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The BurmaNet News: December 10, 199

------------------------ BurmaNet ------------------------     
"Appropriate Information Technologies, Practical Strategies"     
The BurmaNet News: December 10, 1997        
Issue #888


December 10, 1997

The Nation, Reuters 

THE Burmese military government yesterday pledged to help Thailand
repatriate close to one million illegal Burmese workers and agreed to set up
a joint subcommittee to begin a of classification to facilitate their re-entry.

The agreement was praised by a government official as a good sign, as
Rangoon was previously reluctant to Cooperate on the issue arguing they were
not convinced all the migrant workers were Burmese.

The issues of illegal Burmese workers and the influx of replies were brought
up in talks between Burmese foreign minister Ohn Gyaw, who was re-appointed
as foreign minister under Burma's newly created State Peace and Development
Council (SPDC), and Prime Minister Chuan Leekpai.

Details of implementation were hammered out later in a meeting of the
Thai-Burmese Joint committee (JC).

Foreign Minister Surin Pitsuwan said after the meeting that Ohn Gyaw brought
a greeting from SPDC to Chuan and pledged full cooperation in sorting out
existing bilateral problems such as drugs, displaced persons, illegal
workers and economic cooperation.

Ohn Gyaw, who was here to attend the fourth JC meeting, is the highest level
Burmese government official Chuan has met to date.

Chuan, an advocate of human rights and democracy, never visited Burma during
his Previous tenure and never invited any Burmese leader to visit Thailand.

According to Surin, Burma's political situation and concern over the
country's human rights record were not brought up during the talk. But the
issue will be discussed when leaders from the Association of Southeast Asian
Nations (Asean) meet next week in Kuala Lumpur for their informal summit,

 Instead, Chuan offered to provide technical expertise to help Burma,
develop its agricultural industry, Rangoon's goal for the next century.

Chuan will meet Burmese leader Gen Than Shwe in Kuala Lumpur during the
summit next week to seek an end to chronic bilateral problems. He also
extended an invitation to Than Shwe and the ruling junta's Secretary Two Lt
Gen Khin Nyunt to visit Thailand.

Despite bilateral problems on issues such as illegal workers, refugees and
border tensions, Thailand supported Burma's membership into Asean in July
hoping that it would help improve bilateral relations. Surin said Thailand,
as Asean's coordinator for Asean-European Union dialogue, will try to help
smooth Burmese EU relations before next year's Asia Europe Meeting (Asem) in
London. The Europe an Union has refused to deal with Burma due to its
tarnished human rights record.

"I personally feel that this could be a beginning of some other changes,
positive changes that could follow," he said. "At least that's the feeling
that Asean countries have ... the change in Myanmar [Burma] is going to lead
to some positive developments," Surin said when asked if the recent change
in name of the Burmese government had brought about a change in policy.
Yesterday's Joint Committee meeting culminated in the announcement of the
formation of a subcommittee to tackle Burmese immigrant labour.

Surin, who co-chaired the one-day meeting with Ohn Gyaw, said the
subcommittee will soon meet to discuss ways to classify migrant workers.

After the screening, those people will be dealt with in accordance with
their status and international practices, he said. Some of the workers
either belong to various ethnic minority groups in Burma or political
dissident camps.

Surin put the number of Burmese migrant workers at 98,000, but the actual
figure is expected to reach over 700,000. There are also some 115,000
refugees sheltered in Thai camps.



December 10, 1997

Kulachada Chaipipat, The Nation

THE United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees has proposed a formula
that could include representatives of Thailand, Burma, Burmese refugees and
the UNHCR to resolve the plight of the thousands of Burmese refugees living
along the Thai-Burmese border.

The initiative came after the UNHCR said the number of Burmese refugees had
increased this year.

"We need a certain formula to unblock the situation," UNHCR regional
representative Amelia Bonifacio said.

The UNHCR has a limited mandate to assist Burmese refugees since it has no
access to the Burmese side of the border and cannot provide assistance once
they return to the country. Thailand does not regard these people as
refugees but as displaced persons, though it allows the UNHCR access to
camps on the Thai side.

Bonifacio said a combination of factors had contributed to the increase in
refugees, including the continued fighting in Burma, forced labour and other
forms of abuse as well as an economic downturn.

She said the arrival the Chuan administration and the fact that Thailand's
economic situation could intensify efforts to resolve the refugee problem
made it an opportune time to initiate talks with the government.

The UNHCR has tried several times to talk with Rangoon but failed. Bonifacio
said the UNHCR representative in Rangoon had restarted talk with Burmese
leaders after the State Law and Order Restoration Council renamed itself the
State Peace and Development Council.

