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Burma Related News - April 03, 2002.



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BURMA RELATED NEWS - April 03, 2002.
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HEADLINES
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AFP - Thailand says facts over border clash need checking
AFP - Car crash leads to major drug bust in Bangkok
Dow Jones - Asean Trade Mins Meet To Forge More Free Trade Deals
Reuters - Thai arrested in Myanmar with 37 kg of heroin
Reuters - ANALYSIS-World's patience with Myanmar junta wearing thin
Reuters - Regional bickering poses problems for Asian integration
AP - Asean Official: Oil Embargo Poses Risk To SE Asia Econs
Dow Jones - Philippines Camacho Seeks Backing for Asian Monetary Fund
BBC - Burma suspends trade licences
BBC - Profile: Sandar Win
Xinhuanet - Thailand, Myanmar Accuse Each other of Sparking Clash Along Border
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Wednesday April 3, 8:07 PM
Thailand says facts over border clash need checking
BANGKOK, April 3 (AFP) - Thai Foreign Minister Surakiart Sathirathai said Wednesday that disputed facts surrounding a clash on the Thai-Myanmar border needed further verification by each country.
 
Surakiart was responding to claims by Myanmar's ruling military junta on Monday that a clash on March 25, which left one Thai soldier dead and another injured, occurred outside Thailand.
 
According to the Thai government, the United Wa State Army, an ethnic militia allied with Yangon, attacked a Thai army unit who were sweeping a border area in Chiang Mai province prior to a royal visit there.
 
The minister said Thailand was satisfied with Yangon's response to a Thai protest letter issued over the attack, but not with their dispute over where the incident occurred.
 
"We are satisfied with Myanmar's response to our letter, but we are not satisfied with the difference of opinion over the facts, which we have to verify further," he told reporters.
The junta said in an aide memoire handed to the Thai ambassador in Yangon that the Wa did not cross into Thai territory.
 
"The Wa did not transgress Thai territory and the Thai media reports (alleging this) are untrue," the aide memoire said.
 
Instead, it said the Wa soldiers and combined forces of the Shan State Army and Thai security forces had travelled about 1,000 yards (914 metres) inside Myanmar territory.
 
Thai foreign ministry spokesman Rattakit Manathat told reporters that Thailand would investigate the matter further, and he hoped that Myanmar would as well.
 
Then, if the countries could not agree on the facts, "the two sides should meet to exchange information at the local level," he said,
 
Queen Sirikit's planned visit to the area was cancelled following the skirmish.
 
Surakiart is scheduled to arrive in Yangon late Friday to attend a three-way meeting on economic cooperation with India and Myanmar which will focus on plans to construct a highway linking the nations.
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Wednesday April 3, 2:44 PM
Car crash leads to major drug bust in Bangkok
 
BANGKOK, April 3 (AFP) - Thai police said Wednesday they seized 31 kilograms (68.2 pounds) of heroin and 1.5 million methamphetamine pills after an alleged drug-trafficker was involved in a traffic accident.
 
Sakda Sae Li, a member of an ethnic minority with Thai citizenship, was arrested at the scene after his car hit another vehicle on a Bangkok city bridge late Tuesday.
 
Police who searched Sakda's car found 31 kilograms of heroin and 700,000 methamphetamine tablets hidden inside, according to the national police chief, General Sant Sarutanond.
 
A subsequent search of Sakda's apartment revealed another 800,000 tablets.
 
"We know the seized methamphetamines were newly produced as they were smaller than pills currently sold on the market, but they still have the same potency," Sant told reporters.
 
Thai officials have estimated that some 800 million tablets of the cheap but dangerously addictive pills, known here as "ya baa" or crazy medicine, will be trafficked across the border from Myanmar this year.
 
Health ministry figures show that more than four percent of Thais are already addicted to the drug, which has largely replaced heroin addiction in the country.
 
Heroin and methamphetamine trafficking is rife along the Thai-Myanmar border.
 
On Tuesday Myanmar authorities shot dead an alleged trafficker and seized 30 kilograms (66 pounds) of heroin in a raid near the border.
 
