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Subject: [theburmanetnews] BurmaNet News: April 10, 2000 

______________ THE BURMANET NEWS ______________
              An on-line newspaper covering Burma 
________________ www.burmanet.org _________________

April 10, 2000

Issue # 1505

This edition of The BurmaNet News is viewable online at:



*Inside Burma









___________________ INSIDE BURMA ______________________ 


Philippe Agret 

YANGON, April 9 

For nearly a year now, workers from the International Committee of 
the Red Cross (ICRC) have been visiting prisons in Myanmar, gaining 
unprecedented access in this pariah state. 

The Red Cross has come across 30,000 inmates, of which 1,450 are held 
for reasons of "security," Leon de Riedmatten, head of delegation in 
Myanmar, told AFP. 

Among those held for security reasons are politicians, students and 
rebel fighters, all arrested by the military regime for membership 
of "unlawful associations." 

"It's a first in Myanmar ... Visits are so sensitive," said the Swiss 
Red Cross delegate. 

The junta, spurned by the international community and under a raft of 
sanctions, is regularly accused of widespread human rights 
violations, most recently by the United Nations' special envoy. 

Since May 1999, when the prison visits started, the Red Cross has 
been allowed into 25 jails, all the main ones, including the infamous 
Insein prison near Yangon. 

Eight prisons were visited twice. 

Since the beginning of last month, the Red Cross has for the first 
time also been granted access to labour camps. So far it has seen two 
agricultural labour camps located near the capital. Many more remain 

The labour camps are holding common criminals and having them work on 
roads as chain gangs, in mines or in the fields. 

The organisation has also inspected, twice, three government "guest 
houses", where members of Nobel Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi's 
opposition National League for Democracy are detained. In effect, 
the "houses" are internment centres. 

The NLD won an overwhelming victory in Myanmar's 1990 elections but 
the junta has refused to relinquish power and has imprisoned hundreds 
of party members. 

Many prisoners who have served time in Insein jail have emerged with 
grisly tales of appalling conditions and claimed they were tortured 
or held in solitary confinement. 

The Red Cross was given permission to open an office in Yangon in 
October 1998. There followed lengthy negociations with the junta over 
obtaining access to all the detention centres. 

Per standard Red Cross practice, the ICRC also asked to register all 
prisoners, to hold talks with them in private and to be allowed 
repeat visits. 

At the end of each inspection, ICRC workers make recommendations to 
the local prison authorities and pass their conclusions, 
confidentially, to the Prison Department. 
In addition, the Red Cross is paying for families of "security 
detainees" to travel to the jail where their relatives are held. 

Initiating the Red Cross' humanitarian mission under a paranoid and 
secretive regime has not been without its difficulties. 

"It's easier on the second visit," said de Riedmatten. "Nowadays we 
can go anywhere." 

Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi herself at first expressed scepticism 
and was critical of the Red Cross, claiming the junta had transferred 
hundreds of inmates out of Insein before ICRC's first visit on May 6, 

She also criticised the ICRC for not consulting her before accepting 
a government offer to visit Myanmar jails for the first time. 

But after ICRC delegates were granted permission to return, and after 
their visits appeared to lead to an improvement in prison conditions, 
the opposition relaxed. 

In effect, the ICRC's work in Myanmar has made it the only group in 
touch with all political factions in Yangon as well as with the 
diplomatic community. 

"Some people have good reasons to discredit us but they see we are 
doing good work", said de Riedmatten, while admitting that "we cannot 
make everyone happy." 

While some observers argue that the junta is using the ICRC to boost 
Myanmar's poor international image, others charge that Myanmar has 
been far more accomodating to the Red Cross than fellow closed states 
Laos and Vietnam. 

"We have managed to achieve a lot in a short space of time," he 
said. "We must consolidate now, for instance with targeted medical 
and hygiene programmes." 



SUAN PHUNG, Thailand, April 9 

Between them, the 12-year-old twins say, they command 400,000 
invisible soldiers. If anybody shoots at them, the bullets just 
bounce off. And they can kill their enemies simply by pointing a 
rifle at the ground and concentrating really hard. 

