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The BurmaNet News: June 22, 1999

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

The BurmaNet News: June 22, 1999
Issue #1298

Noted in Passing: "Many ASEAN countries are investing in Burma. Is that not
interference in our internal affairs? They are now involved economically so
how can they say that 'we are not going to get involved in the political
side?" - Daw Aung San Suu Kyi (see IPS: ASEAN DOES "THE LEAST") 


18 June, 1999 


RANGOON - A revered veteran of the Burmese independence struggle has urged
the junta and Aung San Suu Kyi's opposition to open a dialogue, adding
weight to growing calls for rapprochement, sources said yesterday.

Bohmu Aung and a group of political allies called for discussions aimed at
eventually forming a "national reconciliation" government in Burma.

"In the interest of the state and its people, both sides should abandon
doubts, suspicions, animosity and allegations," Bohmu Aung and the group
urged in a paper submitted to the government and Aung San Suu Kyi's
opposition party, the National League for Democracy (NLD).

It called on both sides to "strive to establish contacts, build confidence
and start a dialogue leading to the formation of a national reconciliation
government as soon as possible". .

Sources familiar with the letter's contents said it was sent on June 11 to
both sides in Burma's bitter political stalemate.

Aung San Suu Kyi has faced increasing calls for her to initiate talks with
the government following a military crackdown on her party, which recently
won elections by a landslide but did not succeed in coming to power as the
junta ignored the results.

The NLD says it is always ready to sit down with the generals but says it
cannot accept any format that would bypass Aung San Suu Kyi, whom the
government refuses to meet.

Bohmu Aung was a member of the Thirty Comrades who led the fight for
independence from the British in the 1940s.

The comrades included independence leader Aung San, the father of Aung San
Suu Kyi, who was assassinated in 1947.

Bohmu Aung's group said in the paper that the proposed coalition government
should include military representatives, the NLD, the ethnic Shan
Nationalities League for Democracy and other parties.

The government could then "take the lead" in drafting a new constitution,
they suggested. 

[BurmaNet Editor's Note: Below is the English translation of Bohmu Aung's
letter, sent to BurmaNet by <nldburma@xxxxxxxxxxx>]


1. Our first letter of the 23 November 1995 and the second under the
heading "Recommendations for National Reconciliation" dated 14 January 1999
were given frankly and honestly.

2. In so doing we were not motivated by any desire for personal gain but
solely because of our concern for the country and the people.

3.  In that paper we suggested that "the fundamental approach to solving
the country's various problems was by meeting and negotiation between the
State Peace and Development Council and the National League for Democracy
through the formation of a National Reconciliation Coalition Government".
Suggestions for the process, the type of government and the tasks that
should be undertaken were also given.

4.  We presume that there was no opposition to our suggestions by both the
SPDC and the NLD.

5.  We have read a report in the newspaper of the 5th June, 1999 about the
meeting between Secretary 2 of the SPDC General Khin Nyunt and Mrs. Delphin
Esmond. On the question of dialogue, the General said, "Our idea of
dialogue is one that will have to be achieved in four stages. The first
stage is to connect and to build up trust, which can be achieved with both
sides meeting. Once that stage of trust is reached we can turn towards

6. Similarly, we have read the NLD's statement of the 27 May 1999 that
"Ever since 1988 they have never been opposed to, or prevented, or stopped
in any way any negotiation or dialogue. The features of genuine political
dialogue are mutual respect, frankness and honesty, and giving priority to
the needs of the country. No pre-conditions for dialogue have ever been set."

7. The attitude of both sides as set out in paragraph 5 and 6 is very
commendable.  Therefore if suspicions, mistrust, revenge and condemnation
can all be discarded the road to dialogue will be straightforward.

8.  Despite both sides having the desire to meet and negotiate, why is it
that to this date it has not been achieved? The country's political,
economic, social and administrative problems have not decreased.

9. Please put the country's interest first and forsake the suspicions,
distrust, hatred, and condemnatory attitudes. We again urge and request the
State Peace and Development Council and the National League for Democracy
to work towards national reconciliation by meeting, building up trust and

BOHMU AUNG, On behalf of Colleagues

11 June 1999


18 June, 1999 

Who will succeed Gen. Than Shwe, boss of Myanmar's junta?  Is there a split
between Secretary No. 2, Lt.-Gen. Khin Nyunt and Armed Forces chief Gen.
Maung Aye?  "There is no substance whatever to the allegations," Khin Nyunt
says, claiming they are spread by dissident expatriate groups.  

