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The BurmaNet News: May 24, 1999

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

The BurmaNet News: May 24, 1999
Issue #1277

Noted in Passing: " The government may be a military junta, but they are
also Buddhist, guided by the principles of love and compassion." -Khin
Maung Thein, Myanmar ambassador to Japan (see REUTERS: MYANMAR CRITICIZES

NLD: STATEMENT 64 (5/99) 

7 May, 1999 

1. It has been reported to us that in Sagaing Division, Wuntho township,
because of the practice of forced labour and illegal demands for money the
people are overburdened and are deeply distressed.

2.  U Than Tun, the previous Chairman of the Peace and Development Council
of Wuntho township demanded Kyats 300/- from about ten thousand households
collecting a total sum of thirty lakhs allegedly to purchase a fire engine
which was never bought nor has there been any accounting for the money.

3.  U Khin Maung Swe, the present incumbent claims that the thirty lakhs
that the people was forced to pay is missing and no signs of a fire engine
exists. No evidence exists relating to the collection of the money either.

4.  He now is demanding each household to pay Kyats 100/- each to repair an
old fire engine which was a donation from the Katha township. The residents
had been previously informed that the surplus money of four lakhs (money
collected for the TV tower) would be appropriated to meet the cost of
repairs of that old engine.

5. Right now, every household is being asked to pay Kyats three hundred for
the erection of a pagoda (162 ' high) in Magyibin village tract, Nankhan
sub-township, Wuntho township. In lieu of payment, five days of labour on
the site is required. This is a second demand because in 1998 a similar
demand for payment of Kyats three hundred and forced labour for the
erection of a pagoda in Magyibin village tract was made.

6.  These demands for money under present circumstances where people are
facing difficulties to survive because of the high inflationary cost of
every thing, to make people put aside their own business, and force them to
work without wages is just too heavy a burden to bear.  Their poverty is
both physical and mental.

7.  We urge those who are causing such distress and placing such unbearable
burdens on the people to stop this practice. This utter lack of
consideration for the physical and mental well being of the people cannot
be condoned under any circumstances.

Central Executive Committee


May, 1999 Vol.7 No.4 by Moe Gyo

Burma's traditional respect for education has been eroded by years of
neglect, government apathy and corruption. This presents a problem for the
future of Burma, writes Moe Gyo.

Education is important to the Burmese. British colonial census takers duly
noted in their own peculiar way that, "Female education was a fact in Burma
before Oxford was founded." Even today one of the most striking features of
Burma is the value placed upon education. Whether it be the abundance of
books, respect for the educated-especially professors- awareness of the
outside world, it is pervasive.  But the quality of education, particularly
at the university level, has diminished after years of military rule and
mismanagement. This has created a void of qualified graduates which will
pose a long term problem for Burma- the lack of essential human resources
for running the country.

Burma has long been one of the most literate countries in Asia. Today it
ranks high in the developing world with an adult literacy rate of over
eighty percent. But since the 1962 takeover by the military, the education
system has increasingly become the victim of politics. Casualties include a
revised curriculum, which eliminated English for a time and softened
critical studies of key facets of political science and history, so that
they became a rhetorical mimic of government ideology.

Since the student-led democracy uprising of 1988, universities have been
closed for eight of the last ten years because of the government's fear of
student unrest. This has left a generation of Burmese in limbo, caught
between high school and entry into adulthood, where the return to school
can be difficult.

"My son would like to go back to school to finish his degree, but he can't
because he has married and has a family to feed," said one hotel owner. "He
couldn't wait for the schools to open."

One teacher about to send her son to study overseas explained, "When the
schools closed, we had no idea how long they would be shut. So we waited.
But we've waited too long and now we're sending him abroad."

But only a small number of students can afford to study abroad. With
stringent passport controls, even students who receive scholarships come up
against a bureaucratic brick wall when applying for the proper papers to
leave the country. Officials told one Burmese woman, who recently enquired
about getting a passport, that the only women getting permission to leave
the country were those over 60 years of age.

