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Burmanet news August 27

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The BurmaNet News: August 27, 1995


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===== item =====

27 AUGUST 1995, The Nation

The Burmese army has forced more than 4,000 villagers to serve as
porters in a rebellious ethnic border area, and demanding
villages send more, an official of the ethnic group said

Several villages near Loikaw in Kayah State, 365 kilometres
northeast of Rangoon, were told by the army to send 50 people
each, said Abel Tweest, foreign affairs minister of the Karenni
National Progressive Party, in a telephone interview with the
Associated Press.

For each person younger than 50, villages will bew fined 3,000
kyats, which equals US$ 500 at the official exchange rate or
about US$ 30 at the widely-used black market rate. Villagers face
arrest if they cannot pay, Abel Tweest said.

The Karenni are one of 15 ethnic groups that have signed
ceasefire agreements with the Burmese government. In June
fighting resumed between government soldiers and Karenni troops.

A number of international human rights organizations have
condemned the Burmese military for using forced labour and
treating porters with brutality.

Karenni leaders say the Burmese army wanted to use their area to
stage an offensive against opium warlord Khun Sa, whose strong
hold is in neighbouring Shan State. But they have refused.

They also say that disputes arose over the Karenni selling teak
to Thailand. The Burmese government, Karenni leaders said, wanted
complete control of the trade.

Gen Khin Nyunt, a powerful leader in Burma's military government,
has called the fighting a misunderstanding and a minor conflict.
He has invited Karenni leaders to attend talks at Loikaw.

Abel Tweest said, however, that Karenni leaders had no intention
of travelling through areas they say are controlled by 7,000
Burmese soldiers. They have asked for negotiations in a third

A Thai military official near the border, who demanded anonymity,
said that fighting was continuing. Karenni leaders say Kayah is
an independent state, having been founded in 1946, two years
before Burma achieved independence.

Reuter adds from London: BBC Burmese language radio broadcasts
into Burma are being jammed for the first time in their 55 year
history, just a month after the release of opposition leader Aung
San Suu Kyi, the BBC said yesterday.

The British Broadcasting Corporation in London said its engineers
had found deliberate interference on two of the three regular
short-wave frequencies carrying news into Burma. (TN)

27 AUGUST 1995, The Nation

Four dissident groups in Burma have formed a military alliance to
help ethnic Karenni in their fight against Burmese troops in the
eastern state of Kayah, a joint statement said yesterday.

Leaders of the Karenni National Progressive Party (KNPP), All
Burma Students' Democratic Front, Mergui/Tavoy United Front and
Social Democratc, Burma met at a clandestine location in Burma
near the Thai border last week, it said.

The meeting was held to seek an "appropriate way to help the
KNPP" after Rangoon allegedly violated a ceasefire agreement by
mobilizing troops into Kayah State to "wipe out KNPP members from
their native area."

Rangoon allegedly sent several thousands soldiers across the
Salween River into KNPP-designated areas in June, breaking a
ceasefire pledge made with the ethnic group in March.

The Burmese troop presence there was seen as Rangoon's attempt to
secure its logging routes in the timber-rich state.

According to the statement, the alliance was formed to "support
the KNPP in its just struggles and to initiate a genuine
countrywide national reconciliation."

But no joint military actions or immediate concrete measures
against the Burmese troops were mentioned in the statement which
said only that the alliance would strengthen the line of
communication, exchange of information. (TN)

27 AUGUST 1995, Bangkok Post

Burmese students in Bangkok plan to submit an open letter to
Deputy Prime Minister and Defence Minister Chavalit Yongchaiyudh
before he makes a two-day official visit to Burma.

John Aung, a secretary-general of the Bangkok-based Overseas
National Students of Burma (ONSOB), yesterday disclosed that
Burmese students are preparing an open letter for the ruling
State Law and Order Restoration Council through Gen Chavalit,
calling for the release of all political prisoners.

The students plan to call on Gen Chavalit, who is due to visit
Burma on Friday to improve relations between the two countries,
to help mediate in talks with the Slorc on releasing National
League for Democracy (NLD) politicians who are still in jail, Mr
Aung said.

In 1990, with its leader Aung San Suu Kyi in detention, the NLD
swept the national parliamentary elections, winning 392 out of
485 seats. But the military regime refused to recognise the
results and began rounding up all NLD politicians.

The ONSOB secretary-general said all Burmese dissidents and the
Burmese people want the Slorc to respect human rights and promote
democracy in the country.

All requests, said Mr Aung, relate to the rights of citizens that
the Burmese government must take into consideration. It is
reported that all Burmese democracy groups in bangkok have been
planning to hold a meeting in an attempt to set up a special
committee to streamline their regulations.

