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Traders Hit by Myanmar Policies
- Subject: Traders Hit by Myanmar Policies
- From: kzy@xxxxxxxxxxxxxx
- Date: Sun, 17 May 1998 06:50:00
Maung Aye in the Asia Week's Power 50 of 1998
Strange Dissident Bedfellows
Agony and Anger
Traders hit by Myanmar policies
S'pore firm faces delay in project
What next for battered Jakarta?
Asia Week (May 22, 1998)
45 Maung Aye
ARMY CHIEF, SLORC DEPUTY CHAIRMAN, MYANMAR
BORN Dec. 25, 1937, in Sagaing Division, Burma
EDUCATION Defense Services Academy,
FAMILY Married, one daughter
ADDRESS Defense Ministry, Yangon
POWER SHIFT A hardliner with little time for political niceties, he is the
man behind the near-rout of the long-running ethnic Karen resistance. Next
in line to take over the State Law & Order Restoration Council and a major
force behind the military junta's tougher line on dissidents and rebels.
He is suspicious of too much economic liberalization. This man will keep a
lid on political freedom.
STRANGE DISSIDENT BEDFELLOWS
IT'S THE SORT OF meeting that makes American liberals' heart go pitty-pat.
The Dalai Lama and China's recently released dissident Wei Jingsheng
crossed paths at a closed-door meeting of academics near Boston. The pair
posed for pictures, but Wei, whose blunt speaking about the Clinton
administration's attitude toward human rights in China is rapidly
alienating his new-found friends in Washington, did not make a public
statement. The Dalai Lama has been hard-pressed recently, too. When Apple
Computer dropped him as one of their "Think Different"advertising icons,
he was left looking a bit out of the loop. But his support for President
Bill Clinton's rapprochement with Beijing has left more militant
anti-China Tibetan activists as well as hard-liners like Wei looking a bit
too strident for the American mainstream.
AGONY AND ANGER
With the killing of six Jakarta students, momentum for change builds
By Susan Berfield and
Jose Manuel Tesoro / JAKARTA
Harsh Lessons: A timeline of the students' semester of turmoil
Madness in Medan: A dispatch from Indonesia's third city
FRUSTRATION, ANGER, maybe conspiracy took over late in the afternoon of
May 12 outside an elite private university in west Jakarta. Security
forces shot rubber and live bullets at unarmed students who had been
calling for President Suharto to take responsibility for the economic
crisis and step down. Six were killed, dozens injured. The violence was
sudden, unprovoked and unprecedented. In those few moments, Indonesia's
possibilities narrowed. The movement for political reform, carried along
for three months by daily student demonstrations throughout the country,
reached a turning point. Suharto even cut short an official visit to
Egypt. His vice president, B.J. Habibie, expressed the government's
"deepest condolences." The armed forces promised to investigate. Yet for
everybody - students, military, ordinary Indonesians, intellectuals and,
of course, the president - there is no going back. "The damage has been
done," says Umar Juoro of the Institute for National Development Studies.
"People will not accept this."
President Suharto has always expected Indonesians to accept a lot: 32
years of one man's rule, unrestrained cronyism, limited political
representation and even less dissent. Now they have to put up with a
rupiah worth next to nothing, rapid price increases for basic goods and
growing unemployment. Suharto's legitimacy has crumbled. His current -
seventh - term just began in March and does not end until 2003. For years,
and even until recently, people believed that Suharto would not relinquish
power until he was ready, or dead. Now many do not want to wait that long.
"People want change right now, if possible yesterday," says prominent
newspaper publisher Aristides Katoppo. The head of the armed forces, Gen.
Wiranto, has said he gets the message. But the military fears that "too
much change too soon will lead to an uncontrollable situation," says
Katoppo. These are the two worlds of Indonesia today: the critics who want
Suharto to step down immediately and the military, dreading what will
happen if he does. Indonesia is in a bind, and in danger.
At one in the afternoon of May 12, some 5,000 students from Trisakti, one
of the capital's most prestigious private universities, were demonstrating
against Suharto. The students had gathered near the campus on one of the
city's busiest highways (built by the president's eldest daughter, Tutut)
and were blocking traffic. They had wanted to march to the parliament
building, but troops prevented them from doing so. Students and soldiers
faced each other for hours.
