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The BurmaNet News: June 24, 1999
- Subject: The BurmaNet News: June 24, 1999
- From: strider@xxxxxxxxxxx
- Date: Wed, 23 Jun 1999 20:32:00
------------------------ BurmaNet ------------------------
"Appropriate Information Technologies, Practical Strategies"
The BurmaNet News: June 24, 1999
Noted in Passing: "There are stringent regulations against money laundering
and, therefore, allegations against Myanmar of such practices are
completely without basis." - Gen. Khin Nyunt (see AP: MYANMAR GENERAL
THE NATION: NEGOTIATING FOR CHANGE IN BURMA
ASIAWEEK: MYANMAR - THE MANDELA FACTOR
AP: MYANMAR GENERAL DEFENDS COUNTRY
REUTERS: MINE BLAST KILLS 7, WOUNDS 20
AWSJ: BORDER TOWN FINDS MUSE IN COMMERCE
XINHUA: BURMA TO ADD MORE BORDER TRADE POINTS
BI: TOWARDS JUSTICE-THE ROAD LESS TRAVELED BY
THE NATION: NEGOTIATING FOR CHANGE IN BURMA
23 June, 1999 by Josef Silverstein
After several failed attempts to bring the Burmese junta to the dialogue
table, the world is still waiting to see what will happen next. Josef
Silverstein examines past efforts to find a solution to the country's
political and civil problems in the first of a two-part series.
The skies over Burma are slowly filling with trial balloons about
negotiating political change in the country.
The first balloon was sent aloft last year by Human Rights Watch (Aug 6,
1998) when it called for three things:
* Understanding of the nature of the three key actors in Burmese politics
the military, the NLD and the ethnic minorities.
* New dialogue between the industrialised nations and Burma's military rulers.
* The construction of a road map of specific improvements in human rights
in Burma and "incremental restoration of normal economic and diplomatic
relations with the international community".
In October, a second balloon was floated by the UN and several of the
leading industrialised nations. They offered technical and financial
assistance for political dialogue in Burma between the military and the
National League for Democracy (NLD).
The first proposal went nowhere, even though several writers and
journalists picked it up and gave it their backing.
The second effort alarmed supporters of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and the NLD
because of rumours that the military rulers were being offered US$1 billion
as an inducement to accept negotiations. But the loud outcry against
"bribing" the country's ruling State Peace and Development Council (SPDC)
to hold meetings with the civilian opposition, together with the military
junta's rejection of the plan, appeared to have buried it.
But six months' later, in late May 1999, US Deputy Secretary of State for
Asian and Pacific Affairs Ralph Boyce, on a visit to Asia, was reported to
have said that the October UN initiative was "the only game in town" and
still worth pursuing.
A few weeks later, the press reported yet another balloon which suggested
that the UN was prepared to send an envoy to Rangoon to discuss exchanging
aid for a political dialogue.
The new element in this report was that Burma's neighbours, who previously
were silent as they pursued the Asean policy of constructive engagement,
were now encouraging Burma's military rulers to accept the mission and
start talks with NLD leader Suu Kyi.
As the world waits to see what will happen next, it is worth examining the
past activities of the key players in order to put the future into
It should be remembered that Suu Kyi has long been on record as saying that
she and her party were ready for dialogue and willing to discuss anything
with the view of starting a process of restoring democracy in Burma. Suu
Kyi's position has not changed since she made this statement to the then US
Congressman Bill Richardson while under house arrest in 1994.
Opposition to dialogue between Suu Kyi, other leaders of the NLD and
minority leaders is also part of the military's policy of "divide and
rule". They have blocked all her efforts both to travel to areas inhabited
by the minorities and hold talks. They also have put dialogue restraints on
the minority groups. As a condition of the ceasefire agreements with them,
the military rulers have demanded that those who signed should not
communicate with those who did not.
By keeping all political groups apart, SPDC hopes that the people will see
and accept the military as the only leaders in the country and gather
behind it. But no matter what they say or do, Suu Kyi and her party have
the backing of both the Burmese in the country's heartland and the
minorities in the frontier areas.
Burma's military rulers have fooled no one with their shifting explanations
about the goals of the 1990 election and their own efforts to write a new
constitution which will keep them permanently in power.
They say that until the constitution is written and in place they cannot
discuss the issues which matter most to the people -- whether Burma will be
federal or unitary, whether or not it will be a democracy and whether or
not the people will be given all the rights set forth in the UN Declaration
of Human Rights.