These might be the fantasies of a million schoolboys. But they are 
the beliefs that have led grown men into battle -- the legends that 
surround two child warriors who lead a ragged ethnic insurgency 
called God's Army, just across the border in Myanmar, the former 

Last week, one of the twins, Luther Htoo, made a four-day hike with 
15 of his soldiers from his mountain hideout to the hills along the 
border for his first interview since God's Army carried out a 
suicidal raid on a Thai hospital in January. 

He met with Jason Bleibtreu, an American photographer and video 
cameraman, and spoke with The New York Times by satellite telephone --
 a fidgety child with a little-boy voice who answered many of the 
questions by turning to his followers and asking, "What shall I say?" 

After some discussion, some of his answers were these: He wants 
freedom for his people, the Karen minority. He is invulnerable to 
land mines and bullets. His favorite toys are real guns and 
ammunition. And he misses his mother and father. 

On videotape, he seems more like a spoiled mascot than a general, 
carried through the woods on the shoulders of his men, handed a lit 
cheroot whenever he murmurs, "I want a smoke," and tolerated benignly 
as he climbs in and out of the laps of the men he commands. 

He sports a camouflage fatigue shirt with a "U.S. Army" patch, 
a "Love" tattoo on his arm and a new short-cropped haircut, and he 
turns away from time to time to double over in a wrenching smoker's 

Luther and his brother, Johnny, did not join the January raid, in 
which all 10 gunmen were shot dead after taking hostage more than 800 
patients and staff at a hospital in the town of Ratchaburi. But the 
chain-smoking twins with their long hair, vacant expressions and 
claims of divinity became the objects of widespread curiosity abroad. 

They also became the targets of a stepped-up hunt by the Burmese 
military, found themselves barred from their potential sanctuary in 
Thailand and lost the support of other Karen separatists, who are now 
under increased pressure as a result of the disastrous raid. 

On the run and short of food, the fighters say, God's Army has split 
into three small groups. The twins, leading two of the groups, now 
talk to each other only by hand-held radio. Altogether, their men 
say, they command fewer than 200 fighters. 

In a separate interview here in a Thai border village, one of the 
boys' followers, a 45-year-old guerrilla, talked at length about the 
insurgency and the extraordinary legends that have grown up around 
the Htoo twins. 

Using the Karen term "bu," or "little brother," he referred to Luther 
as Bu Lu and to Johnny as Bu Joh, and he was careful to note which 
miracles he claimed to have witnessed and which he had not. 

"Once, when Bu Joh was bathing in a stream, he shouted to 
everybody, 'Look at me!' and he jumped into the water," said the 
guerrilla, who spoke on condition of anonymity. 

"When he came out he was an old man with long white hair and a white 
beard," he said. "All the soldiers were afraid, but he said, 'Don't 
be afraid: I'm Bu Joh! If you don't believe me, I'll change back.' 
And he jumped back into the water and came out as a boy again. I 
didn't see this myself, but more than 100 soldiers did see it." 

Several other incidents described by the guerrilla also suggest that 
the boys are constantly proving their powers to skeptics. 

In one incident he said he did witness, Luther gave each fighter 
three magic bullets but admonished them to save them for emergencies. 
One doubter disobeyed and shot one of the bullets at a tree. When he 
checked the tree, there were 10 bullet holes. 

"After that, he believed," the guerrilla said. 
In another incident, Luther sent his men into battle but remained 
where he was, pointing his rifle silently at the ground. Afterward he 
asked how many of the enemy had been killed. Twenty, he was told. He 
then held up his rifle; exactly 20 bullets had disappeared from its 

Legends like that challenge the imagination of most people, including 
most other ethnic Karens. But one Karen student in Bangkok, who is 
not a follower of God's Army, said he was quite ready to believe that 
the boys are reincarnations of heroes from the past. 

The emergence of charismatic holy men with claims to magical 
powers "is fairly common in Southeast Asia in times of trouble," said 
Dr. Sunai Phasuk, a Thai political scientist who has studied the 
God's Army phenomenon. "They don't have other sources of reference, 
they don't have support from authorities, and they don't have a big 
army, so they turn to supernatural beliefs." 

The Karen have been fighting a separatist insurgency since Burma 
became independent of British colonial rule a half century ago. Most 
other ethnic groups have reached an accommodation with the government 
in the last decade, but some Karen have continued to fight. The 
emergence of God's Army in the last three years is a sign of 
divisions and desperation as the Karen suffer defeat after defeat. 

