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BurmaNet News: June 25, 2001
- Subject: BurmaNet News: June 25, 2001
- From: strider@xxxxxxxxxxx
- Date: Mon, 25 Jun 2001 00:47:00
______________ THE BURMANET NEWS ______________
An on-line newspaper covering Burma
June 25, 2001 Issue # 1831
______________ www.burmanet.org _______________
INSIDE BURMA _______
*NY Times: Burmese Editor's Code-- Winks and Little Hints
*The Nation: Burmese overwhelm border checkpoint
*VOA News: Burma, Thailand Border Crossing Reopens
*Xinhua: Myanmar Reclaims 10,493 Hectares of Vacant Land
*Asia Times: Myanmar feels sting over farm labor
*AFP: Burma Said Revoking Money-Dealing Licenses in Bid to Stabilise
*AFP: Six countries [including Burma] added to money laundering
*The Nation: Account trade to go ahead
*Shan Herald Agency for News: Shan army leaders deny newspaper reports
*South China Morning Post: A war with no front
*Bankok Post: Army powerless to stop material for lignite plant-Chief
urges talks on factory's relocation
*BurmaNet News: Thai Police Crack Down on Burma exile groups
*Bangkok Post: Editorial - A harder bargain with Burma needed
*The Japan Times: More than words are needed in Myanmar
*The New light of Myanmar (SPDC): It's time people should counter
*Prospect (UK): Portrait--Aung San Suu Kyi
__________________ INSIDE BURMA ____________________
NY Times: Burmese Editor's Code-- Winks and Little Hints
June 24, 2001
By SETH MYDANS
BANGKOK, June 22 The trick is in the presentation, said U Tin Maung
Than, a Burmese writer and editor who played the game hard, bobbing and
weaving, winking and nudging, honing his metaphors, comparisons and
historical references until it all became too much and he fled here from
Myanmar for safety.
Writing under censorship is an intricate and multilayered exercise that
consumed Mr. Tin Maung Than. Sometimes you aim too low and the readers
miss your point entirely, he said. Sometimes too high and the censors
It is a game played by all independent-minded writers in the military
dictatorship of Myanmar, the former Burma: the writer versus the censor.
The stakes are high; at the worst, the penalty box is prison.
Daily newspapers in Myanmar are government-run outlets for turgid
official propaganda. But there are also scores of independent magazines
and newsletters, large and small, most of which confine themselves to
gossip, sports and lifestyle features. Only a few try to push the
boundaries of what is acceptable.
Mr. Tin Maung Than, 47, was the editor of Thint Bawa (Your Life), a
monthly general interest journal that grew progressively sharper and
more challenging as he himself became bolder and more self-critical of
what he saw as his own passivity.
Late last year, he sensed from growing hints that the authorities saw
him as a political problem and that he was in danger. "Two or three
years in prison is O.K.," he said in an interview here. "But more than
10 years, the cost is too high." With his wife, who is a doctor, and
their two young children, he fled across the lightly patrolled border
into Thailand, where he is waiting for paperwork to enter the United
Though it finally became too much for him, it seemed clear in the
interview that the duel with the censors fascinated Mr. Tin Maung Than.
He became an expert at it.
In Burma, as in other repressive states, writing under censorship is an
art form in itself, for both the writer and the clever reader. Many of
its rules are universal.
"You cannot criticize," Mr. Tin Maung Than said. "You have to give hints
that you are being critical, that you are talking about the current
system. The hints are in your choice of words and your tones and your
composition. You use words with double meanings."
He wrote a simple story about a little boy who confronted the mayor of
his town, demanding that he build a bicycle path. The hint was in the
title: "About a 10-year-old Boy and About You and Me."
He wrote about repression in the education system under British colonial
rule. Readers were nudged to draw their own conclusions about the
education system of today.
He wrote about flag burning in the United States, ostensibly to
criticize it but, between the lines, to give a glimpse of freedom.
"If we want to talk about fear, we cannot talk about fear in the
political context," he said. "So we talk about children's fear and its
impact on society. The key is that you have to give little hints that
you are not really talking about children."
The enterprise can be as demanding on the readers as on the writers.
"It is a sort of work of art, and when you read a work of art you can
interpret it in many ways," he said. "Only the keen readers who are
interested in social issues activists and intellectuals will
understand the meaning. But if you are a layman who is only interested
in romantic novels, you will not understand."
The challenge is to get through to those keen readers without tipping
off the censors, who work for the government's Press Scrutiny Board.
"The censors are neither smart nor fools," he said. "They are regular
guys. Sometimes they are not interested in their work. They get bored.
Sometimes we intentionally make an article long so it will be boring for
them to censor. But we have to strike a balance because we do not want
to make it boring for the readers, too.
"Sometimes as an editor you have to select a very aggressive, very
critical article. You know it will be censored. But you want to get
another article passed. It's just like playing chess. Sometimes you move
a pawn O.K., you lose it so that you can move another piece another
Like chess, this can be an intimate sport. "I have personal relations
with some censors," Mr. Tin Maung Than said. "I go to the cafe with
them, like with other friends. Sometimes we appeal their decision, so we
try to explain why it is acceptable."
Sometimes, he said, a censor will ask for the reasons in writing so that
he will have something to show his superiors.
Poetry can be especially trying for an editor, and so can poets. "For
some poems," he said, "the censors demand a written explanation. So
that's one of the editor's jobs. You cannot ask the poet to explain it
`Oh, I am a poet, that's not my job' so it is up to the editor to
explain it in an acceptable way."
One of the difficulties is that an editor can never be sure what the
censors will pounce on. A report on mosquitoes in the capital, Yangon,
was censored. References to drought or poor crop yield are forbidden
because they could arouse fears of price rises.
