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BurmaNet News: January 29, 2001
- Subject: BurmaNet News: January 29, 2001
- From: strider@xxxxxxxxxxx
- Date: Mon, 29 Jan 2001 11:07:00
______________ THE BURMANET NEWS ______________
An on-line newspaper covering Burma
January 29, 2001 Issue # 1721
______________ www.burmanet.org _______________
 ?The accusation that they use slave labour is not true. In all the
countries in East Asia and Southeast Asia, we are used to using
Mahathir Mohamed, Prime Minister of Malaysia on forced labor in Burma.
See New Straits Times (Malaysia): Myanmar problem cannot be solved by
confrontation' [Mahathir interview]
 ?THEY CAME in search of young men, making an offer no one could
refuse: Work for the army as an unpaid porter, carrying ammunition and
guns in the hills. Or face the consequences.?
See Toronto Star: Burma's military rulers try to build a tourist haven
using forced labour and repression
INSIDE BURMA _______
*The Times (London): No peace for Suu Kyi
*AFP: European Union Delegation Given Permission To Meet with Suu Kyi
*Xinhua: Myanmar Media Claims to Have Rights to Choose Best System
*AP: Despite dialogue, military rule appears entrenched
*AP: Mahathir hopes for elections in Myanmar in ``a few years''
*AP: Thai police hunt for Myanmar migrants on run after breakout
*Reuters: Australia welcomes release of Myanmar prisoners
*The Star (Malaysia): Lim-- Free political prisoners
*The Toronto Star: Canadian Firms Justify Close Ties to Generals
*Toronto Star: Behind the Facade
*The New York Times: Sanctions Are a Weapon We Need
*New Straits Times (Malaysia): Myanmar problem cannot be solved by
confrontation' [Mahathir interview]
__________________ INSIDE BURMA ____________________
The Times (London): No peace for Suu Kyi
January 29, 2001, Monday
An acrimonious family dispute has developed between the Nobel
prizewinner and her brother over who owns the property in Burma where
she has been kept under house arrest. Grace Bradberry
reportsAung San Suu Kyi is a woman of whom people do not like to ask
personal questions. For one thing, the winner of the Nobel Peace Prize
has been all but canonised, and one does not quiz saints about their
private lives. For another it would seem that she has no private life.
Before 1988, when she returned to Rangoon to nurse her dying mother and
became leader of the National League for Democracy, the opposition
party, she was a housewife in Oxford with a husband and two sons. After
1988, she was an international human rights heroine, who was allowed
little contact with her family. It was as if from that time on her
private life came to a halt and was replaced by a public one.
But nobody is without a private life entirely. Last November Aung San
Suu Kyi's resurfaced. A brother, whose name barely appears in the index
of books written about her, filed a lawsuit demanding half of the
property in Rangoon where she has lived, often under house arrest, for
the past 12 years. Property is divided equally between children under
Reports noted drily that Aung San Suu Kyi and her brother were
estranged. Why would anyone, let alone a brother, do such a thing to a
woman who is so revered? The move was all the more inexplicable because
her brother is a US citizen and under Burmese law a foreigner cannot own
property in the country.
The answers to these questions lie with 54 University Avenue, the
shuttered house by Lake Inya that has become something of a shrine for
human rights campaigners. It is a house that seems to be owned by
history and by politics - it was given by the state to Aung San Suu
Kyi's mother in recognition of her late husband, General Aung San, who
won Burma's independence from the British. Yet the truth is that for
both Aung San Suu Kyi and her brother, Aung San Oo, it is a house where
the personal is embedded in every cranny.
It was here that brother and sister grew up together, in the shadow of
their father's reputation, and became locked in a complex sibling
rivalry that has continued for 50 years. The rift is deep, kept open by
perceived slights and wounding disagreements of a highly personal
nature. Compared to Aung San Suu Kyi's moral fight it seems petty stuff
- and yet it could have led to her losing the house, and with it a
crucial powerbase for the Burmese opposition.
The furniture at the house is the same that both siblings remember from
their childhood. The house itself is unchanged, though neglect has taken
its toll - a layer of moss has crept across peeling plasterwork. In most
other cities it would be a property developer's dream, located in the
town's best neighbourhood (Yangon) and in need of work. Even on
Rangoon's less than buoyant property market, the estate has been
variously valued by commentators at between Pounds 4 million and Pounds
Eight thousand miles away stands a house that could not be more
different. Built in 1962, it covers a mere 1,200 square feet, has three
bedrooms, two bathrooms and is located on an unassuming street in a
middling-to-good area of San Diego. Its value is no more than Pounds
200,000. It is here that Aung San Suu Kyi's brother, a 57-year-old
computer engineer for the US Navy, lives with his wife Lei Lei Nwe
Thein, a university administrator. They moved there in 1990. A year
later Aung San Suu Kyi won the Nobel Peace Prize. Oddly, it was not
until last November that any of his neighbours discovered the
They were alerted to it by leaflets posted through doors that denounced
Aung San Oo, and condemned the lawsuit he had filed claiming half the
Rangoon property. To drive home their disgust, members of the
Burmese-American community held up placards outside Aung San Oo's house.
What had incensed the protestors were the possible consequences of the
lawsuit. If Aung San Oo won, his half of the property would probably be
handed over to Burma's military Government. Some feared that Aung San
Suu Kyi would be evicted, perhaps even moved to prison. On the Internet,
Burmese-Americans speculated on the brother's motivations: he was
anti-democracy, he was in league with Burma's military junta, he had
been pushed into it by his wife, he hated his sister. There were a few
ugly e-mails about "genetic mutation" implying that Aung San Oo had
betrayed his father's legacy.
Aung San Oo was the eldest of three children born to General Aung San
and Khin Kyi, a former nurse who had looked after him when he became
sick. In July 1947, just six months before independence, General Aung
San was assassinated.
His eldest son was four, his youngest son three and his daughter two.
Aung San Suu Kyi grew up unable to remember her father. Aung San Oo was
old enough not only to remember but to miss him. He is recalled as a
withdrawn child and there is speculation that he was badly traumatised
by the death of his father. At such a time, it might have helped to have
his mother on hand. But she accepted a government job and became,
"immersed in her work", according to an old family friend, Ma Than E.
