[Date Prev][Date Next][Thread Prev][Thread Next][Date Index ][Thread Index ]

The BurmaNet News: November 2, 1998

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

The BurmaNet News: November 2, 1998
Issue #1130


31 October, 1998


UNITED Nations special envoy to Burma Alvaro de Soto arrived yesterday in
Bangkok after a visit to Rangoon, which was described by the junta military
government as "fruitful and constructive".

De Soto, who met with opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi and the head of
the military junta, General Khin Nyunt, during his four-day visit, declined
to provide details on talks.

"I met with Aung San Suu Kyi twice," he told reporters at the VIP lounge of
Bangkok International Airport.

He stayed overnight in Bangkok before flying to New York to report his
findings to UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, who is drafting resolutions on
Burma to be presented before the UN General Assembly in November.

After  meeting with Aung San Suu Kyi, De Soto said by telephone from
Rangoon, "I deliberately do not grant interviews to reporters while I am

De Soto's visit came as Burma's human rights record has been under
increasing international scrutiny for its treatment of Aung San Suu Kyi and
her National League for Democracy (NLD) party members.

The Nobel peace laureate led the NLD to an easy victory in the 1990
elections, but has never been allowed to form a government.

De Soto's visit included a meeting with the first secretary of the ruling
State Peace and Development Council, Lieutenant General Khin Nyunt and Than
Shwe, the council's chairman.

Talks were conducted in "a cordial atmosphere" and described as "fruitful
and constructive", an official statement by the junta said yesterday.

Meanwhile, an NLD statement released on Thursday accused the military
intelligence organisation of using tactics to "hoodwink" De Soto.

De Soto also met with ambassadors of Australia, Japan, the Philippines, the
United States and Britain, which form the core of a coordinated effort by
concerned countries to improve the dialogue between the NLD and the

During De Soto's visit, 15 NLD members were released from detention on
Thursday after what the junta described as an "an exchange of views", an
official statement said.

Their release brought the total number of opposition detainees freed in
recent weeks to 110. Hundreds more who have been detained since May are
still being kept in government "guest houses".

De-Soto said he had not met with  any of the NLD members in custody. The
full details of his four-day visit, which ended yesterday, are not expected
to be made public until he returns to New York to brief Annan. 


1 November, 1998


RANGOON - The Burmese people have "vowed to crush all traitorous elements",
including opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, the state-run press said

"The masses are sounding calls for deportation of Suu Kyi and punishment
for the NLD [National League for Democracy] and vowing to crush all
traitorous elements endangering peace," the state controlled New Light of
Myanmar wrote in an editorial.

"They must heed the voice of the people."

State propaganda from the military junta has repeatedly warned that Nobel
Prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi could be deported if she continued to defy
restrictions on her freedoms of movement, speech and association.

The junta has been staging demonstrations throughout the country in recent
weeks, gathering state employees to hear speakers repeat the military's
anti-opposition tirades. The latest was held in Bago on Friday.

Aung San Suu Kyi led the NLD to an easy victory in 1990 elections, but the
military has refused to hand over power.

Hundreds of NLD members have been detained since May, when the party set a
deadline for the convention of Parliament.

The junta ignored the ultimatum and said attempts by MPs to form an
assembly were illegal.

The junta's editorial yesterday repeated claims that Aung San Suu Kyi was
"conniving" with foreign powers and news organisations. 


6 November, 1998 By Susan Berfield and Roger Mitton / Yangon


MYANMAR IS STUCK. Three years ago the junta freed opposition leader Aung
San Suu Kyi from house arrest; since then the positions of the government
and the opposition have become only more entrenched. Lt.-Gen. Khin Nyunt,
one of the junta's most important generals, and Suu Kyi seem unable to find
any common ground. Meanwhile, the military government has managed to
disappoint even the most forgiving businessmen with its unpredictable
economic policies. No one in a position to do something about any of this
seems to know what to do. Myanmar faces a political stalemate, an economic
reversal of fortune and a leadership gap.

First the political deadlock. Suu Kyi's party, the National League for
Democracy (NLD), was supposed to take office after decisively winning
elections in 1990. That, of course, did not happen. The military government
that rules instead is supposed to be transitional. But no one in power
shows any signs of wanting to relinquish it, and few generals can tolerate
Suu Kyi's challenges. When they decided she had become too provocative,
they cracked down. Government spokesman Lt.-Col. Hla Min explains: "People
are getting confused. We are a transitional government trying to put the
country on the democratic path. We haven't reached that stage yet."

