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Subject: [theburmanetnews] BurmaNet News: July 13, 2000

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

July 13, 2000

Issue # 1575

The BurmaNet News is viewable online at:

*Inside Burma













*Book Review



__________________ INSIDE BURMA ____________________


YANGON, July 13 (AFP) - Myanmar's military government said Thursday 
it had arrested 12 dissidents who planned to raid the Thai embassy in 
Yangon to mark the anniversary of the opposition's election victory. 

 An official report said the group had brought explosives into the 
country ahead of the 10th anniversary of the May 27, 1990 poll where 
the National League for Democracy (NLD) won a stunning victory. 

 Myanmar's junta refused to recognise the result of the election and 
has since tried to crush the NLD, led by nobel laureate Aung San Suu 

 The New Light of Myanmar daily accused the NLD and other ethnic and 
activist groups of backing the plan to lay siege to the Thai embassy 
on May 27 this year, and to hit other targets in the capital. 

 "The intention was to frighten the Thai government ... and to create 
conditions to sour relations between Myanmar and Thailand," it said. 

 The paper published photographs of explosives, communications 
equipment and pamphlets allegedly seized from the group. 

 "Action will be taken according to the law," against the 12, it 

 A report on TV Myanmar late Wednesday said two women were among 
those arrested. 
 Security in Yangon was tight on the day of the anniversary, 
especially around NLD headquarters, but there were no signs of large 



Wednesday, July 12, 2000

The military regime is creating a "lost generation" of unwanted 
graduates by sweeping a backlog of students swiftly through its 
university system. 

The Government said yesterday that all university classes would be 
allowed to restart by July 24 after years of delay. The universities 
were shut in 1996 after political protests. Only after taking 
extraordinary precautions have the authorities dared to reopen them. 
As many as one million Burmese students have suffered a truncated 
education over the past 12 years. Some 400,000 students have seen 
their education put on hold since 1996. 
In their hurry to push semi-educated students through to graduation 
the university year had been trimmed to four months, a Rangoon-based 
observer said yesterday. 
"They are downgrading the value of a degree. The danger is that 
future employers and clients are simply going to shun the current 
generation of graduates. It's a crying shame," the observer said. 
Most universities have only been open for a total of three years 
since 1988 when student demonstrations triggered nationwide marches 
against military rule. Some third and fourth year classes were 
allowed to resume as a trial "soft opening" last September. Now first 
year and second year students are being allowed to join them. 
The extended closure of all but a handful of military and medical 
colleges has prompted even relatively sympathetic countries like 
Japan to warn the ruling generals that they needed to turn the 
education tap back on. 
Even without the backlog problem there are serious doubts about the 
quality of an education system that noticeably deteriorated when the 
best teachers fled during the three decades of eccentric socialism 
under former dictator Ne Win. 
Now many students complain bitterly that they are merely taught how 
to memorise the answers to exam questions. 
"It's awful. These people are desperate for a real education yet they 
can only attend these ghastly cram sessions," said a Rangoon 
The two main universities in the capital, traditionally a hotbed of 
dissidents, Yangon University and the Yangon Institute of Technology, 
appear to have been turned into post-graduate institutions. 
Undergraduate campuses in Rangoon and in the second city Mandalay 
have been shifted to the outskirts of town near to police or army 
Students from the provinces have been told to attend new universities 
that are being set up across the country - presumably to break up any 
dangerous concentrations of potential dissidents. 
It is difficult to find out exactly what is happening - many students 
may choose or be forced to continue with government-run distance 
learning courses.



