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Burma Issues Newsletter November 19
- Subject: Burma Issues Newsletter November 19
- From: tun@xxxxxxxxxxxxxx
- Date: Tue, 25 Jan 1994 00:18:00
Subject: Burma Issues Newsletter November 1993
Burma Issues Newsletter
Burma Issues, (formerly Burma Rights Movement for Action,
B.U.R.M.A.) is a Bangkok-based non-governmental organization that
monitors events in Burma with a focus on human rights, ethnic
minorities and the ongoing civil war.
PO Box 1076, Silom Post Office
Bangkok 10504 Thailand
phone: 662 234 6674
BRIEF NEWS NOTES
Slorc Gives New Grants for Thai Fishing Companies
Slorc will permit 281 fishing boats belonging to eight Thai firms
to fish in Burmese waters from the beginning of 1994..This comes as
a result of the discussions on bilateral agreements on fishing held
in Burma during September 13-18.
According to the new regulations, Thai fishing firms do not have
the right to directly make contact with the Burmese military
regime. The Fisheries Department of Thailand will select Thai firms
to make contracts with Slorc. This establishes a governmental
relationship between Slorc and Thailand. Under the new Burmese
law, illegal foreign boats fishing in Burmese waters will be
sentenced to 47 years imprisonment if caught.
Thai and Singapore Logging Firms
Thai logging companies have asked the foreign ministry to negotiate
with Slorc to eliminate Rangoon's agent system in awarding
concessions for managing natural resources.
During mid-October, the Burmese government granted a contract to a
Singaporean firm to help organize the allotment of natural
resource, fishery, and forestry concessions starting mid 1994.
Thai Co.s will now have to deal through the Singapore company.
They are expected to pay fees at double the amount to both the
Singapore and Rangoon firms.
The 47 Thai logging firms working in Burma are scheduled to suspend
operations by this year's end. Concession are now expected to be
awarded to other foreign firms.
On 5th October, Thai officials discussed funding options for the
construction of a proposed Thai-Burma bridge from Maesod district
of Tak province Thailand to Myawaddy of Burma. The estimated cost
is 80 million baht for the 350 meter-long bridge.
The bridge is part of an ESCAP-supported plan to develop an Asian
high way network. The forthcoming Escap meeting is expected to
discuss the question of funding as the UN has not broached the
subject so far.
The momentum of the Burmese opposition's call for international
economic sanctions against Slorc is slower than the influx of
foreign companies into Burma. The increase of foreign currency
reserves in the hands of Slorc spotlights the weakness of
opposition's strategy and also highlights the need for better
Following the massacre of civilians by the present military regime
in 1988, the Burmese opposition began calling for foreign
governments and the United Nations to impose total economic
sanctions against Burma. The main aim of this strategy was to cut
off Slorc's significant military expenses which are used to
continue their long-running civil war against the people of Burma.
Various opposition leaders have been trying to lobby for these
sanctions, but have tended to limit their lobby work to mainly
European and North American countries.
The Slorc well understands the Burmese opposition's strategy and
has launched a counter offensive to woo foreign investors into
Burma by initiating an open door economic policy. This open door
economic policy does not, however, indicate any major changes in
Burma as Slorc's political door still remains closed to any
international pressure to push Burma towards significant democratic
changes. However, lack of political changes has not affected Slorc
too negatively as they have been able to gain closer international
ties through economic cooperation, especially with China and Asean.
By 1990, Slorc had gained foreign currency reserves of about
US$468.9 million with two thirds of these reserves coming from nine
foreign oil companies which were granted contracts to explore for
oil and gas. Five of these oil companies, i.e. Shell, Unocal, BHP,
Croft Exploration, Idemitsu and Petro Canada, have pulled out of
their concessions after failure to gain the profits they had hoped
for. Nonetheless, all of them had already paid millions of US
dollars to the Slorc in concession fees, and Shell Co. alone had
invested US$90 million. Obviously the main aim of the
opposition's call for economic sanctions against Slorc to weaken
Slorc militarily, has failed.
The other oil companies are Amoco (USA), Yukong (S.Korea), Premier
Oil, Total (France) and PTTEP (Thailand) and they remain active in
their exploration fields. Amoco and Yukong recently renewed their
contracts. The PTTEP of Thailand is involved in a very expensive
plan to build a gas pipeline from the Gulf of Martaban to
Kanchanaburi Province of Thailand. At least US$500 million will be
required for infrastructure and an additional US$250-300 million
for the pipeline construction.
