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The BurmaNet News: July 23, 1999

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

The BurmaNet News: July 23, 1999
Issue #1321

Noted in Passing: "You are helping the Military to keep people in
subjugation.  If that isn't interference, I don't know what is." - J. B.
Jeyaretnam, Singapore opposition politician (see THE NATION: ASEAN BLASTED) 


23 July, 1999 by Don Pathan 

SINGAPORE -- Foreign Minister Surin Pitsuwan said yesterday the political
stalemate between Burma and the European Union (EU) has been broken and the
two sides have agreed to continue their dialogue. 

The breakthrough came during the visit of mid-level EU officials to Burma
on July 6 and 7 when they met pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi and
powerful intelligence figure Lt Gen Khin Nyunt. 

''The ice has been broken,'' Surin stated after meeting his Burmese
counterpart Win Aung yesterday. 

Given the positive atmosphere, an opportunity may arise at a later date for
the military junta to establish some sort of dialogue with Suu Kyi's
National League for Democracy (NLD), Surin said. 

The NLD is the main opposition party which had won a landslide victory in
the 1990 election but was denied the fruits of victory by the army. 

The EU and the US placed sanctions on the cash-strapped country, accusing
the junta of violating the rights of the nation's people. 

The EU had previously refused to sit down with Asean if Burma was present
and even placed a visa ban on Rangoon's top brass. 

Asean has given Thailand the task of patching up ties between Burma and the
EU to end Burma's isolation. The country's generals have so far refused to
hold talks with Suu Kyi and are instead trying to curb her activities. 

According to Surin, Win Aung raised the issue of a road-construction
project from Prachuap Khiri Khan to Burma's Marid, where deep-sea port and
fisheries projects await Thai investments. 

Surin said the road project was stalled after Thailand was hit by the
economic crisis. 

Surin is to attend an annual ministerial meeting with his Asean
counterparts today and tomorrow. 

Meanwhile, Southeast Asia human rights groups held a press conference to
blast Asean for not doing enough to protect its own people from gross
violations of human rights in member countries. 

Speaking at a press conference here just one day ahead of the meeting of
Asean ministers, Debbie Stothard of Altsean-Burma blasted the regional
grouping for using a hands-off policy to justify its failure to resolve
human rights crises in Burma, where ''massive outflows of refugees and
migrant workers and drug production are a threat to the region''.

23 July, 1999 by Don Pathan 

SINGAPORE - Southeast Asia human rights groups blasted Asean yesterday for
not doing enough to protect its own people from gross violations of human
rights in member countries.

At a news conference one day ahead of the meeting of Asean ministers,
Debbie Stothard, coordinator for the Malaysia-based [sic] Alternative Asean
network on Burma, blasted the regional grouping for using a hands-off
policy to justify its failure to resolve human rights crises in Burma,
where  "massive outflows of refugees and migrant workers, and drug
production are a threat to the region."

"Asean lost its soul a long time ago by refusing to acknowledge the reality
that human rights are indivisible from economic development," said Stothard.

"In the case of Burma, Asean has failed to affect any change, any positive

"Since Burma was allowed into Asean two years ago, there's been actually a
worsening of the situation," she added.

Burma's ruling government refused to step down after losing a landslide
election nearly a decade ago.  Leaders have been accused of massive human
rights violations, including forced labour and relocation of thousands of

But Asean has stood by its core policy of non-interference in member
countries' domestic affairs, arguing that Burma's human rights situation
will improve if it is brought into the international community.

Open Singapore Centre's (OSC) Dr. Chee Soon Juan blasted the island state
for its lack of transparency and accountability , saying the island's
people are being kept in the dark about their government's failed
investment projects.

He blasted the Singapore government for investing in Burma in spite of
condemnations from the international community about the military junta's
treatment of its own people

J. B. Jeyaretnam, a Singapore opposition politician and also a member of
the OSC, said he was disappointed that there was no initiative by the
Singapore government to set up a a human rights commission like some other
Asean countries.

"They say it's a policy of non-interference.  But by their direct
encouragement of the military regime, they are interfering in Burma's
internal affairs," Jeyaretnam said at the news conference.

Jeyaretnam also criticised Singapore for investing heavily in Burma.  "You
are helping the Military to keep people in subjugation.  If that isn't
interference, I don't know what is," Jeyaretnam said.