July 11, 2000
Around 60,000 Myanmar college students are set to restart classes on 
July 24, officials said, as the military government gradually reopens 
campuses shut down more than three years ago after anti-government 
"Classes for second-year, third-year and first-year students, those 
who matriculated in 1996, will be opened on July 24. Total student 
numbers in these classes will be 60,000 in the whole country," a 
senior Ministry of Education official said.
Yangon's ruling generals ordered the closure of more than 30 
universities and colleges a few days before final examinations in 
December 1996, after student demonstrations at campuses and on the 
streets of the capital.
More than 100,000 students were affected, and hundreds of thousands 
more who finished school since 1996 are still awaiting the chance to 
start university studies.
The education ministry official said fourth year classes for arts and 
science subjects reopened at universities and colleges throughout the 
country on June 27.
"Classes for those matriculated in 1997, 1998 and 1999 will begin 
about three, six and nine months later, respectively... After that 
the academic year for all classes will be normalised," he said.
An official at the Ministry of Science and Education said classes for 
fifth and sixth-year students at the technological universities in 
Yangon, Pyi and Mandalay had also re-opened in June, while first and 
second-year classes had been going on in these institutions since 
"They are all now pursuing their studies peacefully," he said.
Myanmar's university's and colleges have long been hotbeds of anti-
government dissent. Universities and colleges were closed for years 
after the military destroyed a student-led, anti-government uprising 
in 1988.
More than 400,000 students have passed matriculation exams since the 
closure of universities and colleges in 1996.
Some are still waiting to start university, but many have joined the 
University Distance Education (UDE) correspondence course scheme to 
pursue their studies, officials say.
"UDE programmes are becoming more and more popular among the 
students. They can work while studying," one UDE official said.
Official statistics show there were 105 universities and colleges in 
Myanmar in November 1999.
The Bangkok-based All Burma Students' Democratic Front (ABSDF) 
opposition group said this week education in the country was in 
crisis despite the reopening of classes.
"Only 40 percent of qualified students have so far enrolled because 
of the junta's economic and educational mismanagement," it said in a 
"The students face transportation difficulties because the new sites 
of some colleges and universities have been relocated...far away from 
urban centres, purposely located close to military and riot-police 
It said reopened institutions lacked sufficient accommodation, 
equipment and trained teachers, and added many young people had left 
the country in search of work.
"Most of those who remain in the country can barely afford to feed 
themselves and their families, let alone pay for education fees," the 
ABSDF said.

___________________________ REGIONAL ___________________________


BANGKOK, July 13 (AFP) - A woman sporting a pair of fashionable 
platform shoes as she arrived in Thailand was found to be concealing 
illegal drugs in the chunky soles, a report said Thursday. 

 Police said the woman, travelling overland from Myanmar, was 
arrested after 12,000 amphetamine pills were found in two pairs of 
shoes, one on her feet and the other in her suitcase, The Nation 
newspaper reported. 

 The suspect, 36-year-old Chinese national Zhang Ahshi, was arrested 
with her five travelling companions as she prepared to board a bus 
bound for Bangkok, the report said. 

 Amphetamines are now Thailand's number-one drugs problem. The army 
estimates that 600 million pills were trafficked from Myanmar last 
year, manufactured in jungle factories near the border. 


BANGKOK, July 13 (AFP) - Thai troops have secured a northern border 
region where a battle is brewing between the armies of two Myanmar 
ethnic groups, the Wa and the Shan, the Bangkok Post reported 

 Thai task force sources told the daily that the ethnic armies have 
intruded into Thai territory as they move reinforcements along a 
track that cuts back and forth across the border. 

 "The trail has been used by the UWSA (United Wa State Army), the SSA 
(Shan State Army) and Thai people seeking forest products. It also 
serves drug smugglers," the source reportedly said. 

 "However, Pha Muang (task force) troops have secured the area."  The 
report said the Wa soldiers had moved into Shan territory, claiming 
the Myanmar military government ordered them to upgrade a road in the 

 The SSA is one of the only major armed factions left in Myanmar that 
has yet to agree to a ceasefire with the government in Yangon. The 
UWSA has established a fragile peace with the junta. 

 The report said the SSA, with about 2,000 soldiers, is outnumbered 
by the UWSA which is sending more troops into Shan territory. 

 It quoted another source as saying that the attempted theft of about 
20,000 M-16 rifle rounds from a Thai armoury last month indicated 
that a clash between the two ethnic armies was imminent. 

 Both the Wa and the Shan are widely accused of operating jungle drug 
laboratories inside the border with Thailand that produce vast 
amounts of heroin and amphetamines. 

 Foreign critics charge that Myanmar agreed to turn a blind eye to 
the Wa's drug trafficking business in return for the ceasefire. 

 The UWSA, cobbled together from the remnants of the Communist Party 
of Burma, has become the most powerful of several ethnic rebel 
groups, allegedly thanks to profits from the drugs trade. 

