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Burma Related News - April 5&6



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BURMA RELATED NEWS - April 05 & 06, 2002.
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HEADLINES
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AFP - Indian, Thai, Myanmar FMs propose highway to link three nations
AFP - Myanmar monks arrested in Thailand could be spies: report
AFP - Thai and Indian FMs arrive for three-nation road talks in Myanmar
AFP- ASEAN ministers hold first trade talks with US in 10 years
Reuters - Myanmar sets new UN visit dates after coup delay
Dow Jones - Asean Takes Another Small Step Towards Integration
Reuters - ASEAN finance ministers upbeat about recovery
Reuters - ADB expects 5.2 percent East Asian GDP growth in 2002
AP - EU's Patten says weak investor confidence, Myanmar hurting EU-ASEAN ties
BBC - Green light for Pan-Asia road scheme
Stratfor - New Year's Surprise Coming from Myanmar Regime
Bkk Post - Army chief will be asked to arrest fugitive drug lords
Bkk Post - Raids net 9 suspects, 800,000 speed pills
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Saturday April 6, 4:29 PM
Indian, Thai, Myanmar FMs propose highway to link three nations

YANGON, April 6 (AFP) - A "highway of opportunity" linking India, Thailand and Myanmar could be built within the next 18 months, boosting trade and development in the three nations, their foreign ministers said Saturday.
 
"Such a venture will bring immense benefits to all our peoples," said Myanmar's Lieutenant-General Khin Nyunt, first secretary in the ruling State Peace and Development Council (SPDC).
 
"Trade and development cannot proceed without transport linkages. It is in this light that India, Myanmar and Thailand should take the initial step towards a regional network of highways," he said.
 
Indian Foreign Minister Jaswant Singh, who joined his Thai counterpart Surakiart Sathirathai and Myanmar's Win Aung in the one-day talks, said the road could be built in the next 18 months.
 
"We hope to take decisions, which will be implemented within a time frame of say 18 to 24 months," he said at the start of the discussions, adding that financial and technical groups should start work as soon as possible.
 
"The road network connecting our three nations will become a highway of opportunity. Let it facilitate not just the movement of goods and services but also of ideas," he said.
 
"Let us jointly begin the process of weaving our part of Asia together, through multimodal infrastructure links."
 
Surakiart said before departing Bangkok for the talks that Thailand was considering a loan to Myanmar to fund the road's construction.
 
"As of now, India has constructed a road to northern Myanmar, and will continue on to central Myanmar," he said, adding that construction could be finished in two years if all parties agreed on the project.
 
Khin Nyunt, number three in the ruling junta, said Saturday's trilateral meeting was a significant initiative and the first of its kind.
 
"Never before have the foreign ministers of the three countries come together in such a manner to develop common regional solidarity," he said.
 
"Although the three countries have always enjoyed good bilateral relations with each other, it had not been possible in the past to deepen the integration of our economies."
 
Myanmar stood ready to cooperate more closely with its neighbours, he added.
 
"Since 1988, it has begun to take a more active part in the international system, increasing both bilateral and multilateral relations in the region," he said.
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Saturday April 6, 11:57 AM
Myanmar monks arrested in Thailand could be spies: report
 
BANGKOK, April 6 (AFP) - Several illegal immigrant monks from Myanmar recently rounded up by Thai authorities are suspected of being spies, reports said Saturday.
 
Sources at Thailand's immigration bureau warned of a national security threat brought on by the "high number of illegal immigrants that have been ordained as monks", the Bangkok Post said.
 
"They include Burmese spies seeking to gather information on the movements of ethnic rebels," the source was quoted as saying.
 
Nine people, including four ordained monks and four novices from Myanmar's Mon ethnic community, as well as another foreign monk of unkown nationality, were arrested Friday and charged with illegal entry, the daily reported.
 
Four Thai monks were arrested in the capital for illegally soliciting donations, while two other Thais, including a 72-year-old-man, were charged with impersonating monks, the paper said.
 
