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The BurmaNet News: May 25, 1999
- Subject: The BurmaNet News: May 25, 1999
- From: strider@xxxxxxxxxxx
- Date: Tue, 25 May 1999 06:05:00
------------------------ BurmaNet ------------------------
"Appropriate Information Technologies, Practical Strategies"
The BurmaNet News: May 25, 1999
THE IRRAWADDY: AN INTERVIEW WITH DR. NAING AUNG
AFP: LABOUR RIGHTS NOT RELEVANT GOVT DECLARES
JAC: DEMOCRACY ACTIVISTS BEATEN AT TOKYO CONCERT
REUTERS: ASEAN, EU MEET DESPITE RIGHTS IMPASSE
REUTERS: YADANA NATURAL GAS PRICE ROW RUMBLES ON
THE NATION: JUNTA MUST CHANGE 'RULE AT GUNPOINT'
ASIAWEEK: CHINA'S SHADOW
THE NATION: BORDER POLICE SEIZE ILLEGAL TIMBER
BKK POST: SECURITY IN NORTHERN PROVINCES
ANNC: 'INVESTMENTS AND HUMAN RIGHTS IN BURMA'
THE IRRAWADDY: AN INTERVIEW WITH DR. NAING AUNG, CHAIRMAN OF THE ABSDF
May, 1999 Vol 7 No 4
The Irrawaddy recently spoke to Dr. Naing Aung, Chairman of the All Burma
Students' Democratic Front, about the organization's evolution and how it
is responding to the challenges of its political agenda. As the ABSDF,
which recently convened its Fifth Conference on the Thai-Burma border,
strives to establish a stable framework based upon clear principles, its
status as a military organization seems to be standing in the way of
efforts to introduce genuine accountability to the decision-making process.
In the following excerpts from our interview with Dr. Naing Aung, the
Irrawaddy raises the question of whether due process is being applied in
handling problems of internal discipline. Three years after the
introduction of an independent judiciary to deal with accusations against
members of the ABSDF, the judicial process remains plagued with problems.
Q: Does the ABSDF have independent legislative, judicial and executive
A: Three years ago, we started to practice the independent judicial system.
It's not totally independent, because the Central Committee is taking
responsibility for the executive function, but other people are elected to
the judicial work. So when we have a case, we put it to the court, and they
listen to the case and the witnesses, and they decide for themselves. So
basically, the Central Committee and the commander are not deciding for
Q: What forms of punishment do you impose?
A: Minimum punishment is warning first warning, second warning, third
warning jail terms, labor, and we still have the death penalty.
Q. How many times has the death penalty been carried out?
A: I don't really remember, but I think not many times. I'm not involved in
the Central Committee all the time, but as far as I know, once one of the
ABSDF northern branches, they made an execution of some spies. This is one
case. And previously, like eight years ago, in one rape case, [a decision
to execute was made] not by the Central committee [but] by the Camp
Committee, and the leaders were not really [involved].
Q: So capital punishment was carried out even before the introduction of an
independent judiciary? A: That's why later we decided the law should be
consistent. And later, even though we have the death penalty, we try to
avoid as much as we can since we have been blamed by international
organizations about our executions with the spies.
Q: Since the judiciary was introduced three years ago, have all decisions
to impose capital punishment been made after following due process?
A: Most of the time. . . . One case that I remember, [somebody] on the
frontline was doing something against the local people in the area. . . .
We are infiltrating in the area, so we need to keep a good relationship
with the local community. We need to have respect and trust from them. And
so one member misbehaved and did annoying things to the local people, so
after he did this thing three or four times, we asked [the local commander]
to send him back, and we gave him a jail sentence of about one year. But
the local commander took him before his sentence finished because that
local commander needed his help to go inside that area. So when he arrived
again, he started to do the same thing again. So all the [ABSDF] members
and the local villagers were really pissed off. They could not send him
back at that time because the enemy cut them off, and they didn't have a
jail and things, and [the villagers and ABSDF members] requested for an
execution. What we decided was to inform to the judicial branch [that]
there is no judge in that area. So we consulted with a judge. . . . I took
the responsibility, but I had to do something, so I just let [the judge]
know and asked for a suggestion. . . . The Central Executive Committee
discussed and an investigative report was given to us and we had radio
communication, and we decided what should be punished- execution.
