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BurmaNet News: July 9, 2001
______________ THE BURMANET NEWS ______________
An on-line newspaper covering Burma
July 9, 2001 Issue # 1839
______________ www.burmanet.org _______________
INSIDE BURMA _______
*AFP: Myanmar junta downplays reports of breakthrough in Suu Kyi talks
*AP: Judge allows Suu Kyi's brother to amend property lawsuit
*Sydney Morning Herald: Burma poised for new government, elections
*Democratic Voice of Burma: Ethnic groups ready for tripartite talks to
solve political impasse
*Xinhua: Myanmar's Population Reaches 52 Mln
*Xinhua: One-Fourth Farmland Ploughed by Machines in Myanmar
*The Wall Street Journal: Myanmar Faces Dual Blow From U.S. Proposed Ban
*TheSpleen.com: Out of the Jungle
*Xinhua: Myanmar Hosts Insurance Agency Dealers Conference
*AFP: Four Killed in Fighting Between Burmese Ethnic Militias
*Xinhua: Japan to Aid Myanmar Judo Federation
*AP: Myanmar dissidents demand release of student prisoners
__________________ INSIDE BURMA ____________________
AFP: Myanmar junta downplays reports of breakthrough in Suu Kyi talks
YANGON, July 9 (AFP) - Myanmar's military government Monday downplayed
speculation that it is poised to release pro-democracy leader Aung San
Suu Kyi and announce a new national government. "There has been too much
speculation going on," a senior spokesman for the regime said in a
statement. Talk of a breakthrough in Myanmar, where the ruling junta has
been meeting with Aung San Suu Kyi behind closed doors since October,
was sparked by comments from Thai Defence Minister Chavalit
Yongchaiyudh. Chavalit, a former army chief who is known to have close
ties with the generals in Yangon, expressed optimism at the weekend that
40 years of military rule in Myanmar would soon come to an end. "Once
all the groups are engaged in forming a national government and get to
work, confidence among the former rivals will soon be established," he
told The Nation newspaper in Bangkok. "After a while, a new election
should be called," he said.
However, diplomats in the Myanmar capital said there was no sign of an
imminent development in the talks, which have been progressing slowly in
complete secrecy. "All of us here have not seen any signs that there's
going to be any dramatic movement or development," one observer said.
"This is just going to take some time to work it out and there's no
sense among anybody, in the atmosphere or little hints and gestures or
any obscure signals, that something dramatic is about to happen."
Confidence in the process has been boosted in recent weeks by the
release of dozens of NLD MPs, elected in the disallowed 1990 ballot, who
had been held in government guesthouses. In light of this, Aung San Suu
Kyi is expected to emerge briefly from her home, where she has been
detained since September, to attend the July 19 ceremony marking the
1947 assassination of her father General Aung San. Previously she had
declined to leave the lakeside residence on any personal missions, even
deciding not to attend the funeral of her much-loved aunt who died in
the family compound earlier this year. The junta is believed to be keen
to have the Nobel peace laureate attend the televised Martyrs Day
ceremony at Yangon's Shwedagon pagoda, to send a signal that national
reconciliation is progressing well. "I think people are expecting to see
her in public on Martyrs Day as happens every year on that day," one
diplomat said. "If she doesn't go it will be interpreted negatively and
in fact would be seized upon by everybody as a sign that things are not
going well," he said. In the past Aung San Suu Kyi had consistently
refused to cooperate with propaganda stunts intended to give a veneer of
respectability to the political situation in Myanmar, the diplomat said.