The suspects were arrested in separate raids launched by police and monastic inspectors in a crackdown on "wayward and bogus monks", it added.
 
The commander of the crime suppression division, Major General Surasit Sangkhapong, told the Nation newspaper that the Myanmar detainees would be deported.
 
Tensions between Bangkok and Yangon have escalated in recent weeks over fatal clashes between Thai army troops and ethnic rebel fighters from Myanmar, illegal immigration, and the massive drug trade along the Thai-Myanmar border.
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Friday April 5, 7:30 PM
Thai and Indian FMs arrive for three-nation road talks in Myanmar
 
YANGON, April 5 (AFP) - Thai Foreign Minister Surakiart Sathirathai and his Indian counterpart, Jaswant Singh, arrived in Myanmar Friday for talks on building new transport links to connect the three nations, officials said.
 
The two ministers, are who are to join their Myanmar counterpart, Win Aung, in one-day talks Saturday, met with the ruling junta's first secretary, Lieutenant-General Khin Nyunt, after their arrival, embassy officials said.
 
Surakiart said before departing Bangkok that the discussions would be centred on integrating a road link between the three nations, which could be completed within two years if all countries were in agreement.
 
"At the top of our agenda will be talks on a road linking India to Thailand via Myanmar. As of now, India has constructed a road to northern Myanmar, and will continue on to central Myanmar," he said.
 
The minister said that Thailand was considering a loan to Myanmar to fund the road's construction.
 
"If general agreement is reached we will see a road link between Thailand and India within two years," he added.
 
Indian diplomats said that the meeting, the first of its kind, would give the opportunity for a free exchange of views on the subject.
 
"This is the first time we are meeting so we will explore what is possible," one told AFP earlier this week. "In geographical and technical terms it makes sense, by linking up India with Southeast Asia."
 
While still in Bangkok, Surakiart accompanied Singh on a visit to see Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who is in hospital receiving medical treatment for an ear infection.
 
"His Excellency wished the prime minister a quick recovery and conveyed a similar message from the Indian prime minister (Atal Behari Vajpayee)," Surakiart told reporters at the Bangkok hospital.
 
The Thai premier expressed his gratitude towards his Indian counterpart for his support of Thaksin's idea of holding an Asian Coorporation Dialogueto assist in integrating the region's economies.
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Friday April 5, 1:50 PM
ASEAN ministers hold first trade talks with US in 10 years
 
BANGKOK, April 5 (AFP) - ASEAN's economic ministers held talks with US Trade Representative Robert Zoellick here Friday in the first formal negotiations to build trade ties with the world's biggest economy in over 10 years.
 
The 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations said it hoped to hash out a clearer trade mandate to boost economic relations with Washington.
 
Thai Commerce Minister Adisai Bodharamik opened the talks by calling for "joint efforts on both sides to revitalise existing cooperation, forge closer ties, and explore new areas of cooperation between the two regions."
 
Adisai, who noted it had been "over a decade" since formal ASEAN-US trade talks were held, said it was "the strong intention of ASEAN to strengthen its relations with the US."
 
Zoellick, Washington's top trade negotiator and a member of President George W. Bush's cabinet, said Thursday that "a strong, cohesive, economically dynamic ASEAN region" was vital for a US partnership with Southeast Asia.
 
ASEAN groups Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.
 
The region consists of some 500 million people and is Washington's fourth largest trading partner.
 
It is widely seen as both a potential export powerhouse and a major consumer market.
 
But the region is only slowly recovering from the 1997-1998 Asian financial crisis.
 
Global foreign direct investment in Southeast Asia dropped sharply from a high of 30 billion dollars in 1996 to around 10 billion dollars last year, Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra said last month.
 
Despite the talk of closer ties with Washington, ASEAN made more formal overtures to key US rival China last November when the two sides pledged to launch the world's most populous free-trade bloc within 10 years.
 