Q: Were you comfortable with this decision?
A: As the head of the organization, sometimes I'm not only worried, I'm
afraid. Because in some situations [where] you have to take the
responsibility, you don't really see what happened, and you have to rely on
the report that you have been provided. It can be biased.
Q: Was there any fallout from this decision?
A: Basically, in the army, we all understand that if someone defects with
arms, or if they are attacking us or giving a dangerous situation to us,
they can be killed.
Q: What is the future role of ABSDF?
A: Basically, after we achieve our objectives, ABSDF will be finished. . .
. [But] we are promoting an idea among ABSDF members to start a new
generation of the political party. But this idea is floating and not
AFP: LABOUR RIGHTS NOT RELEVANT, GOVERNMENT DECLARES
25 May, 1999
BANNED CONFERENCE SHOULDN'T BE AN ISSUE
Labour rights issues should not be used to block Deputy Prime Minister
Supachai Panitchpakdi from becoming head of the World Trade Organisation, a
government spokesman said yesterday.
The warning followed the government's abrupt decision to ban an
international trade union meeting on human rights, including forced labour,
Organisers warned the sudden about-face could have repercussions on Mr
Supachai's bid to become director-general of the world trade body.
"We disagree with using labour problems as a trade condition, that is a
trade barrier," government spokesman Akapol Sorasuchart said.
"I don't believe it will affect Mr Supachai's candidacy for the WTO post
because we have expressed our clear position that we will give equality to
all workers," he said.
Mr Supachai is locked in a bitter battle for the WTO leadership with former
New Zealand premier Mike Moore, a conflict which has divided the
international trade body.
Key WTO members such as the United States and France are concerned about
Thailand's commitment to labour rights and have supported the New Zealand
The Foreign Ministry decided on Wednesday the union meeting, scheduled to
start on Monday, could have had "negative effects" on Bangkok's relations
with Burma, a fellow member of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.
"Using Thailand as a base to distribute information to violate another
country, we cannot allow that," the spokesman said.
The ruling military junta in Rangoon has been accused of gross human rights
abuses including widespread use of forced labour, sometimes-involving
torture and rape.
The Singapore-based ICFTU Friday said Thailand had shown its true colours
on human rights in banning the meeting. The ban reflected badly on Mr
Supachai's bid to become the next boss of the WTO.
"The international trade union movement has to take serious note of (Mr
Supachai's) candidacy for the ... World Trade Organisation."
Michel Caillouet, head of the European Commission's delegation in Thailand,
said on Friday he was not aware of the ICFTU meeting, but "of course we
would not be happy" if it was banned.
JOINT ACTION COMMITTEE: BURMESE DEMOCRACY ACTIVISTS BEATEN AT TOKYO CONCERT
23 May, 1999
Tokyo - May 23rd, 1999. Two Burmese democracy activists were severely
beaten at a concert today in Tokyo by what many believe to be people
affiliated with the Myanmar Embassy of Japan.
The two Burmese men Khin Maung Oo (36) and Michael Collins (30), were
severely beaten by several people around 4 p.m. today. Both men, residents
of Japan, have been local supporters of democracy in Burma. Burma has been
under military rule since 1962 and ruled by the current regime after
September of 1988 when a military junta staged a coup.
The concert, which was held by the Myanmar Embassy, was held at Nihon
Kyoiku Kaikan in central Tokyo. The event drew roughly 200 attendees.
Several eyewitnesses said the two men had peacefully watched the concert.
When the concert ended, some shouts calling for democracy were heard.
Suddenly five or six people, who are believed to be personnel affiliated
with Embassy, grabbed the two men and began kicking and hitting them
ruthlessly with a flashlight and a camera.
The two victims were immediately brought to a hospital by an ambulance. One
was admitted to the hospital for treatment of severe head wounds. The other
was treated for a injuries to the nose. Both were released from the
hospital this evening. We, the Joint Action Committee (JAC), believe that
the incident clearly shows that the military junta that rules Burma
condones the repression of Burmese nationals even outside its jurisdiction.