"But the recent releases might have a bearing on it -- they may be
enough to coax her into going." The junta declined to confirm whether
Aung San Suu Kyi was expected to attend the ceremony, saying only that
an invitation had been extended to "all the family members of the
martyrs". "It is up to the individual to attend the ceremony or not,"
the spokesman said. Most observers believe the house arrest restrictions
will not be completely lifted until both sides are ready to make a
statement on the content and progress of their talks -- a stage they say
is still a long way off. Meanwhile, the Yangon Divisional Court Monday
held the latest hearing into a property suit against the pro-democracy
leader, whose brother Aung San Oo is suing her for a share in the family
residence. Judge Soe Thein ordered Aung San Oo's lawyers to submit all
their amendments in the long-running case by July 23. The plaintiff's
counsel Han Toe said he had dropped the original claim for half the
property and was now seeking an "appropriate share" in the lakeside
AP: Judge allows Suu Kyi's brother to amend property lawsuit
July 9, 2001
YANGON, Myanmar (AP) _ A judge decided Monday to allow an amendment to a
case filed against the opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi for partial
ownership of the property where she has lived for the past 13 years.
Soe Thein, the Yangon Division Court judge, permitted the lawyer of Suu
Kyi's elder brother Aung San Oo to file for an ``entitled share of the
Aung San Oo, an American citizen, had earlier sought ``half'' of the
2-acre (0.8 hectare) Yangon property and lakeside villa where Suu Kyi
stays. The case was adjourned until July 23 when the amended case will
be filed to the court.
The ruling did not appear to change significantly the nature of the
legal case filed against Suu Kyi.
Although he had earlier objected to the amendment, Suu Kyi's lawyer Kyi
Win said he wasn't surprised at the judge's decision as it had referred
to a legal precedent.
The property was given by the government to Suu Kyi's mother Khin Kyi,
widow of independence hero General Aung San, who was assassinated in
1947. Khin Kyi died in December 1988.
Suu Kyi, who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991 for her democracy
struggle, has been confined to that house since Sept. 22 after defying a
travel ban imposed by the Myanmar military regime. Her party won general
elections in 1990 but was barred from taking power.
Neither Suu Kyi nor her brother, who lives in the United States, were
present in court Monday.
Lawyer Kyi Win said he had last seen Suu Kyi on June 14 and he said she
Under Myanmar's Buddhist law, an inherited property should be equally
divided among the siblings. But another law forbids foreigners from
purchasing or selling property.
A previous suit filed by Aung San Oo for partition of the property was
dismissed in January on grounds he had filed the case on the wrong form.
Sydney Morning Herald: Burma poised for new government, elections
Mon, 9 July 2001
By Mark Baker, Herald Correspondent in Singapore
A senior Thai minister claims the Burmese Opposition leader, Ms Aung San
Suu Kyi, and the country's military leaders are poised to announce the
formation of a new national government and an election timetable.
The Defence Minister, General Chavalit Yongchaiyudh, said months of
secret negotiations between Ms Suu Kyi and senior military officers had
reached agreement on a plan to end the decade-long political crisis that
has crippled Burma's economy and left the country an international
"Once all the groups are engaged in forming a national government and
get to work, confidence among the former rivals will soon be
established. After a while a new election should be called," he told
Bangkok's Nation newspaper.
General Chavalit, who has served as both prime minister and Thailand's
armed forces commander, did not say when a deal would be announced, and
would not reveal the source of his information. But he is known to be
close to senior members of the Burmese regime and is preparing for an
official visit to Rangoon later this month.
His dramatic announcement came as the regime released another group of
political prisoners, fuelling speculation that Ms Suu Kyi, who has not
been seen in public for nine months, is about to emerge from virtual
Seven members of Ms Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy were
released on Friday, bringing to 29 the number of detainees freed since
the middle of last month. All seven were elected MPs in the 1991
elections which the NLD won before being blocked from taking power by
But Ms Suu Kyi, the NLD chairman, Aung Shwe, and vice chairman Tin Oo
remain confined to their homes in Rangoon after being stopped on
September 22 last year as they attempted to travel outside the capital.
Some NLD officials believe preparations are being made for the three to
be freed before Burmese Martyrs Day on July 19 - the anniversary of the
assassination in 1947 of Ms Suu Kyi's father and Burmese independence
hero, General Aung San.
