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BurmaNet News: October 20, 2000
- Subject: BurmaNet News: October 20, 2000
- From: strider@xxxxxxxxxxx
- Date: Fri, 20 Oct 2000 09:27:00
______________ THE BURMANET NEWS ______________
An on-line newspaper covering Burma
_________October 20, 2000 Issue # 1645__________
INSIDE BURMA _______
*AP: Briton flies to freedom after 415 days in solitary confinement
*Myanmar Times (SPDC): Activist loses court appeal
*AFP: Rebels, Burma army clash; six killed
*AFP: EU to resume talks with ASEAN, despite Myanmar: Vedrine
*AFP: Myanmar deputy foreign minister visits Bangladesh
*Reuters: Myanmar refugees strain Bangladesh economy
*Bangkok Post: Ogata rapped for comment on refugees
*Myanmar Times (SPDC): Software growth badly in need of human touch
*Irrawaddy: Slow-paced privatization continues
*Bankok Post: Burma's chance to be reasonable
The BurmaNet News is viewable online at:
__________________ INSIDE BURMA ____________________
AP: Briton flies to freedom after 415 days in solitary confinement
Oct 20, 2000
YANGON, Myanmar (AP) A British human rights activist flew to freedom
Friday after being released from jail where he was serving a 17-year
sentence for entering Myanmar illegally.
James Mawdsley had served nearly 14 months of his sentence in solitary
confinement when he was let out earlier Friday from a prison in
northwestern Myanmar following international and diplomatic pressure.
Mawdsley first flew from Keng Tung, where the prison is located, to
Yangon and caught a connecting flight to Bangkok, Thailand, en route to
London, airline officials said.
The British Foreign Office said he is expected to arrive in London on
Mawdsley's release ends a yearlong tussle between Myanmar and the
British governments that had put the spot light on the Myanmar junta's
heavily criticized human rights record.
The military government came under further scrutiny last month when
British consular officials reported that Mawdsley had been beaten by
guards and had suffered a broken nose and two black eyes. The government
said he had injured himself accidentally in a scuffle with prison
Mawdsley's release comes at a time when the junta has faced widespread
condemnation for its crackdown on pro-democracy opposition leader Aung
San Suu Kyi, a 1991 Nobel peace prize winner, and other leaders of her
Mawdsley was accompanied on the flight to Bangkok by his mother, Diana
Mawdsley, and British vice consul in Yangon, Karen Williams, the airline
officials said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
Williams had earlier escorted Mawdsley on the flight from Keng Tung,
630 kilometers (390 miles) northeast of Yangon.
Mawdsley, 27, had been kept in an isolated cell in the Keng Tung prison
since September 1999 after he sneaked into Myanmar, also known as Burma,
to protest against the country's military junta.
He was sentenced to 17 years jail on charges of violating immigration
laws and a publications law by handing out pro-democracy leaflets. But
13 1/2 months into the sentence, the military government said Wednesday
it would deport Mawdsley on requests by the British Foreign Office to
Myanmar's ambassador in London.
In Seoul, South Korea, British Foreign Secretary Robin Cook confirmed
that Mawdsley was freed after 415 days in solitary confinement.
``James's only crime was to highlight the suppression of ethnic
minorities in Burma and to call for democratic change,'' Cook said.
He said efforts by Mawdsley's family and well-wishers coupled with
British diplomatic pressure played a key role in winning his freedom.
``This is the news we have been campaigning for, for over a year,''
said Mark Rowland of Jubilee Campaign, a lobby group that worked for
``The international community must now listen and take action to stop
(the) systematic abuse of human rights'' in Myanmar, Rowland said in a
It quoted Mawdsley as saying in a message he conveyed earlier this
month from prison that he is ``fit and well and full of beans.''
``The clock is ticking for certain ethnic minorities. If we do not
strain ourselves to stop this genocide, then their blood will be on our
hands too,'' Mawdsley was quoted as saying.
