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The BurmaNet News, May 13, 1998

------------------------ BurmaNet ------------------------
"Appropriate Information Technologies, Practical Strategies"

The BurmaNet News: May 13, 1998
Issue #1004


11 May, 1998
By Aung San Suu Kyi

"Czechs and Us"

Eight years ago, about this time of high summer, I had a conversation with
some of my "minders" (I was under house arrest then) about the symbols that
various political parties had chosen for the elections that were to take
place soon.  It had been decided by the powers that be that the people of
Burma were not yet sophisticated enough to vote for parties by name and
that the process would be simplified if each party were represented by a
symbol. There were hats and musical instruments and household objects,
including a clock that showed 9 o'clock.  Why 9, people mused:  was it
because that was the lucky number for the military regime?  In that event,
the clock became the symbol of the party of the democratically elected
first prime minister of independent Burma, while the National Unity Party
(NUP), which supported the junta, was represented by a stalk of rice paddy
(canny choice, that one, supposed to attract members of Burma's large
agricultural community; but the farmers and peasants of Burma were even
cannier, the NUP won only 10 out of over 470 parliamentary seats).

"It would be very appropriate if the symbol for the National League for
Democracy (NLD) were a locked prison door," I remarked.

"Oh no, that would be most inauspicious," said one of the nicer minders, in
all seriousness.

"But everybody would know that such a symbol could only represent the NLD
and they would not mistakenly vote for another party," I explained.

The minders were at a loss for words for a few moments, then they directed
the conversation to more innocuous symbols.  Although it was not a locked
prison door, the symbol that fell to the lot of the NLD could not have been
better:  It was a /khamauk/, a wide, conical bamboo hat, the kind worn by
peasants and other outdoor laborers throughout much of South and Southeast
Asia.  I heard on a BBC news program a short time before the elections that
the portents were good for the NLD, because at a football match up in the
Sagaing division the spectators had turned up /en force/ wearing khamauks.

All that was eight years ago, but I recalled vividly that conversation
about symbols recently when reading a collection of writings by a Czech
dissident writer of the 1970s and 1980s.  These /feuilletons/ had
originally been brought out by the samizdat Padlock Editions, which
reminded me of my whimsy about locked prison doors.  In "A Cup of Coffee
with My Interrogator," Ludvik Vaculik described some of his experiences
with members of the Czech secret police and used the expression, "my
lieutenant colonel" to refer to the officer who habitually interrogated
him.  I could not suppress a reminiscent smile as I thought of the
references I too had made at one time to "my lieutenant colonel."  He had
started out as a major and is now a full colonel, but is sadly no longer
"ours" because he no longer seems to be directly connected with the
activities of the NLD.  We understand that the subjects of his attention
these days are of a much more passive nature.  Does he find the change
restful, I wonder, or does he miss the hurly burly of life with dissidents
just a little?

Dissident minds often run along similar tracks because their encounters
with authority are often of a similar nature.  Let me reiterate that my
preferred definition of "dissident" is "one who disagrees with the aims and
procedures of the government."  It is fascinating for us to read about the
experiences of others who have struggled against authoritarian regimes, to
engage in a stimulating mental comparing of notes.  I must confess to a
particular affinity for the writings of Czech dissidents (or perhaps one
should say ex-dissidents, except that I think perhaps some of them will be
dissidents for life, their intellectual combativeness ever ready to
question the ways of authority, whosoever that may be).

My awareness of Czechoslovakia started as a child in the good old days of
Burmese democracy, which were the bad old days of communism in
Czechoslovakia.  I was taken to an exhibition where there was a variety of
cumbersome agriculture machinery and quantities of cut glass.  It was a
baffling introduction to the production policy of a socialist state.  There
must have been other exhibits, but my memory has retained only the farm
equipment, which included a stubby tractor, painted flamingo-tangerine,
displayed in state in the middle of a large marquee; sawdust on the ground;
ranks of chandeliers (who in Burma would have bought them?  Were they
presented to members of the government?); and an antiseptic smell which I
could not identify.  I cannot pretend that the impression I gained of
Czechoslovakia from that exhibition was entirely favorable, but the point
was that an impression had been made.

