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Human Rights Watch Asia
Nov. 1995, Vol 7, No. 15


The most significant human rights event in Burma in 1995 was
the release on July 10 of Nobel laureate and opposition leader
Daw Aung San Suu Kyi after six years of house arrest. 
Paradoxically, the governing military State Law and Order
Restoration Council (SLORC) took an increasingly hard line
stance during the year, and there was no overall improvement in
the human rights situation.  In some areas abuses increased,
notably in the Karen, Karenni and Shan States where there was
fighting.  while throughout the country, thousands of civilians
were forced to work as unpaid laborers for the army.  The
SLORC continued to deny basic rights such as freedom of
speech, association and religion and the right of citizens to
participate in the political process.

Daw Suu and more than 200 other political prisoners were
released in 1995. but at least 1,000 people, including sixteen
members of parliament elected in 1990  -- all representing Daw
Suu's party, the National League for Democracy (NLD) -
remained in jail and there were new political arrests.  In
February, nine students were arrested at the funeral of former
prime minister U Nu when they began singing a pro -
democracy anthem and were later sentenced to seven years in
prison.  A month later. six more students were arrested for
allegedly obstructing soldiers preparing for Armed Forces Day. 
In June, four veteran politicians in their late sixties were
arrested and sentenced to seven years in prison.  On September
27, a student, Ye Htut, was arrested for having sent information
to Burmese abroad;  as of November, his trial was still pending. 
All of these people were tried under Section 5 (j) of the 1950
Emergency Provisions Act. for "spreading false news about the

The treatment of those detained remained an issue of concern. 
Two of the students were known to have been beaten
immediately after their arrest but the fate of the other is not
known.  In June,  Dr. Thida, a twenty - nine year old medical
doctor who was sentenced to twenty years of imprisonment in
1993 under the 1950 Act, was reported to have contracted
tuberculosis while in Rangoon's Insein jail.  She was also
diagnosed in June as needing surgery to remove ovarian cysts. 
Dr. Thida reportedly received inadequate medical treatment.

The year opened with a renewed offensive against the Karen
National Union (KNU) following a split within the KNU and
the formation of the Democratic Karen Buddhist Arm,,
(DKBA) which was supported by the SLORC.  By January 27
the KNU headquarters at Manerplaw near the confluence of the
Salween and Moei rivers had fallen and on February 23 the
KNU retreated from its base at Kawmoora.  Since early
November 1994. the SLORC army had arrested as many as
5,000 men from towns and villages in the Karen and Mon states
and even from Rangoon to work as porters in preparation for
this offensive.  Although the offensive was relatively short,
scores, and possibly hundreds. of forced porters are believed to
have died from beatings or exhaustion compounded by lack of
food.  Others were caught in the cross fire during the fighting or
were killed by landmines laid by both the SLORC and the

In early February, the offensive took a new turn as DKBA and
SLORC troops launched the first of several raids into refugee
camps in Thailand.  There were already more than 70.000
refugees in these camps, joined by some 10,000 people after the
fall of Manerplaw.  Many camps were situated along the banks
of the Salween and Moei rivers, which mark the border between
Burma and Thailand, and were easily  accessible by the DKBA
/ SLORC troops.  The raids, which were intended to terrify the
refugees into returning to Burma continued from February to
May. They left fifteen refugees and Thai civilians dead, scores
injured, and at least 1,000 houses in different camps razed to
the ground.  In addition. the DKBA / SLORC forces kidnaped
more than twenty-five individuals and took them back to
Burma at gunpoint, forcing hundreds of others to return through
a campaign of fear and intimidation (see Thailand chapter). 
Following its defeat in these areas. the KNU made several offers
to the SLORC to engage in cease - fire talks.  While there were
meetings between the two sides, at the end of October there was
no sign of any progress.

Talks with other ethnic groups were more successful, but the
weakness of the military - cease - fires as solutions to long -
term ethnic -insurgencies became apparent as the SLORC failed
to deliver the promises of reconciliation and economic
development that formed the basis of the agreements. 
Moreover, the SLORC continued to refuse to discuss
lasting political solutions with the ethnic groups, claiming that
as a temporary, military government, it had no authority to
discuss political matters.

