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Subject: [theburmanetnews] BurmaNet News: April 24, 2000

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

April 24, 2000

Issue # 1516

This edition of The BurmaNet News is viewable online at:



"There is no fundamental reason to give any measure of confidence to 
the Myanmar currency, the kyat, which will continue in a downward 
spiral in its free-market value."


*Inside Burma









__________________ INSIDE BURMA ____________________


 18 Apr 2000 - 



With no improvement in sight either in terms of political compromise 
or economic reform and recovery, Myanmar appears all set to remain on 
the back burner for all but the most risk-averse investors. Welcomed 
into the Association of South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN) during a
phase of "constructive engagement", the belief was that, by joining 
the club, Myanmar's junta would learn more than better table manners. 
In the event, other ASEAN leaders are increasingly embarrassed by the 
presence or, more often, exclusion of Myanmar colleagues at 
international meetings. Change must come, but the more it is delayed,
the more traumatic it will be when it happens. 

For better 

* Willingness to seek advice. Myanmar's continuing economic decline 
is motivating some members of the ruling State Peace and Development 
Council (SPDC) to seek outside advice. During a joint ASEAN-UN 
meeting in January, the junta's foreign minister asked the UN for 
greater assistance. And while the country's leaders rejected (on 
ground of political autonomy) the recent World Bank report on the 
economy (which dwelt on its ills and offered solutions), there 
nevertheless appears in this relationship, too, to be some eagerness 
to continue the dialogue (though any forthcoming aid will need to be 
prefaced with pledges of reform from the leadership, which seem 
unlikely). There is also greater willingness to reshuffle ministerial 
portfolios, which at least indicates a greater appreciation of the 
need for accountability, if not an insistence on new thinking among 
incoming appointees. 

* Enter Japan. The older generation of Myanmar nationalists still 
recognise Japan as an historic friend and effective liberator, and 
may be more receptive to advice from Japan than from Western sources.
Recent Japanese diplomatic initiatives, including a visit of a 
Keidanren delegation (of Japan's top conglomerates), have kindled 
hopes of a resumption of Japanese aid and investment. Despite Tokyo's 
continued insistence on democratisation and reform, there are signs 
that Japan is reluctant to see Myanmar's trade and foreign relations 
outlook dominated by China. Japan may be expected to lead the way for 
more flexible dialogue with Myanmar in the near future. 

* Back to school. Barely any tertiary education has been available in 
Myanmar for the past decade, creating a vacuum in the ranks of the 
educated labour force. The reopening of universities in recent months 
in part reflects a response to the urgent demands even of junta
supporters for better opportunities for their families, and also a 
measure of confidence in the government's ability to control the 
dissent which traditionally emanates from the ranks of Myanmar's 
higher learning. 

Key economic indicators, Myanmar
                                 1999    2000    2001
Real GDP growth, %                4.6     4.9     5.2
Gross fixed investment, %         6.0     7.0     7.0
Consumer price inflation, %(a)    22.7    27.3    25.0
Short-term interest rate, %(a)    16.1    17.0    18.0
GDP, Kt bn                        1,560   1,498   1,940
GDP, US$ bn(b)                    247.2   230.5   296.3
GDP, US$ bn(c)                    4.6     3.9     4.6
GDP per head, US$(b)               95      80      93
Trade balance, US$ bn            -1.4    -1.4    -1.5
Current-account balance, US$ bn  -0.5    -0.6    -0.7
Official exchange rate, Kt:US$1(a) 6.3     6.5     6.6
Free-market exchange rate, Kt:US$1(a) 342.8 380.0  420.0

(a) Annual average  (b) Official exchange rate  (c) Market exchange 

Source: EIU Country Risk Service

For worse 

* Economy heads on down. Despite the government's announcement of 
5.6% economic growth in 1998/99, the reality appears much less 
promising. The EIU estimates that growth expanded by no more than 
4.4% in the past year, given the problems in the agricultural and
industrial sectors. Although manufacturing is now less starved of 
electricity than in the past, it remains hobbled by scarce resources. 
With virtually no new foreign investment, and some existing 
investment quietly downsizing, no additional facilities are coming on
stream. Inflation remains in double-digit figures, the current-
account deficit is widening, and foreign-exchange reserves are 
minimal. Against such a bleak backdrop, the government shows no signs 
of initiating reforms, allowing the situation steadily to worsen. 