Most students who have passed the tenth standard now wait to matriculate
into the university. But when the universities finally open, there will be
an incredible backlog of students waiting to start and complete their
degrees. Someone who finishes secondary school today will have to queue up
behind the others waiting to enter and graduate before they begin.

The decision to close universities reflects the government's concern about
the potential opposition caused by so many youths together in close
quarters, as well as the traditional activism of students in the past.
However, a few exceptions have been made.

While universities remain closed, a limited number of classes go on at
satellite campuses. These campuses are commuter campuses with much smaller
enrollments than large institutions like Rangoon University, Rangoon
Institute of Technology, or Mandalay University. In the view of the
government, the lower concentration of students makes the schools less of a
tinder box.

According to one Rangoon resident, this fear of large numbers of young
people gathered together is also reflected in other policies, such as a ban
on performances by popular heavy metal bands such as "Iron Cross" and
"Emperor" at large venues in Rangoon.  Concerts are also announced at short
notice to further limit the number of people in attendance.

Furthermore, of the four medical schools that have been opened in the last
year, three of them were for military personnel, thus much less of a threat.

Some post-graduate programs with a small enrollment remain open. But in the
words of one teacher, these programs are ones in which "Teachers are not
allowed to teach." This stems from a combination of corruption and
politics, as there are reports of widespread payoffs to obtain academic

Because of the economic ineptitude of the country's rulers, professors and
teachers, along with most other Burmese, don't earn enough to make ends
meet and to feed their families. This has deteriorated the quality of
education as teachers concentrate on other activities to support
themselves. To supplement their meager incomes they often tutor their
students before and after class in their homes. Within the past twenty
years, laws outlawing this practice have been passed, but they are rarely

"Teachers sell exam questions as well as marks" as a means to generate
income, according to one teacher in Rangoon. When a student is concerned
about passing examinations, the student can buy the questions on the exam
for 10,000 kyat (US$43) apiece. For an exam of six questions, often two are
enough to ensure that they pass. Ambitious students who desire to graduate
with honors will buy all the questions. "Even with the questions, students
fail because they have not been taught . . . The students pay teachers all
year [for their private tutoring] but only study a week before the exam,"
according to the teacher. In turn the students pay the teacher more so
exams will be graded favorably.

In one department at a prestigious university, an estimated sixty to
seventy percent of all students are involved in this. Efforts to put a stop
to this affront to the education system by a limited number of concerned
faculty and students have met with resistance from administrators who want
to maintain the status quo and the source of supplemental income.
Enforcement of the law prohibiting teachers from teaching outside of class
has been selectively limited to dissenters.

Burma-watcher John Brandon writes, "Even if Burma was well endowed with
bureaucrats and military officials wanting to serve the public interest,
their lack of sufficient training would inhibit them from being able to
competently and fairly govern." This lack of education and exposure to the
rest of the world only exacerbates this problem. In the view of one
Rangoon-based diplomat, "The government can't afford to keep the schools
closed for much longer."

However, the diplomat sees an irony in this attempt to promote the
longevity of the regime. The prolonged closure has resulted in some
dissatisfaction among higher-ranking military officers. They are reaching
the age when their children should be in school, but the universities are
closed and they realize that this is not normal.

Moe Gyo (pseudonym) is a member of the Irrawaddy editorial staff who
recently visited Burma.


21 May, 1999

President: Ken G. Douglas 
General Secretary: T. Izumi

A conference organised by the International Trade Union movement titled
"democracy for Burma" which was to have been held in Bangkok, Thailand from
24 to 26 May 1999 has been made postponed due to the refusal, at the
eleventh hour, by Thai authorities for permission for it to proceed. The
conference was to have been attended by some 130 participants from wide
range of countries both inside and outside Asia. Further, it has to be
noted that the Thai Government has refused to grant entry visa to Mr. Sein
Win, Prime Minister in exile of the union of Burma, to attend this conference.