The economic ministers of Malaysia and Myanmar were absent from the consultations, according to ASEAN officials.
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Saturday April 6, 5:08 PM
Myanmar sets new UN visit dates after coup delay
By Aung Hla Tun
 
YANGON, April 6 (Reuters) - Myanmar has set new dates for a visit by a United Nations special envoy who is seeking to spur on talks between the military rulers and opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, a Myanmar government minister said on Saturday.
 
U.N. special envoy Razali Ismail, a Malaysian diplomat, will visit for four days near the end of the month, after Myanmar's ruling generals last month postponed his trip due to an attempted coup by relatives of ageing former dictator Ne Win.
 
"He is coming here on April 23," Deputy Foreign Minister Khin Maung Win told Reuters on the sidelines of a trilateral meeting between Myanmar and neighbours India and Thailand.
 
Stopping Razali's visit in March raised fresh fears about the state of talks between the military regime and Nobel Peace Prize winner Suu Kyi, whose National League for Democracy (NLD) won elections in 1990 but has never been allowed to rule.
 
However Myanmar said at the time that Razali, who played a key role in persuading the military government to start talks with Suu Kyi in October 2000, would be able to visit this month.
 
Razali has made regular visits to the country to evaluate progress in the talks but diplomats say both he and the NLD have been frustrated by government foot-dragging on political change, especially over the release of Suu Kyi, who has spent most of the past decade under house arrest.
 
Diplomats say they do not believe Razali's visit will bring any breakthrough in the talks.
 
Myanmar said he would face no restrictions in his movements.
 
"As usual, he is free to see anyone and to go anywhere during his stay here," said another senior Myanmar Foreign Ministry official, who declined to be identified.
 
Myanmar military intelligence arrested a son-in-law and three grandsons of Ne Win along with three senior military officers last month, accusing them of plotting to overthrow the junta.
 
Ne Win, 92, and his daughter Sandar Win have been confined to their house, and the military say they have interrogated 100 suspects in the coup plot.
 
But many diplomats are sceptical a coup was planned, saying the allegations and arrests may stem from disagreements in the government over how to deal with Suu Kyi.
 
They say the crackdown could be part of a power struggle between Army chief Maung Aye and Military Intelligence chief Khin Nyunt, officially number two and three in the junta.
 
State run newspapers have run photographs of the pair inspecting troops together in an apparent effort to play down suggestions of a rivalry.
 
Khin Nyunt is seen as Ne Win's hand-picked choice to lead Myanmar but also as more moderate than Maung Aye, who is seen as a hardliner resistant to a political settlement with the NLD.
 
Some observers say the regime wants to sideline Ne Win, who ruled Myanmar with an iron fist from 1962 to 1988 so that it can move ahead with a power-sharing deal with Suu Kyi.
 
Since the talks with Suu Kyi began, the military has freed more than 200 political prisoners but has shown little sign of loosening its vice-like grip on power.
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Saturday April 6, 6:11 PM
Asean Takes Another Small Step Towards Integration
 
YANGON (Dow Jones)--Southeast Asia's finance ministers on Saturday signed an accord to liberalize trade and investment in financial services, taking another small step towards their goal of closer regional economic integration.
 
Many observers say the 10 members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations need to break down trade barriers and increase cooperation if they are to maintain strong economic growth. But the very location of the ministers' meeting - poor, isolated and military-ruled Myanmar - highlights the difficulty of that project.
 
"Our overall message is: regional integration as fast as you can possibly handle it," said Ernest Bower, president of the U.S.-Asean Business Council, a business lobby group that met with Asean finance ministers this week in Yangon.
 
The deal signed Saturday formalizes the results of negotiations that ended in December 2001, when Asean members agreed to extend each other slightly more favorable treatment in financial services than they do to other countries in the World Trade Organization.
 
But the concessions granted so far are fairly minor, Asean officials said, and they will have to be built on in another round of negotiations, whose launch was also announced Saturday. "It's very difficult; it's kind of sensitive," Asean Secretary-General Rodolfo Severino said of the financial services talks.
 
