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BurmaNet News: February 11, 2001
- Subject: BurmaNet News: February 11, 2001
- From: strider@xxxxxxxxxxx
- Date: Sun, 11 Feb 2001 10:14:00
______________ THE BURMANET NEWS ______________
An on-line newspaper covering Burma
February 11, 2001 Issue # 1733
______________ www.burmanet.org _______________
INSIDE BURMA _______
*BurmaNet: Burmese troops shell Thai border town?population evacuated
*Associated Press: Two killed, 37 injured as Myanmar fighting spills
*DVB: Burmese Junta arm splinter Karen group
*DVB: Soldiers forced to choose between military, Democrat Aung San Suu
*AFP: Indian FM due in Myanmar with drugs, insurgency on agenda
*Toronto Star: To boycott or not to boycott?
__________________ INSIDE BURMA ____________________
BurmaNet: Burmese troops shell Thai border town?population evacuated
February 11, 2001
Starting at about noon local time, Burmese troops began shelling the
Thai border town of Mae Sai. Thai authorities have evacuated the town
and rushed armor units to reinforce troops already in the area.
Fighting between Thai and Burmese troops has been reported.
Thai radio and television has so far been mostly silent about the
attack, with the a brief report being aired on Thai radio more than
eight hours after fighting began. The news blackout may be in order to
give newly installed Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra time to form a
The Associated Press has picked up the story but characterizes the
fighting as a spillover of fighting between ethnic Shan troops and
regime soldiers rather than Burmese vs. Thai. The attack may be
retaliation for Thailand?s recently adopted policy of providing military
support to Shan and other ethnic armies in exchange for cooperation in
fighting methamphetamine traffickers from Burma. A number of Burmese
army as well as soldiers from the United Wa State Army have been killed
recently in joint operations of the Thai army and the Shan State Army,
the leading Shan ethnic force.
Associated Press: Two killed, 37 injured as Myanmar fighting spills into
February 11, 2001
Heavy fighting between Myanmar troops and a rebel group spilled into
Thailand Sunday, killing two civilians and injuring at least 37
soldiers, the Thai army said.
The fighting erupted in at least three Myanmar border areas between
Myanmar soldiers and the Shan State Army, a guerrilla group fighting for
independence for the ethnic Shan minority.
There was no word on casualties from the Myanmar side, and the Myanmar
government would not comment on the fighting.
Thailand said it was taking a ''very serious'' view of the fighting.
''We will use all necessary means to protect our sovereignty and
territorial integrity,'' Thai Foreign Ministry spokesman Pradap
Pibulsonggram told The Associated Press.
''We would also like to see the problem resolved as soon as possible and
we call on Myanmar to cooperate with us,'' he said, adding that
diplomatic action will be taken on Monday. He did not elaborate.
Thai army spokesman Somkuan Sangpataranet told the AP that Myanmar
troops fired a barrage of shells at the guerrillas, and some landed
across the border in the northern Thai town of Mae Sai, killing two
He said Thai troops also fought a gun battle with about 200 Myanmar
soldiers who intruded onto Thai soil in the nearby Mae Fah Luang
district while chasing the Shan rebels. Seven Thai soldiers were injured
in the fighting, he said.
Thai army Lt. Gen. Wathanachai Chaimuanwong said the Myanmar troops
captured 19 Thai soldiers, but a Thai unit later rescued them. Some 30
Myanmar soldiers were injured in the fighting with the Shan army, he
According to unconfirmed reports, two Myanmar soldiers were killed, Col.
Somsuk Suansombat, a Thai army intelligence officer, said.
A border committee was trying to convince the Myanmar troops to withdraw
from the mountainous area, where the border is often fuzzy and an uneasy
Somkuan, the army spokesman, said that in a third incident, Myanmar
troops fired automatic rifles at a Thai army helicopter on a supply
mission flight over Mae Aye, about 100 kilometers (60 miles) from Mae
Sai. The aircraft was damaged but landed safely, he said.
The Myanmar soldiers appeared to have launched the operation to pave the
way for the United Wa State Army, a pro-government group, to take full
control of the region.