Another offshore contractor, Premier Oil, had a concession on the
Tennasserin cost and has sold 50% of it's shares to Texaco and
another 20% to Nippon Oil. The Total company of France has found
an estimated 10 trillion cubic feet of natural gas reserves in its
offshore concession. On March 4th, a drilling ship arrived at the
Total site to begin drilling a test well.
In the future, Thailand plans to become involved in the "Economic
Quadrangle" plan which is an economic cooperation project between
Thailand, Laos, Burma and China. It specifically focuses on the
six sectors of transport, energy, environment, human resource
development, trade, investment and tourism. China and Thailand
will be the major recipients of the profits from this project.
Both countries need closer ties with Burma in order to get the raw
materials Burma has to sell, and to benefit from the potential
market in Burma market and transportation routes through Burma.
The project will mainly use Burma as a transit for goods passing
between China and Thailand. China's south west provinces of
Sichuan & Yunan will ship their goods through Burmese ports which
are closer than China's major seaports in the east. Recently the
Thanlyin bridge near Rangoon was opened. It is the largest bridge
in Burma and connects Rangoon with a newly proposed seaport through
which Chinese goods can be exported. The bridge was built with
Chinese technical assistance and loans.
About 200 million people in these two provinces of China are also
potential consumers of Thai goods. Burma and Laos will gain little
from this project in terms of economic development, although Slorc
will once again pocket funds which it can use to strengthen its
army even more.
Along with all the foreign investments and regional trade plans,
the regime will develop closer political ties with countries in the
region. The opposition's call for economic sanctions to help bring
about democratic changes and human rights guarantees for the people
will soon be lost in the dust of "economic progress".
DAB Letters to the KIO
The Democratic Alliance of Burma (DAB), a jungle-based allied
opposition group in Burma, recently sent two letters to on of its
member, the Kachin Independence Organization (KIO) which has been
involved in cease fire discussions with Slorc.
The first letter was dated October 15, and called on the KIO to
stop its ongoing independent talks with Slorc for a cease fire. The
letter added that if the KIO continued these activities in
violation of the constitution and regulations of the DAB, the KIO
would be asked to resign as a member of the DAB within a month.
The second letter was dated October 16 and indicated that the final
decision of DAB was for temporary suspension of the KIO as a member
of the DAB.
The DAB is made up of the 20 alliance dissident groups of both the
ethnic minority revolutionary groups and the political dissidents
who joined following the 1988 massacres in the urban areas of
Bo Mya Stresses Slorc's Tactics
Saw Bo Mya, chairman of the DAB as well as president of the KNU,
said that the Slorc's new strategy is to infiltrate the armed
alliance and to sign individual peace treaties with DAB members in
order to make the revolutionary groups bow to its wishes. He
accused the Slorc of lacking sincerity in solving the ethnic
minority problems. Their so-called peace offers and treaties are
aimed at disintegrating the alliance and ensuring continued
military domination in Burma.
He added that what the DAB desires, if the military regime really
wants to establish peace and unity in the country, is for the Slorc
to initiate a nationwide ceased fire and to announce to the people
of Burma and world of their intentions to hold talks with the DAB.
Slorc Meets with Kachin Mediators
A representative group of Slorc led by Slorc Military Intelligence
Chief, Lt-Gen Khin Nyunt, met with a Kachin mediation group for
discussions concerning a cease fire between the two groups. The
meeting was held at a military guest house in Rangoon on 27
The Kachin mediation group was comprised of retired ambassador U La
Wang, General Secretary of the Kachin Baptist Church Rev U Sabwe
Juam and businessman U Khin Myat.
The Kachin mediation group recounted their experiences at a news
conference at the United Nation headquarters in New York, and
discussed further plans for their peace efforts and for the
development of the Kachin State.
In October of 1989, the United Wa State Party (UWSP) and the United
Wa State Army (UWSA) signed a peace agreement with Slorc. This
came after twenty-two years of war between the ethnic Wa, then
members of the Communist Party of Burma, and the Burmese military.
The Wa area is one of the largest producers of opium in Southeast
Asia. A desperately poor people, the Wa peasants plant, tend and
harvest the opium which is then purchased from them for a very
small amount, processed into heroin and finally sold on the world
market at a tremendous profit.