In the Karenni State, the Karenni Nationalities Progressive
Party (KNPP) signed a cease - fire agreement at a ceremony in
Loikaw on March 21, making it the fourth and final armed
group in the Karenni State to do so.  But on June 28, the KNPP
issued a statement claiming that the SLORC had broken the
terms of the agreement by sending an additional 2,000 troops
into its territory and continuing to take porters from the area. 
Two days later, fighting broke out after the SLORC launched
an attack on the KNPP headquarters near the Thai border.  The
SLORC insisted that the offensive was launched in order to
chase away illegal Thai loggers and to secure a route through
the KNPP territory, to that of drug warlord Khun Sa.  In later
addresses, the SLORC also claimed that it had positioned so
many troops in the area, close to the Thai border, because of
possible threats to national security during the time of the
general election in Thailand.

During the fighting some porters escaped into Thailand, but
these were relatively few, given the total numbers believed to
have been taken in Loikaw - township alone.  Those who did
arrive in Thailand told of witnessing the deaths of fellow porters
from landmines, stories which were confirmed by medical
workers who reported that in just one day, seven porters arrived
in a refugee camp all close to death as a result of landmine
injuries.  These reports led observers to believe that landmines
planted by both sides may have killed many porters who fled.

The fighting died down during the rainy - season in August and
September, though skirmishes were still reported.  By October,
despite the arrival of SLORC intermediaries in Thailand, there
was no sign of any new settlement and the KNPP claimed that
the SLORC was preparing for a major offensive against it and
had brought in a further 6,000 troops.

In the south. the New Mon State Party, (NMSP) signed a cease
- fire on June 29.  Discussions that had started between the
NMSP and the SLORC in 1993 were helped in 1995 by three
intermediaries, one of whom was an elected member of
parliament for the Mon National Democratic Front who had
been in jail from 1991 until November 1994.  While the
agreement itself, like all other previous agreements, was not
made public, it was known to have included the right of NMSP
troops to retain their arms within twenty small circles of
territory.  However, the SLORC did not agree to the right of the
Mon to receive developmental assistance from international
nongovernmental organizations (NGOS) in Thailand,  nor were
there clear decisions made on rights to the natural resources of
the area, especially logging and fishing rights.  The agreement
did include a program to repatriate the 11,000 Mon refugees in
Thailand, with no international monitoring or guarantees of
safety on return, fueling speculation that Thailand had played a
major part in pressuring the Mon to accept the terms.

In the northeast, fighting continued against drug warlord Khun
Sa in the Shan State.  In January the SLORC had announced its
resolve to crush his Muang Tai Army (MTA) by the end of the
year.  SLORC had also made this promise in 1994, but by
October the much - heralded final offensive had not
materialized.  However, Khun Sa suffered a major blow in
August when one of his military commanders broke off to found
his own Shan nationalist group, taking between 1,000 and
2,000 troops with him.  Then, in September, the United Wa
State Party, a group that has had a cease -fire agreement with
the SLORC since 1989, joined in the attack against Khun Sa,
allegedly in order to secure its own stake in the drug trafficking

As in other areas, the Burmese army impressed thousands of
civilians to work as porters in the offensive against Khun Sa.  In
January, indiscriminate aerial bombardments by the SLORC
forced hundreds of people to flee from villages near Kengtung,
and in March and April heavy fighting forced others to seek
refuge in Thailand (see Thailand chapter).

At the same time, inside the Karen State. thousands of villagers
living in areas where the Karen had been active were forcibly
relocated to areas under DKBA / SLORC control.  At first these
relocations were restricted to areas in Hlainbwe township near
the DKBA headquarters. but by July relocations were also
reported to have taken place as far South as Kyaukkyi and Pa-an townships.  Relocated families either were forced to live in
encampments guarded by the army or they fled to the forests. 
>From the camps, they were forced to work as laborers on road -
building and other infra structural projects for the army.