By 5 p.m., the students had negotiated with the commander of the troops to
retreat; one row of students would back off for every row of police that
did. But then the security forces charged, shooting into the crowd with
rubber and live bullets. They continued even as students retreated inside
the campus. Within hours, six bodies lay in the morgue and dozens in the
emergency room of a nearby hospital.
No one is sure what set off the troops. But by the next day, many worrying
theories were circulating in Jakarta:that someone in the military or in
the establishment wanted to send a message to the rich and the influential
- you are not safe. Or wanted to create such chaos that a military
crackdown might seem necessary, even reasonable - and might scare off
countrywide protests planned for May 20, National Awakening Day.
The students had been optimistic, even cheerful, as the day began. "People
are still afraid," said 22-year-old Zaki, an electrical engineering
student at Trisakti. "But they are getting braver." By that evening, the
hopefulness had vanished, leaving behind only a grim resolve edged with
anger and vengeance. Said one youth: "The movement will continue."
There is no reason to stop. The International Monetary Fund requires
Jakarta to introduce some financial reforms that, in the short term, are
causing economic hardships to worsen. Several subsidies have been reduced.
Beginning May 12, train fares doubled. Electricity prices will eventually
be about 60% higher, while water rates will increase by 65%. The price of
fertilizer (remember Indonesia is an agricultural country) rose 12.5% in
the past month. Since the beginning of the economic crisis, the price of
rice has risen 38%, cooking oil 110%, chicken 86% and milk 60%. An
estimated 8 million children will not be able to go to school next year
because of higher tuition fees. Book prices are already up as high as 70%.
A conservative estimate of the number of unemployed this year is more than
10 million. What happens in Indonesia is watched elsewhere. On May 13,
Southeast Asian currencies (including the rupiah) and bourses weakened
considerably because of the political fallout from Indonesia. Bangkok
announced it would prepare for the evacuation of Thai nationals if
necessary. Tokyo warned that repression would not do. Washington condemned
the shootings and canceled a military exercise.
The day after the killings, several thousand students attended a memorial
service on Trisakti campus. A plastic tent marked a blood stain on the
pavement; the Indonesian flag flew at half-mast; and nearly every one of
the government's critics arrived to give a speech. Amien Rais, who leads a
28-million member Muslim organization and has said he is ready to lead the
country too, was there. So was Megawati Sukarnoputri, daughter of
Indonesia's founding president, ousted head of a government-approved
political party and generally the quietest of the president's critics.
Emil Salim, who had defied New Order etiquette and nominated himself for
vice president in February, showed up. So did the former governor of
Jakarta, Ali Sadikin, and Sarwono Kusumaatmadja, a former cabinet minister
and a member in not-so-good standing of the ruling party, Golkar.
Of all the words spoken that morning, perhaps those of Amien Rais were the
most direct: "The military is now faced with two choices: to protect an
individual and his family, or the nation as a whole." What was left unsaid
was this: The government and the military fear nothing more than a
coalition of students, the elite and the working (or not working) class.
Yet it is forming. Its leaders will have to maintain the pressure for
change without provoking even worse violence.
After the commemoration, though, the mood turned ugly. Outside the campus
gates rioters vandalized cars parked at the luxury Citraland shopping mall
and set on fire two toll-road offices. In nearby areas of the sprawling
city, youths did what damage they could with stones, knives and matches.
Stores were looted and buildings burned. Rioters blocked the highway from
the airport, which passes by Trisakti University. One person was killed
and nine injured as security forces tried to control the mobs. In
Jogjakarta, students clashed with authorities and were reported to have
thrown molotov cocktails. Police responded with water cannons and tear
Indonesia is paralyzed by Suharto's system. "He has a lock on all the
institutional levers," says Katoppo. Five different laws limit the number
of political parties to three, fill the electoral college with appointees
and hand the government the power to decide who can form a political
organization. Indonesians are left with a parliament and electoral college
that can be called representative only with a wink, and are more often
than not used by Suharto to legitimize his rule. These are the only
institutions Indonesians can use to remove him from power legally. And
they are not enough. "It takes too long to use the procedures," says
Faisal Basri, a political economist at the University of Indonesia.
"People are too tired."