Mawdsley, from Lancashire in northwest England, had been arrested in
Myanmar twice before his sentencing last year.
In 1998, he served 99 days of a 7-year sentence. He was pardoned on
condition he not return to the country. He also holds an Australian
Myanmar Times (SPDC): Activist loses court appeal
Oct 16-22, 2000
A BRITISH-Australian activist sentenced to 17 years jail here, after
making public protests against the State Peace and Development Council
for the third time, has lost his first appeal in the Myanmar
courts.James Mawdsley, 27, first entered the country in September
1997.He chained himself to a gate at the No 6 High School, on Anawrahta
Road, and distributed pamphlets as part of a one-man campaign against
He was subsequently escorted to Yangon International Airport and
deported to Britain.Mawdsley, who holds British and Australian
passports, returned to Myanmar in April 1998, illegally crossing the
border from Thailand into Mawlamyaing, where he distributed pamphlets
issued by the Karen National Union and All Burma Student Democratic
Front. He was charged with violating the country?s Immigration Law and
sentenced to five years imprisonment.
After serving just under three months of that sentence, however,
Mawdsley was again deported ? on his undertaking that he would not enter
the country again ? after the SPDC heeded an appeal by his parents and
the British Ambassador.On 31 August last year Mawdsley again entered
Myanmar from the Thai border town of Maisai to the Myanmar town of
Tachilek, where he distributed anti-Government leaflets, stickers and
tape recordings.He was taken to court and sentenced to five years in
prison for violating the Immigration Law, seven years? jail for
contravening the Printers? and Publishers? Act, and ordered to serve the
remainder of his earlier sentence.
Mawdsley lost an appeal against his sentence at the Tachileik district
court last week. His lawyer, U Kyi Wynn, said he would now take his
appeal to the Supreme Court where he hoped to win his case on the basis
of a technicality.The SPDC last week denied allegations, reported in the
international press, that Mawdsley had been beaten in jail.
?The Union of Myanmar, as a sovereign nation, reserves its right to
implement its laws according to its own standard procedures which are in
keeping with procedures used in many democratic countries,? the
spokesman said. He said that, due to his association with armed
insurgent groups, Mawdsley was considered a threat to national security.
AFP: Rebels, Burma army clash; six killed
Thursday 19 October 2000
MAE SOT, (AFP) Thailand: Fighting between the Burmese military and the
anti-government ethnic minority Karen National Union (KNU) has killed
six people and driven two hundred refugees into Thailand, the Thai army
About 100 Burma army soldiers, aided by troops from the Democratic Karen
Buddhist Army (DKBA) -- a militia which allies itself with Burmese
military junta -- attacked a KNU base in eastern Burma early Wednesday
morning, the Thai military said.
After an hour of fierce fighting, the Rangoon military retreated,
leaving one KNU soldier dead. The Burma army suffered five deaths, the
Thai army said.
The fighting reportedly caused about 200 people to flee from the area
near the base, opposite Thailand's western Mae Ramat district, into
One Thai army officer said he expected more fighting at the same base in
the coming weeks because Burma troops were beginning their annual dry
season offensive against the KNU.
The KNU have been fighting the central government since Burma gained
independence from Britain more than half a century ago. But KNU fighters
now control only small pockets of territory.
The fighting has driven more than 100,000 refugees across the border and
into camps in Thailand.
AFP: EU to resume talks with ASEAN, despite Myanmar: Vedrine
SEOUL, Oct 20 (AFP) - The European Union will resume talks with the
Association of South East Nations (ASEAN) in December after a break of
three years despite problems posed by the presence of Myanmar, French
Foreign Minister Hubert Vedrine said Friday.
"In exchange for hardening measures taken by the European Union against
the ruling junta, the British did not oppose a new round of talks with
ASEAN," Vedrine told AFP.
He was speaking after bilateral talks with the Vietnamese minister of
foreign affairs, Nguyen Dy Nien, on the sidelines of the Asia-Europe
Meeting (ASEM) taking place in Seoul. Vietnam currently holds the
rotating presidency of ASEAN.