It is a considerable leap from tractors and chandeliers to the good
soldiers Svejk and Charter 77.  A sketchy knowledge of Masaryk and 1968 and
articles about Czech food in gourmet magazines constituted little bridges
here and there along the years, but it was still a leap.  Once arrived at
Charter 77, however, I was on what was soon to become familiar ground.
Cerny's declaration that "there is nothing illegal or anti-state in the
idea of a voluntary movement of citizens to defend human rights and civil
liberties" could have been the slogan of the movement for democracy in
Burma.  The principled stand of the intellectuals of Czechoslovakia
inspired me and the news of the quick, bloodless victory of their velvet
revolution delighted me during the days of my house arrest.  As the
similarities between us underlined the tedious sameness of authoritarian
regimes, the differences showed that as far as repressiveness, there were
varying grades. The military regime of Burma is certainly one of those
which could make a reasonable bid for grade A.  Reading the letters of
Vaclav Havel to his wife, Olga, I was as much struck by his philosophical
and literary talents as by the fact that he was allowed to write them at
all.  True, the number of pages he could write were limited, his letters
were censored so rigorously he had exercise considerable ingenuity to
convey his thoughts to the world outside, an that there were times when he
was deprived of his letter rights.  But still, he could write letters to
his wife from prison! How many people in the world realize that political
prisoners in Burma are not allowed reading or writing material of any kind
and that the only way they can communicate with their families, if they are
not allowed visiting rights, is by smuggling out clandestine messages which
often cost them a considerable sum in the way of bribes?

There are in the prisons of Burma now men and women of high intellectual
and moral fiber, writers and journalists whom the Chartists would, I am
sure, recognize as their peers.  In particular, I would like to mention U
Win Tin, a member of the Central Executive Committee of the NLD, who is
serving his third consecutive term in Insein Jail.  He is in his 70s and in
ill health but indomitable.  We understand that his last sentence, imposed
last year within months of the conclusion of his second term, was in
connection with a handwritten volume that the prisoner had managed to bring
out to commemorate a political event.  One day I hope that volume may be
published throughout the world in many languages including, of course, Czech.


9 May, 1998
By Cesar Chelala

Special to The Japan Times

Since assuming power in 1988, Myanmar's military junta has transformed a
country with a vibrant economy into one of the most backward and repressive
countries in Asia. The continuing deterioration of the economic situation
and a leadership more interested in keeping its own privileges than in the
welfare of the population have had a significant negative impact on the
health of Myanmar's people, particularly its children and women.

According to UNICEF, the national infant mortality rate in 1996 was 105 out
of every 1,000 live births, as compared to 33 in Vietnam, 31 in Thailand
and 11 in Malaysia. One million children are reportedly malnourished, 9
percent to 12 percent of them severely so. The high rate of babies with
birth weight below 2,500g (estimated at 23.5 percent in 1991) is probably a
reflection of the high malnutrition levels among pregnant women.

As in many other developing countries that lack potable water and adequate
sanitation, major causes of children's disease and morality in Myanmar are
intestinal and respiratory infections, malaria, malnutrition-which the
government has tried to address through a family health care program-and
vaccine preventable diseases.

Diarrheal diseases in children under 5 account for approximately 18 percent
of all deaths and are the second most important cause of death in children
in that age group. Mortality rates increase sharply when diarrhea is
complicated by malnutrition or other diseases. Because of poor sanitation,
cholera outbreaks occur every year in Myanmar, particularly during the
rainy season. Preventing disease in children has been rendered more
difficult by the widespread lack of essential medications. Reportedly,
medicines donated by international agencies are stolen by corrupt military
officers and sold on the black market.

The Universal Child Immunization program, which aims at immunizing children
against vaccine-preventable childhood diseases, and which is conducted with
UNICEF's support, reaches less than 60 percent of children nationwide and
an even lower percentage in some areas. Achieving higher immunization rates
has been hindered by security concerns, transportation problems, lack of
electricity-essential for keeping many vaccines-and shortage of health
workers, especially in remote border areas.

Women in Myanmar face considerable health problems due to poor living
conditions, inadequate health services and lack of basic education.
Maternal mortality rates, an important indication of the quality of women's
health care, are 580 per 100,000 live births, as compared to 80 for
Malaysia and 10 for Singapore. Most maternal deaths in the country are due
to induced abortions, largely conducted clandestinely and under unsanitary

Although midwives are the main providers of health care to women in rural
communities there is a shortage of them, particularly in rural areas of
minority states. Only 10 percent of the rural population has direct access
to maternity care provided by a midwife. UNICEF (which has compiled among
the most complete health statistics in the country), has provided
substantial support so that midwives can meet the basic health needs of
people at the community level.