Two other men involved in the raid were still at large after fleeing into Thailand, but it was not immediately known if Sakda was one of the wanted men.
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Wednesday April 3, 6:25 PM
Asean Trade Mins Meet To Forge More Free Trade Deals
By Jenny Paris
Of DOW JONES NEWSWIRES
 
BANGKOK -(Dow Jones)- Trade ministers of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations will meet this week in Bangkok in a bid to forge closer cooperation and expand their free trade agreement to northern Asian countries and the U.S. through bilateral deals.
 
U.S. trade representative Robert Zoellick will also attend the talks to be held Thursday and Friday. At issue will be proposed free trade zones with China and Japan, a Thai-U.S. free trade area and the impact of trade privileges for Andean countries to the region's tuna exports to the U.S.
 
Philippine Trade Secretary Manuel Roxas told reporters Tuesday that Asean members want to get a sense of the U.S. stance on the regional group's plan to broaden its free trade area.
 
China and leaders of the Asean, decided in Brunei last November to work on creating a free trade area within the next 10 years. It will have a combined market of 1.7 billion people and a gross domestic product of $2 trillion.
 
Asean comprises Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.
 
Manila isn't too keen on widening the Asean Free Trade Area to include China on fears that cheap Chinese goods will swamp the Philippines. But it supports the inclusion of Japan in an extended free trade area.
 
But efforts to expand free trade areas come as AFTA itself is facing several hurdles, a year before its scheduled implementation which will limit import tariffs to no more than 5%.
 
Progress toward AFTA has been stalled as member nations still want to protect their local industries by seeking exceptions to the tariffs reduction.
 
Thailand and Malaysia are locked in a dispute over the latter's decision to delay the agreed tariff cuts for automobiles for another two years in a bid to defend its national carmaker Perusahaan Otomobil Nasional Bhd. (P.PON), known as Proton.
 
Thailand, which has a big car export market and is hoping to establish itself as a regional car production hub, is seeking compensation from Malaysia but the two countries have yet to agree on the amount and type of compensation.
 
From its part, Thailand is accused of defending its glass and petrochemicals industry and the Philippines its cement industry.
 
To Seek Greater Access To U.S. Tuna Market
 
But Asean members are expected to be united in their efforts to protect their canned tuna and broiler to the U.S. ahead of the renewal of a preferential trade accord that gives a slew of products from four Andean countries virtually tariff-free access to the world's biggest market.
 
The Andean Trade Preferences Act with Colombia, Ecuador, Peru and Bolivia offers them preferential trade terms with the U.S. in an effort to wean them off the production of illegal narcotic crops.
 
But several Asean countries, and particularly the Philippines and Thailand, which have major tuna and chicken exports fear the deal, which among other things removes tariffs on tuna exports from the Andean bloc, could erode their market share.
 
Philippines' Roxas said earlier this week he will raise the tuna issue with Zoellick at this week's talks. The Philippines has an 18% market share of the canned tuna market in the U.S. with a 6.5% tariff for the first 200,000 cans, and increased tariffs beyond that.
 
Thailand, whose Thai Union Frozen PCL (H.TUF) has a 17.5% market share in the U.S. canned tuna market, is seeking to overcome the problem with a bilateral free trade agreement with the U.S.
 
Asean countries are also likely to discuss with Zoellick the impact on the region from the U.S.' recent decision to impose steep tariffs on steel imports.
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Tuesday April 2, 9:13 PM
Thai arrested in Myanmar with 37 kg of heroin
 
YANGON, April 2 (Reuters) - Myanmar authorities arrested a Thai man and seized 37 kg (81 pounds) of heroin stashed in his car near the border with Thailand, officials said on Tuesday.
 
The large haul was discovered when the man's Thai-registered Landrover was searched in the border town of Tachilek, some 1300 km (800 miles) northeast of Yangon, a government statement faxed to Reuters said.
 
Myanmar is one of the world's biggest producers of opium, a major ingredient in heroin, and has said it will wipe out opium growing by 2014.
 
In February, Myanmar said it netted its biggest haul of drugs so far this year with the capture of 42 kg of heroin and 383 kg of raw opium from two drug factories.
 
