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The BurmaNet News: May 25, 1998

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

The BurmaNet News: May 25, 1998
Issue #1011

Noted in Passing: "One may find it hard to believe that there is a country
where a student is imprisoned for 15 years for writing the history of a
student movement while murderers, rapists and drug traffickers are handed
sentences as light as one to seven years. But such a country does exist.
It's called Burma - a nation of despots run by the military, where human
rights violations are at a record high."  - Moe Aye, see Bkk Post: They'll
Never Learn 


Bangkok Post: They'll Never Learn 
24 May, 1998 by Moe Aye

Burma: The ruling military junta is punishing student democracy activists
by denying them an education.

One may find it hard to believe that there is a country where a student is
imprisoned for 15 years for writing the history of a student movement while
murderers, rapists and drug traffickers are handed sentences as light as
one to seven years. But such a country does exist. It's called Burma - a
nation of despots run by the military, where human rights violations are at
a record high.

Ko Aung Htun, a former Rangoon Institute of Technology student and Central
Executive Committee member of the All-Burma Federation of Student Unions
(ABFSU), was arrested in January and sentenced to 15 years for compiling
The History of the Burmese Students Movement, his second time in prison
under the junta.

His act was described as "terrorism" by the junta.

The first time he was taken into custody was in November 1990; he was
jailed for five years for his involvement in the ABFSU. In October 1991, he
was transferred from Insein to Tharayawadi prison. He was kept in solitary
confinement for a long period of time and as a result he now suffers from
asthma. He was released in 1994.

There are many other students like Ko Aung Htun who have been sent to
prison more than once. One of them is Min Ko Naing, the chairman of the
ABFSU. Min Ko Naing has been in solitary confinement for more than nine
years. He now suffers from tuberculosis and asthma due to the conditions of
his incarceration.

Just after the State Peace and Development Council, the former State Law
and Order Restoration Council, claimed it would re-open all universities,
colleges and educational institutes it conducted a major crackdown on
student activists. In a press conference on March 1, the junta accused
activists of involvement in terrorist activities and membership in
underground communist cells.

In reality, some of them were arrested because they assisted Ko Aung Htun
with the book. They were given prison terms of seven to 10 years.

They are Ko Khun Sai, a former Medical student, prominent student leader at
U Thant's funeral riot in 1974 and a former political prisoner from 1989 to
1993; Soe Lwin, who served on the Central Executive Committee of the
All-Burma Basic Educational Students Union and a political prisoner from
1990 to 1993; Dr Maung Maung Kyaw, a lawyer and former political prisoner
from 1989 to 1992, U Thant Ban, a lawyer and former political prisoner from
1991 to 1995; Ms Su Su Win; and Ms Khin Moe Aye.

Others were arrested because they tried to pass documents to then UN
special envoy (now general secretary) Kofi Annan.

Why, for the junta, is compiling a book an act of terrorism? Are those who
love freedom of expression and hate dictatorships communists?

At the press conference, Col Kyaw Thein said that Ko Aung Htun is a
communist because he has been friendly with former communists. But isn't
the SPDC the closest friend of communist China in Southeast Asia? In fact,
the book documents the student movement of July 7, 1962.

The accounts contained in the book of U Thant's funeral riot and
photographs of the 1988 uprising with file photos are shameful to the
Burmese military rulers. Ko Aung Htun met the people who participated in
the movements and asked them what really happened.

If U Ne Win and the former generals would consent to questioning, Ko Aung
Htun would gladly ask them who really ordered the destruction of the
Students Union Building on July 7, 1962. He would also ask them why they
did not pay respect to U Thant, the former UN secretary-general, when his
body was flown back from New York, and accord him the state funeral he
rightly deserved. Was U Thant a communist, too?

The authorities continue to oppress students both inside and outside the
prison. The MIS (Military Intelligent Service) is re-interrogating the
students in prison, especially those who are close to completing their
terms. Here are some of the questions the MIS officers are asking:

1. What will you do after you are released from prison?

2. Will you continue to be involved in politics?

3. Will you try to meet with Daw Su [Aung San Suu Kyi] after your release?

4. Do you think Daw Su could solve the country's problems?

5. What do you think of the name change, from Slorc to SPDC?

These interrogations have angered and worried the parents of these
students. They fear their sons and daughters, whose prisons terms are
nearly up, may be kept in jail even longer should they fail to answer the
questionnaire "correctly," just as U Win Tin was for "violating prison rules".

