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The BurmaNet News: May 14, 1999

------------------------ BurmaNet ------------------------
"Appropriate Information Technologies, Practical Strategies"

The BurmaNet News: May 14, 1999
Issue #1271


13 May, 1999  

RANGOON -An Asean labour ministers' meeting here this week will place
military -run Burma squarely in the spotlight of an organisation it joined
so contentiously two years ago, officials said yesterday.

Even before the arrival today of the region's labour ministers, junta
officials here are hailing the event as Burma's coming of age in the
Association of Southeast Asian Nations.

"We have been given the chance to prove ourselves, that we can handle all
these meetings because we have the infrastructure here," junta spokesman Lt
Col Hla Min. said.

"We're glad that people can come here because seeing is believing."

The ministers' meeting tomorrow will be the first top-level Asean function
to be held in Burma since it became a member in the face of strong
opposition from the United States and Europe in 1997.

Labour officials from the 10 Asean nations have been meeting in Rangoon
throughout the week in preparation for tomorrow's talks, likely to focus on
the effect of Asia's economic crisis on the region's human resources.

Hla Min said that even though Burma had little to discuss given the state
of the local economy and the withering effect of Western economic
sanctions, the conference was a coup for the junta.

She delegates in town this week have said they have been very impressed
with our facilities - everything has run smoothly," he said.

Diplomats here offer a slightly less glowing report card of Asean's
membership so far, saying the grouping has had its fingers burnt since
inviting Burma into the "brotherhood", especially over its rogue status in
the international community.

The junta is reviled in the West which accuses it of gross human rights of
harbouring drug lords.

It is also repeatedly called on to respect the results of a 1990 election
won in a landslide by the National League for Democracy party led by Nobel
laureate Aung San Suu Kyi.

Diplomats cite the breakdown in formal contacts between Asean and the
European Union since Burma's entry as the most obvious manifestation of the
difficulties Asean has faced with Burma under its wing.

The two blocs have not met officially in two years and arrangements for
even low level talks are poisoned by the EU's refusal to meet Burmese
representatives on equal terms.

A "renewal of dialogue" is expected later this month when an Asean-EU Joint
Cooperation Committee (JCC) meeting is expected to take place in Bangkok,
with Burma taking a back seat.

The junta, known as the State Peace and Development Council, hoped its
membership in Asean would open the floodgates of desperately needed foreign
investment as well as give it some credibility in diplomatic circles.

But most analysts agree the move has been a disappointment, with investment
at a standstill amid Asia's financial crisis and international condemnation
of the junta's alleged human rights abuses continuing unabated.

"No one has made any money investing in Burma. In fact a lot of people have
lost money," one foreign diplomat said.

Burma has also stretched Asean's vaunted unity, with the group's code of
noninterference in one another's affairs being vigorously questioned by its
more democratic members such as Thailand and the Philippines.


14 May, 1999

RANGOON - Burma will not accept international aid if it has political
strings attached, such as a dialogue with the prodemocracy opposition led
by Aung San Suu Kyi, a junta official said.

Junta spokesman Lt Col Hla Min said international agencies including the
World Bank had not officially offered Burma non-humanitarian aid in
exchange for reconciliation, but he understood such ideas were being

"They [the World Bank] have not officially come out with anything like
that, but by reading through the media we have a feeling that there is a
carrot with a hidden stick," he said late on Wednesday.

He was referring to reports last year that the World Bank was considering
offering Rangoon US$1 billion in development aid in a trade-off for talks
between the junta and the opposition National League for Democracy (NLD)

The NLD won the 1990 elections with a landslide but has never been allowed
to form a government and has been locked in a bitter political feud with
the military authorities ever since.

Diplomats here said the aid-for-talks idea had been floated last year but
was now "in limbo". They said no formal offer had been made and the one
billion dollar figure was speculation.

"There are some people, particularly in the United States, who won't have
anything to do with this government at all," one source said.

Burma's  economy has been stripped bare by regional economic crisis and
Western sanctions, with foreign investment well down on the levels of the
early 1990s when the junta opened up the country following years of
diplomatic isolation.

HIa Min said help was not welcome if it was conditional on changes to the
country's internal affairs.

"We will never take anything if there are strings attached," he said.

"It's much better to stand on your own feet if you believe that the
assistance is not sincere."


