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Burma Courier No. 182 May 15, 1

Subject: Burma Courier No. 182     May 15, 1999 

Burma Courier No. 182             May 9 - 15, 1999

"I think one dedicated member is worth a thousand wishy-washy ones."
-- Aung San Suu Kyi commenting on the resignation of NLD party members

Political developments

BurmaNews - BC:  May 15, 1999 (based on an AFP report with additions)

RANGOON -- A defiant Aung San Suu Kyi insisted yesterday her opposition
National League for Democracy (NLD) was stronger than ever but admitted
that intense pressure from Burma's military junta had exposed internal
rifts in the party.

"We have stronger public support than ever," she told AFP in her rundown
party headquarters in Rangoon. "Our official apparatus has been affected by
the government, in the sense of forcing our offices to close down. But in
some ways this is, how shall I put it, a kind of test."

Suu Kyi said her party had always had internal difficulties but
acknowledged that many members had found the going "too tough" following a
renewed crackdown in recent months.  

Government media regularly publish news about "resignations" from the NLD's
township branches.  Since last September when the party set up its
Committee to Represent the People's Parliament, nearly 30,000 members
throughout the country have reportedly signed resignation statements.  The
NLD has maintained that the resignations have come about through external
pressures of various kinds, including fear of arrest, or that many of those
purportedly quitting were never full members in the first place.

Suu Kyi admitted the crackdown had taken a toll on the party's membership
and infrastructure but said the NLD would emerge stronger.

"From this it emerges who are the really dedicated members, who are the
really strong ones," she said.  "I think one would have to admit there were
a certain number of opportunists in the NLD.  This is not a bad way of
weeding them out. The ones who are left are the really dedicated ones, who
are committed to the cause of democracy and not to their own cause. I think
one dedicated member is worth a thousand wishy-washy ones."

Meanwhile a public row over a manifesto issued by a group of the party's
MPs disagreeing with its current strategy of openly pushing for convening
of the Parliament elected nine years ago continued in the capital this

On Tuesday, a representative of the dissident group denied that their call
for a change in party strategy had been forced out of them by the military.

Mingaladon MP Tin Tun Maung, who was one of three party members who drafted
the dissent manifesto said that the group did not deserve the harsh rebuke
they had received from the party leadership earlier this month.  He claimed
that they still favoured the party aim of achieving a transition to a
democratic form of government in the country.

''We submitted the proposal to perpetuate the existence of the party, and
not to destroy its unity,'' he said. ''We did it in the best interests of
the party, with our own free will and under the influence of nobody.''

Although 24 NLD MPs originally signed the letter dissenting from party's
strategy of using the Committee to Represent the People's Parliament to
speak and act on behalf of all NLD MPs, only seven or eight were currently
said to be sticking to the dissenters' position.

Hla Soe of the dissenters group claimed the dialogue between the NLD and
the country's military rulers would have taken place long ago if Suu Kyi
and party vice-chair Tin Oo had let other NLD leaders carry it out with
their counsel from the sidelines.

''Tin Oo and Aung San Suu Kyi were expelled from the party when they were
under detention and the government does not recognize them as legal party
leaders,'' he said, referring to the early nineties when the party
functioned without the two leaders.

A junta official was quick to exploit the differences within the party.  He
claimed that the dissent within opposition ranks was not the result of
pressure or co-ercion on the part of the military as claimed by NLD party
leadership, but represented genuine grassroots frustration at the
apparently never ending political stalemate in the country.  He blamed the
divisions within the NLD on the leadership's inflexibility and inability to
meet its promises.

Across Canada

BurmaNews - BC:  May 14, 1999  (Thanks to San Aung of the BSDO)

VANCOUVER -- A group of Burmese student activists will begin a cross-Canada
road trip on Monday to engage support for the convening of Burma's elected

The Vancouver chapter of the Burmese Students' Democratic Organization said
this week that three of its members, Ko Htay Aung, Ko Min San and Ko Aye
Thwin, as well as a driver identified as Cho Cho, will drive across the

country to get to Ottawa, the Canadian capital, on May 27, for the ninth
anniversary of the elections for the Burmese parliament.

The group plans to visit Burmese exile communities in Calgary, Edmonton,
Saskatoon, Winnipeg, Thunder Bay, Toronto and Ottawa in an effort to garner
signatures on a petition calling on the military government of Burma to
summon the never convened parliament.