Gibes about preferential treatment for officials a room at a guest
house, a seat on a train are unacceptable.
So are discouraging reports about the fate of national sports teams.
Once, when the soccer team lost badly in the regional Tiger Cup,
sportswriters were ordered to write only upbeat articles. So they wrote
nothing. After another humiliating loss, all mention of the team was
banned for several weeks from magazines and journals.
For Mr. Tin Maung Than, political journalism was an exploration of
limits. A medical doctor and journalist, he became the editor of Thint
Bawa in 1992 with the hope of examining the forbidden subject of
democracy. His work evolved from carefully selected translations of
foreign articles to increasingly daring writing that pushed against the
For writers who are seen to have crossed the line into opposition, the
punishment can be prison. Far more common, though, for the independent
magazines, are more subtle penalties that have created an effective
culture of self-censorship.
The brilliance of the system is that it puts the onus on the publisher.
The material is not submitted to the censors until the magazine has been
If an article is deemed unacceptable, it must not only be removed but
replaced in a new press run by material of an equivalent length so that
readers do not see the traces of censorship.
If this happens or if an entire publication is barred the cost to
the publisher can be enormous. And if these rules are not followed,
publication can be suspended for six months.
"I have had an experience of 72 pages that I had to rip out," Mr. Tin
Maung Than said, nearly one-third of an issue. Sometimes the reprinted
publication must be submitted more than once.
Formally, a Western expert on the Burmese press said, writers and
editors are not usually imprisoned for their journalistic work. But
prison is still a very real threat.
"They try to find other reasons for arresting you," the expert said.
"They suggest that you have been having contacts with the underground
One victim was Tin Moe, a prominent poet and opposition figure, who was
imprisoned for three years when his work was circulated underground. He
later fled the country.
It is also easy for the authorities to use a blacklist to bar a writer
from publication or even from any mention in print.
Mr. Tin Maung Than told the story of an innocuous recent article in
which a writer described a dinner party he had attended. The article
included the names of the guests, all nonpolitical laymen.
One of the names was Ko Yu, coincidentally the same name as that of a
writer and former opposition member who had died. "Even though he was
dead and even though he was a different man," Mr. Thin Maung Than said,
"the censor ordered that the name Ko Yu be deleted from the article."
The Nation: Burmese overwhelm border checkpoint
June 25, 2001
Thousands of Burmese crowded local markets after a major border
checkpoint was reopened yesterday, allowing the trade in consumer and
agricultural products, worth an expected Bt10 million daily, to continue
after more than four months of closure.
The sudden influx of Burmese traders and customers also caused
bottlenecks at immigration booths and traffic jams all over Mae Sai
Thai and foreign visitors also waited in long queues to go through
immigration formalities to cross to Tachilek.
Most of the Burmese returned with rice, vegetables, pork, soft drinks
and cooking oil in their carrier bags or vehicles.
Boonma Techachaorenvikul, president of the Mae Sai Businessmen's Club,
said that the reopening of the border would promote tourism and
bilateral trade. "It is good that everything has returned to normal," he
said. Before the border closures trade amounted to Bt300 million with
most products being exported from Thailand. Eighty per cent of all trade
between Tachilek and Muang La, just across the border with China's
Yunnan province, is in Thai products.
The border crossing was closed in February after fighting among rival
ethnic militias set off a volley of cross-border shelling. The opening
of the checkpoint comes after a meeting of the high-level Township
Border Committee (TBC) and a conciliatory visit to Rangoon by Prime
Minister Thaksin Shinawatra last week.
Mae Sai district prepared 1,000 roses to present to TBC members and
citizens of both Thailand and Burma. "It has been lively since early
this morning, with mostly Burmese crossing to Thailand to buy consumer
products," said Decha Sattaphol, a district chief in Mae Sai.
"Trade at the crossing will be brisker now, but it will take some time
before it gets back to its original level."
Burma has increased border-crossing procedures a little by asking
citizens to register at an office, where they are charged Bt10 each to
enter Thailand. Thailand charges a Bt40 entry fee.
Colonel Wannatip Wongwai, Commander of the 3rd Region Special Task
Force, as Chairman of the TBC, joined Burmese Lt-Colonel Ae So in a
Officials attributed the border opening to improved Thai-Burmese
relations following Thaksin's visit, during which he met the country's
military leader, Senior General Than Shwe.
The two agreed to work together to combat drug trafficking along their
border and also reached a common stance on the touchy issues of border
security, dispute resolution and the refugee crisis.
Thaksin said one sign of real progress was the decision to reopen border
The TBC resumed contacts on Saturday, after first embarking on talks in
April, and paved the way for the checkpoints to be opened and border
trade to resume, he said.
"Relations between the two countries will be back at their previous good
level within the next two months," the premier told reporters. "I am
confident the problems will now decrease."
February's border clashes sparked off months of wrangling between the
two sides and a series of slurs and insults that provoked exchanges of
official protests and dragged relations down to alarming lows.
But Thaksin said after returning from Rangoon last week that bilateral
ties were back on track following his meetings with the ruling generals
and Burmese Foreign Minister Win Aung's visit to Thailand last Friday.
A number of Mae Sai residents, although delighted at the border
reopening, continued to worry about the building of a lignite power
station about two kilometres from the Thai border. Prapan Srivichai,
Secretary General of the Rak Mae Sai Group, urged that the station be
moved at least 80 kilometres away.
"We're not against the reopening of borders, but we'd like negotiations
on the power station to proceed for the safety of Mae Sai residents," he
said. An advisor to the group also asked the government to continue
improving relationships with Burma and to make long-term plans to
prevent future border disputes.
VOA News: Burma, Thailand Border Crossing Reopens
24 Jun 2001 08:00 UTC
Burma and Thailand have reopened a key border crossing closed in
February after a military clash between the two sides.