It is a sad reflection on the so called sovereignty of Thailand that they
have bowed to the military junta in Burma in this instance and to the
widely publicised deplorable human rights record of that country.
International trade union movement has to take serious note of Thai Deputy
Prime Minister Mr. Supachai Panitchpakdi's candidacy for Secretary general
post of the World Trade Organisation (WTO).

The ICFTU takes strong exception that it is banned from holding this
conference. At the ASEAN countries and the European Union will be meeting
has been approved, yet at the same time, the ICFTU, which has consultative
status A with United Nations, is unable to discuss the matter of democracy
in one of the UN member states.

The military junta in Burma continues to use countries such as Thailand,
who have neither the courage nor the principle to stand-up and recognise
right from wrong, to advance their standing in the international community.
It is time that Thailand, and the other ASEAN countries for that matter,
stopped pretending that the human rights abuses in Burma do not exist and
stood up as country, and as a region, that was not prepared to turn a blind
eye to abuse and wrongs, but were prepared to genuinely advance and promote
issues of democracy and human rights.

Takashi Izumi 
General Secretary 


22 May, 1999 

A PLANNED international trade union conference in Bangkok to discuss labour
and democracy issues in Burma has been abruptly refused permission by the
Thai government on the grounds that the meeting would jeopardise bilateral
ties between the two countries.

The conference, months in the planning and to be held from Monday to
Wednesday, has been cancelled in spite of an endorsement from Foreign
Minister Surin Pitsuwan, an official from the Singapore-based International
Confederation of Free Trade Unions-Asia and Pacific Regional Organisations
(ICFTU) told The Nation yesterday.

According to the organisers, because of the cancellation, the international
trade union movement has taken serious note of Deputy Prime Minister
Supachai Panitchpakdi's candidacy for the position of World Trade
Organisation chief.

Thailand's slow progress in amending a labour bill which will guarantee
state-enterprise workers better and adequate welfare protection was one of
the reasons that US President Bill Clinton, whose largest support is from
US trade unions, blocked Supachai's candidacy.

The labour conference, titled "Democracy for Burma", would have coincided
with a meeting 'between Asean and the European Union that has been stalled
for the past year because of a dispute between the two regional groupings
over Burma's participation in the bilateral meeting.


EU Ambassador to Thailand Michel Caillouet declined to comment on whether
the abrupt cancellation will mar the Asean-EU meeting, although the EU
general position is to support freedom of speech.

Caillouet said that as far as he knew, the decision to have a labour
conference was taken before the date of the Asean-EU meeting was fixed.

The EU has banned Burma's military rulers from travelling to EU countries
and imposed a number of economic and diplomatic sanctions on the regime
over the junta's continued repressive rule and grave abuse of human rights.

Moreover, EU officials have refused to sit at the same table with Asean if
Burma takes a seat as an equal member.

The three-day labour meeting was to bring together 130 participants from 20

Surin and his deputy Sukhumbhand Palibatra were invited to attend the
meeting but the two had declined the invitation after finding out that Sein
Win, the Prime Minister of the Burmese government-in-exile, had also been
invited to attend the conference.

The Thai government didn't want to be seen as legitimising the exiled
group, according to a government source.

However, the official explanation is that both will be away on foreign
missions at the time of the meeting.

According to a letter from the Thai Labour Ministry to the organiser, "the
holding of this conference in Thailand would result in negative effects on
the good relations between Thailand and its neighbour. Therefore, I regret
to inform you that the committee is unable to agree to your request."

The letter was signed by Wong Chanthon, chairman of the inter-agency
committee dealing with the operations of foreign non-governmental
operations in the Kingdom.

The committee came to a decision based on the grounds that the Labour
Congress of Thailand is not a human rights organisation and that it was
outside their mandate to co-sponsor the event that addresses the human
rights situation in a neighbouring country.

Rod Ellis, director of the human and trade union rights department, told
The Nation in a telephone interview that they would eventually hold the
conference in another country.