We believe the junta's action today broke the laws of a foreign country.
The JAC humbly requests that the Japanese government take proper actions
against the perpetrators. The individuals should not be allowed to take
diplomatic immunity. We urge the Japanese authorities to investigate the
incident thoroughly and the perpetrators be brought to justice. We would
also like to request the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugee,
Amnesty International and other human rights organizations to denounce this
act which seriously violate human rights.
Based in Tokyo, the Joint Action Committee is an umbrella organization of
Burmese democracy groups, including National League for Democracy (LA)
Japan Branch, Burmese Association in Japan, Burma Youth Volunteer
Association (Japan), Students' Organization for Liberation of Burma(Japan)
and Burmese Women Union (Japan Branch).
REUTERS: ASEAN, EU MEET DESPITE MYANMAR RIGHTS IMPASSE
24 May, 1999 by David Brunnstrom
BANGKOK, May 24 (Reuters) - Officials from the European Union and
Association of South East Asian Nations gathered on Monday for their first
bloc-to-bloc meeting in two years with ties still strained by Myanmar's
human rights record.
The joint cooperation committee meeting, which goes into full session on
Wednesday and Thursday, will discuss a programme for trade, economic and
industrial cooperation as well as initiatives on drugs and the environment.
The forum has twice been postponed since military-ruled Myanmar joined
ASEAN in 1997, but a compromise was finally reached allowing Myanmar to
attend but not speak.
"Everyone felt the meeting had to go ahead and so a certain compromise has
been reached," said Thai government spokesman Akapol Sorasuchart.
EU sanctions, which bar senior Myanmar officials from entering Europe,
forced cancellation of an ASEAN-EU foreign ministers' meeting earlier this
year after ASEAN said all its ministers should attend or none at all.
The sanctions were imposed because of Myanmar's treatment of its
pro-democracy opposition led by Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi. Her party
won a 1990 election by a landslide, but the military ignored the result and
detained many of its members.
Myanmar delegate Aye Lwin, the director-general of the Yangon Foreign
Ministry's ASEAN affairs department, told Reuters he did not want to
comment on Myanmar's status at the meeting.
"It's a really sensitive arrangement Thailand has undertaken and I don't
want at this point in time to complicate things."
However, asked about the EU sanctions, he replied: "I think it's a pity
that they have a political agenda on Mynamar."
Europe's chief delegate, European Commission Asia director Emiliano
Fossati, told Reuters the EU position on Myanmar was unchanged.
"We would like to see progress in the human rights situation and an overall
response to meet the desires of the people and up to now we have found no
"The European Union has very strong feelings about respect for human rights
and we consider that this is essential in order to have real economic
Senior Thai delegate Anucha Osathanond, director-general of Thailand's
ASEAN department, said he hoped the meeting would help pave the way for a
foreign ministers' meeting "at a later date."
But neither Anucha nor EU officials were optimistic this would get off the
ground soon given the EU ban on Myanmar officials.
"This meeting shows the EU and ASEAN are at least on talking terms," Anucha
said. "We last met in 1997, and since then things have backed up, slowed
down and some projects have expired."
Asked if Thailand was irritated by the blockage caused by Myanmar's rights
record, he said: "We are concerned about the human rights situation in
Fossati said the Bangkok meeting was a step forward.
"What we want to do is to try to move ahead from a situation where we have
very good relations but no concrete action apart from on the bilateral
level," he said.
REUTERS: THAILAND-YADANA NATURAL GAS PRICE ROW RUMBLES ON
24 May, 1999 by Anchalee Koetsawang
BANGKOK, May 24 (Reuters) - Thailand has still not resolved a dispute with
a group of oil companies over how much it should pay for natural gas from
Myanmar's Yadana field, industry sources said on Monday.
State-run Petroleum Authority of Thailand (PTT) is not expected to end
talks with the gas producers before the end of May over their claim for $62
million for gas sold under a 'take-or-pay' deal.
But most industry sources do expect the agreement to be settled fairly soon
and say commercial levels of production from Yadana are likely to be seen
from the third quarter of this year.