The bridge linking the Burmese town of Tachilek and the northern Thai
town of Mae Sai was opened early Sunday, with traders on both sides
resuming business after four months.
The opening of the checkpoint came after a meeting of the high-level
Township Border Committee and a visit last week to Rangoon by Thai Prime
Minister Thaksin Shinawatra.
Burma and Thailand closed three border checkpoints in February after
clashes between Burmese forces and Shan rebels spilled over into
Thailand, sparking artillery exchanges between the Thai and Burmese
Some information for this report provided by AP, AFP and DPA
Xinhua: Myanmar Reclaims 10,493 Hectares of Vacant Land
YANGON, June 24 (Xinhuanet) -- Myanmar has reclaimed 10,493 hectares of
vacant and virgin lands in the country's nine divisions and states in
nearly two and a half years, according to the Myanmar Ministry of
Agriculture and Irrigation Sunday.
There are over 4.21 million hectares of vacant and virgin lands in these
nine divisions and states, namely Ayeyawaddy, Yangon, Bago, Magway,
Tanintharyi, Mandalay, Shan, Kachin and Kayin.
These lands had been reclaimed up to March this year by local private
entrepreneurs since they were permitted to do so in November 1998.
The government's move to allow them to reclaim these lands was aimed at
supplying sufficient food for the growing population in future and
promoting the agricultural sector.
Myanmar's population, with an estimated annual growth of 2 percent,
reached 50.12 million as of 2000.
Meanwhile, the government is rendering assistance to the private
entrepreneurs to get access to technical know-how in the undertakings,
according to the ministry.
Myanmar's cultivable land stretches 18.220 million hectares in the
whole country, of which 10.125 million have been put under crops, while
8.1 million remain to be utilized.
The country's agriculture accounts for 37 percent of the gross domestic
product and 25 percent of the export value
Asia Times: Myanmar feels sting over farm labor
June 23, 2001.
By Gustavo Capdevila
GENEVA - The International Labor Conference concluded on Thursday with
the approval of the "Convention Concerning Safety and Health in
Agriculture" and imposed sanctions against Myanmar, as well as five
other nations for labor rights violations.
The other five were Belarus, Colombia, Ethiopia, Sudan and Venezuela.
The new accord on farm laborers, the result of an understanding reached
by workers, employers and governments, covers half of the world's
workers, estimates Juan Somavia, director-general of the International
Labor Organization (ILO).
The agreement will require the ratifying countries to establish
"adequate systems of inspection of agricultural workplaces". Currently,
just 5 percent of the 1.3 billion farm workers are subject to monitoring
and have access to legal protections. In addition, "the employer shall
have a duty to ensure the safety and health of workers in every aspect
related to their work".
Alongside mining and construction, farming is one of the three most
dangerous work activities in developing and industrialized countries
alike. Nearly half the 1.2 million work-related accidents reported each
year occur in the agricultural sector.
The ILO Committee on the Application of Standards studied the situation
of the six countries and dictated special sanctions reserved for serious
violations of labor rights.
With respect to Myanmar, the ILO committee expressed "profound regret
for the persistence of serious discrepancies between national
legislation and practice and the provisions of the convention on freedom
of association and protection of workers' rights to organize".
The military regime in Myanmar has been the target in the past few years
of sharp accusations that it engages in practices of forced labor. The
17-day International Labour Conference, which ended Thursday, voted to
send a high-level observers mission to assess the situation of this
At the conclusion of the conference, Somavia underscored the spirit of
consensus that predominated throughout the event and had allowed
delegates to reach agreement on "matters that years ago would have
seemed impossible, such as the case of Myanmar". In general, Asian
countries had previously blocked any attempt to sanction Myanmar.
In the case of Belarus, the ILO expressed its deep concern about the
instructions given by the chief of the presidential administration to
"interfere in the labor union elections".
The climate of impunity in Colombia represents a serious threat to the
exercise of union freedoms, said the standards committee after
evaluating the situation of the South American country. Julio Roberto
Gomez, of the Colombia's General Confederation of Democratic Workers
(CGTD), denounced the continued violence against labor leaders. In just
the last five and a half months, he stated, 45 unionists have been
assassinated, he said.
The sanction against Ethiopia is based on accusations of government
interference in labor union activities. The president of the Ethiopian
Teachers' Association was "convicted, after three years of preventive
detention, on charges of conspiracy against the state and sentenced to
15 years in prison". The committee on standards also penalized Sudan due
to its verification of "the extreme gravity" of cases of forced labor.
For Venezuela, the committee urged the government "to amend its
legislation to ensure that workers and employers can form organizations
and freely elect their representatives".
The conference participants also debated the problem of social security,
which Somavia considers one of today's most complicated issues. The
outcome of the discussion was a "very balanced" document that insists
"we must not forget that social security is a key element for the
stability of any society", said the ILO chief.
Willy Thys, secretary-general of the World Confederation of Labor (WCL),
commented that the resolution on social security was vague and that
"employers and certain labor sectors are opposed to a binding text in
this area". An estimated 1 billion workers around the world lack social
security, observed the leader of the WCL, one of the two leading
international union organizations. But the approved document is also
insufficient because it fails to choose between capitalist and
distributive systems, maintained Thys, who said his organization is
inclined to the latter option because capitalization "maintains and
increases" social inequalities.
The conference, said the ILO's Somavia, consolidated the "decent work
agenda", an initiative the organization launched with strategic goals in
the areas of employment, social security, safety, employee rights and
social dialogue. With the backing of the conference, the Decent Work
program passes from mere aspiration to action, and from vision to
policy, stated the ILO director-general.
