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______________ THE BURMANET NEWS ______________
An on-line newspaper covering Burma
April 9, 2001 Issue # 1774
______________ www.burmanet.org _______________
INSIDE BURMA _______
*The Guardian (UK): How junta protects Mr Heroin
*Bangkok Post: Shan Rebels Report Attack on Junta Base
*Burma Issues: The International Theravada Buddhist Missionary
*Bangkok Post: Chavalit proposes to help develop Burma
*Bangkok Post: Junta's Promise Will Be Tested
*Independent (Bangladesh): Seminar on Dhaka-Yangon relations: Permanent
solution to border problems with Myanmar sought
*Shan Herald Agency for News: Shans in Thailand holding "the last
*Burma Courier: Former ABSDF Members Launch New Political Formation
*Burma Courier: Garment Factories Will Wait out Economic Downturn
*Burma Courier: Discovery Sparks Black Gold Rush to Kyunhla Township
*KHRG: The Talks that Everyone is Talking About
__________________ INSIDE BURMA ____________________
The Guardian (UK): How junta protects Mr Heroin
John Sweeney in Rangoon uncovers the links between Burma's drug barons
and a repressive regime that likes to trumpet to the world its tough
anti-drugs policy John Sweeney
Saturday April 07 2001
It was like the opening scene of the Hollywood film Traffic: Jeeps with
smoked glass windscreens, laden with heavily armed soldiers, zoomed
through the Burmese rain forest, protecting a very important person.
The dignitary was not the military junta's anti-drugs tsar but someone
much more powerful - Burma's godfather of heroin, Lo Hsing Han.
An investigation by The Observer and BBC Radio 5 Live today reveals
the multi-million-pound empire of Lo, the protection he receives from
the Burmese junta - which proclaims it is cracking down on heroin - and
his money-laundering operation in Singapore.
Lo and his American-educated son, Steven Law, also known as Htun Myint
Naing, come and go freely between the island state and Burma, running
their Asia World combine - an upmarket front for one of the world's
biggest heroin rackets.
And business is about to get even better. The decision that
opium-farming in Afghanistan is 'un-Islamic' has led to a cut in opium
growing from 200,000 acres in the two key provinces to just 25. That
means 'China White' heroin from Burma will move into the gap made by the
drop in supply of 'Afghan Brown'.
The bad news is that 'China White' is much more likely to be injected
than 'chased' (smoked), worsening the public health risk of Aids and
The Burmese regime, a pariah in the West, trumpets a tough anti-drugs
policy. The reality behind the pretence is far uglier.
Lo's protectors, the Burmese generals who run the State Peace and
Development Council (popularly known by its former title, Slorc), play
very rough with anyone who gets in the way of Heroin Inc.
When Saw Lu, a prince of the Wa people opposed to the heroin trade,
informed the US Drug Enforcement Administration about the drug
trafficking activities of a regional army intelligence chief, Major Than
Aye, word got back to the junta.
According to a DEA report, Saw Lu was held upside down for 56 days with
an electric lead attached to his penis. His torturers poured urine on
his face; he was beaten with chains; his captors tormented him by
throwing him down next to an empty, freshly dug grave.
Saw Lu's life was spared. Others have not been so lucky. The heroin
shipment Saw Lu reported to the DEA was destined for Lo. Major Than Aye
supervised the torture. For his diligence he was promoted to a high
position in Slorc.
Lo, who has been identified as a narco-terrorist by the US State
Department and spent time on death row in Rangoon in the 1970s, before
he bought his liberty, lives in lavish style in two homes, one in the
Salween Village and the other in the smartest area in Rangoon close to
the sixteenth tee of the city golf course.
The Observer /Five Live team took up golf for the day to establish his
precise address: 20-23 Masoeyein Kyang Street, Mayangone, Rangoon. The
house is all but shielded from view by a high encircling wall and a
forbidding steel gate.