In her book Freedom From Fear, Aung San Suu Kyi recalls that she was
closer to her other brother, Aung San Lin, than to Aung San Oo.
Tragically, Aung San Lin died when he was eight, drowning in an
ornamental lake in the grounds of the house. Of the two children, it
seems to have been Aung San Oo who was the least psychologically robust.
"He was always jealous of his sister," recalls a family friend. "There
was a definite rivalry. He hadn't the charm of his sister, even though
he was able in other ways."
Dr Alice Khin, a Burmese expatriate who now lives in Canada, says that
Aung San Oo "is said to have felt lonely and depressed". He was also
judged to be less good-looking than his sister.
"She got the good looks," says Dr Khin. "She also had confidence in
herself. He did not."
Both children, though brought up as Buddhists, attended Catholic schools
in Burma. But while Aung San Suu Kyi was educated in Burma and then,
from 15, in India, Aung San Oo was despatched to Dover College in
England for the sixth form. Living with her mother in Delhi, Aung San
Suu Kyi took flower arranging classes, learned to ride, and acquired a
wide circle of Indian friends, including Indira Ghandi's sons Rajiv and
Sanjay. Returning from Dover College, and later from Imperial College,
Aung San Oo would have found himself an outsider to this circle.
Mary Trevellyan, an old family friend, was appointed his guardian while
he was at Imperial. But despite this support, it seems that he felt
isolated during his student days. His wife has complained that the
Burmese community in London abandoned him.
"While he was in the UK, nobody treated him nicely as he was a poor
student," she said in a radio interview, going on to mention three
Burmese expatriates who apparently did not acknowledge him. While Aung
San Suu Kyi met her husband, Michael Aris, at Oxford, Aung San Oo seems
to have felt few ties to Imperial, and subsequently moved to America.
But it was an event years later that would lead to the greatest rancour
between brother and sister. Shortly before their mother's death, Aung
San Oo married Lei Lei Nwe Thein, his junior by about ten years. His
mother disapproved of his choice, and his sister reportedly thought the
antagonism sufficiently justified to ask her brother not to take his
wife to the funeral. He went alone.
Lei Lei Nwe Thein seems to provoke a good degree of bile. Rumours abound
in the Internet chat rooms frequented by Burmese-Americans. One is that
before she emigrated to America, she dated men from the American Embassy
in Rangoon. There are also malicious whispers that she might have
enjoyed a full relationship with another man before she married Aung San
Oo. In Burma, dating foreigners is frowned upon. Enjoying pre-marital
sex, even within a long-term relationship, is considered heinous. Aung
San Suu Kyi's sister-in-law is also accused of being manipulative and
there are unsubstantiated rumours that her family is connected to the
Lei Lei Nwe Thein denies all this. "On the Internet people are swearing
about me, saying that I am the one making this claim," she told a
Burmese-language radio station. "What the heck is going on? If I'd
wanted the house I would have done this a long time ago."
So was it true that her father enjoyed "some sort of close relationship"
with General Khin Nyint, part of Burma's military regime? "My father?,"
Lei Lei Nwe Thein replied. "He is already dead, so how can he have some
relationship with General Khin Nyint? In his whole life, my father was
never a government servant. He never behaved humbly to anyone to get
opportunities. He never stole government money for his own purposes. How
could he have a relationship with General Khin Nyint?"
She also rejects the idea that she encouraged her husband to pursue the
lawsuit. "My husband is not a weak man. He is like stone and nobody can
change his desire." So why did he bring the lawsuit? "It is just to
legalise his share of the property. But it has become all blown out of
proportion - this is just a family affair, not a public one."
According to Lei Lei Nwe Thein, her husband was simply trying to follow
his mother's wishes, she said, and turn the house into a memorial. It is
well known that Khin Kyi intended the house to become an educational
trust or museum. But then she died before she knew the role that her
daughter would play in Burmese politics.
"We have never thought about living in the house," Lei Lei Nwe Thein
told the Radio Free Burma journalist. "Khin Kyi wanted it to be opened
up as a memorial. You all know, this is a state house - the state gave
it to the family."
She also cited a Burmese statute of limitation which gave her husband
only 12 years from his mother's death in which to file the suit. "If
not, Oo (her husband) will lose his property. This is just to make sure
that we own half of the house. The only thing she (Aung San Suu Kyi) has
to do is accept this. Her refusal causes all kinds of trouble."
As it turns out, the trouble has landed at the San Diego door of Aung
San Oo and his wife. Last week, a Burmese court threw out the lawsuit,
ostensibly on technical grounds. Observers interpreted this as a
softening of the junta's stance towards both Aung San Suu Kyi and her
opposition party. Those who have heard from Aung San Suu Kyi over the
past few months say that she has not been concerned about the property
Aung San Oo last visited Burma in July, to attend the 53rd anniversary
of his father's death. He went to the house at University Avenue. The
two siblings did not speak.
Chronology of a Nobel prizewinner
1945: Aung San Suu Kyi is born.
1947: Her father, a leading politician, is assassinated.
1960: Her mother becomes ambassador to India and takes Suu Kyi to Delhi.
1964: Begins studies at St Hugh's College, Oxford.
1972: Marries British academic Michael Aris.
1988: Returns to Burma to care for her dying mother. Forms the National
League for Democracy (NLD).
1989: Placed under house arrest.
1990: Government defeated at the polls; but the NLD and the opposition
coalition is prevented from taking power.
1991: Wins the Nobel peace prize.
1995: Released from house arrest.
1999: Aris dies.
2000: Placed under house arrest again.
AFP: European Union Delegation Given Permission To Meet with Suu Kyi
YANGON, Jan 29 (AFP) - A European delegation visiting Myanmar this week
has been given permission to see opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, who
has been held under house arrest for the past four months, sources said
Monday. Diplomats in Yangon said the European Union (EU) team had been
guaranteed access to the Nobel peace laureate during their three-day
mission to investigate an apparent political thaw in the military-run
country. Official sources told AFP that the meeting had been tentatively
scheduled for Tuesday at her lakeside residence. An EU mission in July
was also taken to see the opposition leader. The United Nations
announced earlier this month that Aung San Suu Kyi and junta No.3
Lieutenant-General Khin Nyunt had held a series of meetings that could
kickstart efforts to achieve national reconciliation in Myanmar. The EU
team is keen to determine the opposition leader's view on signs that the
two sides could be moving towards their first official dialogue since
"It will give the Union an opportunity to get first-hand knowledge of
what the opposition thinks about the dialogue so far," Sweden's
ambassador to Bangkok Jan Axel Nordlanderhe said before the team's
arrival. "After that we will know better the prospects for the future."
