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The BurmaNet News: August 7, 1998

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

The BurmaNet News: August 7, 1998
Issue #1066


6 August, 1998 

Media Release

High school students in Burma's southern town of Mergui held a
demonstration on August 4 to commemorate the 10th anniversary of the
pro-democracy uprising in August 1988, and to mark the massacre of unarmed
civilians by the Burmese military.

About 100 students from three State High Schools in Mergui began the
demonstration at about nine o'clock in the morning and marched along the
main roads of the township.

ABSDF Foreign Affairs Secretary Aung Naing Oo said students shouted
pro-democracy slogans and distributed leaflets during the demonstration.

"The protest was peaceful and the students were very disciplined. No
incidents were reported and this was partly because many people in the town
were following the students and protecting them from being broken up by the
riot police."

"However, Mergui police successfully blocked the gates of all four high
schools in the township and prevented other students from joining the

The leaflets distributed by the students called on the people of Burma to
respect those who have sacrificed their lives for democracy in Burma. The
leaflets mentioned Ko Ko Oo who led protests in Mergui during the 1988
uprising and was the first person the military gunned down.

While the demonstration was in progress, Burmese Army units arrived at
Mergui's main police station led by Colonel Tin Latt, deputy-commander of
the Coastal Region Military Command. Colonel Tin Latt immediately ordered
his troops to reinforce the police in order to break up the protests.
However the students had already finished their demonstration, which lasted
about three hours.

Colonel Tin Latt subsequently ordered the closure of all schools and
officers from Military Intelligence Service Unit 19 (MI-19) have been
carrying out surveillance on students involved in the protest.

The military recently formed special anti-riot units throughout the country
and temporary offices for these units have been set up at district police
stations, including Mergui Township.

All Burma Students' Democratic Front (ABSDF)
For more information please call 01-253 9082, 01-654 4984. 


6 August, 1998 


BURMA'S military government said yesterday it would be very unwise for
opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi to try to venture out from her house in
Rangoon on Saturday to visit her supporters.

Saturday marks the 10th anniversary of an uprising of pro-democracy
supporters on Aug 8, 1988, that was suppressed by the military junta.

Burma's ruling State Peace and Development Council (SPDC) says several
dozen police and civilians died in the unrest. Opposition groups say
thousands were killed.

A government spokesman speaking by telephone from Rangoon, said the
authorities did not know what Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy (NLD)
would try to do to mark the anniversary, but added that they did not expect
much trouble.

He said it could be dangerous for Suu Kyi to try to travel to see her
supporters outside the capital.

"I think it would be very unwise," said the spokesman.

He said the country had many "shady groups" that posed a threat to the
country's security and to figures like Suu Kyi.

Asked if Suu Kyi would be allowed to leave Rangoon to visit her supporters
on Saturday or any other time, he said: "She will first have to request
[permission] and it will be given serious consideration. But we will have
to be very careful about the places that she goes." 


5 August, 1998 

IT'S BEEN a bad few weeks for the travel industry in Myanmar. Just when the
government signed a much-awaited tourism cooperation accord with Thailand
-- allowing more border entry points, communication links and joint
projects -- opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi had a six-day standoff on a
bridge near Yangon after the military stopped her from going out of the
capital for a political meeting.

The 1991 Nobel Laureate has long urged foreigners to stay away in protest
against military rule, while others in the country argue that a boycott
hurts only the local people. In any case, some now worry that visitor
numbers may dwindle from fears of renewed political repression or possibly
even violence. Saturday will mark the 10th anniversary of a harsh crackdown
against pro-democracy activists in Yangon.

Despite a host of native attractions, Myanmar drew only 190,000, tourists
in the year ended March 31. That's about 61,000 fewer people than the year
before, even though the government launched Visit Myanmar Year in November

With the high season for tourists to begin next month, hoteliers are
fretting over the impact of recent political tensions. "This news gives
Myanmar a bad reputation, but our country is not like that," insists
Chaiporn Kotsamron, front-office manager at the Central Floating Hotel in
Yangon. He expects to fill 14% of his rooms next month, and maybe 40% when
peak season hits later this year.