AFP: Burma Said Revoking Money-Dealing Licenses in Bid to Stabilise
June 24 (AFP) -- Myanmar is trying to shore up its dollar-denominated
special currency by revoking the licenses of all but a few dealers
allowed to sell it, a Yangon source said Sunday. Myanmar's military
government cancelled all Foreign Exchange Certificate (FEC) licenses
over the past week before reissuing new licenses to a handful of select
dealers, including the junta-owned Myanmar Economic Holdings and
The freshly certified money handlers have taken over 10 counter spaces
at the FEC trading center in downtown Yangon, where they are expected to
buy and sell the notes using the local currency, the kyat, at a fixed
rate. A source told AFP the government-approved dealers would buy FECs
for 490 kyats and sell them for 500 kyats each. The move appears to be a
push by the government to stablise Myanmar's wildly fluctuating currency
values, which have plummetted to new lows in recent months, and hem in
Yangon's thriving black market. While the FEC rate currently hovers
around 560 kyats, US dollars trade at roughly 575 kyats, up from an
all-time low of 800 kyats to the dollar. Myanmar's military government
put the FEC into circulation in 1995 as a substitute for the US dollar
to be used inside the country where it was illegal for nationals to
handle foreign currency.
While the unit value of the FEC was originally equivalent to one dollar,
since late last year it has declined in value to the point where by
mid-February it sold at a 25 percent discount to the greenback. The
growing price disparity has been attributed to over-printing of the
special currency, which has meant that the amount in circulation exceeds
the number of dollars collected by the government. The shortfall was
quickly accounted for in the local economy and some restaurants in
Yangon began charging 15 percent more for meals paid for in FECs instead
of dollars. With the city awash in FECs and demand shrinking, people
eager to hedge their bets offloaded the currency and bought up dollars
or gold, sending the price of gold shooting up.
AFP: Six countries [including Burma] added to money laundering blacklist
Friday June 22, 10:22 PM
PARIS, June 22 (AFP) - Industrialised nations, in a fresh onslaught
against money laundering, added six countries Friday to a blacklist and
said they would punish Russia and others for failing to improve.
The inter-government Financial Action Task Force (FATF) said its list of
money laundering havens would now include six new members: Egypt,
Guatamala, Hungary, Indonesia, Myanmar and Nigeria.
Three countries already on the list, Russia, the Philippines and the
tiny Pacific island of Nauru, had also taken insufficient steps to fight
the recycling of illicit gains, said an annual FATF report.
That judgement will likely come as a shock to Russia, which with the two
others now faces the threat of sanctions that would make it an outcast
in the business world.
Russia held an anti-money laundering conference this month, after which
Interior Minister Boris Gryzlov voiced hope it would be removed from the
blacklist altogether during the FATF meeting.
Four others countries -- the Bahamas, Caymans, Liechtenstein and Panama
-- were judged to have taken sufficient action to close money laundering
loopholes and were taken off the list.
The blacklist, drawn up during a meeting of FATF members in Paris, now
has 19 countries.
The new members of the list of non-cooperative countries and territories
were cited for various failings, including lack of proper legislation or
Myanmar "lacks a basic set of anti-money laundering provisions," the
task force report said. In Indonesia, "money laundering is not presently
a criminal offence".
The task force, which has 28 goverment members, called for surveillance
to be stepped up against Russia, the Philippines and Nauru, deemed to
have made "inadequate progress" to fight money laundering.
The Nation: Account trade to go ahead
une 24, 2001.
The central bank governors of Thailand and Burma will meet soon to put
in place an account trade between the two neighbours, thus increasing
Thai banking investment in Burma's economy as envisaged in the recent
summit meeting in Rangoon, Foreign Minister Surakiart Sathirathai says.
Surakiart said after meeting his Burmese counterpart Win Aung on Friday
that the State Peace and Development Council chairman Senior General
Than Shwe was "very interested" in the account trade with Thailand.
He said the Burmese authorities should submit a list of products to be
considered by the Commerce Ministry for a special generalised system of
The issue was first discussed during a meeting between Prime Minister
Thaksin Shinawatra and Than Shwe last week in Rangoon.
Its objective is to enhance economic transaction without being subjected
to foreign-exchange fluctuation. The net settlement could be conducted
every three or six months.
Thaksin believes that economic and investment cooperation with an
impoverished neighbour like Burma will in the long term bring about
mutual peace and stability. The approach also fits well with the present
government's emphasis on economic diplomacy.
Thailand is the third largest investor in Burma, accounting for about 17
per cent of total foreign direct investment. Border trade last year
registered around Bt18 billion, with Thailand importing over Bt7 billion
worth of goods from Burma while exporting over Bt11 billion worth.
Surakiart said Burma had complained about the scale of investment by
Thai banks in Burma despite the fact that licences had already been
granted. As a result, he said, the Thai premier has instructed the
central-bank governor to look into ways of finding scope for expansion.
Road links will also be expedited to facilitate the flow of goods and
Priority will be given to three routes: Mae Sai-Tachilek-Keng
Tung-Jinghong, Mae Sot-Myawaddy and the route between Kanchanaburi and
Tavoy, where a deep-sea port is being built.
Surakiart believes border de-marcation will not impede economic
cooperation, citing Thak-sin's desire to turn conflict into cooperation.
Shan Herald Agency for News: Shan army leaders deny newspaper reports
June 24, 2001
Col. Yawdserk and his deputy flatly rejected Thai newspaper reports of
his involvement in the recent disappearance of Thai loggers and drug
"We had nothing to do with their disappearance," he said on 17 June,
when he was inquired by S.H.A.N. about the report that appeared in
Bangkok Post, 12 June, about two Thai workers from a logging firm being
allegedly captured by the Shan State Army.
