currency is hovering around 800 to the dollar on the black market, causing prices of imported goods to sky rocket. The official rate is seven kyat to the dollar.
 
Diplomats said the Myanmar government was increasingly worried high import prices and economic hardship would spark public unrest.
 
"The junta has employed a two-pronged approach -- preserve political power and preserve its own economic interests," said a Western diplomat in neighbouring Thailand.
 
"The only reflex is to preserve power and maintain influence to avoid people rioting," he said.
 
Over 100 foreign-owned trading companies were registered in Myanmar when the ban came into effect. Most of them exported agricultural and farm produce and imported raw materials, machinery and chemicals.
 
Myanmar regulations required them to renew their licences every two years.
 
Traders said the ban on foreign traders would further isolate Myanmar. Many Western countries, including the European Union and the United States, have already slapped trade and aid sanctions on the Southeast Asian country.
 
"First of all it will spoil the reputation of the government's trade policy, which is already well known to lack consistency," one trader told Reuters.
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Tuesday April 2, 5:43 PM
Myanmar seizes heroin, shoots trafficker in border raid: Thai police
 
MAE SAI, Thailand, April 2 (AFP) - Myanmar authorities shot dead an alleged drug trafficker and seized 30 kilos (66 pounds) of heroin in a raid near the Thai border, Thai police said Tuesday.
 
An ethnic Wa trafficker was killed in the raid Monday evening in the nearby Myanmar township of Tachilek, said Colonel Wichai Rooplek, commander of the police station in Thailand's Mae Sai district.
 
Following the attack, Myanmar authorities contacted Thai police, who arrested one of three traffickers who fled across the border to Thailand, he said.
 
"One injured suspect was arrested, and we are checking his nationality now," Wichai told AFP.
 
The two others involved in the raid were still at large, he added.
 
Heroin and amphetamine trafficking is rife along the Thai-Myanmar border.
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Tuesday April 2, 12:22 PM
Five relatives of Ne Win to be charged with treason: Myanmar junta
 
(AFP) - Five relatives of former dictator Ne Win who are accused of plotting a military coup are to be charged with high treason, an offence punishable by death, a senior junta official said.
 
Myanmar's deputy military intelligence chief, Major-General Kyaw Win, told reporters late Monday that the 92-year-old Ne Win's daughter Sandar Win, her husband and three sons had also committed serious economic crimes.
 
"We will charge them not only with high treason but with economic offences," he said, adding that they were suspected of smuggling vehicles from Thailand and illegally selling mobile telephone handsets.
 
Early last month the junta arrested Ne Win's son-in-law Aye Zaw Win and his three sons, accusing them of having plotted to overthrow the current military regime.
 
Since then Ne Win and his daughter Sandar Win have been under virtual house arrest at their Yangon residence but until now have faced no charges.
 
"But when the time comes for us to take Khin Sandar Win into custody, we'll do that without delay. We believe she is the key player in the scenario for the coup which has now backfired," Kyaw Win said.
 
The death penalty is often suspended in Myanmar, and observers said it was likely that if such a sentence was handed down to the Ne Win family members it would be commuted to life imprisonment.
 
Kyaw Win said Ne Win remained in good health despite his advancing age and was being cared for by Sandar Win, a medical doctor in her 50s.
 
"We are still providing him with needed medicine and his daughter, Dr. Khin Sandar Win is still looking after him," he said, adding that this would not prevent the authorities from taking her into custody.
 
Kyaw Win said that since the junta began investigating the coup plot, 100 people including military and police officials had been arrested.
 
The four highest-ranking figures netted -- the air force chief of staff, the chief of police and two regional commanders -- remain in custody, he said.
 
"We still have to investigate, and if need be, have to take in more persons involved in the aborted coup plan," he said.
 
The high treason charges are expected to be tried in a special court before moving up the chain of appeals.
 
The maximum penalty for high treason is death, with a minimum set at 20 years imprisonment with hard labour.
 
Economic offences also carry stiff penalties, with 10 years jail the maximum penalty for the misuse or destruction of public property. The alleged smuggling offences are also likely to carry separate charges.
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Myanmar suspends import licenses of foreign companies
Tue Apr 2, 4:08 AM ET
 
YANGON, Myanmar (AP) - Myanmar's military government has stopped issuing import licenses to foreign companies in a move that trading firms said Tuesday could force them to close and may result in shortages of consumer goods.
 
Myanmar's agrarian economy depends almost entirely on imports for almost all consumer goods including medicine, kitchenware, household goods and even staples such as lentils.
 
These goods are imported by companies from several countries, including Singapore, India, Japan, Korea and Thailand, which are given two or three-year licenses to trade. They must also apply for a permit for each shipment of goods they want to bring in.
 