On their arrival in Yangon late Sunday the visitors were briefed by EU
ambassadors, and on Monday they met with representatives of the ethnic
minority groups who have signed ceasefire agreements with the junta.
They were expected to meet with Foreign Minister Win Aung in the early
afternoon and then move into a session with Khin Nyunt, the powerful
head of military intelligence. Since the United Nations announced Khin
Nyunt's "secret talks" with Aung San Suu Kyi the regime has extended a
series of concessions that have gone some way to improving the poisonous
atmosphere between the two sides.
The septuagenarian vice-chairman of the opposition National League for
Democracy (NLD), Tin Oo, was released from four months in detention last
Thursday in a gesture aimed squarely at the European officials' visit.
In the latest in a series of interviews with veteran politicians in
Myanmar, the opposition Democratic Voice of Burma voiced optimism over
the EU's visit and said it may bear more fruit. "We think the release
shows gradual progress in the talks. We feel the situation will improve
further when the EU delegation arrives," it said in a recent broadcast,
quoting politician Thein Pe. But Thein Pe said he feared the talks would
disregard the NLD's disallowed victory at the May 1990 elections. "The
UN said Burma's election was free and fair. We need to ask why the
parliament elected by the people was not recognised. Why do they want to
hold a new election?" he asked.
Thein Pe urged the military to cooperate with Aung San Suu Kyi, the
daughter of national independence hero Aung San. "Our chairman Bohmu
Aung said Daw Suu is General Aung San's daughter and the army are
General Aung San's sons so there is no need for brothers and sisters to
fight." Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, who has become a key
ally of the military government and its leader Senior General Than Shwe,
was quoted Sunday as saying that the junta was willing to hold elections
"eventually". "He (Than Shwe) is willing to do the elections eventually.
Well, the election will not be held this year or next. It should be held
in a few years," he said in an interview with Japan's Mainichi Shimbun.
Mahathir reportedly said he himself believed elections should eventually
be held, but added that "before they hold elections, they must
understand the conduct of elections. "When an election is held, people
must learn the limits of elections. Not use elections to undermine
Xinhua: Myanmar Media Claims to Have Rights to Choose Best System
YANGON, January 29 (Xinhua) -- Myanmar has the rights to choose the best
political, economic and social system for its interest since it is a
member of the global community, the United Nations ( U.N.) and the
Association of Southeast Asian Nations, said Monday' s official
newspaper The New Light of Myanmar. In its article, the newspaper
maintained that no foreign country or foreigner has the rights even to
suggest who should or should not rule Myanmar or which policy is to be
followed and that no country or person has the right to disturb and
deter the endeavors of Myanmar.
All nations have the rights to freely determine its own future, it
stressed, pointing out that the nations, whose condition is suited to
capitalism, have adopted it, while others whose condition is suited to
socialism, have practised the system.
It also pointed out that there are also nations, which never accept both
systems, but have laid down and exercised their nationalist economic
systems which serve their best interest.
The newspaper said the act of attacking and invading other nations,
interfering in the internal affairs of others, practising various types
of colonization and hegemonism are evil practices unacceptable to the
world, citing the unacceptance by the U.N. of colonialism which it said
has bullied and occupied other nations with the use of superior
The newspaper warned that instability is occurring in various parts of
the world with many countries facing the evil consequences of war and
civil strife due to the political and economic conspiracies of greedy
politicians and entrepreneurs. It blamed that because of the oppressive
and domination practices applied by the neo-colonialists on others,
there are regions in this world which are sinking deeper into poverty
and the world is still far away from achieving peace and stability.
AP: Despite dialogue, military rule appears entrenched
Jan. 29, 2001
YANGON, Myanmar (AP) _ Myanmar's ruling military has eased its withering
pressure on pro-democracy activists, raising hopes for some that a
Western economic boycott is finally having an effect.
But even as a European Union delegation is scheduled to arrive Monday
to press for more liberalization, some analysts say the junta is
unlikely to meaningfully loosen a nearly 40-year grip on power.
Hope was recently sparked that a decade-old deadlock between the
generals and pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi could be broken after
word emerged the two sides have been holding secret talks for nearly
This dialogue, the first since 1994, is being called a ``landmark'' by
dissident exiles and hailed by the United Nations. Some Western
diplomats in the region say it's evidence the junta is in desperate
But several Myanmar intellectuals, who spoke on condition of anonymity
to avoid trouble with the junta, don't expect a resolution in the
foreseeable future. Some foreign analysts agree.
``The dialogue is very much a show for the European Union, Japanese and
the new Bush administration,'' said Josef Silverstein, an American
political scientist who has studied Myanmar for a half century.
``It's a play for the international community.''
For a start, both Suu Kyi and the top military leaders are true
believers in their competing political views, say observers who know the
key players personally. Such people rarely are willing to compromise.
The generals regard themselves as Myanmar's saviors, and their
hostility to Suu Kyi is almost visceral. Their core position _ that they
will retain power as long as they see fit _ appears nonnegotiable.
``The Lady,'' as she is widely known, is a passionate democrat whose
uncompromising stance sometimes borders on arrogance. This, and the
Nobel Prize laureate's great popularity in the West, further infuriates
On the surface, the capital of Yangon has rarely looked better. Traffic
jams, shopping malls and high rises that indicate some people have
benefitted from economic liberalization by a military group that seized
power after brutally crushing a Suu Kyi-led uprising in 1988.
Myanmar, also known as Burma, had locked itself away from the world
following a 1962 military coup. The ensuing regime _ a mix of military
rule and socialism _ proved disastrous.
The economy is clearly the current regime's Achilles' heel and it has
been deteriorating. Foreign investment has plummeted since 1997, hard
currency is scarce, and rice, a key export, faces a glut on the world
This is worsened by continuing economic sanctions by Washington and the
European Community. Japan, once the leading aid giver, is waiting for
signs of political change before opening its pocketbook.