"The amount of compensation or price cut is being discussed. This kind of
talk takes time because each side wants to protect its interests, which is
natural," said an industry source.
"But we hope that an agreement will be reached by the end of this month,"
PTT signed a take-or-pay contract with the gas producers before the field
was due to come on stream in August 1998.
The gas was ordered for use as fuel for a new power station being built by
the state-run Electricity Generating Authority of Thailand's (EGAT) at
Ratchaburi in western Thailand.
The contract required PTT to take an initial 65 million cubic feet per day
(mmcfd), rising to 525 mmcfd over 15 months.
But output from the field was delayed a little and when production did
eventually start the Ratchaburi power plant had still not been completed.
As a result, PTT took much less than the volume originally contracted for
The oil companies -- Total (TOTF.PA), Unocal (UCL.N) and PTT unit PTT
Exploration and Production (PTTE.BK) -- are claiming $62 million for the
first tranche of gas. PTT says that is too much.
Under a take or pay agreement, a buyer must pay for the contracted amount
of gas whether or not he can take delivery.
Sources at EGAT say the Ratchaburi plant should be able to begin to take
the gas from Yadana in the third quarter of 1999 and increase off take to
full capacity in 2000.
"There are two issues here that should not be mixed up. The first is the
resolution of the take or pay agreement involving a bill worth $62 million
for gas which was mostly not taken by PTT due to a delay in the
construction of a power plant," said a source from producers' side.
"The other issue is the commercial production of the Yadana gas after the
initial delays. The first issue is being resolved. We hope for a positive
outcome soon. As for commercial production, I don't think it will be
delayed beyond the third quarter," he said.
The $62 million payment, the first for a 30-year contract, has been due
since the end of March.
PTT has refused to pay, citing the economic crisis. It also says the
Total-led consortium has failed to meet a major requirement in the
contract. It says the energy content of the natural gas from Yadana field
was slightly lower than that specified in the contract.
Sources close to the negotiations told Reuters on Monday that both sides
were working on the amount of compensation which the producers had to pay
PTT for failing to meet that requirement.
The compensation could come in a form of a price cut, they said. Total is
said to have sold gas from Yadana to PTT at around $3.0 per million British
Thermal Unit (BTU), which is more expensive than gas from the Gulf of
THE NATION: BURMESE JUNTA MUST CHANGE "RULE AT GUNPOINT"
23 May, 1999 by Chao Tzang Yawnghwe
GIVEN A SITUATION WHERE THE BURMESE REGIME IS BY ANY STANDARD A FAILED AND
FLAWED ONE, THERE IS AN URGENT NEED FOR THE GENERALS TO GET AWAY FROM THE
THINGS THEY DO WELL-RULING AT GUNPOINT, WRITES CHAO TZANG YAWNGHWE.
As one young but astute recorder of the Burmese political scene puts it,
Burma's military regime is a failed regime. Indeed, the current regime can
be thus defined, without much fear of contradiction. Its only success has
been in holding on to power at gunpoint - for which not too much credit can
be given since it holds all the big guns, has its hands in the country's
cookie jar, and is, besides, able to print as much money as it needs.
To be sure, absolutely, the ruling generals in Rangoon - currently held
together by General Khin Nyunt's balancing act and the Military
Intelligence's (MI's) manipulation of military factions - can hold on to
power for another 10 years, as Daw Suu Kyi herself alluded to, in one of
her recent interviews. General "Myet-Man (Spectacle)" Tin U and his Ml did
the same for the "Old Man", General Ne Win, in the 1960s and 1970s. But at
Holding on to power at gunpoint is not cost free. It cost the "Old Man" his
reputation, which is rather a pity, given the fact that he performed quite
well as a constitutional military caretaker in 1958-1960. He earned the
kudos of what was then called "the Free World", and held up as an example
of a professional soldier-ruler by some scholars and Burma experts.
But when General Ne Win changed tack in 1962, he lost it all. Resorting to
the policy of holding on to power at gunpoint, regardless of cost, the
general swiftly transformed Burma from - to quote an old cliche - the "Rice
Bowl of Asia", to a hopeless political and economic basket case.