EU ministers have not attended a ministerial meeting with ASEAN since
the 1997 admission of Myanmar, ruled by a military junta that refuses to
recognise a 1990 election victory by the country's democratic
But Vedrine said Friday dialogue between the two parties would again
take place in Vientiane, Laos, in December.
The French foreign minister's statement, which reflected the position
expressed in another by all 15 EU member states, removed in principle
the last remaining uncertainty regarding a resumption of the talks.
"We were shooting ourselves in the foot," by linking the ASEAN dialogue
with the question of Myanmar, explained the minister.
In September, the EU vigorously condemned repressive measures taken by
the junta against the democratic opposition, led by Nobel Peace prize
winner Aung San Suu Kyi, who was placed under house arrest.
Britain has expressed particular hostility over the detention of human
rights activist James Mawdlsey, whose release Friday after serving 14
months of a 17-year sentence for handing out pro-democracy leaflets was
said to be a matter of hours.
On the sidelines of the ASEM summit, Vedrine held bilateral talks with
his counterparts from Vietnam, Indonesia, Thailand, Malaysia and
AFP: Myanmar deputy foreign minister visits Bangladesh
DHAKA, Oct 20 (AFP) - Myanmar Deputy Foreign Minister Khin Maung Win
arrived here Friday on a two-day visit to Bangladesh, airport officials
Senior foreign ministry official Toufiq Ali greeted Khin Maung Win on
arrival as special envoy of Myanmar Prime Minister Than Shwe, they said.
Khin Maung is scheduled to hold talks with Foreign Minister Abdus Samad
Azad on Saturday and deliver a letter from Than Shwe, they said, but did
not give details.
Khin Maung is the first ranking Myanmar official to visit since a
last-minute postponement of a visit by Than Shwe to Dhaka early this
year on health grounds.
Than Shwe was set to visit in February as Dhaka-Yangon ties showed
signs of easing after a crisis in 1992 over Muslim refugees who poured
in from Myanmar into Bangladesh.
The postponed visit is still pending.
More than 280,000 Muslims from Arakan fled to Bangladesh in 1992
alleging atrocities by Myanmar troops, a charge denied by the junta.
Most of the refugees were repatriated following a 1991 bilateral
agreement and a second one in 1993 between the United Nations High
Commissioner for Refugees and Yangon.
Some 20,000 people still remain in camps in Bangladesh.
Reuters: Myanmar refugees strain Bangladesh economy
By Mohammad Nurul Islam
COX'S BAZAR, Bangladesh, Oct 20 (Reuters) - Thousands of Myanmar
Muslims, fleeing from military rule at home, arrive in Bangladesh every
month, putting a strain on the impoverished nation's economy, officials
said on Friday.
Bangladesh has been hosting nearly 21,000 refugees from Myanmar for a
``Nearly 21,000 Myanmar Muslim refugees, called Rohingyas, are huddled
in two camps in Bangladesh's Cox's Bazar district,'' said Borhanuddin
Ahmed, relief and repatriation commissioner at Cox's Bazar, bordering
west Myanmar's Muslim-majority Arakan province.
The additional influx has been causing a number of economic and social
problems, he told Reuters.
``They are straining the area's poor economy, have denuded forests for
cooking wood, involved in robbery and other crimes, and shared the
meagre jobs available,'' Borhanuddin said.
He said the illegal migrants worked for cheaper wages as fishing crew
or farm labourers, and also competed with the locals as traders.
``We are really at a loss about what to do with these illegal entrants.
It is feared that Cox's Bazar population might be outnumbered eventually
by the Myanmar nationals as their inflow could not be stemmed due to a
vast open border, mostly running through jungles,'' he told Reuters.
He said Bangladesh was still awaiting Yangon authorities to repatriate
the refugees from the two camps. But they seemed reluctant.