Myanmar says it wants sanctions lifted, and some concessions to Suu Kyi
and her National League for Democracy might prove enough to lessen
international pressure. The EU delegation will assess the situation
during its four-day visit.
The junta, known as the State Peace and Development Council, has
stopped virulent attacks on Suu Kyi's party and has released some
political prisoners, although Suu Kyi has been under house arrest since
That's far short of meeting Suu Kyi's unswerving demand that the regime
recognize the results of a 1990 election that her party won by a
Making such a concession to end sanctions would be unprecedented.
Myanmar's military has been up against the wall many times, but never
meaningfully yielded to foreign demands.
Western analysts say many in military ranks want the dialogue to fail,
fearing that Suu Kyi's side might win and seek revenge for the
imprisonment, torture and killing of democracy activists.
On the pro-democracy side, calls for demonstrations and other public
action to pressure for change have fizzled in recent years.
``I think Suu Kyi's popularity is higher than ever. But I don't think
people are going to pick up a weapon and go out on the streets _ unless
they kill her,'' Silverstein said.
Some in Myanmar are even more skeptical, saying that while antimilitary
sentiment has risen, Suu Kyi's support is eroding as people grow
frustrated with political stalemate and economic hardship.
``I don't trust anybody,'' said Aye Hla, a 21-year-old student, when
asked if she backed Suu Kyi.
A bitter joke making the Yangon rounds recalls a Buddhist acceptance of
fate that has been a key element of the modern political scene:
``The socialist regime did nothing and lasted 26 years. This regime has
a done a few good things so it will last 52 years.''
AP: Mahathir hopes for elections in Myanmar in ``a few years''
Jan. 29, 2001
KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia (AP) _ Malaysian leader Mahathir Mohamad has said
that Myanmar's military regime is willing to hold elections, possibly in
a few years, and to solve the country's problems through discussions
with pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi.
Mahathir, giving the most detailed account of a recent trip to Myanmar,
gave his assessment in an interview with the Japanese newspaper Mainichi
Shimbun during a subsequent trip to Japan. Extracts were published
Monday in the Kuala Lumpur-based New Straits Times.
Mahathir's trip to Myanmar overlapped with a mission by Malaysian
diplomat Razali Ismail, who is U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan's
special envoy. Razali announced that the generals have begun a dialogue
with Suu Kyi, a reversal of a decade-long refusal to meet her.
Mahathir told Mainichi Shimbun that he met Senior Gen. Than Shwe,
chairman of the ruling State Peace and Development Council, and talked
about elections and other matters in a general way.
``He is willing to hold elections eventually,'' Mahathir was quoted as
saying. ``The elections will not be held this year or next. It should be
held in a few years.''
Setting up elections must be done step-by-step, so that registration
and conduct are worked out and so that the government and Myanmar's
people know what to expect, Mahathir said.
``When elections are held, people must understand elections have
limits,'' Mahathir said. ``And not use elections to undermine
Suu Kyi's party, the National League for Democracy, overwhelmingly won
parliamentary elections in 1990. The military, which has ruled since
1962, refused to step aside and never allowed the NLD to take power.
Suu Kyi, winner of the 1991 Nobel Peace Prize, long insisted that the
results of the elections be respected. She has spent the past decade
under house arrest or other restrictions and her party has been
Suu Kyi has great support in the West and the military views her as a
traitor for supporting economic sanctions against the country, already
one of the poorest in Asia, as a tool to force democratic change.
Mahathir repeated his long-standing view that public confrontation will
not solve Myanmar's problems.
``What is needed is to put the interests of Myanmar above party
interests,'' Mahathir said. ``And I think the government is willing to
discuss with Suu Kyi to find solutions for Myanmar.''
Mahathir was a driving force to bring Myanmar, also known as Burma,
into the Association of Southeast Asian Nations in 1997, which has led
to diplomatic difficulties for ASEAN in relations with countries that
have sanctions against Myanmar.
ASEAN's bedrock policy of non-interference in the internal affairs of
member states has been tested, and Mahathir said that the pressure
brought upon ASEAN was making Myanmar ``a special case.''
``We feel that the benefits of the kind of liberal democracy that we
have in ASEAN countries should be exposed and made known to the people
and government of Myanmar, so they will not reject the system,''
Mahathir was quoted as saying.
ASEAN also includes Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, the Philippines,
Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.
AP: Thai police hunt for Myanmar migrants on run after breakout
Jan. 29, 2001
MAE SOT, Thailand (AP) _ Authorities were combing a Thai border town
Monday for 13 Myanmar migrants on the run after escaping a police
station where they had been awaiting deportation, officials said.
Some 56 migrants broke out Sunday from Mae Sot police station, 370
kilometers (230 miles) northwest of Bangkok, after dashing past an
official bringing food and then vaulting a wall, witnesses said.
One local Thai reporter who was in the station at the time was slightly
hurt when escapees knocked him down.
One hundred police were deployed, recapturing 29 of the 56 migrants
Sunday. Fourteen other escapees were caught Monday in Mae Sot district,
Tak province, which borders Myanmar. Nine were found hiding at a disused
saw mill and five sheltering in downtown houses, police said.
Police said descriptions of the 13 migrants still at large had been
circulated to road and border checkpoints in the province.
For the past year, Thailand has tried to clamp down on the estimated
one million mostly Myanmar migrants who have come to find work in
factories and farms along Thailand's borders. Tens of thousands have
been deported, but many have returned to Thailand.
Sunday's breakout was the first such incident reported in Mae Sot,
which lies on the Thai-Myanmar Friendship Bridge. Deportations of dozens
of illegal migrants through this border checkpoint are a daily
occurrence. Two hundred migrants were rounded up around Mae Sot on
A local police officer, who requested anonymity, said that Thai
authorities planned to take legal action against at least nine of the
recaptured migrants who allegedly led the escape. He did not elaborate
on what the migrants would be charged with.
Reuters: Australia welcomes release of Myanmar prisoners
CANBERRA, Jan 29 (Reuters) - Australia welcomed on Monday the release of
85 political prisoners in Myanmar, saying it was an encouraging sign for
dialogue between the nation's military government and opposition
National League for Democracy (NLD).