These groups will coordinate with other Burmese students in
Canada and Australia in setting up branches to carry out the
fight for democracy in a coordinated fashion. (BP)

27 AUGUST 1995, Bangkok Post

Urgent measures are needed to help improve the economic situation
in the border town of Mae Sai in this northern provinces which
has deteriorated after Burma imposed a ban on border crossing
into Thailand.

Deputy Commerce minister Pairote Suwanchawee yesterday vioced his
concern over the trading standstill along the Thai-Burmese border
after the inspection trip to the area and a briefing on the
situation by local authorities.
He is confident an official visit to Burma by Defence Minister
Gen Chavalit Yongchaiyudh early next month would yield some
results in resuming border trade.

In March, the State Law and Order restoration Council ordered
closure of the Mae Sai-Tachilek temporary checkpoint, alleging
that Thailand supported drug warlord Khun Sa in his fight with
Rangoon. The order has adversely affected the border trade.

However, trading improved slightly last month when Thailand
opened five temporary border passes in the town which enabled
Burmese to buy food and other commodities.

But earlier this month the Burmese regime again imposed a ban on
its people from crossing from Tachilek to Mae Sai which resulted
in a halt to all trade. (BP)

27 AUGUST 1995, Bangkok Post
By Ethan Casey

The author of one well-received recent book ob Burma once
remarked that the situation in that unhappy country is not doubly
but trebly Orwellian: it is part Nineteen Eighty-four, part
Animal Farm, and part Burmese Days.

Recent developments show Burma becoming ever more Kafkaesque as
well, as a "freed" Aung San Suu Kyi wanders about like a
laboratory animal in a maze or_more appropritely_lie a porphet,
crying in a political and media wilderness, with few in her own
country able even to hear what she says and, let us be honest,
very few in the outside world even aware of her existence or of
just how appalling conditions have been and remain in Burma.

We in Thailand are more aware because we are right next door, but
how many people in a provincial city in America or Europe have
the remotest clue? Too often in our postmodern world, if we don't
read or hear about something in the media, we presume to absolve
overselves of the duty to acknowledge that it happened. Orwell
was right, after all.

A Prophet is not without honour except in his own country, said
Jesus. Truer words were never spoken about Aung San Suu Kyi. But
there is a reason prophets, true ones, usually are relegated to
the wilderness; what they have to say usually is both true and

But as haitian president Jean Bertrand Ariside, himself a prophet
through a flawed one, once said: "Hiding the truth is like trying
to bury water. It seeps out everywhere."

So Orwell was right, but there remains hope_always. As an eldery
Kashmiri who has seen a lot of history and heard a lot of lies in
his own country said recently, with the kind of clam that
bespeaks a hard-won serenity (like that exuded so palpably by Suu
Kyi): "whatsoever may happen, truth is truth."

These musings come to mind on the occasion of two news items
published in Wednesday's Bangkok Post. The singal for the British
Broadcasting Corporation's Burmese-language service has been
jammed, almost certainly by or at the behest of the illegitimate
junta in Rangoon.

The jamming began shortly after a BBC interview with Aung San Suu
Kyi was broadcast in Burma, according to the head of the BBC
Asia-Pacific service.

And Mrs Supatra Masdit, a member of the Democrat Party belonging
to the Opposition, and reporters from a major Bangkok newspaper
were denied visas to enter Burma to videotape a speech Suu Kyi
had been invited to give at a meeting of private women's groups
in Beijing at the end of this month, connected to the United
Nations Conference on Women.

Quite evidently, the Slorc believes it has succeeded in arrogat
ing to itself so much power and control in Burma that it can take
the calculated risk of "freeing" Suu Kyi, there by freeing itself
of much of the pesky bad press it has been getting these last six
years, at the same time quietly but blatantly tightening the
screws one or two more turns.

Apparently, if the Slorc has anything to say about how things
develop in the post-house arrest era, which it certainly plans to
do, there will be no true opening-up, no true dialogue, no true
relief for Burma's people. In this context the "release" of Suu
Kyi seems like a supremely cruel partical joke.

One of the many ironies, of course, is that Asean and many
business people and journalists seem to have been under the self-
serving and rather smarmy impression that Burma was "opening up"
and that might be in some vague sense a good thing.

Would that it were true, as many of us wishfully believe, that
economic liberalisation actually did lead to the liberalisation
of human rights. But it does not, as author W.J.F. Jenner
observed in a very similar context in The Tyranny of History: The
Roots of China's Crisis.   
Like most prophets, Suu Kyi says things people don't like to
hear, puts before us terrifying alternatives, choices we would
prefer not to have to make. "We have to choose between dialogue
and utter devastation," she said the day after her "release".

The obvious implication of this true assertion is that if the
people and/or the junta in Burma choose, for whatever reason, to
eschew dialogue, they will thereby be choosing_freely, because
they will have been warned_utter devastation.