In a recent statement called "The Agony of the Wa People", the Wa
leaders reflected on the Slorc policy to suppress opium growing.
Following the WA/Slorc peace agreement in 1989, the Burmese
military was in a position in which they could easily began the
process of substituting new crops in the Wa opium fields. Yet,
opium production has nearly doubled since 1989. According to the
Wa statement, the Slorc's policy to suppress opium growing "..is a
window dressing policy only to impress the West. In the past, the
United States has even given the Burmese aid to carry out that
policy. While, in fact, the Burmese officials encourage opium,
growing and enable its marketing for their own benefit. They take
their cut -- the major cut."
At the same time, Slorc established the Border Development Program
with the stated goal of bringing roads, schools, clinics and other
development projects into border areas where ethnic nationalities
agreed to cease fires. For the Wa, this was a very attractive draw
into the cease fire negotiations. During the years of war, more
than 12,000 Wa were killed, leaving thousands of orphans and
widows, and countless wounded and disabled. The Border Development
Program offered some hope in this hopeless situation.
Now, almost four years later, little has changed for the Wa people.
"At the present, there are no paved roads in the Wa area, not even
any gavelled roads." The roads that have been built are designed
only to get artillery of the Slorc to the top of the hills.
"Modern medical care is non-existent. There are no hospitals, not
even any clinics."
"The vast majority of the Wa have no formal education. There are
only a few informal primary schools taught by teachers who
themselves have been only to primary school."
The Border Development Program has been much proclaimed by Slorc as
a great development plan to bring the border regions into peaceful
and prosperous union with the rest of Burma. As such, Slorc has
managed to get financial support for the program from the United
Nations Development Program. Yet the Wa, who were one of the first
recipients of the program, there has been little if any
improvement. According to their report, "Roads and other
improvements reported [by the Slorc] in the Burmese press were
constructed only in the news media."
Not surprisingly, many of the ethnic nationalities look at Slorc's
call for peace talks with suspicion. The experience of the Wa, and
a history of being manipulated by the Burmese military, makes many
of these groups leery of any cooperation at all with Slorc. Fresh
in their memories is still an attempt at peace talks in Rangoon
during October and November of 1963 when some of the ethnic leaders
were attacked by the Burmese military on their way home after the
talks failed to reach a positive conclusion.
During a November 17-18 visit to the Kayah State, Slorc Secretary-
1, Lt-Gen Khin Nyunt called on all armed groups to "return to the
legal fold". "The government welcomes any armed group which is
willing to return to the legal fold and desirous of coordinating
measures for perpetuation of the Union, consolidation of national
unity and development of their regions, and economic and social
uplift of Union nationals", he said in a speech to the local people
of Kayah State. He further emphasized that most armed groups in
the Kachin and Shan States had already "returned to the legal fold"
and were now involved in regional development. The Wa, are one of
the groups in the Shan State who have been "enjoying" the regional
development programs of the Slorc.
Khin Nyunt stressed that the Border Development Project was
implemented to ensure equality among the national people, and to
narrow the economic and social gaps between the States [border
regions of Burma occupied by the ethnic nationalities] and the
mainland. As a stick and carrot approach to reel in the
insurgents, it may be a good strategy in theory, but the realities
of the past are keeping most of the ethnic groups from being
tempted much by the carrot.
Several issues remain central in the opposition's hesitancy to
cooperate with Slorc in peace talks. The first is Slorc's constant
call for them to return to the "legal fold". This tends to
infuriate some of the opposition groups who believe that Slorc is
not the legitimate rulers of Burma since they suffered a resounding
defeat in the 1991 elections, and then refused to turn power over
to the people's choice of government. The opposition sees Slorc as
a military power rather than a political power with any legal
status. Thus, it is not a process of the ethnic nationalities
returning to the legal fold, but rather Slorc returning to the
legal fold by surrendering power to the winners of the 1991
elections. "Returning to the legal fold" suggests surrender and
acceptance of being "illegal" by the ethnic nationalities, and
peace talks should not be built around such a misrepresentation of
the history of Burma. Opposition groups feel that peace talks and
a nationwide cease fire should take place between all the groups in
Burma at one time, and should focus on ending hostilities. The
political process of the country would then be able to progress
under the guidance of people who truly represent the voice of all
the groups in Burma.