He criticised the Thai government for dictating the mandate for a
non-governmental organisation.

Members of the Labour Congress of Thailand yesterday marched to the Labour
Ministry and laid a black wreath in front of the ministry's gate in protest
against its decision to ban the conference.

Meanwhile, a regional human rights organisation, Forum-Asia, issued a
statement yesterday condemning the Thai government's action.

A similar act was carried out by the government in March last year when
authorities banned Indonesia's Nobel Peace Prize winner Jose Ramos Horta
from attending a conference on East Timor in Bangkok, Forum-Asia said.


23 May, 1999 


An international labour meeting on democracy in Burma scheduled to start
tomorrow was banned because the Rangoon government had not been invited,
the Foreign Ministry said yesterday.

The meeting would have been allowed if organisers had asked representatives
from the Burmese military government to attend, to balance the presence of
the head of the government-in-exile, Sein Win, spokesman Don Pramudwinai said.

"We don't have any problem with the meeting, but it should be properly
organised and more in balance," he said.

Mr Don said that allowing Mr Sein Win to attend would affect ties with
Burma, which was a fellow member of the Association of Southeast Asian


The National Security Council and the Foreign Ministry agreed on Wednesday
to prohibit the meeting after seeing Mr Sein Win's name on the list of

The three-day meeting was set to begin tomorrow.



22 May, 1999 by Rita Patiyasevi

DESPITE a compromise reached between Asean and the European Union to hold a
long-stalled cooperation meeting next week, the issue of Burma still
remains a stumbling block to the two organisations' future political
dialogue, according to Michel Caillouet, head of the EU mission in Thailand.

"We are still at a standstill at the political level [concerning the issue
of Burma]," Caillouet said.

Speaking to reporters yesterday, he said that while the four-day Joint
Cooperation Committee Meeting of the Asean-European Commission (JCC)
beginning in Bangkok on Monday would focus on technical cooperation, some
discussion of political matters might take place on the sidelines.

Asean and the EU arrived at a compromise in March to hold the JCC meeting,
which has twice been postponed since 1997 over the issue of Burmese
participation. The EU objects to Burma's presence because of its ruling
junta's repressive regime and poor human-rights record.

After intensive lobbying by Thailand, the two organisations have now
agreed to conduct the meeting under a formula whereby Asean's new members,
including Laos and Cambodia aside from Burma, will not be fully represented.

Although the three countries are Asean members, they are non-signatories of
the 1980 Asean-EC Joint Cooperation Agreement.

Caillouet said that pending evolution in Burma towards democracy and
respect for human rights, the cooperation agreement would benefit the
fifteen EU members and those seven Asean countries who were original
signatories to the agreement. "One thing is clear from the European side:
if we receive demands from Asean for Burma to be party to this agreement
now, we will say no," he insisted.

Nevertheless the EU treats Laos and Cambodia differently from Burma, since
it has signed bilateral agreements, the first article of which stresses
respect for democracy and human rights, Caillouet pointed out.

Caillouet, who has just returned from a trip to Cambodia, said the
agreement had been accepted and endorsed by the Cambodian National
Assembly. "Prince Norodom Ranariddh, who is head of the National Assembly,
stressed the importance of human rights. Unfortunately no proposal of this
kind of bilateral agreement is possible with Burma," he said.

Caillouet said Cambodia wanted to be part of the 1980 Joint Cooperation
Agreement but the EU would have to wait for a formal letter from Asean.

He also pointed to Laos, which stated its intention of joining the Asean-EU
agreement together with Burma, as an unfortunate case. "Unfortunately the
case of Laos was linked to Burma, and because we cannot negotiate with
Burma, this process is stuck for the time being," he said.


21 May, 1999 

TOKYO, May 21 (Reuters) - Myanmar ambassador to Japan Khin Maung Thein on
Friday criticised U.S. sanctions on his country, saying the move was not to
the advantage of either nation. Thein also denied U.S. allegations of
repression and human rights abuse.

