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The BurmaNet News: February 12, 199

Subject: The BurmaNet News: February 12, 1999

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

The BurmaNet News: February 12, 1999
Issue #1206

Noted in Passing: "The UNHCR's 'indifference' is a direct reflection of the
lack of geopolitical interest of the international community and donors in
Burma." -an NGO activist working with refugees (see IPS: FOR REFUGEES, ONLY


11 February, 1999 

YANGON, Feb 11 (AFP) - Myanmar's military rulers freed a former associate of
opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi Thursday, a quarter of the way through a
20-year jail sentence, an official statement said. Dr Ma Thida, a medical
doctor and writer believed to be in her 30s, was pardoned and set free on
humanitarian grounds, the statement received in Bangkok said.

Thida was jailed for 20 years in October 1993 after being found guilty of
"illegal distribution of materials published by armed terrorist groups and
unlawful organisations," the statement said.

No details were available on her health or why the government had decided to
release her.

There was no immediate comment from the opposition but analysts said Thida may
have been set free on health grounds or as part of the periodic but infrequent
release of activists.

There was no suggestion the move signaled any softening of the junta line
towards the opposition, which has seen its grass-roots organisation
systematically crushed by the military in recent months.

There was no indication either that the release was linked to an appeal by
European diplomats here this week for a human rights "gesture" from Yangon
which could ease a row raging over Myanmar between the EU and ASEAN.

The squabble is threatening ministerial meetings between the two groupings in

The EU is looking for real improvements in human rights before it will allow
Myanmar to attend the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN)-EU
next month, a European diplomat told AFP.

An opposition statement released here Thursday accused the junta of
cranking up
the pressure on elected politicians and their families in the latest stage of
its bid to crush Aung San Suu Kyi's democracy movement.

The parliamentary representative committee, set up last year to act for a
parliament elected in 1990 which has never been allowed to meet, said the
was trying to force MPs out of politics.

Parliamentarians had been "threatened with dire consequences should they
refuse" to quit, the committee, led by Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for
Democracy (NLD), said in a statement received here Thursday.

"Not only have they (the military rulers) threatened to dismiss public
found to be family members and relatives of party members but they even said
they would prevent their offspring from attending school should they refuse to
resign," the committee said.

Two MPs, U Bo Zan and U Ngwe Tun from Kyaukpadaung township in northern
Mandalay division had not broken any laws but "were nevertheless being
pressured to resign and threatened with dire consequences should they refuse,"
the statement said.

The statement was issued ahead of Friday's 52nd anniversary of Union Day which
led to Myanmar's independence from Britain.

Security around Yangon was even tighter than normal in a bid to deter any
activists keen to use the anniversary to cause disruption, witnesses said.

The latest opposition statement comes three weeks after the NLD accused the
government of forcing tens of thousands of voters to withdraw support from one
of its MPs, Than Tun, at three mass rallies.

The renewed pressure on MPs follows a sustained drive against the NLD launched
last year.

Hundreds of members were detained in government "guest houses" and then
resigned from the party on their release, the result, the NLD says, of
intimidation by military intelligence.

Most of the detentions followed the NLD's bid last August to convene the
parliament which emerged from the party's landslide victory in 1990.

In response to the parliament call the junta began staging mass "rallies"
around the country, where people were gathered to listen to speakers denounce
Nobel Peace laureate Aung San Suu Kyi as a traitor to her race and country.

Western diplomats say the government has succeeded in cutting off the branches
of the NLD machine from the roots, namely the core of leaders around Aung San
Suu Kyi in Yangon.

"Really the operation is a public relations success for the government because
although people have left the party, they still have the NLD in their hearts,"
said the Yangon-based diplomat.

"If the opportunity arose for them to show they still support Aung San Suu Kyi
they would come out straight away," said the diplomat.


25 January, 1999 

BBC has learned that long prison terms have been handed down to NLD [National
League for Democracy] members and students for agitating and inciting student
unrest in Rangoon in November and December 1998, according to a statement
issued by the ABFSU [All Burma Federation of Student Unions]. There have also
been reports of arrests in Rangoon for the distribution of instigative
pamphlets and propaganda leaflets. Another report was about the voters
withdrawing their support for U Than Tun [NLD representative-elect], a member
of the Committee Representing Peoples' Parliament  [CRPP].
The BBC Burmese Section today attempted to contact responsible government
departments in Rangoon without any success. However, when BBC contacted the
NLD, its general secretary, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, responded. U Aye Min will
present the report. 