Thus, if internal dialogue is the goal of the Human Rights Watch, the US
government and the UN, they are right to focus on the military rulers
because it is they and not the NLD who refuse to come to the table and
talk. If the dialogue is to proceed, then the participants must come as
equals, each with the right to choose its own leaders.
But is it necessary to pay a giant bribe to get talks underway and why
should anyone trust the military rulers to keep their word?
Governments and people, the world over, know that the military rulers
showed no respect for the election law and the results of the voting. They
continue to show no respect for the laws they have promulgated and the
promises they have made. The world community also knows that SPDC shows no
respect for international law and binding treaties.
ASIAWEEK: MYANMAR -- THE MANDELA FACTOR
25 June, 1999
What might transpire when Lt.-Gen. Khin Nyunt, Secretary No. 1 of Myanmar's
State Peace and Development Council, attends the inauguration of Thabo
Mbeki, the next president of South Africa? It has been suggested that the
departing Nelson Mandela may act as a mediator to bring about a
rapprochement between the SPDC and pro-democracy leader Aung San Sun Kyi,
much as he did in East Timor when he went to Indonesia and visited Xanana
It's known that Mandela intends to give more time to such mediating roles
after leaving the presidency. If he does travel to Yangon, Mandela will
have to meet Suu Kyi, who regards him as a hero. That possibility gives
credence to the view that some junta members did not want Khin Nyunt to go
to Pretoria precisely because they fear he may be talked into dealing with
ASSOCIATED PRESS: MYANMAR GENERAL DEFENDS COUNTRY
23 June, 1999
YANGON, Myanmar (AP) -- Contrary to reports, money laundering and
trafficking in women do not exist in Myanmar, the military government's
intelligence chief insisted Wednesday.
Gen. Khin Nyunt made the comments at the opening of the second annual
Association of Southeast Asian Nations Ministerial Meeting on Transnational
``There are stringent regulations against money laundering and, therefore,
allegations against Myanmar of such practices are completely without
basis,'' he said.
Khin Nyunt, nonetheless, conceded that money laundering and trafficking of
women, drugs and arms were threats to regional stability and urged the
10-member group to come up with measures to combat illegal activities.
ASEAN consists of Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the
Philippines, Thailand, Singapore and Vietnam. Myanmar, which is also known
as Burma, has been ruled by the military since 1962. International law
enforcement agencies have been skeptical of Khin Nyunt's claims.
Myanmar is the world's largest producer of opium, the raw material for
heroin. Many opium warlords led ethnic insurgencies against the government.
In order to end them, the government has negotiated cease-fire deals with
the warlords and their armies.
Critics have charged that the deals allow the warlords to invest their drug
money in businesses in Yangon and around the country, and perhaps even
continue drug trafficking.
Khin Nyunt said since 1993, the government has seized more than $274,000 in
financial assets and property from drug dealers.
He also said allegations that Myanmar is involved in the trafficking of
women are false ``and have been spread by malicious elements. We consider
such trafficking a heinous crime and have brought the full force of the law
to prevent it.''
Women from Myanmar have been found in Thai brothels in increasingly large
numbers in recent years, according to women's groups and Thai officials.
The Thai-Myanmar border is porous and smuggling of all varieties of
contraband is common.
REUTERS: MYANMAR MINE BLAST KILLS 7, WOUNDS 20 -- WITNESSES
23 June, 1999
MAE SOT, Thailand (Reuters) - Seven people were killed and 20 wounded in
eastern Myanmar Wednesday when a packed minibus triggered a landmine,
The witnesses, who arrived in the Thai border town of Mae Sot from Myanmar,
told Reuters the van carrying 27 passengers hit the mine in the afternoon
about 30 km (18 miles) west of the Myanmar border town of Myawadi.
Myanmar soldiers based on the bridge between Myawadi and Mae Sot confirmed
the report but declined to give details, except to say that all the wounded
had been admitted to Myawadi hospital.
The explosion came two weeks after General Bo Mya, leader of anti-Yangon
Karen National Union guerrillas, threatened attacks on traders and
businesses refusing to pay taxes to his movement.
KNU officials could not immediately be reached for comment.
ASIAN WALL STREET JOURNAL: BORDER TOWN IN BURMA FINDS MUSE IN COMMERCE
15 June, 1999 by Barry Wain
MUSE, Myanmar - The rest of Myanmar may be in recession, but Muse, in
northern Shan state on the frontier with China, is booming.
Trucks loaded with beans, dried fish, fresh fruit and rattan products cross
the border into China and return full of electrical goods, spare parts,
cement and other building materials. Buses disgorge Chinese tourists, who
flock to local restaurants and markets. The streets buzz night and day as
traders do deals, and fleets of pickups, weighed low with cargo, roar out
of town. Women moneychangers sit on stools on corners clutching fistfuls
of kyat and yuan notes.