Lo's infamous brand of 'China White' heroin is industrially produced
in the Mong Hom-Mong Ya valley on the Chinese border, opposite Mangshi.
His operational headquarters is the Salween Village near Nampawng, south
of the town of Lashio, a base for farmers, chemists and gunmen, serviced
by local prostitutes and burlesque dancers from Ukraine.
Lo has made so many millions from heroin that he built and runs
Rangoon's main port. Two years ago Australian police seized a ship
carrying almost half a tonne of heroin originating in Burma - a huge
find, enough to give every man, woman and child in Australia a hit of
heroin. The street price of heroin in Sydney did not change by a cent.
The plainest evidence of the closeness between Slorc and Lo's heroin
empire emerged at the 1995 wedding of his son, Steven Law, to
Singaporean businesswoman Cecilia Ng.
Guest of honour was Hotels and Tourism Minister Lt-Gen Kyaw Ba,
accompanied by three other Slorc generals and four Cabinet Ministers.
Law is the managing director of Asia World Company Limited. Started in
1992, it reports its 'authorised capital' to be about $40 million. It
has put an estimated $200m into construction projects around Rangoon.
Asia World is running a joint venture with Slorc, building and running
the main new port in Rangoon, which handles 90 per cent of Burma's
Law is not such an honoured guest in the United States. He has been
declined a visa, due to 'suspicion of involvement in narcotics
trafficking', according to a State Department official.
The Asia World racket also runs a supermarket chain, Burma's biggest bus
company - good cover to ship the product - and a plastic bag factory. To
make plastic bags, Lo imports large quantities of acetic anhydride. The
other use of acetic anhydride is the manufacture of heroin.
The millions from Lo's heroin racket are laundered in Singapore from a
plush suite of offices on the tenth floor of Shenton House, an office
block on Shenton Way, in the heart of Singapore's business district.
The Singapore company registry lists two companies run by Law, neither
of which is called Asia World. But the giveaway is a large display sign
in the Shenton House front office, depicting a globe with the letters A
Law was not there when we visited; staff said he was out of the country.
In the past 10 years Singapore has executed at least 100 drug
traffickers for possession of small amounts of heroin, according to
Amnesty International. But the island state lets off at least one Mr
In the heroin addict ward in Bangkok's biggest hospital, one of the
victims of the Burmese heroin barons lay on a bed, his skin stretched
like paper over his bones, a hideous fungal infection creeping over his
face, suggesting to the doctor that he was suffering from Aids.
You can see heroin addicts like him in every major city in the world.
Different faces, same dead eyes.
Bangkok Post: Shan Rebels Report Attack on Junta Base
Sunday, April 8, 2001
The Shan State Army attacked a Burmese military base opposite Mae Sai
district yesterday and claimed to have killed two soldiers and wounded
Shan military leader Col Korn Juen said his men laid siege to the
Burmese position at Palang Luang, opposite Ban Pahi in Mae Sai, and
bombarded it with light and heavy gunfire.
The assault lasted about one hour, he said.
When the SSA retreated, Burmese soldiers gave chase and another clash
occurred at Palang Noi, about 2km from Palang Luang. An assistant
village headman and a child were killed in the cross-fire.
"SSA troops will keep on harassing Burmese positions every day until all
are withdrawn from our area," Col Korn Juen said.
Col Akkadej Songworawit, commander of the Third Cavalry Regiment Task
Force, said clashes took place almost daily opposite Mae Sai and Mae Fah
Luang districts, but had no effect on the agreement reached by Thailand
and Burma at the recent Regional Border Committee meeting in Kengtung
Burma Issues: The International Theravada Buddhist Missionary University
>From the Dec 2000 issue, Vol 10, No. 5
The International Theravada Buddhist Missionary University (ITBMU) is a
government scheme to promote the country's religious heritage by
inviting overseas students to study Buddhism in Rangoon. As an added
incentive, the program is free. Notwithstanding, the attempt has to
date been unimpressive. While construction of new edifices continues,
the number of students has dropped from around 100 during the first year
to half that at present -- the majority in fact being Burmese monks
wishing to study in English -- the remaining handful consisting of
students from the region, particularly Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam. This
must be a disappointing development for the institutions's architects.