The Wa enjoy virtual autonomy in the area, while Shan militias have
fought the Myanmar government for independence for the past four
decades, funding the resistance with drugs.
Because of the fighting, authorities closed the border crossing at Mae
Sai, which is on the northernmost tip of Thailand, about 720 kilometers
(440 miles) north of Bangkok.
After about 10 shells landed in Mae Sai, shopkeepers closed their shops
and the streets became deserted, said Fuen Kam, a resident contacted by
telephone. He said the rockets damaged some buildings.
''This is some of the heaviest fighting I have ever heard in the area,''
Fuen Kam told the AP before leaving town with hundreds of other
Most of the serious fighting is believed to be taking place at a hill
about three kilometers (two miles) west of the town of Thakhilek, which
is separated from Mae Sai by a canal.
DVB: Burmese Junta arm splinter Karen group
Democratic Voice of Burma, Oslo, in Burmese 1245 gmt 9 Feb 01
The Democratic Karen Buddhist Army, DKBA, a KNU Karen National Union
splinter group based near the Burma-Thai border that joined forces with
the SPDC State Peace and Development Council , has been expanding its
strength. DVB Democratic Voice of Burma correspondent Ma Sandar filed
Sandar Those who were given responsibilities to increase the military
strength and to build military bases at selected places were Battalion
Commander Saw Kyaw Win of DKBA 3rd Battalion and Deputy Battalion
Commander Maung Soe for Bawle, Kyaukkhwet, Phalu and Nanpale camps with
DKBA 4th Battalion Commander Maung Chit Po for Myaingkyiaye and Kokko
camps opposite Mae Sot.
In addition, more weapons have been added to Kaythala and Ganohta camps
opposite Mawtama Village, and Bawkyawhta, Monywatamaw, Awphakha,
Methewaw and Manerplaw camps opposite Mae Saimar Village. Although these
camps were built in the past, they are now being renovated into a
stronger base camp.
All the villages along the region had to supply 15 villagers for a week
to contribute volunteer labour to cut bamboo and wood and to build
connecting trenches for the camps. Moreover, DVB has received the news
that the SPDC has also issued 100 extra weapons for each and every DKBA
battalion and each company under DKBA 1st Brigade has been issued with
five heavy artillery pieces.
DVB: Soldiers forced to choose between military, Democrat Aung San Suu
Democratic Voice of Burma, Oslo, in Burmese 1245 gmt 9 Feb 01
Many SPDC State Peace and Development Council soldiers have been
deserting the SPDC armed forces because they could not take any more
mistreatment from their senior officers. Furthermore, some have become
fed up with the civil war and did not want to fight anymore. DVB
Democratic Voice of Burma correspondent Maung Tu filed this report.
Maung Tu Nine soldiers from Battalion Commander Lt-Col Aung Ye Kyaw's
Mong Nai-based LIB Light Infantry Battalion 518 deserted early this
month. The nine deserters who absconded from the Mong Nai battalion
headquarters include Capt Thet Wai, Sgt Hla Moe, Serial No. 825361, aged
28 years, and Pvts Khin Win, Hla Aung, Han Myint and Tin Hla. Sgt. From
these, Hla Moe has now arrived at the Burma-Thai border and according to
him, many SPDC soldiers have been mistreated by various levels of
officers and have become depressed about going to the forward areas.
Only Sgt Hla Moe arrived at the border while the remaining eight are
still hiding inside Burma. According to Sgt Hla Moe, internal discussion
sessions are being held at every SPDC company and battalion and the
soldiers were asked to vote on whether they support Daw Aung San Suu Kyi
or the SPDC generals. Although the soldiers dislike the military clique
and wanted to support Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, the majority had to vote
against Daw Aung San Suu Kyi for fear of arrest and intimidation by
Military Intelligence personnel.
AFP: Indian FM due in Myanmar with drugs, insurgency on agenda
GUWAHATI, India, Feb 11 (AFP) - India and Myanmar are to sign a treaty
to combat cross-border drug trafficking and a separatist insurgency
during a visit by India's foreign minister next week, officials said
Foreign Minister Jaswant Singh is due in Yangon on Tuesday for a
three-day official visit, accompanied by a government delegation, and is
also set to discuss ways to boost trade and transport.
