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Burmanet News September 4, 1995

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The BurmaNet News:  September 4, 1995
Issue #215

Noted in Passing:
The living are suffering anyway and this regime does not even
let the dead rest in peace."  - a Muslim leader in Rangoon talking
about the relocation of graveyards by SLORC.  (quoted in Good Times,
Bad Times)

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September 3, 1995                   by Yindee Lertcharoenchok

KAREN guerrilla forces ended their long-awaited congress on
Friday with the election of a new leadership under Gen Bo Mya to
guide the embattled ethnic group towards peace- negotiations with
Burma's military junta.

Sixth Brigade Commander Gen Shwe Saing, who had been expected to
succeed Bo Mya as president of the Karen National Union (KNU),
was elected his deputy, while Gen Oliver remains as KNU Fourth
Brigade commander.

Saw Ba Thin retains his position as general secretary, while Bo
Mya's personal secretary, Mahn Sar Lar Pan, was elected first
joint general secretary. Tu Tu Lay, former head of the justice
department, was elected second joint general secretary.

Gen Tamalabaw, who replaced Bo Mya as chief of staff after the
KNU lost its headquarters early this year, was re-elected to the

In an interview late on Friday night, Arthur Shwe, the new head
of the foreign affairs department, said the Karen Congress had
elected a new 55-member Standing Committee, 35 of whom are
Central Committee members. The other 20 young leaders are
candidates for the Central Committee.

Eleven Standing Committee members were elected to form a Central
Executive Committee to carry out day-to-day work.

He said the KNU had scrapped its Cabinet system but retained a
party leadership as the group is running short of personnel to
take care of daily operational activities.

According to a KNU press statement, the 11th Karen Congress
which ran from Aug 21-31 was attended by 106 KNU representatives
and 79 observers from civil and military establishments from all
the provinces in Burma's southeastern Karen state.

The statement said the group would "continue to uphold its stand
of endeavouring for dialogue between the KNU and Slorc towards
the establishment of genuine and lasting peace in the country."

Slorc stands for the State Law and Order Restoration Council,
which seized power in a bloody coup in September 1988.

Shwe rejected as rumours press reports that Bo Mya would this
month lead a KNU delegation to sign a ceasefire agreement with
the Slorc in Pa-an. He said neither side has initiated any talks
although the ethnic group appointed a five-member negotiation team
about two years ago.

The foreign affairs chief said he believed the rumours were
spread by the Slorc, which has no genuine desire to hold talks
with the KNU now that the group has been weakened by its loss of

Although the Burmese army has not launched any offensives against
other KNU bases for the time being, Shwe said the group must
still wait until after the monsoon season to see whether Slorc
wants to open any dialogues.

Shwe said he had heard that the Democratic Karen Buddhist Army
had handed over Padoh Mahn Yin Sein, a senior civilian KNU leader
who was kidnapped in February from a Thai refugee village in
northern Mae Sot district, to the Slorc and recommended that he
be sentenced to 20 years' imprisonment for his refusal to join
the group.


September 2, 1995

      MAE SOT, Thailand, Sept 2 (Reuter) - Burma's embattled Karen guerrillas
finished a 10-day congress vowing to work towards talks with Burma's military
government but leaders warned on Saturday peace would be elusive if political
concerns were not addresed. 

    Almost 200 members of the Karen National Union (KNU), one of the world's
oldest guerilla groups, gathered for the meeting in their besieged zone of
control in remote southeastern Burma. 

    The KNU suffered serious military setbacks earlier this year, losing its
headquarters to a Burmese government offensive after several hundred troops
in the rebel army mutinied and joined the government side. 

    Last month, KNU leaders held preliminary talks with representatives of
the ruling State Law and Order Restoration Council (SLORC) and agreed that a
guerrilla delegation would hold truce talks with the government soon. 

    The guerrillas, who have been fighting for autonomy since 1949, agreed to
``endeavour for a dialogue between the KNU and SLORC for the establishment of
genuine and lasting peace in the country,'' the KNU said in a statement. 

    The SLORC has agreed to ceasefires with more than a dozen guerrilla
forces since 1989 but has refused to discuss any of their political demands. 
The KNU has insisted that any talks should cover their political demands,
including autonomy for ethnic minorities under a federal system. 

    Newly elected joint general secretary of the KNU, Mahn Sha Lar Pan,
speaking on the Thai-Burmese border south of the Thai town of Mae Sot,
stressed the KNU's desire to talk peace but said there must be discussion of
long-standing political grievances. 