In the latest incident, the Thai man was shot in the leg when he resisted efforts by officials to carry out the search, the Myanmar statement said. Authorities are trying to track down a second man, who escaped during the scuffle, it said.
 
"As the car was searched a total of 37.56 kg of heroin... was seized," the statement said. "Joint operations are being carried out to uncover those involved in Myanmar and Thailand."
 
The statement did not say where the Landrover was headed when it was stopped by the authorities.
 
The maximum penalty for drug smuggling in Myanmar is death.
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Wednesday April 3, 11:26 AM
ANALYSIS-World's patience with Myanmar junta wearing thin
By Dominic Whiting
 
YANGON, April 3 (Reuters) - Myanmar's ruling military faces stiffer sanctions from the West if the generals in Yangon do not free Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi and show concrete progress from talks with the pro-democracy opposition in coming weeks.
 
U.N. envoy Razali Ismail is due in Myanmar for a delayed visit in late April to give the talks he brokered a firm shove, knowing that a lack of movement now could see the opposition National League for Democracy (NLD) lose patience with the process.
 
Western countries, which already maintain sanctions on the impoverished Southeast Asian country, would then consider further tightening the economic screw on the military regime, which has ruled in various guises since 1962.
 
But a lack of alternatives to the talks means Myanmar could lurch into political limbo if Razali fails. Even Western diplomats say sanctions will do little to help topple the regime.
 
Since confidential talks between the junta and Suu Kyi began in late 2000, the government has freed over 250 political prisoners and let the NLD reopen Yangon offices.
 
But NLD leader Suu Kyi remains under house arrest and more than 1,500 political prisoners still languish in jail.
 
Only Suu Kyi's freedom will show the generals mean business, say Western diplomats in Yangon and neighbouring Thailand.
 
"My hunch is if there's not some kind of breakthrough with Aung San Suu Kyi by the Razali visit, the NLD will start reconsidering its position," said a Yangon-based diplomat.
 
"Razali is careful not to seem like he's making demands...but ultimately his patience will run out as well," the diplomat said.
 
COUP PLOT RUSE
 
So far, the talks have centred on "confidence building", particularly allowing the NLD to carry out political work, and have not yet touched on the country's political future.
 
The NLD won democratic elections in 1990 but was never allowed to rule and several of its elected MPs were thrown into jail.
 
The military's clampdown gave the NLD international sympathy, but isolated the party from the Myanmar public. The NLD hopes the talks will let it rebuild a political base so it can take power after a democratic transition.
 
But charismatic Suu Kyi, daughter of Myanmar independence hero Aung San, is so central to the NLD's standing that the party is likely to forgo its limited gains if she is not freed.
 
Diplomats say if Razali's trip yields nothing, the NLD will make a statement accusing the junta of foot-dragging, breaking an informal deal not to criticise the government while talks go on.
 
The top generals appear as reluctant as ever to loosen their vice-like grip on power and their vested business interests. Diplomats say last month's crushing of an alleged coup was probably an elaborate ruse by the junta's leader, Than Shwe, to root out potential opponents and strengthen his own power base.
 
Authorities swooped on the son-in-law and three grandsons of former dictator Ne Win, accusing them of plotting to topple the junta with the help of an astrologer using black magic.
 
The military also arrested at least three high-ranking officers and questioned more than 100 people with links to Ne Win, who ruled Myanmar with an iron fist from 1962 to 1988. Ne Win, now in his 90s, and his daughter Sandar Win are under house arrest.
 
A strengthened Than Shwe is unlikely to cede power but will talk to Suu Kyi in the hope of international legitimacy, which promises vital trade and investment, diplomats say.
 
TOUGHER SANCTIONS PREPARED
 
But the West has little patience for a regime it accuses of widespread human rights abuses and complicity in the drugs trade.
 
A U.S. bill banning imports from Myanmar is pending in Congress and could be rushed through if the Bush administration loses faith in the talks.
 
European diplomats say public opinion in the European Union would force the grouping to follow the U.S. lead and put more teeth into existing trade and aid restrictions.
 
But Myanmar's economy, starved of funds because of a boycott by international financial institutions, is already in ruins and the ruling generals show no sign of weakening.
 