Indeed, forced labor was endemic in Burma.  As the SLORC
sought to open up the economy to international investors, it
forced tens of thousands of civilians and prisoners to rebuild the
country's long - neglected infrastructure.  During the year,
scores of people died on such projects from beatings, lack of
medical care and food, and sheer exhaustion. In the southwest,
at the site of the Rangoon - Kkyaukpyu road in Arakan State, at
least twelve people died during December 1994 and January
1995 from untreated fevers.  In the far north, some 3,000
people were taken from Putao, Kachin State in late 1994 to
work at a remote site on the Putao - Sumprabum road.  After
walking for six days to reach the site, they found that the rice
supplies that had been promised by the army had not arrived,
and they had to walk back.  Many died on the journey from
malaria and other diseases, exacerbated by lack of food.  In the
northwest, soldiers supervising the work killed a woman
working on the Pakokku - Kalemyo railway line in Chin State
after she had stopped working twice to feed her young baby.  In
the south, in Mon State, two to three families each week fled
from the site of the Ye - Tavoy railway to refugee camps in

In Arakan, Burma's most western state, refugees who had fled
into neighboring Bangladesh in 1992 returned to Burma.  Of
the 270,000 refugees, only 40,000 remained in camps by
October, though it was unclear how many of these would
eventually be accepted by the Burmese authorities.  Despite the
presence of fifteen UNHCR staff in Arakan and two NGOs
running programs to reintegrate the refugees, reports continued
of abuses of Muslims, especially of those Muslims who had not
left Burma in 1992.  In their Bulletin of June, the UNHCR
claimed that it had succeeded in getting an agreement to limit
the amount of forced labor for returnees to one day a week. 
However, the government had plans to build more than 1,200
miles of road in the area and it was unclear how the UNHCR
would be able to monitor the many forced labor sites in
Maungdaw and Buthidaung townships.  Muslims who remained
in 1992 were also subject to forced relocations and forced labor
and religious persecution and villages in Mro Haung and
Myauk Oo townships were forced to move to Buthidaung,
forming a Muslim enclave on the border with Bangladesh.

Following Daw Suu's release from house arrest in July,
members of her party, the NLD, were able to visit her freely. 
Among her first visitors were former chairmen of the NLD,  U
Tin Oo and U Kyi Maung, who had been released from jail in
March.  She was also able to meet foreign journalists,
ambassadors and other international representatives including
the U.S. ambassador to the U.N. Madeleine Albright, who
visited in early September.  Daw Suu's international profile was
enhanced by the showing of a videotaped speech she gave to
open the NGO Forum of the U.N. Women's Conference in
Beijing.  Daw Suu also held regular Sunday morning
gatherings outside her home, at which up to 200 people would
come to hear her speak.  She made her first trip outside
Rangoon on October 4, visiting the famous Thanmanuat monk
in the Karen State.  In press interviews, Daw Suu continued to
take a reconciliatory line, calling on the SLORC to begin
dialogue with her.  On October 11, the NLD reelected Daw
Suu, U Tin Oo and U Kyi Maung as general secretary, and vice
- chairmen of the party respectively. This was a move intended
to deprive the SLORC of their main justification for not talking
to her: she was not just an ordinary individual, but re - instated
as a party representative.

The National Convention, the SLORC's constitutional
assembly, had begun deliberations on a new constitution in
January, 1993, sat for six months from September 1994 to
March 1995 and was then suspended for six months until
October 24.  Nearly 600 of the 700 delegates were hand -
picked by the SLORC.  During this session, the question of
representation at the local and national level for ethnic groups
was discussed, including representation for those groups that
were not included under previous constitutions - the most
contentious issue for Burma's political future.  Despite strong
statements opposing the government proposals by ethnic
representatives and members of the NLD the National
Convention approved the formula of 'self - administered zones'
entitling groups to one representative in the House of
Nationalities.  In early October the convention was again
postponed for a further month, leading analysts to suggest that
the SLORC feared an NLD walk - out if Daw Suu was not
permitted to attend the convention.