Movements like God's Army are similar to end-of-the-world movements 
that predict an imminent apocalypse, Dr. Sunai said. Indeed, the 
guerrilla fighter quoted Luther as saying, "Please believe me, not 
too long from now the world will explode." 

Like some other movements of this kind, God's Army lives by ascetic 
rules. Although smoking is obviously permitted, alcohol, drugs and 
adultery are banned, along with milk, eggs and pork. Many Karen are 
Christian, and the boys are said to know the Bible by heart although 
they have never studied it. 

What is unusual about God's Army, he said, is that it is led, at 
least nominally, by children. 

Their fighting force includes a number of other child soldiers, the 
guerrilla said, many of them orphans of the war. Indeed, he said, 
with God's Army split into three groups, a third 12-year-old leader 
with magical powers has emerged named Chopa Thupli, or King of the 
Black Tongue. 

This boy, he said, is actually 200 years old, a Thai king who fought 
against the Burmese in ancient times and decided to return as a Karen 
so that he could keep on fighting them. 

His divinity is marked by the black coloration of his tongue, a sign 
among some people here of magical powers. The guerrilla said the 
twins did not have black tongues, as others have reported, and Mr. 
Bleibtreu also said it did not appear that Luther had a black tongue. 

But the twins are also reincarnations of past leaders, with a direct 
connection to heaven, the guerrilla said. 

Johnny, the funny, talkative one, was born first and goes everywhere 
first, he said, even though Luther has greater divine powers. The 
difference is measured in the size of the armies they command: Luther 
has 250,000 invisible heavenly soldiers while Johnny has 150,000. 

But it seems that Johnny commands more of the everyday kind of 
soldier. According to the guerrilla, he has about 100 fighters, who 
protect some 300 civilian followers, apparently including the boys' 

Luther has about 30 fighters, although in the interview he had to ask 
a subordinate for the number. 

The boys' parents are simple farmers without magical powers, the 
guerrilla said. When the boys became leaders, their father put down 
his hoe and took up a gun to follow them. And now, if he is in need 
of special help, the guerrilla said, the boys will detach a 
contingent of invisible soldiers to assist him. 

In their meeting with Mr. Bleibtreu on Thursday, the guerrillas -- 
both boys and men -- carried an assortment of M-16 and AK-47 rifles 
and grenade launchers. They wore fatigues, shorts and a Donald Duck T-
shirt along with black head scarves and rubber sandals. Some were 

The deep forest was filled with bird song, the buzz of insects and 
the constant dry coughing of the fighters. 

There was only one moment when gunfire seemed a possibility. 

"I can shoot a weapon -- would you like me to show you?" Luther said 
to his visitor, but his soldiers told him, "No, no, better not, 
because the Burmese Army might hear." 

Mr. Bleibtreu said the soldiers seemed to treat the boy with a mix of 
deference and patient parenting. 

"They wouldn't allow him to act upon all of his whims," he 
said. "Sometimes he would want to ride on someone's shoulders. He 
would motion, lift me up, lift me up, and they would talk him out of 

There seemed to be nothing extraordinary about this 12-year-old 
apart, perhaps, from his childishness. 

"What struck me most was he seemed to want attention, emotional 
contact," Mr. Bleibtreu said. "He wanted more hugs from his mother. 
He would sit down with me and put his hand on my shoulder. I got the 
feeling he wanted me to hug him. He would jump from soldier to 
soldier to their laps. The other boys weren't doing this. I felt sad, 
as a father: geez, this kid wants a hug." 

At one point, though, the atmosphere darkened for a moment as Luther 
seemed to grow annoyed at the constant questions. "He yelled out, and 
everyone was quiet. It was almost like a bark, and it was quite clear 
it was, 'Stop badgering me!' I was surprised, and I was taken aback 
by it, and the people took it fairly seriously." 