Ironically, the economy of Socialist Burma was rapidly penetrated by the
cross border circuit of capital, "entrepreneurs" involved in narcotics and
trade in contraband. Corruption spread everywhere. The seeds of decay
germinated in every nook and corner of Burmese society and flourished.
The military has ruled the country for over 35 years (since 1962). Yet
neither the old No. 1, General Ne Win, nor Khin Nyunt and the current set
of ruling generals have been able to deliver the goods. Socialism failed,
and capitalism has brought greater hardship and deeper poverty, and with
the Asian financial meltdown, the economy is in tatters. Burma hit bottom,
and is now sinking beneath the bottom, as it were "pushing the envelope" of
failure, decay, and corruption.
In General Khin Nyunt's case, although he holds in his hands the balance of
power bloc, the ruling military power bloc, he is under siege by potential
challengers in uniform. Many officers, especially in the combat arm, are
beginning to question his and the MI's authority and dominance. Khin Nyunt
is not by any means the military strongman, the No. 1, as General Ne Win
was. In order to become the No. 1, Khin Nyunt would have to, like Ne Win
before him, purge his seniors, peers, ambitious subordinates, and even
loyalists (especially those who are very capable).
Not having been able so far to attain the position of unchallenged No. 1,
Khin Nyunt's position is precarious. And it remains to be seen how long
will he and his MI loyalists be able to hold on to their dominance or keep
the military docile and under their control.
Moreover, Khin Nyunt and his MI band are also beholden to outside or
foreign patrons, ranging from powerholders in Beijing and Kunming, to
Singapore, Bangkok, Kuala Lumpur (and etc), and as well to sundry
powerbrokers, and as well to monied elements ("entrepreneurs" and
"investors") from neighbouring countries. As if this is not bad enough,
Khin Nyunt and his MI loyalists (and by extension the ruling junta) are
also beholdened to domestic clients of the above-mentioned foreign elements
- namely, the so-called "Wa" leaders, among others, who command well-armed,
battle-seasoned troops, and who are linked by financial, trade, and other
ties to elements outside the country. The junta's claim that it is
upholding the country's sovereignty is therefore ridiculous and is
increasingly ridiculed by the populace of Rangoon (if not elsewhere too).
The other cost of holding on to power at gunpoint is the weakening of the
command and control mechanism of the military. Because of the junta's
reliance on the military to stay in power, the authority of the top
military brass, including Khin Nyunt's, is being quite seriously eroded.
That this is the case is illustrated by the military reshuffle at the end
of 1997, when Zone Commanders - potential warlords - were elevated to
positions in the top council: the State Peace and Development Council
(SPDC). This has put Zone commanders above the formal chain of command and
the cabinet- a quite powerless body labelled by Rangoon's wits as "Than
Shwe's Night Tuition Class", or alternatively, "Ali Baba and the Forty
Zone commanders have taken to quite regularly ignoring orders from above,
or obeying orders very selectively, according to sources doing business
with the junta. They complain unendingly of the non-compliance of Zone,
even local, commanders to agreements and understandings they had already
made with the higher-ups in Rangoon.
A more serious, longer term cost of holding on to power at gunpoint is the
draining of resources, diverted specifically (if not solely) to the
maintenance of the armed forces and to keeping a tight hold on power. As a
result, there is no money for, nor is there a political will on the part of
ruling generals to maintain or improve the country's basic systems, such as
the country's health and education system, agriculture, communication,
public welfare and works, energy, and so forth.
The quality of life has deteriorated to such an extent that even those
beholden to the junta, the highly privileged few nested in the upper
echelons of Rangoon's society, have begun making snide remarks (to foreign
and diplomat friends) about the meaningless "pagoda and soldiers"
monkey-circuses staged by the regime. The whole country is disgusted with
the sight of generals posturing on television screen, day in and day out.
People are annoyed as well with the patently coerced "mass rallies" where
Daw Suu Kyi and the National League for Democracy (NLD) are accused of
"selling" the country to "foreign colonial interests". It is difficult to
imagine anyone in Burma believing these allegations. A question often heard
over cocktails in Rangoon's diplomatic circles is, "Who are the generals
trying to impress with these political theatrics"?