According to one ex-student: "They really want white men. Last year
there was an Australian monk and one day they came with a camera and
video and took more than 200 photos of him to use in newspapers and
magazines. Now he's gone to Thailand already." Complaints include that
teaching is purely by rote, that students' passports are retained to
prevent them from leaving the country before completing the course or
travelling without approval and that mail is inspected and some students
have been subjected to interrogation. Nevertheless, the ex-student
observed: "But who will tell all this when they go back to their
country? Who is going to say that they got a diploma from a
banana-university? What will it be worth then?"
Bangkok Post: Chavalit proposes to help develop Burma
April 9, 2001
Feeling comes from 'bottom of my heart'
Defence Minister Chavalit Yongchaiyudh will push for development in
Burma, including a port and a coal mine, as a means of helping solve the
problems of drug trafficking, illegal migration and other cross-border
"I would like to see our neighbouring country become prosperous at the
same time as we do," Gen Chavalit said.
"If we are developed while our neighbour continues to live in poverty,
then peace will not be possible.
"This is a feeling from the bottom of my heart."
He termed the idea "cross border development".
It was already under way, he said, pointing to the 10-billion-baht Thai
project to dam the Salween river in Burma. This would also benefit
Chiang Rai and Chiang Mai in terms of power and water supply.
In an interview in the Defence Ministry magazine, Gen Chavalit said he
planned to help Burma develop a port in the Gulf of Martaban, opposite
Mae Sot in Tak province.
The port would open Burma to the Andaman Sea. China would also
participate in the project, he said.
A large coal mine was also planned, opposite Bang Saphan district of
Prachuap Khiri Khan province, in which Japan was interested.
"If we help them develop their country, the problems of drugs, illegal
labour migration and cross-border crime will disappear," Gen Chavalit
The defence minister also said the armed forces would have to take on a
diplomatic role to boost the bilateral relationship.
"Defence diplomacy will create good understanding and a brotherhood
between military key figures of both sides," Gen Chavalit said.
Bangkok Post: Junta's Promise Will Be Tested
Saturday, April 7, 2001
Info on speed labs to be handed over
Precise locations of three drug production plants along the northern
border will be passed on to the Burmese military junta, so they can be
destroyed, the Third Army commander said yesterday.
The three methamphetamine plants were believed to belong to the United
Wa State Army, Lt-Gen Wattanachai Chaimuenwong said. There were at least
60 similar plants just across the border inside Burma.
Most were run by the UWSA, internationally recognised as the biggest
drug traffickers in the Golden Triangle.
Thai army intelligence about their locations would be given to the
Burmese government through the Township Border Committee for further
"We will gradually hand them the information about drug production
plants along the border area," he said.
Lt-Gen Wattanachai said he was told that Burmese security forces would
soon destroy two methamphetamine plants near the Wa township of Mong
Yawn, following a tip-off from the US Drug Enforcement Administration.
At last week's Regional Border Committee meeting in Kengtung, Burmese
officials promised to help destroy drug factories located inside Burma,
provided Thailand gave them precise information on their locations.
Lt-Gen Wattanachai said his brief meeting in Rangoon with Burmese army
commander Gen Maung Aye helped create a new atmosphere that could lead
to more border co-operation, especially on the drugs problem.
The Burmese military chief had rejected widespread suspicions the junta
was directly involved in the drug trade and had collaborated with the Wa
in producing a massive amount of methamphetamine.