The petition, addressed to Burma's Head of State, General Than Shwe, will
be delivered to the charge d'affaires in the Burmese embassy in Ottawa. 
The ambassador's post has been vacant since the sudden departure in
February of Dr Kyaw Win for the embassy in London.

The surprise announcement of the students' trip was greeted with pleasure
at the monthly meeting of the Vancouver Burma Round Table and a collection
was taken to help defray the costs of the cross-country trip, after members
took time to add their signatures to the petition that will be carried
across the country.

Persons wishing to get in touch with the caravan or to add their names to
the petition may contact the BSDO secretary, Ko San Aung, at
burmanews@xxxxxxxxx or by writing to him c/o  Vancouver Burma Round Table,
Box 30128, 8602 Granville St., Vancouver V6P 6S3 or by faxing 604-589-0034.


Pu Mang Bur in Chin Forum Information Service No. 2 - 1999

HAKHA -- Chin Christians celebrated the centenary of the arrival of the
first Christian missionaries in Chinland with the baptism of over 700
persons at a giant four day gathering in Hakha town. 

The baptisms formed the climax of the four-day centenary meetings which
took place from April 1 - 4.  The event attracted over 30,000 people to the
Chin capital with many visitors from outside the country and Christians
from other parts of Burma also in attendance.  Hakha Christians opened up
their homes and their food cupboards to provide hospitality to the

Earlier restrictions on the celebration announced by military authorities
were somewhat relaxed for the ceremonies and troops remained quartered in
their barracks, although traffic police had to be stationed all over town
to control the immense flow of cars and busses which jammed the streets.

One of the few hitches in the well-organized four-day program came when a
mass gathering at the inauguration of the centenary was delayed for over an
hour by the failure Head of State Gen Than Shwe and the SPDC Minister of
Religious Affairs General Sein Htwa to show up for the event.  Neither
"dignitary" bothered to reply to invitations to be present.  Their places
at the ribbon cutting ceremony were taken by retired pastor Rev Van Lo --
100 years old -- and Rev Saw Mar Gay Gyi the general secretary of the
Myanma Baptist Convention.  Later 50 women dressed in traditional Chin
costume released a hundred doves into the air to mark the centenary.

Visitors were dazzled by performances of traditional Chin dances from all
the townships of Chinland during the festive gathering.  Singers were in
such abundance that many were disappointed that there was not enough time

for them to get in all the songs they had prepared.  Many were moved to
tears by songs relating to Laura Carlson who with husband Arthur were among
the first missionaries to minister to the Chins.  Preachers, also, were
available in such quantities that separate locations were made available
early in the morning and late at night in the outdoor pavilion where events
were held, so that people could get to hear their favourite speakers.

The whole celebration was video-taped by professional photographers and
edited versions are available from the the head office of the Myanma
Baptist Convention in Rangoon.

Editor's note:  Readers wanting further information about the Chin
Christian centenary and other Chin news should contact Salai Kipp Kho Lian,
editor of the Chin Forum Information Service,  Hasencleverstr. 27 A, 22111
Hamburg Germany Tel: ++49-40-65992572; Fax: ++1-603-258 6106;  Email:

At the borders

Shan Herald:  May 10, 1999  (edited)

CHIANG MAI -- More than a thousand homes and shops were destroyed when the
booming Shan state gem town of Monghsu was swept by fire on March 30.

The fire was reported to have started in the Gem Market in a discotheque
operated by an officer of United Wa State Army (UWSA).

There have been tensions between troops of the UWSA and the Burmese army in
the town, resulting from an incident in February when the Was arrested a
Burmese military vehicle carrying Wa officers who had been placed under
arrest for drug-related offences. Searches carried out in homes in Monghsu
at the time of the incident forced several Wa families to return to
territory on the eastern side of Salween.

Monghsu is one of the main areas for the mining of rubies in Shan state. 
It is located about 80 kilometres north of Kunhing in the northeastern part
of the state.


BurmaNews - BC:  May 15, 1999  (based on an article in The Nation with

MAE SOT -- A spokesman for the Karen National Union (KNU) threatened
yesterday to attack a motor caravan that is currently traveling through
Karen state en route to Rangoon.

The caravan of 13 cars was organized by the Royal Perak Motor Club of
Malaysia and crossed into Burma on Thursday morning over the Friendship
Bridge near Mae Sot.

"The caravan is traveling in a war zone and will be  attacked by the forces
of democracy within the country," said Nerdah Mya, a spokesman for the
Karen National Union (KNU).