She said the UNHCR had the impression that the new body was more receptive
to talking about the plight of the refugees.

Bonifacio, however, said that resolving the problem depended primarily on
the successful outcome of talks between Rangoon's military junta and its
political opponents, including the National League for Democracy led by Aung
San Suu Kyi and the armed Karen Nation Union.

"We never lack international support on the question of Burma, but bilateral
and regional initiatives need to be put together to unblock the situation,"
she said.

Bonifacio's approach to the problem is in line with the UNHCR position that
to end refugee problems in general, political settlements to conflicts need
to be implemented in addition to humanitarian approaches employed by the
UNHCR and other aid agencies.

In a statement released on Monday to mark the launch of State of the World's
Refugees, UNHCR chief Sadako Ogata said that despite fewer wars between
countries, civilians are being targeted as never before in about 35 ethnic
or communal conflicts around the globe.  

Ogata said that while humanitarian aid continues to play an important part
in safeguarding the security of people, it is limited in that it cannot end

She said political settlements must be followed by longer-term efforts to
consolidate peace and security in trouble zones. 



December 10, 1997

Letter to the Editor

I would like to set the record straight regarding the letter to the editor
by Mike Carey (Dec 2). Carey was the reporter for the documentary "Singapore
Sling" for SBS television Australia, released in October 1996.

It exposed the investment links between the Singapore government and drug
trafficker Lo Hsing Han of Burma. Carey provided me with documents, some of
which my partner Dennis Bernstein _ who had not seen the documentary or ever
spoken to Carey _ was making arrangements to obtain independently. Carey
with all the documents that I obtained during our 1997 investigation into
Singapore. "Singapore's Blood Money" (US magazine The Nation, Oct 20) was a
new and different piece, based on our discovery of an ongoing, international
narcotics investigation into Singapore's business partner, Asia World,
chaired by Lo Haing Han.

We had many sources, Our investigation included interviews with high-level
narcotics and US Government officials, the former solicitor general of
Singapore, attorneys in, Singapore, Morgan Guaranty, the Singapore Embassy,
the Irish Stock Exchange and 1997 documents from the Myanmar Fund, Asia
World, and Amnesty International,

In addition, we have done extensive research into Lo Hsing Han and his
activities with Asia World, as we reported in our 1996 Nation (US) piece
"People of the Opiate". 

As to the "winding up" of the Myanmar Fund: The fund was placed into
liquidation on Aug 29, beginning a lengthy process which was still in
progress when our article came out, as confirmed by the Singapore Embassy.
This decision to shut down the fund was made following two months of
persistent phone interviews and fax correspondence which I conducted with
the Myanmar Fund, Morgan Guaranty in New York and Tokyo, the Singapore
Embassy in Washington and the Irish Stock Exchange.

Carey Made a second error when he said that the Myanmar Fund owned 25 per
cent of Asia World belonging to Lo's son Steven Law.  In fact, the fund
owned 25 per cent of one of Asia World's many sub-subsidiaries, Asia World
Industries, and not the whole conglomerate.

Carey wonders why the Singapore government did not respond more strongly to
his piece, as they did here by divesting.  The reason this article had such
a powerful impact was that it reported on a narcotics investigation that had
implications for the Singapore government, the Burmese governments, and one
of the most prestigious financial institutions in the United States. 

It is regrettable that Carey did not receive the acknowledgment he desired
in "Singapore's Blood Money", although the article did reference his
documentary.  About 1,000 words of our original Piece were cut by the
Magazine, which had included more about "Singapore Sling".


Mill Valley, California



December 10, 1997

Neighbours will mark 50th year of relations

Bhanravee Tansubhapol, Achara Ashayagachat

Thailand and Burma Yesterday edged to cooperate on culture and tourism as
the two countries will celebrate their 50th year of diplomatic ties next year.

Foreign Minister Surin Pitsuwan said the two countries would sign a cultural
cooperation agreement next year before the anniversary, which falls on
August 24.

The plan was reached in yesterday's meeting of the Thai-Burmese Joint
Commission attended by Burmese Foreign Minister Ohn Gyaw.

Burma would consider issuing a joint visa on arrival for Thai tourist groups
visiting Pagan and Mandalay from Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai, he said, adding
that Burma would study a plan to avoid double tax payments with Thailand and
resume border trade.

Meanwhile, Director-General of the Economic Affairs Department Kobsak
Chutikul said Burma would officially join the Bangladesh-India-Sri
Lanka-Thailand Economic Cooperation (Bist-ec) bloc.