"Their only reflex, to preserve power and maintain influence, is to avoid people rioting," said a European diplomat in Bangkok.
 
"Has the economy reached intolerance and the beginning of rioting? I suspect we're not yet there," he said.
 
The West's hope is that a frustrated Razali will persuade his main backer and fellow countryman, Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, to pressure the regime to change.
 
Mahathir smoothed Myanmar's membership of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations' (ASEAN) in 1997, and is believed to wield much influence in Yangon.
 
"These guys don't take initiatives on their own -- they need to be led into things, but it has to be done subtly," said the Yangon-based diplomat.
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Wednesday April 3, 12:09 PM
Regional bickering poses problems for Asian integration
By Andrew Marshall
 
BANGKOK (Reuters) - Southeast Asian leaders agree their wounded economies can fare better standing together than facing the global slowdown alone, but there's a problem -- they are deeply divided on how best to promote unity.
 
Some countries favour free trade. Others abhor the idea. The region's financial systems run the gamut from strongholds of market liberalism like Singapore to the rigid Myanmar economy, governed by a mix of mysticism and communist-style planning.
 
Given their differences, analysts say, efforts to build a regional economic bloc will be glacially slow.
 
The Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) holds two meetings this week to try to forge closer co-operation.
 
Trade ministers meet in Bangkok on Thursday and Friday along with U.S. Trade Representative Robert Zoellick to discuss ways of axing import barriers. In Yangon, economic ministers meet their counterparts from China, Japan and South Korea on Friday and Saturday for talks on building a regional currency safety net.
 
But analysts say regional bickering will keep the brakes on trade liberalisation, while the currency safety net is little more than a symbolic gesture with little practical use.
 
Instead of moving towards greater unity, the region is fracturing with individual countries pursuing bilateral deals and putting Asia-wide agreements on the back burner.
 
TRADE TRAVAILS
 
ASEAN has grand plans for free trade -- its ASEAN Free Trade Area (AFTA) agreement envisages slashing import tariffs across the region in the next few years.
 
ASEAN has also agreed with China to work towards creating a free trade area within 10 years -- a move seen as crucial by many economists if Southeast Asia is going to compete with China to attract investment aimed at tapping the vast Chinese market.
 
The reality, however, falls well short of the rhetoric.
 
AFTA has been undermined by Malaysia's insistence on keeping tariffs on its auto industry, and by Kuala Lumpur's suspicion of wider free trade deals. An attempt to strike an ASEAN free trade deal with Australia and New Zealand fell through in 2000 largely due to opposition from Malaysia.
 
Instead of progress towards a unified regional deal, the last few years have seen a proliferation of bilateral trading pacts, as more market-friendly ASEAN members strike deals on their own rather than try to win over their more cautious neighbours.
 
Analysts say all these individual deals are undermining progress on regional and global free trade agreements, making Asian integration more difficult.
 
"You don't get a critical mass if you form a bilateral free trade area with a big country half a world away," said Supavud Saicheua, head of research at Merrill Lynch in Bangkok.
 
"It would be far better to aim for multilateral deals, although of course that is very cumbersome," he said.
 
"One argument is that if you have a multitude of bilateral deals, you could generalise them into a multilateral deal. But each bilateral deal might have different conditions, which could make it very hard to generalise."
 
EMPTY GESTURES
 
The so-called Chiang Mai Initiative is one area that has seen progress. ASEAN, China, Japan and South Korea have agreed to build a web of bilateral currency swap deals to provide rapid help if a country's currency comes under speculative attack.
 
Japan has already signed bilateral swap deals with China (for $3 billion), South Korea ($2 billion), Thailand ($3 billion), the Philippines ($3 billion) and Malaysia ($1 billion), while China and Thailand also have a $2 billion swap agreement.
 
More deals are on the way -- South Korea is discussing agreements with China, Malaysia, the Philippines, and Thailand, and a China-Philippines deal is also being negotiated. The issue is likely to top the agenda in Yangon this week.
 
But the agreements mean little in practice. Now that most regional countries have floating currencies, a repeat of the 1997 economic meltdown is seen as unlikely. And the amounts of money involved remain largely ineffectual.
 