``The actual situation is very much different,'' he told a news conference.
``The government may be a military junta, but they are also Buddhist,
guided by the principles of love and compassion.''

On Tuesday, U.S. President Bill Clinton extended sanctions on Myanmar for
another year for what he called large-scale repression of the democratic

In a letter to Congress, Clinton said his decision continued a
``prohibition on new investment'' in Myanmar, formerly Burma, by Americans.
The old sanctions expired on Thursday.

In February, the United States criticised Myanmar for serious human rights
violations including torture, arbitrary detentions and forced labour.

A State Department report said the ruling generals ran a highly
authoritarian military regime which was holding more than 1,000 political


18 May, 1999 

Foreign investment in Myanmar has remained sluggish for a second straight
year, according to official investment statistics seen Tuesday.

Precise year-to-year comparisons are difficult because the government does
not issue investment figures on a regular basis.

But the statistics show that the cumulative value of foreign investment in
Myanmar from 1989 through March this year was dlrs 7.1 billion, an increase
of just 7.6 percent over the dlrs 6.6 billion cumulative total in January

The number of newly-approved foreign-investment projects in March this year
totaled 16, compared with 50 in January 1998.

The government does not issue annual investment totals, giving instead
cumulative totals since a foreign investment law was enacted in 1989. For
most of the three decades prior to that, Myanmar then known as Burma was
largely closed to foreign investment.

Foreign investment has now been in a slump for about two years. It climbed
only 9 percent to dlrs 6.6 billion in January 1998 from 6.05 billion in
March 1997.

However, the year before that, it soared 89 percent from a cumulative total
just dlrs 3.2 billion in March 1996.

The slowdown in foreign investment coincided roughly with the economic
crisis that shook Asia beginning in mid-1997. Many investors in Myanmar are
from the countries in the region that were hard-hit by the economic slowdown.

The oil and gas sector and manufacturing account for half of the cumulative
licensed foreign investment amount in Myanmar.

The newly-released figures show that Singapore continued to be the largest
investor with a total of nearly dlrs 1.5 billion, or 21 percent of total
foreign investment.

The United Kingdom was the second largest investor with dlrs 1.35 billion,
or 19 percent.

Thailand was third with investments valued at dlrs 1.24 billion, or 17.5
percent.           n


28 May, 1999 by Anthony Davis 


IS MYANMAR DEVELOPING A manned space program? Are the Chinese eyeing a new
platform for power projection into South Asia? As it happens, no. But
visitors to a sprawling construction site 45 km. south of Mandalay could be
excused for thinking so. A recently completed 14,000-ft concrete runway
that stretches across parched farmland near Ta Da U village is probably the
longest in Asia. On average, runways at international airports run to
11,000 ft or so. This facility could readily accommodate the world's
biggest military transports, the supersonic Concord and even a NASA space

The expanse of concrete is the centerpiece of the new Mandalay
International Airport. And when it opens mid-July, it is not likely to be
handling any of the foregoing craft. Yangon is hoping for something more
prosaic - jumbo jets full of big-spending tourists and businessmen, winging
in from Europe and Japan to transform Mandalay into a regional growth hub.
Dream on, generals.

Not that the airport isn't up to the task. It is 10 times bigger than the
present, dilapidated facility, equipped to handle only domestic flights. It
boasts a water-treatment plant, fuel farm, state-of-the-art control tower
and a gleaming $150-million terminal building built by Thailand's
Italy-Thai company. The terminal can accommodate six wide-bodied jets at a

The mystery is simply this: Where will the traffic come from? Mandalay is
a city of monasteries and temples with a sleepy charm. That means regional
tourism, direct from Bangkok, southern China and Singapore, may pick up.
But Mandalay is not Phuket, Bali or Shenzhen. "There's not enough for
tourists to fill jumbos jets from Europe," says a foreign consultant
familiar with the project. "Small aircraft yes, but this airport was not
built for small aircraft."