 The area where the incursions are taking place, in Doi Thuay 
mountain north of the Thai city of Chiang Mai, is an old battleground 
of former drug lord Khun Sa's Mong Tai Army which once battled the 
UWSA for control of lucrative smuggling routes. 

YANGON, July 11 (Oana-Xinhua) -- A meeting of senior officials on 
forestry of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) is 
being held here, attended by delegates of all ASEAN member countries 
except Singapore. 
The three-day third meeting, which began on Monday, is the first of 
its kind hosted by Myanmar and is also attended by officials from 
ASEAN Secretariat. 
The meeting covers discussions on prevention of forest fire in the 
ASEAN region, signing of memorandum of understanding on boosting 
production of forest products, and implementation of strategy on 
cooperative work of forestry in the region and its progress. 
Papers on laying out the same standard and norm for the forest 
products of ASEAN nations, forming of ASEAN forest production service 
and setting up of a central department for control of forest fire are 
Before the senior officials' meeting here, ASEAN expert groups had 
held meetings on herbal and medicinal plants, and on research and 
development for forest products as well as an ASEAN seminar on 
current international issues affecting forestry and forest products. 
ASEAN groups Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, 
the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam. 

Jul 12, 2000 -- (BBC Monitoring) On 26th June in Kunming, the 
Intermediate People's Court of Kunming city held a "meeting to deal a 
blow to drug-related crimes." At the meeting, the court openly 
announced verdicts on and executed according to law five serious 
criminals, on charges of smuggling, trafficking in, and transporting 
drugs. Three of the five criminals were from Burma.
The three Burmese drug-criminals were drug traffickers Ying Han [name 
as transliterated] and Sai Yanzhan [name as transliterated], and drug 
courier Li Jie [name as transliterated.]
Criminal Ying Han, male, was also called Yin Han [name as 
transliterated]. He was born in the Union of Burma in 1957. He was a 
farmer from Manglinzhaizi [name as transliterated], the Union of 
Burma. On 15th September 1996, this criminal secretly transported 
heroin to China. He was arrested when trafficking in heroin at the 
brigade number one of Lawan Farm of Zhangfeng Town of Yunnan 
Province's Longchuan County. A total of 3,299 grams of heroin were 
seized on the spot.
Criminal Sai Yanzhan, male, was also named Yanzhan [name as 
transliterated.] He was born in the Burmese Federation in 1965 and 
engaged in business in the city of Shanbangbenjie [name as 
transliterated]. He smuggled drugs in conspiracy with drug trafficker 
Yan Zai, a private householder in Jiegao Village of the Jiegao 
Economic Zone of Yunnan Province's Ruili city, and criminals Chen 
Yuwu and Sai Yiang (who all have been sentenced). On 14th March 1996, 
Sai Yanzhan and Sai Yi'ang secretly brought four lumps of heroin to 
Jiegao Village of Yunnan Province's Ruili city. Then, Yan Zai, Chen 
Yuwu, and Sai Yanzhan jointly took the heroin to Kunming. Yan Zai and 
Chen Yuwu were seized when trafficking in heroin at Kunming's Donghua 
area on 20th March. A total of 1336 grams of heroin were seized on 
the spot. Sai Yanzhan and Sai Yi'ang, who had been ready to get 
illicit gains, were arrested afterwards.
Criminal Li Jie, male, was also called Yanba [name as 
transliterated]. He was born in the Burmese Federation in 1957. He 
was a farmer living in Qingshuihe [name as transliterated] Special 
Region under the Burmese Federation. Li Jie was arrested on the 
outskirts of Kunming city on 20th August 1998 while taking a bus from 
Yunnan Province's Zhenkang County to Kunming. A plastic bag with 1004 
grams of heroin was found in Lie Jie's pocket then and there.
Having heard the cases related to the above three Burmese criminals 
and criminal Yan Zai, the Kunming city Intermediate People's Court 
confirmed their crimes and acquired real and sufficient evidence. The 
court maintained that their criminal activities had all violated the 
Criminal Law of the State, constituted crimes, and seriously produced 
great sabotage to society. Therefore, these criminals were sentenced 
to death, with the permanent deprivation of political rights. 
Following the announcement of the judgments, these five criminals 
refused to accept the rulings and lodged appeals, respectively. 
Having tried these cases, the Yunnan Provincial Higher People's Court 
affirmed that the intermediate court clearly acknowledged and 
accurately determined these criminals' crimes, accurately applied the 
law to impose proper penalties, and legally observed judicial 
procedures. So, the provincial court decided to reject all appeals 
and to maintain the original judgments. The Supreme People's Court of 
the PRC ratified the capital punishments on drug smugglers Ying Han 
and Sai Yanzhan and drug courier Li Jie. In the meantime, the Yunnan 
Provincial Higher People's Court ratified the death penalties on drug 
smugglers, including Yan Zai, with rescinded political rights for 
After having been identified by the Kunming city intermediate 
people's court, the five criminals, namely Ying Han, Yan Zai, Sai 
Yanzhan, and Li Jie, were escorted to the execution ground and 
executed this morning.
Source: Zhongguo Xinwen She news agency, Beijing, in Chinese 26 Jun 00
Australian Broadcasting Corporation 
Indonesian labour union pickets Burma embassy 
A group of Indonesian trade unionists has picketed Burma's Jakarta 
embassy, to press for a halt to Rangoon's use of forced labour.
A statement issued by the protestors, from the Sejahtera independent 
union, called on Burma to halt what it called the systematic and 
widespread use of forced labour for military interests.
The 40-strong group of prostestors also said Rangoon should abide by 
international conventions on forced labour, and Jakarta should cut 
ties with the regime until it did.
During the demonstration, the protestors climbed the front gate and 
fence and festooned it with posters.