14 May, 1999 by Yindee Lertcharoenchok

INTERNATIONAL labour and human rights groups have urged Southeast Asian
countries to discuss and look into "systematic" use of forced labour in
Burma, the country chosen to host a two-day Asean labour meeting beginning

In a press statement, the Brussels-based International Confederation of
Free Trade Unions (ICFTU) said it had early this month submitted to the
International Labour Organisation (ILO) a 15-page report, supplemented by
900 pages of fresh evidence of forced labour in Burma.

The allegations, it said, were drawn from over 14 different sources,
including the United Nations as well as state and non-state agencies. The
report "strongly" alleged the Burmese junta was continuing the use of
forced labour throughout the country, a practice "which under international
law is tantamount to slavery', added the statement.

The ICFTU, whose allegations against Burma in 1995 later led to the
European Union's cancellation of trade preferences for Burma's exports in
1997, estimated that over 800,000 Burmese were still victims of forced labour.

Its latest report is designed to help the ILO "assess what measures can be
taken in order to force Burma's authorities" to comply with international
labour standards, said the statement.

The ILO's Commission of Inquiry, established in June 1996 after the ICFTU
complaints, released its findings last August, accusing the Burmese regime
of "condoning crimes against humanity by resorting on a massive scale to
forced labour in its running of the country's economy". It found the
military government "guilty of an international crime that is also, if
committed in a widespread or systematic manner, a crime against humanity".

In a similar criticism against the Burmese forced labour practices, London
based Amnesty International has questioned Asean's decision to hold the
labour meeting in "a country where thousands of people are routinely seized
and forced to work against their will, and trade unionists are jailed".

Similar to the calls by exiled Burmese dissidents, the labour and human
rights groups urged Asean la our ministers to focus talks on the junta's
use of forced labour and repression of trade union rights.

The Asean meeting takes place less than 10 days before the ILO's newly
appointed director general Juan Somavia is to report on the Burmese situation.

"That Asean labour ministers should even consider meeting on an equal
footing with Burma's generals in their bunker-like capital is an insult to
the international community in general, and to the Burmese people in
particular," said ICFTU general secretary Bill Jordan in the statement.

"By allowing forced labour to continue unabated, Burma's military clique
keeps seeing the country's entire population as a bottomless reservoir of
free manpower and, in doing so, treats the ILO and its supervisory bodies
with utter contempt."

The latest report of the ICFTU, which groups 213 national trade unions in
143 countries representing 124 million workers, provided, among other
things, firsthand accounts and eye-witness interviews of those who were
abused or witnessed the forced labour practices.

It also provided names of Burmese officers, their Army units, and the
patterns of their abuses against civilians of various ethnic nationalities.

Amnesty International said that forced labour in Burma was not a new
phenomenon and that it had documented the practice for over 10 years.
"During the last seven years the scale of forced labour has increased
dramatically, involving hundreds of thousands of civilians, including
criminal and political prisoners."     


13 May, 1999 by Don Pathan

SUAN PHUNG, Ratehaburi- Thai authorities have moved nearly 100 Karen
refugees from Burma to a makeshift camp deeper inside Thai territory to
avoid possible attack by Burmese government soldiers who have stepped up
their offensive on the ethnic group in recent weeks.

The Karen refugees who fled attacks by two Burmese army battalions last
Friday had taken refuge at Ratchaburi's Ban Pulakam village until yesterday
when provincial authorities transported them to a temporary shelter in Suan
Phung district.

The refugees and Thai security officers said they were confused as to why
the government troops had launched such a heavy attack against their
village. There were no Karen rebel soldiers in the area to provoke the
government soldiers.

Aid workers, including the UN High Commissioner for Refugees and doctors
from Medicins Sans Frontiers, were on standby at the makeshift camp to
assist the refugees, most of whom are women and children.

According to Pongsathorn Srisakorn, Suan Phung's assistant district chief
the refugees will be sheltered in the camp for about two weeks.

"Afterwards, if the security situation improves, they will be asked to
return to Burma. The army, provincial officers, and the refugees themselves
will be consulted before any decision is made," Phongsathorn said.

But according to security officials monitoring the situation in the area,
Burmese government troops are likely to step up their attacks on a nearby
Karen village in the coming weeks.

"We have to ask the Burmese to cease their attacks on the Karen villagers
as their (refugees) presence is becoming a burden for local government
agencies," said one officer who had negotiated with the Burmese troops.

"Their response was that they will cease their operation for the time being
but stated that a similar offensive will be launched on a nearby village
within this month," added the officer who sought anonymity.