Aside from financial services, Asean's economic integration is proceeding on a number of different fronts, including trade in goods, due to be discussed at an upcoming meeting of Asean economic ministers.
 
Along with the recent signs of a regional economic recovery, that is feeding a sense among Asean members that they can be successful economically by relying more on themselves and less on the U.S., historically their largest export market.
 
"I think right now Asean countries can stand on their own strength," Thailand's Finance Minister Somkid Jatusripitak said, while acknowledging that a U.S. recovery would provide a much-needed boost to his country's economic growth.
 
Indonesia's Finance Minister Boediono told reporters that Asean's recovery could be maintained "by doing our homework, each of us, and working to cooperate together as much as possible."
 
Asean has also tried to bolster ties between its members and the strongest economies in the region: Japan, South Korea and China. Japan has signed a bilateral free-trade agreement with Asean member Singapore, and talks will start next month on a China-Asean free trade area.
 
Increasing Cooperation On Currencies
 
Asean finance ministers also said Saturday they would continue to expand a program of bilateral currency swap agreements among Asean member countries and Japan, South Korea and China. Six deals involving total commitments of US$14 billion have been signed over the past year, and another eight are now under negotiation, they said.
 
Such deals allow the central bank of one nation to borrow foreign currency from another, but repay the loan in its own domestic currency. The added short-term liquidity the swaps provide is intended to deter speculation in the foreign exchange market.
 
Asean officials have said the swap agreements could eventually be expanded to form an Asian Monetary Fund, a local counterpart to the International Monetary Fund that would support regional economies in the event of a crisis like the one in 1997-98.
 
But Philippine Secretary of Finance Jose Isidro Camacho, who had said earlier this week that he would try to revive interest among his colleagues in an Asian Monetary Fund, said Saturday the ministers' hadn't discussed the idea in Yangon.
 
Nonetheless, expanding financial and monetary cooperation among Asean members, and the larger grouping including Japan, South Korea and China, is very much on people's minds.
 
Secretary-General Severino said the idea of an Asian Monetary Fund is still being considered, and some researchers are working on even more ambitious ways to coordinate policy in the region.
 
"Some kind of regional collaboration on exchange-rate policy is the future," said Pradumna Rana, the manager of the Asian Development Bank's regional economic monitoring unit. He said the ADB is researching such arrangements and would eventually present its findings to Asean.
 
The Yangon meetings included finance ministers or deputy finance ministers from the 10 Asean member countries of Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.
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Saturday April 6, 6:23 PM
ASEAN finance ministers upbeat about recovery
By David Brunnstrom
 
YANGON (Reuters) - Southeast Asian finance ministers said on Saturday they were confident the region would achieve stronger economic growth this year based on projected recovery of the world economy, but cautioned that major risks remained.
 
In a joint statement after a two-day meeting in Yangon, the ministers from the Association of South East Asian Nations forecast 3.5-4.0 real GDP growth for their region this year, which they also attributed to sound macro-economic policies, structural reforms and closer inter-ASEAN cooperation.
 
They said the global slowdown, worsened by the September 11 attacks on the United States, had caused growth in ASEAN to slow to 2.8 percent in 2001, but the U.S outlook had since improved.
 
"Although the outlook for the Japanese economy remains uncertain, there are signs of a turnaround in the U.S. and some European economies in the first quarter," it said. "The signs point towards gradual recovery in the global economy with increased momentum in the second half of 2002."
 
That would boost ASEAN's exporters, and domestic demand would also strengthen because of fiscal expansion and higher incomes.
 
"The general message is that every one of us is rather upbeat. Although a couple of months ago it was a rather different psychology, now I think we are seeing that things are looking up," Indonesia's Finance Minister Boediono told Reuters.
 
Last year's downturn led to a big export slump, particularly hitting hi-tech producers such as Singapore and Japan, and ministers said the focus was now on boosting domestic demand.
 