They are the remnants of more than 250,000 refugees, called Rohingyas,
who fled to Cox's Bazar from Arakan province in 1991 trying to escape
military persecution, including killings and rape.
Most of the refugees have returned to Myanmar under the supervision of
the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), which said most of
those who crossed the borders had been economic refugees. The
repatriation process stopped in the middle of 1997.
Borhanuddin said the number of Rohingyas in and outside the camps had
swelled due to more births than deaths.
Bangkok Post: Ogata rapped for comment on refugees
Oct 20, 2000
No one else seems to mind, officials say
The Foreign Ministry hit back at the United Nations High Commissioner
for Refugees yesterday, warning that Sadako Ogata's controversial
remarks could wreck efforts to find a lasting solution on Burmese
"The comments could affect our co-operation in trying to resolve the
problem of Burmese displaced persons in the long run," said Supat
Chitranukroh, deputy foreign ministry spokesman.
While stressing its humanitarian policy and its good cooperation with
the UNHCR over the past 25 years, the senior ministry official
reaffirmed Thailand has no intention of allowing refugees to stay in the
Infrastructure at the Tham Hin camp in Ratchaburi's Suan Phung district
might not look good because the government did not want to encourage
them to stay but to return to their country, he added.
The ministry's criticism came in response to comments by Sadako Ogata,
the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, who showed
disappointment at conditions at the camp run by Thailand after touring
the site on Tuesday. She said the camp was not up to an acceptable
minimum standard for refugees.
Mr Supat said no UNHCR officials, diplomats and relief workers for
non-governmental agencies allowed to visit the camp had ever complained
about it. Even British Foreign Secretary Robin Cook, who went to the
site on April 20, did not criticise living conditions there and instead
appreciated Thailand for giving shelter to the Burmese, he added.
The deputy ministry spokesman urged the UN agency to do more than just
talk. "If the UNHCR wants to help Thailand improve the camp conditions,
it should provide funds for it because the Thai government also has
responsibility to take care of its own citizens," he said.
Many villagers nearby were living in poorer conditions and the country
did not want them to have negative attitudes or show resistance to
refugees, he added.
The camp houses around 8,200 Karen refugees, most of them women and
children, fleeing fighting from Burma.
Thailand has over 100,000 refugees from Burma living in camps along its
_______________ ECONOMY AND BUSINESS _______________
Myanmar Times (SPDC): Software growth badly in need of human touch
Oct 16-22, 2000
MYANMAR?S computer business community is watching the global information
technology (IT) industry expand at a phenomenal rate, and wanting a
piece of the action. But the key issue confronting local efforts to find
a niche in software development is ? perhaps ironically ? people.?We are
trying to establish a software industry in Myanmar,? said U Thein Oo of
ACE Data System. ?There are many applications in the IT industry that
are growing at an alarming rate. IT is a dominant industry on a global
scale in terms of capital, labour and profit. We will be left behind
unless we make a tremendous effort, now, to catch up with the world.
?What we need is the human resources that will give us the capability to
develop software,? he said, adding that in his opinion there were
currently no more than five proficient programmers in the country.There
was a reasonable level of interest and skill in program languages like
Oracle, Java and Visual Basics but a shortfall in the attitude or
quality consciousness that should accompany the technical know-how, he
said ? like recognising the importance of a job?s timely completion.And
the industry was not yet sufficiently well versed in applications like
banking and tourism operations, he said.
But U Tun Thura Thet, managing director of Myanmar Information
Technology, believed the solution could be a simple matter of
practice.?All that local software technicians need is to be in an
environment where they will have exposure to developing such
applications,? he said.There were some firms here that focused on
software development and they were perhaps in the best position to
provide on-the-job training to newly-appointed technicians.Typically,
those technicians had graduated from local computer science institutes
that were not yet producing highly competent programmers.