One of his staff officers agreed, saying a Thai villager from the nearby
village of Hualarng by the name of Singh (surname unidentified), who
was also dealing in cross-border timber business, disappeared in a
neighboring area frequented by the besieging Wa units. "If the report
of their disappearance were true, they must have met the same fate," he
Col. Khurh-ngern, Chief of Staff, Shan State Army, also dismissed a
report by the Nation, 7 May, about "a heroin lab in the Mae Kun area
adjacent to Mae Hong Son's Pai district receives protection from a unit
of the Shan State Army", when he was questioned on 22 June. (Both
interviews took place at Loi Taileng, the SSA base, across Maehongson's
Pang Mapha District.)
"That was totally untrue," he said. "We are not doing this (anti-drug
campaign) just to please the world. On the contrary, we are doing it
because we mean it."
The one-armed fighter (he lost his right arm in 1983) succeeded Yawdserk
as Chief of Staff when the latter became president of the Restoration
Council of Shan State that was formed in May last year.
South China Morning Post: A war with no front
Sunday, June 24, 2001
Beneath the Burmese junta's boasts of stability and ceasefires with its
warring ethnic guerillas, the deadly narcotics trade still flourishes.
By WILLIAM BARNES
Photo: Watchful: Children in Shan State watch a Wa soldier near Burma's
border with Thailand. Reuters photo
Burma's military government has repeatedly claimed recently that
Thailand is running a "dirty campaign" of defamation against its fight
on drugs. Lieutenant-Colonel San Pwint even accused Thai soldiers of
raiding a Burmese border post and planting 170,000 amphetamine pills
there, across the border from Thailand's Fang district.
"This is yet another example of a Thai scheme to twist the truth," the
senior member of the intelligence establishment in Rangoon reportedly
told local journalists. Rangoon has accused Thailand of bashing its
neighbour in a panic because they are unable to curb the activities of
their own traffickers. "Thais are behaving like a monkey whose tail is
catching fire," claimed the New Light of Myanmar in March.
But nothing like this was said during a visit last week to Rangoon by
Thai prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who boldly declared that "not a
shot will be fired" between the two countries along their common
2,400-kilometre border as long as he was premier.
Future friendly relations will turn, however, on the military regime's
willingness to tackle drug traffickers who brought historically tricky
relations with Thailand to a new low in February when the two countries
fought a brief border war. According to anti-drug fighters from several
countries, the ruling generals who claim to be doughty drug opponents
want to both attack the narcotics industry and profit from it.
The dominant drug producers in the country - members of the ethnic Wa
hill tribe - have been called "the world's biggest gang of armed drug
The United Wa State Army now controls a string of high-profile business
interests including one of Burma's biggest banks, an airline, lucrative
gem-mining concessions, and have a one-third stake in a mobile-phone
"Drug traffickers have taken over more and more of the legitimate
economy and are getting more brazen about it over the past couple of
years," said Bruce Hawke, an analyst who contributes to Jane's Defence
This is the deepening of a process that started in the mid-1990s and has
long passed the point where the Wa and rival traffickers such as the
Kokang gangs and two prominent "retired" drug warlords are accorded
privileges in Burma.
When the Wa tired of being cannon fodder for the Communist Party of
Burma, and kicked their ideological masters into China in 1989, the
regime's powerful intelligence chief, Lieutenant-General Khin Nyunt,
moved quickly to tie them down with a series of ceasefire deals. As
long as they steer clear of politics they have virtually a free hand in
business. In Shan State, the only big business is drugs.
When the economy was opened up in the 1990s, groups that had "entered
the legal fold" started to invest in the legitimate economy. The United
States State Department now says that "drug profits formed the seed
capital for many otherwise legitimate enterprises", especially in
transport, banking, hotels, real estate and airlines.
Two former drug warlords, Lo Hsing-han and Khun Sa, have so far
"retired" to do business in Rangoon.
Burma sells offshore gas to Thailand and exports pulses, rice and
garments to the West. Not much for a country of more than 40 million
people that only a couple of generations ago was seen as the jewel of
Following the Taleban's banning of opium production in Afghanistan,
Burma has again become the world's premier source of the sickly gum
that can be turned into heroin in simple home-made laboratories. It
also remains the source of amphetamine tablets pouring into Thailand
and the rest of Asia in increasing numbers. Thai officials talk of up
to 800 million tablets of "crazy drug" being pumped into the country
Diplomats and businessman in Rangoon sometimes argue that the regime
genuinely appears to be anti-drug and that if it allows ethnic gangsters
to launder drug profits it only does so temporarily and out of dire
Yet to many critics of the regime, it hardly matters whether the
generals personally pocket drug profits or not. "They are very close to
these people, they are very friendly. This seems quite wrong to us,"
said General Wattanachai Chaimuangwong, the commander of Thailand's
northern Third Army.
The Burmese military claims that alone it does not have the strength to
suppress major traffickers such as the United Wa State Army and its more
than 10,000 tough fighters who will "voluntarily" stop within a few
Military analysts concede that a frontal attack by the "badly paid and
undermotivated" Burmese infantry on the Wa might endanger the 16 or so
often fragile ceasefires with ethnic groups that gives Rangoon the run
of nearly all the country for the first time.
But the reality is that along the northern Thai border there are pockets
of drug traffickers interlaced with Burmese army outposts, said a
Western narcotics expert. "Burmese soldiers frequently act as security
escorts for the traffickers. They will guard the factories and
encourage the local population to co-operate with the traders," said
The Government's claims that its hands are tied militarily contrasts
strangely with its ability, since the mid-1990s, to clear more than
300,000 villagers off a great swathe of land in the middle of the state
to try to suppress a rebellion by an "unapproved" ethnic rebel group,
the Shan State Army. These "independence fighters" once fought with the
notorious Khun Sa but have now - with the backing of the Thais -
switched to fighting the drug trade.