Ms Suu Kyi has been meeting regularly since late last year with the
deputy chief of military intelligence, General Kyaw Win, but both sides
have refused to discuss details of their talks.
Senior officials said in March that the meetings were going "very well"
and the head of the regime, General Than Shwe, gave a speech in which he
cautiously praised democracy.
However, some observers remain sceptical of a breakthrough.
"I don't think anyone here thinks there is that kind of movement in
prospect in the near term," a senior regional diplomat based in Rangoon
told the Herald.
"Nobody knows what's going on in the talks between Aung San Suu Kyi and
the Government. No one is in a position to really know. But the release
of the detainees is contributing to a more positive atmosphere."
Sources close to Ms Suu Kyi and the military negotiators have previously
outlined a scenario in which the armed forces and senior NLD officials
would form an interim administration while preparations were made for
It is understood Ms Suu Kyi has privately indicated she would accept
military demands that she not play an active role in politics, provided
there were guarantees of a return to democracy.
Democratic Voice of Burma: Ethnic groups ready for tripartite talks to
solve political impasse
Oslo, in Burmese 1430 gmt 5 Jul 01
At a time when UN special envoy Mr Razali and the Japanese government
were commenting that the talks between the SPDC State Peace and
Development Council and the National League for Democracy NLD are
progressing and that it is appropriate to give aid to the SPDC, one of
the Thai-Burma Myanmar border based ethnic armed groups, the KNU - Karen
National Union, issued a statement today stating that the talks lack
The KNU statement welcomed the bilateral talks brokered by the UN but
the lack of specific news after almost a year and the continued
offensive against the ethnic armed groups proved that the SPDC military
government is not engaging in the talks with genuine interest. With
regards to the statement and to learn more about the views of the
national races, DVB interviewed KNU Secretary-General Phado Mahn Shar.
Begin recording Phado Mahn Shar For the talks to be genuine, both sides
should respect each other, the country should be informed, and should be
free and fair. At the moment, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and the top NLD
leaders are still under house arrest. There are also many political
prisoners in the jails and their situations have been deteriorating.
Another thing is they have stopped using the term annihilating the NLD
but they are still restricting the party from performing its normal
activities. They are also mounting offensives against the KNU up till
now. These are all their way of solving political problems and it is
contrary to what it should be. By looking at these situations we believe
that the talks have not reached the right path.
Htet Aung Kyaw Yes. What I want to ask is, they have recently released
some political prisoners including elected representatives and have
allowed some NLD offices to reopen. Can't you say that these are steps
towards the right direction?
Phado Mahn Shar We believe they are doing all that to relieve themselves
of international pressure, like pressure from the ILO International
Labour Organization and other nations. They should do more than that. In
fact we believe they should do much more than that.
Htet Aung Kyaw Since you believe the current talks are not genuine, what
factors do you need to say the talks are sincere?
Phado Mahn Shar For the talks to be sincere and genuine, firstly they
should lift all restrictions imposed on NLD and then allow it to
function, organize, and stand as a free political party. Secondly, we
believe they must unconditionally release all the top NLD leaders.
Similarly, we feel they should immediately release all political
prisoners whom they have unlawfully detained. They are still planning
offensives against the national races especially the KNU. We believe the
offensives against the national races should immediately decrease the
moment they started to take a step forward to solve political problems
by political means. Another thing and this is the most important is
Htet Aung Kyaw We discovered in the statement that the tripartite talks
are mentioned and they have been urged to go in that direction. We heard
that UN special envoy Mr Razali attempted to hold talks with the
national races leaders but the talks did not materialized because he
could not find an organization or a delegate that represents all the
Phado Mahn Shar If Mr Razali Ismail tried to meet with the national
races leaders and arrange for a tripartite meeting then it is a very
good move and is also in accord with UN resolutions because we must
definitely include the national races.