July 12, 2000

Yuwadee Tunyasiri and Achara Ashayagachat
Fisheries officials were hopeful that dialogue would soon resume with 
Burma and Bay of Bengal countries to secure new fishing grounds for 
Thai fishermen.
Foreign Minister Surin Pitsuwan said a delegation was sent to Rangoon 
to discuss the reopening of Burmese waters, which were closed to Thai 
fishermen in October.
Burma said it would contact Thailand through diplomatic channels when 
it was ready to reopen its waters in a manner that would ensure the 
sustainable conservation of its resources.
Since then, meetings have taken place between Thailand, Bangladesh, 
Burma, India and Sri Lanka to discuss joint fishing rights in the 
Andaman Sea and prevent future misunderstandings.
Mr Surin said the private sector also required clear, continuous and 
transparent policy statements from Rangoon, which was not ready to 
enter into a joint fishery venture with Thailand. He dismissed 
reports that Burma was allowing Singapore and Malaysia to fish in 
their waters and insisted that Rangoon was looking for the best way 
forward. Thailand's fishing technology, expertise and experience was 
widely recognised in the region, he said. The foreign minister also 
slammed rumours that Burma had sold fishing concessions to Malaysia 
in retaliation for Thailand's delayed payment for natural gas.
The natural gas issue was a matter for the Electricity Generating 
Authority of Thailand and the Petroleum Authority of Thailand, he 
said. Sources said the Bimst-Ec economic co-operation talks between 
the Bay of Bengal countries would not work because Sri Lanka and 
Thailand were the only countries keen to accelerate fisheries co-
"There is only one Thai operator [Hartford company] teaming up with 
local partners in Bangladesh and only a few Ranong boats are fishing 
under Indian flags near Nicobar Islands. The Thai fishermen are not 
so interested in these areas," the source said.
Sri Lankan fishermen were not even encouraged to fish there, he said.

__________________ INTERNATIONAL __________________

July 11 , 2000

TOKYO (Dow Jones)--Mitsubishi Corp. (J.MIB or 8058), a leading 
Japanese trading house, plans to purchase as much as 40% of 
condensate output from the Yetagun natural gas development project 
offshore Myanmar, a company spokesman said Wednesday. 
The Yetagun gas project, which involves Premier Oil Plc (PMOIY) of 
the U.K., Malaysia's state-run Petroliam Nasional Bhd. (P,PET), 
Nippon Mitsubishi Oil Corp. (J.NPO or 5001) and Petroleum Authority 
of Thailand, is slated to start full-fledged production by the end of 
July, he said. 

The gas field is expected to yield 200 million cubic feet a day of 
natural gas, and 6,500 barrels a day of condensate. 