They said ASEAN -- Thailand, the Philippines, Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Vietnam, Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia and Brunei -- had made significant progress in financial and business reforms and in dealing with bad loans left over from Asia's 1997 crisis.
 
DOWNSIDE RISKS REMAIN
 
But ministers warned that many common risks remained for the diverse ASEAN economies, especially for commodities, if the "El Nino" weather phenomenon that brought drought in 1998 hit again.
 
"The concern that some of us felt was if we see the El Nino effect this year, it could affect production and even food security in some of our countries," Singapore second Finance Minister Lim Hng Kiang told a news conference after the meeting.
 
Lim said ASEAN countries should not allow burgeoning government spending aimed at boosting economies after last year's downturn to lead to high long-term debt obligations.
 
"We still need to continue with domestic expansion of our fiscal policies, but we need to make sure it doesn't create a medium term burden in terms of debt servicing," he said.
 
The ministers said they would work to improve their fiscal strength through better revenue collection and expenditure management. Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, the Philippines and Myanmar all aimed for balanced budgets in three to five years.
 
They also committed to further liberalising their financial sectors, signing a protocol to this effect on Saturday and announcing a third round of negotiations to be concluded in 2004.
 
The Asian Development Bank (ADB) delivered some good news, saying it expected the region to see a faster-than-expected but "moderate" rebound this year helped by "very encouraging signs of recovery" in the United States and in some European countries.
 
It forecast growth of 3.0-3.5 percent for ASEAN in 2002, slightly below ASEAN's own forecast.
 
Risks to recovery remained given serious imbalances in the United States and high oil prices, and the ADB said the extent of the upturn would vary from country to country, depending on how much progress they had made on reform.
 
In a report to ministers, the bank said the risk of a weakening Japanese yen, which could put pressure on ASEAN exporters and lead to regional devaluations, had eased.
 
"The review said the yen did not have significant risk of depreciation," Philippines Finance Minister Jose Camacho said.
 
"It was a concern that we might have had."
 
The ASEAN statement said members were pleased with progress on bilateral currency swap agreements aimed at providing rapid help if a currency comes under speculative attack as in 1997.
 
Six have already been signed, worth $14 billion. These were between Japan and Malaysia, Thailand, the Philippines, China and Korea and between China and Thailand. Eight more are planned.
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Saturday April 6, 4:55 PM
ADB expects 5.2 percent East Asian GDP growth in 2002
By Dominic Whiting
YANGON (Reuters) - The Asian Development Bank (ADB) said on Saturday East Asian economies would post "relatively healthy" growth of 5.2 percent this year and expand more in 2003, with a recovering world economy spurring the region's exports.
 
ADB President Tadao Chino told Southeast Asian finance ministers gathered in Yangon that the region, already battered by the 1997-98 Asian economic crisis, was starting to emerge from the "second slowest overall growth in decades" seen last year.
 
East Asia, in the ADB's definition, includes China, South Korea and the 10 member countries of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).
 
In 2001, East Asia posted gross domestic product (GDP) growth of 4.3 percent versus 7.6 growth in 2000, according to the ADB.
 
The ADB has projected GDP growth this year of seven percent for China, 4.5-4,7 percent for South Korea and 3.0-3.5 percent for ASEAN, said Yoshihiro Iwazaki, director-general of the bank's South Asia Department.
 
Chino said: "East Asia seems to be moving from last year's sharp synchronised slowdown to a faster-than-expected but a moderate rebound.
 
"Indeed, the rebound in the region's economy may perhaps be already under way."
 
"Going forward, this year's moderate rebound in the region's growth is expected to strengthen in 2003," he said, adding that the ADB's finalised growth forecasts for 2002 and 2003 would be released in coming days.
 
Chino said the ADB's 2002 growth forecast for the region had been revised up by half a percentage point in the last three months as the U.S. economy had bottomed sooner than expected.
 