The government has not officially announced the suspension of the licenses, but a military intelligence official, Brig. Kyaw Thein, confirmed it during a dinner with foreign reporters Monday night.
 
Kyaw Thien, of the Office of Military Intelligence, said the suspension was imposed last month and that he did not know when it would be lifted. He said he did not know the reason but speculated that it was to give local companies a "competitive advantage."
 
Officials at the Ministry of Commerce were not available for comment. The government does not release trade data, and the value of imports by foreign trading companies is not known.
 
Businesspeople said the new restriction could be aimed at correcting Myanmar's trade deficit and stopping the flow of hard currency out of the country. They warned that such a harsh measure would scare away foreign investors.
 
An executive of a trading company that imports dlrs 3-4 million worth medicine every year said he first sensed something was amiss when the government failed to renew the company's two-year trade permit when it expired in October.
 
The company was given a grace period of several months to continue trading but has not been allowed to import any medicine since March, said the executive, speaking on condition of anonymity.
 
If the suspension is not lifted soon, the company will have to close and fire its 450 employees, he said.
 
The absence of any official statement about the suspension has left foreign companies confused and uncertain about the future, an executive of a European company said.
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Aid Agency Urges Better Care for Myanmar Refugees
Mon Apr 1, 3:31 PM ET
 
DHAKA (Reuters) - Myanmar refugees huddled in two Bangladesh camps for a decade are battling hunger, disease and poor security, a director of aid agency Medicins sans Frontiers (MSF), or Doctors without Borders (news - web sites), said on Monday.
 
The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) should try to send them home as soon as possible and also improve living conditions in the camps, Kenny Gluck, MSF's operational director, told reporters in Dhaka.
 
"The 21,000 Myanmar Muslim refugees, called Rohingyas, have been suffering from malnutrition, they do not have enough water nor food to maintain their health, or safety in the camps, and the UN body should take good care of them," he said.
 
More than 250,000 Rohingyas fled to Bangladesh's southeastern Cox's Bazar district from Myanmar's western Arakan province in early 1992, trying to escape alleged military persecution, including killings and rape. Nearly 230,000 have returned home under the supervision of UNHCR.
 
The repatriation process stopped in the middle of 1997.
 
The MSF has been offering medical assistance to the Myanmar refugees ever since they arrived in Bangladesh.
 
"The refugees have been staying in the camps in miserable conditions. They are given inadequate food and medical care, not being allowed to go out of the camps and not permitted to work for their survival," Gluck said.
 
"Living conditions of the refugees, and safety and security in the camps need to be improved," he said, adding that "the refugees need to be viewed not as a burden or residual caseload, but as human beings, with hopes, voices and rights."
 
Bangladeshi officials said the delay in repatriation of the Rohingyas was due to lack of willingness on Myanmar's part to take them back.
 
"Many of the Rohingyas are economic refugees and Bangladesh, one of the world's poorest countries, cannot shoulder their burden," one official in Cox's Bazar said on Monday.
 
He said Bangladesh was doing its best to support the refugees "purely on humanitarian consideration."
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Chinese Yunnan Airways Opens Air Link with Myanmar
Xinhuanet 2002-04-01 21:27:11
 
YANGON, April 1 (Xinhuanet) -- The Yunnan Airways of China formally opened an international air route on Monday linking Kunming and Mandalay, Myanmar's second largest city Monday.
 
Myanmar Minister of Transport Major-General Hla Myint Swe said the opening of the air route will facilitate personnel exchange between Myanmar and China and promote the development of tourism.
 
General Manager of the Yunnan Airways Luo Chaogeng said the air route serves as an overhead bridge between the peoples of China and Myanmar and will enhance the economic, trade and tourism cooperation between them.
 
Kunming-Mandalay air route is the first international one with regular flight opened by foreign airlines linking Myanmar's second largest city.
 
The Mandalay international airport occupies a land area of 10,131 hectares with a runway of 4,200 meters in length and 60 meters in width and can accommodate large aircraft such as Boeing 747.
 
The airport, which costs 150 million U.S. dollars plus 6.496 billion Kyats (about 18.56 million dollars), was formally commissioned into service on September 17, 2000.
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Bangkok Post - Tuesday 02 April 2002
Durable solutions hinge on Burmese politics alone
Basic training urged for camp occupants
Achara Ashayagachat - Chiang Mai
 
Improving Thai-Burmese relations and finding a political settlement in Burma were a key for durable solutions to refugees and migrant workers in Thailand, chief of the United Nations refugees agency in Thailand said yesterday.
 
Jahanshah Assadi, representative of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees for Thailand, Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam, said warmer Thai-Burmese ties were definitely a sign of the good times ahead.
 