Natural gas will be be supplied through the pipelines to Thailand, 
while condensate will be stored at a floating storage off-loading 
facility which Mitsubishi will lease, and 40% of which will be sold 
to Japan and other Asian countries by Mitsubishi, the spokesman said. 

The Japanese trading giant will invest $70 million to build the FSO 
facility which will have a capacity of 625,000 b/d, and lease it to 
Premier Oil under a 15-year contract, he added.


July 13, 2000
Byline: Bruce Hawke

The Canadian arm of Wal-Mart, the world's biggest retailer has been 
caught-out buying clothes from a garment factory owned by infamous 
Burmese drug trafficker Lo Hsing-han. 

A report by the US National labour committee released late last month 
said Wal-Mart Canada received a shipment of garments from Ever Green 
(Myanmar) Overseas Co Ltd, a company owned by Lo Hsing-han's Asia 
World Company, in spite of an official policy of not sourcing clothes 
from Burma

The consignment was just one of at least six that the retailer took 
delivery of from Burma between June 1999 and the end of this year. 
Canadian Department of Industry statistics show Wal-Mart Canada to 
have been one of that country's three biggest importers of Burma-made 
garments, which are now the cash-strapped Asian nation's biggest and 
fastest-growing export.

That Wal-Mart, a company so prudish it refuses to stock emergency 
contraceptive pills or sell CDs that contain lyrics or artwork that 
it considers "objectional", deals with a drug trafficker might come 
as a surprise. 

But Phil Robertson, the Thailand country director of the Solidarity 
Centre, an American NGO concerned with labour issues, was less than 
amazed to learn that the superstore chain was sourcing from 
Burma. "Perhaps it's not surprising that a company with one of the 
worst labor relations records in North America is sourcing garments 
from a military controlled country with one of the worst labour 
rights records in the world," he said noting Wal-Mart's aggressive 
anti-union stance in North America and the prohibition of organized 
labour in Burma.

NLC Director Charles Kernaghan said: "The sweatshops in Burma used by 
many American apparel makers are joint ventures with companies owned 
by the repressive military regime. They pay some of the lowest wages 
we've seen anywhere in the world." An Economist Intelligence Unit 
report in July 1998 reported that: "Myanmar's [Burma's] textile 
workers earn some of the
world's lowest wages: U.S. $8 per month (for 45-hour workweeks), or 
about four U.S. cents per hour." Garments are now the cash-strapped 
biggest and fastest growing legal export, accounting for about one 
third of declared receipts.

US garment imports from the pariah state are expected to top US$340 
million this year and buyers have included leading retailing and 
fashion labels including Adidas, Bugle Boy, Jordache and 
Nautica. "This just goes to show the dark side of globalization where 
multi-nationals source form the cheapest producer available no matter 
how horrible the working conditions or how repressive the country 
that the factory is located in," claimed Mr Robertson.

Sixty-six year-old Lo Hsing-han was born in opium-rich Kokang 
District northern Shan State, Burma. He now controls the country's 
largest business conglomerate, Asia World Company, and serves as an 
advisor on ethnicaffairs to the junta with whom he maintains close 

Lo started out as an opium trafficking insurgent in the 1950s. In 
1963 he switched sides and led a Rangoon-sanctioned Ka Kwe Ye militia 
with 2,000 soldiers that financed itself by running drugs to Thailand 
and Laos. In 1972 US senior narcotics advisor Nelson Gross described 
him as "an international bandit and responsible for a growing 
proportion of Asia's and America's drug-caused miseries." 

In 1973, under international political pressure to improve its drug 
interdiction record, Rangoon disbanded the Ka Kwe Ye militias. Lo 
Hsing-han jumped sides again, forming an alliance with the anti-
government Shan State Army. But in July of that year Thai authorities 
arrested and deported him to Burma where he was eventually sentenced 
to life imprisonment for "rebellion against the state." Lo was 
released under an amnesty in 1980 and his much diminished army, 
stranded opposite the Thai border village Mae Aw, was permitted back, 
allowed to keep its guns and set up a new camp called Salween 
Village, 25 kilometres south-east of Lashio city, Shan State. He was 
back in business.