There are no indigenous human rights organizations in Burma
and no international human rights organizations were permitted
to visit the country during the year.

U.N. bodies, however, were given limited access.  In January,
the International Labor Organization conducted a preliminary
mission to investigate the government's compliance with Article
87 of the ILO Convention concerning freedom of association. 
By the end of the year, however, the ILO had not decided to
conduct a formal mission.  In October, U.N. Special Rapporteur
to Burma Prof Yozo Yokota went to Burma for the fourth
consecutive year and met with Daw Aung San Suu Kyi for the
first time; his previous requests to see her had all been denied.

At the same time, the government refused to allow international
monitoring of prisons.  The International Committee of the Red
Cross (ICRC) announced on June 16 that it would close its
office in Rangoon the following month due to the failure of
negotiations with the SLORC on allowing the ICRC regular
and confidential access to prisoners.

The Role of the International Community

On December 13, 1994, the U.N. General Assembly passed the
toughest ever resolution on Burma.  A key part of the resolution
called on the secretary - general of the U.N. to assist in
implementing the resolution, including facilitating a political
dialogue between the SLORC, the democratic opposition and
ethnic minorities. On that basis, Alvaro de Soto, the assistant
secretary - general for political affairs, spent two days in
Rangoon in February 1995 to follow up meetings held in
Rangoon in November.  At the U.N. Commission on Human
Rights in March, the mandate of the special rapporteur to
Burma was once again renewed.  At the same meeting, the U.N.
secretary - general presented a report in which he complained
that Mr. de Soto had not been permitted to meet with Daw Suu
but made it clear that meetings with the SLORC would
continue in the spring.  No further meetings took place until
after the release of Daw Suu.  Mr. de Soto went to Burma again
in August and met with Daw Suu, but was unable to see Gen. 
Khin Nyunt, the Secretary 1 of the SLORC.  Press reports
suggested that the SLORC was not prepared to enter into
meaningful discussions with the U.N.'s representatives.

The efforts of the secretary - general's office failed to receive
adequate support from the international community.  No
governments took concerted action to exert pressure on the
SLORC to ensure that the resolution's recommendations were
implemented.  Indeed, when the SLORC launched its attack
against the KNU, just days after the resolution was passed, only
the U.S. government reacted with a strong statement,
condemning the use of civilian porters in the January offensive.
In mid - February, the European Union issued a similar
statement, but days later the German Deputy - Foreign Minister,
Helmut Schaefer visited Rangoon to continue the policy of
'critical dialogue' adopted by the European Union in 1994.

Worse yet, governments did not back up their rhetoric on
Burma by denying the SLORC the benefit of bilateral aid and
investment.  Instead, at the end of February, the British embassy
in Rangoon launched the second 'British Week' aimed at
encouraging British business in Burma.  On March 18 - as the
SLORC - backed DKBO attacks on refugees in Thailand were
at their height -- Japan announced an agreement to give Burma
an $11 million grant for "agricultural development."  In April, 
Tokyo also granted Burma debt relief worth $4 million.

Following the release of Daw Suu in July, the attitude of some
governments toward the SLORC further softened - notably
Japan, which had previously maintained support for the
international consensus on Burma.  Differences in approach
emerged even on the day of her release. with Western countries
reacting in a spirit of "cautious optimism" and Asian
governments, such as Japan and Thailand, welcoming the move
as "substantive progress." Later, Tokyo indicated it planned to
resume some Official Development Assistance (ODA) projects
suspended in principle since 1998.

(See chapter on Japan for details.) South Korea also rewarded
the SLORC with a government loan of $16.8 million in

China continued to be a key supporter of the SLORC.  The
relationship was enhanced by the visit to Rangoon of Chinese
Premier Li Peng in December 1994, followed by a flurry of
diplomatic trips between the two countries during the year,
including a delegation of 150 Burmese officials and
businessmen who took part in the Yunnan trade fair in August. 
Arms supplies remained a crucial element of the Sino -
Burmese relationship.  Throughout the year, arms shipments
arrived in Rangoon from a November 1994 deal reportedly
including $400 million of helicopters. armored vehicles, rifles
and parachutes.  Several Chinese naval vessels, purchased with
a $40 interest - free loan, also arrived in June.