A second issue which is of great concern to many of the opposition
groups is that any talks must focus on the root issues of ethnic
conflict which have existed in Burma for so long. It is felt by
many that Slorc is trying to force the ethnic groups into
negotiating at a disadvantage by economically and physically
squeezing them into a corner in which they have little chance of
survival. In such a situation, the ethnic groups might be forced
to agree to terms which do not meet their basic and historic
demands. Should this happen, peace would probably be short lived,
and civil war would again break out, bringing perhaps even more
destruction to the peasants who tend to bear the brunt of the
And thirdly is the fact that Slorc has been unwilling to meet the
conditions which the DAB has set for peace talks to take place.
The conditions are: 1) the talks be carried out with all of the
opposition groups, 2) the talks be held in a neutral country
rather than in Burma, and 3) the talks be open to the foreign
press, and attended by United Nations officials.
Slorc continues to demand that the talks be held in Burma, and that
since the issue is an internal affair, the presence of foreign
observers is not necessary.
Amidst all of this, the Kachin have been involved in talks with
Slorc, and an agreement of some sort has been worked out. A cease
fire in the Kachin States seems to be in place, although reports
indicate that no formal agreement has yet been signed. Slorc
officials are shown regularly on Burmese television visiting the
Kachin State and talking with Kachin representatives. This has
truly been a major political coup for Slorc.
The Kachin move has angered some opposition groups who feel the
Kachin should have stuck with the DAB agreement that any talks with
Slorc would be carried out as a unified coalition. These groups
feel that Slorc is trying to divide the DAB forces by unilateral
talks which will weaken any negotiation advantages which the DAB
However, the Kachin stress that their talks with Slorc have been
only aimed at bringing about a nationwide cease fire after which
the DAB and Slorc could sit down for talks. A nationwide cease
fire, they argue, is essential for the survival of the peasants in
all the States who can not survive much longer under the onslaught
of Slorc's military campaigns. Also, a nationwide cease fire would
make it possible to start talking about some of the more essential
issues which are preventing peace in Burma.
A Kachin Independence Organization (KIO) statement outlines some of
the issues which could be addressed once a nationwide cease fire is
"Among the important issues that could be discussed following the
implementation of the cease fire are (for example in Kachin State)
the relocation of villagers who have been moved to Burmese Army
areas and the status of those who have been arbitrarily detained
for many years on suspicion of supporting the KIO (while the
international community is rightly condemning political prisoners
detained since 1988, we hear nothing about the many Kachins and
other ethnic nationalities who remain in prison for supporting
their cause). It is also possible that a State-wide convention of
political leaders, Kachin and non-Kachin alike, could be held to
discuss the priorities for a future political agenda. Needless to
say, a formal cessation of hostilities could also lead to an
improvement in the human rights situation for the thousands of
oppressed people forced to work as laborers, porters and soldiers.
While one can argue that in the future it may be necessary to
return to armed struggle, we should look positively at these
developments, remembering that only until just now, Slorc was
insisting on separate talks."
The future remains hidden in the mist of all of these hopes and
fears. Is Slorc truly sincere or not in their call for talks? No
one can say for certain at this time. However, it remains a fact
that Slorc is gaining much political ground from the present
situation. By publicly announcing their call for talks, and by
having at least some success in discussions with the Kachin, they
are raising their credibility in the eyes of the international
community. During this year's UN General Assembly, such political
success is very important for Slorc. During last year's Assembly,
they were soundly criticized for their failure to bring about
needed changes in Burma. This year, they may escape such burning
criticisms. At the same time, Slorc may be planning a more
sinister strategy. By openly announcing their call for talks with
all the insurgents, they may also be preparing the way for a
decisive dry season offensive, especially against the Karen and the
Mon. They have publicly said they are ready for peace talks. If
the Karen, Mon or other ethnic groups hesitate, Slorc can simply
say that these groups refuse to negotiate for peace and only wish
to destroy the union. Then they can launch their offensive,
rationalizing that they have no other choice. If this happens,
will the international community be caught sleeping?