But Maung Aye extended the power of the conservative bloc he nominally
heads by taking the new key post as head of the Trade Policy Council. It
overrides all ministries in trade and business matters, giving him enormous
additional influence and funding. 

The trade council has been issuing edicts like they were military orders
and has apparently thrown its weight behind the massive Irrawaddy Delta
reclamation project, which many see as ill-conceived, and that Khin Nyunt
is not keen on.  So is there a split?  Savvy Yangonites feel the rumors are
exaggerated, given that the two men know they need each other's mutual
support. But all admit that Maung Aye's future has started looking a lot
brighter recently. 


21 June, 1999 

BANGKOK, June 21 (Reuters) - Myanmar's main opposition party has questioned
a report by the ruling military that says alcoholism drove one of its
members to commit suicide in custody, and has demanded a full public inquiry.

Earlier this month, the Yangon government said Hla Khin, 43, a member of
the National League for Democracy, hanged himself with his sarong in his
cell at Yangon's Insein Prison on May 31.

It said he had been undergoing treatment for alcoholism which brought on
neurological disorders that led to the suicide.

An NLD letter to the government dated June 8 and published on the Internet
at the weekend questioned this version of events.

"The authorities, in announcing his death, alleged he indulged in alcohol
which resulted in brain damage and suicide. This is questionable," the NLD

"He had been imprisoned for nine months. How was it possible for him to
access liquor? If he had had that affliction, did the authorities take any
remedial steps? It is not impossible for this disease to be cured."

The party said shocked members of Hla Khin's family had been unable to
provide explanations to NLD members who contacted them.

"It is very likely that they had been threatened and intimidated by some
person or organisation," the NLD letter said. "No response was obtained to
questions about whether the family was given permission to view the corpse
or to bury it."

The NLD letter said Hla Khin was detained in August when he went to observe
a protest against travel restrictions by NLD leader Aung San Suu Kyi and
was charged with anti-state activity. It called his conviction an
unwarranted abuse of power.

"The entire responsibility for U Hla Khin's death lies with the Insein
prison authorities," the letter said. "The League demands that a full
public inquiry be held into the death and the circumstances surrounding the

The government spokesman did not respond to a request for a comment on the
NLD letter.

The death followed an inaugural visit to the notorious Insein jail by the
International Committee of the Red Cross. The government has said Hla Khin
was "sleeping" during that visit.

The NLD has said the government moved large numbers of political prisoners
out of the jail before the ICRC visit. The government said the party should
prove this.

The United States and European Union have imposed sanctions on Myanmar
because of its treatment of the NLD, which won a 1990 general election by a
landslide but was not allowed to govern.

The NLD has said more than 100 of its members elected as members of
parliament in the poll are being detained by the government along with
about 500 ordinary members. Since the election there have been several
deaths in custody.

The military late last year stepped up suppression of the NLD after it
demanded that a People's Parliament of elected MPs be convened. 


18 June, 1999 

RANGOON, (Jun. 18) IPS - Two years after it admitted the Burmese regime
into its fold, the Association of South-east Asian Nations (ASEAN) should
realize its mistake and take a tougher approach on Rangoon, Burmese
opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi says.

"I think this non-interference is just an excuse for not helping and we
think that in our day and age, you cannot avoid interference in the
(internal) matters of countries," Suu Kyi told a group of visiting
South-east Asian women journalists and activists here this week.

She said that while other countries are "very active about helping the
democratization process... I think you have to admit that the ASEAN
countries do least".

Already, South-east Asian governments gave the Burmese military regime a
measure of international legitimacy when it admitted the state into ASEAN
in 1997, despite strong opposition from the west and from critics in the

But two years after ASEAN boldly threw its support behind the military
junta in the hope that it could influence Rangoon to introduce political
reforms, its policy of "constructive engagement" seems to have fallen flat
on its face.

The junta, known as the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC), has in
fact tightened its grip of power and intensified its crackdown on the
opposition, arresting and jailing its leaders and supporters, observers say.

For Nobel Prize laureate leader Suu Kyi, it is time that ASEAN take a
different approach.

She takes exception to the argument of some ASEAN governments that
"democracy is a Western concept and that you've got to keep your Asian value".

"They talk a lot about non-interference," she told her visitors Wednesday
at the headquarters of the National League for Democracy (NLD), of which
she is general-secretary. "We cannot help feeling that this somehow smacks
of a conscience which is not completely clear."