Thai narcotics officials point to how in the past two years, members of
the Karen minority near Thailand's Western border have started to trade
amphetamines - but only after allying with the Burmese army
A human-rights worker at the border said: "The Karen rebels and their
Christian leaders have been fighting for more than 50 years and they
have never been linked to drugs. A couple of years after some Karen
broke away to join Rangoon, we start busting them for millions of
yaa-baa [crazy drug] tablets - what does that tell you?"
Burma's state-controlled media has bitterly claimed that Thailand is
overacting the innocent victim yet still hosts much of the drug trade's
supply routes. Responding to that suggestion, a senior Thai intelligence
official simply displayed a document listing drug factories in Burma.
Emblazoned on the cover is a photo of the giant poster that stands in
the Wa headquarters of Pangsang showing General Khin Nyunt holding
hands with Wa chief Pao Yu Chang.
The Thai Government might once have been mindful to refuse a potentially
provocative US offer for its special forces to help train a special,
battalion-sized anti-drug force this year. That reluctance evaporated
once the Wa and their Chinese gangster friends started forcing
thousands of villagers to move down from the traditional Wa heartland
on the Chinese border after late 1999 to a new and expanding "southern"
base next to the Thai border. The Wa claim the relocations were made to
make it easier for the villagers to grow non-opium crops such as
lychees and lamyai.
"That is just a joke. The move is designed to crush the Shan rebels and
perhaps appease China - and it makes it easier for the Wa to produce
drugs," said the Western narcotics expert.
William Barnes is the Post's Bangkok correspondent.
Bankok Post: Army powerless to stop material for lignite plant-Chief
urges talks on factory's relocation
June 25, 2001
By Wassana Nanuam
The army does not have the power to prevent delivery of equipment and
materials for construction of a lignite power plant in Tachilek, the
army commander said yesterday.
Gen Surayud Chulanont said neither the Third Army nor the army could
refuse if Burma wants to use the Mae Sai-Tachilek checkpoint, which
reopened early yesterday morning.
The army chief voiced concern about possible conflicts in the area, as
residents of Mae Sai are strongly opposed to the project. In April, they
forced a convoy of 44 trucks carrying generator parts for the power
plant to return to Bangkok.
Gen Surayud called on the government to open talks with Rangoon on the
possibility of relocating the plant.
"It is very close to the border. The government should discuss with
Burma to find out if it is possible to have the site relocated," he
Meanwhile, Third Army commander Lt-Gen Wattanchai Chaimuenwong expressed
uncertainty about the border situation because "drug traffickers and
anti-Rangoon rebel groups are still active in the area".
The commander insisted that Thailand did not support any rebel groups,
including the Shan State Army, which has launched extensive anti-drug
crackdowns on the Burmese side of the border.
Lt-Gen Wattanachai said following the reopening of Mae Sai-Tachilek
checkpoint the Third Army would keep a low profile and focus on fighting
An army source said the army plans to modify about 500 Unimoq trucks and
turn them into armoured troop carriers at the Lop Buri arms building
The vehicles would be used in anti-drugs and combat operations, the
BurmaNet News: Thai Police Crack Down on Burma exile groups
June 25, 2001
A police crackdown in Chiang Mai has caused most exile groups there to
close their offices for the duration. The crackdown is the first since
a similar one which happened when the Asia Development Bank held its
annual meeting there last year. The number of exiles arrested is
unknown but growing.
Bangkok Post: Editorial - A harder bargain with Burma needed
June 23, 2001.
The offer of trade privileges to Burma showed amazing lack of
perspective and disregard for political strategy. Prime Minister Thaksin
Shinawatra seemed so blinkered in his bid to restore relations that he
deliberately avoided looking back to sores in recent history, sideways
to repercussions, or forward to the country's future. As Foreign
Minister Surakiart Sathirathai put it, the prime minister offered Burma
breaks in import tariffs because he believed the two countries should
The prime minister also offered to exchange Thai semi-industrial
products with Burmese farm goods, and to let Burma pay the difference in
kyat or US dollars. Burma could not but welcome such generosity. The
country's economy is in shreds, with the kyat dropping by 50% in value
since April, energy costs rising, and supply irregular. Gen Than Shwe,
the prime minister and chairman of the ruling State Peace and
Development Council, plainly asked for help to develop the economy and
battle poverty. But what has Burma done to deserve any help, let alone
generous trade terms?
While our offer will help Burma treat its worst injury in the state of
the economy, is Burma doing the same to help solve our worst plight in
the drug problem that is wasting our youth and threatens national
security? The memorandum of understanding signed on Wednesday provides a
structure for drug-busting.
Officials of both sides will man co-ordinating posts to be set up at
three border checkpoints, drug liaison officers will be stationed at
embassies in Bangkok and Rangoon, and respective drug agencies will take
turns to host annual meetings. But the structure deals with the symptoms
of the problem rather than the root cause, which is the production of
lethal drugs by the United Wa State Army inside Burma. Gen Than Shwe
reiterated to Mr Thaksin Rangoon's line that no support was being
extended to the UWSA in the illicit activity, adding that the ethnic
army had been warned against it on several occasions.
But he stopped short of saying he would root out the activity, which
would not be an impossible mission, in view of the leverage some
generals enjoy over the UWSA. Instead, he invited the prime minister to
allay any doubts by sending representatives to check out the situation
at Mong Yawn. To most people, this is more of a challenge than an
invitation, given the mobility of laboratories on the border.
The prime minister cannot now back out of the offer but he can turn it
into an opportunity for making Burma more compliant on questions of drug
co-operation as well as boundary demarcation, both of which resulted in
the military clashes in February and March. For example, Thailand could
extend trade privileges to a minimum number of products, set tough
conditions for eligibility to them, and dangle the promise of broader
inclusion if Burma co-operated on these two key questions. By no means
should Thailand be as generous to Burma as it is to Cambodia and Laos,
who enjoy tariff reductions on 23 and 40 products, respectively.