The coming weeks and months are crucial for Burma. The Burmese
military has a long history of manipulation which leaves many
people nervous about the present trends. What ever the Slorc is up
to, it is absolutely essential now that the opposition groups seek
a unified voice and strategy. Only then can they be in a position
to sue for peace from a position of advantage strong enough to
insure that they will get the kind of peace which will be lasting,
and which will bring about equality of all the ethnic groups in
The Agony of the Wa People, 1993
KIO Statement, 931102
Prasong Visits Burma
In the wake of Thai foreign minister, Prasong Soonsri's visit to
Burma in September, Thailand will set up a closer elite
relationship with the Burmese military regime. Prasong visited
Burma from 16-18 September to attend the first meeting of the
Thailand-Burma Joint Commission on Bilateral Cooperation.
The purpose of the meeting was to enhance relations between
Thailand and Slorc in twelve different sectors: 1) all levels of
exchange visits, 2) Cooperation on Tourism, 3) Technical and
Economic Cooperation, 4) Transport and Communications, 5) Cultural
Exchanges, 6) Energy, 7) Trade, 8) Investments, 9) Forestry, 10)
Fisheries, 11) the Economic Quadrangle and 12) other matters.
Concerning Exchange Visits, it was agreed that exchanges at all
levels of government officials, members of the private sectors or
state enterprise and academicians would be organized.
Prasong agreed that the promotion of tourism is an essential part
of the national development of both countries. In the future
active cooperation on tourism education and training will be set
up. A Thai tourism project called "Friendship Rally Tour" starting
in Chiang Rai and ending in Kuming China, will pass through
Kyaington, Burma from 2nd to 10th December 1993.
In Technical and Economic Cooperation, Thailand agreed to provide
25-30 million baht assistance to Slorc over the next three years
and another 15.47 million baht has been allocated for the purpose
of agriculture cooperation for fiscal year 1994.
The three border check points at Mae Sai-Tachileik, Maesod-
Myawaddy, and Ranong-Kawthoung will be set up to promote trade.
Concerning the energy sector, Slorc expressed the view that the
Salween Dam Project is very capital intensive and a decision can
not be made without making a proper feasibility study first.
Prasong agreed with the Slorc on this during the meeting.
Regarding the forestry sector, Slorc reiterated that timber
extraction to be in secure areas would be granted on mid-term and
long-term contracts and local community development programs are to
be included with every timber extraction plan. Thailand expressed
its agreement that the logging concessions be in the secure areas
for 5 to 10 years contracts but Thailand will take into
consideration local community development programs as an integral
part of the project. Additionally, Thailand requested Slorc to
consider exportation of timber and related products across the
Thai/Burma border rather than through seaports as Slorc is now
For Fishing Firms, Thailand requested Slorc to consider granting
fishing rights to Thai companies and also requested that Slorc's
penalty system be monetary fines rather than confiscation or jail
punishment of crews and boats which violate contracts.
Concerning Banking, Thailand requested Slorc to issue Banking
licenses, but this was denied by Slorc.
The next Thai-Burma Joint Commission on Bilateral Cooperation
meeting will be held in Thailand in 1994 and the date will be
arranged through diplomatic channels.
In October, Thai NGOs, students and international groups who are
concerned about environmental issues on the Thai/Burma border held
a seminar at Chiengmai Thailand. The theme of the seminar was
"Environment Issues on the Thai/Burma Border" and addressed to main
1) logging concessions are their destruction of the forests
2) Energy development projects, including dams and a gas pipeline,
being planned by Slorc and the Thai government.
Both of these issues will have a severe, long-term impact on the
eco-systems in the area as well as on the culture and life styles
of the ethnic nationalities who live there.
As an outcome of the seminar, the participants agreed to form a
Thai/Burma Network, which will try to focus local and international
attention on the issues mentioned above. They plan to carry out a
persistent campaign of education which will ultimately lead to
effective campaigns in Thailand, inside the Burma border area, as
well as internationally to end environmental destruction related to
deforestation and planned dam construction.
The first action of the group is to collect and analyze information
related to Thai logging companies and the planned dams along the
Salaween and Moei Rivers. This information will be printed in
English, Thai, Burmese and Karen. Seminars will also be held to
educate the public on the importance of these issues.
The group realizes that without bringing an end to the civil war,
the protection of the environment and the security of the people
who live in these areas can never be successful. Therefore, a
clear link between the environment issues and the root causes of
the civil war will always be stressed.
Thai-Burma Meeting, October 24-25, 1993