Steve Brice, head of economic research at Standard Chartered in Singapore, said markets paid little attention to the scheme.
 
"From a day-to-day perspective we watch it with some bemusement, to see if they can actually agree anything," he said.
 
"The implications are more political than for financial markets -- it shows that they are trying to co-ordinate things, even if they are not too necessary right now. It shows that they are talking about building ties more than anything else."
 
The main significance of the swap web, analysts say, is that some of its proponents see it as a precursor to an Asian Monetary Fund -- a prospect that makes many Western nations uneasy.
 
Few, however, see much hope for an AMF any time soon. Major divisions remain -- countries like Malaysia, suspicious of the International Monetary Fund, want an Asian fund to be an alternative. But Japan has insisted that its bilateral swap deals are activated in conjunction with IMF reform packages.
 
So for the moment, analysts say, the Chiang Mai Initiative stands mainly as a monument to aspirations for an Asian economic unity which is still far away in reality.
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Wednesday April 3, 4:51 PM
Asean Official: Oil Embargo Poses Risk To SE Asia Econs
 
JAKARTA (AP)--Any move to restrict international oil supplies could plunge Southeast Asia's fragile economies back into recession, a regional organization warned Wednesday.
 
Guillermo Balce, executive director of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations' energy center in Jakarta, joined a chorus of voices expressing opposition to a proposal to limit exports.
 
"Most Asean countries are on the verge of being economically sound and recovering," Balce said in a phone interview. "An embargo would certainly affect the economies and send some of them back into recession."
 
Some participants at this week's meeting in Malaysia of the Organization of Islamic Conference proposed that oil-producing nations should restrict deliveries as a way of pressuring Israel to end its military incursions into Palestinian territory.
 
Balce noted that a continued rise in oil prices could also dampen economic recovery in the region. Violence in the Middle East caused oil prices to rise to a high of more than $27 a barrel Tuesday.
 
Balce said soaring oil prices could prompt many countries to divert funds needed for investment into oil purchases. And they could lead to political instability as prices rise at the gas pump and public anger grows.
 
"An increase in oil prices is the immediate problem. We are watching it hour by hour," he said. "The public always has a tendency to blame the government for the rise in gasoline prices. If that happened, governments could become weaker."
 
Asean, which has its headquarters in Jakarta, comprises Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.
 
Most analysts have said they doubt any restrictions will happen because it would be hard to gain a consensus among oil-producing countries.
 
"The impact would be unimaginable if this region was held hostage to a global economic slowdown from the spike in oil prices," said Song Seng Wun, economist with GK Goh (Singapore: GKHS.SI - news) Research in Singapore. "This region is just emerging from a second recession and couldn't take another dip."
 
Indonesia, like many Organization of Islamic Conference members, expressed opposition to an embargo. Minister of Justice and Human Rights Yusril Ihza Mahendra told The Jakarta Post that the proposal was unrealistic.
 
"It is not easy to reach a consensus in OPEC on the oil price and it would be even more difficult to agree on an oil embargo," he said.
 
Instead, Indonesia has called for the U.N. to play a more active role in ending the violence between Israel and the Palestinians.
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Wednesday April 3, 12:39 PM
Regional bickering poses problems for Asian integration

By Andrew Marshall
 
BANGKOK (Reuters) - Southeast Asian leaders agree their wounded economies can fare better standing together than facing the global slowdown alone, but there's a problem -- they are deeply divided on how best to promote unity.
 
Some countries favour free trade. Others abhor the idea. The region's financial systems run the gamut from strongholds of market liberalism like Singapore to the rigid Myanmar economy, governed by a mix of mysticism and communist-style planning.
 
Given their differences, analysts say, efforts to build a regional economic bloc will be glacially slow.
 
The Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) holds two meetings this week to try to forge closer co-operation.
 
Trade ministers meet in Bangkok on Thursday and Friday along with U.S. Trade Representative Robert Zoellick to discuss ways of axing import barriers. In Yangon, economic ministers meet their counterparts from China, Japan and South Korea on Friday and Saturday for talks on building a regional currency safety net.
 