Htet Aung Kyaw According to our sources, Mr Razali wanted to meet with
delegates or a representative organization of the national races but
since he couldn't find any the talks did not take place. In other words,
the national races did not have a common stance. It is like questioning
the unity of the national races. What is your opinion?
Phado Mahn Shar Well, it is very clear. The SPDC is pointing to disunity
among the national races and they are the ones responsible for that
disunity. If the SPDC stop the division and let the national races
freely meet, organize, and talk then we absolutely believe that we can
all stand united with a common view. If the tripartite dialogue takes
place now and the participation of the national races is required then
it is not a difficult task to immediately obtain a common stance of the
national races in a united and free environment.
Xinhua: Myanmar's Population Reaches 52 Mln
YANGON, July 9 (Xinhua) -- Myanmar's population has reached 52 million
with half of them as women, according to the Myanmar Ministry of
Immigration and Population Monday. The country's population grows at 2.2
percent and its population density is 74 inhabitants per square
kilometer, the sources said, adding that Myanmar is sparsely populated
and still has enough space for the growing population compared to
The Myanmar government is making efforts for food sufficiency not only
for the present 52-million population but also for the 100 million' in
the future by extending the cultivated areas, per- hectare yield,
cultivation of double or triple crops and application of modern
cultivation technique as well as increased investment in the sector and
exemption of import duties of agricultural implements such as
fertilizer, pesticide, machinery and improved variety. Out of 18.225
million hectares of cultivable land in Myanmar, 10.4085 million hectares
have been utilized with 7.8165 million hectares remaining to be
reclaimed. According to official statistics, Myanmar annually produced
18. 97 million tons of paddy and exported 81,200 tons of rice in the
last four fiscal years.
Xinhua: One-Fourth Farmland Ploughed by Machines in Myanmar
YANGON, July 8 (Xinhua) -- A total of 2.835 million hectares of farmland
are now ploughed by machines in Myanmar, accounting for 23.34 percent of
the country's cultivated land which stretches 12. 15 million hectares,
according to the Myanmar Ministry of Agriculture and Irrigation Sunday.
The land which is ploughed by draught animals covers 9.315 million
hectares, taking up 76.66 percent of the total cultivated land. The
ministry disclosed that so far the number of tractors in the country has
gone to 8,600, of which 5,500 are owned by the private sector and 3,100
by the department.
Besides, the number of power tillers owned by the private sector has
reached 49,000. Meanwhile, the country has also set up 22 mechanized
farming villages across the country to boost agricultural production and
to reduce labor cost and time in the undertaking. At the same time, the
government has also exempted the import duties of agricultural machinery
along with fertilizer, pesticide and improved variety. Myanmar, with its
economy based on agriculture, is striving to transform its traditional
farming to mechanized one for the development of its agriculture and
food security of its 52-million population which is estimated to grow 2
percent annually. The country's agriculture represents 37 percent of its
gross domestic product and 25 percent of the export value.
The Wall Street Journal: Myanmar Faces Dual Blow From U.S. Proposed Ban
July 9, 2001
By BARRY WAIN
Staff Reporter of THE WALL STREET JOURNAL
Proposed U.S. legislation to ban all imports from Myanmar is damaging
the country's booming garment industry and threatening to unsettle nine
months of delicate negotiations between the Myanmar government and the
International garment buyers began ordering from alternative sources in
Asia, including Cambodia and Vietnam, immediately after the unveiling
of the bipartisan "Burma Freedom Act," which was introduced in the U.S.
Senate in May and the House of Representatives in June. Even before the
bill is debated, which isn't expected until at least October, buyers
are taking precautions to ensure garment supplies, since the law would
prohibit, within 15 days of enactment, the import of any article
produced, manufactured or grown in Myanmar.
U.S. lawmakers proposed the measure to discourage alleged forced labor
and other human-rights abuses in Myanmar, previously called Burma,
though critics see it as protectionist and contrary to World Trade
Organization rules. While Myanmar-made garments account for a tiny
percentage of the U.S.'s overall garment imports, a downturn in trade
would deal a substantial blow to Myanmar's economy, where the garment
industry is the second-largest employer, after the government.
