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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 _______________

*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

MONEY _______
*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 
was well. 
 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 
house arrest. 

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 
the military. 

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 
new elections. 

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 
neighboring countries. 

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  


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

June 2001

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 world.

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 
global market.

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

___________________ REGIONAL/INTERNATIONAL___________________

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 
neighboring Thailand. 
 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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