AIDS continues to be an important public health problem in the region,
particularly in Myanmar in 1996, the World Health Organization estimated
that approximately 500,000 people in the country -close to 1 percent of the
total population-had been infected with HIV. Some experts, however, believe
that the real figure is at least twice as high.

The health situation of the population cannot be isolated from the
political situation in the country. Under present conditions, it is
possible that people's health will continue to deteriorate. The only way to
reverse this situation is for the government to revise its priorities and
set the health and well-being of the people over military buildup. Given
the track record of this regime, however, only a drastic change in
government will make this possible.

Cesar Chelala is an international medico/ consultant residing in New York.


13 May, 1998

Appointment of Deputy Ministers

[BurmaNet Editor's Note: The TV Myanmar Network is state-run.]

The State Peace and Development Council has appointed the following persons
as deputy ministers; their respective portfolios are mentioned next to
their names:

U Set Maung, the Office of the Chairman of the State Peace and Development
U Khin Maung Win, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs;
U Tint Swe, the Ministry of Construction.

Signed by order: Lt. Gen. Khin Nyunt, secretary-1, the State Peace and
Development Council.


10 May, 1998
By Peter Hadfield

"With Respect"

There was a worldwide fast last week in opposition to oil companies doing
business in Burma.  Among the culprits, our own dearly beloved Nippon Oil,
which does not seem to mind operating in a country famous for its
authoritarian government, human rights abuses and massive oil reserves.

As he began his fast last week, Ken Kawasaki of Burmese Relief
Center--Japan in Nara issued a statement:  "By taking part, we here in
Japan are showing our solidarity and we're also extending the campaign to
the Japanese government and to Nippon Oil.  Our message is very simple:
Stop supporting this murderous regime."

Doing business with thugs may help Nippon Oil get its gas, but it is
obviously not very good PR, not to mention slightly immoral.  So why do it?
A company spokesman at first said it would be "difficult" to give me a
comment on why his company did business with the military regime in Burma.
When pressed, they offered up the following statement:  "Our business is
exploring for and developing hydrocarbon resources where these can be found
to exist in the world and providing quality petroleum products to the
people.  In the pursuit of this business, we operate in many countries and
encounter a variety of political systems.  Unlike many other industries
that often can choose sites for other operations, the oil industry must go
where hydrocarbon deposits lie or are expected to lie."

Let's hold it there for a minute because the Nippon Oil statement is
starting to sound a lot like a statement from Atlantic Richfield (Arco),
which also operates in Burma.  Last week, it offered up a similar version
of why it does business with the military regime formerly knows as State
Law and Order Restoration Council (SLORC).

George Ross, manager of Corporate External Affairs for Arco said, "You can
only find oil and gas where it is.  Unfortunately, a lot of the times these
are countries with rotten regimes that are politically repressive, that are
undesirable, but oil is where it is."

Executives at Arco therefore seem top share with executives at Nippon Oil a
remarkable genetic trait -- an inability to stay away from prospective oil
sites.  Nippon Oil says it *must* go where the hydrocarbons lie, and Arco
seems to agree.  Yet other oil companies seem perfectly happy to stay away
from Burma because of the nature of the regime there.

Nippon Oil says the type of regime has nothing to do with them. "Regarding
whether there is a violation of human rights, this is a political decision
and we believe such political decisions would be made by governmental
authorities.  It would be inappropriate that a company is required to
terminate operations in a particular country because advocates for human
rights call for sanctions against that particular country."

What Nippon Oil fails to mention is that the democratically elected
government of Burma has asked them *not* to exploit oil and gas deposits in
that country because it is providing money for an illegal and oppressive
regime.  By doing  business with army generals who hold power through the
barrel of a gun -- rather than the government that was overwhelmingly voted
into office through free elections eight years ago Nippon Oil *is* clearly
making a political decision.

Readers may want to put this to Nippon Oil directly by calling its public
relations department at (03) 3502-1124.  Please remember, though, that
staff in the PR office are extremely busy and may not have time to listen
to lengthy explanations about how the Burmese regime has employed slave
labor on oil and gas pipelines and how it imprisons and tortures opponents
and ignored election results eight years ago that overwhelming voted for
the opposition National League for Democracy.