* Kyat on the rocks. There is no fundamental reason to give any 
measure of confidence to the Myanmar currency, the kyat, which will 
continue in a downward spiral in its free-market value. The ludicrous 
differential between the official rate of Kt6.30:US$1 and the actual
(free-market) trend to below Kt400:US$1 remains unresolved. There are 
some indications that the government may move towards a realignment, 
including a recent substantial increase in official salaries, in 
order to relate the official value of the currency more closely with 
reality. But any attempt at realignment would require the government 
to seek international financial assistance and advice. The requisite 
expertise in Myanmar is lacking, and a rash move would bring 

* Investors bow out. Despite continuing interest in investment from a 
succession of East Asian delegations, minimal inflows have ensued. 
Foreign direct investment approvals collapsed to US$29.5m in 1998/99, 
compared with US$777.4m in 1997/98 and a peak of US$2.8bn in 1996/97. 
Myanmar continues to offer little incentive to investors,
domestic or foreign, and the business environment remains
bureaucratic and cumbersome. The US embargo and various restrictions 
on imports of Myanmar-sourced goods eliminates the attractiveness of 
Myanmar as an export base. Tourism facilities, created to service an
expected arrivals boom that never materialised, are now suffering 
from excess capacity. Investors risk home- country consumer boycotts, 
and most prefer to hold off until political change materialises. 

* No friends next door. Following the sieges to the Myanmar embassy 
and Ratchaburi hospital in Thailand, and the increasing flows of 
narcotics from Myanmar into (and through) the Thai market, bilateral 
relations with Thailand are likely to worsen. The Thai authorities are
under pressure to adopt an increasingly hard-line policy towards its 
intransigent neighbour, in light of the growing security risk from a 
conservative military junta that refuses to institute political 

SOURCE: Business Asia (full publication) 



April 23, 2000, Sunday 

April 23 (Xinhua) -- Myanmar's foreign trade ran a deficit in the 
last three consecutive years, according to the latest figures 
published by the country's Central Statistical Organization. 

The deficit stood at 1.231 billion U.S. dollars in 1999, 1.697 
billion dollars in 1998 and 1.22 billion dollars in 1997. 

Myanmar has attributed its poor performance in foreign trade to the 
impact of the Asian financial crisis and the economic sanctions 
imposed on it by some Western countries. 

Myanmar's main traditional export items are agricultural products, 
timber and marine products. 

The unitary structure of Myanmar's export commodities has to some 
extent brought about a negative effect on the country's foreign 

The Myanmar government has taken measures to tackle the problem, 
including adopting a "export more, import less" strategy and 
encouraging domestic production of import-substitute goods. 

As a result of these efforts, Myanmar's foreign trade deficit dropped 



April 2000

International Federation of Human Rights Leagues
>From the conclusion of the FIDH report "Repression, discrimination 
and ethnic cleansing in Arakan," April 2000.  Available via the web 
at www.fidh.org

After the forced exodus in 1978 and in 1991?92 due to
repression and discrimination, tens of thousands of
Rohingyas are once again leaving the country, forced by
the slow, steady ethnic cleansing at work in Arakan.
Over the last decades, the Rohingyas have progressively
lost their citizenship and become stateless in their own
country. With no rights in Burma, they settle
clandestinely in Bangladesh to flee from the terror and
utter precariousness imposed by the Burmese junta.
Unlike earlier refugees, they are not granted refugee
status. The Rohingyas no longer have any legal
existence: neither citizens of a country that rejects
them, nor citizens of a country that does not want them,
they are not recognised by the UNHCR either.