When the Communist Party of Burma (CPB) imploded in March 1989 Lo 
Hsing-han played a key role in  ceasefire negotiations between Kokang-
based mutineers and Rangoon. The same year he registered his first 
company, Kokang Export / Import Company Ltd. Other shareholders were 
former CPB personal. More companies were registered later including 
the flagship, Asia World Co. Ltd in 1992, managed by his son, Steven 
Law (aka Htun Myint Naing). Among other assets, it runs two garment 
factories, Ever Green and Charles Micheal. 

Lo claims he is no longer in the narcotics business. "I don't care 
whether the whole world says I'm the King of the Golden Triangle. I 
challenge anyone to prove it. If they can I'll give them a reward of 
at least U.S. $5,000," he was quoted in a Newsweek article two years 
ago. Others are not convinced.

"We're very suspicious of him," said a Rangoon based diplomat. So 
much so that in 1996 Steven Law was refused a visa to the United 
States on suspicion of drug trafficking. The same year, Steven 
married Singaporean businesswoman Cecilia Ng at a glittering wedding 
in Rangoon attended by virtually every member of the ruling junta. 
Two commercial passenger jets were chartered to ferry in guests from 
Singapore. Diplomats present at the occasion estimated the cost 
at "around a million dollars US." The previous year, Asia World's 
declared revenues ran to only about US$300,000. 

There are also questions surrounding Lo's "legitimate" business 
interests. Asia World Company operates a plastic bag factory in 
Rangoon for which it imports the solvent acetic anhydride. The same 
chemical is used to refine opium into heroin. "It's impossible that 
they could be making plastic bags cheaper than they could import 
them," claimed a diplomat formerly based in Rangoon. 

Sources in Lashio also confirmed recently that Lo Hsing-han's private 
army at Salween Village was still operational with at least 500 
troops. "Why does a legitimate businessman need a militia and a 
liberated zone?" asked an incredulous anti-narcotics official.

_____________________ BOOK REVIEW___________________

July 17, 2000


BURMA, the forgotten (or forbidden) land, has a new chronicler. Using 
the Glass Palace, the derelict seat of the last King of Burma, Amitav 
Ghosh spins an enchanting web that absorbs the reader so completely 
that the 550-odd pages of this book can be read over a long weekend. 
Spanning centuries and generations, straddling three countries, 
India, Burma and Malaysia, this saga could have exhausted the skills 
of a lesser writer.
	In the hands of Ghosh, a historian by training, an 
adventurous traveller and a sensitive writer of fiction, it becomes a 
confluence of all three.
	With remarkable sleight of hand, he juggles history, fiction 
and travel writing to produce a story so absorbing that it can be 
read variously as a history of Burma over the last two centuries, an 
enduring romance between two families, a travelogue about a for 
gotten Buddhist

	The Glass Palace reminds one of a spider's web--a still 
centre from where shimmering strands radiate in various directions 
along structured paths that trace the same space over and over again 
in ever-wideningcircles. In its architecture, the beginning and end 
have no meaning, what matters is the delicate but tensile strength of 
the strands that cling to your mind as cobwebs cling to your skin.

	Avoiding the media res beginning, much favoured by writers of 
family sagas, Ghosh's book uses a dramatic moment to introduce one of 
its central characters, orphen Rajkumar Raha. Guns boom over Mandalay 
as the last King is overthrown and the confused flight of the Royal 
Family is described by little Rajkumar with the artless fidelity of a 
child reporting a spectacle. As the royal entourage is herded 
unceremoniously from the Glass Palace, images are etched forever on 
his mind.
	First among these is the face of Dolly, one of the maids 
accompanying the princesses. Thus, one strand of history is woven 
dexterously with	the beginning of another history--the saga of 
Rajkumar's life. The plot
bobs along on the turbulent events of the succeeding years and the 
first	phase ends with the complete impoverishment of the King of 
Burma in faraway Ratnagiri. Ironically, this is the same arc that 
makes Rajkumar, the destitute orphan, so rich from trading in teak 
the another "king" is born. Rajkumar travels from Burma to Ratnagiri, 
marries Dolly and bears her triumphantly back to the land of her 
birth. Exile and return are thus at once a tragedy and a romance.