According to local authorities, Burmese troops had crossed over into the
Thai side last Friday while chasing the Karen villagers.

A local defence volunteer lost a leg after stepping on a land-mine
allegedly laid by Burmese government troops last Friday during their
retreat, district officials said.

The trooper was on patrol near Ban Palukham, about two kilometres from the
border, when he stepped on the mine, they said.

It was reported last week that Thai army chief Gen Surayuth Julanont was
planning to lead a rally through the region to help promote tourism in
Burma and to survey a planned road from Thailand's Kanchanaburi province to
Burma's Tavoy coastal city. The planned road trip was cancelled last week
but no explanation was given.

The army officers said the attacks on Karen and other ethnic group is part
of on-going efforts by Burmese government troops to gain complete control
of the Thai-Burma border.

The Burmese military government has over the past years relocated minority
groups along its eastern border to an area under its direct control. The
aim is cut off all possible support to armed rebel groups.


13 May, 1999 by Supamart Kasem

Thai troops engaged guerrillas of the pro-Rangoon Democratic Karen Buddhist
Army in a 10-minute gun battle along the border in Phop Phra district, as
villagers fled the area in panic, on Tuesday.

The exchange involved soldiers from the 722nd Infantry Company and an
estimated 50 DKBA troops, who were across the border from Ban Waleh.

There were no casualties.

Earlier, the DKBA guerrillas had fired shots into Thailand. Two police
officers were sent to find out what had happened, officials said.

Three of the DKBA men had crossed into Thailand and forced the two
policemen to lay down their guns. The police officers fled. The DKBA
soldiers fired at them but missed, officials said.

The Karen then retreated into Burma.

Soon afterwards Thai troops arrived at the scene and exchanged gun fire
with the DKBA across the border.

The guerrillas later withdrew from the area after Thai authorities agreed
to return a car seized by Thai immigration officials in Mae Sot from one of
their leaders, Naka Mwe.


14 May, 1999 by Wassana Nanuam


Measures will be stepped up by the three armed forces and the Royal Police
Office to take serious action against foreign invaders following 11
intrusions into Thailand by foreign troops.

Supreme Commander Gen Mongkol Ampornpisit said the armed forces and the
Royal Police Office were so concerned with the violation of Thailand's
sovereignty by foreign guerrillas after the encroachments on Thai soil that
they agreed to come up with measures to ensure safety for people in border

He said Thailand had already protested about the intrusions with a
neighbouring country - apparently referring to Burma - using diplomatic
means but the government of that country had claimed it could not control
all areas.

Gen Mongkol also urged people to provide officials with information about
encroachments or attacks by foreign troops to prevent the repeat of an
incident like the recent attack on Nam Piang Din police station in Mae Hong

Gen Mongkol said: "The armed forces and police must do their best to
protect and preserve the sovereignty of our country.

"I cannot say which country those assailants came from as we still need
clear evidence to identify them.

"I can only say the attack was done by unidentified foreign troops. But I
insist that the armed forces will not let it happen again."

The supreme commander, army commander-in-chief Gen Surayud Chulanont, navy
commander-in-chief Admiral Thira Haocharoen, air force commander-in-chief
ACM Thananit Niemthan and national police chief Pol Gen Pracha Promnok met
yesterday to discuss border problems.

Gen Mongkol also said the army will go ahead with a programme to set up
more self-defence villages along the border after the establishment of more
than 500 such villages.

He said Prime Minister Chuan Leekpai, in his dual role as defence S
minister, had told the armed forces to speed up spending of the 281-million
baht borrowed from Japan's Miyazawa Fund for military affairs.


14 May, 1999 by Supamart Kasem

Burmese authorities are providing security for a trans-national trip of the
Royal Perak Motor Club from Malaysia as its caravan of 13 cars entered
Burmese territory from Thailand's Tak province yesterday morning.

Thai tourism authorities expect the trip to help promote the Thai-Burmese
Friendship Bridge.

According to Pol Lt-Col Phayoong Veeranoi, deputy chief of the immigration
police in Tak, Burmese authorities have informed Thai counterparts that
security is being provided for the caravan led by Royal Perak Motor Club
director Douglas Choong.

The anti-Rangoon Karen National Union had earlier warned about the safety
of the caravan which is to spend 12 days on Burmese soil. Thai source said
Rangoon has mobilised troops to secure every kilometre of the route.