The Burmese army is providing security for the group.  According to sources
inside the country, troops have been deployed along every kilometre that
the caravan is scheduled to pass along the route from Myawaddy to Pa'an

Nerdah declined to discuss details but other KNU officials, speaking on
condition of anonymity, said tactical operations could include ambushing
the caravan and even kidnapping the participants.  They doubted the Burmese
army could provide effective security.

"The caravan is a sitting duck," said Nerdah, son of KNU president Bo Mya. 
He said the plan had been drafted at a meeting of the group's military
supreme commander, Tamala Baw, with the commanders of the group's six
brigades at a rebel base near the Thai border this week.

Refugee update

BurmaNews - BC:  May 13, 1999  (based on BKK Post, NGO and S.H.A.N.

BANGKOK -- As many as 100 Karen refugees seeking safety in Thailand after
their village was attacked by troops of the Burmese army were reportedly
sent back across the border in the Suan Phung district of Ratchaburi
province in Thailand.

The refugees, most women, elders and children, crossed into Thailand on May
7 following the attack by the Burmese army in the Mepia area of Tenasserim
division about five kilometres from the border.  They were sent back by
troops of the Thai 9th Infantry Division.  

A second group of about ninety refugees in the same area was permitted to
stay in Thailand after UNHCR intervention. They have been transferred away
from the border to a temporary shelter near Bo Wi in the Suan Phung
district pending further developments.  Aid workers and doctors from
Medicins Sans Frontiers were on standby at the makeshift camp to assist the
refugees who will be sheltered in the camp for about two weeks.

Reports about the situation were somewhat confused with some saying that
troops from the Karen National Union had been engaged with the Burmese army
in Mepia while the refugees themselves said that the KNU was not involved
and that the Bumese army had attacked their village without provocation.

A Thai official said that if the security situation improved, the refugees
would be asked to
return to Burma, but that they would be consulted before any decision was
made.  Security officials monitoring the situation in the area said that
Burmese government troops are likely to step up their attacks in the coming

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

He said that the Burmese had replied their operation would cease for he
time being but that a similar offensive would be launched on a nearby
village before the end of the month.  According to local authorities,
Burmese troops crossed  into Thai territory while chasing the Karen

A Thai defence volunteer lost a leg after stepping on a land-mine allegedly
laid by the  Burmese during their retreat, district officials said.

Further refugee related developments

Meanwhile there are reports that the security situation is very tight in
the Sangkhlaburi area of Kanchanaburi province for Karens in the area.  A
group of over 500 Telekon people who crossed into the northern part of
Kanchanaburi in March have now returned to Karen state.

Almost 5,000 Karen displaced from their homes in the Dawna range were said
to be currently on the Burmese side of the Moei at the camp known as Mae

Hla Po Hta.  They have been provisioned with rice.  A steady trickle of new
arrivals continues to arrive at the Wangka and Mawker camps, but the
removal of these refugees to a new site away from the border at Umpiem Mai
has once again been postponed.

Farther north a large group of 300 persons arrived last Saturday at the
Karenni camp no. 2 at Ban Kwai on May 8.

It has also been reported that as many as 400 Shan villagers fleeing from
fighting between Yordserk's SSA and Burmese troops in  Mong-nai,
Keng-tawng, Lang-kher and Mong-pan townships crossed into northern Thailand
on April 22.  The refugees had earlier been detained at a Burmese military
camp at Na-kawng-mu, Mong-ton Township, where eleven of their number,
accused of aiding Shan insurgents, were beaten to death on April 13 and 14.

On a happier note the rainy season has started much earlier this year,
bringing relief to the drought-stricken border areas.   

The bottom line


RANGOON, May 14 (AFP) --  Burma's military junta will not accept
international aid if it has political strings attached, such as a dialogue
with the pro-democracy opposition led by Aung San Suu Kyi, a junta official

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.

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)
party.  Diplomats 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.

Burma's economy has been stripped bare by the 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."

Learning curve

BurmaNews - BC:  May 15, 1999  (based on Reuters and ABSFU reports)

Student leaders flee to Thai-Burma border

RANGOON -- Burma's military government has allowed classes to resume for
first-year medical students for the first time since 1996, when it shut
down universities after student unrest.

"First-year classes were opened at three medical institutes, the Institute
of Dental Medicine, the Institute of Paramedical Sciences, and the

Institute of Pharmacy last week,'' a Health Ministry official told Reuters
on Tuesday. 