The story of Burma is therefore a sad one, and its future will only be
darker and sadder if the generals persist in doing what they do best:
ruling at gunpoint.
Given a situation where the regime is by any standard, a failed and flawed
one, there is an urgent need for the generals to get way from the things
they do well - ruling at gunpoint - and they must move on to other more
positive, constructive things. For instance, helping in putting things
right and in bringing about law, order, peace, and development in Burma,
ie, in the real sense of the terms, rather than in the current Orwellian
With the world entering Francis Fukuyama's "end of history" epoch ie, the
age of economic and political liberalisation - the "only-the-military can
do ideology of the 1960s is no longer credible. The notion that
authoritarian leaders and governments, whether in uniform or otherwise, are
good for business and investment has now been discredited. The global trend
today is toward governance that is legitimate, transparent, lawful (and
guided by and ruling according to the law).
Given the grave economic, political, social crises in Burma - the price
being paid by the country for military rule and the disutility of
authoritarian and/or despotic political orders to entreprenuers and
transnational investors (and capital), it is high time that the ruling
generals think seriously and long about how they can contribute toward.
achieving real law and order, and peace and development in Burma. Generals
and soldiers in- other countries - in Thailand for example - have
contributed to the achievement of these goals, and they have accordingly
earned the respect and gratitude of the people.
It must at the same time also be said that the time has now come for those
who love the country, whether in or out of uniform, to begin talking to
each other as compatriots, to remove their respective ideological blinkers
and to recognise one another as fellow-passengers in a leaky, dangerously
listing ship. It is no longer a time for striking ideological postures or
playing zero-sum games.
The way to peace and development, prosperity and harmony or unity is for
leaders and elites in opposing camps to dialogue and compromise, ie, make
principled compromise, rather than selling out. There is a world of
difference between making principled compromises and selling out.
Leaders from both camps need to look upon principled compromise as a mean
to resolving problems and conflicts. They must accept the fact that
principled compromise is widely practiced by wise political leaders around
the world in order to resolve conflicts and solve problems. In countries
where leaders think only of winning, everyone loses, including the
"winners" in the long run. But in countries where leaders give up
something, with each leader or camp losing a little, the country as a whole
and the people win. For too long, the politics of Burma has been the
politics of losers, where everyone loses, and this must be changed.
ASIAWEEK: CHINA'S SHADOW
28 May, 1999 by Dermot Tatlow
A growing presence from next door spurs a rethink in Yangon
WHEN THE SUN SETS in Mandalay, northern Myanmar, the money heads to the
intersection of 30th and 66th streets. Bright lights, loud music and a
lively crowd attest to the popularity of new Chinese restaurants serving
grilled meat, fish and beer. Many of the entrepreneurs and customers there
are not traditional Mandalay Chinese. They are Mandarin-speaking "new
Chinese" - from across the China border or the city's emerging suburbs.
Indeed, the presence of ethnic Chinese in Mandalay has been growing
rapidly. By some estimates, they now constitute up to 30% of the local
population. "Chinatown used to be just around 80th Street," recalls a local
Burmese. "Now the whole town is Chinatown. The Chinese have bought property
Nor are the new arrivals just an urban phenomenon. After two years of
flooding in southern China, many farmers there have moved across the
ill-controlled border into northern Myanmar. Estimates run from hundreds of
thousands to well over a million during the period. The virtually
unreported influx is, as one Thailand-based foreign expert puts it,
"changing the whole demographic balance in north Burma." It has also made
locals increasingly unhappy with both the migrants and the ruling junta in
Yangon. "The military leaders have opened the door because without Chinese
support, they couldn't have lasted," says one dissident Burmese
intellectual. "For that, the Burmese people can never forgive them."
Even so, the influx is occurring in border areas Yangon scarcely controls.