``I particularly welcome the release of the NLD youth wing members,
including 13 arrested in April last year, 20 arrested in August during
the Dala incident, and 51 arrested in September at Rangoon station,''
Foreign Minister Alexander Downer, referring to a series of opposition
crackdowns in 2000.
``I look forward to further signs of momentum developing in this
dialogue,'' he said in a statement.
The National League for Democracy said on Friday 84 of its members had
been released from prison, one day after the party's Vice Chairman Tin
Oo had also been released.
Tin Oo, the most prominent opposition figure after Nobel laureate Aung
San Suu Kyi, was imprisoned in September last year after he and Suu Kyi
tried to travel by rail to Mandalay, Myanmar's second city several
hundred kilometres (miles) north of the capital Yangon.
The attempt prompted a crackdown by authorities, and up to 80
opposition party members were taken into detention along with Tin Oo,
while Suu Kyi was placed under de facto house arrest.
The NLD won elections by a landslide in 1990 but has never been allowed
The Star (Malaysia): Lim-- Free political prisoners
Jan. 29, 2001
PETALING JAYA: The DAP has called on Myanmar to release all political
prisoners, including National League for Democracy (NLD) leader Aung San
Suu Kyi who is currently under house arrest.
Its chairman Lim Kit Siang said NLD leaders and other democracy
activists living abroad should also be allowed to return home--without
any condition--to participate in the task of national reconciliation.
He welcomed news of the release of NLD vice-chairman Tin Oo and all 85
opposition youth wing members who were jailed four months ago.
_______________ ECONOMY AND BUSINESS _______________
Toronto Star: Burma's military rulers try to build a tourist haven using
forced labour and repression
Jan. 28, 2001
Martin Regg Cohn
THEY CAME in search of young men, making an offer no one could refuse:
Work for the army as an unpaid porter, carrying ammunition and guns in
the hills. Or face the consequences.
Peering into the darkness, the old man says his family had no choice but
to give up the son to the soldiers. In Burma, such sacrifices are part
of the daily rhythm of life, and sometimes death.
In this dusty frontier town on the road to the Chinese border,
disobeying the army can be dangerous - and talking about it deadly. But,
weary of the oppression in this picture-postcard police state, the old
man wants to talk about what no one dares discuss.
"Words can kill," he whispers, stooping as he moves from his straw mat
to light a candle in the ramshackle hut. "They might send killers to
come after us."
Burma's military government has more than doubled its army to 450,000
soldiers in the decade since it disallowed democratic elections. Yet it
relies on "volunteer labour" from ordinary citizens to perform the work
of human mules on the mountain passes and jungle paths of Shan state,
where ethnic insurgencies still flare.
Similar tactics have been used to build infrastructure projects to
support tourism. When the generals designated 1996 as Visit Myanmar
Year, they ordered thousands of Mandalay's residents to perform
"volunteer labour," dredging the massive moat surrounding the historic
fort in the city centre.
Today, admiring tourists can read the billboard the army erected next to
the site: "Tatmadaw (the armed forces) and the people co-operate and
crush all those harming the union," it proclaims.
But the regime's reliance on slave labour has caught the attention of
the outside world. Citing incontrovertible evidence, the International
Labour Organization decided two months ago to rebuke Burma and recommend
Facing the unprecedented resolution from the ILO, a United Nations body,
Burma belatedly decreed forced labour illegal.
In the hinterland, beyond the gaze of visitors, it's a different story.
Documenting the abuses is difficult, because foreign media are rarely
granted press visas and must rely on tourist visas (as did The Toronto
Star). Interview subjects risk interrogation by military intelligence if
found out; film and notebooks are frequently confiscated by customs
inspectors upon departure.
Still, two sources described how four villages near the Chinese border -
Pong Leng, Man Shaio, Man Naung and Mong La - were recently ordered to
produce porters. They were also required to offer up so-called
"volunteer labour" for roadwork in the hinterland, so drug lords could
pocket the money they received from the government for the paving
Those who survive porter duty and forced labour are frequently lured to
the poppy fields that flourish near the Chinese border, where they toil
for a pittance and often return home as addicts.
The old man shakes his head as he confesses to allowing another son to
take the job. But the family is desperate for money.
"It is a sacrifice we must make," he says in a low voice, after asking
that he not be identified for fear of reprisals. In a country where
informers are ubiquitous, many people feel safer speaking to a foreigner
than to their fellow Burmese.
Enticed by a daily wage of up to $3, the young men help meet the
insatiable demand for labourers as poppy production surges. Drug lords,
working in league with military officers, produce two crops a year.
Production has doubled over the past decade, placing Burma in the front
ranks of heroin producers alongside Afghanistan.
But there is a high price to be paid for the drug trade. With hundreds
of thousands of intravenous drug users, combined with a burgeoning sex
industry, Burma has spawned Southeast Asia's deadliest epidemic of
HIV/AIDS, according to the U.N.
Starved of funds by a military that prefers to plow money into pet
projects, the country's health-care system is rated the second-worst on
Earth, after Sierra Leone, by the World Health Organization. Malaria is
rampant, leprosy and tuberculosis persist and ringworm is widespread -
often plainly visible on the shaved heads of young boys serving in
The picture in ordinary Burmese homes is depressing. Poverty and disease
are constant companions to the military's misrule.
A World Bank economic and social assessment found 13 million people
living below subsistence levels, with four out of 10 children suffering
from malnutrition. Barely 40 per cent of children finish primary school.
Burma's spending on health (3 per cent of the budget) and education (10
per cent) are among the lowest in the world and a fraction of the
Last year, soldiers received a 400 per cent pay hike, while a typical
teacher's salary remained unchanged at about $225 a year.
Burma wasn't always such a backwater. It once boasted of being the rice
bowl of Asia, blessed with the best-educated people. But growth has been
stunted since 1962, when a military coup sealed it off from the world.
General Ne Win launched the country on the "Burmese Way to Socialism,"
which quickly became an economic dead end.
The army backed off after bloody student riots in 1988 and allowed
elections in 1990. But when the National League for Democracy - led by
the charismatic Aung San Suu Kyi, daughter of Burma's founding president
- won in a landslide, the military cancelled the vote and mounted a
harsh crackdown. (It renamed the country Myanmar, though most people
still refer to it as Burma. Rangoon, the historic capital, was dubbed
Languishing under house arrest in the early 1990s, Suu Kyi was awarded
the Nobel Peace Prize and won international attention. Since her release
in 1995, the state-controlled media has incessantly branded her a whore
and a witch, a maggot and an ogress, a stooge and a "demon with fangs."