But analysts say regional bickering will keep the brakes on trade liberalisation, while the currency safety net is little more than a symbolic gesture with little practical use.
 
Instead of moving towards greater unity, the region is fracturing with individual countries pursuing bilateral deals and putting Asia-wide agreements on the back burner.
 
TRADE TRAVAILS
 
ASEAN has grand plans for free trade -- its ASEAN Free Trade Area (AFTA) agreement envisages slashing import tariffs across the region in the next few years.
 
ASEAN has also agreed with China to work towards creating a free trade area within 10 years -- a move seen as crucial by many economists if Southeast Asia is going to compete with China to attract investment aimed at tapping the vast Chinese market.
 
The reality, however, falls well short of the rhetoric.
 
AFTA has been undermined by Malaysia's insistence on keeping tariffs on its auto industry, and by Kuala Lumpur's suspicion of wider free trade deals. An attempt to strike an ASEAN free trade deal with Australia and New Zealand fell through in 2000 largely due to opposition from Malaysia.
 
Instead of progress towards a unified regional deal, the last few years have seen a proliferation of bilateral trading pacts, as more market-friendly ASEAN members strike deals on their own rather than try to win over their more cautious neighbours.
 
Analysts say all these individual deals are undermining progress on regional and global free trade agreements, making Asian integration more difficult.
 
"You don't get a critical mass if you form a bilateral free trade area with a big country half a world away," said Supavud Saicheua, head of research at Merrill Lynch in Bangkok.
 
"It would be far better to aim for multilateral deals, although of course that is very cumbersome," he said.
 
"One argument is that if you have a multitude of bilateral deals, you could generalise them into a multilateral deal. But each bilateral deal might have different conditions, which could make it very hard to generalise."
 
EMPTY GESTURES
 
The so-called Chiang Mai Initiative is one area that has seen progress. ASEAN, China, Japan and South Korea have agreed to build a web of bilateral currency swap deals to provide rapid help if a country's currency comes under speculative attack.
 
Japan has already signed bilateral swap deals with China (for $3 billion), South Korea ($2 billion), Thailand ($3 billion), the Philippines ($3 billion) and Malaysia ($1 billion), while China and Thailand also have a $2 billion swap agreement.
 
More deals are on the way -- South Korea is discussing agreements with China, Malaysia, the Philippines, and Thailand, and a China-Philippines deal is also being negotiated. The issue is likely to top the agenda in Yangon this week.
 
But the agreements mean little in practice. Now that most regional countries have floating currencies, a repeat of the 1997 economic meltdown is seen as unlikely. And the amounts of money involved remain largely ineffectual.
 
Steve Brice, head of economic research at Standard Chartered in Singapore, said markets paid little attention to the scheme.
 
"From a day-to-day perspective we watch it with some bemusement, to see if they can actually agree anything," he said.
 
"The implications are more political than for financial markets -- it shows that they are trying to co-ordinate things, even if they are not too necessary right now. It shows that they are talking about building ties more than anything else."
 
The main significance of the swap web, analysts say, is that some of its proponents see it as a precursor to an Asian Monetary Fund -- a prospect that makes many Western nations uneasy.
 
Few, however, see much hope for an AMF any time soon. Major divisions remain -- countries like Malaysia, suspicious of the International Monetary Fund, want an Asian fund to be an alternative. But Japan has insisted that its bilateral swap deals are activated in conjunction with IMF reform packages.
 
So for the moment, analysts say, the Chiang Mai Initiative stands mainly as a monument to aspirations for an Asian economic unity which is still far away in reality.
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Philippines Camacho Seeks Backing for Asian Monetary Fund
Wed Apr 3, 1:52 AM ET
 
MANILA -(Dow Jones)- Philippine Finance Minister Jose Isidro Camacho said Wednesday he will try to revive interest among his counterparts in East Asia for the creation of an Asian Monetary Fund at a summit to be held in Myanmar this week.
 
Japan first mooted the idea for a regional fund to foster regional currency stability after the outbreak of Asia's 1997 financial crisis. But the idea was shot down by the U.S. , which insisted the International Monetary Fund (news - web sites) should remain the lender of last resort in the event of financial shocks.
 