He said nearly 750 students had been admitted to the first-year classes in
Rangoon and Mandalay and were "peacefully and eagerly pursuing their
studies.'' Official media has made no mention of the reopening of the

The government closed about 30 universities and colleges in mid-December
1996 following the biggest student demonstrations seen in Rangoon since a
nationwide pro-democracy uprising crushed by the military in 1988. 
Although higher year medical classes resumed some time ago, most
universities and colleges under the Ministry of Education remain closed,
keeping an estimated 300,000 students away from classes.

Meanwhile, the All Burma Federation of Student Unions (ABFSU) reports that
two of the students most active in organizing the 1996 demonstrations have
arrived at the Thai-Burma border after being in hiding for some months.

Maung Win Naing, a first year Physics major at the Hlaing Campus of Rangoon
U and Maung Maung Htwe, a second year Math student on the same campus, were
members of a student cell group organized after the 1996 demonstrations and
assumed a leading role in organizing student demonstrations that took place
in Rangoon in August and September last year.

In January, it was reported that 270 of those involved in the 1998
demonstrations had been sentenced to long prison terms.

Rights watch

The Nation: May 15, 1999  (edited)

RANGOON -- The boss of Burma's military intelligence, Gen Khin Nyunt, said
yesterday charges that the military rulers use forced labour were

He said allegations of forced labour in Burma are largely a result of
misunderstandings about the situation and mentality of its people, and
repeated the military government's insistence that citizens "voluntarily"
contributed labour to infrastructure projects.

However, in order to dispel "wrong impression", instructions had been
given, he said, that only paid labour would be used for such projects in
the future.

"In our efforts to improve our infrastructure, the building of roads,
bridges, rail networks, dams and reservoirs have been undertaken, and
realizing the benefits to the community, people have voluntarily
contributed labour," Khin Nyunt said at the opening of a meeting of ASEAN
labour ministers in Rangoon. "In Myanma thinking, contribution of labour
not only brings immediate material benefit in the present life, but also
merit for future life cycles."

He said ASEAN would not allow bodies such as the International Labour
Organisation (ILO) to dictate labour standards. "We fully endorse the
common stand of ASEAN that the ILO convention [on the fundamental rights of
workers] is voluntary and should be achieved through promotional means and
based on the stage of development of each member state," he said. 

Burma has been widely condemned by governments and non-government
organizations around the world which claim it is guilty of using forced
labour and other gross human rights abuses. 

Earlier this week, Amnesty International and the International
Confederation of Free Trade Unions (ICFTU) accused the ruling junta of
forcing men women and children to work as slaves, often for the military in
front-line situations. They said people have worked on infrastructure
projects in-Burma for no pay and that the workers said their participation
was not voluntary. Some said they were taken to work at gunpoint by
soldiers. Others cited threats by the military.

Human rights and labour groups said they have countless first-hand accounts
and witnesses to prove the allegations of forced labour. The ICFTU
estimated that 800,000 Burmese of divergent ethnic nationalities were being
forced to work across the country.

Last year, the ILO accused Burma of systematic and widespread forced labour
"with total disregard for human dignity". It said the army forced women,
children and the elderly to work and that soldiers raped and sexually
abused women. An ILO commission of inquiry said Burma was "guilty of an
international crime that is also, if committed in a widespread or
systematic manner, crime against humanity".

But Khin Nyunt said: "If one is to believe some of the allegations found in
the Western media, the picture would be rather somber indeed.  We feel very
strongly that these allegations are largely a misunderstanding of the
situation and the mentality of our people."

The Burmese general said most work on these projects was done by military
personnel now that peace has returned to the country. "Therefore, the
allegations of forced labour are groundless," he maintained. 


BurmaNews - BC:  May 11, 1999  (Thanks to Corinne of CFOB)

TORONTO -- A nurse from British Columbia has urged the Canadian labour
movement not to ignore the struggling workers of Burma.

Dierdre Pearson told more than 2,500 delegates and observers at the
triennial convention of the Canadian Labour Congress in session in Toronto
last week that even though Burma's ruling junta has ratified Convention 87
of the International Labour Organization (ILO) which establishes workers'
rights to organize, unions are not permitted in the military ruled country.

She was speaking on behalf of a delegation from the Canadian Friends of
Burma including Corinne Baumgarten and Elizabeth Shepherd, members of the
Burmese Students' Democratic Organization and other friends of Free Burma
who were present at the convention.  Among the 40 international delegates
invited by the CLC was U Maung Maung, general secretary of the Free Trade
Unions of Burma who assisted the CFOB in preparing the statement read into
the record of proceedings by Dierdre Pearson.