Lt-Gen Wattanachai said he was satisfied with the border meeting. He had
the chance to frankly discuss a number of security issues with Maj-Gen
Thein Sein, the Burmese triangle region commander who headed the Burmese
A source said Burma had asked for and been denied permission to cross
into Thailand in pursuit of Shan State Army rebels.
Rangoon had rejected a Thai proposal seeking compensation for damage to
life and property after Burmese forces in Tachilek opened fire on Mae
Sai border town in early February, the source said.
Independent (Bangladesh): Seminar on Dhaka-Yangon relations: Permanent
solution to border problems with Myanmar sought
April 9, 2001
Speakers at a seminar here yesterday observed that there were immense
potentialities to expand trade and economic coperations between
Bangladesh and Myanmar to the mutual benefits of the two nations.
The seminar on "Bangladesh-Myanmar Relation" was organised at CIRDAP
auditorium by the Centre for Strategic and Peace Studies (CSPS).
The speakers, most of them diplomats, former diplomats , teachers and
businessmen and former senior military officilas , stressed the need for
infrastructural developments along the border to facilitate diversified
economic ties between the two neighbours.
Brigadier General (retd) Syed Jahangir Kabir in a paper on "Myanmar-
Bangladesh Strategic Security Concerns Keeping in view the Quadrangular
Relationship among China-India-Myanamar-Bangladesh "presented at the
seminar, focused on strategical geographical advantages, suitable for
forging regional cooperations.
Obaidul Haque , teacher of the Department of International Relations of
the Dhaka University, presented a paper on "A Friendly Myanmar for
Bangladesh : Necessity and Reality "giving an account of salient
features of the growth of bilateral ties between the two neighbours.
Haque stressed the need for permanent solution to the problems related
to repatriation of Rohingya refugees, transborder crimes and cross
Chief Editor of the Holiday, AZM Enayetullah Khan suggested that
relations between Myanmar and Bangladesh be developed in view of the
dynamic political cooperation among the countries in the region.
"Vast resources in the Arakan region can be utilised for mutual benefits
of the two neighbours" said Khan who was once Bangladesh ambassador to
He stressed the need for implementation of the Asian Highway Project .
Rashed Maksud Khan, President of the Bangladesh- Myanmar Chamber
Council, said that the existing border trade between Dhaka and Yangon
could be a mile stone for expansion of trade between the two countries.
Myanmar Ambassador to Bangladesh U Ohn Thwin welcomed the Bangladesh
traders and industrialists in his country.
The Political Counsellor of Myanmar embassy here told the seminar that
the repatriation of the Rohingya refugees had been going on.
He clearly said that Myanmar would not allow return of the insurgents,
having links with the fundamentalists in Bangladesh.
The seminar, moderated by former ambassador Aanwar Hashim, was also
attended by Professor Shahiduzzaman of Dhaka University,former
ambassador Arshaduzzman,former ambassador Shafiulllah, Brigadier(retd)
Hossain, Dr.Shahin Afroza of the BIISS and CSPS Executive Director Major
General Syed Muhammad Ibrahim.
Shan Herald Agency for News: Shans in Thailand holding "the last
6 April 2001
Amid reports of deportation in view following August deadline, Shans in
northern Thailand have been holding festive ceremonies initiating their
sons to become novice Buddhist monks.
"This might well be our first and last novitiation festival" said a
father in Fang, Chiangmai Province, whose 10-year old son was dressed
in a traditional garb of a Shan prince before receiving the yellow robe
from a senior monk.
He told S.H.A.N. he had heard reports about Thai authorities' recent
decision to repatriate all aliens who arrived in Thailand after 1985.
"That means many of us will have to leave our new homes and farms here
too," he said.
Thousands of Shans in Thailand hold various identity cards: Displaced
Person's Card (Pink) for those who came before 1985 and Highlander's
Card (Blue), Illegal Entry Card (Orange) and Highlanders Survey Card
(Green) for those who came afterwards.
Hundreds of thousands however are living and working in Thailand without
any identifications. They will not also enjoy the benefit of entering a
refugee camp like Karens and Karennis.
