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Burma Related News - May 17, 2003.



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BURMA RELATED NEWS - May 17, 2003.

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HEADLINES

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Reuters - U.S., China Break Up Drug Ring

AP - U.S. sanction extension 'too complicated' to understand, says

AP - Myanmar state press alleges rebel bomb kills one at cinema

AP - Myanmar holds drug-burning in non-producing area

The White House - Notice Continuation of the National Emergency with Respect to Burma

Asia Times - Villagers vs oil giant: Ashcroft to the rescue

New York Daily News - Huge heroin smackdown

Bkk Post - Smuggling fees doubled amid crackdown

FT - Burmese man held over al-Qaeda link

SunSpot - 25 charged with smuggling heroin from Asia

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U.S., China Break Up Drug Ring
Fri May 16, 4:59 PM ET

NEW YORK (Reuters) - The United States and China have broken up a major heroin smuggling operation in their first coordinated effort to dismantle a drug ring, officials from the United States, the People's Republic of China and Hong Kong said on Friday.

The unprecedented move resulted in the indictment of 25 people in Manhattan federal court charging them with smuggling more than 1,500 pounds (680 kilos) of Southeast Asian heroin into the United States since 2000.

Twenty people have been arrested in New York, Asia and elsewhere since Thursday, officials said.

"This is special what we're doing here today," James Comey, Manhattan U.S. Attorney, told a news conference. "This is the first time we have worked together to take down a major heroin trafficking organization."

Among those arrested was the group's alleged leader, Kin Cheung Wong. He allegedly ran the organization from the People's Republic of China along with three partners, who were also indicted. Chinese law enforcement officials referred to the four as "untouchables" because they had been unable to catch them.

Their operations are alleged to have spanned the globe with the organization's wholesale distributors selling heroin to retail cells based in New York, North Carolina, Florida, Canada and elsewhere.

The indictment alleged the group's leaders got heroin from different suppliers in Myanmar, formerly known as Burma. Once the heroin arrived in China, other members of the ring transported it in trucks to Fujian Province along the PRC's southeast coastline.

Other ring members, some in Hong Kong, shipped the heroin to the United States. The group's U.S. wholesalers arranged for drug sale proceeds to be laundered before being sent to the organization's leaders.

If convicted all the defendants face a maximum sentence of life in prison and a mandatory minimum sentence of 10 years on the narcotics trafficking charges. Some defendants also face an additional maximum 20 year prison on money-laundering charges.

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U.S. sanction extension 'too complicated' to understand, says

Sat May 17, 7:17 PM ET

BANGKOK, Thailand (AP) _ Myanmar reacted with mock amazement Saturday to the U.S. government's decision to renew sanctions against the country's military regime because of its failure to work toward democracy.

``It is indeed too complicated to understand,'' said a government statement in response to the legalistic language of U.S. President George W. Bush's executive order saying that Myanmar, one of Asia's poorest countries, poses a national security threat.

On Friday in Washington, the White House announced that Bush was extending a prohibition on new U.S. direct investment in Myanmar, also known as Burma, because of its government's ``large-scale repression of the democratic opposition'' since 1996.

The order, originally issued in 1997, was extended by one year.

The statement from the Myanmar government spokesman's office described Washington's declaration that the junta's actions and policies threaten U.S. national security as ``very unusual and extraordinary.''

The statement professed ``surprise and amazement'' that Washington would react in such a manner to the junta's self-proclaimed efforts to achieve democratization, combat illegal drugs, fight terrorism, nurture human rights and boost the economy.

Myanmar's ruling junta took power in 1988 after violently quelling mass pro-democracy demonstrations. It held a general election in 1990, but refused to hand over power after a landslide victory by the opposition National League for Democracy party.

In the wake of the polls the military embarked on a campaign of repression toward the party and other dissidents, deadlocking political and economic development. Reconciliation talks that began in late 2000 between the government and Nobel Peace laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, head of the opposition, have failed to make any breakthroughs.