Duncan MacLean, a hotelier who chairs the Marketing Myanmar Committee, says
he has received only one group cancellation at his Hotel Equatorial because
of last week's standoff. Mr. MacLean, for one, is hoping that business may
pick up later this year because of dropping room rates and increased
European and North American arrivals to Southeast Asia. "We can't directly
compete with Thailand" in terms of cost, he says. "But the people who want
to come will probably come anyway. This isn't a price-driven destination." 


6 August, 1998 

The junta has not supplied free food since June to troops along its border
with Thailand, raising fears the soldiers may turn to pillaging, dissident
sources said yesterday.

Aung Naing Oo, foreign affairs secretary for the All Burma Students'
Democratic Front, said Rangoon was instead giving troops money to buy their
own food.

The move was prompted by rice shortages caused by heavy flooding last year,
the front said.

"Also, the Government probably doesn't want to take the foreign exchange
risk," said Mr Aung Naing Oo.

Burma's kyat is traded on the black market at a rate of 350 to US$1
(HK$7.74), compared with the official rate of seven kyat to US$1.

The front, citing military reports from the border, said there had already
been reports of food shortages among troops.

[ ... ]


6 August, 1998 by Gary Thomas 

Intro:  This weekend marks the 10th anniversary of the Burmese government's
brutal suppression of pro-democracy demonstrations. It is not known how
democracy activists plan to mark the occasion inside Burma.  However, as
VOA correspondent Gary Thomas reports from Bangkok, the political
temperature has already been raised by the recent confrontation between
authorities and pro-democracy leader and Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi.

Text:  On the eve of the anniversary, Rangoon is, as one western diplomat
puts it, a city of foreboding rather than hope.

The democracy movement is keeping mum about how, or if, it plans to mark
the events of 1988, in which thousands of people were killed, wounded, or
imprisoned as the government ruthlessly crushed a democracy uprising.

Military authorities are accusing democracy activists of subversive acts.
Articles and speeches carried Thursday in the government-controlled
newspapers say what they label "traitors" are collaborating with outside
powers to spread false rumors about impending unrest.

Diplomats say they no know of no plans for any public demonstrations.  In a
telephone interview from his Rangoon office, Kent Weidemann, the
highest-ranking U.S. diplomat in Burma, says the only place he has seen
anything said about possible demonstrations is in the state-run news
organs.  That, he says, concerns him.

// Weidemann act //
Which worries me to the extent that it hints of not simply a warning to
people that the government will crack down on any hint or sign of popular
activity in the street in support of democracy, but I think more worrisome
that the government is providing a kind of excuse, or seeking to provide an
excuse, for whatever violence they may themselves perpetrate around that
date, at the very slightest sign of any kind of demonstration in sympathy
with of the commemoration of the tenth anniversary of the 1988 massacre.
// End act //

Political temperatures are already high.  For the third time in several
weeks, Aung San Suu Kyi -- who is kept under tight restrictions by
authorities -- was stopped as she tried to travel outside Rangoon to meet
with officials of her National League for Democracy, or NLD.  A six-day
standoff ended when authorities finally forced her to return to Rangoon.

The confrontation occurred as foreign ministers of the association of
southeast Asian nations -- to which Burma was admitted last year -- were
meeting in manila.

Most analysts queried say the government's action on this occasion was
surprising, considering that on the previous two occasions, Aung San Suu
Kyi was also not allowed to proceed further, but the NLD officials were
brought to meet her.

The apparent lack of a consistent policy towards the democracy movement --
which varies between spurts of openness and spasms of repression --
reflects, says Mr. Weidemann, divisions among the generals.