195 novitiates shall be ordained as novice monks at Phrathat
Chalermphrakiat Temple, Wiangwai Village, Mawnpin Tract, Fang District
today. Another 46 boys are being ordained at Papao Temple, Chiangmai,
where novitiation ceremonies, better known as Poy Sanglawng, have been
held for five consecutive years.
Burma Courier: Former ABSDF Members Launch New Political Formation
April 7, 2001
Based on a media release and an NDD charter statement: April 6, 2001
BANGKOK -- A new political formation calling itself the Network for
Democracy and Development (NDD) has come into existence at the
In a media release, the group says that 150 persons joined in its
inaugural congress from March 29-31 at a point along the Thai-Burma
border. It says the new organization is primarily made up of former
leaders and members of the All Burma Students' Democratic Front as well
as other activists.
In its charter statement, the NDD singles out "the current generation
of political activists" as a "third force" in Burmese politics, standing
"apart from the National League of Democracy (NLD) and [the] State Peace
and Development Council (SPDC)". It describe its role as one of
'co-ordinating and working with elements of these parties . to provide
more spaces and new initiatives in solving the conflicts in Burma".
The NDD says that it expects to play "a central role in developing
democracy in Burma" and that it will work closely with others in the
development of the structures needed to form a federal union in which
"power is equally shared by all parties" in the union. The statement the
NDD role will be two-fold: capacity building and advocacy.
The NDD also says it wants to develop its own organization as "a model
of democratic governance". The new organization has committed itself
to having at least 30% of its leadership positions filled by women.
Among those named to the policy board which will give shape and
direction to the work of the new political formation are U Kyaw Kyaw,
president, Dr. Naing Aung, director-general and U Htay Aung, Sai Myint
Thu, U Aung Naing, U Khin Maung Win, Naw Lay De, Daw Khin Ohmar and Daw
Htay Htay, all members.
_______________ ECONOMY AND BUSINESS _______________
Burma Courier: Garment Factories Will Wait out Economic Downturn
Based on an article in the Myanmar Times: April 2, 2001
RANGOON -- Garment factories have, for the most part, done well over the
past two years, with about half of the 400 factories in the country
being set up during that time. More recently, there have been
suggestions of a downturn in the industry, but new factories continue to
be established while larger and longer established players prepare to
wait out what they consider to be temporary cutbacks in orders.
One of the newest players, Myanmar Glowin with its mother plant in
Korea, began operations in the Shwepyitha Industrial Zone about a month
ago. Kang Moon-Sun, the company's general manager, said the local
factory would manufacture goods destined mainly for other Asian
countries, including Japan, Taiwan, Hong Kong and Korea. Exports for
American and European markets were produced at plants in Korea and
Vietnam, he said. The factory was set up with an initial investment of
US$4.5 million and employs about 150 staff.
Myanmar's biggest foreign garment factory, Crocodile Trading, also
Korean-owned, with more than 4,000 workers, is ready to wait out any
downturn in the business cycle. "This downswing is not an unusual
case," said Crocodile director U Zaw Min Oo. "Every garment factory
usually has to face a shortage of orders in the early months of the
year. It is like a seasonal business. The reason why some factories had
to stop their operations is that they were small, and they couldn't bear
the normal shortage of orders. Only large factories could carry on with
Wages are a big drawing card for Korean firms to set up business here.
In Myanmar, the average salary for a worker in a garment factory ranges
from US$20-US$35 for a 48-hour work week.
U Zaw Min Oo believes that allegations about low wages for textile
workers are unfair, claiming that productivity is also low here. "Our
workers are still not skilled," he said. "For example, for every three
items of clothing finished in a factory in China, we will have finished
only one. Once you take that into account, the labour costs are not very
different at all," he said.