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Myanmar state press alleges rebel bomb kills one at cinema

Sat May 17, 6:38 PM ET

YANGON, Myanmar (AP) _ A time bomb allegedly planted by ethnic Karen rebels exploded at a movie theater in eastern Myanmar, killing one person and injuring 47 others, a state-owned newspaper said Saturday.

The bombing, which occurred Thursday in Pyu, 200 kilometers (125 miles) northeast of Yangon, was the latest in a recent string of violent incidents which the military government has blamed on the Karen National Union.

The rebel group, which has been fighting for autonomy for more than 50 years, could not immediately be contacted for comment on the allegation.

Pyu is a major road and rail junction between the capital and Mandalay, the country's second largest city, in central Myanmar.

According to the Myanma Ahlin daily, the fatality in the Pyu bombing, which occurred on a religious holiday, was a schoolteacher. Twelve of the 47 wounded moviegoers were hospitalized in serious condition, it said.

Last week, the government said Karen rebels have increased ``terrorist'' activities in areas of southern and southeastern Myanmar after their leaders in April allegedly ordered that sabotage attacks be stepped up.

The government earlier said eight civilians were killed and 25 others, including three Buddhist monks, injured by Karen sabotage incidents between April 23 and May 10.
The Karen National Union has taken credit for blowing up sections of a natural gas pipeline in Myanmar on March 29 and April 15 to urge the government to hold a ``meaningful dialogue.''

Both the Karen National Union and the government have said they are willing to have peace talks, but cannot agree on conditions.

The current government, which came to power in 1988, has concluded cease-fire agreements with more than a dozen other ethnic rebel groups and succeeded in greatly diminishing the once-impressive military force of the Karen guerrillas.

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Myanmar holds drug-burning in non-producing area

Sat May 17, 9:37 PM ET

YANGON, Myanmar (AP) _ Myanmar authorities held a public burning of more than 9 tons (19,800 pounds) of opium poppy seeds and assorted narcotic drugs in Myanmar's northwestern Rakhine state, the state-owned Kyemon daily reported Saturday.

Myanmar, also known as Burma, is the world's second biggest producer of opium after Afghanistan, and a leading exporter of opium's derivative, heroin.

But Tuesday's drug burning in Rakhine, also called Arakan, was unusual because the region, which borders Bangladesh, does not generally produce opium. Most of Myanmar's opium is produced along the country's northern and northeastern borders.

Last year, Myanmar's military government inaugurated a drug eradication program named ``Project Hell Flower,'' in which the government attempts to persuade opium poppy farmers to swap their seeds for cereals such as rice, wheat and corn, as well as vegetables.

It has held several massive drug burnings in Shan state, the heart of the opium-growing region.

The items burned Tuesday in Sittway, 500 kilometers (310 miles) northwest of Yangon, were seized in transit domestically and from attempted smuggling from a neighboring country, said the Kyemon daily, which did not name the country.

It reported that 9.06 metric tons (19,930 pounds) of opium poppy seed, 177 bottles of morphine and 48.5 liters (12.6 gallons) of cough syrup containing codeine were burned in the ceremony, attended by the regional military commander and an official of the Bangladesh consulate in Sittway.

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The White House
Notice Continuation of the National Emergency with Respect to Burma

On May 20, 1997, the President issued Executive Order 13047, certifying to the Congress under section 570(b) of the Foreign Operations, Export Financing, and Related Programs Appropriations Act, 1997 (Public Law 104-208), that the Government of Burma has committed large-scale repression of the democratic opposition in Burma after September 30, 1996, thereby invoking the prohibition on new investment in Burma by United States persons contained in that section. The President also declared a national emergency to deal with the threat posed to the national security and foreign policy of the United States by the actions and policies of the Government of Burma, invoking the authority, inter alia, of the International Emergency Economic Powers Act, 50 U.S.C. 1701 et seq.

Because actions and policies of the Government of Burma continue to pose an unusual and extraordinary threat to the national security and foreign policy of the United States, the national emergency declared on May 20, 1997, and the measures adopted on that date to deal with that emergency must continue in effect beyond May 20, 2003. Therefore, in accordance with section 202(d) of the National Emergencies Act (50 U.S.C. 1622(d)), I am continuing for 1 year the national emergency with respect to Burma. This notice shall be published in the Federal Register and transmitted to the Congress.