Comparatively, Cambodia and Laos have been much more friendly although
there have been rough patches.
Burma could also be brought to yield on drugs and boundary issues
through further postponement of the sixth meeting of the Joint
Commission, which deals with economic and other bilateral co-operation.
Thailand has set Phuket as the venue but the time-frame remains loose,
at within the next two to three months. Thailand should push for the
Joint Boundary Committee, which deals specifically with the demarcation
issue, to meet first. Also due to host the boundary meeting, Thailand
long ago proposed terms of reference for demarcation but Burma has
Mr Thaksin made much of the fact that he was the first prime minister to
visit Burma since Gen Chavalit Yongchaiyudh did in May 1997, but he
quietly indicated some disappointment with the results by also noting
that this lapse had caused Burmese leaders to be less attentive to Thai
concerns. The way forward is to drive a harder bargain.
The Japan Times: More than words are needed in Myanmar
June 24, 2001
By NYUNT SHWE
Special to The Japan Times
Myanmar is no longer a closed-door country and people who have an
interest in it and its people now enjoy much greater access than in the
past. Information that would have remained secret in the past quickly
becomes public knowledge in today's global village. The old adage
"Honesty is the best policy" is more important than ever for those who
would like to maintain their dignity. There are exceptions, however.
Myanmar's generals and prodemocracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi have been
engaged in secret talks since August but the content of the talks have
yet to be revealed to the general public.
Some critics have voiced their disapproval of the secrecy, saying
Myanmar's people deserve to know the substance of the talks. Others
regret that representatives of Myanmar's ethnic minorities were not
included in the discussions. Though most dissidents around the world
have enthusiastically expressed their hopes and expectations, dissidents
who currently reside in Japan say they cannot trust the military junta.
I believe it is neither important nor necessary to make public the
content of the talks or to include the participation of ethic
minorities. The negotiation process is delicate, and the prodemocracy
forces must place their faith in Suu Kyi and allow her to pursue the
talks in a manner she feels most appropriate.
Suu Kyi would rather risk her life than sacrifice the interest of the
people. Every one of us knows of her sincerity, honesty and integrity
and, most importantly, her legacy that stems from being the daughter of
the late Gen. Aung San.
The talks may be taking longer than some would like, but to tame an
angry and unreasonable bull we have no choice but to display patience,
constant goodwill and love. If the prodemocracy forces persist with the
time-honored teachings of Buddhist conduct, the generals will one day
For their benefit, I only wish the generals would see the sense of this
wisdom sooner rather than later, otherwise they will have to suffer
longer with their subjects.
Rumors and speculation cannot be avoided as the talks continue. One
rumor has it that Suu Kyi has made an agreement with the generals to not
participate in any future governments and to leave the country for good
once reconciliation is reached.
The government has long demanded such an agreement. If this rumor is
true, it would signify a truly admirable decision on Suu Kyi's part, but
the generals would be going too far in making such a demand.
To no longer be involved in politics would be enough of a concession for
Suu Kyi. She should be allowed to decide where she would like to stay
and what she would like to do with her private life. She should be
encouraged to pursue her dream of improving the education of Myanmar's
youths. Her energy and strength should be fully utilized for the benefit
of the country.
If the generals were truly astute, however, they would welcome Suu Kyi's
participation in the reconciliation government, as is the will of the
people. The generals should keep in mind what former dictator U Ne Win,
their godfather, once said: We must forget and forgive what is bitter,
remember what is sweet, and work and strive for the future together.
The generals have been in power since 1988. Allowing Suu Kyi to
participate in the next government would be a good chance for them to
prove they genuinely love the country and its citizens.
The outcome of their 13-year rule has been deep suffering for Myanmar's
people. Inflation has risen by 12-fold, and is expected to continue to
increase in relation to the dollar. Prices of commodities are about 50
times higher than they were during the worst period of the previous
The most unfortunate citizens are government officers, workers,
teachers, soldiers, police personnel and other citizens who neither have
land nor their own business. Young men are increasingly abusing drugs,
and more young women are engaging in questionable behavior.
The incidence of HIV infection is rapidly rising as well. Under the
former socialist regime, only half a dozen AIDS cases were reported in
1986. Now it is estimated that there are hundreds of thousands of cases
Unfortunately, the government's policy is to ignore drug traffickers
(drug abuse is one of the primary factors behind the spread of AIDS) but
to imprison those who attempt to involve themselves in politics. They
should realize that their practice of driving a majority of Myanmar
citizens into abysmal poverty and suffering utterly contradicts the
teachings of Buddha.
There will only be love and praise for the generals if they truly strive
for reconciliation and begin to rebuild the country from scratch. Japan
and other international friends are waiting for the appropriate time to
offer substantial assistance. That timing, however, depends on the
sincerity and honesty of the current regime.
Nyunt Shwe was formerly a township leader of Aung San Suu Kyi's party,
the National League for Democracy. He has resided in Tokyo since 1991.
The New light of Myanmar (SPDC): It's time people should counter
Thursday, 21 June, 2001
(Continued from 20-6-2001) Myanmar merchants who trade goods at the
border fall victim to the merchants of the other side who fix the
exchange rates in their favour. But the Myanmar merchants never take
this into account. If they have to purchase goods at higher prices in
the other country due to the unfair exchange rates, they just hike the
prices of their goods in selling them back in the nation. It is sure
that these merchants will gain profits. But such practices will lead to
runaway inflation as people have to spend a large chunk of their
earnings on consumer goods alone.