For Zaw Min Oo, the main attraction to garment investors is not low
wages, but the absence of quota restrictions. "In Myanmar, about 300
factories are making sport shirts and about 50 are making jackets. They
are totally quota free. In China, the factories are charged about US$15
for a dozen sport shirts," he said. "But in 2005, the World Trade
Organization will eliminate quota barriers globally. At that time China
will become our main competitor, so it is high time that Myanmar got to
work," he said.
Burma Courier: Discovery Sparks Black Gold Rush to Kyunhla Township
Reported by Win Htein in the Irrawaddy: April 3, 2001
RANGOON -- According to Living Color, a Rangoon business magazine,
villagers from central Burma are flocking to the Maha Myaing forest in
Kyunhla township in Sagaing Division to extract crude oil from a
recently discovered source.
The magazine reported that local people first noticed the oil in late
1999, but did not begin digging in the area until earlier this year. It
said small time operators have been using bamboo poles and iron pipe to
get at the oil deposit reportedly 300 feet below the surface.
Estimates of the yield from the field by locals run as high as 3,000
barrels per day. The discovery has prompted an influx to the area from
the Monywa, Kale, Pakokku, Myaing, Pyinmana and Lashio in a bid to
strike it rich at the new well. Living costs near the site have
reportedly doubled in recent months, with oil workers earning around
1,500 kyat ($3) per day, or three times the average daily wage in the
rest of the country.
So far, there has been no official response to the discovery from
Burma's ruling military junta. "The local military officials are
receiving a sort of tax from the workers for permission to dig at the
well. Corruption is rampant," explained one area resident.
Local people are already expressing concern about deforestation in the
area, as well as fears about the rapid spread of malaria and HIV/AIDS
among oil-diggers living in more than a thousand makeshift huts. To
prevent social unrest, local authorities have prohibited the opening of
video theaters and karaoke bars in the area. But health problems are the
major concern, as there are no doctors or medical facilities to cope
with the influx of newcomers living and working under primitive
KHRG: The Talks that Everyone is Talking About
Karen Human Rights Group
Excerpt from commentary KHRG 2001-c1, March 2001
It seems the whole world is now talking about the ongoing talks between
the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC) military junta and Daw
Aung San Suu Kyi, general secretary of the National League for Democracy
(NLD). A European Union delegation says it's the most significant
development in over a decade, the newly-appointed United Nations Special
Rapporteur on Burma lauds all the 'progress' being made, articles are
written everywhere speculating on what is being discussed, while some
journalists jump the gun and simply make up stories about what is being
discussed. Unanimously, they all proclaim that 'national
reconciliation' is in the air.
But in all this hopeful euphoria, does anyone really know what is
happening? In their desperate need to proclaim that things are
improving so that nothing need be done, trade and aid can resume, and
money and careers can be made, it seems that very few people are
stopping to examine this properly and soberly, and the few who do so are
being ignored. Even so, at the risk of being ignored like the rest, we
will try to look at this issue here.
One thing common to all the international pronouncements lauding the
talks is that none of them contain any reference to what ordinary people
in Burma think; but then, for a long time the international community
has assumed that there is no need to talk to ordinary people when the
NLD, and Daw Aung San Suu Kyi in particular, speaks for them. They were
elected by a landslide in an election that covered, if not the whole
country, at least more than half of it (the millions of people in
regions which were not allowed to take part in that election are always
forgotten, but we will not take up that issue here). Similarly, we
could say that Thaksin Shinawatra speaks for all Thais, Tony Blair for
all Britons, Hun Sen for all Cambodians, John Howard for all
Australians, and George W. Bush and Al Gore speak in tandem for all
Americans. Joseph Estrada, elected President of the Philippines by a
landslide, must have spoken for all Filipinos - until the world suddenly
learned in January that he didn't. Look at your own democratically
elected leaders, and ask yourself if they fully understand your problems
and speak for you.