At the end of the videotape, the group pauses in silence as one of 
the fighters leads a prayer. And Luther, the holy man, could be any 
child -- perhaps a 6-year-old child -- shifting and squirming in 

Comfortably cradled in the lap of a tough-looking guerrilla, the boy 
yawns and rubs his eyes. Then he rubs his face. Then with an effort 
he sits forward and closes his eyes in an attempt at concentration. 
Then he begins playing with a canteen cup, wiggling its handle. 
Finally, as the men sing a closing hymn, Luther blinks himself back 
to attention and joins in for a word or two. 

The guerrilla who is holding him seems used to this. He pays no 



April 3 - 9 ,2000
Volume 1, No.5

SUPERFICIALLY, it seems the banking scene in Myanmar is on the move.
New banks are opening throughout the nation, and branches are
springing up everywhere, but underlying structural issues need
to be addressed, say some of the nation?  '²s leading bankers.

One of the most respected in the industry, Dr Sein Maung, has urged
Government and the industry to work closely together to raise savings
in banks and encourage the public to build the nation?  '²s wealth.

The emergence of more branches of private banks reflects a
concentration on domestic retail banking - a network strengthening
approach, as they are yet to be given permission to expand services
like handling foreign exchange, said Dr Sein Maung, Chairman of the
First Private Bank Limited, a pioneer in the local industry. 

Private banks are opening branches hoping to increase revenue through
fee-based income, i.e. remittances between their branches Flourishing
border trade with some of the nation?  '²s neighbours is one of the
reasons private banks are now operating their business in frontier
towns like Muse, near Huili in China, and in Myawady and Kawthaung,
which border on Maesot and Ranong in Thailand.  After the enactment of
Financial Institutions of Myanmar Law, 1990, private banks came into
existence but the Asian currency crisis and a plunge in property
values sent a shiver through the community. 

The speed of revival is now more evident with 20 private banks now in
Myanmar and 170 branches nationwide. There seems to be a movement of
clients away from the State-owned Myanma Economic Bank, which has 300
branches across the length, and breadth of the country.  
Perhaps this is a sign that marketing and competitiveness, trademarks
of a free market system, are kicking in. 

The opening of branches by these new players, especially in border
areas, is welcome news for the public.  Naturally, competition between
banks allows the public to have better and cheaper services. It wasn?  '²t
so long ago that one private bank originally charged 20 pyas (100 pyas
equals 1 kyat) for every 100 kyats transferred between its Yangon
office and its Kawthaung (Thailand border) branch when it was
the town?  '²s sole operator. 

When another bank arrived and charged 15 pyas for the same service,
the first bank dropped its service charge to 10 pyas.  Banks are
actively competing with each other and free market principles are now
in operation.  

The public, of course, are the direct beneficiaries.  A decade on from
a 20-year closed-door policy, Myanmar is still to catch up on its more
developed neighbours in the banking sector.  While foreign banks use
computer networks for transferring money between branch offices and
for other monetary transactions, a large majority of remittances in
Myanmar are still done via facsimile. 

Transfer of data through a wider area network of computers is yet to
be fully implemented - but one consolation is this limitation is
purely technical.  The situation is expected to improve once the
network of dedicated telephone lines is expanded in the
near future. Banks normally make the move to expand operations only
when feasibility studies show the commercial viability of such action.

Currently it appears their expectations are being met.  More and more
money is being deposited with banks, evidenced by the increase in
volume flowing into the vaults of both private and state-owned

But with the decline in the rate of change, some people seem to
believe that banks are not the best place to put money.  One reason
may be the real negative interest paid out to depositors (see tables).

Reviewing the situation on banks?  '² interest rates, a financial expert
suggested creating conditions to encourage public savings, especially
positive real interest rates, would be of great advantage to the
national economy. Making available domestic financial resources that
both public and private enterprises can utilise to expand or start
business would be a benefit to all, said a banker.  

With the slowdown of FDI inflow this year, we should make our real
interest rates positive so that people will be more encouraged to
deposit money into banks. Only then will we be able to mobilise our
domestic financial resources for the higher growth rate of our
national income.  

At present, our savings/GDP ratio of 10 per cent is too low compared
to the 30-50pc of some of our Asean neighbours, he said.
To stem inflation and encourage investment, bank deposit rates were
reduced to 12pc from 1 April, 2000.