In November 1995, U Win Tin of the National League for Democracy, Ko Myo
Myint Nyein (former head of information for Daw Aung San Suu Kyi), and
other political prisoners were accused of violating prison rules. Although
they denied the accusations, all were sentenced to seven years in jail in
March 1996. At that time, Ko Myo Myint Nyein and the others were just three
weeks away from gaining their freedom.

Sometimes the MIS re-interrogates prominent activists in prison, explaining
that the junta leaders want to know their opinions. But, in reality, it is
a test to find out whether they still hold strong political beliefs.

In September 1994, while interrogating a student who led the December 1991
demonstration at Rangoon University, the authorities told him that he would
be held in prison as long as the junta remains in power. His crime:
criticising U Ne Win and the SPDC, and demanding the creation of a student
union to protect students' rights.

Students and political prisoners are regularly transferred to prisons far
from home to make it difficult for their friends and loved ones to visit
them. Requests by families to have them serve their terms closer to home
have been turned down by the authorities who explain that "it is not our
fault that they got involved in politics."

At the same time, the township MIS go through the lists of students who
will be returning to classes if and when the universities are re-opened.
They want to know if they are related to former political prisoners or
those students presently in prison or in exile. In addition the township
SPDC are seeking guarantees from parents that their children will refrain
from joining any political movement.

The penalty is harsh for those who once delved into politics. Former
student political prisoners, university students, and even high- and middle
school pupils have been barred from continuing their education.

In January 1990, three 15-year-old high school students from a satellite
town were arrested and sentenced to three years imprisonment for their
involvement in the Student Union. Their parents appealed to the military
tribunal to release them because of their age. As usual, the appeal was
rejected. Three years later when they got out of jail they were banned for
life from continuing their education.

Now these young men, 23 years old, have only an 8th standard education.
Does their learning have to stop there? They were not criminals or
terrorists, so why a punishment so harsh? Some of them were only a year
away from obtaining a degree before they were arrested for their political
beliefs. There are many like them in Burma today. So what good is it when
universities are re-opened but so many are barred from going back to study?
It is never too late to learn, the saying goes. Unfortunately, as long as
democracy eludes this country, for Burma's students the-wait will continue.

**Moe Aye is a former political prisoner working with the All Burma
Students' Democratic Front.


Reuters: One Killed, 11 Injured in Mandalay Cinema Blast
22 May, 1998

Yangon - An explosion in a cinema in Myanmar's second largest city
Mandalay, about 507 kms (317 miles) north of the capital Yangon, killed one
woman and injured 11 other people, the government said in a statement on

It gave no details about the nature of the blast, which occurred on
Thursday evening.

``An investigation is going on into the explosion,'' the statement added.


Bangkok Post: Arrested Burmese May Escape Repatriation
23 May, 1998

UNHCR will rule on the status of 16
The 16 Burmese nationals arrested this week for illegal entry will not be
repatriated if they are classified by the United Nations High Commissioner
for Refugees as "persons of concern".

The UNHCR has interviewed the 16, arrested at a housing estate in
Nonthaburi on Wednesday, and the Foreign Ministry awaits the agency's
ruling on the group.

Police said the 16 claimed they are members of the anti-Rangoon National
Coalition Government of the Union of Burma. Among the 16 are U Thein Oo,
who claimed he used to be an opposition MP of Aung San Suu Kyi's National
League for Democracy.

Foreign Ministry Spokesman Kobsak Chutikul said the UNHCR's ruling was
expected early next week.

"If they are ruled to be persons of concern, they will not be repatriated
to Burma as it may not be safe for them. They will be prohibited from
engaging in political activities during their stay in Thailand," said the

Bangkok might send them to Burma or to a third country on a voluntary basis
if they are ruled otherwise. The ministry has liaised with the UNHCR on the

According to Mr Kobsak, representatives of the United States and France
have phoned the ministry and urged it not to send the suspects back to Burma.

Meanwhile a Thai court yesterday convicted an exiled Burmese MP and 13
student pro-democracy activists of the charge of illegal entry and ordered
their deportation, court officials said.

They said Thein Oo, a close aide of opposition leader and Nobel laureate
Aung San Suu Kyi, and 13 student activists from Burma, were also fined
2,800 baht each and given four-month suspended sentences.

The officials said the charges were filed against Thein Oo and 13 student
activists from Burma, following their arrest during a raid on a house in a
Bangkok suburb on Wednesday.

The charges carried a maximum penalty of one year in prison and a
20,000baht fine, after which individuals are deported, immigration police
told AFP earlier.

Thein Oo was elected to parliament under Aung San Suu Kyi's National League
for Democracy banner in the 1990 elections, the results of which were
overturned by Burma's military.