"First, the impacts of the September 11 attacks have turned out to be less disruptive than expected," he said. "The U.S. economy seems to have bottomed out and is recovering faster than earlier anticipated."
 
TECH EXPORTERS MAIN WINNERS
 
He said the ADB's upward revision was most marked for countries with larger dependence on electronics exports and the U.S. market.
 
On Saturday, the finance ministers of the 10-member Association for Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) said the grouping would register real GDP growth of 3.5-4.0 percent this year against just 2.8 percent last year.
 
Economists say China and South Korea and Taiwan will post significantly higher growth this year.
 
Chino said Japan's economy, in the doldrums for much of the last decade, was still suffering from recession. "But there are some positive recent signs," he said without elaborating.
 
Other ADB officials said inventories were at their lowest since 1990, when the Japan economy started to slow, and exports in the in formation technology sector were picking up.
 
Chino urged governments in the region to press ahead with structural reform and step up intra-regional trade and investment flows and financial cooperation as a protective barrier to wider external shocks.
 
"Efforts to push ahead with...reforms and restructuring at the national level need to be complemented by measures to promote greater economic cooperation at the regional level," he said.
 
"Regional cooperation should be extended to money, finance and exchange rates," he said.
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EU's Patten says weak investor confidence, Myanmar hurting EU-ASEAN ties
Fri Apr 5, 6:00 AM ET
By ALEXA OLESEN, Associated Press Writer
 
SINGAPORE - European worries over Southeast Asia's economy and the suppression of democracy and human rights in military-run Myanmar is hurting ties between Europe and Asia, a senior European Union (news - web sites) official said Friday.
 
Chris Patten, the EU commissioner for external relations, said European investors' confidence in Southeast Asia hasn't recovered from the financial crisis that battered the region in 1997-98.
 
Patten also said that ties between the EU and the 10-country Association of Southeast Asian Nations, or ASEAN, have been "taken hostage" by the EU's "relationship or non-relationship" with Myanmar.
 
ASEAN member Myanmar, also known as Burma, has been ruled by the military since 1962. Western nations have strongly criticised the regime for its poor human rights record and refusal to hand over power to Aung San Suu Kyi's pro-democracy party which won an election by a landslide in 1990.
 
Despite Europe's continuing frustration with Myanmar, Patten said there had been some recent signs of improvement in relations.
 
An EU delegation went to Myanmar in January to support talks between the military regime and Noble Peace Prize winner Suu Kyi, aimed at ending a decade of political deadlock since the election. However, there has been no sign of a breakthrough in the talks, which began in October 2000.
 
Patten said during a lecture in Singapore that Asia's large size and diversity made it "extremely difficult" for Europe to create a strategy for dealing with the region, but that the EU wants to help ASEAN take advantage of increasingly open European markets.
 
Earlier on Friday, Patten and Singapore Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong discussed ways to boost trade between Europe and Asia.
 
Goh suggested that ASEAN and the EU talk about forming a free trade area, said Goh's spokesman Ong Keng Yong.
 
Singapore, which has 4 million people and no natural resources, has been aggressively seeking free trade pacts with other countries. It has completed such deals with New Zealand and Japan and is expected to wrap up free trade negotiations with the United States soon.
 
ASEAN member countries are Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.
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Saturday, 6 April, 2002, 12:30 GMT 13:30 UK
Green light for Pan-Asia road scheme
Burma says it wants closer links with its neighbours
By Larry Jagan
BBC correspondent in Rangoon
 
 
The foreign ministers of Burma, Thailand and India have concluded a historic summit, agreeing to establish closer economic ties and construct a major highway connecting the three countries.
 
They all stressed the value the scheme would have - not only for their countries, but for Asia as a whole.
 
Burma's foreign minister told the BBC it was the beginning of a new era of co-operation.
 
The two-day meeting in Rangoon had been planned for some time, but it had been delayed to fit in with the Indian minister's tight schedule and domestic problems.
 
