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The BurmaNet News: May 21, 1998

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

The BurmaNet News: May 21, 1998
Issue #1009


21 May, 1998

Sixteen Burmese including an opposition MP were arrested yesterday at a
house in Nonthburi and charged with illegal entry, police said. Among them
is U Thein Oo, 43, a member of the National Coalition Government of the
Union of Burma.

U Thein Oo was returned as an MP in the 1990 general election.

The NCGUB is the parallel Burmese government established on the
Thai-Burmese border after the elected MPs fled the country following a
crackdown on dissidents after the elections.

Police also seized computers and fax machines.

According to police, the house is a refuge for Burmese students who are
members of a pro-democracy movement opposed to Rangoon military government.

U Thein Oo said yesterday he has taken shelter here for more than five
years and received 50,000 baht a month in financial support from
international organizations.

He said the group also runs a base in Kanchanaburi province against the
Burmese government.

According to police, the suspects would be handed over to immigration
police and U Thein Oo in particular would also be questioned by Special
Branch Bureau police. 


20 May, 1998

Yangon - The Myanmar authorities seized over 44,000 tablets of amphetamine
stimulant drug in a southeastern border town early this month, official
newspaper The New Light of Myanmar reported Wednesday.

The stimulant drug was confiscated in Tachilek bordering Thailand on May 7
by a combined team of the Myanmar Defense Services Intelligence units,
special anti-drug squad and local police force which stopped and searched a
car passing by.

The men on the car then threw down a packet containing the stimulant drug,
the report said.

Steps were being taken to arrest the culprits, it said. According to
official statistics, the authorities seized more than 5 million amphetamine
stimulant tablets along with 1,400 kilograms of heroin in the country in 1997.


April 1998

20% drop in number of students in Con State

Of the total number of high school students estimated to be attending
school in Mon State's capital Moulmein in the 1997-98 academic year, over
20 per cent are said to have not appeared in class at all due to common
impoverishment on one hand and common disappointment with the chronic
educational instability caused by the mismanagement of the ruling military
regime on the other. School teachers had previously estimated that at least
10,000 high school students (9th and 10th grades) from the area would be
coming to school at the beginning of the 1997-98 academic year.
Practically, however, only 8,000 have come to school. Most of those
students so leaving school were said to go find job opportunities in order
to support their impoverished parents. Some of them have reportedly left to
the neighbouring countries  -- Thailand, Malaysia and Singapore  -- in the
hope of seeking better job opportunities there.

The present ruling military regime, since it took over power through the
ruthless, bloody massacre of thousands of peacefully-demonstrating
pro-democracy students and people in 1988, has almost all the time kept on
closing the high schools and universities in the country, except few months
of opening period each year. The ruling military dictatorship, in constant
fear of possible student uprisings against its misrule, has thus failed to
open and properly run the schools and universities in the country. The
military regime has also dismissed many qualified university teachers who
were outspoken in expressing their unhappiness with its ruthless, brutal
crackdown on the student-led peaceful democracy movement. It has ordered
all the remaining teachers to strictly control their students not to launch
and take part in any demonstration against it in the future, threatening
them that if they fail to control their students accordingly, they will be
subjected to legal action. At the same time, it has similarly forced
students' parents into signing a formal agreement that they will be
responsible for keeping their children out of any opposition political


20 May, 1998
By: Andreas Harsono

Jakarta -- Tens of thousands of students camped outside Parliament early
today were clearly showing President Suharto that his surprise announcement
yesterday that he would resign after instituting reform measures was not
good enough: they want him out immediately.

The crowd of young protesters, estimated last night as between 50,000 and
70,000, was swelling by the hour as more students from outlying areas
poured into the capital to support the push for the president's immediate
removal. The authorities, fearing a new day of nationwide mass
demonstrations today, were last night deploying extra troops and tanks
close to the presidential palace.

In a move which stunned both opponents and supporters, President Suharto
said yesterday he would resign after instituting a series of reform
measures, including calling an immediate general election.

Suharto announced his intentions after meeting with nine prominent Muslim
figures in the Merdeka Palace earlier in the morning, including Abdurrahman
Wahid, chairman of the 30-million strong Nahdlatul Ulama organisation, and
Muslim scholar Nurcholis Madjid.

However, thousands of students occupying Parliament House greeted the
nationally-broadcast announcement with derision.

Student protesters seized control of the public-address system in the
Parliament compound and allowed speaker after speaker to denounce Suharto.