Since then, arguments in support of an AMF continue to be quietly advanced by a number of political figures in the region, including Thailand 's former Deputy Prime Minster and future director general of the World Trade Organization (news - web sites), Supachai Panitchpakdi.
 
Camacho said he would informally try to rekindle support for an AMF at a meeting of finance ministers from the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations, or Asean, and their counterparts from China , Japan and South Korea (news - web sites) at a meeting in Myanmar 's capital of Yangon later this week.
 
"This idea is one that will probably take a long time before it's realized," said Camacho. "But intermediate steps should be taken, among them bilateral swap arrangements, which are already a form of regional support."
 
The Philippines concluded a bilateral swap arrangement with Japan last July, giving it a potential $3 billion credit line to defend the peso if it comes under speculative attack.
 
Talks are also underway to secure similar bilateral arrangements with South Korea and China .
 
Talks with South Korea are said to be well advanced, while negotiations with China at an early stage.
 
The swap arrangements are part of a broader effort by some Asean nations to forge similar pacts with the region's strongest economies: China , Japan and South Korea .
 
Camacho said he is keen to drum up support for an AMF at the Asean meeting even if it isn't on the formal agenda.
 
"I guess if there is an Asian Development Bank for the World Bank (news - web sites), the IMF can get an equivalent," he said.
 
Camacho believes a regional lender of last resort would have tangible advantages. "We tend to recognize each other's problems and we trade with each other," he said. "It will promote quicker resolution and support."
 
Camacho declined to comment on whether the U.S. would likely renew its opposition to an AMF as it did five years ago.
 
Supporters of an AMF argue that even if it doesn't lead future financial rescues in Asia, a regional fund could provide capital to bolster the IMF's role as lender of last report.
 
Those backing a regional solution also say this is a more appropriate response to future shocks given the criticism the IMF faced over its prescriptions for resolving the 1997 crisis, which were considered by many in the region to be too severe.
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Tuesday, 2 April, 2002, 16:20 GMT 17:20 UK
Burma suspends trade licences
Inflation tops 50% and staple food prices are soaring
By Larry Jagan
BBC regional analyst in Bangkok 
 
Burma's military government has suspended the import licences of all non-Burmese trading companies indefinitely in a bid to conserve foreign exchange.
 
Colonel Kyaw Thein, a member of the government, told journalists in Rangoon the government began to tighten its policy in January, when it ceased to renew expired trading permits.
 
But now, he said, all trading permits have been suspended.
 
The Japanese, South Korean and Indian governments are reported to have privately urged Burma's military government to reverse the decision.
 
More hardship ahead
 
Burma's economy relies heavily on imported goods for medicines, household and electronic goods and many staple foods, so the curb on imports is likely to intensify shortages.
 
Already hit by rising petrol prices, fuel shortages, and a plummeting local currency, Burmese consumers are now set to face even harder times.
 
Fuel is in short supply
 
The end of import licences means that many essential consumer products are going to become increasingly scarce and more expensive.
 
The military spokesman said that, at present, the curbs did not apply to local Burmese companies.
 
Tight controls
 
But local businessmen in the import-export trade have been complaining for several months now that they were unable to import goods.
 
They say the banking authorities have proved willing to release only paltry amounts of foreign currency in trading firm's accounts.
 
Requests for foreign exchange to pay for an order usually result in currency worth less than 20% of an order's value being granted.
 
There's no doubt that the military regime is anxious to redress the abysmal trade imbalance and try to protect its foreign currency reserves.
 
But the measures are likely to make the life of the average Burmese even harder, and the United Nations has warned that the country is heading for a humanitarian crisis.
 
Already one child in three under the age of five is suffering from malnutrition, the UN says.
 
Unrest fears
 
In the past few months the price of staple products like rice and cooking oil have increased significantly. Inflation is running at more than 50%.
 
Already, local economists are warning the government that if the current economic crisis continues it may spark social unrest.
 
Burma has also lost foreign investment as firms have pulled out of the south east Asian country following pressure from human rights activists.
 
In January, European lingerie-maker Triumph decided to close its bra-factory in Burma.
 