This is not to say that Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and the NLD are not
sincere. They are very sincere, but they are still politicians, and one
should also talk to the ordinary people who have to live under a much
harsher reality. And a common comment among ordinary people in Burma is
that these talks are nothing new. The SPDC has held talks with Daw Aung
San Suu Kyi before, in 1995 and previously, and there were stronger
grounds for optimism at that time than there are now. She had just been
released from house arrest, repression, systematic destruction of rural
villages, and militarisation were not as bad as they are now, resistance
groups still controlled significant territories, the economy was in
better shape, and the SLORC (former name of the SPDC) had just gone
through a period of pretending to be more open to ethnic autonomy. Yet
those talks amounted to nothing, and everyone admitted they had just
been held to curry international favour and to 'feel out' Daw Aung San
Suu Kyi to see if she could be broken. Whereas now, the regime has for
the past 4 years shown its most hardline stance ever, systematically
trying to destroy the NLD, heavily militarising all ethnic regions,
destroying thousands of villages, and committing human rights abuses
nationwide at levels never before seen. Just a few meetings with Daw
Aung San Suu Kyi, and people appear willing to ignore all this. But the
fact is, all of these abuses are continuing right now: the forced
labour, the village destructions, the military offensives in Karen,
Karenni and Shan States, the torture and killings. The sincerity of the
SPDC in these talks can be gauged by the fact that there has been no
reduction whatever in human rights abuses and political repression
nationwide since the talks began - except a reduction in media attacks
and restrictions on the NLD itself. These talks may be helping the NLD,
but they don't seem to be gaining much for the ordinary people.
But as long as the international community's attention is riveted on the
NLD alone, that appears to be enough, and the SPDC knows it. In fact,
it is usually when they are in the most trouble internationally that
they pull out the 'talks with the NLD' card. It is probably no
coincidence that these talks began shortly after they faced focused
international attention on forced labour for the first time due to the
sanctions of the International Labour Organisation (ILO) which began in
November 2000. The timing may also be connected to the advent of new
administrations in both Thailand and the USA, both of which occurred in
January; particularly as both Thaksin Shinawatra's and George W. Bush's
administrations are expected to be more right-wing than their
predecessors. Talks with the NLD give the new US administration the
excuse it probably wants to cancel the US economic sanctions, and the
new Thai administration the excuse it probably wants to establish more
cosy business and military relations and crack down on refugees from
Burma. It is even possible that the NLD members detained in
September-October 2000 would have been released much earlier if the SPDC
had not been waiting for these events to maximise the political benefit
of releasing them. The NLD talks have not yet borne the expected fruit
in Thailand and the US, partly because the SPDC was so stupid as to
launch a military attack on Thailand just as the new prime minister was
preparing to make new deals with them, and partly because the Bush
administration is going slowly in the face of public opinion. But it
can be expected that the talks will continue for as long as it takes for
the SPDC to get the international concessions it wants - and perhaps no
longer. However, the talks have already accomplished one thing for the
SPDC: you see very little mention of the ILO and the forced labour
problem in Burma in the international mainstream anymore.
The 'talks with the NLD' card is very easy to play, because the SPDC
controls all the rules of the game. The NLD is always open to talks,
and appears to be willing to keep the contents of the talks secret as
well. As a result, none of us know what they are even talking about.
The SPDC may just be passing time by exchanging pleasantries with them,
but there is also speculation that they are already discussing a
transitional government and a blanket amnesty for the military
exonerating them for all of their crimes. This raises the very serious
question of whether a small group of NLD leaders has the mandate to
negotiate such things, particularly in secret. Can anyone have the
right to negotiate away justice in return for power? Most of Burma's
people have suffered more than the NLD leaders under the SPDC and its
predecessors, and their voices should be heard before any deal is struck
- whether through consultations, a referendum, or an electoral process.
If the NLD strikes a secret deal with the SPDC and then springs it on
the population as a fait accompli, this would not be a step towards
democracy but away from it.
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