Indonesian students and opposition politicians, who have been staging
rallies since March, denounced the proposal, saying Suharto must resign as
soon as possible. They vowed to organise massive rallies today in Jakarta
as well as other major cities to keep up the pressure.

The 77-year-old Suharto said he wants to become a pandito, or sage, after
retiring from office. "Being an ordinary citizen doesn't mean less honour
than being president as long as we can contribute to the people and the

During his 15-minute media briefing, Suharto described the three-step
proposal in front of nine guests and more than 50 reporters and photographers.

The reforms will start with a Cabinet reshuffle and the establishment of a
reform committee, which will include university professors, intellectuals
and religious leaders.

The committee is also assigned to reshape the widely criticised laws
regulating general elections, political parties, the House of
Representatives and local parliaments, monopolies and corruption.

"If deemed necessary, the committee is welcome to draft other bills,"
Suharto said, adding that a general election would be organised shortly
after the laws had been passed.

Suharto, who read a prepared text after giving the background to his
thoughts, said the new Parliament was to convene and elect a new president
and vice president as soon as possible.

"I myself am tired of being president. Resignation is not an issue. I'm
more than prepared to resign, but will my resignation mean that the
problems will be solved? Constitutionally, it should be the vice president
who takes over," Suharto said.

The president, however, answered his own question and said that Vice
President BJ Habibie was likely to face similar problems. "People will
question his position, and it might lead to further turmoil."

Although Suharto did not mention any time frame, both Nurcholis and legal
expert Yusril Ihsa Mahendra, who is Suharto's speech-writer and who also
attended the meeting, told the media that the Muslim leaders and Suharto
had talked about the proposal taking around six months to implement.

After completing the six-month proposal, Suharto said he would step down.
"I hereby declare that I do not want to be nominated as president again."

Chronicling the meeting, Nucholis said he had opened the discussion by
telling Suharto that he had to resign as of yesterday. "My calculation of
the crisis in based in seconds, instead of minutes, which means that the
longer he stays the more serious the damage will be."

But Suharto rejected the suggestion and asked whether his resignation would
not spark further problems as people would question Habibie's position.

Wahid said the Suharto proposal was "very positive" and called on the
students, who plan to organise mass rallies today, to cancel the
demonstrations as they had already received what they wanted.

Another Muslim figure, Emha Ainun Najib, who last week called on Suharto to
step down and even to donate his personal wealth to the state, said the
proposal was the "most moderate" solution in the current situation.

But two other prominent figures missed the two-hour meeting, Muslim leader
Amien Rais, who is also the chairman of the 25-million strong Muhammadiyah
organisation, and nationalist leader Megawati Sukarnoputri, the eldest
daughter of the late president Sukarno.

Both are nationally known as outspoken critics of the government and openly
challenged Suharto's renomination and re-election in March.

At a separate conference yesterday Amien, who was accompanied by Madjid,
deplored the proposal and said Suharto must step down first and leave Vice
President Habibie to organise the election. "The offer lacks details. I
have reached the conclusion that the reform movement would go on and on and

He said the Suharto proposal was a "cheap game to fool his own people",
calling it "disappointing" and showing that-the aging leader was
"unrealistic ... full of illusions and hallucinations".

"Tomorrow the people will hammer the same issue: there is no other issue
but that he must step down," Rais said. "There is no question about
tomorrow. There will be huge crowds from every walk of life, and I will
join them," he said.

His statement was obviously addressed to the thousands of students and
activists nationwide to encourage them continue with their planned
million-strong street rally. Amien himself will lead the rally from
Parliament to the Merdeka Palace.

The students set up a big banner, which read: "Suharto and Habibie step
down now!" Clad in the colourful jackets of their respective campuses, the
students vowed to continue to occupy the Parliament building until the
rubber-stamp Parliament holds another convention to hold Suharto accountable.

The students held free-speech forums inside and outside the building,
denouncing both Suharto and Habibie. Dozens scaled the building's dome and
raised their banners.

The Parliament compound has turned into a huge bazaar with food-vendors
opening stalls selling everything from soft drinks to fried rice.

It is an open secret here that engineer turned politician Habibie is not a
capable politician.

He is known as a big spender, with pet projects including aircraft and
shipbuilding industries contributing heavily to Indonesia's debts.

In a related development, House Speaker Harmoko, whose office has also been
occupied by the students, held a long meeting with other factions and his
four deputies. At the end of the day Harmoko read a written statement which
said that the House was to support the "acceleration of reforms".