[Aye Min] The Myanmar Alin newspaper published in Rangoon on Sunday carried a
report on the arrest of NLD members and collaborators, who are members of an
expatriate organization, for distributing antigovernment pamphlets in
The arrested NLD members were U Khin Soe, U Zaw Win, and U Win Kywe of Ye.
the BBC Burmese Section contacted Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, the NLD general
secretary, by telephone today regarding the arrests, she gave the following

[Aung San Suu Kyi] We only know what the authorities reported. We do not know
anything more than that. As you know, when the authorities make arrests
they do
not give any legal rights to have a lawyer. Sometimes even the immediate
is not informed. The people are arrested quietly. We know only about it when
they hold a news conference. 

[Aye Min] According to legal Burmese news agency report, mass meetings
by over 50,000 voters were held in Taungtha Township on 15 December to
and withdraw support for U Than Tun, NLD representative-elect and CRPP member.
Daw Aung San Suu Kyi presented her views concerning U Than Tun's case as

[Aung San Suu Kyi] The acts carried out against U Than Tun is not legal at
Furthermore, on the other hand, it is very amusing because the voters who went
to the polls during the election were less than 50,000. As far as I know and
understand, the Military Intelligence personnel went from house to house to
collect signatures of voters withdrawing their support and the numbers
[transmission breaks off]. It is very funny from one point of view but on the
other hand it is an illegal act and a disgrace to the country. 

[Aye Min] The ABFSU issued a statement on 23 January on long prison terms
handed down to opposition members and students. The statement revealed that
people including over 200 students, NLD members, and others were sentenced to
long prison terms ranging from seven to 52 years. They were accused of
supporting the NLD's call for the convening of parliament and a dialogue with
the military government. Daw Aung San Suu Kyi gave the following opinion on
long prison terms: 

[Aung San Suu Kyi] We are also making inquiries about the sentences. We cannot
imagine how the laws were twisted and used to hand down a 52-year sentence.
legal team is also finding out how a 52-year sentence could be passed and for
what crimes. 

[Aye Min] We cannot maintain proper contact with Daw Aung San Suu Kyi during
our telephone interview as the telephone line was frequently disconnected. As
we were attempting to ask questions on the recent arrests the telephone line
went dead. 


25 January, 1999  

It was reported that monks and members of the police force clashed in Mandalay
on 21 and 23 January following an argument between some monks and the police.
The numbers swelled to one thousand after members of the public joined in and
burned down an SPDC [State Peace and Development Council] office and a police
station near Myadaung Monastery around 32d and 34th Streets. It was learned
that following a protest on 21 January, a total of nine monks -- five from
Masoeyein Monastery, two from Athawka Yama, two from Eindawyar Monastery --
were arrested. 

Frequent protests by monks have also been reported in Magwe, Minbu, Myingyan,
Myanaung, Sagaing, and Pegu. The chairman of the Young Monks Union [YMU]
explained the monks' complaints as follows: 

[Begin YMU chairman's recording] 

The monks demanded a permanent arrangement for holding religious exams at the
state level; the speedy resolution of the Maha Myatmuni Pagoda affair; and the
removal of SPDC officials from the list of pagoda trustees of famous and
pagodas. We are aware that protests by monks over these issues and the
detention of monks have been quite extensive. 

[end recording] 

The YMU chairman predicted more activities by the monks and SPDC-instigated
Buddhist-Moslem and Buddhist-Christian conflicts aimed at undermining the
efforts of the monks to propagate Buddhist learning.


11 February, 1999

BANGKOK, Feb 11 (Reuters) - A thief threw explosives into a crowd and stabbed
an elderly monk to death while trying to escape with cash donated by Buddhist
pilgrims in the Myanmar capital, a government spokesman said on Thursday.

Three people among a crowd of pilgrims trying to stop the thief getting away
were wounded in the explosion in Yangon's Mingaladon Township on Wednesday
morning, the spokesman said.

``Unfortunately one elderly monk who tried to stop him was stabbed and killed
during this incident,'' he said, adding that the culprit remained at large.

Diplomats and Yangon residents say such incidents are rare in the Myanmar
capital, a city under tight military rule.


10 February, 1999 

BANGKOK, Feb 10 AFP - Burma could break the deadlock threatening a key meeting
between ASEAN and the EU with a human rights "gesture" such as the release of
political prisoners, a senior diplomat said today.

But junta officials in Rangoon, responding to Britain's earlier pledge not to
sit alongside Burmese delegates, said the ministerial summit looked doomed.

"Since the ASEAN-EU foreign ministers meeting is a bloc-to-bloc meeting, we
believe that there is very little chance that the meeting will take place
the stand taken by some EU members," a junta statement received here said.