GEORGE W. BUSH
THE WHITE HOUSE,
May 16, 2003.

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Asia Times - May 16, 2003
Villagers vs oil giant: Ashcroft to the rescue
By Jim Lobe

WASHINGTON - In a move that has provoked outrage from human-rights groups here, US Attorney General John Ashcroft has asked a federal appeals court in effect to nullify a 214-year-old law that has provided foreign victims of serious abuses access to US courts for redress.

Ashcroft's Justice Department has filed a "friend of the court" (amicus curiae) on behalf of California-based oil giant Unocal in a civil case brought by Myanmese villagers who claimed that the company was responsible for serious abuses committed by army troops who provided security for a company project.

But the department's brief was not limited to defending the company against the plaintiffs. Instead, the document, which was submitted last week to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in California, asked the court to reinterpret the 1789 Alien Tort Claims Act (ATCA) in a way that would deny victims the right to sue in US courts for abuses committed overseas.

"This is a craven attempt to protect human-rights abusers at the expense of victims," said Kenneth Roth, executive director of New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW). "The Bush administration is trying to overturn a long-standing judicial precedent that has been very important in the protection of human rights."

Other rights activists agreed. "The brief is a broadside attack designed to wipe the law off the books," said Elisa Massimino, director of the Washington office of the Lawyers Committee for Human Rights (LCHR), while Terry Collingsworth, director of the International Labor Rights Fund (ILRF) and one of the lead lawyers in the Myanmar case, called the move "shocking".

"They're not just saying a bunch of Burmese peasants can't sue a US oil company," said Tom Malinowski, director of HRW's Washington office. "They're saying Holocaust survivors were wrong to have sued German companies for enslavement during World War II, and that victims of genocide in Bosnia were wrong to try [Serb leader Radavan] Karadzic in US courts. I don't think this administration wants to be seen as denying victims rights in these cases."

ATCA, which was enacted by the first US Congress as a tool for piracy on the high seas, permits non-citizens to sue foreign and domestic individuals or companies in the United States for abuses "committed in violation of the law of nations or a treaty of the United States".

Since 1980, the act has been used successfully by victims of abuses committed by foreign governments and militaries overseas against individual defendants who were served with notice while living or visiting in the United States.

The first case was brought by the father and sister of Joel Filartiga, a 17-year-old Paraguayan who was kidnapped and tortured to death by a Paraguayan police officer who subsequently came to the United States. In that case, another appeals court ruled that ATCA permitted victims to pursue claims based on violations of international human-rights law.

Subsequent cases have been brought against national leaders, such as former Philippine president Ferdinand Marcos, and senior army officers from Guatemala, Indonesia, Argentina, Ethiopia and El Salvador, among other countries. While damages have been awarded in almost all those cases, they have rarely been collected, primarily because defendants fled the United States once they received legal notice.

Lawyers began bringing cases against US and foreign corporations - usually involving, as in the Unocal case, alleged abuses committed by foreign armies or police that provided security for the companies - under ATCA in 1993. About 25 such cases have since been filed, although most of them have been dismissed by the courts.

The most successful have been brought by survivors of the Nazi Holocaust against foreign companies and banks, which rejected their efforts at recovering their money or insurance claims after World War II. While the case was never fully tried, it helped induce Swiss banks to negotiate settlements worth more than US$1 billion.

The Unocal case was originally filed in 1996. Last September, the Ninth Circuit Court overturned the dismissal of a trial-court judge and ruled that the company could be sued for such abuses as forced labor, rape and murder committed by Myanmese soldiers guarding the Yadana gas pipeline, if plaintiffs produced evidence showing that the company knew about and benefited directly from the troops' conduct.

In its brief, the Justice Department was far less concerned about the specific case than about all litigation under ATCA, which, it said, "has been commandeered and transformed into a font of causes of action permitting aliens to bring human rights claims in United States courts, even when the disputes are wholly between foreign nationals and when the alleged injuries occurred in a foreign country, often with no connection whatsoever with the United States".