Most affected are Kokang district and regions of northern Shan state run by
former insurgents now in fragile ceasefire accords with the junta. The
guerrillas include ethnic Chinese of the ex-Burma Communist Party and the
larger and well-armed United Wa State Army - both active in the narcotics
trade. "The Chinese government was paying flood relief of RMB 20,000 a
family," says a diplomatic source. "The going rate for a Wa guard to look
the other way is RMB 5,000, while another 5,000 can buy identity
documents." Typically, ID cards can be purchased from Burmese families in
which someone just died, then altered and resold to a new migrant. In the
border area, whole Chinese villages are springing up.
The human influx is but one facet of a wider expansion of Chinese
influence into a strategic Southeast Asian nation, which has stirred
concern in Myanmar and beyond. Following the 1988 and 1989 crackdowns on
democracy movements in both Myanmar and China, close ties - military,
economic and political - developed between two authoritarian regimes facing
international hostility. Attracting most attention have been Chinese
military sales to Yangon, involving jet fighters, armored vehicles and
naval vessels. Estimated at $1 billion to $2 billion in the past decade,
the sales enabled the Myanmar Army to expand from 180,000 men to 450,000
But Chinese aid and investment have also gone into infrastructure and
industrial projects, ranging from dams, bridges and roads to factories and
ports. And China is interested in opening an Irrawaddy River trade route
from its Yunnan province to the Bay of Bengal, as cheap consumer goods from
the Chinese southwest flood markets in northern Myanmar. "Myanmar is close
to being a Chinese satellite," says an Asian diplomat in Bangkok.
Well, not quite. Yangon, worried by its dependency on China and a
groundswell of popular discontent over Chinese penetration, is trying to
pull back from the embrace of its giant neighbor. What was a virtual
strategic alliance in the mid-1990s is now infused with a new wariness. The
junta, says an Asian intelligence source, "wants to diversify into other
The first signs of a rethink came in late 1997, when the junta, renamed the
State Peace and Development Council, instituted a new regime for border
trade with its neighbors. Prompted by Yangon's widening trade deficit and a
loss of hard currency and natural resources, the scheme sought to bring
booming frontier commerce under government control. Among Myanmar's
neighbors, China was the hardest hit. From November 1997 to mid-1998, the
frontier was officially closed to much of the trade between Muse in Myanmar
and Ruili in Yunnan. "Ruili almost died," says one observer. "A boom town
suddenly went bust." The Chinese pressed the generals to reopen the border
- which they did in June last year. But with new controls in place, trade
declined from $659 million in 1996 and $749 million in 1997 to $400 million
The row heralded a new prickliness in bilateral ties. High-level visits
dropped off. When intelligence chief Khin Nyunt goes to Beijing next month,
he will be the first Burmese leader to do so since October 1996. Nor has
Yangon shown much interest in the touted Irrawaddy route from China to the
Bay of Bengal. Floated in 1996, the scheme would allow Chinese goods to
bypass the port of Yangon - long plagued by silting and shallow draft - and
give southwest China a key commercial outlet into the Indian Ocean region.
It would also give Beijing a strategic foothold there. "By early 1998,
talks on river access had come to a grinding halt," says a diplomat. "Right
now there's nothing happening." The projected development of a deep-sea
port at Kyaukphyu, in which a Singapore company was interested, also seems
on the back burner.
Military sales have leveled off as well. In the past year, new Chinese
tanks have been delivered and Myanmar has bought some Karakorum trainer
aircraft, co-produced by China and Pakistan. But significantly, says a
senior diplomatic source, the junta turned down a Chinese offer of a
$100-million credit for military purchases late last year. Yangon not only
wants to diversify its supply sources, says an analyst, but is "unhappy
about the quality of some Chinese systems."
The new skepticism is not one-sided. The Chinese themselves are
increasingly frustrated with Myanmar's inability to sort out its
international relationships or kick-start its floundering economy. Chinese
companies and businessmen have been badly burned by their investments in an
economy bedeviled by rising prices for essentials and an urban inflation
rate of up to 80%. "The Bank of China refuses to lend any more capital to
Chinese firms that want to invest," says one diplomat. Beijing was also
miffed when Yangon recently considered giving the lease on domestic routes
to Taiwan's EVA Air, which wanted to buy into Myanmar Airways.