Less known are the hundreds of political prisoners from her party still
behind bars, many of them aged and held in harsh conditions or subject
to torture, according to an Amnesty International report published last
More than 80 party members were thrown in jail last September after Suu
Kyi left her home in Rangoon to visit activists up-country in Mandalay.
Suu Kyi was once again confined to her home, with foreign diplomats
barred from visiting her.
There has been a bit of a thaw in recent weeks, with a United Nations
diplomat urging the regime to ease off its vituperative attacks on Suu
Kyi in the wake of secret talks between her and the regime.
Last week, her top deputy, Tin Oo, a former army general, was released
On Friday, the 84 prisoners who had been arrested in September, many of
them held in Rangoon's infamous Insein Prison, were also released, in
anticipation of a visit by a European Union delegation due in Rangoon
this week. The visitors are expected to make contact with the National
League for Democracy, but Rangoon-based diplomats say the prospects for
a breakthrough are dim.
Many believe the latest ILO rebuke has embarrassed the regime, which is
wearying of international censure. But it is in no mood to take concrete
steps, such as releasing the estimated 1,700 political prisoners or
restoring Suu Kyi's freedom of movement around the country.
Rangoon's economy is booming - flush with drug money. The armed forces
are equipped with modern weaponry from neighbouring China and foreign
investment - Canada ranked second overall last year - seems undeterred
by the political backdrop.
The military has made peace with most of the ethnic insurgencies that
have raged since Burmese independence a half-century ago. And the army
generals carefully cultivated the country's influential Buddhist monks,
lavishing funds on monastery and pagoda renovations - while ensuring
flattering coverage of their donations on state television.
At a monastery just outside Mandalay, a senior Buddhist monk chuckles as
the sound of gunfire from a nearby military base echoes off the walls.
"As long as they're just training, it's okay," he says.
At a glittering pagoda atop Mandalay Hill, framed colour pictures of the
military intelligence chief, Lt.-Gen. Khin Nyunt - or Secretary-1, as he
is called - occupy pride of place.
In the capital's sprawling Defence Services Museum, Buddhist monks
stroll barefoot through the marble halls, studying exhibits of the
military's might. A display of weaponry proclaims, "Artillery is the God
The museum is a testament to the wide reach of the Tatmadaw. It
dominates every facet of the economy. There are displays of its dairy
farms and golf courses, pharmaceutical labs and munitions factories.
Glassed-in exhibits show the output of modern plants that produce tires
and tennis balls, tinned fish and Tatmadaw-brand minced mutton.
With so much at stake in revenue and patronage, the military shows no
signs of retreating.
For its part, the NLD's uncompromising stance - insisting on full
democracy, with the army back in the barracks - has left it out in the
cold. Faced with constant punishment, the party's support network has
unravelled in recent years.
University professors and their students must sign pledges to refrain
from politics or face expulsion, a heavy price to pay for a lost
generation of students who have endured three years of university
closings. They face waiting lists to get into classes and long commutes
to new campuses, which have been relocated from downtown to the suburbs
to keep any uprisings out of sight.
Ma Thanegi, a painter and writer, is one of the few Burmese willing to
be interviewed on the record. Her views on international sanctions
accord with the government's position.
A former close aide to Suu Kyi who was imprisoned for three years, she
later broke with the National League for Democracy in a disagreement
Now, Thanegi describes the titanic battle between the Nobel laureate and
the generals as a "fairy tale" that has captured the imagination of
Western activists, but is no longer relevant to the daily lives of
Burma's impoverished and isolated masses.
"She is an icon," says Thanegi, sitting in her Rangoon apartment.
"People are paying too much attention to the generals and the lady. . .
. She is beautiful, she is a woman looking frail and they look fat and
dark and ugly in their uniforms."
Today, young people are no longer as interested or involved in politics
as they were a decade ago, she says. "They saw in 1989 their brothers
and sisters involved in politics and they see them getting nowhere. The
young generation of students just want to get ahead, earn money, be
Others say the democracy movement is lying low, not giving up. "People
are afraid, so they don't speak out," says one veteran activist. "We are
tortured every day psychologically."
Another Burmese who is willing to speak on the record is Tin Maung Than,
a prominent medical doctor and journalist. He no longer fears
retribution because he is no longer in the country, having fled with his
family across the border into Thailand late last year.
In an interview from Bangkok, he describes being interrogated by
military intelligence and fretting for his family's safety.
"They put me on the ropes," Than recalls. "You can't expect any reform
Than believes foreign investment provides little benefit to ordinary
Burmese because military officers skim off much of the money.
"If you are in business, most of your hard currency goes to the
military, so it has no great impact on Burmese life," he argues. "By
making the military stronger, you're not making the country stronger."
Back in Burma, a long-time democracy campaigner describes the daily
defiance of switching on shortwave radios to tune in the BBC and
sometimes Radio Canada International, in a country where the Internet is
strictly regulated and mail is often censored.
"The more oppressed people become, the more they listen to BBC. . . .
Give it a little spark and, once a spark starts, it will spread
everywhere," he muses. "It could happen in any town."
Toronto Star: Behind the Facade
January 28, 2001, Sunday, Edition 1
Martin Regg Cohn
A SHOWPIECE of Canadian architectural excellence is also a monument to
military misrule in one of the world's most miserably impoverished
It is the eeriest airport in Asia.
The cavernous new terminal is desolate and dark most of the day - an
oasis of calm and serenity, steeped in a legacy of slave labour.
Thanks to Canadian planning and paving, the $225 million Mandalay
International Airport boasts the longest runway in Southeast Asia -
equipped for the biggest jumbo aircraft. Yet air force fighters are the
only jets touching down on its world-class, 4.3-kilometre-long tarmac.
Western governments and United Nations organizations have condemned
Burma for using forced labour, committing human-rights abuses and
profiting from drug trafficking.
But with help from a few Canadian corporate friends, the military regime
is charging ahead with grandiose plans to earn hard currency. Apart from
the airport's Canadian connection, Burma's biggest foreign mining
operation - a $210 million investment - is run by a Canadian company,
Ivanhoe Mines Ltd., in a joint venture with the military.