Pearson told the delegates that an exhaustive investigation completed in
1998 by a Commission of Inquiry appointed by the ILO had confirmed
widespread abuses of workers' rights in Burma including the use of forced
labour frequently accompanied by extortion, threats, beatings, torture,
rape and even murder. 

The BC nurse also told the convention about a community action group from
BC's Sunshine Coast she is involved with that provides medical supplies to

Dr. Cynthia's clinic in Mae Sot.  She urged Canadian workers to find
concrete ways of expressing their solidarity with the "struggling workers"
of Burma that would match what the CLC had done some years ago in the case
of South Africa.


Shan Human Rights Foundation:  April 1999 report (edited)

Murder of over twenty Kun-hing township villagers reported in April

CHIANG MAI -- Children as young as seven and eight years old are being used
to break stones used in upgrading highways in the Kun-hing area of central
Shan state.

The April bulletin of the Shan Human Rights Foundation that Burmese Army
reports that  troops from brigades 246 and 524 garrisoned in Kunhing have
been forcing persons from the villages of Sai Khao, Kaeng Kham and Kaeng
Lom to prepare the stones used in the paving of the highway between
Nam-zarng to the west and Kaeng-tung to the east of Kun-hing.

According to reports reaching the SHRF, the troops who came to collect the
villagers to work on the highway said that since the children had no school
to attend and nothing else to do, they must be made to work.  Almost 200
children, including seven and eight year olds, are being forced to split
the stones.

The same bulletin gives an account of the grisly slaying of 15 fishermen
originally from the village of Ho Yaan who were living in the same
relocation site as the children in the outskirts of Kun-hing.  Accustomed
to making their living from fishing in Nam Paang river, the villagers
decided to supplement their meager food rations by returning to the river
to fish for several days in the second week of April.  

While distributing their catch on April 9, they were surrounded by a column
of approximately 80 soldiers from Brigade 524 who tied them up and beat and
interrogated them, accusing them of providing food and assistance to Shan
insurgent troops operating in the area.  When the beatings failed to obtain
confessions, they were increased in intensity until the fifteen died.   
Afterwards their bodies were dumped in the Nam Paang river.

Later, when the column from Brigade 524 returned to Kun-hing, they notices
were posted offering to provide permits to those who wanted to fish in the
Nam Paang.  A group of able-bodied young who applied for the passes on
April 10 was detained at the base and no further word is available as to
their whereabouts at the present time.  

A further report from the Kun-hing township says that troop led by Maj Nyi
Tin from Brigade 246 killed the following persons, all males on April 11:
Phaw-Ka, 37, Kan-Ta-Maa, 30, Ai Taan, 16, and Saw-Ka, 36,all  from Wan Hai
village, Ton Hoong Long tract; Loong Myaat, 70, from Nam Hoo Oon village,
Ton Hoong Long tract;  Loong Lu, 40, and Kaw-Ta, 35, both from Paa Moi
village, Naa Poi tract.  No further details are available about their
deaths at the present time.


Visiting Hours 

Visiting Hours this week is going to Mandalay Prison to meet with 93
year-old U Chit Thaung, a prisoner of conscience of Amnesty International. 

For more information about U Chit Thaung consult the following web-site: 
<http:// angelfire.com/al/homepageas/
To find out what you do about political prisoners like U Chit Thaung
contact Anja Sloot, AI's Burma co-ordinator in Holland:

U Chit Thaung, a 93-year-old ethnic Padaung, has reportedly been
continuously detained without charge or trial since July 1989. Before that,
he was held for two months from September 1988, during which he was
apparently so severely beaten that he required hospitalization for a month
following his release. He was reportedly arrested for his involvement in
demonstrations that summer; he had been an advisor for the strike
committees in both Mawchi and Phazaung townships. He later became the
National League for Democracy representative for Kayah State.

 U Chit Thaung is said to be in poor health due to his age and the beatings
inflicted on him during his previous detention.

 A veteran political activist, who is said to have been imprisoned at least
ten times since 1962, he is known by his nickname, "U Chit Thaung" - "one
who loves prisons". During the first demonstrations in Mawchi township he
told a colleague: 

"I am old. I have been waiting for 26 years waiting to establish democracy
in our country. Now the time has come to stand up for democracy. We must
take up this chance and stand up for our rights and the establishment of
democracy in Burma."  Honour to U Chit Thaung!

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