India has benefited from the new tensions between Myanmar and China. Since
1996, New Delhi has been trying to improve its relations with Yangon to
counter Chinese influence and curb insurgents from its own troubled
northeast, who find sanctuary inside Myanmar. India's Border Roads
Organization has been upgrading a route on the Burmese side of the
frontier. And in late February, Indian Foreign Secretary K. Raghunath
visited Yangon - the first such trip in six years.
Still, there is only so much that India can bring to the table. And ASEAN,
which Myanmar joined in 1997, has been beset by the Crisis and unable to
provide investments that could have lifted the Burmese economy. Yangon may
well be able to attenuate Chinese penetration, but for the foreseeable
future, China's economic embrace will remain a fact of life. Equally
inevitable but far more difficult to temper will be the continuing flow of
Chinese migrants into northern Myanmar. Soon, that influx will be measured
not in the thousands but in the millions.
THE NATION: BORDER POLICE SEIZE ILLEGAL TIMBER
23 May, 1999
BORDER police in Mae Hong Son yesterday seized illegally cut timber and
processed wood which, they said, could have been the cause of the conflict
of interest in the illegal border trade which resulted in the attack on the
Nam Phieng Din tambon police station earlier this month.
An unnamed officer attached to the 7th Infantry Regiment said 13 logs and
eight pieces of wood were from trees cut on Thai soil with the help of
corrupt police. They were about to be handed over to Thai buyers by Burmese
soldiers who provided security for the transportation.
The source added that Burmese soldiers had been behind the attack on Nam
Phieng Din tambon police station out of anger over the delay in the payment
of money by corrupt Thai police.
He named the Burmese 428th infantry battalion as the assailants and said
the assault had doubled as a ploy to show its superior unit that it still
posessed combat capability after suffering a major loss in a recent battle
with a minority group.
Station chief Pol Capt Kritbun Khamphairoj and a junior officer have been
transferred. Their superiors did not give any reason for their decision.
The place where the illegal items were found is 200 metres from the
Burmese-Thai border in Muang district's Tambon Pha Bong.
The wood was cut in the jungle nearby, where fresh traces of a loggers'
camp were found.
A number of logs had been left in a nearby stream, but the police team has
not inspected them pending mine-clearing support for fear of booby traps
attached to them.
BANGKOK POST: NSC ORDERED TO REVIEW SECURITY IN NORTHERN PROVINCES
24 May, 1999 by Yuwadee Tunyasiri
The National Security Council is reviewing security arrangements in the
three northern most provinces - Chiang Mai, 'Chiang Rai and Mae Hong Son -
following an upsurge in cross border violence.
NSC chief Kachadpai Burusphat said the council was consulting provincial
authorities, the Third Army, the Interior and Foreign ministries.
A new "security order" was planned with the aim of avoiding border
conflicts with Burma.
Prime Minister Chuan Leekpai had authorised the NSC to review security and
Recent incidents include:
The murder of nine Thai villagers by unknown armed men believed to have
crossed into Chiang Mai from Burma.
A police station was shot up in Mae Hong Son, thought to be the work of
Rangoon-backed minority rebels, and a truck was destroyed when it ran over
Mr Kachadpai said the building and upgrading of border roads had been
discussed, but work would be limited to certain areas to avoid damaging
rich forest land.
ANNOUNCEMENT: "INVESTMENTS AND HUMAN RIGHTS IN BURMA" MEETING
23 May, 1999
The Burma Centre Netherlands and Amnesty International group Alkmaar is
cordially inviting all parties to attend a meeting on "Investments and
Human Rights in Burma"
Date: 26 May, 1999
Time: 19:30 (7:30 pm) - 22:00 (10:00 pm)
Place: Spoorstraat 38, just near the CS, in Alkmaar, Netherlands
Speakers: Tyler R. Giannini, founder and director of Earth Rights
International; Naw Ester Saw Lone, researcher at Earth Rights
International's Women's Rights Project; Nai Sunthorn Siripanngern, General
Secretary of the Mon Unity League
For more information please contact Anja Sloot, tel/fax: +31 (0)72 5121294,