In fact, Burma boasts that Canada is its second-biggest investor,
exceeded only by South Korea. The United States, by contrast, has banned
all new foreign investment in this cash-starved country since 1997,
arguing that hard currency would only prop up the military and prolong
During the time that Toronto-based Marshall Macklin Monaghan Ltd. (MMM)
took on the airport assignment - responsible for project management and
design - examples of forced labour and land confiscations were out in
the open. " Villagers in Zegyo have been evicted because the Mandalay
International Airport road cuts through their village," the opposition
National League for Democracy reported at the time. "Forced labour of
the villagers is required for transporting crushed granite powder from
the vehicles transporting the rocks to road sites."
MMM won't disclose its share of the profits from the airport project.
But working in Burma is nothing to boast about, according to the
company's vice- president of airports management, H.N. Edamura.
"We tend to be low-key about that particular activity," Edamura said
when contacted by The Star for a telephone interview. "Very few people
know that we've done that work."
He declined to elaborate.
"I'm reluctant to do that. Number 1, because that's a hot spot in the
world. And there could be consequences if people find out about our
MMM's marketing director, Peter Overton, explained later: "Obviously, as
you know, there's some sensitivity to this."
But company president Bruce Bodden called the project - designed with
the help of Toronto-based architects McMillan and Lowe International
Inc. and built in association with a Thai-Italian consortium - a great
success. MMM employees were smitten with the "excitement and romance of
being a bit off the path," he said in an interview.
Still, Bodden acknowledges that few foreigners are beating a path to the
airport today and said the regime rejected suggestions to scale down the
project. Built to handle 1,000 passengers an hour, the airport rarely
gets more than a few dozen in a day.
The government projected 3 million passengers annually for the airport,
but Burma attracts barely 150,000 tourists nationwide every year.
The airport's state-of-the-art passenger bridges to service
international flights have never been used because no international
flights have made it up- country to Mandalay. The major airlines are
content to service the capital, Rangoon, 570 kilometres to the south.
Not all Canadian companies keep a low profile about their Burmese
connections. Vancouver-based Ivanhoe Mines Ltd. says it is "proud" of
the Monywa Copper Project it owns jointly with the military regime, 100
kilometres northwest of Mandalay.
"Ivanhoe is working with our joint-venture partner . . . to make Monywa
a model of responsible mineral development," said company president Dan
As for the military's track record, Kunz believes there's no
"There are 146 different tribes and ethnic groups that have been at
civil war for decades and decades," he told Canadian Press last
September. "It's complicated. The military government, unfortunately, is
probably the only form of government that can deal with such a complex
Contacted by The Star for comment, Ivanhoe insisted all questions be
submitted in advance, but then declined a telephone interview with Kunz.
The president would only provide written replies and rejected requests
for a follow-up interview.
In its written replies, Ivanhoe said it would not reveal the wages paid
to workers and would not answer questions about salary cutbacks.
Access to the mine site in Monywa is restricted, but local residents who
are in close contact with company employees report the company started
out paying line workers $375 a month - a handsome salary in Burma, where
a truck driver is lucky to earn a $100 a month.
But last year, the company slashed wages to about $270 a month, claiming
depressed copper prices were eating into profits, the sources said. With
no union permitted and no dissent tolerated by the military regime, the
workers had no way to defend their interests.
Ivanhoe hands over about $1.2 million a year in royalties to the
Kunz was asked directly about salary levels and wage cuts. He declined
to give a direct answer. "For competitive reasons," he wrote, "we are
not prepared to disclose specific wages paid to employees."
Ivanhoe consults its Burmese partner to ensure "compensation is
appropriate," he said.
In its publicity material, the company boasts its mine produces some of
the lowest-cost copper in the world.
Set on the Chindwinn River, the mine is expanding briskly. A new high-
capacity port was built recently and oil storage tanks sit beside
Buddhist pagodas on the river's west bank.
The company says it plans to boost production in the next couple of
years, with fresh investment bringing the total stake to $780 million.
Aaron James, a researcher with the Vancouver-based Canada Asia Pacific
Resource Network, says payments from the Monywa mine "support and
entrench the highly corrupt military dictatorship . . . responsible for
some of the worst human-rights violations."
The Canadian Friends of Burma calls Ivanhoe the "worst offender" because
of its increasing investments in the country.
Ivanhoe profits from slave labour projects that laid the groundwork for
surrounding infrastructure prior to the company's arrival in the
mid-1990s, the lobby group says.
Kunz retorted that the company has no responsibility for what took place
before it arrived and there have been no such abuses "since our
involvement in the project."
Despite Ivanhoe's assertions that it is improving local conditions,
residents interviewed in Monywa say there has been no significant change
in their economic fortunes since the mine came to town - except for the
disillusionment when wages were cut back.
"If the company or the government earns lots of money, we ordinary
people won't see any of it," said one resident.
"There is no union allowed, so there are no complaints."
The New York Times: Sanctions Are a Weapon We Need
January 28, 2001
By Aryeh Neier; Aryeh Neier is president of the Open Society Institute.
Testifying at his confirmation hearing this month, Secretary of State
Colin Powell made clear he has trouble with one nettlesome foreign
policy issue: sanctions against foreign nations. He thinks there are too
many and seems inclined to want to get rid of a lot of them. "Stop, look
and listen before you impose a sanction," he said. "Count to 10, call
me." The only exception conceded by Mr. Powell is Iraq. There, he wants
to tighten the screws to force compliance with United Nations demands to
eliminate weapons of mass destruction.
With some 75 countries currently subject to a host of international
sanctions -- from bans on air travel to withdrawal of trade preferences,
for offenses ranging from narcotics trafficking to mislabeling consumer
products -- it is easy to sympathize with the secretary's concerns. But
it would be a mistake to abandon sanctions in situations where there are
no ready substitutes, as in the promotion of international human rights.
There is evidence that sanctions are finally having an effect on one of
the most abusive governments in the world: the ruling forces in Burma,
now called Myanmar by the military junta. At long last, the junta has
entered into negotiations with Aung San Suu Kyi, the opposition leader.
Sanctions, including a prohibition on new investments and a visa ban for
members of the Burmese military, were the way the international
community, led by the United States, brought pressure on the regime.