One way out could be to hold a special session of the People's
Consultative Assembly, the 1,000-member body that installed Suharto and
Habibie. Many - including an organization of Muslim intellectuals that
Habibie once led - think this is a pretty good idea. According to the
rules, more than half the assembly is appointed by the government (read:
president). This has assured that Suharto runs unopposed, as he did in
March. But the assembly could hold another vote and this time open up the
selection process. Says Katoppo: "They may be loyalists and royalists, but
they will go with the winds of change."
And the armed forces could help push them along. The military may be aware
that, in such a volatile situation, repression could backfire. Then again,
maybe not. Wiranto, as well as every other senior military commander, was
appointed (by Suharto) because he is loyal to the president. A four-star
general who also serves as minister of defense, Wiranto is a highly
regarded professional soldier, someone whom Suharto's critics want to
believe is on their side. The missing political activists? Wiranto didn't
know about their kidnappings and reported torture; someone went over his
head or behind his back. The shootings? Someone else is responsible. But
even if Wiranto backs the calls for change, he may not have the support of
other top officers to do much. More important is what Suharto does next.
It will determine whether the president stays or goes.
The Straits Time
MAY 17 1998
Traders hit by Myanmar policies
Reports by JASON LEOW IN YANGON
INFORMATION and the Arts Minister George Yeo noted yesterday that the
economic crisis had caused Myanmar to "tighten up", but expressed hope
that this phase would be just a "pause and not a step back" in the opening
of its economy.
Speaking to reporters at the end of a six-day goodwill visit to Myanmar
with a 28-member Young PAP delegation, he noted that the Myanmar
government had made frequent policy changes since the economic crisis in
order to manage the slowdown in trade and investments.
For instance, businessmen were told recently that they now had to export
goods before they could bring any goods into the country.
This is a policy designed to arrest the outflow of US dollars, which may
result in the devaluation of the kyat.
As a result, life for foreign traders has become "very difficult", he
The Singapore business community, which he met at a dinner on Thursday,
were "full of complaints" about the business environment, although they
liked living in the country, he added.
"They are unhappy about the new rules which are suddenly implemented.
"They wish the government here would act more decisively and with more
forewarning," he said.
Noting that Singapore was Myanmar's largest trading partner, he stressed:
"A good relationship must be mutually beneficial."
He told reporters at the Trader's Hotel in Yangon that he had received
assurances from Secretary 1 of the State Peace and Development Council,
Lieut-General Khin Nyunt, that Myanmar was "very committed" to economic
liberalisation, although right now, the country had to watch its
Explaining Myanmar's caution in opening up its economy, Brig-Gen Yeo said:
"Their preoccupation is with law and order, and with achieving political
The ruling military government had, after all, come into power amid
national anarchy in 1988, when the country's economic standstill sparked
off public protests, he noted.
"Only in the last few years has Myanmar been able to bring into the
national fold the various armed insurgents," he added.
The unrest in Indonesia -- which shared a similar political history -- had
also "jolted" the government of Myanmar, he said.
Despite Myanmar's cautious approach, it would be better off if it realised
quickly that it could not fight against globalisation and economic
liberalisation, he said.
He expressed concern that the Myanmar leaders believed their country could
stay self-sufficient, as it was rich in natural resources.
But Myanmar was more optimistic than reality could justify, he said, as
foreign pressure and technology would overcome any efforts to close the
country to the global economy.
MAY 17 1998
S'pore firm faces delay in project
SINGAPORE-BASED consortium SMD International said on Friday that its
industrial park in south-eastern Yangon might face a "delay" in the
completion of phase one of its project.
According to senior project coordinator Tony Quek, management now had to
re-think plans to complete phase one of the Thanlyin-Kyauktan Industrial
Zone -- comprising 200 ha of about 1,200 ha lying on the Yangon River --
by year 2001.
SMD International owns 60 per cent of the project while the Department of
Human Settlement and Housing Development in Myanmar manages the rest.
Twenty per cent of phase one had been completed since last year.
But Mr Quek said the economic crisis would likely set back completion
beyond the targetted year 2001, while Myanmar red-tape compounded the
slowing interest in the project.
"Development is pretty slow because most countries in the region are
facing the economic crisis. I suppose they are waiting to recover and then
come out to Myanmar," he added.
"But even before this, Myanmar has got to free up its economy, make rules
and regulations more transparent and be more open to pull in foreign
investors to sink their money here."
Mr Quek was speaking to reporters during a site visit by Information and
the Arts Minister George Yeo and his delegation.