The brief said that ATCA could not be used as a basis to file civil cases and that victims should sue under other laws; that the "law of nations" covered by the act did not include international human-rights treaties; and that abuses committed outside the United States should not be covered by the law.

"Although [ATCA] is somewhat of a historical relic today, that is no basis for transforming it into an untethered grant of authority to the courts to establish and enforce (through money damage actions) precepts of international law regarding disputes arising in foreign countries," the brief said.

Moreover, it warned, the use of the act "bears serious implications for our current war against terrorism, and permits [ATCA] claims to be easily asserted against our allies in that war". In that respect, it "raises significant potential for serious interference with important foreign-policy interests".

But human-rights activists pointed out that if US foreign-policy interests were at risk, the State Department always has the option of intervening in an ATCA case - as it did last summer when it asked a judge to dismiss a case brought by plaintiffs from the Indonesian province of Aceh against oil giant ExxonMobil.

Indeed, the State Department was explicitly asked to comment on the foreign-policy implications of the Myanmar case and reportedly prepared a letter that said it had no problems with the action proceeding. But the Justice Department, which represents the rest of the government, failed to deliver the letter and instead filed its own brief, which makes no reference to a State Department position.

"I don't think this has anything to do with the war on terror," said Malinowski. "I think this is motivated by a very hardcore ideological resistance within the Justice Department to the whole concept of international law being enforced. The notion that international norms are enforceable by anyone is repugnant to some in the Justice Department."

Collingsworth agreed that the move contradicted the avowed aim of the administration of President George W Bush to end terrorism. "Particularly today, with all this talk of the war on terror, to remove one of the few tools we have to address human-rights violations is the epitome of hypocrisy," he said, adding that he thought the Ninth Circuit Court would reject Ashcroft's arguments. "The Department of Justice filed the almost identical brief in the Marcos case in the late 1980s, and it was rejected."

(Inter Press Service)

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New York Daily News 

Huge heroin smackdown
May 17 7:19 AM
By MICHELE McPHEE and ROBERT GEARTY
DAILY NEWS STAFF WRITERS

The feds smashed one of the world's biggest heroin rings yesterday with 20 arrests and groundbreaking help from Chinese law enforcement.
Manhattan U.S. Attorney Jim Comey said that China's help was instrumental in smashing a network that imported $100 million worth of heroin to the United States through mainland China.

Known in China as the 1-2-5 Organization, the ring of four men was labeled by Chinese authorities as the Untouchables.

"This is an amazing development for international narcotics enforcement," said Comey, who announced the arrests with Chinese officials at his side.

"Our cooperation broke this big case," said Chen Wang Xia, deputy counsel general at Chinese Consulate in New York.

Anthony Placido, special agent in charge of the Drug Enforcement Administration's New York office, said that the drug organization was one of the world's largest, operating "from the farms of Burma to the arms of addicts in the United States."

The high-grade smack moved from the poppy fields of Myanmar, formerly Burma, to the docks of Fujian Province on China's southeast coast and ultimately to the streets of Chinatown in Manhattan for distribution throughout the United States and Canada.

One tough number

The name 1-2-5 also was the alias used by the leader of the Untouchables, Kin Cheung Wong. Wong is a former drug dealer in Manhattan's Chinatown who had been jailed on drug charges and deported, said U.S. officials.

After Chinese cops nabbed the four Untouchables, the FBI and DEA fanned out and made the other arrests, including 10 in New York.

According to the indictment, the Untouchables transported the heroin in trucks from the Myanmar border, across China to the coast, where it was loaded into containers and shipped to New York.

Law enforcement sources said the investigation was begun nearly two years ago by the NYPD, who used undercover cops and confidential informants to infiltrate the gang.

What they found was a sophisticated drug operation.

Gang was 'that good'

"We still don't know how they kept coming in and out of the country. They were that good," said one law enforcement source.

"These guys were moving huge quantities of heroin in and out of the U.S., and none of them were even legal."