Aung Win, vice chairman of the Myanmar Garment Manufacturing
Association, said orders from the U.S., which usually takes an
estimated 65% of exports, have dwindled sharply in the past six weeks.
About half of the 400 garment factories around the capital of Yangon
will close by the middle of this month, he said, putting more than
100,000 people out of work. Although data are difficult to obtain, U.S.
officials recently revised their figures upward and estimate that
garment imports from Myanmar soared to $454 million last year from $168
million in 1999, and have continued to climb this year.
Mr. Aung Win -- the owner of six knitwear and woven-jacket factories,
making him the largest private producer in Myanmar -- said he and other
manufacturers are scrambling to find additional outlets in Europe, but
that the market is small. Over the next two months, he estimates, some
three-quarters of the country's industry will close. "Only 20% to 25% of
factories will survive," he said.
Diplomats in Yangon describe the timing of the congressional action as
politically harmful. It comes amid signs that the secret discussions
between opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi and the military
authorities, which began in October, are back on track after stalling
for months. Since the visit last month of United Nations envoy Razali
Ismail, the government has resumed releasing political prisoners in
small numbers and has given approval for Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi's
National League for Democracy to reopen 18 party offices near the
Government officials are annoyed that what they regard as a new campaign
against Myanmar should be mounted while the talks continue. The two
sides are hoping to end the political stalemate that began when the
military refused to recognize the National League for Democracy's
overwhelming victory in a 1990 election. In addition to a range of
existing aid and trade sanctions, the fresh antigovernment campaign
also includes a threat by the international trade-union movement to
expose companies trading with or investing in Myanmar, while activists
in Europe pressure investors in funds and companies to stop doing
business with Myanmar.
A Myanmar government spokesman, Lt. Col. Hla Min, questioned the motive
of U.S. politicians in sponsoring the import-ban legislation, and
warned that the reconciliation process cannot be "steamrollered." He
said the bill could create "misunderstanding" between the two sides and
even "derail the development that has taken place in recent weeks."
Western diplomats agree that the congressional proposal could strain
the negotiations, though they doubt it will cause the talks to
In contrast to the private groups trying to force Myanmar to make
political concessions, most governments currently are exercising
restraint until they see whether Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi can reach a
settlement with the ruling State Peace and Development Council. Under
the influence of government members, the International Labor
Organization, which last year found Myanmar guilty of practicing forced
labor, has agreed to send a high-level team to the country in September
to assess the situation before considering the next move in November.
But trade-union members of the ILO are taking advantage of its finding
to try to further isolate Yangon, using as ammunition the rapid
increase in U.S. purchases of Myanmar apparel. While most high-profile
American retailers and designers have long abandoned selling
Myanmar-made goods after being targeted by human-rights groups, smaller
companies continue selling the apparel in the U.S. They usually obtain
the clothing indirectly, mainly through traders from Taiwan.
"It is outrageous that many brand-name U.S. apparel companies ... are
making more and more of their clothes in the Burmese gulag," said Sen.
Tom Harkin (D., Iowa) when introducing the legislation on May 22. One
of three companies named by Sen. Harkin subsequently informed suppliers
that it would discontinue placing orders in Myanmar, starting with the
"spring-summer 2002 season," according to Joe Pang, the chief executive
of a Hong Kong-based garment maker.
"I would like to make it very clear that this decision wasn't the result
of your delivery or quality performance, but rather due to political
pressures from our shareholders," an executive at the company said in a
message to Mr. Pang.