The objective was partly met with inflation estimated to have slowed
to 20.1pc.  Entrepreneurs, however, are still waiting for an
improvement in general business conditions before risking
their capital.  Sources close to Myanmar Times said the Central Bank
of Myanmar is considering further cuts to interest rates because of
this slowing down. 

The official also commented that some banks have raised objections
regarding further reduction of interest rates while inflation is still
running relatively high and investment-GDP ratio low.
Whatever the case, the banking industry has some challenging times
ahead.  Steps have been made in the right direction, for sure, but
bankers and government need to adopt a more formalised approach with
each other in order to tackle the structures necessary to bring
Myanmar into an electronic age of commerce.

___________________ INTERNATIONAL _____________________ 


2000-04-10 Mon 16:31

LUXEMBOURG, April 10 (Reuters) - European Union foreign 
ministers tightened sanctions against Myanmar on Monday because 
of its poor record on human rights and democracy. 

But the ministers also held out an olive branch by agreeing 
to send an EU delegation to Myanmar to try to improve relations 
and proposed a high-level meeting with ASEAN, the regional group 
with which the EU has been at odds over Myanmar's membership. 
The 15 ministers outlined their decisions in a statement 
issued after they completed a routine six-monthly review of the 
sanctions at a meeting in Luxembourg. 

They expressed concern at the situation in Myanmar, ``in 
particular the continuing and intensified repression of civil 
and political rights, as well as the harsh conditions hindering 
the people's enjoyment of economic, social and cultural 

They also urged Myanmar to ``respect human rights, restore 
democracy and engage in a dialogue with the opposition that 
could lead to national reconciliation in a united and democratic 

The ministers extended for a further six months a ban on 
letting various Myanmar officials visit EU countries. The visa 
ban had been due to expire at the end of this month. 
In moves led by Britain and Denmark to tighten the 
sanctions, the ministers banned the export of ``equipment that 
might be used for internal repression or terrorism.'' 
They also agreed to publish the names of the officials 
affected by the visa ban and to impose a freeze on the funds held 
abroad by these people. 

The EU imposed sanctions because of the treatment of the 
opposition led by Nobel peace laureate Aung San Suu Kyi. Her 
party won an election in 1990 by a landslide but the military 
ignored the result and detained many of its members. 
The visa ban on senior Myanmar officials forced the 
cancellation of a meeting of foreign ministers from the EU and 
the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) set for 
Berlin last year. A lower-level meeting was later held instead. 
In a conciliatory gesture, reflecting the desire of some 
member states for a broader political dialogue as a way of 
putting pressure on Myanmar, EU ministers on Monday underlined 
the importance of the EU-ASEAN relationship. 

They suggested the EU and ASEAN ministers meet in Asia this 
year, but set no date. 

The ministers also agreed the EU ``troika,'' its top foreign 
policy team, should visit Myanmar to explain and promote the 
aims of the EU's policy towards the country but set no date. 
They also agreed to ask the EU's executive European 
Commission to look at the possibilities for increased 
cooperation with Myanmar but gave no details. 

INTERNATIONAL LABOR ORGANIZATION?  '²S  Director-General Juan Somavia's 
keynote addressed at 17th International Confederation of Free Trade 
Union (ICFTU) Congress on 4th April 2000

 ...But it is to the case of Burma that I particularly want to draw 
attention. All of you know of the horror of forced labour in that 
Indeed it was the ICFTU that launched the original complaint about it 
the ILO, leading to a Commission of Enquiry investigation.

It was the Burmese government's, Myanmar's, refusal to apply the
recommendations of the Commission's findings that last week led the
Governing Body of the ILO for the first time in its 80 year history to
invoke Article 33 of its Constitution. Basically Article 33 permits 
Conference to decide on "such action as it may deem wise and 
expedient to
secure compliance" with the Commission's recommendations.

This June, the Conference will have within its power to call upon 
states and international organisations to do whatever it takes to end
forced labour in Burma... I will not belabour the point further....


10 April 10, 2000

cartagena (Colombia), April 9: India on Sunday demanded that the
membership of military rule states, like Pakistan, should stand with
drawn from the Non-Aligned Movement asked member states to support a
comprehensive international convention against terrorism.

Without naming any country, external affairs minister Jaswant Singh 
told the opening session of the Nam ministerial meeting here that 
autocratic governments which subvert the constitutional process 
should have no place in the movement.