The junta would probably make more progress if it opened a dialogue with
the NLD. But the generals have said that Suu Kyi cannot take part in such
talks. That is not negotiable. The NLD says she must be allowed to
participate. That is not negotiable. Stalemate. Both sides insist they are
not setting conditions, but in fact both have insisted on the one thing
they know the other cannot accept. Can talks be resumed? The junta must
make the first move. Hla Min says: "The door is still open, but we would
like it done the Asian way. The NLD uses the arm-twisting method. They say:
'We're going to do this or else.' It makes us more stubborn and will not
work." In April, Suu Kyi described the situation this way: "There is a
great propaganda effort to make us look inflexible. We have bent over
backwards to show that we are flexible."

Still, there is now a growing belief that neither side really wants
substantive talks - despite their pretenses. As a Western diplomat in
Yangon says: "You can make a very good case for that." The regime is
content with the status quo, believing that time is on its side and that
Suu Kyi's support is ebbing. And the NLD is wary of negotiations that might
lead to some form of power-sharing, since that would confer legitimacy on
the regime. So the party stalls, hoping the junta gives way because of
infighting or under economic pressure. Neither seem likely anytime soon.

Meanwhile, the junta constantly harasses the NLD. In 1996, Suu Kyi's home
on University Avenue was blocked off and her weekly speeches to hundreds of
people came to an end. Suu Kyi's party is still able to hold well-attended
daily meetings at its Yangon headquarters - which would be impossible in
Brunei, Vietnam or Laos - but the military intelligence maintains a
siege-like atmosphere there. Asked if the regime aims to eliminate the NLD,
Hla Min says: "If we wanted to destroy them, we could have done it a long
time ago. We have been very tolerant - more than in other countries with a
military government. There, I think, heads would be rolling."

It remains a tense and fearful situation for NLD members. Posted by the
entrance to the party headquarters are long lists of detained supporters.
Military men burst out to photograph and question visitors. The party's
vice chairman, Tin Oo, told Asiaweek: "The man who rents these premises to
us gets a lot of trouble from the government." Suu Kyi attends the
afternoon meetings and gives daily speeches to rally her supporters. Her
movements in the city are relatively unrestricted; she visits embassies,
attends receptions and earlier this month showed up at the Shwedagon
Pagoda, where she launched the democracy movement a decade ago.

But Suu Kyi cannot venture outside the capital. When she tried to meet
supporters in the provinces a few months ago, she was stopped by the
military. Twice, she refused to turn back and endured lengthy car sit-ins
that captured world headlines. During the second of these ordeals, NLD
Chairman Aung Shwe decided to accept an invitation to speak with Khin
Nyunt. At their meeting, Khin Nyunt agreed to consider releasing detained
NLD members. Says a diplomat: "If that had been accepted, the dialogue
could have moved forward." It never did because the NLD then announced it
would convene a parliament (no assembly meets because the junta is
supposedly drawing up a new Constitution). Suu Kyi said in July: "We are
not provoking any sort of confrontation. We are only asking for what is
due, not to the NLD, but to the people of Burma." Nonetheless, the NLD's
decision, says the diplomat, "cut the legs from under Khin Nyunt, and the
hardliners told him: That's it."

A round-up of the NLD ensued: More than 700 members have since been obliged
to remain at government guest houses until they acknowledge the validity of
the junta's position. About 95 have done so and have been released. In
September, Khin Nyunt said the nation should be "alert to the danger posed
by aliens who are integrating in our internal affairs" using local
"lackeys." (Suu Kyi is married to a British academic.)

A month later, the regime gave the entire Yangon diplomatic corps an
unprecedented briefing. They brought out maps, documents, photographs and
money transfer receipts to show that Suu Kyi and her cohorts had allegedly
been conspiring with foreign forces - including expatriate students,
nongovernment organizations and even George Soros - to bring down the
military government.

At the same time, the domestic media stepped up their attacks on Suu Kyi.
The papers regularly carry cartoons depicting her as a black-toothed witch
manipulated by foreigners seeking to harm the interests of the Myanmar
people. There are dozens of stories about rallies around the country where
civil servants criticize NLD leaders in front of huge crowds. In the most
recent, some 20,000 people supposedly called on the government to deport
Suu Kyi. It is unlikely these staged events are very convincing. "People
are bussed in to hear these dirges," says a diplomat. "They are angry at
being forced to attend."