How much easier things would be for us humans if we were not
constantly faced with difficult choices and the prospect of bad
things like utter devastation befalling us if we choose the wrong

Alas, the world is the way it is. But what is the problem,
anyway? Surely even the Slorc can see that dialogue is preferable
to the alternative. Unfortunately, though, not everyone see
things or defines terms the way Suu Kyi does.

Later this year the Slorc-sanctioned "National Convention" will
allege to have officially institutionalised the political role of
the Burmese military.

But whatsoever happens, truth is truth. The truth is that the
Slorc came to power by brute military means in September 1988,
after thousands of people were killed by soldiers on the streets
of Rangoon, solely because they were demonstrating in favour of

That the National League for Democracy led by Suu Kyi won
democratic elections held in May 1990 by a huge landslide; that
the junta decided unilaterally to annual those inconvenient poll

That Suu Kyi was kept under house arrest for six years for no
legal or justifiable reason, and that hundreds of other dissi
dents remain imprisoned; that thousands have been killed,
enslaved, tortured and raped by agents of the regime.

The Slorc can jam the BBC's Burmese-language signal; the Slorc
can deny visas to foreigners it deems likely to tarnish its
image. But hiding the truth is like trying to bury water; it
seeps out everywhere.

Make no mistake: the day of reckoning for the status quo in
Burma/is approaching. Whether what follows is something better or
utter devastation depends almost entirely on whether the Slorc is
willing to choose dialogue. (BP) 

27 AUGUST 1995, Bangkok Post
By Supradit Kanwanich

Thai fishermen detained in Burma have to endure harsh prison
conditions and some have died in detention, according to a report
by the Fisheries Department.

Burmese jails are crowed and lack basic needs. It's not uncommon
for prisoners to suffer diarrhoea and skin disease, it said.

The harsh life in Burmese prisons is widely known among Thai
fishermen. Therefore, most of them jump overboard and try to
escape when boats are intercepted by Burmese naval ships. And
many have been reported missing.

The report said most illegal fishing boats are from Samut Sakhon,
Ranong, Phuket, Trang, Samut Songkhram and Petchaburi.

Boats from Samut Prakan, Samut Sakhon, Samut Songkhram and
Petchaburi either sail around the malay peninsula or are
transported overland to ranong to get to the Andaman Sea.

Each vessel is manned by about 10-20 fishermen, many of whom are
Burmese. In some trawlers, there are more Burmese than Thai crew.
The skipper and mechanic, however, are still Thai.

When Thai vessels are seized and found guilty of breaking Burmese
laws, both Thai and Burmese crew members face the same sentence,
but are put in different jails.

Thai fishermen are normally charged with illegal entry, taking
foreign currency into Burma without permission, and illegal
fishing. Thai fishermen under 16 are released.

Thai fishermen normally have no money to pay the fine, so they
must serve jail terms in lieu. vessels and equippment involved in
the violations are confiscated.

The report said Thai fishermen sentenced by courts in Burmese
coastal provinces are sent to Insein jail in Rangoon as requested
by the Thai Government. Basically, they are not physically
punished during detention.

Thai Embassy officials occasionally visit them and give them
medicine and dry food. When Thais serve their jail sentences,
Burmese officials tell the Thai embassy to prepare extradition.
Somehow, the embassy is not told in advance, so men must languish
in jail another one or two months while embassy officials prepare
documents and air tickets for their trip home.

In the latest incident, Thai embassy officials in mid-June
witnessed the sentencing by a Burmese court of a Thai skipper,
Odd Saenchamla of Udon Thani Province, who was given 20 years
jail for illegal entry and fishing. Five Thais were given 13
years each on the dsame charges.

They could appeal the verdict within 60 days. many Thais have
fallen ill and some died in detention, according to the Fisheries

Burmese authorities suspended fishing concessions to Thai
fishermen a few years ago but started granting new concessions
late last year. Still, many Thai trawlers encroach Burmese waters
for illegal fishing.

When chased by a Burmese naval ship, the illegal Thai trawler
radio others nearby and tell them about the location. After tying
the steering wheel to maintain the boat's steady course, the Thai
skipper and crew jump overboard. Burmese members of the crew
remain on board.

Some would later be arrested, some rescued by other Thai
trawlers, and some go missing, presumably drowned. Thai fishermen
may have to stay afloat in the sea for one or two days before
being rescued by a Thai trawler.

Life of a Thai skipper in jail is better than his crew because
his family could send money or needs to him. The crew normally
cannot contact their families or people outside. There is an
exception when some fellow prisoners are released: Letters are
then slipped out of jail.

Although an inspection is rather strict for relesed prisoners,
Thai fishermen manage to hide letters in shoes, clothes, personal
effects_and even certain parts of the body. (BP)