Nippon Oil's PR department can also be contacted by fax at (03) 3502-9351.
But, again, long faxes explaining the situation in Burma could tie up
Nippon Oil's fax machine and cause unnecessary difficulties to the staff
and company operations.  This would be very regrettable.

*Note:  The author refers to former Japanese prime minister Morihiro
Hosokawa, who recently announced that his withdrawal from politics.  Send
comments to the Mainichi at <mdn@xxxxxxxxxxxxxx>.


12 May, 1998

Yangon - A senior United Nations official has met with Myanmar's ruling
military leaders on government efforts to eradicate opium production, news
reports said on Tuesday. 

Pino Arlacchi, executive director of the U.N. Drug Abuse Control and Crime
Prevention Organisation, met on Monday with Secretary One of Myanmar's
ruling State Peace and Development Council, Lieutenant General Khin Nyunt,
the official reports said. 

They discussed combating drug abuse, cultivation of opium-substitute crops
and development matters, the reports said. 

Arlacchi, who arrived in Myanmar earlier on Monday, was accompanied by U.N.
Drug Control Programme (UNDCP) representative Richard Dickins. 

On Tuesday, Arlacchi and government officials flew to northern Shan State
to study anti-drug activities, a Yangon-based UNDCP official told Reuters. 

``Mr Arlacchi and his party are scheduled to return to Yangon on May 13 and
to hold discussions with ambassadors, including those from donor
countries,'' he said. 

Western governments in the past have accused the Myanmar junta of profiting
from the opium trade. The government has said it receives insufficient
international support to help it combat opium poppy cultivation and drug

Anti-drug agencies estimate more than half the world's opium is cultivated
in the ``golden triangle,'' the area where Myanmar meets Thailand and Laos. 

In April, the United States promised at an anti-drug seminar in Yangon to
grant the UNDCP three million dollars and Japan offered $800,000 to support
drug eradication in Myanmar.


11 May, 1998
By Paul Majendie 

London - Nigerian human rights activist Ken Wiwa on Monday pleaded for the
release of two Burmese satirical comedians as Amnesty International
launched a new campaign to free dissidents around the world. 

Wiwa, whose father, minority rights activist Ken Saro-Wiwa, was executed in
1995, launched his plea after returning from a visit to Burma which he
called a totalitarian state where human rights are systematically abused. 

He took up the case of comedians Pa Pa Lay and Lu Zaw who Amnesty said were
jailed for seven years for singing comic songs about Burma's ruling
generals, satirising the military regime and telling jokes about state

Amnesty, the human rights pressure group, and the Body Shop chain of stores
are inviting customers in 30 countries to ``make a thumbprint to support 12
human rights defenders across the globe.'' This will help to publicise
their cases. 

``This campaign is an attempt to highlight lesser known activists,'' said
Wiwa, who is writing a book about his father and went to Burma to see Nobel
Peace laureate Aung Sang Suu Kyi. 

``I had to do it undercover. I was made aware that anybody who goes to see
her may be harassed,'' he told Reuters on return from his trip to Myanmar. 

``For my pains, I was detained by the military for two hours. They gave me
the third degree and turned my bags inside out.'' 

But he said that she still maintained high morale: ``The opposition has
been ruthlessly crushed but she is still committed to securing democracy in
her country. She is so sure of the right of her cause.'' 

Myanmar's pro-democracy leader was held under house arrest for six years
until her release in July 1995. She won the peace prize in 1991 for her
non-violent efforts to bring about democracy in her homeland. 

Wiwa offered a downbeat assessment of his own country where Nigerian ruler
General Sani Abacha secured the backing of all five legal parties to stand
as sole candidate for presidential elections on August 1 in the oil-rich
African state of 104 million people. 

Western countries say a one-horse race for Nigeria's top job does not
conform with their ideas of democracy. 

``The problems are deep-seated and go beyond what happens on August 1,'' he

``There are structural problems. It is a country not at ease with itself. I
hope advocates of peaceful change will be heard,'' he said. 

But he warned: ``It is difficult to be optimistic about a country where the
economy is failing rapidly and conditions deteriorating...It is very
difficult to see any real substantial change in the near future.''