The officials said high on the agenda were "effective plans" to stem the
flow of drugs from Myanmar into India through Moreh, the last border
point in the northeastern Indian state of Manipur.
They said a treaty would be signed next week following Singh's talks
with Myanmar's military leaders.
Experts say drugs such as heroin and marijuana find their way into
India's remote northeastern states from Laos, Thailand and Myanmar.
During his stay in Yangon, Singh is expected to call on Myanmar's army
chief of staff Lieutenant General Tin Oo and top junta leader General
India and Myanmar, who share a 1,643-kilometre (1,018-mile) border,
pledged in 1999 to cooperate more closely and curb cross-border
The two sides signed a document agreeing to "control and contain
cross-border militancy in their respective territory, drug trafficking
and smuggling, and the opening of more border trade centres."
"The two sides this time will review the progress achieved in the
implementation of measures for ensuring security, suppression of drug
trafficking along the Indo-Myanmar border, and further strengthen
bilateral cooperation in this regard," a senior foreign ministry
official told AFP.
India and Myanmar are also expected to commission a highway to link the
two countries by road and boost cross-border transport and
communication, the official said.
"The inflow of tourists is expected to improve when the highway is
opened for traffic, and other mutually-beneficial economic activities
are also bound to increase," he said.
New Delhi will also urge Yangon not to allow rebel groups from
northeastern Indian states to use Myanmar's territory for training
camps, the officials said.
India says a dozen separatist groups, including the dominant National
Socialist Council of Nagaland, have bases in northwest Myanmar.
During a visit by Myanmar Home Minister Tin Hlaing to New Delhi in
November last year the two sides discussed the issue.
_______________ ECONOMY AND BUSINESS _______________
Toronto Star: To boycott or not to boycott?
Critics of the military regime say tourist dollars help perpetuate
Burma's repression Martin Regg Cohn - ASIAN BUREAU
BAGAN, Burma - THE HOT air balloon soars over a panorama of ancient
Buddhist temples at sunrise. The setting is sublime but quickly turns
Once the tour group touches down on a farmer's field, the balloon's
breathless crew pour glasses of chilled champagne for the paying
passengers - while impoverished villagers stare in silence.
The contrast between luxury travel and local living conditions couldn't
be greater that in this tortured Southeast Asian nation.
To foreigners breezing through Burma, it seems a land of smiling faces,
unspoiled colonial architecture and magnificent Buddhist history. But
behind the veneer of tropical paradise lies an iron-fisted military
regime that tramples on human rights and builds golf courses for army
officers while cheating villagers of decent education or health care.
In the decade since the military massacred protesters, cancelled an
opposition election victory and closed universities to punish student
activists, the country has bankrupted itself - morally and financially.
Now, it is counting on infusions of hard currency from visitors to shore
up its sagging image and finances.
Against that backdrop, what's the well-meaning, fun-loving foreign
tourist to do? Should travellers eschew the grandeur of the sumptuously
restored Strand Hotel in post-colonial Rangoon, where teak-panelled
rooms range from $525 to $1,350 a night?
For opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, who won the Nobel Peace Prize
for her resistance to the regime and who remains under house arrest in
the capital, there is no dilemma. Foreigners should simply stay away, to
avoid shoring up an illegitimate regime.
``I still think that people should not come to Burma because the bulk of
the money from tourism goes straight into the pockets of the generals,''
Suu Kyi said in 1999. ``If tourists really wanted to find out what's
happening in Burma, it's better if they stay at home and read some of
the many human-rights reports there are.''
It's hard for tourists to close their eyes to the abuses, such as the
thousands of residents the government has dragooned for forced labour
projects. Leaving the Mandalay airport for the drive into town - the
road was built with forced labour, according to the Burmese opposition -
visitors can still see child labourers working on the paving crews.
In Bagan, one of the world's most remarkable Buddhist sites, the influx
of tourist dollars has clearly benefited the economy. But development
remains uneven. To enhance the appeal of Bagan's Buddhist temples, the
military moved thousands of residents to a neighbouring township.