High on symbolism
 
The rapport between the three foreign ministers was obvious from the start.
 
They joked together, and clearly had developed a warm personal relationship.
 
And, after two days of meetings, that was probably the most important result of this historic summit.
 
It was high on symbolism to cover the fact that there were no real concrete results.
 
The three countries have agreed in principle to develop a very ambitious road network, linking northern Thailand with India's north-east through Burma.
 
These roads will also give Thailand and India access to an important deep sea port on Burma's coast.
 
All three countries hope that this will increase bilateral aid, and give producers in the new regional grouping access to the markets in Europe to the west from Burma, and the US in the east through the highway which links Thailand, through Laos and Cambodia, to Vietnam's deep sea port of Danang.
 
Finance snags
 
The Burmese foreign minister Win Aung told the BBC he hoped the project would be completed within the next two years.
 
The biggest problem though remains unresolved - how to finance it.
 
The three countries want to set up a consortium that will then seek institutional funding from international financial institutions like the Asian Development Bank and the World Bank.
 
They hope to attract private investment as well.
 
None of the participants in the summit were prepared to estimate how much money is needed, but regional economists believe the total plan is a multi-billion dollar scheme.
 
They remain highly sceptical that the funds will in fact be found to complete the project.
 
Unless the three governments involved come up with most of the finance, the idea of a new pan-Asia highway is likely to remain a pipedream for some time to come.
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Strategic Forecasting
New Year's Surprise Coming from Myanmar Regime
5 April 2002
 
Summary
 
The government of Myanmar is preparing to try relatives of former dictator Ne Win on treason charges stemming from an alleged coup plot in early March. The attack on Ne Win's powerful family is the latest in a series of moves by the ruling military junta to consolidate power among top office-holding generals. Signs are coming clear that Yangon, Myanmar's capital, is preparing to make a major political concession around April 17, the nation's New Year, in an attempt to reverse the direction of the spiraling economy and breathe life back into the isolated nation.
 
Analysis
 
Myanmar's military leadership announced March 1 that it intends to try relatives of former dictator Ne Win for high treason, in connection with an alleged coup plot that was foiled in early March. The March 7 detention of Ne Win's son-in-law, Aye Zaw Win and his three sons elicited an equal measure of surprise, hope and skepticism from outside observers and local supporters of the opposition National League for Democracy. Ne Win was long seen as a key power behind the ruling junta, despite his 1988 resignation after massive pro-democracy demonstrations.
 
Directly attacking the family of the erstwhile "godfather" of the military regime is just one of a series of moves by the top three generals to re-centralize power and curtail the growing influence of regional and local military commanders. As it reins in errant generals, top leaders are also quietly engaging the NLD in an effort to remove the international taboo of doing business with Myanmar. Facing an ever-bleaker economic future -- due to international isolation, rampant corruption and fiscal mismanagement -- it appears the regime is preparing to make a significant political demonstration close to the nation's April 17 New Year.
 
Sources with access to the NLD have confirmed recent rumors that the State Peace and Development Council, as the current military government is called, plans to release most if not all of the estimated 1,500 to 2,000 political prisoners currently being held in detention. The SPDC hopes such a move would send a signal to the international community, or at least to its near neighbors, that democracy is coming to Myanmar and, more importantly, that the doors are open for much-needed investment and trade. If the regime carries through with its plans, the opening could spur competition between China and India for influence in the strategically located country.
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Bangkok Post - Saturday 06 April 2002
Army chief will be asked to arrest fugitive drug lords
Wei Hsueh-kang and Bang Ron are sought
Wassana Nanuam and Subin Khuenkaew
 
Burmese army chief Gen Maung Aye may be asked to help Thailand bring two fugitive drug warlords to justice during his visit to Bangkok late this month.
 
The fugitives _ Wei Hsueh-kang and Surachai, alias Bang Ron, Ngernthongfu _ are known to be in Burma.
 
