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BurmaNet News: May 27, 2001
______________ THE BURMANET NEWS ______________
An on-line newspaper covering Burma
May 27, 2001 Issue # 1811
______________ www.burmanet.org _______________
NOTED IN PASSING:
INSIDE BURMA _______
*AP: Myanmar democrats mark election anniversary in absence of leaders
*AP: Jews in Buddhist Myanmar live freely _ but for how long?
*Radio Australia: Burma's pro-democracy league celebrates eleventh
*Xinhua: Myanmar Welcomes Foreign Assistance: Newspaper
*AFP: US lawmakers join in fight against forced labor in Myanmar p
*AP: Caffeine, suspected en route to methamphetamine traffickers
*AFP: Thai defense minister denounces Myanmar article as national
*Daily Telegraph: Burma veterans mark their 50th anniversary today at
__________________ INSIDE BURMA ____________________
AP: Myanmar democrats mark election anniversary in absence of leaders
YANGON, Myanmar (AP) _ Nobel Peace laureate Aung San Suu Kyi and other
leaders of Myanmar's democratic movement were absent from a celebration
Sunday marking the 11th anniversary of their election victory, which was
voided by the military government.
Members of the National League for Democracy, which captured more than
80 percent of the seats in the 1990 general election, renewed their call
for the military to honor the election results and convene Parliament.
Suu Kyi and the military government began negotiations last year in an
effort to ease the political deadlock, but the talks have made little
Suu Kyi, party chairman Aung Shwe and vice chairman Tin Oo were absent
from the low-key gathering of about 400 party members at NLD
The democracy leaders were detained in September for violating a travel
ban imposed by the military regime. They have since been confined to
Unlike previous years, diplomats and journalists were not invited to
the gathering, which was held without any obstruction or harassment by
the authorities. Last year, police erected road blocks around party
headquarters and screened everyone trying to get to the anniversary
Suu Kyi, although under restriction, regularly meets party secretary
and central executive committee member U Lwin at her residence.
U Lwin, speaking at Sunday's ceremony, said that ``Only when the
results of the elections were honored, will it be in line with the
``The government, political parties and the people are currently
suffering a myriad of political, economic, social and ethnic woes simply
because a parliament is not convened,'' he said.
The NLD won 392 seats out of 485 seats in the 1990 election, the first
freely-contested poll in nearly three decades. However, after the
results were known, the military insisted that a new constitution was
needed before it could hand over power. A constitution drafting process
was begun in 1993 but has made no progress since 1996.
Only about 166 elected representatives remain on the official list of
members of Parliament. Several others have died, many have resigned or
been forced to resign and some were in exile or detention.
Last week, the New York-based group Human Rights Watch called for the
release of 85 people who were elected to Parliament but later detained.
Some of the detainees have been tried and convicted under national
security statutes, while others are being held without charges in
government ``guest houses'' at military bases.
Besides the 85 members of Parliament, at least 1,000 other political
prisoners are in detention, Human Rights Watch said.
AP: Jews in Buddhist Myanmar live freely _ but for how long?
YANGON, Myanmar (AP) _ Moses Samuels refuses to migrate to Israel. He
has a legacy to tend to.
The caretaker of Myanmar's only synagogue, Samuels is the standard
bearer for the country's rapidly shrinking Jewish community, now just 20
souls and in danger of disappearing in another generation.
In this predominantly Buddhist country, Samuels, 50, is as much an icon
of Judaism as the 105-year-old Musmeah Yeshua synagogue, one of Yangon's
most distinctive buildings with its blue Star of David and brown window
``If I leave, who will look after this place?'' asks Samuels, who
inherited the voluntary caretaker's job from his father.
``This is our heritage. It is more important to me than Israel. Nobody
can force me to emigrate,'' he says while walking a visitor through the
The two-story, whitewashed synagogue was built between 1893 and 1896 in
typical British colonial architecture, replacing an earlier wooden
structure erected in 1846.
Its interior offers a vivid contrast between the old and the new. On
the walls hang Israeli tourism posters and an oil painting of the
Western Wall in Jerusalem's Old City looking down on colonial-era teak
benches with woven wicker seats.
Two 100-year-old copies of the Torah, Judaism's holy book, are encased
in Oriental silver cylinders. Quartz clocks with Star of David faces _
priced at U.S. dlrs 6 to dlrs 10 _ cram the shelves in an antechamber
that serves as Samuels' office.