ASEAN's policy of non-interference has been widely criticized by the West
and human rights groups in Asia, and has allowed authoritarian governments
in the region to ignore repeated calls for political reforms.

It also shows a lack of political will to address the issue of human
rights, all for the sake of unity in the ASEAN circle.

ASEAN groups Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand, the
Philippines and also includes Vietnam, Laos, Burma and Cambodia, which
joined the South-east Asia's political club only in April.

The Philippines, Thailand and Singapore had initially expressed
reservations against Burma's admission into ASEAN. They wanted the SPDC to
initiate a dialogue with the opposition NLD.

The NLD won the 1990 general elections, but the junta has refused to
respect the result of the poll and has prevented its leaders from taking
their seats in Parliament.

Efforts toward a dialogue between NLD and the SPDC have not been
successful. Now, Suu Kyi, the symbol of Burmese struggle for freedom, wants
ASEAN to put more pressure on the military junta.

"We have made various compromises and we have been as flexible as
possible," she told the group of visiting women during a "tea party" to
mark Women's Day at the NLD headquarters in Rangoon.

"We have tried, we have bent backwards in order to make dialogue possible.
But the military regime does not want dialogue because they think dialogue
is the beginning of the end for them," she explained.

"I think what we need is a new initiative on the part of ASEAN members and
I think it is time that the ASEAN recognize that the inflexibility is on
the part of the military regime and not on the part of the NLD," she declared.

The opposition leader said ASEAN, which will hold its annual ministerial
meeting in Singapore next month, should take a more positive attitude
toward bringing about a negotiated settlement in Burma.

Since Burma's brutal suppression of the 1988 pro-democracy uprising, the
United States and other European countries have imposed economic sanctions
against the ruling junta, although some multinationals with existing
projects continue to operate here.

The U.S. has passed legislation prohibiting new investments in Burma and
the European Union and other parties have levied milder economic penalties
against the military government.

But this is hardly the case among ASEAN countries, which continue to pour
millions of dollars in investments in infrastructure projects across the

Critics say these foreign investments are what prop up the regime, enabling
it to cling on to power.

"Many ASEAN countries are investing in Burma. Is that not interference in
our internal affairs? They are now involved economically so how can they
say that 'we are not going to get involved in the political side?'" said
Suu Kyi.


21 June, 1999 


RANGOON - Burma's official press yesterday called on Southeast Asia to
unite against "evil" Western hegemony as the Rangoon junta prepares to host
an Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) ministerial meeting later
this month.

A commentary in the junta's propaganda mouthpiece The New Light of Myanmar
said the ministerial talks on transnational crime to be held here on June
23 were another chance for Asean to "ward off" Western "bullies".

"We, the 10 Asean nations, will be able to ward off all attempts of
dominators and bullies to make intrusions in the region with the
cooperative and harmonious endeavours in implementing regional
stabilisation, economic, social and development task," the newspaper said.

It said it was the "noble essence" of the Asean meeting to fight against
"various alien dangers," citing the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation's
intervention in Kosovo as an example.

"The attack [on Yugoslavia] could utterly devastate the entire people of
Yugoslavia," it said.

"It can be seen that the Western bloc imposes economic sanctions on nations
which are against its actions to cause economic hardships and financial

The European Union, the United States and Japan have suspended most
non-humanitarian aid to Burma in response to widespread allegations of
gross human rights abuses, including torture and systematic rape.

The international community has also thrown its support behind Burmese
opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, whose National League for Democracy
(NLD) party won 1990 elections but has been denied power by the junta.

Burma's military regime has been eager to gain international legitimacy
through its membership of Asean, granted in 1997 despite strong objections
from European nations and the US.

The first top-level Asean function Burma hosted, a labour ministers meeting
in May, went ahead despite a storm of protests from international human
rights watchdogs which claim the junta uses slave labour.

Asean groups Brunei, Burma, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, the
Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.


21 June, 1999 


At its annual conference in Geneva over the week, the International Labour
Organisation (ILO) passed a resolution to condemn the practice of forced
labour in Burma and banned it from receiving any form of assistance from
its organisation. The Burmese delegations would not be allowed to attend
any ILO meetings, except conferences and meetings of the governing body.

The ILO has repeatedly criticised Burma for its systematic conscription of
villagers to work as porters and road constructers and labourers.

Among the more than 800,000 people allegedly forced to work for the
military in the remote districts and jungles, many of them are children.