About US$50 million (S$83 million) is expected to be pumped into
constructing a power station, two berths and a water treatment plant to
treat raw water that comes from a reservoir within the park.
Asked what the main challenge in developing the park was, Mr Quek said:
"It is getting cooperation from the Myanmar government, with things like
obtaining import permits, tax holidays and approvals for requests.
"It is also difficult to obtain information from the Myanmar government,
which often takes two to three weeks to respond."
Citing an example, he said the road system from Yangon to the park had to
be expanded as a large part of the 18-km stretch was only one-vehicle
He said: "But right now, I have no information as to whether the Myanmar
government is doing that."
South China Morning Post
Saturday May 16 1998
What next for battered Jakarta?
GREG TORODE in Jakarta
Updated on Sunday:
Sitting on a pavement carpeted with broken glass as Jakarta's Chinatown
burns, a small girl slowly pieces together a broken doll.
She runs her hands through the debris and finds the doll's legs, puts them
back on and carefully combs the ash from its wiry blonde hair.
As rioting and looting at last started to ebb yesterday, so the rest of
Jakarta started picking up the pieces after the worst urban violence in
Many found themselves hapless on the wrong side of police lines in vast
no-go areas. There was no way to move but on foot and the threat of being
cut down by rioters' rocks or a hail of soldiers' bullets was constant.
Hundreds of shops and buildings are gutted and normal economic life has
ground to a halt as the currency remains frozen.
''If I had the money, I'd leave,'' said Baya Christo, a Chinese electrical
merchant as he returned to his burnt-out shop house after three days in
hiding across town.
''Now my family has nothing.
''On top of it all is the fear. You feel it all the time in your
As a new week begins, the question of what comes next seems to dominate
And after 32 years in the shadow of just one leader, it is not surprising
that no one seems to have any clear idea.
Certainly President Suharto's once iron-clad rule has never looked weaker
but there is no clear constitutional framework that allows a transfer of
power until 2003.
The nature of the ruling elite's back-room contempt for legal and
constitutional process through the rigged People's Consultative Assembly
means any transfer will not be easy.
Assuming the end is near, the drive to usurp the 76-year-old dictator
could come from several quarters his own 400,000-strong military machine,
his own Golkar party or an opposition figure brought to office on a tide
of ''people power''.
Veteran analysts see the former as the most likely and the latter as the
most difficult and possibly dangerous, should a panicky military switch to
Even so, the demonstrations against Mr Suharto's rule that looked so
rrudderless just a week ago are now starting to coalesce into a movement
that cannot be politically discounted.
Students, Muslim groups and opposition politicians sealed their
co-operation in the form of the Indonesian Working Forum.
Already the first signs are emerging that an underground has been formed
to whip up popular support from the disenfranchised who vented their
frustrations so violently this week.
Tens of thousands of ordinary people are now being lobbied to join mass
anti-Suharto rallies in 30 cities across Indonesia on Wednesday.
The military - Abri - is the real mystery.
After launching the unprecedented attack on unarmed students in President
Suharto's absence on Tuesday, both police and army units showed a marked
reluctance to intervene much further, at least until after he returned.
Certainly the top levels of the institution contain several possible
candidates, certainly the urbane and politically astute Defence Minister
General Wiranto and Mr Suharto's son-in-law, the American-educated General
Prabowo Subianto, who heads Kostrad, the elite special forces now guarding
Rumours of splits and rumblings in the lower ranks are constant but have
yet to emerge at the surface.
The coming days could change that as government paralysis bites.
Another factor to watch comes from outside the country. Western powers
particularly Australia and the United States have had a long, prickly but
nonetheless supportive relationship with President Suharto for strategic
As nationals of both countries were air-lifted out of Indonesia yesterday,
the slow but sure diplomatic process of Washington and Canberra washing
their hands of President Suharto has begun in earnest.
Kyaw Zay Ya
"If you give a man a fish, he will have a meal.
If you teach him to fish, he will have a living.
If you are thinking a year ahead, sow a seed.
If you are thinking ten years ahead, plant a tree.
If you are thinking one hundred years ahead, educate the people.
By sowing a seed once, you will harvest once.
By planting a tree, you will harvest tenfold.
By educating the people, you will harvest one hundredfold." (ANONYMOUS
CHINESE POET, 420 B.C.)
("If it is not broken, don't fix it" leads to the worst situation.)