The Jews of Myanmar, which is also known as Burma, are descendants of
19th century migrants from Iraq, Europe and India who came either with
the British colonial army or as teak, rice and cotton traders.
Before World War II, more than 2,500 Jews lived in Myanmar, most of
them with roots in Baghdad, Iraq, which once had a thriving Jewish
community among its predominantly Muslim population.
By 1969, the number of Jews here had dwindled to 500, and now only
eight families remain. The rest moved to the United States, Australia,
India and Israel in search of better lives or drawn by their faith to
the Promised Land.
Jews have fared well in military-ruled Myanmar, says Amir Shaviv of the
New York-based American Joint Distribution Committee, a nonpolitical
Jewish relief group.
Myanmar's junta is widely criticized for its human rights record
against political opponents such as democracy activist Aung San Suu Kyi
and her followers. But it is generally acknowledged that the government
permits freedom of worship to all faiths.
The politics of Myanmar has ``not affected the status of the Jewish
community at all. They don't suffer as Jews,'' says Shaviv, whose group
has been helping Jews here for 50 years.
The real threat to the Jewish community comes from a circle of
self-destruction. Emigration has made it harder for young members to
find spouses, leading to more migration and marriages outside the
``Demographically speaking it seems that the community faces
extinction,'' Shaviv says. ``However, in our experiences many
communities that were labeled extinct have come to life when
circumstances changed rapidly.''
For example, he says, political change in Myanmar could spur business,
bringing foreign businessmen including Jews who could re-establish a
community just as others did two centuries ago.
But until then, the future looks gloomy.
Among Myanmar's 20 Jews, only five are unmarried: Samuels' 20-year-old
son and 22- and 25-year-old daughters, and a 38-year-old man and a
35-year-old woman. None has any immediate plans to marry.
Sammy Samuels, the youngest of Myanmar's Jews who recently returned
after spending a year in Israel at a kibbutz, plans to go to college in
the United States to study computer software.
``But if I marry, I would want her to move to Myanmar. Otherwise I
won't marry,'' he says.
With such a small community, Friday prayers are subdued affairs,
attended by four or five people. Always in attendance are Samuels and
his son. The synagogue hasn't had a rabbi since 1968, so Sammy leads the
prayers, being the only person who can read Hebrew.
During ``high holidays'' the synagogue comes alive, transforming into
an interfaith assembly of Jews and well-wishers that include non-Jew
spouses and Samuels' neighbors and friends in the predominantly ethnic
Indian neighborhood where Samuels lives.
On Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, Samuels organizes a feast,
serving typical Jewish food such as falafel, pita bread and roast
chicken. His Indian friends, who are Muslims and Hindus, bring Indian
savories such as ``samosa'' pastry and ``rasgulla'' sweets.
The synagogue is in downtown Yangon near the end of a narrow one-way
street lined on both sides with hardware stores owned mostly by ethnic
Two shops selling paint and fishing net abut the synagogue's gray steel
gate, which is capped by a tiled facade embedded with a seven-armed
Jewish candelabra in mosaic.
Samuels says money for the old synagogue's upkeep is always a problem.
He depends mostly on donations and help from the Joint Distribution
Samuels, who has Iraqi, Iranian and British heritage, often ends up
using money from his family's party-furniture rental business.
``My father made me promise that I would never allow the synagogue to
close down as long as I live. I can't let him down,'' Samuels says.
Radio Australia: Burma's pro-democracy league celebrates eleventh
May 27, 2001
Burma's National League for Democracy has held an anniversary meeting at
party headquarters in Rangoon to commemorate its landslide victory in
Burma's general elections 11 years ago.
The NLD, lead by Aung San Suu Kyi, won the May 27, 1990 election in the
country by an overwhelming majority, taking 392 of 485 seats, but was
barred from taking power by the military.
At the meting, attended by nearly 400 members, party secretary U Lwin
said the country is faced with political, social and economic problems
due to failure by the government to honor the election results.
Suu Kyi, secretary general of the NLD, now the nation's largest
opposition party, did not attend the meeting, as she has been under
house arrest since being forcibly removed from a sit-in at the Rangoon
central railway station in Setember.