A sleepy village a decade ago, Muse has grown rapidly, its population
increasing tenfold to almost 100,000. It is expected to double again in
the next five to 10 years, as the town attracts people from all over the
"They come here to make business," says Ohn Thwin, deputy director of Muse
Township Development Committee. "The place is flourishing."
Myanmar's overland trade with China, Thailand and India has exploded since
1988, when the military regime formally abandoned socialism and began
adopting market-oriented reforms. In many cases, Yangon simply legalized
traditional smuggling arrangements. Another contributing factor has been a
vast improvement in security in border zones: The authorities have
negotiated cease-fires with 17 major insurgent groups in the past 10 years,
many of them ethnic-based, which had been fighting Yangon for more than 40
Burmese Communist Party guerrillas, once backed by China, were active
around Muse before the party split in the late 1980s and made peace with
the government. Today, Muse is the main center for China trade.
With Myanmar's economy slumping in the past two years, the ruling State
Peace and Development Council took steps to conserve dwindling
foreign-exchange reserves. Among other things, it brought border trade
into line with trade through Myanmar's ports from the start of last year.
The measures -- including payment by letter of credit through banks and the
end of bartering -- don't appear to have slowed business, as some reports
suggest. Maung Yin, president of the state-backed Muse-Namkhan Border
Trade Chamber of Commerce, says the introduction of "normal" trade
inconvenienced his 4,055 individual and 560 corporate members for less than
"Now, everyone agrees with the new policy," he says. As for further
restrictions on imports and exports announced by Yangon, "We never heard
Goods are transported 456 kilometers between Muse and Mandalay, the former
capital that is currently a commercial as well as a cultural center. The
176-kilometer stretch from Lashio to the border is part of the so-called
Burma Road from World War II, which extended into Yunan province and
allowed the Allies to re-supply Nationalist forces fighting the Japanese in
The government has given the conglomerate Asia World Group -- a
diversified property development and trading concern founded by Lo
Hsing-han, a convicted drug king during the early 1970s -- a contract to
upgrade the Mandalay-Muse route. In return for the work, the company is
being allowed to collect tolls on the road for 30 years.
Businessmen report that traveling time between Muse and Mandalay, where the
twisting road already has been widened and resurfaced, has been cut to
three to four hours from 12 hours. The payment of a few dollars in tolls
more than covers the saving in wear and tear on vehicles, they say.
Thatch-roof shops and restaurants have sprung up around two new
checkpoints, added to two existing ones, where vehicles are searched along
the way. Government officials check papers and look for banned items --
among them cigarettes, alcohol and teak -- driving steel rods through boxes
to detect false bottoms in semitrailers.
In a country marked by poverty and deprivation, the highway is a corridor
of relative prosperity. The flow of commerce generates jobs, including a
demand for specialists who lash outsize loads on vehicles.
"I prefer working here," says Zaw Moe, 21 years old, who followed his
civil-servant father from the capital and earns 5,000 kyats per day selling
gasoline, snacks and cheroots to merchants passing through his village 60
kilometers from Muse. "Business is better than in Yangon," he adds. (About
$15 at free-market exchange rates, 5,000 kyat is three times as much as the
cash component of an average civil servant's monthly salary. A civil
servant also receives rice, cooking oil and other essentials, with a
gasoline ration for senior ranks.)
Permanently aglow, Muse stands in stark contrast with most other urban
areas of Myanmar, which are subject to extensive power cuts -- nine or 10
hours per day in Yangon, for example. Muse gets much of its electricity
In fact, Myanmar and Chinese authorities seem to have settled on a much
broader division of labor and services that keeps both sides happy. For
instance, all bars, brothels and night-clubs are in Ruili, a few minutes'
walk across the border. A check around Muse at night reveals nothing more
exciting than video games played on personal computers and an open-air
karaoke lounge at a state-owned hotel. Yangon's ban on discos is observed.
Myanmar truck drivers, who unload in Ruili, often spend two or three weeks
there awaiting the arrival of goods to buy for their return run to
Mandalay. Win Swee, 29, who is paid 10,000 kyats to make the round trip
monthly, has been on the road for five years and says he enjoys the life.
Waiting for his 35-ton consignment of Chinese-made soap powder, wax and
fertilizer to be cleared at the Maing Yu checkpoint near Muse, Mr. Win Swee
admits many of his fellow drivers are tempted by the nightspots of Ruili,
where AIDS is rife. Does his wife worry? "I'm not fooling around," he
says, as other drivers laugh.