It took a software firm about six months to train fresh graduates to
proficiency.Analytical skills were also needed to develop application
software for industries like banking and hotels.Currently, local firms
were using SQL server in Database and Visual Basis in programming
languages. Other software like Java and C+ was also used, but
rarely.Most programmers knew software like Java, but their knowledge was
insufficiently advanced for the development of application software for
customers.?We cooperate with local institutions like the University of
Computer Science to run a project when we fall short of programmers,?
said Tun Thura Thet.
Recently, a Japanese firm sought local operators here to cooperate on
the domestic development of software. The project needed a workforce of
about 50 people.It did not happen, but the Japanese firm at least put
the idea of human resource development in the industry under the
spotlight, said Tun Thura Thet.On the flipside of the coin, software
development jobs in Myanmar were scarce ? a situation which exacerbated
the difficulty of producing experienced programmers.What might help
overcome the problem, according to industry sources, was the
establishment of a taskforce to source expatriate trainers and projects,
and to send local programmers to
According to my experience, very fluent programmers are not interested
in training others,? said Tun Thura Thet.What Myanmar also needed,
industry players told Myanmar Times, was an efficient telecommunication
infrastructure operated in conjunction with a counterpart like Japan.
Last but not least, said observers, Myanmar should follow the lead of
its very successful neighbour, India, and establish a software ?park? to
replace isolated, scattered firms with a cohesive, geographically
focused industry.Software parks in India, also Malaysia, have been set
up with the support of government through commercial tax breaks, 100 per
cent foreign investment provision and power subsidies.
?It would be very fruitful if our government was able to create such a
workable environment,? said Tun Thura Thet .Another challenge faced by
the local industry was the access to the Internet, on which software was
increasingly developed.?Without having experience in operating the
Internet, a programmer will not be able to prepare software application
to be used in the Net,? said Tun Thura Thet.He cited the example of Hong
Kong, where software houses have an apparently insatiable demand for
well-versed programmers to create web pages.
Irrawaddy: Slow-paced privatization continues
Vol 8. No. 9, September 2000
Burma's military regime has announced that it is planning to auction off
11 state enterprises, including a plot of land and two warehouses owned
by the Ministry of Hotels and Tourism, six cinemas, a timber shop, and
an ice factory. In 1999, a total of 118 enterprises were privatized
under a program introduced in January 1995. According to official
statistics, there are 1,760 state enterprises in Burma. However,
analysts note that local partners in virtually all of the joint ventures
with foreign investors are companies controlled by military or retired
Bankok Post: Burma's chance to be reasonable
Oct 20, 2000
The refugees fled terrible conditions at home only to find themselves in
what the top UN refugee official believes are terrible conditions here.
Things could be improved, but that needs Rangoon's co-operation.
Rangoon could contribute to a breakthrough in the problem of Burmese
refugees if the ruling junta accepted the proposal from the United
Nations high commissioner for refugees on repatriation from Thailand.
Sadako Ogata effectively suggested that the Mon state in eastern Burma
be made the starting point for repatriation of Burmese from Thailand by
proposing that UNHCR staff begin monitoring in a conflict-free area like
this on an ad hoc basis.
She called for a gradual building from this basis to more repeated
missions and eventually to a permanent presence on Burmese soil.
The Burmese leadership did "not negate" her proposal but said they would
examine the "modalities" for it, she said on Wednesday. "They were very
clear in positively examining it," she said when the Bangkok Post asked
her about the degree of Rangoon's commitment.
There are now about 100,000 displaced Burmese living in camps just
inside Thailand. Many would not be recognised officially as refugees but
they form part of an uprooted and largely deprived population that fled
the violent suppression in Burma in 1988.
A positive answer would show that Rangoon is capable of rational
thinking, and could help melt the still icy sentiment of the
international community and some nearby states towards the regime.
A negative answer could be seen as a demonstration of Rangoon's
deep-rooted insecurity about its position with regard to the opposition
it faces in Burma despite its implacability.
Conversely, it could be seen as a show of Rangoon's supreme security in
its ability to survive all international criticism and do without the
international community's support or assistance.
