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BurmaNet News: February 11, 2001

______________ THE BURMANET NEWS ______________
        An on-line newspaper covering Burma 
         February 11, 2001   Issue # 1733
______________ www.burmanet.org _______________

*BurmaNet: Burmese troops shell Thai border town?population evacuated
*Associated Press: Two killed, 37 injured as Myanmar fighting spills 
into Thailand 
*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


BANGKOK, Thailand 

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 
told reporters. 

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 
truce prevails. 

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 
this report. 

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. 



___________________ REGIONAL/INTERNATIONAL___________________

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 
Than Shwe. 

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 
the country.'' 

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 
argues that 
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 
regime's wealth.''  


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