The European Union was looking for real improvements in human rights before it
would allow Burma to attend the Association of Southeast Asian Nations-EU
summit scheduled to be held in Berlin next month, the European diplomat said.

"We acknowledge (the junta has expressed its willingness to discuss human
rights in Berlin) but there have been these detentions lately of opposition
people," said the diplomat.

"We would like to see some gesture inside the country. It would be very
to have some kind of gesture from Myanmar (Burma) on the humanitarian side."

Hundreds of members of the opposition National League for Democracy (NLD)
party, led by Nobel peace prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi, have been detained in
recent months in what democracy advocates call the biggest crackdown on
since the junta brutally crushed a student movement in 1988.

The ruling military council refuses to recognise the landslide victory for the
NLD in 1990 elections and has ignored recent calls for parliament to be

The military, which has been in power in one form or another since 1962,
denies widespread allegations of serious abuses of human rights, such as
torture and the imprisonment of opposition supporters.

Britain this week said a core of EU members, including Denmark and Sweden,
would refuse to sit down in Berlin with ministers from Burma.

ASEAN sources said the move represented a hardening in the EU stance against
Burma and a blow to the spirit of compromise required to keep inter-bloc
dialogue alive.

"Compromise means that each side has to talk and soften its position," one
Asian official close to the talks said.

"We understand the EU's position on Burma but they have to look at what
doing in a bloc-to-bloc framework."

The European diplomat said that even with a humanitarian gesture, Burma's
acceptance at the meeting would be in doubt. Unanimity is required for
Burma to
attend, so a stand by just one of the 15 EU nations could force the summit's

But the envoy here said the EU valued its relations with ASEAN and talks were
still underway to resolve the deadlock.

"I do not think there has been any hardening in the EU line. We want the
dialogue between the EU and ASEAN," he said.

"The meeting has not been postponed and we are not at a dead-end."

A row over Burma's status caused the cancellation of a lower-level ASEAN-EU
meeting in Bangkok last month.

Other European diplomatic sources said the Berlin meeting had exposed two EU
approaches to Burma -- one seeing it as a pariah state and the other looking
for compromise.

Disagreements over Burma have soured relations between the EU and the
Association of Southeast Asian Nations(ASEAN) for several years.

The EU and the United States staunchly opposed Burma's entry into ASEAN in
1997. ASEAN argued political change in Burma was more likely to arise from
constructive debate rather than punitive sanctions.


10 February, 1999 

CHIANG MAI, Thailand, (Feb. 10) IPS - Hundreds of thousands of Burmese
huddle in front of fires in secret hideouts across the border in Thailand
or in
camps overseen by Thai authorities, their future hanging in painful suspense.

Most of them are unsure if winter will be spent in relative safety on Thai
or if they will be pushed back into Burma, to face the dry season onslaught of
the Burmese army.

Abandoned by the international community and persecuted by their own
government, the only hope for these refugees, most of whom belong to ethnic
minority groups, are non-governmental organizations who offer some material
help inside, and sometimes outside, the few refugee camps along the border.

Their plight is bringing international bodies like the United Nations High
Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) into harsh scrutiny, for their lack of
to the refugee problem along the Thai- Burma border.

Critics contrast this to the UNHCR's high-profile involvement with Cambodian
refugees in the past two decades.

"I am writing to express my concern over the protracted silence of the United
Nations High Commission for Refugees in Bangkok in the face of ongoing
abuse of
Burmese refugees by the Thai Government, army and police force," said "an
overlooked refugee from Burma" in one of several letters criticizing the UNHCR
published in a Bangkok-based English daily.

Of primary concern, the letter states, is "the issue of a lack of recognition
and protection for these refugees" by UNHCR.

"The UNHCR's 'indifference' is a direct reflection of the lack of geopolitical
interest of the international community and donors in Burma," says an NGO
activist working with refugees.

This, he adds, is reflected in what critics say is UNHCR's ineffectiveness,
unclear mandate, diplomatic paralysis, and neglect that seem to have plagued
its work with Burmese refugees.

But UNHCR officials in Bangkok say otherwise, saying its wider presence on the
border will allow it to become more familiar with refugees from Burma.
we have long familiarity with other groups who have crossed the borders with
Laos and Cambodia, we are not so familiar with those entering Thailand from
Myanmar (Burma)," said Rob Burrows, a spokesman, in reply to written questions
from IPS.

While the United States and many European nations have been very vocal in
condemning the Burmese government, NGO workers say they do not consider the
country as politically important as Yugoslavia or Iraq and hence have done
little to help the victims of the regime's policies.