NONETHELESS, THE PARTY'S IMPACT has been lessened. Aside from the
ever-resilient Suu Kyi, other leaders have either opted out or caved in.
There appears to be no one else of substance among the party hierarchy.
Former leader Kyi Maung told Asiaweek he has decided "not to make comments
on political developments." He adds: "I have been on furlough for quite
some time." Party Chairman Aung Shwe and Vice Chairman Tin Oo say little,
and do even less, without Suu Kyi's approval.

"It is hard to know where the NLD goes from here," says one diplomat.
Indeed, many wonder just what Suu Kyi's strategy is. The government does
not allow foreign journalists to speak to her these days - and no one else
in the party will speak for her. Does the NLD hope the military will split
and the regime crumble? The apparent rift between the pragmatic Khin Nyunt
and the no-nonsense army boss Gen. Maung Aye may be just as staged as the
anti-NLD rallies. Many see them playing a rather canny good cop-bad cop
routine. Besides, says cabinet minister B.G. Maung Maung: "They deal with
problems together. Maung Aye is a military man and Khin Nyunt is a
politician who looks after the development of the country." Still, those
who know both leaders confirm that they are not "the best of buddies" and,
since they keep to themselves, no one can be really sure if they are
working together or at cross-purposes.

Does the NLD hope the economy self-destructs and the people rise up? Most
observers regard that as highly unlikely. Says a diplomat: "I don't sense
it. Maybe in the future, but there is no sign right now." Certainly the
economic problems are real enough though. Says a banker: "Since the end of
1995, the government has not made a single decision on the economy. Things
have come to a standstill, just when so many important things need to be
decided." The impact of this inaction is only now being felt and, of
course, the Crisis is exacerbating the situation. But the ministers insist
the country is doing well and that they enjoy popular support. "The overall
economic indicators are up over last year," says National Planning Minister
Soe Tha.

Still, inflation is rising, property prices are diving, businesses are
closing, foreign investors are leaving, hotels are mothballing floors, and
the national airline is in danger of folding. One diplomat said that
authorities were even having trouble feeding the remaining NLD detainees
and were forcing restaurant owners to supply them with food. But perhaps
the most obvious manifestation of the troubled economy is the fact that
electricity is no longer something to be taken for granted in urban areas,
never mind rural ones. Except for privileged enclaves, the entire capital
is subject to power rationing. Mandalay is worse - lengthy power outages
occur daily. The shortage has led to public frustration and a decline in
industrial output. Suu Kyi said in July: "The economic situation is very
bad and the education system is very bad. Health care is poor. So what do
we have left?"

What keeps the country going is the so-called unofficial economy: the
essentially unmonitored border trade with China, Thailand and India.
(Timber, legumes and gems go out; electrical appliances and consumer goods
come in.) At the same time, and despite Suu Kyi's calls for a boycott,
tourists are beginning to drift back. And the rice harvest is better than
last year's; some 50,000 tons will be exported. But no one knows how long
all of this can keep the economy from failing and the junta in power.

So where does that leave things? Says a diplomat: "It's hard to see where
change will come from." The U.N. special envoy to Myanmar, Alvaro de Soto,
arrived in the capital Oct. 27. Most considered this a positive sign since
an earlier trip had been canceled at the junta's request. De Soto was
supposed to meet with Suu Kyi. Meanwhile, leading diplomats in Yangon have
submitted a "reform initiative" to both sides to try to break the deadlock.
But there is little real optimism. Says one of the proposal's architects:
"It has become a matter of personalities. Issues, policies, the national
interest, the good of the Myanmar people, they are secondary. For the
leaders on both sides it is personalities now, me against them. No
surrender." A deep and often bitter cynicism has taken over in Myanmar.. 


30 October, 1998 By Anchalee Koetsawan 

PHUKET, Thailand, Oct 30 (Reuters) - Myanmar's efforts to boost its rice
production in the hope of being able to become an exporter again is being
questioned by industry analysts.

Myanmar trade sources have said the military government has an ambitious
plan to export one million tonnes of rice for the 1999/2000 season
(April-March) compared with around 200,000 tonnes targeted for this season.