The UN body has also urged Burma to amend its labour law to outlaw forced
labour. Burma promised to fulfil this plea since joining the convention in
1955. But it has been 30 years and there is no positive sign of the
incumbent military junta known as the State Peace and Development Council
(SPDC) fulfilling this vow.

Forced labour continues unabated and those who order the practice still go
about their daily lives unpunished. Indeed, the military junta in Rangoon
is not listening. The boycott came after Burma failed to enforce any of the
ILO recommendations issued last year.

The ILO also concluded a new treaty to end all forms of child labour. It is
estimated that some 250 million children are working in developing
countries. More than half of them are concentrated in Asia. The treaty
seeks to eliminate child slavery, child prostitution and pornography and
the use of children in drug trafficking and armed conflict.

Now there are also movements to tighten the screws further. Labour experts
at the ILO, trade unions and employers' groups would like to declare the
use of forced labour as a "crime against humanity" which can be prosecuted
in the international criminal court.

The ILO's increased criticism comes at the time some international aid
organisations are trying to make headway in Burma, thinking that aid could
provide incentives for the junta to open up and treat its citizens more

In a recent statement, Burmese opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi has
warned that international aid could backfire if it props up a "despotic"
regime in Rangoon.

Once again, leading ILO member countries have also jointly condemned Burma
over its treatment of its population. US President Bill Clinton, in his
speech in Geneva, also highlighted Burma, citing that the country stands in
defiance of the ILO's fundamental values and standards.

Only Asean came to support and defend Burma, saying that the country should
be given more time to comply. It is embarrassing that a member of Asean is
being condemned so frequently in international fora. It does not augur well
with the grouping's ongoing effort to improve its tainted image.

It is one thing to fight for a right cause, it is another to fight for a
false hope.

It is hard to argue that the ILO standard is a Western standard when almost
the rest of the world have the decency to comply and improve their labour
standard whichever way they can.

The Burmese junta has always being regarded as an arrogant bunch of
jurassic strongmen whose only regard is to cling on to power at all cost.

This, they have been doing for the past three decades, all to the detriment
of the Burmese people.

But forcing their very own people to forced labour goes beyond human
comprehension. This has to stop.


21 June, 1999 

YANGON, June 21 (Reuters) - Senior officials of the Association of
Southeast Asian Nations met in the Myanmar capital on Monday to discuss
transnational crime, including drug trafficking, arms smuggling and money

The gathering of senior officials precedes a meeting of home ministers of
the 10-member bloc due to take place on Wednesday.

In an opening address, Myanmar Home Minister Col Tin Hlaing said the
meeting would consider establishing an ASEAN Centre on Transnational Crime,
an institutional framework to cooperate against such crimes.

He said it would consider entrusting the ministerial meeting with a
supervisory and consultative role in dealings with ASEAN institutions on
the issue.

Tin Hlaing said the meeting would address how best member countries could
collaborate against terrorism, drug trafficking, arms smuggling, money
laundering, trafficking in persons and piracy.

He said there was a crucial need for ASEAN members to work together to
combat the fast-growing problem of trafficking in people.

The ministerial meeting follows an inaugural meeting of the forum in Manila
in December 1997.

It will be the second ASEAN ministerial meeting military-ruled Myanmar has
hosted this year and since it joined the regional bloc in July 1997.

It hosted the 13th ASEAN Labour Ministers' meeting in May, provoking a
storm of criticism from human rights activists who say it makes use of
forced labour.

Last week, the International Labour Organisation virtually expelled
Myanmar, banning it from receiving aid or attending meetings until it halts
the practice. Myanmar says the charges against it are politically motivated.

Myanmar is a major link in the chain of transnational crime, in particular
as one of the world's main sources of heroin.

It is accused by the United States and others of failing to do enough to
stamp out drug trafficking and money laundering.

ASEAN groups Myanmar, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam, Malaysia, the
Philippines, Singapore, Brunei and Indonesia.


21 June, 1999 by Supamart Kasem 


The House Committee on Justice and Human Rights is investigating an
allegation a local government councillor raped a 13-year-old Karen girl.

The complaint was made by the girl's mother, Ker Kae Aye, 41, a Karen
refugee in Mae La camp.

She told police her daughter was raped twice last month by Sombat Phimsi,
47, a provincial councillor for Tha Song Yang district, when the girl
accompanied him to Bangkok to sell cucumbers from his farm, where she was
employed for-40 baht a day.

A report by Tha Song Yang hospital, where she was examined, stated she had
not been molested.

