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The BurmaNet News: May 18, 1999

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

The BurmaNet News: May 18, 1999
Issue #1273


April 1999 

On 10.4.99, a Shan woman and her daughter were accused of carrying rice for
the Shan soldiers, raped and killed by a commander of SPDC (State Peace and
Development Council) troops in Murng-Nai township. Naang Thuay, aged 37,
and her daughter, Naang Awng, aged 19, from Kun Mong village were raped and
killed by Maj Khin Maung Lay and his troops from Company No.1 of LIB422,
near Kung Nyawng village, 3 miles north of Kun Mong, between Kaeng Tawng
and Kun-Hing. On that day, Maj Khin Maung Lay and 25 troops, with 5
civilian porters from Kun Mong village, were going from Kun-Hing township
toward Kaeng Tawng in Murng-Nai township. The troops met the women on the
way, stopped them and search all their belongings. When the soldiers found
small packets of rice in their shoulder bags, which were actually their day
meals, they accused the women of carrying the rice with the intention to
give to the Shan soldiers. According to one of the porters who had
witnessed the horrible event, and lately fled to the Thai border, the 2
women were just going to their farm when they ran into the SPDC troops.


17 May, 1999 


Burma is at a crisis point, with soaring inflation, collapsing health
services and an uneducated generation of young people with little hope for
the future, opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi said.

But, in an interview last week, she insisted it was a fallacy to think that
she, or even her National League for Democracy (NLD), could break the
military's stranglehold on power and give people the democracy they voted
for overwhelmingly in 1990.

"I don't think I myself alone can do anything. I think this is a fallacy to
think that one person or even one organisation can change a whole society,"
she said at her dilapidated party headquarters.

In 1990, two years after the military killed thousands of protesters during
a pro-democracy uprising, her party won a landslide victory in Burma's
first democratic election in almost 30 years.

But the junta has refused to give up power, saying it must first draft a
constitution through a convention of handpicked supporters.

"We never look back. There are many differences between 1988 and now.
Everything is worse now than it was in 1988," Ms Aung San Suu Kyi said.

"Every day that the country deteriorates, the credibility and the
respectability of the authorities suffer."

Hundreds of NLD members have been imprisoned, detained or have died under
duress since the election. Ms Aung San Suu Kyi's personal freedoms of
movement, association and speech have been severely curtailed and her house
is under constant military surveillance.

No one doubts her moral commitment, but observers in Rangoon are beginning
to question whether Ms Aung San Suu Kyi has the political strength and
versatility to win her protracted battle against the military.

An estimated 26,000 NLD members and 18 MPs have been coaxed into
"resigning" from the party since the latest government crackdown began late
last year.

More than 50 party offices have been closed.

The junta's latest bid to break Ms Aung San Suu Kyi's spirit was to deny
her British husband a visa to see her one last time before he died of
cancer in March. She did not want to leave Burma, fearful she would not be
allowed back in.

Despite everything, she expects the people to share her commitment to the
democratic cause.

"I think everybody in this country has a responsibility to get things
moving," the 1991 Nobel Peace laureate said.

"This is what I keep saying to them, they can't just depend on me. You have
to do your own bit . . . the longer [democracy] takes, the better for them
to face this fact that they've got to do it themselves."

Many diplomats in Rangoon disagree with Ms Aung San Suu Kyi's analysis,
saying the NLD is running out of options.

Last week a group of NLD MPs held a government-sanctioned press conference
to call on the party to start a dialogue with the junta.

Ms Aung San Suu Kyi dismissed them as "collaborators" and said the junta
had no interest in talking.

"Our impression is that there's some genuine disenchantment within the NLD,
and some genuine oppression by the Government as well," one Western envoy

"But if you ask the NLD for some policies you'll get nothing."

An Asian diplomat said the Government's "war of attrition" against the NLD
appeared to be having a measure of success.

"Maybe she has not lost heart and the core of the party has not lost heart,
but a lot of people are just finding it very, very difficult to continue
when their careers are on the line and their families need to be fed," he


13 May, 1999 

In Burma, free speech is so restricted that even a collection of poems
honouring Michael Aris -- the deceased husband of opposition leader Aung
San Suu Kyi -- is confiscated and the authors threatened.  But two other
recent publications can be found almost everywhere.  The booklets don't
indicate where they were printed or who wrote them, but they share a basic
message: Muslims are about to subvert all other religions.  The anti-Muslim
booklets tell how this has happened in Iraq and Indonesia, and how Muslims
in Burma are about to turn the country into an Islamic state. Many Buddhist
monks are said to be taking the propaganda seriously, while more neutral
Rangoon residents note that the booklets are being distributed through the
networks of the Union Solidarity and Development Association, the junta's
mass organization.  Muslims have been made scapegoats for the government's
economic failures before, and Burma is presently going through its worst
economic crisis since the 1970's.