Although the government has launched a series of measures to stimulate
output, they could all be scuttled by excessive bureaucracy and
regulations, the analysts attending an Asian Rice Conference here told

Myanmar was once a key world rice exporter.

Daphne Khin Swe Swe Aye, a U.S. Agriculture Department specialist in
Myanmar, had earlier told the conference that the government was upgrading
its rice industry by giving credits to farmers, implementing advance paddy
purchase systems and helping to modernise rice mills.

A major breakthrough was a government plan to get the private sector to
participate in farming, she said.

Under the plan, land would be leased to the private sector, including
foreign investors, for up to 20 years and investors could export half of
their production.

Currently, private sector participation in the rice industry is
concentrated in domestic trading and milling, as the export of rice is
monopolised by the government, she said.

Private sector participation is expected to bring in both technology and
improvement in infrastructure.

But an executive with a European company said many potential participants
lacked expertise.

Other factors likely to undermine the government's scheme to boost the farm
sector were a lack of hard currency and obsolete regulations, analysts said.

Foreign exchange shortages limited the government's ability to import
fertiliser or farm machinery, they added.

In Myanmar, the government owns all farmland and has provided long term
leases to tenants since 1965. Moreover, the government normally procures
paddy from farmers at well below market prices.

Myanmar's 1998/99 paddy production is expected to reach 16 million tonnes.

[ ... ]


6 November, 1998 By Roger Mitton/Yangon 

Myanmar is full of embarrassing juxtapositions.  One evening, after sipping
chilled white wine at a Yangon executive's plush home on the shore of Inya
Lake (where houses start at $1 million) we ride in his new BMW to see a
just-completed residence.  It looks like the White House; its landscaped
gardens are lit up expectantly.  Suddenly, the chauffeur stops -- cowering
by the hedge is a group of people apparently with nowhere to go and nothing
to eat.  They gaze up at the car, frightened.  The executive tells man to
drive away.

The moment passes, and soon my host is extolling how "this county is really
developing."  And, in some ways, it is.  Cars were uncommon just a decade
ago.  Now the BMW has to negotiate traffic jams as it passes spiffy hotels
and stores still bustling with customers.  The executive mentions a recent
survey which found that pedicab drivers in Mandalay can earn up to $30 a
month.  That's not bad "and it's probably an under-estimate," he says.
Maybe.  In Myanmar it is impossible to be sure of anything.

In Mandalay, however, I find that many pedicab drivers are short of
customers.  Heading over to hire one, I meet a student reading the
government-run New Light of Myanmar.  "I like it for the foreign news," he
says.  "The rest, I just look at the headlines.  I never read it."  His
chemistry studies came to a halt two years ago when the universities were
closed after student protests.  Now he ekes out a living as a shop assistant.

After our conversation, I direct the pedicab to Mandalay University.  A
wide mall leads to an impressive, but unfinished, building; behind it lies
an empty and forlorn scene.  Under the soaring arches of the chemistry
department's marble hallway, dogs roam, nesting birds flitter and
vegetation creeps over barred windows.  Peeking into a professor's
cobwebbed office, I spot a fading calendar, lecture papers and books.  Time
stopped still.  An education ministry official later tells me: "We are not
silencing the students.  The universities will reopen when we have
assurance they will not be used for political purposes."

Back in Yangon, a visit to the National League for Democracy headquarters
goes smoothly.  The office is busy, and people smile as they come and go.
But when I leave, military intelligence operatives, immigration officers
and local police cut off my car, take my photo and ask questions.  Back at
my hotel, I get an anonymous call telling me to give up trying to meet NLD
officials.  I persist -- but no one will talk.  When I mention this to a
minister, he refuses to use Aung San Suu Kyi's name; instead he calls her
"someone who crawled out from under a stone." It is very dispiriting to
hear this nastiness-- which, regrettably, comes from both sides.  While
they trade insults, I wonder who is talking about those people squatting in
the dark.