Both tendencies are likely to be at work as Rangoon ponders Mrs Ogata's
proposal. As in many other places around the world, the refugee problems
have been protracted and prolonged because politics has been allowed to
overwhelm things after the initial humanitarian crisis subsided and
dropped out of the international headlines.
At play in the complex web are relations between the Thai and Burmese
governments, rapport between these governments and the UNHCR, and, not
least, the stand-off between Rangoon and its domestic opposition.
Thai-Burmese relations, hardly healthy before the storming of the
Burmese embassy in Bangkok by Burmese exiles last October and the taking
of hostages at Ratchaburi hospital three months later in January, have
become even more strained.
Rangoon is sticking rigidly to its position because it knows the
government in Bangkok, among other things, is under pressure from
fishermen to secure a re-opening of Burmese waters closed to them for a
full year now, causing many to risk trespassing and possible arrest
Relations between the Burmese government and the UNHCR apparently are
less strained because the UNHCR has made some headway with the
repatriation of Rohingya Muslim refugees from Bangladesh to western
Relations between the Thai government and the UNHCR seem to run hot and
cold as different agencies put different accents on the problem, and
approach it from different experiences.
But what seems clear is that the government does not want to make life
too comfortable for Burmese refugees for fear that this will draw in
more arrivals at a time when donor compassion is on the wane.
But the authorities seem to have gone overboard. Mrs Ogata was shocked
by the conditions she found at the Tham Hin camp, in Ratchaburi's Suen
Pueng district. Besides overcrowded living quarters, she was concerned
about the sanitation.
Such sentiments from a person who has seen refugee camps all over the
world through 10 years as the top UN refugee administrator reflects
badly on Thailand, and comes on top of a history of hospitality to
Indochinese refugees after the fall of Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam to
communist regimes 25 years ago.
The Foreign Ministry offered what came across as a lame response, saying
Tham Hin could not be expanded because it was located next to a
restricted military area and local farmland, and it cited a high birth
Packing 8,212 Karen refugees on to just 40 rais is a bit of a squeeze on
their activities, and provides a great opportunity for disease to
spread. Mrs Ogata had seen better conditions and set-ups at camps along
the Cambodian border when she visited in 1993.
Lame or not, the Thai response does raise a valid point: Thailand has to
care for its own people, whose livelihoods would be on the line if the
camp is enlarged.
On the day of Mrs Ogata's visit to Tham Hin, a senior Thai official put
things more succinctly. He said villagers in some parts of our Northeast
live in worse conditions than the refugees in the camp.
Mrs Ogata's responded to this the following day by saying the problems
of local people are a global issue, and suggested that Thailand raise
them during global consultation on the 1951 Convention on Refugees. The
expert level discussions, open to any interested government, are due to
begin early next year.
But the Thai government's prevarication on Mrs Ogata's request for more
regular access to refugee camps on Thai soil is a mistake. It could be
seen as a bid to hide undesirable truths.
Refugee watchers remember reports from the 1980s of unseemly events
taking place in refugee camps along the Cambodian border during the
hours from dusk to dawn when international relief officers were away
from the camps.
Access is part of the transparency being demanded in all aspects of
life, and Thailand as a leading democracy in Southeast Asia cannot be
seen to falter in this.
Mrs Ogata stressed that her request was aimed at improving the UNHCR's
protection work. Refusal would be an anomaly when Thailand already has
allowed the UNHCR to open field offices in Tak, Mae Hong Son and
Mumbles about "security concerns" only make matters worse, because the
worriers are not making clear where the threats are coming from.
A solution to the Burmese refugee problem now depends on a complex web
of relationships, though it is clear that the first move has to come
from the Burmese leadership who caused the people to flee their homes in
the first place.
Rangoon should appreciate that the lifting of the gridlock on the
refugee issue is much easier than breaking through the political impasse
with its domestic opposition, which involves huge questions of power
transfer or at least power sharing.
Mrs Ogata effectively has given the generals in Rangoon a chance to show
that they are reasonable men, and they should seize this occasion with
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