Crossing to Ruili and returning is a fairly relaxed affair, requiring a
small entry fee but no passport or visa. Pedestrians use a couple of
lightly policed informal entrances, while traders and tourists must pass
through the Man Waing Gate, where various Myanmar government departments
Chinese vehicles are taxed by Myanmar -- five or 10 yuan (60 U.S. cents or
$1.21), depending on size -- and Myanmar vehicles are taxed by China. In
addition, Muse authorities charge Myanmar vehicles a similar, two-tier
"wheel" tax. Licensed Myanmar traders also pay their government a 200-kyat
fee each time they enter China. And, although tons of raw opium and heroin
from Shan state flood China on the way to Western markets, only small
amounts are detected at the gate. "Traffickers go through the forest
area," says Maung Maung Oo, who heads the anti-narcotics inspection team.
Chinese day-trippers, who have been visiting the Muse area for the past
eight years, arrive at the rate of 3,000 per month, paying a small entry
fee. About 150 Chinese per month take a 28-day tour and go as far as
Yangon, following approval of the excursions less than two years ago.
The Muse Township Development Committee raises enough revenue from the
wheel tax to be self-funding. Its annual budget of about $162,000 -- 10
times what it was only three years ago -- is used to build roads, sweep
streets and provide basic services such as water supply. The committee's
Mr. Ohn Thwin, a 43-year-old retired army officer, presents Muse as the
fastest growing town in the country. He also boasts it is not only free of
crime -- a contention supported by other officials and residents but also
devoid of democratic opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi's influence.
"People are only interested in making money," he says, adding, "They aren't
interested in politics."
Silver Elephant Construction Co. is certainly pursuing profit. A little
over a year ago, the private Myanmar company began work on a $10 million,
six-year development that is ambitious enough to be referred to locally as
a "new city."
On a 40-hectare site, Silver Elephant is using Chinese laborers to build an
80-room hotel, 100 shops, 15 restaurants, a school and hundreds of
residential units. The project is a mere 15 meters from the border, so
Chinese will be able to rent and operate shops during the day and return
home to China at night.
The most luxurious of a proposed 180 houses, complete with compound, garden
and views across the Shweli River to Yunan, will cost about $30,000 each.
Myanmar's per capita gross domestic product in the year ended March 31,
1998, was just $406, according to the International Monetary Fund.
"There are a lot of people who can afford a house," says Aik Yee, one of
five partners in Silver Elephant, who says he made his money from trading.
"There will also be wealthy people from Mandalay coming to stay here."
XINHUA: BURMA TO ADD MORE BORDER TRADE POINTS
22 June, 1999
Yangon, 22nd June: Myanmar authorities are planning to open two more border
trade points, one each with neighbouring China and Thailand in addition to
the existing ones, to promote trade with these countries. The trade points
will be set up at Chenshwehaw in northeastern Shan state bordering China
and at Mawtaung in the southern Tanintharyi division bordering Thailand,
sources at the Myanmar Ministry of Commerce said Tuesday [22nd June]. Along
the border with China, Myanmar has, on its side, opened six border trade
points, namely Muse, Kyuhkok, Lwejei, Namhkam, Kunlong and Mongla.
Myanmar -China bilateral trade, including border trade, amounted to 381.1m
US dollars in 1998, up 21.56 per cent from 1997's 313.5m dollars. Trade for
the first two months of this year was 78.21m dollars, according to official
statistics. The balance of trade is in China's favour.
Along the border with Thailand, Myanmar has, on its side, opened three
border trade points which are Tachilek, Myawaddy and Kawthoung. Myanmar
-Thailand bilateral trade, including border trade, stood at 441.4m dollars,
up 56 per cent from 1997's 282.85m dollars, and trade for the first two
months of this year was 50.63m dollars. The balance of trade is in
Thailand and China ranked second and fourth in Myanmar 's foreign trade in
1998 respectively. The first was Singapore and the third Japan.
BURMA ISSUES: TOWARDS JUSTICE - THE ROAD LESS TRAVELED BY
April, 1999 by Max Ediger
News, Analysis, and People's Stories
Volume 9, Number 4
A nonviolent struggle for political, economic, social and cultural change
is one of the more difficult forms of struggle. It focuses not so much on
fighting against injustice as it does in building justice as envisioned by
the most invisible and oppressed in society. The difficulties are many, but
one of the most complex is that of building truly just structures within
areas where corrupted and oppressive ones are already firmly established.