// Opt Weidemann act //
The reason I think for the swings back and forth between extremely brutal
behavior on their part, as we saw last week, and somewhat more
conciliatory, is that there are arguments in top rungs of the military
junta here over tactics, you know, how to best present their image to the
outside, especially to their Asean friends and neighbors, nearly all of
whom have called on the government here to stop embarrassing the rest of
Asean, basically, by its behavior and to begin some process of political
reform that will restore stability, both economically and politically.
// End opt act //

The precarious political situation is not helped by the economic one. Burma
is in severe economic straits, brought on partly by the Asian economic
crisis, and partly by -- in the belief of western analysts -- financial
mismanagement and corruption by the ruling generals. (Signed)


5 August, 1998 by Christopher Guinness 

East Asia Today, Late Edition

It's ten years (Saturday 8th August) since the start of the general strike
and mass democracy protests in Burma. But as the recent highway protest by
Nobel Laureate, Aung San Suu Kyi, showed, ten years on, the junta is in no
mood to compromise with her National League for Democracy. Nonetheless,
that incident put the international spotlight on Burma, and there's growing
optimism that the democracy movement that took root in 1988, may at last,
begin to bear fruit. Our reporter, Christopher Guinness, covered the events
in Burma a decade ago, and has continued since to report on developments

Ten years ago this week, the people of Burma decided that enough was
enough. After twenty six years of autocratic socialism under General Ne
Win, they came onto the streets in their millions, demanding democracy and
the right to live in a society that respected human rights. That was in
June and July of 1988. But after a general strike was declared at the
beginning of August, the junta's response was military force. On September
the 18th, the army gunned down hundreds of unarmed demonstrators and
declared martial law. This was the birth of the so called SLORC, the ruling
military council, which ten years on, in its new incarnation, the State
Peace and Development Council, maintains its iron grip on power.

That was most poignantly demonstrated last month, when the democracy leader
Aung San Suu Kyi, attempted to travel outside Rangoon. She had demanded
that the parliament elected in 1990 - but banned by the military - should
be convened by the 21st August. And she wanted to meet members of her
National League for Democracy to discuss arrangements. The reality of
Burma's politics was laid bare in the full glare of the international press
- Aung San Suu Kyi was forced after a week in her car under a sweltering
sun to return to her home in Rangoon. Democracy was once again forced into

But despite the apparent hopelessness, that solitary protest could yet
prove a water shed. ASEAN was meeting at the time in Manila, and there was
a genuine sense of outrage among the Thai and Filipino delegations about
the behaviour of the Burmese military authorities. The ASEAN injunction
against criticising the internal affairs of member countries was questioned
as never before. Despite the lack of outspoken criticism, the way seems
open for a more robust policy towards Burma, even though countries like
Indonesia and Singapore, are vehemently opposed to what they see as

This gives a greater diplomatic freedom to Japan - a regional giant always
aware of accusations of being East Asia's bully. If there are pressures
within ASEAN to bring about the beginnings of dialogue within Burma, so
some in the foreign ministry in Tokyo argue, then Japan is that much freer
to push a similar agenda. And with a possible convergence of Japanese, Thai
and Philippine policy, with that of the European Union and America, those
who argue against a more robust policy towards Rangoon, look increasingly
isolated. Consensus for change, even after ten years, is slowly beginning
to build.

But ultimately the solution to a uniquely Burmese problem lies uniquely
within Burma itself. The diplomatic nihilists say that there are no signs
whatsoever that the junta is prepared to give up power - even if the
industries that sustain their rule - and in many cases, personal wealth -
are ground into the economic dust. But economic desperation produces
dissent, even within the most autocratic regimes. And here ultimately lies
the paradox for the regime, that remains a source of hope among those who
espouse change: if it clings to power, it will find itself in control of a
bankrupt and unsustainable economy. Eventually, the optimistic argument
runs, the junta will be forced to cut and run, and seek to accommodate the
opposition as a matter of pragmatism, if not survival.


6 August, 1998 

Letter to the Editor

Allow me to put up a small rejoinder to the news report entitled, "Signals
at Burma Embassy" which appeared in The Nation dated July 30. The Nation
quoted Jane's Defence Weekly.

Myanmar Embassy in Bangkok and elsewhere, are not operating signals
intelligence stations big or small and we have no intention of doing so in
the future. Myanmar embassies and their offices of military, naval and air
attaches are established to foster closer relations with their host
countries and not to be categorised with certain embassies which might be
involved in operating signals intelligence stations.

Myanmar and Thailand are not enemies. They are peace-loving peoples and
mechanisms for negotiation are in place to settle any problem that might
arise. We do not need signals intelligence stations to spy on each other.