Write to Barry Wain at barry.wain@xxxxxxxx
Xinhua: Myanmar Hosts Insurance Agency Dealers Conference
YANGON, July 9 (Xinhua) -- An Insurance Agency Dealers Conference
between Myanmar and Malaysia is due to begin here later Monday to seek
ways and means of developing Myanmar's insurance market following the
step-in of Japanese investors in the sector. The one-day conference,
co-sponsored by the Myanmar Tourex Travel Services Ltd and the MCIS
Insurance Co of Malaysia, is to be attended by 165 insurance agents of
Malaysia and their Myanmar counterparts. Aimed at developing insurance
market following the liberalization of its financial market and banking,
Myanmar enacted its first Insurance Business Law in June 1996, granting
local private companies as well as foreign investors to run insurance
business in the country which cover life insurance, fire insurance,
cash-in-safe insurance and fidelity insurance.
Meanwhile, the Yasuda Fire and Marine Insurance Company of Japan is
making preparation to initiate a joint venture (JV), which will be the
first insurance JV in Myanmar, with the state- run Myanma Insurance (MI)
following the reaching of a memorandum of understanding (MOU) between
them in 1997, during which two other Japanese insurance companies, the
Mitsui and the Tokio, also signed similar MOUs respectively with the MI
to set up such joint ventures in the country. Besides Myanmar's
insurance business law, the country's Foreign Investment Law also
emphasizes that foreign firms investing in the country shall buy
insurance policies compulsorily from the MI.
AFP: Four Killed Iin Fighting Between Burmese Ethnic Militias
MAE SOT, Thailand, July 8 (AFP) -- Three members of a Myanmar [Burma]
rebel group and a Yangon [Rangoon]-allied ethnic fighter were killed in
skirmishes near Thailand's northern border, Thai border police said
Sunday. In a wave of fighting that began late Saturday, Karen National
Union (KNU) soldiers reportedly fired on a base and hospital belonging
to the Democratic Karen Buddhist Army (DKBA), a pro-Myanmar militia.
Then in a counterattack around 2 pm (0700 GMT) Sunday, about a hundred
DKBA and Myanmar troops attacked a KNU base in Myanmar near the northern
Thai district of Mae Ramat. Three KNU and one DKBA fighters were
reported killed while seven KNU and five DKBA were injured in Sunday's
clash. Gunfire from the fighting landed across the border in Thailand's
Mae Ramat, police said, but no Thai villagers were injured. "Seven
bullets came across to Thailand, but it didn't affect Thai villagers and
now it's silent already, at 3 pm in the afternoon," a Thai border police
officer told AFP. The KNU has fought an exhausting 51-year battle for
greater autonomy against the central government in Yangon and is one of
the last major insurgent groups fighting the junta.
TheSpleen.com: Out of the Jungle
Part I of III
Conversation with a Burmese gem smuggler in a Maesai snooker hall: "Can
you get a big chunk of jade into Thailand?" "Sure, not a problem." "But
we want a really big chunk ..." "It?s okay, the soldiers will deal with
getting it across."
We pump the smuggler for more information, but he senses that we?re more
interested in who "the soldiers" are than in buying jade. He departs
without making an arrangement. But you can be sure that along the porous
Burmese-Thai border that night, several large pieces of jade and other
goods ranging from the sacred to the profane crossed over rivers and
through mountain passes into Thailand, to be distributed to the rest of
The goods come hidden under women?s breasts and tucked away in other
places, brought down from the mountains in mule trains and pickup
trucks. Stashed in couriers? longyis, smuggled items make their way
across streams, minefields and even official checkpoints. There are
commodities unlikely to travel more than a few miles beyond the border
-- onions, fish, chilies, cigarettes and the like. Then there?s the
stuff that will see Bangok, Brussels, Boston and everywhere in between:
Rubies, sapphires, jade, pearls, peridot -- to name just a few of
Burma?s incredibly diverse gemstones. There is also a brisk trade in
pagoda relics, teak and other hardwoods from rapidly shrinking forests.
And of course opium, amphetamines and most recently, LSD and ecstasy.