In the past five years, the UNHCR has tried to respond
to the systematic repression and exclusion practised
against the Rohingyas by organising the repatriation of
the 1991-92 refugees and their reintegration in Arakan.
If this exercise, organised jointly with the Burmese and
Bangladeshi authorities, has allowed the return of most
of the refugees, it is not however exempt from criticism.
In order to satisfy the Bangladeshi government which
wanted to expel the refugees as quickly as possible, the
UNHCR has given up the principle of voluntary
repatriation in favour of an incitement ? de facto even an
obligation ? to return. In order to satisfy the Burmese
government, the UNHCR has accepted an agreement
offering no guarantee of human rights to the returnees
? though their violations were the origin of the exodus.

In spite of the presence of the UNHCR and several
international NGOs, the Burmese government has
carried on with its repressive and discriminatory policy
against the Rohingyas, which has translated into
massive and systematic human rights violations, notably
the systematic resort to forced labour, denial of
citizenship and lack of freedom of movement,
progressively forcing the Rohingyas to exile.
In these conditions, it is evident that the UNHCR has
become entrapped in an absurd policy in complete
contradiction to its mandate: simultaneously to organise
the return and prevent the departure of a population
taken prey of the systematic repression of a despotic

The UNHCR's responsibility is fully implicated with
regards to the price paid by the Rohingyas because of
this policy, though it is by no means the only one. It is
the duty of the international community ? i.e. the states
? to put sufficient pressure on the Burmese government
for this repression to stop; or to give assistance to
Bangladesh, including financial assistance, so that it
can offer a safe asylum to the refugees. One cannot but
take note of the the failure, indeed the absence, of any
serious attempt in this respect.

Once again, in a thundering silence dictated by
economic and political interests of all kinds, a people is
left abandoned to its fate by the international community
? even encouraged to submit to it by the only
organisation supposed to protect it.



YANGON (April 22) XINHUA - The Myanmar Literacy Resource Center has 
been established to make effective contribution towards literacy 
activities and the continuing education of the people living in 
district, township and rural areas. 

The three main tasks of the center, which was opened here Friday, are 
to produce and distribute publication, cassette tapes and video tapes 
for informal education,to provide training and multiplier training 
courses for personnel who are engaged in informal education and to 
serve as a local and international network, official newspaper The 
New Light of Myanmar reported Saturday. 

This is the 12th literacy resource center which has been built in 
Asia and Pacific region with the help of the Asia/Pacific Cultural 
Center for UNESCO, the report said. 

At the inauguration ceremony of the center, Myanmar Minister of 
Education U Than Aung stressed that to achieve the objectives of 
Education for All programs in Myanmar, such as sending school-age 
children to school, encouraging them to complete their education and 
reducing the illiteracy rate of Myanmar by half, literacy committees 
right down to the grassroots level, have been formed and success has 
been achieved. 

The 1999 educational study of UNESCO shows that the literacy rate of 
Myanmar was 91 percent. 

__________________ INTERNATIONAL ___________________


   BANGKOK, April 24 (AFP) - Exiled Myanmar students Monday called on 
Japan to push for the reopening of universities which have been 
stifled for three
years by Yangon authorities who view them as hotbeds of unrest.
   The All Burma Students Democratic Front (ABSDF) said it was 
concerned that a new scholarship program signed between Japan and 
Myanmar would be exploited by the junta.

   It called on Japan to demand that all universities should be 
reopened and that classes should take place in the same location as 

   There have been complaints from exiles that although some 
universities have been partially reopened, classes have been moved 
outside metropolitan areas.

   The authorities say the move was motivated by the need for more 
space, but students claim the government is wary of allowing large 
groups of students to congregate in populous areas.

   Universities have been regarded as hotbeds of political militancy 
since widespread pro-democracy protests erupted in Myanmar in 1988.

   The ABSDF also called on Japan to fight for the release of student 
leaders jailed in Myanmar for political activities and to push for 
the introduction of a fair education system.

   It accused the government of ignoring the needs of a generation of 
Myanmar youth to "develop scholars for the military mechanism."

   "Therefore although the entire national education system has 
become poor and has deteriorated, the military institutions have 
become stronger than before," it said in a statement.