Unlike previous anniversary gatherings, police were not seen near party
headquarters during the NLD meeting that ended peacefully in around two
Xinhua: Myanmar Welcomes Foreign Assistance: Newspaper
YANGON, May 27 (Xinhua) -- Myanmar is ready to receive any offer for
assistance by any country made with sincere motive, said Sunday's
official newspaper The New Light of Myanmar. The paper pointed out in an
article that there are many friendly nations which are willing to assist
Myanmar with the sincere motive despite the denial by some big-power
nations to do so. It cited Japan's assistance in Myanmar's economic and
social development projects being implemented by two Japanese non-
governmental organizations -- the Japan International Cooperation Agency
and the Bridge Asia Japan. It warned that Myanmar, a developing country,
has to overcome hindrances and drawbacks in its endeavors to reach a
developed state in the process of building a modern and developed one.
It blamed some big powers, holding pessimistic views on Myanmar, for not
giving any assistance whatsoever for the success of the country's
development undertakings. However, the paper went on to say that Myanmar
has pledged to exert its utmost efforts on self-reliance to become a
full developed nation, believing that its endeavors will bear fruits
very soon if friendly nations help with the sincere motive. On account
of Myanmar's domestic political reason, Japan suspended its aid to the
country beginning 1988 but resumed its humanitarian aid since 1995. Of
the aid, that in 2000 amounted to 1.5 billion yens (12.78 million U.S.
dollars), a 70.45 percent increase over 1999. In addition, the Japanese
government also resumed in March this year its official development
assistance (ODA) to Myanmar which had been suspended for 13 years by
extending 849 million yens ( 6. 98 million dollars) of the ODA. Enditem
2001-05-27 Sun 00:13
AFP: US lawmakers join in fight against forced labor in Myanmar
WASHINGTON, May 26 (AFP) - A group of US lawmakers have introduced a
bill barring imports from Myanmar, joining the cause of human rights
groups and labor unions around the world against forced labor in the
Southeast Asian country.
Led by senators Tom Harkin of Iowa and Jesse Helms of North Carolina,
the bill caps a 10-month period in which nine apparel companies and the
US Army and Air Force Exchange Service have promised to end ties with
Myanmar, the Free Burma Coalition said in a statement Friday.
The bill was introduced a day after 23 human rights organizations and
prominent labor unions from around the world sent a letter to dozens of
companies that facilitate forced labor in Myanmar, demanding that they
end financial support of the military junta in power there.
The letter and the senators' action came in response to a request from
the International Labor Organization that its members ensure they are
not contributing to what the ILO calls a "modern form of slave labor."
The International Confederation of Trade Unions (ICFTU), linking more
than 221 labour unions in 148 countries, said last year that nearly one
million people were subjected to forced labor in Myanmar, particularly
in building roads, railways and military installations.
The army was singled out as a main offender due to its practice of
using villagers, often from ethnic minorities, as porters.
2001-05-26 Sat 06:43
AP: Caffeine, suspected en route to methamphetamine traffickers
MAE SOT, Thailand (AP) _ Police in northern Thailand on Saturday
arrested three men and seized two tons of caffeine they believe was
destined to be used in the manufacture of the illegal stimulant
Thai authorities in March last year banned caffeine from being
transported to six northern provinces that border northeastern Myanmar.
Thai and other drug experts say that methamphetamine is produced inside
Myanmar by ethnic minority groups living near the border, and smuggled
into Thailand in vast quantities. Thai officials consider the problem of
methamphetamine trafficking and consumption so serious as to be a matter
of national security.
The caffeine seized Saturday _ worth an estimated 7 million baht (dlrs
155,556) and sufficient for the production of 40 million methamphetamine
tablets _ was seized from a truck that was stopped in Mae Sot district
of Tak province, 370 kilometers (230 miles) northwest of Bangkok.
Forty sacks of powdered caffeine were found hidden among other
commodities, said an official of the Narcotics Suppression Bureau who
insisted on anonymity.
He said one of the three men arrested, who were all native Thais, said
they had been paid 100,000 baht (dlrs 2,222) to take the caffeine from
Bangkok to a village on the border with Myanmar, also called Burma.
He said the three men would face imprisonment for 10 years and fines of
100,000 baht (dlrs 2,222) each if found guilty.
Myanmar says it is unfairly blamed for the flood of methamphetamine,
and more attention should be paid to neighboring countries from which
the ingredients are smuggled. The main ingredient, ephedrine, comes
mostly from India and China, say drug experts.