Others slammed Asean for ignoring an Indonesian military crackdown on
pro-independence sympathisers in its strife-torn province of Aceh.

Ahmady, secretary of the Alliance of Independent Journalists Indonesia,
said the crisis in trouble-plagued Aceh had not eased despite the end of
Suharto's three-decade rule.

"There are still rapes, disappearances, killings, and other forms of
violations and intimidation inflicted by the military.  So far, 150,000
people have fled their homes from the military," said Ahmady, who like many
Indonesians, uses only one name.

In Malaysia, 800,000 newly-registered voters would most likely be unable
to vote in the country's upcoming election because of an eight-month delay
in processing their registrations, said Alison Wee, spokeswoman for human
rights group Suaram Malaysia.

The government said the delay was due to "compute work," Wee said.

But, the election commission will be able to conduct the election on short
notice of 12 days or nine days, she added.

Other activists blamed Asean member countries for stifling press freedom,
clamping down on dissidents and using the death penalty.

Wilson Lucente, from Amnesty International Philippines, spoke out against
the death penalty in that country, saying capital punishment does not deter
heinous crimes and that the judicial system there has been prone to errors
when imposing the death penalty.


22 July, 1999 


When Asean foreign ministers meet-again tomorrow in Singapore, awaiting
them will be a myriad of issues - from the grouping's unity and cooperation
to its relations with the major powers. But by far the most important issue
is the restoration of Asean's credibility in the eyes of the international

Asean's success since its establishment, in 1967, be it political or
economic, has largely depended on its internal solidarity when dealing with
non-Asean members, especially the Western countries. The organisation was
not well known outside the region until it emerged to play a pivotal role
in the resolution of the 14-year-old Cambodian conflict. 

Cambodia's never-ending woes prompted Asean members to think and work as a
team, especially when engaging the major powers and the United Nations. The
outcome was impressive. Since then, Asean has been hailed as the most
successful regional organisation in the world, after the European Union.
When Asean speaks, it makes a difference. 

However, when Asean embraced Burma two years ago, its credibility took a
severe battering. The admission of Burma as member clearly went against the
wishes of Asean's best friends - its dialogue partners who have been so
generous in providing assistance to the region over the past two decades.
That decision also came at the most trying period, a time when the region
is facing an unprecedented economic crisis. 

Burma's membership in Asean has so far proved to be a huge liability.
Asean's overall relationship with its dialogue partners has since
deteriorated to its lowest ebb. In the last few weeks, Asean and the EU,
its biggest aid donor, have tried to reconcile their long-standing dispute
over Burma. Both realise they have so much to lose if their relations
remained frozen as they are today. Without any remarkable improvement in
their ties, the broader cooperation under the framework of Asia-Europe
Meeting will surely be a casualty, if it is not already, and this will put
a damper on the next summit meeting in Seoul next year. 

The onus now rests on Asean. The grouping has to show that changes in Burma
are forthcoming and that it can help establish a dialogue between the
military junta and the opposition. Asean leaders often boast that they are
the ones who understand their region best and thus know how to deal with
crises as they arise. So far, though, they have been unable to prove this

It is ironic that Burma's pariah status and its increased global isolation
now provide Asean with the raison d'etre to stay united. One wonders how
long can Asean maintain its solidarity on Burma and at what cost. There is,
however, a limit to Asean's support of Burma. It is notable that Asean
today no longer has the cohesiveness it had a few years ago. 

When Asean stood firm against Vietnam's occupation of Cambodia, the whole
world was behind the organisation. It was then the right thing to do. Now
Asean stands up for Burma. It has earned the grouping much consternation,
if not condemnation. Most importantly, it has tainted the reputation of
Asean. This is indeed not the right thing to do. 

Burma is a serious issue which the Asean foreign ministers must address. If
the political situation in Burma remains deadlocked, Asean's image will be
further eroded, and that's something the grouping can ill afford. Asean
wants to regain the confidence of the international community - especially
that of investors - in its economy. It can only do so if it restores the
credibility it once enjoyed. 


22 July, 1999 

CHIANG MAI, Thailand (Reuters) - Khun Sa, the Golden Triangle drug baron
who retired after surrendering to Myanmar authorities four years ago, is
back in business, Thai narcotics officials said Thursday.

There were signs the former commander of the separatist Mong Tai Army (MTA)
in Myanmar's northeastern Shan state has become involved again with his son
in the opium-growing Golden Triangle, they told reporters.