Police officers said they seized three computers and documents related to
the opposition movement of Aung San Suu Kyi during the raid.

As an MP under the NLD, Thein Oo was included in the National Coalition
Government of the Union of Burma as justice minister. The NCGUB now
operates as a government-in-exile, from Thailand.

The Thailand-based All Burma Students Democratic Front said in a statement
Thursday the house raided by police was the headquarters of the NCGUB's
Human Rights Documentation Unit.

They said those arrested included 13 men, two of them former bodyguards to
Aung San Suu Kyi and one woman, the wife of Zahle Tang; the NCGUB's health

Another NCGUB member of parliament, exiled Minister for Asia and Pacific
Affairs Teddy Buri, told AFP that Thein Oo was using Thailand as a base for
efforts to bring an end to the Myanmar junta.

"They (Thein Oo and the students) are trying to bring about democracy, but
are unable to do it on their own soil, so have had to do it in a
neighbouring country," he said.

Police officers said they had been unaware of who Thein Oo was or of his
political activities before the raid. 


The Nation: Harassment of Burmese Exiles Must Be Stopped (Editorial)
23 May, 1998 

Since the crackdown by the military regime in Burma in 1988, thousands of
Burmese students and politicians have sought refuge in Thailand in the hope
that one day they will be able to return home. While they are in Thailand,
they have been subjected to intimidation, humiliation and non-stop abuse by
Thai authorities.

The recent arrest of exiled MP Thien Oo and 13 students who have been
living in Thailand was deplorable. It is part of the mop-up operation to
push back illegal foreign workers. The government plans to repatriate close
to 300,000 illegal workers, and in the past weeks, more than 100,000 have
been sent back to their own countries.

Those not engaged in any political activities would not be put in jeopardy
by repatriation. But the repatriation of those who are anti-Burmese
government would endanger their lives. Given Thailand's good standing on
the principles of human rights and democracy, the arrests represent a
180-degree turn of the Thai policy. When the Democrat-led government came
to power last year, it said that one of its main foreign policy pillars is
to uphold these principles.

The Chuan Leekpai government has changed somewhat in its treatment of the
Burmese in exile, not to mention the Karen refugees who are living inside
Thailand. Bangkok has become friendly to the Rangoon regime because of the
tense situation along the Thai-Burmese border. In the past five months,
Thailand has approached Burma to reduce the border tension and settle the
demarcation dispute, but in doing so, it has jeopardised its long-standing
policy of providing humanitarian assistance to the exiled Burmese.

Thailand faces a dilemma in trying to maintain balance in its relations
with Burma, which does not respect any rule of law. Even after it was
admitted to Asean, Burma has not shown any concern for the well-being of
the organisation. The country remains reclusive. As such, it is pivotal
that the Chuan government stand firm in its principles while trying to
settle the demarcation problem.

Thailand's position in the region and international community has been
alleviated since November due to Prime Minister Chuan's good rapport with
the key Asean leaders and his moderate line. Any improvement between
Thailand and Burma relations would strengthen the fabric of Asean as well
as Burma's relations with Asean.

Thailand must continue to be firm and encourage the Rangoon regime to hold
talks with the opposition to achieve a national reconciliation and return
the country to normalcy. Then and only then can these Burmese in exile
return safely and contribute to their country. If the Thai authorities
continue to whitewash and allow the Burmese military junta to exploit our
openness and transparent policy, then the consequences will worsen as
exiled Burmese will not be able to return home.

It is a good time for Thailand to demonstrate to the world that even in
times of economic crisis, the government can still maintain a balanced
policy of humanitarian assistance.


Bangkok Post: Traders Urge Burma To Reopen Bridge 
24 May, 1998 By Supamart Kasem, Mae Sot, Tak 

The Tak Chamber of Commerce yesterday sent a letter to Burmese leader
Lt-Gen Khin Nyunt calling for the reopening of the Thai-Burmese friendship
bridge linking the border towns of Mae Sot and Myawaddy.

The letter, signed by Chamber of Commerce President Panithi Tang. Phati,
was submitted through Col Chatchapat Yamngarmriab, the Thai chairman of the
Local Thai-Burmese Border Committee.

Burma closed the bridge on April 14 after heavy shelling of Myawaddy,
allegedly by Karen National Union rebels.

The closure has halted border crossing by people of the two countries and
caused an unfavourable impression of Thai-Burmese relations in the eyes of
the international community, the letter said.

Copies of the letter were also sent to the Prime Minister's Office, the
Foreign Affairs Ministry, the Interior Ministry, the National Security
Council and the army.