There is now electricity 24 hours a day, but the power lines bypass many
villagers, who are also banned from cutting firewood. There is a
multi-million-dollar museum showing off Buddhist artefacts, but not
enough money to run the local hospital.
Such scenes have given ammunition to pro-democracy groups calling for a
When guidebook company Lonely Planet produced a new edition on Burma
last year, a British lobby group, Tourism Concern, called for a boycott
of the publisher, including a postcard campaign that proclaimed: ``The
cost of a holiday in Burma could be someone's life.''
Another group, the Burma Relief Centre, made a point of returning
corporate donations from Lonely Planet because it objected to the
But Lonely Planet's founder, Tony Wheeler, makes no apologies and plans
to reprint the guidebook shortly with a personal essay, based on an
investigative trip to Burma last month. He met foreign ambassadors,
talked with travel operators and came away convinced that tourism can
help people break out of poverty and isolation.
``There are lots of people who make their living from the tourism
business,'' he said in an interview. ``They would be unemployed if these
boycotters had their way.''
The publisher of the Rough Guides series disagrees. It recently
announced that as long as the military remains in power and the
opposition opposes tourism, ``Rough Guides will not publish a guide to
Beyond the rhetoric, it's clear that many Burmese view tourism as a
two-way street. Ordinary people had little hesitation in welcoming
tourists, despite the glaring contradictions and hardships.
While disdaining investment projects by foreign corporations (Canada is
now the country's second-biggest foreign investor), they draw a
distinction between visits by individuals and tour groups.
``Without tourists, we would be blind,'' says one guide in his late 20s
who still has not earned a degree because university classes were
cancelled for years. His identity cannot be disclosed because talking to
the foreign press is forbidden.
He sympathizes with the political objective of boycotting Burma but
ordinary people as well as tour guides pay a heavy price for such
isolation. Deprived of regular contact with foreigners, guides would
miss the flow of information, encouragement - and money.
Private e-mails are illegal. Regular mail is routinely steamed open and
the contents intercepted. Books, magazines and newspapers are censored.
Sealed in cellophane, they are for sale only to foreigners at hotel
`We have no access to the Internet, just what we get from backpackers
and visitors. We have fruit from our orchard, but we need food for our
minds'- An anonymous Burmese, arguing that tourists bring news from
``We have no access to the Internet, just what we get from backpackers
and visitors,'' says one university-educated man who is starved for
``We have fruit from our orchard, but we need food for our minds.''
The country has become a popular tourist destination for French and
Italian tour groups who are drawn to Burma's exotic allure. But there
are few individual travellers from Canada, Britain or the U.S.
Overall, only 150,000 tourists arrive in a typical year, generating
about $50 million in revenue. By comparison, neighbouring Thailand
attracts about 8 million visitors and earns about $12 billion annually.
According to the Myanmar Investment Commission, about 15 per cent of the
more than $11 billion in foreign investment over the past decade went
into hotels and the tourism industry. Today, hotels with low occupancy
rates are shutting down or converting their ballrooms into discotheques.
Of those foreigners who visit, many flit through Burma oblivious to its
hardships. Tour groups are typically whisked from one sightseeing stop
to another, with little opportunity for genuine interaction with
Burmese, who are closely watched by government informers.
``You don't see soldiers with guns on the streets, but military
intelligence is everywhere,'' says one Burmese man.
``We want our country to be free. When that happens, we will welcome
foreign friends, as many as possible, including foreign investment.''
One Rangoon-based diplomat says she supported tourism initially as a way
to enhance the exchange of ideas. But she now sees luxury tour groups as
a money machine for the government, with visitors arriving - and leaving
- in ignorance.
``I think tourism should be absolutely banned,'' the diplomat says.
``Ninety per cent of tourists are rich people who don't even know
there's a military regime here. They think it's so nice: Everyone
smiles, it's sunny, it's pretty.''
The Canadian Friends of Burma, an Ottawa-based group of democracy
activists, argues that ``tourism fuels oppression'' in a country where
forced labour is commonplace.
``The bulk of tourism revenue goes straight to Burma's rulers, not to
its impoverished peoples. Tourists cannot help contributing to the
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