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Bangkok Post News (27/11/98)

News Headlines:
1): Villagers oppose plan to relocate Karen refugees
2): Tourists in for further questioning
3): UN offers aid in exchange for dialogue
4): Burma becomes a hostage taker

1): Villagers oppose plan to relocate Karen refugees
    Local people warn of forest destruction

A plan to relocate thousands of Karen refugees to a new holding centre in
Phop Phra district has faced strong opposition from local people.
The villagers have expressed fears that the presence of more than 20,000
refugees in the holding centre located in the upper part of the watershed,
south of Umphiam Mai village, would cause massive forest destruction.
Tong sae lee, 48, an assistant village head of Umphiam Mai village, who led
his villagers to oppose to the watershed area, would turn fertile forest
areas into sultivation plots through a slash-and-burn practice.
He said: "We have experienced forest destruction in many areas where
refugee camps are located. These refugees normally clear forest areas and
turn them into cultivation plots. If the refugees are moved to the
watershed area near my village, many trees will be felled.
"The presence of the refugees will also pose a security threat to local
people. The holding centre is vulnerable to robberies as it is only 10 km
from the border. If the refugees bring weapons and round up our village,
our lives will be affected," added Mr. Tong.
The leading villager said he would mobilise villagers to join force against
the relocation scheme.
Chaiwut Bannavat, a Democrat MP for Tak, urged concerned agencies to listen
to opinions of local people before going ahead with the relocation plan.
"The relocation of refugees should get the consent of local people.
Personally, I agree with villagers' concern about forest destruction. Now
our forest has dwindled. We cannot afford to lose any forest plot for
certain groups of people.
"Authorities should improve safety measures at old camps rather than moving
the refugees to a new site," said Mr. Chaiwut.
Tak provincial authorities have planned to relocate a total of 8,202 Karen
refugees from Huay Kalok camp in Mae Sot district and some 8,435 refugees
from Mawkier camp in Phop Phra district and some 8,435 refugees from
Mawkier camp in Phop Phra district to a 817-rai holding center located in
the national forest reserve near Umphiam Mai village.
The authorities also planned to move 9,866 more refugees from Nu Pho camp
in Umphang district after the refugees from the two camps are relocated in
the holding center. 

2): Tourists in for further questioning

Three tourists who strayed into Burma last week have been moved from the
border area where they were detained further into the country for more
A Burmese government official said yesterday the trio were found inside
Burma's territory without legal permission and had been brought to
Taunggyi, about 175 kilometres from where they were detained.
An investigation by immigration officials was under way, the official said.
In Thailand, a military intelligence officer who monitors the border
identified the tourists as American citizen Michael John Raedeke, 40; a
Canadian resident of Hong Kong, Joseph Frank, 34; and dirk Rommeswinkel of
Germany. Burmese authorities have not confirmed the identities. The Thai
officer, speaking on customary condition of anonymity, said the Burmese
border troops who detained the tourists confiscated a global positioning
device, used for identiflying grid coordinates on maps.
The three were seen riding rented motorcycles in the rugged border region
aroung Thailand's western Mae Hon Son province last week. Thai troops saw
them drive across the frontier at Ban Mai Kai On Pass but were unable to
get their attention.

3): UN offers aid in exchange for dialogue

The United Nations and World Bank have held out an offer of $ 1 billion (36
billion baht) in aid to Burma if the military regime opens a dialogue with
the opposition led by Aung San Suu Kyi, the International Herald Tribune
reported yesterday.
The newspaper said that the plan was brought several weeks ago by a UN
envoy, Alvaro de Soto, and may represent the best chance yet to over-come
the government's reluctance to hold talks with the opposition.
The initiative comes amid deepening deadlock between Mrs. Suu Kyi and her
National League for Democracy, and the military. Both sides reportedly
responded well to the overture, but it would have to overcome huge hurdles
to succeed.
The plan calls for compromises from both government and opposition.
Progress would be rewarded by increasing amounts of financial assistance
and humanitarian aid, the IHT said.
The first step for a release of founds would be for the government to free
political prisoners, allow Mrs. Suu Kyi freedom of movement - she is
largely confined to her house - and permit her party to function.
If the plan succeeds, the United States would withdraw its long-standing
veto of any funding of assistance to Burma.

4): Burma becomes a hostage taker

Burma has reached a new low in its dealings with the political opposition.
The regime is holding hundreds of Burmese democrats hostage to action by
their leader, Aung San Suu Kyi. Such ugly intimidation is uncalled for, and
will win no respect for the junta.

Rangoon's military regime has often set low standard of holding power and
denying its citizens any voice in government. These have run a wide gamut
of imaginative repression. In 1988, the regime killed thousand of Burmese
on the streets of Rangoon in order to suppress their call for democracy.
Two years later, the junta hood-winked the nation, by running a free and
fair election, only to completely ignore the results. 
The taste of political freedom at the polls proved tasty to many Burmese.
The winner of the elections, Aung San Suu Kyi, won national and world fame
as a brave, non-violent fighter for freedom and human rights. The regime
has piled brutality after brutality on her, but the lady has never give up
her fight to push Burma into the ranks of free, democratic countries. One
of her constant goals has been to sanction the 1990 elections and call the
elected parliament.
Earlier this year, as part of her campaign, she openly called for that
parliament to meet. Many of her party members have been killed, jailed or
forced into exile by the Rangoon regime. But Mrs Suu Kyi has insisted that
it is the only legal legislative body in the land. Legally, however moot
the point, she is correct. The junta takes its power from a 1962 military
coup. Apart from the 1990 elections when it was rejected by 90 percent of
all Burmese, it never has taken any steps to win public support except out
of its gun barrels.
The response to Mrs Suu Kyi's call for parliament to meet was unprecedented
 and ugly, even by the low standards of Rangoon's alleged leadership.
Police and military agents across the nation detained members of parliament
and political workers of Mrs. Suu Kyi's winning National League for
Democracy. Exactly how many they hold cannot be determined, but the number
is hundreds, if not thousands.
The regime has tried to kid the world that it only invited the NLD members
in for political discussions. That line ran very thin after the first month
of detentions. So now the junta has admitted exactly what it is doing. Last
Sunday, it said the detained political activists will remain imprisoned at
"government guest houses" around the country until Mrs. Suu Kyi drops her
call for the elected parliament to meet.
It is astounding that a government would kidnap its own citizens to protect
itself. But it is beyond the pale that the Rangoon authorities have the
gall to openly admit their actions, and try to defend themselves. Once
again, Burma shames all those who have to do business with such a regime.
Past actions of the regime have been repulsive and indefensible. There
include the killings of 1988, the prison tortures which are documented this
week in yet another Untied Nations reprot; the cozy relations with drug
dealers pouring heroin and amphetamines into Thailand. Bur taking political
workers hostage to the actions of Mrs. Suu Kyi sets a new, low standard for
dictators everywhere.
Burma has refused entry to UN officials investigation its political
process. It has fobbed off Thailand and others for years with promises to
crack down on its drug lords. It has tried to convince its own people that
a new, democratic constitution will soon be passed and implemented. But a
simple call for a parliament meeting from a totally non-violent political
leader - a Nobel Peace Prize winner - has the Rangoon regime displaying its
true face once again.
All right-thinking nations and organisations will urge Burma to stop
holding political hostages. The regime must deal with its political
opposition in a civilised manner. Its treatment of the NLD workers is
objectionable in today's world. That Rangoon is openly admitting to its
kidnappings only makes its actions more unacceptable.

 ..............................The End..............................