14 May, 1999 by David Brunnstrom

MONGLA, Myanmar, May 14 (Reuters) - Sai Lin, an ethnic leader accused by
the United States of heroin trafficking, says he picked the wrong time to
get into sugar.

In 1997, his Eastern Shan State Army declared the area around this town on
Myanmar's China border "opium free."

Last year, it established a sugar mill capable of producing 70 tonnes a day
to promote a cash-crop alternative to opium. But now it is stuck with 3,000
tonnes of unsold sugar thanks to global oversupply.

"In the past two years we have been facing many problems and we have been
working very hard to overcome them to maintain what we declared in 1997,"
Sai Lin said.

He spoke to foreign journalists during a recent visit arranged by Myanmar's
military government to areas controlled by ethnic armies with which it
signed ceasefires 10 years ago.

Yangon, criticised abroad for not doing enough to fight drugs and by some
of colluding in the trade, is anxious to publicise and obtain more funding
for eradication efforts.

Colonel Kyaw Thein, of Myanmar's Committee for Drug Abuse Control, said the
problems with the U.N.-recommended project showed the difficulties of
establishing alternatives to opium.

Other substitution efforts are under way, including one to produce
buckwheat which Japan has promised to buy. But even at the best of times
such crops can never be as profitable as opium.


Shan State tribes have grown the drug for over a century and in many
respects it is the ideal crop for the terrain. In the wooded highlands,
peoples like the Akha tribe must scrape a living from a few scraps of land
suitable for cultivation.

Opium is easily transported and can earn a remote village $50 a kg whereas
raw sugar cane sells for less than $20 a tonne.

Since 1989, Myanmar has signed peace agreements with 17 ethnic minority
groups like Sai Lin's which continue to administer their own zones and
maintain armed forces.

Yangon insists it is doing its best to encourage opium eradication in such
areas and claims some success despite accusations that its ceasefires have
facilitated, not cut, heroin output.

It has pledged total opium eradication countrywide by 2014 but says it
could be done sooner if countries like the United States, which has imposed
sanctions on Yangon because of its human rights record, provided sufficient

The latest U.S. Narcotics Control Strategy Report, which identifies Myanmar
as still the world's largest source of illicit opium and heroin, says the
ceasefire pacts involve implicit tolerance of continued involvement in

Myanmar rejects any complicity and says it is working hard at interdiction
of opium from minority areas. But it is leaving ethnic groups to suppress
production themselves.

The United Wa State Army (UWSA) has pledged to eradicate opium by 2005.
"They have told us cultivation has been going on more than a century and
said 'can't you be a bit more patient with us?"' said Kyaw Thein.

UWSA leader Pau Yuqiang rejected U.S. accusations that he is involved in
the heroin trade or that his group's development programmes are financed
with drug money.

Myanmar officials say ethnic groups tax the movement of opium, not by
selling it or heroin. Kyaw Thein declined to point a finger at any
ceasefire group when asked who did trade heroin.


"We are at a loss about that," he said. "But I think the real culprits are
Chinese organised crime groups. They are very secretive and we don't know
who is actually doing the trade."

Diplomats called Sai Lin's claim to a drug-free zone disingenuous and the
U.S. report puts him at the top of a list of ethnic leaders believed to be
involved in heroin trafficking.

"There are a lot of half-truths, a Yangon-based diplomat said.

"They are in the transit business rather than production, so it's easy to
say they are opium free. They are still involved, but at the same time I do
think they are trying to get out."

The ethnic leaders rejected suggestions that drug profits had been ploughed
into infrastructure projects.

Certainly though, the decade since the ceasefire has brought a remarkable
gloss of prosperity to Mongla and the Wa headquarters at Pangsang further
north, including miles of road, new power plants, swanky villas and
fledgling shopping centres.

In Pangsang, dozens upon dozens of brand-new Japanese four-wheel-drive cars
ferried delegates to a late-April celebration to mark the 10th anniversary
of the Wa ceasefire.

Sai Lin and Pau Yuqiang insisted their income sources were legitimate. They
cited tourism as a big earner with Mongla receiving 500,000 Chinese
visitors annually and Pangsang 500 a day. Sai Lin said his area also had
manganese deposits.

Pau Yuqiang said the Wa had cut opium output 30 percent in the past four
years and the group's spokesman, Sam Khum, said production was limited to
nine of 27 townships in the region.

Yangon says the Wa have taken aboard the drugs message, but even it remains
sceptical about the rosy eradication claims.