    ``Without discussion of our political demands it will be difficult to
achieve real peace,'' the guerrilla official told Reuters. 

September 3, 1995

       Manoj Kumar in Rangoon traces the riches to rags story of
          Indians caught up in Burma's turbulent this century.

Anyone who knows India will find much that's familiar in downtown
Rangoon, from the sidewalk astrologers to the betel-spitting
pedestrians (who are still defying the new ban on the practice),
to the splendid mosques and colourful temples of Indian origin.

The Indian presence in Burma goes back a long way, and has been
particularly striking _ and troubled _ this century.

Much of the modern Burmese capital was built by Indians who
flourished there under British colonial rule. According to census
estimates, at any one time there were more than a million Indians
living in Burma, mostly in Rangoon where they made up half the
population, between 1901 and 1941.

"In those days Hindustani was spoken all over this city,"
reminisces Doriswamy, a Tamil businessman who was born and
brought up in a village 50 kilometres from Rangoon.

In pre-independence Burma Indians dominated commercial life in
Rangoon, with Tamils, Telugus and Chittagonians making up much of
the industrial and agricultural working class, the Marwaris
controlling trade, Bengalis the professions and Chettors the
world of finance. There was even a 100,000-strong community of
Indians from the Buxar district in Bihar who occupied the two
towns of Ziyawadi and Kyawtoga, 200 kms north of Rangoon, working
as farmers.

But it was a domination that many Indians here partly regret,
since it worked against them after Burma gained independence. In
the run-up to independence Burmese nationalists were determined
to curb Indian influence, which they perceived as being an
essential part of British colonialism.

The first exodus of Indians came in the late '30s and early '40s
when a series of anti-Muslim riots, followed by the Japanese
invasion of Burma, forced several hundred thousand to leave. Many
more departed after Burma's declaration of independence when new
laws required them to acquire citizenship or register as aliens.
The final round of depopulation came in the mid 60s when a
nationalization law brought in by General Ne Win's military
regime deprived rich Indians of much of their property and made
it impossible for them to continue business.

"It was a calamity for which Indians themselves were responsible
to a large extent," claims GS Sharma, one of the few richer
Indians to stay on in the country through its more than three
decades of isolation from the rest of the world. According to
him, cultural arrogance on the part of the Indians toward the
local population under British rule, as much as the fact of
economic domination, caused many Burmese to resent the Indians.

Sharma remembers with regret how many of the older generation
considered themselves to be "culturally superior" to the Burmese
and took the local people's simplicity to be "simple-mindedness".
There were numerous Indians, he says, who would willingly get
married~with dubious intent to local women they actually looked
down upon. Another issue that harmed relations was the Indian
habit of repatriating profits from their businesses in Burma back
to India without consideration for the welfare of the local

It would be hard to overestimate the contribution by poor Indian
migrant labourers to Burma's economy earlier this century and up
to the present. Working under harsh conditions, they were in
large part responsible for increasing the extent of arable land
available in the country, making Burma the world's largest
exporter of rice- in the world by the '40s. Trade unions formed by
Indian labour activists were also precursors of the country's
worker's movement which played an important role in the
independence struggle.

Though government propaganda still occasionally shows movies with
Indian depicted as "blood-sucking money-lenders", and though some
Burmese now look down on Indians, at the level of common people
there are few traces of animosity now between the two
communities. "The Burmese are among the most hospitable and warm
people in the world," says Doraiswamy who feels that most Indians
living in the country wouldn't dream of returning to India now.

In fact, even after the exodus of Indian migrants in previous
years, the number still remaining is estimated to be well .over
half a million. While some Indians continue to be traders, the
majority are poor, illiterate and engaged in menial urban
professions or as agricultural labour.

One of the major problems confronting the Indian population in
Burma continues to be the issue of their national identity, with
only 56,000 having become naturalized citizens and around 81,000
holding foreign registration certificates. Ignoring earlier
notices and deadlines for obtaining citizenship, more than
300,000 people of Indian extraction remain virtually stateless
with no identity cards or travel documents.

Though Indians are not very active in local politics, for many
the ruling military regime is as oppressive as it is for the
indigenous population. Even while speaking in their native Tamil
or Hindi [part missing here]

When Amma' was arrested we prayed every day for her release,"
says a poor Tamil woman. "Amma" in this case is a reference to
Aung San Suu Kyi, the Nobel Peace Prize laureate and dissident
leader. Like many ordinary Burmese, for Indian migrants in Burma,
Aung San Suu Kyi remains a beacon of hope for a better future.