The gang's dealers in Chinatown and Queens were extraordinarily paranoid, often changing cars, clothes and ducking under vehicles to elude investigators, the source said.
 
Chinese law enforcement wiretapped the Untouchables, but what was gathered couldn't be used to make a case under Chinese law.

"They used our evidence and our surveillance to make the cases overseas," said a high-ranking police official.

The Justice Department considered the case so important they fronted the Chinese government $180,000 - money that was not recovered and probably never will be, sources said. Originally published on May 17, 2003

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Bangkok Post - Saturday 17 May 2003
HUMAN TRAFFICKING
Smuggling fees doubled amid crackdown

Human traffickers who smuggle illegal immigrants across the Burmese border into Mae Sot, Tak, have doubled their fees since the launch of a crackdown earlier this month.

Traffickers had increased the cost of helping illegal Burmese cross the border from 5,000-6,000 baht to 10,000-13,000 baht, said Mae Sot district chief Samart Loifa.

These figures were derived from one of 11 illegal Burmese who were taken to Mae Sot police station on Thursday with a suspected trafficker.

Tak immigration officials reported a further three suspected smugglers had been arrested with six illegal Burmese earlier this month.

In April, a group of 14 suspected traffickers were arrested with a total of 187 Burmese, who were held on illegal entry charges.

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The Financial Times
Burmese man held over al-Qaeda link
By Farhan Bokhari, Islamabad
Published: May 17 2003 5:00 | Last Updated: May 17 2003 5:00

The arrest in Pakistan of a Burmese national suspected of links to al-Qaeda has prompted fresh scrutiny of the military ruled country.

Abdul Mutallib, arrested on Thursday night in Karachi, was the first Burmese national to be arrested in Pakistan on suspicion of terrorist links, Pakistani officials said yesterday.

Information leading to his arrest was extracted from three al-Qaeda members arrested last month, including Mohammad bin Attash, a Yemeni national, believed to be the mastermind behind the bombing of the USS Cole in Yemen in 2000 which killed 17 US sailors.

One Pakistani official said that Mr Mutallib's arrest could provide "a new opening" on al-Qaeda's connections to Burma.

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SunSpot
25 charged with smuggling heroin from Asia
U.S., Chinese cooperation in investigation is praised
By Mae M. Cheng
Special To The Sun
Originally published May 17, 2003

NEW YORK - Twenty-five people were indicted yesterday on federal drug-trafficking charges, a result of an "unprecedented" partnership between the United States and China that led to the dismantling of one of the world's largest heroin-smuggling rings, law enforcement officials in Manhattan said.

Those charged in federal court after a nearly two-year investigation are accused of smuggling more than $100 million worth of heroin from Southeast Asia, through China and into the United States since 2000, officials said.

Law enforcement officials said the ring distributed more than 1,500 pounds of heroin from Myanmar and is considered among China's biggest heroin-dealing operations. Busting it was one of the United States' top drug-trafficking priorities, they said.

"This is an unprecedented event," U.S. Attorney James Comey said at a news conference in lower Manhattan with Chinese officials, who echoed the hope of continued law enforcement cooperation between the two nations.

The alleged smuggling ring was taken down a week earlier than U.S. officials had planned, Comey said, because of developments in the case in China.

"To do that across as many time zones, as many languages as we have here, is remarkable," he said.

Ten of those indicted were arrested in Manhattan and were awaiting arraignment yesterday. If convicted of the drug charges, each faces a maximum term of life imprisonment.

Eight others were arrested in China, including the four alleged ringleaders, whom officials collectively called the "Untouchables" because they had avoided arrest. The eight will be tried in China.

Two additional arrests occurred in Hong Kong and Miami.

Another five people under indictment are being sought, authorities said.

According to the indictment, the suspects got heroin from Myanmar and transported it to China. The heroin was taken in trucks to Fujian province and loaded into containers to be shipped to the United States, where wholesale distributors sold it to retail distributors in New York, Florida, North Carolina and Canada, the indictment says.

The wholesale distributors then laundered money garnered from the sales back to the ringleaders in China, court papers state.

Mae M. Cheng writes for Newsday, a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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