Deputy Foreign Minister Nyunt Shwe is due to sign the agreement in Bangkok
on December 22 when he will attend a ministerial meeting of the (Bist-ec) bloc.

The sub-regional trade grouping, launched in Bangkok last June, is aimed at
deepening economic ties between South Asian neighbours.



December 10, 1997

Too preoccupied with the country's many economic difficulties

Prime Minister Chuan Leekpai said yesterday he would not formally visit
Burma or other Asean countries for the moment because of the need to
concentrate on economic questions.

The announcement came after he held talks at Government House with Burmese
Foreign Minister Ohn Gyaw, who invited him on behalf of Prime Minister Gen
Than Shwe to visit Rangoon.

Mr Chuan said he would meet Gen Than Shwe, chairman of the newly formed
State Peace and Development Council, on Monday as the two planned to attend
an informal Asean summit in Kuala Lumpur with eight Asean leaders.

A bilateral meeting had not been confirmed as it was being arranged, he added.

Last week army chief Chettha Thanajaro said he was trying to press for the
premier, who is also defence minister, to visit Burma to boost ties.

Foreign Minister Surin Pitsuwan said Burma and other Asean states would
understand his prime minister's decision not to visit other members because
economic issues were his top priority.

It has become customary for the new Thai prime minister to pay a courtesy
visit to other member countries of Asean. Mr Chuan did this when he was
prime minister last time.

The deputy director-general of the East Asian Affairs Department, Pisan
Manawapat, said an arrangement was being made for the premier to meet
Laotian Prime Minister Khamtay Siphandone, Vietnamese Premier Phan Van Khai
and UN Secretary General Kofi Annan at the two-day summit.

Mr Chuan met all Asean leaders except Burma, Laos and Vietnam at the
Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum last month in Vancouver Burma, Laos
and Vietnam are not members of Apec.

The UN chief is invited by the host to join the Asean 30th anniversary



December 10, 1997

Plan announced to form sub-committee

Nussara Sawatsawang - Bhanravee Tansubbapol

Time will be the test of a new Thai-Burmese effort to deal with illegal
workers and refugees.

Foreign Minister Surin Pitsuwan announced plans at the end of the
Thai-Burmese Joint Commission meeting yesterday with his Burmese counterpart
Ohn Gyaw to form a subcommittee.

Mr Surin expressed confidence the problems could be solved but acknowledged
the effort might "take quite a long time" to implement. Illegal migration
"must he addressed seriously", he said at the meeting's opening ceremony.

The sub-committee, to comprise agencies including the Interior Ministry and
National Security Council, will look for means to repatriate illegal
immigrants and refugees encamped along the border.

NSC deputy secretary-general Kachadpai Buruspatana welcomed the decision,
saying the Labour and Social Welfare Ministry had to take the lead with
clear guidelines on how to tackle illegal labour.

Thailand hosts up as many as one million Burmese who sneaked in to seek
low-paid jobs, according to unofficial figures. But the NSC puts the figure
at 780,000 labourers. Up to 115,000 Burmese refugees have fled fighting
between the junta and ethnic insurgents, according to the United Nations
High Commissioner for Refugees.

Bangkok has expressed concern over the matter for quite some time, but it
has taken the present economic crisis to look for decisive measures. The
seriousness was , reflected last week when the Ministry of Labour and Social
Affairs came up with an idea to crack down on illegal workers to secure jobs
for Thais, two million of whom could be out of work next year.

Analysts had been pessimistic about the proposed body until Thailand
received a strong commitment from Burma to accept their people .'back and
help in their return.

The Burmese government, which has long been cautious over ethnic insurgents,
has denied them repatriation unless they are proven Burmese nationals.

So far Rangoon recognises only about 7,700 Burmese residing on Thai soil,
according to-a labour official. Thai officials argued that Rangoon's
condition was not practical because the government had never issued them
with identity documents.

Failures to tackle the problems in the past also stemmed from a lack of
co-ordination among Thai state agencies which were driven by vested interests.

The Ministry of Labour and Social Welfare preferred an agreement with Burma
on providing jobs and monitoring them, but the NSC pushed for cabinet
approval last June to legalise illegal immigrants by extending their work
permits for two years in 43 provinces.

The cabinet resolution was criticised on the basis it would benefit business
operators who wanted cheap labour.

Mr Kachadpai admitted recently that the policy failed because only 323,123
workers registered and it could not prevent newcomers.

Thailand could not forcibly repatriate Burmese refugees unless a long-term
ceasefire between Rangoon and the ethnic minorities, especially the Karen
National Union, is guaranteed.