Whatever antennas used and seen on the roof of the embassy's military,
naval and air attache office in Bangkok are merely ordinary TV antennas and
this can be confirmed even by the man-on-the street. We earnestly hope that
The Nation refrains from publishing similar news item in the future which
could create misunderstanding between nations. News media should check and
verify the veracity of the news before they are published.

Embassy of Union of Myanmar, BANGKOK


6 August, 1998 

BANGKOK, Aug 6 (Reuters)- Thousands of Myanmar exiles across the world will
light candles on Saturday to mark the 10th anniversary of a bloody
crackdown by the Yangon government on pro-democracy protesters.

>From Washington to Sydney, Myanmar exiles promise to remember August 8,
1988, when soldiers fired into a crowd of pro-democracy demonstrators on
the steps of Yangon city hall. ``Four eights day''-- the eighth day of the
eighth month of 1988-- marked the start of a brutal military round-up of
hostile factions from universities, Buddhist temples and political parties
across Myanmar, then known as Burma.

The State Peace and Development Council (SPDC) government says 35 police,
15 demonstrators and ``a few dozen rioters'' were killed in the
disturbances that followed the crackdown.

Myanmar exiles put the death toll at more than 1,000.

In most years the anniversary has passed quietly, but this year the date
coincides with a period of increased agitation by the opposition National
League for Democracy (NLD), which is campaigning hard for democracy and
human rights.

The NLD, led by the charismatic Aung San Suu Kyi, has set August 21 as a
deadline for the government to convene a parliament of members elected at
polls in May 1990. The NLD swept those polls but the result was ignored by
the military.

Diplomats say the opposition is likely to mark the anniversary this year to
draw attention to their demands.

Hampered by draconian security measures-- including six years of house
arrest for Suu Kyi between 1989 and 1995-- the NLD's movements and
activities are severely curtailed.

But they have found several ways of stepping up pressure.

Suu Kyi, who won the 1991 Nobel Peace Prize for her efforts to bring
democracy to Myanmar, has used her lack of freedom as a stick to beat the
government, escaping from her military minders in Yangon three times in the
past couple of months.

In her latest foray on July 24, Suu Kyi and three others managed to get to
a bridge near Anyarsu Village about 64 km (40 miles) from Yangon before the
car was stopped by security men.

They ordered her to return to Yangon but she refused and began a sit-in,
which the authorities ended forcibly on July 29.

Whether by accident or design, the protest was a brilliant publicity
triumph for Suu Kyi and attracted worldwide attention and harsh criticism
of the government from leading nations.

Suu Kyi became ill during the protest but has vowed to venture out again to
meet supporters as soon as she is well. Diplomats say it is possible she
may try to travel on Saturday or possibly hold a party meeting at her
lakeside residence.

A government spokesman told Reuters on Wednesday it would be ``unwise'' for
Suu Kyi to try to leave Yangon on Saturday.

The capital has been quiet this week but is rife with rumours of some sort
of action planned for Saturday.

One Yangon-based diplomat told Reuters on Thursday he had heard stories of
propaganda leaflets being dropped out of bus windows in Yangon but could
give no details of the content.

``None of us have any idea what will happen, if anything, on Saturday
(August 8)... there could be demonstrations,'' said the diplomat. ``But
everybody is looking towards the day and there are plenty of rumours.''

``Saturday is market day in Yangon and that means there will be lots of
people on the streets already,'' the diplomat added.

The government appears to expect something.

A Myanmar government newspaper carried speeches by two cabinet ministers on
Thursday telling the public not to be taken in by subversive groups.

It said ``axe-handle traitors'' were ``trying to hinder and mar the
development of the state by fabricating groundless rumours and creating

One western diplomat who met Suu Kyi recently said he did not anticipate
any special activity in the capital on Saturday.

``She has made no statement or anyway indicated she would try to organise
any kind of demonstration. There is no evidence here in Rangoon (Yangon)
that anything is going to happen,'' he said.

Whatever happens in Yangon, activists outside the country will organise
rallies, functions, and candle-lit demonstrations to mark the crackdown,
said Aung Nai Oo, head of foreign affairs at the All Burma Students
Democratic Front (ABSDF).

``The anniversary is very important to anyone involved and they will try to
mark it wherever they are,'' said a diplomat.