Baking a Smuggler?s Cake
Smuggling is an ancient practice; indeed, short of revolution it remains
the most direct means to preserve for oneself some of the wealth the
rapacious governments, kings, corporations, lao-pins and sawbwas of the
world covet for themselves. It takes many forms, and runs the gamut of
morality -- from distributing rice to starving peasants in defiance of
the tax collector to trafficking in human flesh.
Several factors are required for a smuggling culture to exist. There
must be goods produced in or passing through a region in which
distribution is restricted. The enforcement of the restrictions must be
flawed or readily compromised. And finally, there must be an external
demand for the smuggled goods.
It is a matter of historical record that Burma meets all these
requirements. That Thailand meets the requirements of a transit nation
is also clear, and for proof that the rest of the world provides a
viable external demand for Burmese goods, simply note the rubies on sale
in shops throughout the world or the thousands of heroin addicts in its
cities. Yet when looking at the smuggling culture of the Burmese-Thai
border area, what is most interesting is not so much the glaring
evidence that it exists, but rather why and how it exists.
Why is it that Burma -- a country of such absurdly abundant natural
resources that it was called "Asia?s ricebowl" prior to World War II --
devotes so much of its energy to the production and distribution of
gemstones, narcotics, exotic woods and artifacts? These are profitable
goods certainly, but hardly necessities -- and these days the country
actually has to import rice. And why is it that Thailand, a transit
nation contributing as much to the smuggling of Burmese goods as Burma
itself, is a darling of the West while Burma is an international pariah?
(For that matter, why does the United States, the largest individual
consumer of narcotics, never find its way onto its own annual list of
the 30 worst-offending drug trafficking nations compiled by the US Drug
Enforcement Agency?) And how do smuggled goods make it to market despite
interdiction measures taken by police and governments to prevent
With these questions in mind, the authors traveled along the
Thai-Burmese border to investigate one aspect of the massive covert
trading culture: gemstone smuggling. Unlike heroin, there are no serious
restrictions on the movement of gemstones once they emerge from Burma.
The gemstone smuggling culture is almost entirely internal, with the
receivers on the Thai side only peripherally involved in the dangerous
journey to the border from the ruby mines at Mogok and Mong-Hsu or the
jade mines at Hpakan. Thus it is possible to witness gemstone smuggling
first-hand from the Thai side, to interview smugglers and learn how and
why the rubies, sapphires and jade of Burma make the trek from source to
A Secret History
The simplest explanation for why gem smuggling is so rampant along the
border is money. The border crossings at Tachilek-Maesai and
Myawaddy-Mae Sot are pockets of heavily concentrated cashflow in areas
of extreme poverty and near-subsistence living. Conservative estimates
put the daily illegal trade between the two countries at around $1
million in gems, narcotics, teak and other raw materials from Burma in
exchange for cash, mobile phones, plastic-ware, cars, cement and other
manufactured goods from Thailand. Smuggling is a lucrative trade -- but
the explanation doesn?t end with greed. Events and forces inside and
outside of Burma have contributed to the country?s decline from
self-sufficiency to smuggler state.
Gems have been mined in Upper Burma for at least 1,000 years and
probably much longer. The region was one of the earliest sources of tea,
which was traded along with jade, rubies, ivory and aromatic woods via
overland routes into China and along the Silk Road to the Middle East
and Europe. The upland mining areas at that time were controlled by the
local sawbwas (feudal princes) under the authority of the Burmese king,
and influenced by various ethnic tribal minorities (Kachin, Palaung,
etc.), although at times the Yunnanese Chinese also held sway. The
sawbwas often had to pay tribute to the region?s dominant power, whether
the Burmese king or the governor of Nanchao (Yunnan). Pulled between two
powerful forces, they took to secreting away a portion of their
production to offset taxation and tributes.