Doctors from Medicine Sans Frontier, an NGO medical group, made a separate
examination and concluded she had indeed been raped.

MSF staff said the hospital could be trying to protect Mr Sombat and
petitioned the Tak governor and the House committee, chaired by Larpsak

Tha Song Yang police have charged Mr Sombat with rape and illegally hiring
foreign workers. He was allowed 200,000 baht bail.

Saw Tay Tay, secretary of the Karen Refugee Committee, took the girl to
testify before the committee yesterday, and presented a copy of the MSF
doctors' report.

He said he was satisfied with the action being taken by Thai authorities.


20 June, 1999 by Dennis Rockstroh 

Today is Father's Day, but in a corner of Fremont's Central Park, the
tribute will go to women.

And, amid the honors and hors d'oeuvres, those celebrating may even speak
of unpleasantries -- such as the thug government that keeps them in exile.

The world shudders at the horrors of the homeland. The European Parliament
said that what is going on is ``a crime against humanity.'' The Parliament
condemned forced labor, ``massacres and ethnic cleansing and the
destruction of food.''


Nope -- Burma, a.k.a. Myanmar.

Without a lot of fanfare, Burmese exiles have been escaping to the United
States over the past three decades. There are an estimated 10,000 in the
Bay Area and similar numbers in New York, Chicago and Los Angeles.

The Burmese are a deeply religious people, and there are four Burmese
monasteries here: in Boulder Creek, Half Moon Bay, San Jose and Fremont.

The Burmese community will gather at 10 a.m. today to honor all Burmese
women, but Aung San Suu Kyi in particular.

Suu Kyi is the national symbol of the democracy struggle against the
military junta that runs Burma as a really mean private club.

Suu Kyi is the daughter of Burma's national hero, Gen. Aung San, who helped
win independence from Great Britain and was assassinated in 1947. In 1988,
Suu Kyi returned to Burma from exile to nurse her ill mother. While she was
there, a national uprising against military rule erupted. She emerged as
the movement's leader. The military crushed the uprising, but in 1990 her
party, the National League for Democracy, won a national election by a

The generals refused to recognize the election.

Even so, Suu Kyi has struggled to lead Burma to change, employing
non-violent means. In 1991, she was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.

Still, the situation in Burma receives little attention. And the Burmese
here lead quiet, almost unnoticed lives.

``Quite a few people tell me, `You're the first Burmese I've ever met,' ''
said Robert Aung Myint, a member of the Burma Association and a retired
U.S. Air Force technician. ``We are here and would like Americans to know
that atrocities and ethnic cleansing are not just taking place in Kosovo.''

Myint said it is difficult to raise the ire of Burmese back home. They are
overwhelmingly Buddhist and tend to tolerate hardship.

Especially with a thug government.

``The Burmese are a docile people,'' he said. ``If they demonstrate, the
military shoots 30 or 40 of them, and the rest are scared.''

The world community continues to pressure Burma to reform.

``Instead of yielding power, the military has abused it, denying the people
of Burma not only democracy but virtually any free expression of political
and other basic human rights,'' U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright
said in a radio address over Radio Free Asia in May.

``They have placed more than 150 democratically elected members of
parliament under arrest,'' Albright said. ``. . . The people of Burma are
paying a terrible price for the arrogance and brutality of their leaders.''

Earlier this year, the U.S Embassy in neighboring Thailand issued a
statement that read in part: ``Over the last eight years, Amnesty
International has well-documented evidence of a pattern of forced
portering, ill treatment and unlawful killing of unarmed civilians during
counter-insurgency operations by the Burmese army against ethnic minority

The Thailand Times reported earlier this year that more than 100,000
Burmese, the majority of them ethnic minorities, had fled across the border
in recent weeks after a severe military crackdown. [BurmaNet Editor's Note:
The current population in refugee camps along the Thai-Burma border is just
over 115,000 persons, and they have arrived in Thailand over the last
decade, not in the last few weeks.  Over 1,000 refugees do arrive each
month; many of them do not enter the refugee camps.]

Engineer Richard Aung Myint, Robert's older brother, said that although the
potluck celebration from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the park near the senior
center is for fun, it is also a political statement.

It is an unusual gathering for another reason.

``Religion is a big part of our culture,'' Robert Aung Myint said. ``That's
the reason for most Burmese gatherings.''

And that, he said, leads to the principal Burmese outlook on life: ``Live
peacefully in the world and with all living things.''