On Saturday afternoon, Thai customs officials in Mae Sot destroyed 180
kilograms (396 pounds) of magnesium stearate, another chemical which
they say is used in the production of methamphetamine. The chemical,
enough for 72 million methamphetamine tablets, was seized at the end of
last year. ^str-gp/ss<
2001-05-26 Sat 10:16
AFP: Thai defense minister denounces Myanmar article as national
BANGKOK, May 27 (AFP) - Thailand's defense minister joined a mounting
war of words between Thailand and Myanmar by calling a Myanmar article
critical of the revered Thai monarchy an "insult," a report said Sunday.
Defense Minister Chavalit Yongchaiyudh said an article published last
week by the state-run New Light of Myanmar that took aim at a 19th
century Thai king was unacceptable.
"Thai people will not tolerate such insults against our beloved
institution," Chavalit was quoted as saying by the Bangkok Post.
"We will fight if we have to," he said.
Chavalit, a former prime minister who in the past has risen to
Myanmar's defense, added that although the article and an artillery
attack last week were affronts to Thailand's highest institution, both
sides in the diplomatic row were trying to ease the tension.
"We must be careful and prudent with what we do. We cannot afford to
toy with the welfare of the nation," he said.
Chavalit said had asked Thailand's foreign ministry for permission to
visit Myanmar but was uncertain if it would be granted.
Following the publication of the Myanmar article, the Thai government
lodged a sternly-worded aide memoire.
The aide memoire came as the two countries were locking diplomatic
horns over a shell attack Tuesday that targeted a royal-initiated
agricultural border project.
Thailand issued an official protest over the incident the day before
the aide memoire.
"The articles have gone beyond the accepted bounds and norms of
behaviour by thoughtlessly affronting the most revered institution of
the Thai nation and people," the aide memoire said.
The comments were designed to "incite hatred" between the people of the
two countries and were certain to "cause severe damage to Thai-Myanmar
relations and the momentum of rapport hitherto established by our
Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra said he would review policy towards
Myanmar, and conceded that its stance needed to be adjusted as soon as
The premier also said Thai government agencies dealing with Myanmar
needed to be better coordinated and improve their access to information
so that they were better equipped to map out correct policy.
The New Light of Myanmar Monday launched an attack on King Mongkut, who
ruled Siam in the mid-19th century, in an article entitled "Never been
enslaved, but real slave".
King Mongkut was popularised in the various musical and film versions
of "The King and I", which have always been banned here out of deference
to the monarchy.
The Thai parliament debated the article, which was splashed on the
front page of the local press, in a closed door session Thursday.
2001-05-27 Sun 02:48
Daily Telegraph: Burma veterans mark their 50th anniversary today at the
By Macer Hall
ISSUE 2193 Sunday 27 May 2001
Burma Star Association
Royal British Legion
Imperial War Museum
The Burma Campaign - Steve Rothwell
VETERANS of the Second World War's "Forgotten Army" will march
together for the last time today to commemorate the courage and
sacrifice of the troops on the battlefields of the Far East.
The Burma Star Association, set up to preserve the comradeship of the
jungle campaign, will celebrate its 50th anniversary with a parade at
the Cenotaph in Whitehall and a service at Westminster Abbey. Prince
Philip, who served as a naval officer in the Burma campaign and is now a
patron of the association, is expected to attend the ceremony. Today's
gathering will be the last because of the decline in membership.
Douglas Burford, the chairman of the Epsom branch of the association and
a former Royal Engineer, said: "It will be a poignant occasion, but it
always is. Numbers have been dwindling over the years, with many people
now in their eighties. We will, of course, continue to provide charity
and welfare for our members."
In keeping with tradition, the Kohima Epitaph will be recited. Inscribed
on a battlefield memorial where the British 2nd Infantry Division
suffered heavy losses but halted the Japanese advance, it reads: "When
you go home, tell them of us and say, for their tomorrow, we gave our
Servicemen were given the "Forgotten Army" name when they returned from
Asia months after the VE Day celebrations and the nation was too
preoccupied with domestic issues to give them an official welcome.
The veterans had to suffer widespread ignorance about their role in the
Allied victory, in which 16,667 British troops were killed or were
missing in action. It was even a problem as early as 1945 when Errol
Flynn starred in Objective Burma!, a film depicting the Burma campaign
as an exclusively American operation. The film was withdrawn in Britain.
Six years ago, the nation finally gave the Burma veterans deserved
recognition when huge crowds turned out in London for the 50th
anniversary of VJ Day.
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