   The ABSDF suspects that students with a military background will 
be given priority in the Japanese scheme.

   "Students who are poor and brilliant won't be able to join if the 
regime initiates these programs."

   Myanmar exile and opposition groups are becoming increasingly 
concerned that Japan is developing links with Myanmar which are 
potentially detrimental to their campaign against the military 

   In a New Year's message in January, opposition leader Aung San Suu 
Kyi criticised Asian nations for a "lack of compassion" for failing 
to support the democracy movement.

   "As the richest Asian country and as a democracy Japan has a duty 
to promote human rights and democracy in other parts of Asia.

   "We hope the year 2000 will see a blossoming of Japanese interest 
in human rights and democracy."

   Aung San Suu Kyi's complaints came a month after former Japanese 
Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto held talks with leaders of the 
military government during a mission to size up the needs of 
Myanmar's limping economy.

   The opposition leader's National League for Democracy (NLD) won a 
crushing election victory 10 years ago but the military has refused 
to hand over power.



April 24, 2000


When British Foreign Secretary Robin Cook was here last week, he was 
very succinct in stating that his country, as a member of European 
Union, would not swerve in its hard-line position toward Burma until 
it saw changes inside that country. 

Although his determination is not widely shared by all EU members, 
the statement did demonstrate that leading EU members have resolved 
to continue the pressure on the Burmese junta. 

As officials are preparing for the third Asia-Europe Meeting in Seoul 
in October, it has occurred to them that overall Asia-Europe 
relations are not very healthy. They believe they must first get in 
order Asean-EU relations, which have been soured for the past three 
years due to Burma's intransigence and record of human rights 
violations. If this unhealthy trend continues, it could have adverse 
affects on the upcoming Seoul meeting. 

Therefore, both Asean and EU are eager to set the stage for their 
ministerial meeting this year. If their relationship were on the 
right track, the meetings should be occurring every 18 months but the 
ministers have not met for more than two years. Asean would like to 
see the Asean-EU ministerial meeting take place before October when 
the Asian and European leaders will meet. 

Asean has argued that the EU should proceed with cooperation with 
Asean and leave the Burmese issue aside. The two sides could then 
discuss matters of commonality, rather than their differences. In 
other words, both sides must take up issues that unite them and not 
the ones that divide them. 

This is easier said than done. During the Cambodian conflict, Asean 
rejected a similar argument from Vietnam (now being cleverly deployed 
by Asean) that Asean-Vietnam relations should proceed without being 
linked to the conflict. Asean kept the Cambodian hostilities linked 
to the issue of normalised relations with Vietnam. 

Somehow, of late, the EU has become more lenient to ensure that the 
preparatory meeting will take place within the Asean countries as 
soon as possible. Previously the EU has been reluctant to host any 
meeting that would allow the banned Burmese officials to embark upon 
EU territories. 

In response, Burma has indicated to their Asean colleagues that it is 
now willing to discuss anything with the EU, including issues of 
human rights and democracy -- something which the Burmese junta 
leaders had refused to do in the past.
With such a promise, there is a small hope that when the UN special 
envoy for Burma, Razali Ismail, visits Rangoon in the future, he can 
make a breakthrough in the long-stalled dialogue process between the 
junta and the opposition groups led by Aung San Suu Kyi. 	

With the scheduled deliberation by the International Labour 
Organisation on the harsh and oppressive labour conditions in Burma, 
Rangoon leaders are now under siege. Burma could face expulsion from 
the organisation in June if enough ILO members vote against it. 
Therefore, it is not difficult to envisage that the Burmese junta 
needs to make some positive moves that would pre-empt the ILO effort 
and also improve its standing within Asean, whose members have become 
more frustrated with Burma. 

Like it or not, Burma will remain the key impediment in the 
relationship between Asean and the EU, unless and until positive and 
democratic changes take place inside Burma. 

In fact, within Asean, differences are also growing on the issue of 
Burma. At the upcoming ministerial meeting in July, Asean will need 
to thrash out their differences once again as they did in Kuala 
Lumpur in 1997 when the grouping decided to admit Burma. 



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