	Throughout, Ghosh uses one end to signal another beginning so 
that nothing changes and yet everything does. Life, Death, success 
and failure come in cycles and Ghosh uses the conceit of a pair of 
binoculars early on to sensitise the reader to this perspective. 
Thebaw, the Burmese king, watches over the Ratnagiri harbour with his 
binoculars, "predicting" the return of sailing vessels, and warning 
the townspeople of impending disasters. What makes the tragedy of 
human life bearable is a graceful acceptance of the inevitability of 
pain and suffering. The King dwells on the word Karuna, " the 
immanence of all living things in each other, for the attraction of 
life for its likeness". The connotations of this are clear to Dolly, 
but almost incomprehensible to Rajkumar, who cannot detach himself 
from pain and suffering in the way she, or the Burmese king, can.

	Ghosh distributes the major protagonists over Burma, India 
and Malaysia, then knits them together. The strand he uses here, 
unlike the motif of love that irradiates the first section, is 
history. Against the giant screen that he erects over the stage of 
South Asia, he enacts a shadow play with characters who bring alive 
the region's colonial history.

	The spoils of the trade in teak, rubber and slaves along with 
the lush tropical forests take the plot up to the point when the 
first would war breaks out and everyone, and every country, is sucked 
into a macabredance of death.

	The violence of the war years bring sweeping changes in the 
lives of characters and countries alike. Ghosh brings alive the 
ideology of the INA, dwelling as only a historian can, on the irony 
of two sets of Indian soldiers locked in a battle on opposing sides 
in alien territory.

	By far the most moving account is of the Long March from 
Burma to India. Refugees displaced by war and hatred stumble along 
the sticky mud of the Irrawaddy. Ghosh's prose mimics photography in 
describing individual horror; he uses the character of Dinu, a 
dedicated photographer, to imprint his word pictures on the text.

	The last movement of this long story brings the book up to 
the gates of Aung San Suu Kyi's house and the final spotlight falls 
on "a slim, fine-featured women·eautiful beyond belief". In 1996, as 
Suu Kyi addresses the thousands who gather at her gates each weekend, 
there are two whose search through life has led them there. For among 
the rapt crowd of listeners are Rajkumar;s son Dinu, the last link 
with the original cast of characters, and Bela (a historian, like 
Ghosh), his niece from the India branch of the family.

	Hope, reconciliation, a affirmation and faith--Suu Kyi's 
presence leads the wheel to turn yet again. A perfect arc brings the 
book to a perfect end.


July 17, 2000

Anthropologist by craft and story and story-teller by persuasion--
Amitav Ghosh is widely acknowledged as one of the most gifted and 
durable writer-chroniclers of his generation. His most recent novel, 
The GlassPalace, covers tow centuries of Burmese history and took him 
five years to write. He spent some of that time being shot at by the 
Burmese army. Ghosh speaks with Nilanjana S. Roy in a rare burst of
media-friendliness. Excerpts:

-Did Dancing in Cambodia·provide the spark for The Glass Palace?

It's more accurate to say that Dancing in Cambodia·was background for 
The Glass Palace. I had intended to write about the Indian diaspora 
in Burma: there's even a slight family connection. My pishemoshai 
(paternal uncle) and his family had been settled in Burma for several 
generations.  As a young man, my father had visited them in Burma.

-You have reputation for thorough research; The Glass Palace is said 
to have taken five years in the making.

I spent just about a month in Burma, and a lot of time in Malaysia 
and India. Writing and researching took five years; the longest I've 
spent on any of my books. Burma is essentially now two countries: the 
part under military rule and the interior, which is home to 
resistance movements. It's a truly, truly sinister country, because 
of the military regime. I was constantly followed and would have been 
watched all the time had I not found a very good taxi driver. He 
helped me elude a great deal of the surveillance.

-Was your meeting with Aung San Suu Kyi very hard to organise?

It wasn't at all easy even thought I eventually met with Aung San Suu 
Kyi twice, in 1996-1997. It was almost impossible to send word to 
her: I finally managed to link up with a diplomat from a friendly 
country. It was very strange. You walk in through this huge, metal 
gate, where you're video-taped by the army people. The house is old-
fashioned, like the ones in Shillong, and it's right next to the 
lake. Close up, Aung San Suu Kyi is even more beautiful than you 
might expect! We talked for several hours.