Improving conditions inside Burma would also benefit the refugees, he said on the sidelines of a NGO-organised seminar to discuss problems associated with refugees, migrant workers, and stateless people in Thailand.
 
But Mr Assadi said other agencies, and not the UNHCR, were responsible for tackling the root cause that was making people leave their countries. The UNHCR was committed to seeking a tangible solution by requesting for a presence on the eastern border, he said.
 
``We want to transfer a successful experience of a 10-year-long good working relations with Rangoon in bringing back over 220,000 Burmese refugees from Bangladesh to Arakan state on the eastern border with Thailand,'' he said.
 
However, there were more complicated factors in settling the refugees than bringing in the UNHCR to the border, he said, adding: ``For them, it's not the problem of having our presence there, but it's the issue of insurgency, security and military problems that are considered more important.''
 
Mr Assadi, who has had a direct experience in repatriation and resettlement of Indochina refugees in the past two decades, emphasised that the UN agency could bring back all Burmese refugees within a year once a political settlement was in place in Burma.
 
Some 370,000 Indochina refugees were repatriated within a year after the Paris Peace agreement came into force in 1992. Some 35,000 refugees were later repatriated between 1998-1999 and now only 32 Lao refugees are left at the Na Pho camp, he said.
 
There are only 110,000 Burmese refugees left in 11 camps along the Thai-Burmese border today.
 
The panellists noted while the deportation of unregistered migrant workers was being speeded up, the process of issuing citizenship and legal alien status in the northern provinces for highlanders had run into unnecessary problems. Many applicants who were Thais but lacked proper documents had been turned down.
 
Pornpimol Treechot, a researcher of the Institute of Asian Studies, concluded that Thailand should provide adequate education and vocational training so that refugees could return home with some knowledge and good impression of the Thai people.
 
Adisak Tanyakul of the National Security Council said the NSC was considering providing basic occupational training in reception camps along the border.
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Bangkok Post - Tuesday 02 April 2002
Wa standoff `will be resolved'
Border stable, talks likely, says general
Cheewin Sattha
 
Third Army commander Lt-Gen Udomchai Ongkasing expects tensions with the United Wa State Army along the Burmese border in Chiang Mai will be resolved.
 
Speaking at the Kawila camp in Chiang Mai yesterday, he said the standoff was continuing.
 
The UWSA was still deploying more troops and weapoins along the border near Ban Paek Saem village in Wiang Haeng district. The build-up follows a clash on March 25.
 
However, the situation had stabilised and was likely to unravel. He was willing to speak with the Wa leaders.
 
It was possible there had been misunderstandings.
 
Pending talks and a settlement, the Third Army would maintain its forces in the area.
 
``There will be negotiation with UWSA leaders,'' Lt-Gen Udomchai said.
 
``We are ready to talk. If they would like to, we will be ready and there should not be a problem.
 
``There have been reports the UWSA would like to talk with Thai authorities, but they have not informed us of this officially,'' he said.
 
UWSA troops intruded into Thailand in Wiang Haeng district and attacked a cavalry division patrol while it was preparing for a visit to the area by Her Majesty the Queen on March 25. One Thai soldier was killed.
 
The attack followed the deaths of 13 Wa troops and the seizure of 1.6 million methamphetamine pills in an ambush by Thai soldiers on March 22. A Thai soldier was also killed.
 
Lt-Gen Udomchai was not worried by the current reinforcement of Burmese troops near Doi Lang and Doi Sanju mountains of Chiang Rai and Chiang Mai provinces
 
He said it was normal for the Burmese government to attack ethnic rebels during the dry season. The Third Army had told the Burmese military not to fire into Thailand.
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Malaysian National News Agency (Bernama)
April 02 , 2002 12:48PM
Better Thai-Myanmar Ties To Solve Problem Of Illegal Workers: U.N. Official
 
BANGKOK, April 2 (Oana/Xinhua) -- Improving relations with Myanmar is the key for Thailand to have a durable solution to its problem of hundreds of thousands of illegal alien workers, a regional chief of the United Nations refugee agency said.
 
"The warmer Thai-Myanmar ties are definitely a sign of the good times ahead, which will help to solve the problem of illegal alien workers in Thailand, most of whom are Myanmar nationals," Jahanshah Assidi, the local-based U.N. Commissioner for Refugees for Thailand, Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam, was quoted by the state- owned radio Tuesday as saying.
 
"We want to help solve Thailand's problem of illegal workers based on our successful experience of a decade-long good working relations with the Myanmar government in bringing back over 220, 000 Myanmar illegal workers from Bangladesh," he said.
 
Thai authorities estimated that there are over 300,000 illegal Myanmar workers in the country, along with some 110,000 other Myanmar illegal immigrants.
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