He cited convention in Commonwealth and organization of African Unity
where regimes overthrowing democratic governments were not allowed in
their summits. Pakistan has been suspended from the Commonwealth.

Mr. Singh told the two-day conference that the movement must commit
itself "uncompromisingly" to democracy, the rule of law and 
preservation of fundamental rights and liberties.

"The Organization of African Unity, whose members constitute the 
largest section of our movement, has decided that no ruler who has 
usurped power will be allowed into it summits, so too has the  
Commonwealth," he told delegates of the 115-members of Nam.

In an obvious reference to Pakistan, Mr. Singh regretted the image of
developing countries got tarred because of "isolated lapses" and that
they are seen as states where governance is " weak, abusive or 

However, Indian officials said the move to isolate military regimes in
Nam was not aimed against only Pakistan as there are two other member
states - Burma and Ivory Coast - who also have autocratic governments.

Asked of the possibility of New Delhi's stand on military 
dictatorships being endorsed by Nam, senior Indian officials said he 
hoped " support will be greater then opposition".

Stating that India has been in touch with friendly countries on the
issue, he, however, made it clear that a decision on debarring 
military regimes from Nam would depend largely on South Africa, 
currently chairing the movement, even if there were considerable 




April 10, 2000

Japan is at the crossroads. So the 85th Japanese Prime Minister 
Yoshiro Mori wasted no time in mobilising the land of rising sun on 
the first day of his job by summoning "a Cabinet for the rebirth of 

It was a pivotal act to give the public a sense of confidence. Mori's 
leadership is needed to battle the economic recession that has been 
raging for years and to maintain Japan's competitive edge as the 
world's second largest economy. 

Mori was quick to spell out Japan's attitude towards the 
international community. On Asia, Mori was succinct. He said that 
under his leadership, Japan would make every effort to be a 
trustworthy country, about which other countries should have no 
anxiety. This was a very assuring statement. But time will tell. 

Japan is the host of the Group of 8 summit in Okinawa in July. So the 
new leader has to deal with a myriad of international issues. 
Normalisation talks with North Korea have bogged down. But he must 
continue the talks with Pyongyang because peace and stability in 
Northeast Asia depend on its willingness to cooperate. 		

Apart from North Korea, Japan must also deal with Russia, whose new 
president, Vladimir Putin, is scheduled to visit Tokyo. Both 
countries have yet to sign a peace treaty and problems remain over 
the four small islands in Hokkaido. 

The swiftness of leadership change this time was aimed preventing any 
vacuum or overseas ambiguity. 
There should not be any change in Thai-Japanese relations. These ties 
have been further consolidated by former prime minister Keizo 
Obuchi's visit to Thailand in March for the United Nations Conference 
on Trade and Development. Thailand and Japan have cooperated closely 
in bringing out a blueprint for human resource development within 
Asean. Japan has also made generous contributions to ensure peace and 
stability in East Timor. Obuchi has left a footprint within Asean, 
similar to the Fukuda Doctrine of 1977. 

No doubt, Mori will follow Obuchi's policy, which has been 
painstakingly built up over the past two years. Through various 
assistance packages to help Asian countries faced with economic 
crises, Japan has been able to forge closer relationships with the 
region as never before seen in the post World War II era. 

But the new prime minister has to establish personal rapport with the 
leaders of the region, something in which Obuchi excelled. He knew 
that without face-to-face and heart-to-heart talks, it would be hard 
to sustain trust and goodwill between Japan and Asean. In addition, 
Mori needs to maintain the momentum and growing Asean support of 
Japan by articulating views from the region in the G-8 meeting. 

Obuchi early this year held talks with Asean leaders in Bangkok. Mori 
must make sure that Obuchi's mission was not in vain. At the moment, 
it is uncertain whether Mori will have the opportunity to meet Asean 
leaders later this year at a summit in Singapore because the term of 
lower-house members of the Japanese parliament expires in October. 
There could be a new general election. 

Nonetheless, Mori has to maintain contacts with Asean even though his 
premiership will not last long. It is important to continue to 
reassure Asean that Mori's Japan is equally committed to this part of 
the world. 

The Nation (April 10, 2000)


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