6 November, 1998 By Roger Mitton/Yangon 


There are two ways to do business: cultivate officials or go it alone.  In
Burma, a handful of men dominate the business scene -- and all have close
ties to the military leadership.  They are similar in other ways too: they
are usually of Chinese ancestry, have family members in key management
posts, own banks and develop property.  And all are suffering from the
economic downturn.  Says Khin Shwe, head of the diversified Zaykabar Co.:
"I'm just looking to survive the next three years.  If I do that, I'll take
stock and assess my situation."  Banker and property magnate Serge Pun
concedes: "Business in Myanmar is not good at the moment.  We are in the

Their woes contradict officialdom's rosy view.  Top economy minister Gen.
David Abel says: "The economic slump in Asia had little effect on Myanmar.
In spite of a fall in foreign investment, there was an 11% trade surplus."
Maybe, but at home the businessmen are hurting.  Those with private banks
seem to be riding it out best, and three are dominant: Aik Htun of Asia
Wealth Bank, Serge Pun of Yoma Bank and Kyaw Win of Mayflower Bank.  Aik
Htun's bank has Chinese backing, 17 branches (the busiest are along the
Chinese border) and $100 million in kyat deposits.  Says he: "We were the
last to get a banking license, but already we are the biggest."  Aik Htun
and bank chairman Win Maung are from Kokang, an area notorious for opium
production; they deny having anything to do with that trade, however.  Aik
Htun -- sharp, flamboyantly energetic (and usually accompanied by pretty
young women) -- also heads a trading and property concern called Olympic
Group.  But he has postponed new construction projects to concentrate on
the bank.

The cigar-smoking Serge Pun is a more sober character.  He works from a
penthouse at Yangon's 12-story FMI Center (which he owns), overlooking the
Shwedagon Pagoda.  He is director of Yoma Bank, claimed to be Burma's most
profitable, with deposits of about $34 million.  Some regard him as the
most successful local businessman; others say rentals at his properties may
not match his expectations.  A diplomat says: "He is now struggling and has
sold all his assets in Hong Kong."  But Pun claims that a recently
completed 970-home project in metro Yangon is sold out.  "It is amazing how
much cash there is around," he says.

Head of Mayflower Bank, Kyaw Win, is said to be close to army head Gen.
Maung Aye, Kyaw Win also has a construction business and, like Pun, uses
his bank to finance would-be property buyers.  Says a colleague: "Kyaw
Win's bank is okay, but in property he is not a success."  Observers not
that while most of these new residential properties are paid for, few are
occupied.  "Not 10% are lived in," says another banker.  "The oversupply is
not rational."

Asked about these businessman, a diplomat says: "Hats off to them.  They
continue to struggle against the odds, staying alive."  As Aik Htun aptly
notes; "We cannot say we are happy, but we have to be satisfied."  That may
be more than many in Myanmar can claim these days.


1 November, 1998 


United Nations emissary Alvaro de Soto is happy with preparations for
relocation of Karen refugees from border areas to a new camp deeper inside

Region 3 staff officer, Maj Chamlong Pothong, said yesterday in Tak
province that Mr De Soto is satisfied with the arrangements and is also
looking into the UNHCR taking charge of more than 57,000 refugees in four
other camps.

Maj Chamlong said-security would first be provided by the army and then
handed over to the Interior Ministry and territorial defence volunteers.

The new camp covering 800 rai is on deteriorated forest land near Mae
Sot-Umphang highway.

It is expected to house 17,500 Karen in two camps in Mae Sot and Phrop Phra

The proposed use of the land is being considered by the Interior Ministry
and the Forestry Department.

Mr De Soto yesterday also inspected Mae La camp in Tha Song Yang district.

Meanwhile, the security force in Mae Hong Son is closely monitoring the
movement of Burmese minority rebels who pose a threat to villagers near the

A source said three main rebel groups - the Wa, the Shan State Army, and
the Muser - are reportedly active around Doi Pak Kud in a mountain range
lying between Pang Ma Pa and Pai districts some 90km north of Mae Hong Son
city centre.

The Muser force, a Mong Tai Army breakaway group with about 200 armed men,
was known to have crossed the border to rob Thai villagers.

Its men and the other rebels also extort protection money from drug
racketeers using Doi Pak Kud as a transport channel.

Samrerng Punapokorn, Mae Hong Son governor, said apart from the minority
armies, incursion from the Burmese government troops also poses a problem.

The latest incident involving the rebels was the robbery of rifles from
local farmers.

But Mr Samrerng assured the authorities had swift measures to repel them.

As with the Rangoon army, the governor insisted compromise would be sought
to prevent future intrusions as well as to avert diplomatic friction.

The incursion often happened because of the unclear border demarcation.