The Golden Triangle straddles the borders of Myanmar, Thailand and Laos.

``His son, Charm Herng is now playing an active role in drug trafficking.
There are signs Khun Sa is also getting involved,'' said Pinyo Chaithong,
the head of Thailand's Office of Narcotics Control Board (ONCB) based in
northern Chiang Mai.

``A few years ago we believed he had washed his hands of drugs but lately
there are signs that he is returning,'' Methee Wongpradit, Pinyo's deputy
told reporters.

Charm Herng, 30, a graduate of an American college, was shuttling between
Ho Mong -- Khun Sa's former stronghold in Shan state about 12 miles from
the Thai border -- and Tachilek, an eastern Myanmar border town, Methee said.

The half-Shan, half-Chinese Khun Sa, wanted by the United States on drug
trafficking charges, was widely reported in 1995 to have given up the drug
trade after his surrender.

He now lives in Yangon under the protection of the Myanmar military
government, which says he is not involved with drugs.

When Khun Sa surrendered, another Shan state rebel group called the United
Wa State Army took over his drugs trade. Narcotics experts say the UWSA is
heavily involved in drug trafficking despite having reached a truce with

But Thai officials said remnants of Khun Sa's now disbanded MTA had become
active again in drug producing and trafficking.

``Drug production by former Khun Sa guerrillas is increasing. His son is
seen playing an active role in that business,'' said a Thai army colonel
based at the border with Myanmar. ``There are signs and information that
Khun Sa is getting involved.''

Pinyo said reports that Khun Sa was seriously ill and partly paralyzed
were untrue. ``We have learnt that he is healthy and living in luxury in

Thailand's ONCB said the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency had estimated Myanmar
would produce 2,500 to 2,800 tons of opium this year. The United Nations
put Myanmar's 1998 opium output at 1,700 tons.

``While the amount of heroin produced remains at about the same level, Yaba
(amphetamines) production is increasing at an alarming rate,'' Pinyo said.

Myanmar is one of the world's main sources of heroin. Its government says
it lacks the money and resources and to wipe out the drug trade in remote
areas of the country.

Pinyo estimated up to 300 million amphetamine tablets were produced
annually from the UWSA and the ex-MTA-controlled areas.

``The heroin (trafficking) routes have changed from Thailand to China,
Laos, Vietnam and even Cambodia. But Yaba comes directly to Thailand, which
we regard as the real threat to our national security,'' he said.

Thailand is concerned at a marked rise in amphetamine use among its youth.

22 July, 1999 

DHAKA, July 22 (Reuters) - Bangladesh has asked Myanmar not to send its
commerce minister to Dhaka because a recent visit by Foreign Minister Win
Aung did not result in an agreement on the repatriation of Myanmar
refugees, an official said on Thursday.

Win Aung returned home on Monday after a three-day visit, during which
Bangladesh sought a firm commitment for the repatriation of 21,000 Myanmar
refugees from Bangladesh.

``We had a great expectation that the refugee issue would be solved during
the foreign minister's visit. But the other side (Myanmar) made no
pledges,'' said the foreign ministry official, who declined to be identified.

``Our Myanmar embassy yesterday conveyed the Bangladesh government's
sentiment that until there is any substantial development on repatriation
of Rohingya refugees, a proposed visit by Commerce Minister Kyaw Than
should not take place.''

Said Ismail Hossain, deputy secretary of the relief ministry: ``Dhaka was
unhappy over Myanmar's failure to give a concrete assurance for the return
of the refugees. It was a big disappointment.''

Kyaw Than's trip was planned for August 3-7.

Some 250,000 Moslems, called Rohingyas, fled to southeastern Bangladesh in
early 1992 from west Myanmar's Arakan province to escape alleged military

All but 21,000 Rohingyas had been repatriated under the supervision of the
U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) by mid-1997 when the process
stopped abruptly.

Bangladesh accused Myanmar of dragging its feet on the issue and of trying
not to take its people back, which prompted the UNHCR to reopen the issue
with Yangon.

Yangon then resumed repatriating Rohingyas late last year, but very slowly.

Dhaka says only about 350 Rohingyas have gone home since November 1998, a
number replenished by new births in the camps.

``We have the figures (21,000) for refugees in the two camps only. But
there are more refugees outside the camps,'' said Hossain.