By their nature, sanctions take a long time to have an effect, though
not always as long as in the case of Myanmar, where various sanctions
have been in place for a dozen years. The best known example of using
sanctions to promote human rights, of course, was their application in
South Africa. Sanctions, in combination with a boycott of South Africa
in international sports events, caused the country to confront its
international isolation, ultimately leading President F. W. de Klerk's
government to release Nelson Mandela from prison and negotiate the
adoption of a new constitution.
Though the Reagan administration attempted to avoid sanctions against
South Africa, it led the way in imposing penalties on Poland after the
Communist government there declared martial law in 1981, banned the
Solidarity movement and arrested about 30,000 Solidarity members. The
liberalization in Poland that brought about an end to the Communist
regime was prompted in significant part by eagerness to get rid of the
A widely criticized consequence of sanctions is that they harm ordinary
citizens living under the governments that are the targets. This is
certainly the case in Iraq. Saddam Hussein is trying to force the
international community to lift sanctions by doing nothing to ameliorate
the impact of the sanctions on the Iraqi population.
It is possible to design sanctions to minimize such impact. The United
Nations did take steps to ease the plight of Iraqi citizens by
introducing the oil-for-food program, which allowed Iraq to sell oil and
use the proceeds, monitored by the United Nations, to buy food and
medicine. But the situation remains dire in Iraq, to a great extent
because Saddam Hussein has not spent the money on the humanitarian needs
of his people.
Food, medicine and other materials needed to meet basic human needs
should always be exempted from sanctions, as is provided in federal law
in cases where the sanctions are related to human rights violations.
Similarly, there should be no restrictions on the exchange of
information and ideas. Instead, smart sanctions, like those imposed on
Serbia that froze the foreign bank accounts of government officials and
their cronies and banned them from traveling to European Union countries
and the United States, should be favored.
When Secretary Powell served as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff,
he made it plain that he opposed the use of American military power in
circumstances even as grave as the war of in Bosnia. Indeed, military
force should be used sparingly. But if he chooses to reduce reliance on
sanctions, Americans should be told what other tools might be used by
the United States to promote and enforce human rights internationally.
New Straits Times (Malaysia): Myanmar problem cannot be solved by
confrontation' [Mahathir interview]
January 29, 2001
DATUK Seri Dr Mahathir Mohamad was in Japan for a working visit from Jan
17 to 20. The Prime Minister visited Osaka to attend the launch of his
book Reflections on Asia' and deliver a keynote address at a symposium
organised by the Mainichi newspapers. During an interview with the
Mainichi Shimbun, Dr Mahathir spoke on his recent visit to Myanmar.
is the text of the Question and Answer session.
Q: Why did you go to Myanmar?
A: At the conference of the Asean Summit in Singapore last November,
Myanmar was supposed to explain the situation in the country in order
that Asean might look into how to make progress.
Because of the shortage of time, the senior general (Than Shwe) was not
able to explain the situation in Myanmar. We thought it would be good
for me to hear from him about what the actual situation in Myanmar was
Q: Were you the one to suggest discussions on Myanmar during the
A: Yes, but initially, it was suggested by Singapore PM Goh Chok Tong.
Malaysia and Singapore should get full information on Myanmar.
But the meeting was too short. Myanmar tried to explain to all the Asean
leaders, but there were only 15 minutes. So I went to listen to him, to
find out what progress Myanmar has made and what can be done in order to
solve this problem about Myanmar being accused of having oppressive
dictatorship, bad labour practice, using slave labour, etc.
Q: And what did you find out?
A: The Government may not be an elected Government. But there is no
doubt that the present Government has opened up Myanmar to foreign
investments. They are trying to improve the living condition of the
The accusation that they use slave labour is not true. In all the
countries in East Asia and Southeast Asia, we are used to using
voluntary labour. If we are building a road for a certain village or
people of the village or town must contribute the labour. This helps to
reduce the costs for a poor country.
When the British were ruling Myanmar, they also used the same kind of
labour. For a poor Government, it is a way of taxing the people.
Contributing the labour instead of money. So it is not really slave
Q: The present Government is not telling what it is doing in Myanmar.
A: They are not used to having public relations, a sophisticated way of
presenting their views. The interpretation of the foreigners especially
the West is that they are not doing the right things. But there is no
doubt that the present Government is trying to improve the living
condition of the people.
Q: How do you see the conflict between Aung San Suu Kyi and the present
A: That is something which cannot be solved through confrontation. What
is needed is to put the interest of Myanmar above party interests. And I
think the Government is willing to discuss with Suu Kyi to find
solutions for Myanmar.
That is good for the whole of Myanmar and its people.
Q: Will you be the mediator for both sides?
A: At the moment, Malaysia has been appointed by UN Secretary-General
Kofi Annan to try and resolve these things. I think it is best that we
leave it to the United Nations.
Q: What kind of resolution do you think is the best scenario?
A: Well I suppose eventually they would have to have elections. But
before they do, they must understand the conduct of elections.
We see sometimes elections being held in many countries but they do not
reflect the feelings of the people. When elections are held, people must
understand elections have limits. And not to use elections to undermine
Q: Did you talk about elections to Than Shwe?
A: I spoke about these things generally.
Q: Did he understand these things?
A: Yes, yes. He is willing to hold the elections eventually. Well, the
elections will not be held this year or next. It should be held in a few
They have to determine proper voter registration. You have to do it step
by step. Even those countries which have accepted elections as a means
of setting up the Government have not been able to carry out the
Q: Western Governments are on the side of Suu Kyi?
A: It makes the Government very rigid. Because nobody likes foreign
interference in one's internal affairs. And the less the West
interferes, the better for solving the problems. Let the people of
Myanmar decide for themselves.
Q: Asean's key policy was the so-callednon-interference policy. You have
been suggesting about elections, etc to Myanmar. Is Asean changing the
A: No, it is because Myanmar is a special case. The West is trying to
pressure Myanmar, pressure Asean.
While we do not want to interfere in the internal affairs of other
countries, we feel that the benefits of the kind of liberal democracy
that we have in Asean countries should be exposed and made known to the
people and Government of Myanmar so they will not reject the system.
Because this system is good and will ensure that the country can have
the Government of its choice.
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