And the local infrastructure leaves much to be desired, as the 45-minute
ride along a pot-holed road into town attests. Mandalay has three
international-standard hotels. All are equipped with their own generators.
They need to be: Six-hour power cuts are routine. Hold it. Anyone got
NASA's number?


21 May, 1999 

The Foreign Ministry yesterday demanded that Burma pay more than 300,000
baht in compensation and investigate three incidents in Mae Hong Son last

Nyan Lynn, Burmese embassy minister, was given a protest note which called
on the authorities in Rangoon to find those responsible for the three

They were the loss of four boats, the bombing of a pick-up truck, and the
armed raid at a police station near the border.

The boats were taken from their mooring on the Mae Saw U river on April 28,
a week after the owner was approached by an unidentified Burmese who had
asked to borrow the boats. On April 30, a pick-up truck was bombed, and on
May 1, the police station at Ban Nam Pieng Din was attacked.

The ministry demanded 50,000 baht for the boats, 80,000 baht for the
damaged truck, and 200,000 baht for the damaged police station.

U Nyan Lynn was quoted as saying Rangoon had no information about the
incidents and did not always know what was happening in remote areas.


21 May, 1999 by Temsak Traisophon and Supawadee Susanpoolthong


Border crossings into Laos, Cambodia and Burma are being reviewed after
complaints that the main function of many of them is to facilitate the
movement of gamblers to Thai-owned casinos across the frontier.

An order issued yesterday by Interior Permanent Secretary Chanasak Yuwaboon
requires all checkpoints to report on whether most travellers are gamblers
or people on genuine business.

The move came as a House subcommittee visited a crossing in Chiang Rai to
check out fears its main function was to facilitate gambling, smuggling and
other crime.

Niran Kalayanamit, director of the Foreign Affairs Division, said the
border passes facilitate cross-border visits and international trade.
Closing them could have repercussions.

The matter would be raised at the National Security Council.

There are three permanent border crossings into Burma: Mae Sai in Chiang
Rai, Mae Sot in Tak and Muang district of Ranong.

There are 12 temporary border passes in Chiang Rai, Chiang Mai, Mae Hong
Son, Kanchanaburi and Prachuap Khiri Khan.

Opposite Kiew Pha Wok pass in Chiang Mai's Chiang Dao district is Mong
Hsat, where a group of Thai businessmen led by Maj-Gen Intrarat
Yodbangtoey, a supreme command officer, has obtained a concession to
operate a quarry, a source said.

At Tachilek, opposite Mae Sai district, Pol Lt-Col Adul Boonset, a former
New Aspiration Party MP for Phichit, is a co-investor in a casino, which
has yet to open, intended to attract Thai gamblers.

Vicharn Chaiyanan, the Chiang Rai governor, originally proposed the opening
of the border pass to Tachilek, arguing it was necessary for trade and

Another border pass into Burma which is currently controversial is at Ban
Sop Ruak in Chiang Saen district of Chiang Rai.

A group of businessmen led by Prasit Pothasuthon, an elder brother of
Prapat Pothasuthon, a deputy interior minister and member of the Chart Thai
Party, has invested in a project in Burma called the Golden Triangle and
Paradise Resort, which includes a casino.

This group is pushing for the border pass at Sop Ruak to be made permanent.

Critics fear it could become a source of narcotics, contraband and crime.

This concern prompted the House Local Administration Committee to form a
subcommittee to travel to Ban Sop Ruak for an inspection.

The committee yesterday considered the request to make the border pass

Governor Vicharn, the president of the provincial administration
organisation, the Chiang Saen district chief and the kamnan of tambon Wiang
were interviewed.

Mr Vicharn strongly supported opening a permanent checkpoint to facilitate
border trade and immigration.

In the seven months since the pass unofficially opened, about 19 million
baht had flowed into Chiang Rai, he said.

Pol Gen Charn Rattanatham, the committee's adviser, said Thais use a border
pass in Trat province to visit a casino in Cambodia, draining about five
billion baht out of the country annually. The pass was used very little for