This difficulty can be further exacerbated by the tendency of many
activists, who, craving the adrenaline rush of massive street gatherings,
try to create mass uprisings before actually doing the tedious and
time-consuming work of building up small grassroots movements. Grassroots
action is the only type of action that can both build the new just
structures within their communities and at the same time find creative and
effective ways to destabilize and render ineffective the old unjust
Mass uprisings like the August 8, 1988 demonstrations in Burma are
successful in destabilizing or toppling dictatorial regimes only if and
when the environment is truly suitable for such action. A suitable
environment is one in which the existing power structures are in sufficient
internal conflict or dysfunction to be unable to work together effectively
in countering the uprising. Thus, many successful mass uprisings tend to be
spontaneous; as they can take advantage of sudden weaknesses and/or
divisions within the power structures to mobilize large numbers of people
and take power.
By nature, dictatorships are not especially internally strong, although
they usually appear to be so. They are very authoritatively top/down and
this creates jealousies, distrust and often hatred among the various
leadership levels. Corruption may also be rampant, causing even further
jealousies and distrust. These weaknesses are usually carefully kept under
control in order that the regime can continue to survive. A mass uprising,
at the wrong time, can pull the members of the regime together more tightly
in order to protect themselves, making the success of the uprising less of
a possibility, and increasing the chances for bloodshed.
However, the distrust, fear and jealousy which exist among members of the
regime are elements which can and should be used for a successful long-term
nonviolent struggle. They represent the weaknesses of the regime which must
be exploited in positive ways to move the struggle for change forward and
provide space for people to begin building the just structures which they
A nonviolent struggle, therefore, should focus its efforts on several very
important tasks. The first is to encourage and assist local communities in
thoroughly analyzing the power structures in their areas. Among other
things, this analysis must identify the weaknesses which exist among
various people in power as well as between the various levels of power.
Once these weak points have been identified, the local communities can
brainstorm ways to exploit them in order to destabilize the system to the
point that it can no longer effectively maintain solid control over the
The second task builds on the first. As the existing exploitive and abusive
control system weakens, the local people gain more space in which to work
at creating the just structures they need to replace it. These new just
systems must encompass the economic, political, social and cultural spheres
of the community.
"Just economic structures must be built at the community level which
completely avoid both direct and indirect exploitation of all people in the
community no matter their gender, race, physical appearance, place of
origin, religion or ethnic origin. This generally requires that the new
economic structures be built on already existing traditional economic
practices in order that all members of the community can participate in
them easily and effectively. Any economic practices which exploit, in any
way, some members of the community, destroy life, damage the environment,
or break down ethnic culture and tradition cannot be considered as a just
alternative to those systems which already exist.
"New just political structures must emphasize the equality, liberty and
safety of all people. Equality refers specifically to the right of equal
participation in both national and local political activities, and the
self-determination of all ethnic groups. Liberty refers to the right to act
freely in any political activity without interfering in the lives of other
people. Safety is the exemption from slavery, torture, arbitrary arrest,
arbitrary execution, forced exile or any other form of human rights abuse.
"Just social structures must be created which carefully protect people from
all forms of deprivation as these are an affront to human dignity. Adequate
food, shelter clothing, health care and basic education are not only
economic issues, but are also directly related to human dignity. Human
beings need all of these basic items for security and happiness. The
social structures which are newly created must guarantee the flow of these
necessities to all members of the society equally so that all can live with
the security that they and their families will not be deprived of what they
need for a happy life.
"All people in the community must have the right to practice their own
culture as long as it does not negatively affect the lives of others.
Culture is a part of human dignity, and thus structures need to be designed
to ensure that everyone 's culture is protected and respected." (From Burma
Issues Ideology, April 1998)
It is the people themselves who must work at building these new just
structures. As they make use of the space created by destabilizing the old
exploitative system they will slowly begin transforming the community until
the old system can no longer survive. This does not suggest that the old
system will not strongly attempt to fight back for survival, but if its
weaknesses have been effectively exploited, its power will be substantially
exhausted and its ability to put up a strong resistance undermined.
The third task, which builds on the first two, involves organizing the
international community for positive support in bringing about the final
steps of transformation. International support is only a "support," not a
solution, and it can only be effective if the first two tasks discussed
above have effectively been initiated and provide the context in which the
international community can organize and focus appropriate campaigns.
A nonviolent struggle must be looked at as a long-term strategy which
requires slow and detailed planning and organizing at the grassroots level.
Its design is to slowly erode the ability of the old system to maintain
exploitative control, while at the same time building, from the bottom up,
new economic, political, social and cultural structures which are deeply
embedded in justice and dignity. This can only be done with the full and
active participation and leadership of the grassroots people themselves.