Following the toppling of the Pol Pot regime by the Vietnamese army-backed
rebel forces, thousands of Cambodians crossed over into Thailand. After an
initial period of confusion the UNHCR set up some of the largest refugee camps
of their kind anywhere in the world catering to more than 300,000 people.

Because of its political significance at that time, as William Shawcross notes
in his book "The Quality of Mercy," "so keen were the Western donors to
money for UNHCR's work in Thailand, that refugees there had more dollars per
head spent on them than refugees anywhere else in the world."

For Thailand too, the refugee camps were useful both for the revenues they
brought to the economy and the ego-political purpose they served, since
successive Thai governments have seen Cambodia as a buffer against "communist
threats" from Vietnam.

In the case of Burmese refugees however, the record of both the UNHCR as well
as the Thai government has been very different, critics say.

While till the mid-80s influxes of Karen, Mon, Karenni and other ethnic
minority groups fleeing attacks by the Burmese army were tolerated by the Thai
government, it tightened entry when more than 7,000 Burmese student activists
fled across the border after a bloody suppression of the 1988 pro-democracy

The Thai government's crackdowns on Burmese refugees further intensified after
closer economic ties were established between the two countries in 1992.

In the early nineties, initially some students, under the aegis of the UNHCR,
were granted "refugee" status. But soon Thai authorities decided that using
terms like "temporarily displaced persons" and "illegal migrants" suited their
interests better, giving them greater flexibility vis-a-vis the fleeing

The UNHCR showed no real interest on the Thai-Burma border, critics say. It
only in 1992 that for the first time UNHCR officials went to the border to
assess situation in the camps.

"UNHCR's apparent lack of interest in the border refugees was interpreted by
the Thai government as confirmation that the ethnic minorities were not really
refugees, and the Thai classification, 'temporarily displaced', went
unchallenged," says "Unwanted and Unprotected: Burmese Refugees in
Thailand," a
recent report by the human rights NGO, Human Rights Watch.

As a result, there has been little supervision of the regular 'forced'
repatriation by the Thai army of thousands of Mon, Shan, Karen and Karenni
refugees and Burmese students, it said.

This has in turn reinforced UNHCR's policy of not annoying its host
and to maintain its offices in Bangkok, and more recently in Mae Hong Son, Tak
and Kanchanaburi provinces along the Thai-Burma border.

Early this year it was allowed to open these three new offices, ostensibly to
enhance the agency's role in four areas: witnessing admission, assisting Thai
authorities in registration, assisting in the relocation of temporary shelters
and helping Burmese displaced persons with safe return.

Burrows said UNHCR has been granted by the Thai government an "expanded role"
at the border with Burma. "We envisage our main tasks at present to observe
Royal Thai Government's process of admission to persons fleeing fighting or
consequences of civil war," he says.

But few expect any long-term solutions for the displaced Burmese, given the
UNHCR's narrow definition of "refugees" -- taken usually to mean only those
with a well-founded fear of persecution owing to political beliefs -- and
Thailand's refusal to ratify the 1951 United Nations Convention relating to
Status of Refugees.

"There is a lot of fear amongst refugees regarding UNHCR's new screening
process on the border," says an activist working with refugees who did not
to be named. "When they ask questions about where people are coming from,
is a genuine fear of being forcibly repatriated," she added.

Still, Burrows said that though Thailand is not a signatory to the convention
on refugees, the government has granted temporary asylum to some 1.4 million
refugees and displaced persons since 1975. "For that it deserves due credit."


11 February, 1999

BANGKOK, Thailand (AP) -- Another 153 members of Myanmar opposition leader
San Suu Kyi's political party have resigned, state media reported Thursday.

The state-run New Light of Myanmar said 125 members in the southern city of
Myeik and 28 members from the South Okkalapa district of Yangon quit "because
they no longer wished to participate in party politics."

The military government says more than 10,000 members of Suu Kyi's National
League for Democracy have voluntarily resigned, and more than 40 township
offices have been closed since September.

Suu Kyi and other NLD leaders have said the resignations were coerced by
military intelligence units threatening party members. Suu Kyi has won a Nobel
Peace Prize for her efforts to bring democracy to Myanmar, also known as

The NLD has filed a criminal lawsuit against Gen. Khin Nyunt, the intelligence
chief, charging him with illegally forcing NLD members to resign.

The military government controls the courts, however, and so the lawsuit
has no
chance of succeeding.

The resignations began in September after the military detained nearly 1,000
NLD members to prevent Suu Kyi from convening the parliament elected in 1990.

Her party captured 82 percent of the seats in the legislature, but the
military, stung by defeat, never allowed it to meet.

NLD members detained by the military were allowed to return home if they
pledges to quit the party. Those who refused still remain in detention.