Under a royal edict issued in 1597, the local sawbwa?s rule over the
Mogok ruby district was exchanged with the unimportant township of
Tagaung by the Irrawaddy River. The most productive ruby mines in the
world thus became the official property of the ruling Burmese king, and
the gem miners, forbidden from owning gemstones, effectively became his
slaves. All gems of a certain quality and above a certain weight were to
be sent immediately to the royal house. This would be the catalyst for
the most famous gem smuggling operation in Burmese history.
In 1661, a Mogok miner named Nga-Mauk unearthed a huge, stunning ruby
which he then proceeded to cleave in half along a natural crack. He
presented one half to the Burmese king, as per the royal decree, and
sold the other half to the Chinese. Some time later, the wayward half of
the ruby wound up in the king?s possession, as a gift from the Chinese.
Suspicious that the stone so strikingly resembled the ruby he had
received from Nga-Mauk, the king placed the two halves together and saw
that they fit perfectly. Nga-Mauk and his entire family were burned
alive for the crime.
Punitive measures like this did little to deter gem smuggling, though
the story illustrates the dangers involved -- and according to modern
gem smugglers, it?s just as hazardous today as it was back then. A major
reason is that the trade has become linked with the illicit movement of
an even more controversial commodity.
Damon Poeter is a journalist based in Bangkok, Thailand. Ted Themelis is
a gemologist and author.
by damon poeter and ted themelis
Xinhua: Japan to Aid Myanmar Judo Federation
YANGON, July 9 (Xinhua) -- Japan will provide a cultural grant aid for
the Myanmar Judo Federation (MJF) under its official development
assistance (ODA) program, expecting to promote the sports activities in
Myanmar, according to a press release of the Japanese embassy here
Monday. The notes for the supply of judo equipment to the MJF were
signed and exchanged between Japanese ambassador Shigeru Tsumori and
Myanmar Minister of Sports Brigadier General Thura Aye Myint at the
Ministry of Sports here on Monday. Under the Japan's cultural grant aid,
the Japanese government will provide the amount of 40.2 million yens
(326,829 U.S. dollars) for the supply of judo mats, judo uniforms and
training equipment to the MJF. According to Japanese official
statistics, up to 1988, the Japanese government has extended to the
Myanmar government ODA worth of 50 billion yens (426.1 million dollars).
AP: Myanmar dissidents demand release of student prisoners
July 8, 2001
BANGKOK, Thailand (AP) _ Myanmar student dissidents on Saturday urged
the ruling military junta, which is currently holding talks with
opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, to release large numbers of students
jailed for political activities.
The All Burma Federation of Student Unions claimed that ``thousands''
of students are detained in prisons in Myanmar, also known as Burma. It
said student unions are outlawed and can only work as underground
``Although the military regime and Aung San Suu Kyi have been involved
in secret talks, these students have not been released and live in
terrible conditions,'' the ABFSU said in a statement issued in
Since October, the Myanmar government and Suu Kyi have held their most
significant talks in a decade of political deadlock, leading to the
release of dozens of activists from her National League for Democracy.
However, the dialogue has taken place in secret and no details of their
content have emerged. Suu Kyi and her two top aides have been kept under
house detention for nearly ten months.
Suu Kyi's party won general elections in 1990 but was never allowed to
take power by the military, which has ruled since 1962.
The ABFSU demanded the release of its leader Min Ko Naing, whose real
name is Paw U Tun. He was the most prominent student activist involved
in Myanmar's abortive 1988 popular uprising against military rule, in
which hundreds of protesters were gunned down by the army and police.
Min Ko Naing completed his 10 year sentence for agitating unrest more
than two years ago but was not freed.
``As the regime is currently talking about national unity, democracy
and the transitional process, Min Ko Naing and other student activists
should be immediately released,'' the statement said.
According to a U.S. State Department report issued in February, Myanmar
has at least 1,800 political prisoners.
The ABFSU statement marked the 39th anniversary Saturday of the
demolition of the Myanmar students' union building in Yangon on July 7,
1962, during a crackdown on student and other independent organizations
by the military.
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