Other firms to quit Burma in the last decade include Coca Cola, BHS, Levi Strauss and Reebok.
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Tuesday, 2 April, 2002, 14:05 GMT 15:05 UK
Profile: Sandar Win
By Larry Jagan
BBC regional analyst in Bangkok 
 
News that four relatives of Burma's former military dictator General Ne Win face trial for high treason has turned the spotlight onto Sandar Win, his favoured daughter.
 
Her husband Aye Zaw Win and their three sons have been accused of plotting to overthrow the country's military rulers.
 
Although Sanwar Win has yet to be directly accused of being a part of the plot, few doubt she is the brains behind the family.
 
The more charitable suggest she was motivated by a desire to do the best by her three sons. Others simply believe she was consumed by her own desire for power and influence. The idea of establishing a dynasty certainly seems to have originated with her.
 
Power-broker
 
Sandar Win, a medical doctor in her 50s, prefers to be called Dr Daw Khin Sandar Win. She is actually a gynaecologist and after graduation joined the military where she practised.
 
During her father's twenty-six year rule, she acted as a bridge between Ne Win and officials of the Burma Socialist Programme Party when they wanted access or help from him.
 
Sanwar Win passed on requests for help and meetings with the former ruler, known as the "Old Man".
 
As Ne Win grew older and his health deteriorated, she took on an increasingly important role.
 
She is believed to have played a major role in the suppression of the democracy movement in 1988 after her father resigned as ruler.
 
That was also when she left the military's medical services and became a businesswoman.
 
She has presided over the Ne Win clan as it developed a significant business empire encompassing hotels, medical services and telecommunications.
 
Nepotism
 
Sandar Win's husband, Aye Zaw Win, was a sailor before he married her.
 
Allegations of nepotism and favouritism have long been associated with the Ne Win family, and he was quickly promoted to deputy director of Burma's Pearl and Fisheries corporation after the marriage.
 
The family's downfall last month has shocked observers in Rangoon, who had seen them as untouchable despite the waning influence of Ne Win as he entered his nineties.
 
Sandar Win and her father have been under house arrest since her husband and three sons were detained, arrested in a raid on a restaurant where they were having dinner three weeks ago.
 
And the military authorities are strongly hinting that Sandar Win may join her husband and sons on trial for treason.
 
Sandar Win was known to be extremely ambitious and diplomats who knew her well believed she was trying to carve out a high public profile for herself as part of a plan to become a future political leader.
 
Many speculated that eventually there might be a struggle for power in Myanmar, between Sandar Win and pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi who is currently under house arrest in Rangoon.
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Thailand, Myanmar Accuse Each other of Sparking Clash Along Border
Xinhuanet 2002-04-03 13:42:11
 
BANGKOK, April 3 (Xinhuanet) -- As an counterattack to a Thai protest over Myanmar's Wa group intrusion into the Thai territory, yanmar complained to the Thai authorities that Thai soldiers intruded into its territory on March 25, which sparked a clash and ension along the border area, the Bangkok Post reported Wednesday.
 
Rathakit Manathat, Thai Foreign Ministry spokesman was quoted as saying that Thai ambassador Oum Maolanon was summoned to meet Thaung Tun, director-general of the Myanmar Foreign Ministry's olitical Department Monday and was handed over an aide-memoire tocounter a protest note presented by Thailand to a Myanmar envoy four days ago.
The Thai Foreign Ministry and military last week lodged protests with Myanmar over an attack by United Wa State Army (UWSA)soldiers on an army patrol, which caused the cancellation of the Queen of Thailand's visit to a border village in Chiang Mai's Wiang Haeng district, 700 kilometers north of Bangkok.
 
While Myanmar denied the UWSA had intruded into the Thai territory, it said the clash was sparked by some Thai security forces who entered the Myanmar territory, the report said.
 
The New Light of Myanmar newspaper attacked the Thai media for trying to spoil relations between the two countries.
 
The daily quoted a senior myanmar official as telling the Thai ambassador that some elements at the lower level are trying to putobstacles in the way at a time when the countries are endeavoring to promote closer bilateral relations.
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