Harmoko, a former Cabinet member and the chairman of Suharto's Golkar
ruling party, said the Parliament supported the principle of
"constitutional presidential succession", but he declined to elaborate,
denying that it was a reversal of his statement on Monday calling on
Suharto to step down.

However, yesterday's statement obviously contradicted his initial one.
Harmoko apparently altered his opinion after military commander Gen Wiranto
openly opposed calls for Suharto's resignation.

Many journalists, politicians and diplomats here believe that the armed
forces are now deeply split between the more moderate camp, headed by
Wiranto, and followers of hardliner Lt. Gen Prabowo Subianto, who commands
the Army's strategic and reserve command.

It has been speculated that Wiranto is trying to slow the parliamentarian
and student agendas in a bid to engage the Prabowo camp. Fast reforms might
put the two camps on a collision course and even result in civil war.

Javanese linguist Farida Soemargono-Labrousse of the Paris-based Institute
for Studies in Oriental Languages and Civilisation, said that in the
Javanese context a person who is to become a sage does not publicly state
his intention to become one.

"Most importantly, a would-be sage is not someone who is morally corrupt
and materially rich," said Soemargono Labrousse, adding that Suharto had
obviously manipulated the meaning of the Javanese  pandito in the
mainstream culture of Indonesia.

Foreign embassies in Jakarta have issued circulars asking their citizens
not to go to Jakarta's main protest area today, fearing that the protests
might turn violent, as happened last week when rioters razed many parts of
the capital.

The killings inflamed the protests and prompted students to occupy the
Parliament building.

As if trying to meet the students' challenge, Suharto's three most loyal
generals, Lt-Gen Prabowo  Subianto, who is also Suharto's son-in-law,
Jakarta military commander Maj-Gen Sjafrie Sjamsuddin and elite Kopassus
commander Maj-Gen Muchdie, gathered their soldiers yesterday in Senayan
Stadium, only a kilometre from the building. Sjamsuddin even made a show of
force, circling more than a dozen tanks around the occupied Parliament

The two-star general also stirred up his men with nationalistic speeches,
asking them to follow his orders in a bid to "save our people and our


24 May, 1998
By Owen Bowcott

Short attacks Amnesty view

Clare Short, the international development secretary, has attacked human
rights pressure groups, including Amnesty International, for spending too
much time "carping" over illegal arrests and torture while ignoring health,
education and economic issues.

In a characteristically forthright intervention aimed at broadening public
debate over Britain's relations with the Third World, Ms Short criticised
the narrow focus of the human rights lobby. Her comments, in an interview
for Trade Union Alert, an Amnesty International magazine, will surprise
charities set up to monitor extra-judicial killings and disappearances in
developing countries.

"The discourse on human rights has got stuck in a denunciation of abuses of
civil and political rights," Ms Short says. "While I think this is
important, it is very carping and does not see human rights as work in
progress. "Most of the people who talk about protecting human rights,
including Amnesty, have almost forgotten that the United Nation's Universal
Declaration of Human Rights includes the right to a livelihood, to health
care, to education and so on.  We are in danger of slipping into thinking
that human rights is all about people not being beaten up in police
stations . . ."

Ignoring poverty and talking only about political prisoners would, she
warned, result in charities "losing an audience in a large chunk of the
world". Ms Short has pledged to boost Britain's overseas aid budget and
supports an international campaign to halve the number of poor people by 2015.

Some campaign groups share these concerns. The director of African Rights,
Rakiya Omaar, said she sometimes felt embarrassed to say she worked on
human rights.

"The focus of human rights now . . . seems to have little to do with the
complexity of problems in a poor country."

But Conor Foley, a senior member of Amnesty's campaigns team, said:
"Amnesty supports all the rights contained within the Universal
Declaration, both social and economic as well as civil and political. We
are running a major campaign to promote the Universal Declaration. We
believe that human rights are absolute, and reject arguments about cultural
and political relativism."


29 April, 1998
By Madelaine Drohan

Grassroots groups used their own globalization to derail deal

PARIS -- High-powered politicians had reams of statistics and analysis on
why a set of international investing rules would make the world a better

They were no match, however, for a global band of grassroots organizations,
which, with little more than computers and access to the Internet, helped
derail a deal.

Indeed, international negotiations have been transformed after this week's
successful rout of the Multilateral Agreement on Investment (MAI) by
opposition groups, which -- alarmed by the trend toward economic
globalization -- used some globalization of their own to fight back.