In recent years many Indians have been alienated from the
military regime by its practice of arbitrarily taking over
property. In its bid to please foreign investors and as part of a
tourism promotion drive, military authorities have been evicting
building owners and tenants around the city to make way for new
hotel and office complexes.

Many Indians who lost their property due to the nationalization
law are also unhappy over the way senior officers in the Burmese
army have been using such "nationalized" property for private

The regime's relocation of ancient Hindu and  Muslim graveyards
to make room for parks and gardens has angered Indians even more.
Though the policy of shifting graveyards outside city limits
affects all religious denominations in Rangoon, Indians are
particularly sensitive to what they consider the "desecration" of
burial grounds.

"The living are suffering anyway and this regime does not even
let the dead rest in peace," says a Muslim leader.

Sentiments are running high within the Muslim community, for
example, over the proposed relocation of their burial ground near
the Rangoon railway station. The community has been asked to stop
burials in this hallowed ground from October this year and has
been offered money to shift the bones of those buried earlier to
a site outside the city.

But undaunted by these and other similar tensions a small number
of former residents of Rangoon are making their way back to the

"This country has an irresistible pull for all those who were
fortunate enough to live here at some point in time," says a
Bombay businessman whose grandfather migrated here in the last
century. Forced to leave the country in the mid-'60s, he is back
now with two of his brothers running a successful import-export
trade out of Rangoon.

September 3, 1995  (abridged slightly)

THAILAND has expressed the hope that problems along the
Thai-Burmese border can be solved through cooperation between the
two countries.

Both the Thai and Burmese governments will order local
authorities to tackle problems together, Deputy Prime Minister
and Defence Minister Gen Chavalit Yongchaiyudh said yesterday.

He did not go into detail but his statement on arrival in Bangkok
after a two-day official visit to Rangoon indicated Thailand
would respond to the conditions set by senior State Law and Order
Restoration Council (SLORC) figure Senior Gen Than Shwe.

Gen Than Shwe demanded security problems along the common border,
the suspended construction of the Thai-Burmese Friendship Bridge
and the fisheries conflict in Ranong be resolved before the two
countries expand cooperation.

Gen Chavalit said he discussed sensitive matters with Gen Than
Shwe during a golfing session and chat on Friday afternoon, which
was said to have taken place in a "cordial" atmosphere.

Gen Than Shwe holds the posts of chairman of SLORC, Defence
Minister and Commander of the Armed Forces.

During the informal discussion with Gen Than Shwe, Thailand
proposed the setting up of a direct line between the Thai and
Burmese defence ministers via their military attaches whenever
problems occurred along the border, a military source said.

Gen Chavalit, in an effort to rebuild Thailand strained relations
with the Burmese government, also said Gen Than SUnited
Nations, Made-leine Albright, intends to visit Burma next week,
the highest US official to do so since the military junta took
once, Reuter reponed yesterday, quoting her spokesman

Chavalit identified three topics discussed during his meetings _
the overall situation along the bonder, the murder of Burmese
fishermen aboard a Thai trawler and encroachment on the Moei
River bank in northern Mae Sot district by Thais.  He said the two 
countries now have a "good understanding" of the
problems and "good intentions" to resolve them.

The deputy premier said he had proposed that the government
sector should play a key role in monitoring the economic
activities Of Thai businessmen in Burma, because the private
sector has failed to do so and a number of problems have
consequently arisen.

The Burmese, he said, agreed to the idea because they also want
joint investment and cooperation.

Chavalit said Gen Than Shwe, chairman of the ruling State Law and
Order Restoration Council (Slorc), asked him to convey his best
wishes to Prime Minister Banharn Silapa-archa.

September 3, 1995

      RANGOON, Sept 3 (Reuter) - The Thai ambassador to Rangoon said on
Sunday that the bilateral between two countries had improves since a senior
Thai delegate visited Burma. 

    ``Normalisation of the relations is underway now,'' the Thai ambassador
to Burma, Poksak Nilobon, said in a telephone interview.  Poksak, who 
declined to elaborate the details of discussions between the Thai delegates
and their Burmese counterparts, spoke with Reuters one day after Thai
Defense Minister General Chavalit Yongchaiyudh returned from his
two days visited to Rangoon. 

    Chavalit, the most senior Thai official to visit Burma since the Burmese
ordered the border closed in April right after the Mong Tai Army (MTA)
guerrillas loyal the opium warlord Khun Sa raided a Burmese border town. 
Burma has accused Thailand for supporting the opium warlord but Chavalit
told reporters over the weekend that he would offer full cooperation in
Burma's ongoing campaign against Khun Sa.