The ever increasing closeness between China and Burma was
disquieting for Burma's other neighbors, notably India and
prompted India to reopen official border trade in April for the
first time since the 1962 military coup.  The Association of
Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN)  also sought to increase
economic influence in Burma, and by March Singapore had
become the second largest investor, with projects totaling $294

However, relations with Thailand, which had been the
originator of  ASEAN's "constructive engagement" policy
soured during the year.  When DKBA / SLORC troops attacked
refugees, Thai police and villagers in Thailand, the Thai
government maintained a policy of appeasement, barely even
criticizing the SLORC for the attacks.  The SLORC, on the
other hand, showed no such restraint in condemning what it saw
as Thailand's un - neighborly acts.  It accused Thailand of
supporting Khun Sa by allowing his forces to seek medical care
and obtain food supplies in Thailand and in August the SLORC
condemned the murder of a Burmese fisherman by his Thai
bosses, who were also illegally fishing in Thai waters.  The
construction of the Mae Sot - Myawaddy "Friendship Bridge"
was suspended in June, and by September all border crossings
between the two countries were closed.

Nevertheless,  Thailand still supported the SLORC in its bid to
become a member of ASEAN. Bangkok's position was made
public at the ASEAN Ministerial Conference in July when
Foreign Minister U Ohn Gyaw acceded to the Treaty of Amity
and Cooperation, the first step towards membership.  During the
ASEAN meeting, Australia and the European Union urged the
ASEAN countries not to grant Burma membership too rapidly,
insisting that the SLORC needed to do much more than release
Daw Suu.  But the ASEAN governments ignored this warning
and arranged for a special conference to take place in December
to assess ways in which they could facilitate Burma's and
Cambodia's entry into the forum in the shortest possible time.
In the U.S., the Clinton administration faced congressional
pressure to respond to the "further deterioration of human rights
in Burma" as described by sixty - one members of the House of
Representatives in a letter to President Clinton on June 1, 1995. 
On June 21, the administration announced that it would reward
SLORC's cooperation in allowing the Drug Enforcement
Administration (DEA) to undertake a joint opium yield survey
by stepping up some forms of anti - narcotics assistance to
Burma.  This included an agreement to provide limited in -
country - training for SLORC's anti - narcotics enforcement
agencies as well as an exchange of information on anti - drug
operations.  This decision contradicted earlier administration
statements that without progress on each of the three fronts of
human rights, democratization, and narcotics control, an
upgrading of U.S. cooperation could not take place.  In June,
the House of Representatives adopted by a decisive 359-38 vote
an amendment to the fiscal year 1996 foreign appropriations
bill prohibiting anti - narcotics assistance to Burma, including
training. As of the end of October, the bill was still awaiting
final approval by Congress.

Following the release of Daw Suu, President Clinton issued a
statement welcoming the news but expressing "concern about a
number of serious and unresolved human rights problems in
Burma." The White House then dispatched Ambassador
Albright to visit Daw Suu and senior members of the SLORC in
early September.  She delivered a tough message calling for
"fundamental progress toward democracy, and respect for
human rights" before relations with the U.S. could be improved
or the U.S. would consider lifting the ban on World Bank loans
to Burma imposed since 1988.

However, while the State Department did not rule out the
possibility of further economic sanctions, such as prohibitions
on private U.S. investment, the administration took no moves to
implement this option.  By 1995, the U.S. was the fourth largest
investor in Burma with investment primarily in the oil sector,
totaling some $203 million.  An abortive attempt to impose
comprehensive sanctions, including a ban on all U.S.
investment in Burma was led by Senator Mitch McConnell,
who introduced legislation in July.  But he failed in his attempt
to insert the bill as a last minute amendment to the 1996 foreign
aid legislation  

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