Gen Maung Aye, also deputy secretary-general of the ruling State Peace and Development Council, has agreed to visit Thailand from April 23-25, an army source said.
 
The military and drugs officials would ask Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra and Defence Minister Chavalit Yongchaiyudh to negotiate with Gen Maung Aye for the arrest and extradition of Wei and Surachai, the source said.
 
Gen Maung Aye was expected to arrive at the Don Muang military airbase on April 23, the source said.
 
He will meet the prime minister at Government House before attending a reception on a river cruise.
 
A game of golf with Mr Thaksin in Phuket is set down for April 24, and with Gen Chavalit on the following day.
 
On April 25, he will be granted an audience with His Majesty the King at Klaikangwon palace in Hua Hin before returning to Burma.
 
Wei is believed to be in charge of the Red Wa's production of illicit drugs in Burma's Mong Yawn border town, while Surachai is believed to have taken refuge at Ban Hong, some 30km northwest of Mong Yawn.
 
In Chiang Mai, a close aide to Wei told the Bangkok Post that Wei denied his men had anything to do with the shipment of 1.6 million speed pills, which was seized from a drug caravan that clashed with Thai troops in Wiang Haeng district late last month.
 
Wei was upset that Thai authorities were trying to link him to a number of people whose assets were seized in Thailand, although he had no connections with them at all, said the close aide.
 
``Officials know well who did it. It was the work of (Shan State Army leader Chao) Yodsuek. Why did they put all the blame on us? We do not know many of the arrested suspects. Why should he (Wei) be blamed for everything related to drugs? That's why the others got away,'' the aide said.
 
Wei, 48, who is also wanted by the United States on heroin trafficking charges, was made deputy leader of the pro-Rangoon United Wa State Army recently.
 
He now directs six Wa battalions stationed along the border opposite Chiang Rai, Chiang Mai and Mae Hong Son, and has a command centre at Ban Hong, opposite Chiang Rai's Mae Fa Luang district.
 
Meanwhile, a source from Burma's Tachilek border town said Rangoon on Thursday declared a crackdown on drugs in Burmese border areas.
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Bangkok Post - Saturday 06 April 2002
Raids net 9 suspects, 800,000 speed pills
More inflows feared during Songkran

Wassayos Ngarmkham
 
Nine suspects, including Burmese and Lao nationals, were arrested yesterday in separate raids which netted some 800,000 speed pills in Bangkok, Tak and Chiang Rai.
 
In the first raid, Chaiwat Tricharoenporn, 65, and Hom Muangdee, 38, were apprehended in Bangkok after drugs police found some 200,000 speed pills hidden in their Mercedes Benz car parked in front of the Niran Grand hotel in the Phra Khanong area.
 
Another police team arrested two Burmese nationals in tambon Tha Sailuad, Mae Sot district of Tak province, after 158,000 speed pills were allegedly found in their possession.
 
The two Burmese suspects were identified as Maung Maung Song, 27, and Khawae Thaung, 28.
 
In another police action, five Lao nationals were arrested at a restaurant in Chiang Saen district, Chiang Rai, and charged with possessing some 450,000 speed pills.
 
Three of the suspects were identified as Sak Saengkhuen, 27, Bunchan Pommajit, 26, and Porn Chaiwong, 38. The other two were identified only as Suk and Oun.
 
Mr Sak allegedly told police they had been hired for 5,000 baht each by a car dealer in Laos, known only by his first name as Saeng, to smuggle the speed pills into Thailand.
 
The drugs were meant to be delivered to a Thai buyer, identified only as Thong, for 5.4 million baht, he said.
 
Meanwhile, police said a total of 401 drug suspects have been arrested, and more than nine million speed pills and 85 kilogrammes of heroin confiscated during Jan 1-April 4 this year.
 
Pol Lt-Gen Priewpan Damapong, commissioner of the Narcotics Suppression Bureau, said his agency would deploy more officers to block inflows of illicit drugs through major transit routes, expected to increase during the Songkran holiday.
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