-Were you ever in actual danger?

Writing this book did take me into harm's way, something that happens 
very rarely in a writer's life. I spent a lot of time with the 
Karenni--insurgents who were under attack form the Burmese army. I 
marched along with these revolutionaries armed with Kalashnikovs. 
Coming under fire from the Burmese army was surreal. We were shelled: 
the Burmese army uses 21mm guns and some pretty heavy artillery.

It took me back to Cambodia, to the time I found myself looking down 
the barrel of a gun held by a Khmer Rough soldier who was dead drunk. 
I thought, well, here it is, but he eventually moved off. My wife 
asks me now how I could put myself in danger armed, in either Burma 
or Cambodia.

-Are you going to write about all this?

May be I will! It was quite an experience, trekking for days through 
dense tropical jungle as a target. I never got hit, though. 

-A key event in The Glass Palace is the Long March, when Indians fled
Burma fearing Japanese occupation. It's barely been written about.

It's not been written about al all! There's a single article by a 
historian, that too an Englishman, Hugh Tinker. On the Indian 
side,there's nothing except unpublished memoirs by survivors. In 
English, there are two novels to my knowledge: H.E. Bates' The 
Jacaranda Tree, and a fairly bad novel called The Golden Stair. It's 
strange--there were over half a million people on the Long March, 
over 400,000 of them Indian, and there is such a silence about it.

-An obliteration of history?

It illustrates the degree to which we're truly oblivious about our 
own history. I had to hunt for survivors in Bengal; I eventually 
about 10 or 12. It wasn't easy fining them, something like the Long 
March shortens your lifespan by 20 years. Doing the interviews was 
extremely painful. It was just the absolute knowledge of what they 
went through on the March, and the realisation that the whole 
exercise was meaningless! There was no need for the Indians in Burma 
to flee when the Japanese approached--many Indians did stay back. It 
makes you realise the degree to which Indians felt themselves to be 
the sheep of the British; the delusions that governed their lives.

-Did you manage to maintain a regular writing schedule?

I usually work to a regular rhythm, but because of the upheaval that 
accompanied this book, I didn't stick to schedule. To talk to INA 
survivors, for instance, I literally drove around in Malaysia from 
village to village, stopping and asking whether there were any INA 

-Does a sense of political engagement accompany your sense of history?

That's a question writers get asked a lot these days; personally, I 
don't believe it is necessary. I barely ever read the papers, I'm 
divorced from politics! Countdown emerged as a human, not a 
political, response to the Pokhran blasts. I didn't need the 
distraction; I was getting to the end of The Glass Place. But a point 
came where I felt I really did have to say something, as a writer and 
as human being. A lot of the people I had to meet in order to write 
Countdown were horrible, as was the subject itself. There was nothing 
edifying, nothing pleasant about it, but I grit my teeth. I wish I 
hadn't had to do it, but I had to. It was a personal duty: any writer 
worth his salt has to tackle morality, particularly the morality of 

-You've always stayed away from the media circus that's accompanied 
Indian Writing in English. 

It's a liking of privacy and besides, my publisher Ravi Dayal is very 
old-fashioned-- he's not been plugged into the media publicity 
circuit in India. I fell that suits me, and it suits Ravi. As far as 
the media and IWE is concerned, I've kind of always felt that I've 
been outside the machine. Then again, most of the media response to 
IWE is purely in the house of fiction, and I've been both in and out 
of that house.

-Does living in two countries--the US and India--add a measure of 
distance to your writing?

It wouldn't have been possible to write The Glass Palace and Dancing 
in Cambodia if I was living in India--the lack of resources would 
have been a problem, as would have been the lack of distance. 
Nayantara Sahgal is right when she says Indian authors who live 
elsewhere miss the
everydayness of Indian reality. To write a book like The Glass 
Palace, you must have distance. A book like this can't be written 
exclusively for an Indian or a Burmese audience.

-The Khmer Rouge shot at you in Cambodia, the Burmese army shelled 
you in Burma. What risks to life and limb are you planning to take on 
with your next project?

I can't really talk about it, but yes, it might place me at some 
slight risk. I can tell you this: in some ways, what I plan to do now 
my wife even more!


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