"They understand they have to stop poppy cultivation because they are being
given a very bad name in the world community," Kyaw Thein said.

"They say they don't want to maintain that bad name and have to be more
serious now. There's been some decrease, but you can't say it's been a
significant decrease."


16 May, 1999 



Interior Minister Sanan Kachornprasart should order the closure of a
temporary border checkpoint in Chiang Saen district because gamblers and
not local people would directly benefit from a casino on the Burmese side,
according to provincial MP Samphan Lertnuwat.

Mr Samphan, an MP from New Aspiration Party's Wang Nam Yen faction, urged
Maj-Gen Sanan to call for a review of Chiang Rai Governor Vicharn
Chaiyanant's order to open the temporary checkpoint.

The checkpoint is located at Ban Sopruek in Chiang Saen where Ruek River
forms a natural border between Thailand and Burma.

A floating landing is being constructed to facilitate the crossing of Ruek

The casino - known among local villagers as the Samliem Thongkham (Golden
Triangle) Casino and located inside a nearly completed four-storey building
which includes a hotel and nightclubs - is about one km away from the

The casino is part of a project called Golden Triangle and Paradise Resort
initiated during the late Gen Chatchai Choonhavan's administration in 1990,
aimed to promote tourism in the Golden Triangle.

"Is such a temporary checkpoint really beneficial to Chiang Rai people when
it is located right at the casino site?" the MP said.

He said the casino's operators and gamblers would benefit from the
temporary checkpoint, which has been open since last October to facilitate
local trading.

Mr Samphan, who will run in Chiang Saen constituency in the next election,
was quite optimistic that the interior minister would review the order once
he was made aware of the new development in the area.

The casino is reportedly operated by Prasit Posuthon, older brother of Mr
Prapat, the deputy interior minister and Chart Thai MP from Suphanburi.

It is also reported that Mr Prasit plans to have his son Mr Vithawas run
for an MP seat in the Chiang Saen constituency in the next election.

Chiang Rai Governor Vicharn earlier defended his decision to open the
checkpoint at Ban Sopruek, saying local trading was the main consideration
for its opening.

The governor said the decision was jointly made by the provincial border
committee, which had also got approval from the  interior ministry, saying
that it had nothing to do with the gambling den on the other side of the

The governor said he had no idea of the purpose for the construction of the
four-storey building, adding he had no authority to do anything if the
building was really a gambling den as widely speculated.

The governor said the temporary checkpoint could be ordered closure any
time depending on suitability.

Meanwhile, Yongyuth Tiyapairath, another provincial MP from the Democrat
Party, felt Mr Samphan's move was quite unusual and politically motivated.

Mr Yongyuth said Mr Samphan could lose his MP seat if Mr Prasit decided to
field his son Mr Vithawas in Chiang Saen constituency since the latter was
a wellknown businessman.

"Khun Samphan is quite unhappy as he is aware that Mr Prasit's son might
contest in Chiang Saen," noted the Democrat MP.

He said the claim that the checkpoint at Sopruek River would promote
gambling among the local people was absolutely illogical.

"If so, then the government should also order the closure of Mae Sai border
pass as another gambling den is also located on the other side of the
border there," he said.

Mr Yongyuth said it was quite unusual that Mr Samphan had not also demanded
for the closure of two other checkpoints in Mae Sai district which were
widely known as drug trafficking routes.

"One of the two temporary checkpoints is being controlled by an influential
kamnan who is close to Khun Samphan," Mr Yongyuth said.

There was speculation the casino may open early next month as Burmese
labourers were seen working around the-clock to complete the building
across the border.


16 May, 1999 

YANGON (May 16) XINHUA - Myanmar and Brunei Darussalam Saturday signed here
a memorandum of understanding (MOU) on bilateral cooperation in
information, radio and TV between the two countries, according to the
official paper The New Light of Myanmar Sunday.

The MOU was signed by Myanmar Deputy Minister for Information Brigadier
General Aung Thein and Special Adviser to the King of Brunei Darussalam and
Minister of Home Affairs Pehin Dato Haji Isa Ibrahim.

Since Myanmar was admitted to the Association of Southeast Asian Nations
(ASEAN) in July 1997, Myanmar-Brunei bilateral ties have been strengthened
through exchange of visits by the two countries' top leaders.

In April last year, Senior General Than Shwe, chairman of the Myanmar State
Peace and Development Council, visited Brunei and one month later Brunei
Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah came to Yangon for a state visit, during which the
two countries agreed to set up a joint commission for bilateral cooperation
and to mutually grant exemption of visas to each other's citizens holding
diplomatic and official passports.