Using the Internet's capability to broadcast information instantly
worldwide, groups such as the Council of Canadians and Malaysia-based the
Third World Network have been able to keep each other informed of the
latest developments and supply information gleaned in one country that may
prove embarrassing to a government in another. By pooling their information
they have broken through the wall of secrecy that traditionally surrounds
international negotiations, forcing governments to deal with their complaints.

"We are in constant contact with our allies in other countries," said Maude
Barlow, the Council of Canadians' chairwoman. "If a negotiator says
something to someone over a glass of wine, we'll have it on the Internet
within an hour, all over the world."

The success of that networking was clear this week when ministers from the
29 countries in the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development
admitted that the global wave of protest had swamped the deal.

"This is the first successful Internet campaign by non-governmental
organizations," said one diplomat involved in the negotiations. "It's been
very effective."

The OECD, which represents largely the major industrial economies,
yesterday halted the negotiations aimed at developing international rules
for foreign investment, similar to those for trade in goods. It is unclear
when, or even if, the OECD will try again.

The irony in this outcome is that the OECD, which has been an ardent
advocate of globalization and has done much research into its effects, did
not recognize that advocacy groups would use cyber-globalization to further
their own ends.

OECD secretary-general Donald Johnston conceded that the OECD was caught
flat-footed: "It's clear we needed a strategy on information, communication
and explication," he told a press conference.

The OECD's efforts to harness the Internet have not caught up in colour,
content and consumer friendliness to those of the advocacy groups.

For example, the OECD report released this week on the benefits of opening
markets to trade and investment is a compilation of statistics and analysis
written in language more readily understood by economists than by the
average person. Instead of finding examples of real people who have
benefited from globalization to help trade ministers make this case, the
report repeats many of the same statistics on economic growth, investment
and the dangers of protectionism.

By comparison, hundreds of advocacy groups, in attempting to galvanize
opposition to the MAI, used terms and examples that brought their message
home to the public. Their sites on the Internet's Worldwide Web are
colourful and easy to use, offering primers on the MAI that anyone could

Canadian Trade Minister Sergio Marchi has taken the OECD to task for its
poor communications effort, although he agrees some of the blame must be
shared by the member governments. He said the lesson he has learned is that
"civil society" -- meaning public interest groups -- should be engaged much
sooner in a negotiating process, instead of governments trying to negotiate
around them.

Ms. Barlow of the Council of Canadians, which says it has more than 100,000
members, called the OECD report on the benefits of globalization
"pathetic." In an interview in Paris, where she was taking part in a
protest against the MAI, Ms. Barlow said the immediacy of the Internet has
changed the dynamics of advocacy campaigns.

She is a veteran of the campaigns against the Canada-U.S. free-trade
agreement and the North American free-trade agreement. The Internet was not
in widespread use when those campaigns were conducted.

Today, however, advocacy groups make sure useful information ends up in the
right hands right away. "If we know something that is sensitive to one
government, we get it to our ally in that country instantly," she said. "I
don't think governments will ever be able to do these kind of secret trade
negotiations again."

For example, when the Council of Canadians got its hands on a draft version
of the MAI last year, it immediately posted it on its Web site and made
sure allies around the world knew it was there through E-mail correspondence.

The Internet also provides a low-cost way for groups in the Third World to
get their message out and keep on top of developments. "All they need is
one computer," Ms. Barlow said.

The major Internet sites of these advocacy groups provide hyperlinks to
others involved in the campaign, as well as phone numbers and E-mail
addresses, and often bibliographies of relevant books.

It adds up to a powerful tool that the advocacy groups are using to better
effect than governments and the OECD at the moment. Ms. Barlow predicts
that this advantage may not last now that the OECD members have seen its
potential. "They'll be revving up their PR machines."

But so are the advocacy groups. The next stage, she said, is to start
making suggestions about what should be in trade agreements, rather than
just opposing what the negotiators propose.

The groups are already trading ideas on solutions, and another aspect of
globalization -- the growing spread of English -- is easing their way.
"Pretty well everybody speaks English," said Ms. Barlow. "It's the
universal language."

Tony Clarke, director of the Canadian Polaris Institute, stresses that
anti-MAI groups such as his are not against all aspects of globalization --
their use of the Internet itself is proof of that.

"We're against this model of economic globalization," he said, referring to
the MAI. "But the global village, the idea of coming together and working
together, is a great dream."