But the rise in exchange rates in other's favour never stops, but is
still going on. The prices of consumer goods in the nation are being
hiked again and again. Such a practice is like badly reducing the value
of our own currency. Those who have no consideration for the nation is
monopolizing the market in order to hike commodity prices for their own
They are the real present-day Cujakas (avaricious persons). They are
trying to cause currency turmoil and ruin the national economy. In the
Jataka story, the Brahmin Cujaka had no wish to give any consideration
for others, other than for his own benefit. Similarly, today's Cujakas
are exploiting the people for their own interests.
The destructive elements in the nation were spreading and exaggerating
the rumours, saying as if a war has broken out between the two nations.
The Cujakas, who are awaiting an opportune time, hiked the dollar
prices to an exorbitant degree at the black markets. The gold merchants
also raised gold prices in the nation followed by an increase in the
prices of rice, cooking oil, fish, meat and vegetable. The greedy
merchants were hiking the prices taking advantage of the incidents
which happened in Tachilek.
They then hoarded all their goods, saying that they were afraid that
there might be a halt in the flow of goods into the nation. In reality,
they were planning to increase the prices of their goods next day. Many
of the department stores also hiked the prices of their goods. The
rising of the prices was so abrupt. For example, a pack of milk powder
jumped to K 560 from K 300. The prices of other consumer goods also
rose. And it was like a deliberate action. The people were desirous of
exposing the culprits of this big conspiracy.
As the consumer prices are being hiked at every opportune moment, the
State has increased the salaries of the government staff to fivefold to
enable them to enjoy a comfortable life. At that time, the merchants
were also trying to increase the prices of all the essential consumer
goods to fivefold. But their greedy attempts failed thanks to the
opening of the tax-free markets and fixing standard prices for consumer
Myanmar has abundant food supplies. Production and distribution of rice,
cooking oil, meat, fish and vegetables is increasing ever. The Ministry
of Industry-1, the Ministry of Industry-2, the Ministry of Agriculture
and Irrigation and the Ministry of Livestock and Fisheries are
producing and distributing more and more food products for the public.
If the production and distribution of the private sector is added, the
amount of food supplies in the nation will be exceeding the demand.
Some of the nations and the peoples of the world are admirable and
praiseworthy. They never yield to the economic sanctions imposed on
them by the big countries.
They rely only on locally-made goods, and yet they are happy and
contended. They dare to face power blackouts, and to go to their
offices on foot if there is no fuel for vehicles. They equally share
the food supplies among themselves. Their patriotism and the will to
safeguard the race is admirable. There are citizens who donate all
their jewellery to the State, during the time their nation is facing an
economic hardship. Even the businessmen of those countries never yield
to the enemy, but bear in mind only the requirements of the citizens.
Throughout the successive periods, the Ministry of Health has been
examining all the imported foodstuff and medicines and repeatedly
issuing warnings to the public on the harmful items. The Ministry has
already announced the ill effects of consuming monosodium glutamate
which can even cause cancer. All the people love and want goods of
higher quality. During the time of our forefathers, we wore hand-woven
clothing. When imported cotton fabrics were introduced to the nation,
they were in a high demand. Let it be. When Myanmar was able to produce
cotton fabrics, people began to buy the imported garments of better
quality such as poplin, polyester, tetoron and textures. But when
Myanmar also could produce such high quality fabrics, people began to
buy the foreign-made garments of the most popular brands at exorbitant
prices. Cujakas, knowing the people's endless desire to patronize the
popular items, made various kinds of traps to boost the sale of their
imported goods. Every time the demand rises, they follow with a hike in
the prices. As the demand never stops, so also the increase in prices
continues till the trend affects the currency value which could lead to
a predicamental situation. As Myanmars are Buddhists, they should be
able to exercise restraint and they should rely on locally-made
products. In this regard, I would like to urge the people of Myanmar to
counter the Cujakas (avaricious persons).
Author : Maung Pwint Lin
Prospect (UK): Portrait--Aung San Suu Kyi
Sat Jun 23 15:16:36 UTC+0900 2001
[BurmaNet adds--an abridged version of this article has just appeared in
a Scottish newspaper as well. The article has serious plausibility
problems, not least of which is the claim made in passing that US
intelligence officials have discovered that the helicopter carrying Tin
Oo and others crashed because of a gunfight on-board. Scott-Clark and
Levy?s version of events is not inherently implausible but the authors
cite no sources for what, if true, would be a major Burma news story.
Aside from some similarly improbable allegations in Internet newsgroups
that either Khin Nyunt or the US government (take your pick) sabotaged
the helicopter, most press accounts have pointed to bad weather, poor
piloting and possibly poor maintenance.--Strider]
She is the west's favourite political prisoner, a seraphic woman
destined to lead her country. But have her unwavering moral standards
now become an obstacle to political progress in Burma, asks Cathy
Scott-Clark and Adrian Levy
Everyone knows that Burma is in a mess. A nation once called the
Golden Land in tribute to its giant gem pits has sold them off to the
Chinese in return for guns and tanks. Thousands of miles of ancient
hardwood forest have been torn down and replanted with opium fields. The
once lush rice bowl of Asia can no longer feed itself. Millions of
Burmese are addled by drugs and hundreds of thousands infected with HIV,
while the general who serves as health minister assures them that "Aids
is a foreign disease." The regime has launched dozens of military
campaigns against its people and more than 1m of Burma's 46m-strong
population are unaccounted for.
Most people also know that Burma is the setting for an
extraordinary political morality tale--Asia's beauty and the beast.
While the world's most famous political prisoner, Aung San Suu Kyi, has
been forced to fight for democracy behind the locked gates of her home
in University Avenue in Rangoon, the country has been slowly strangled
by a secretive junta whose fiscal policies are drawn up by astrologers.
There was thus great excitement on 9th January this year when the
UN special envoy, Razali Ismail, announced that the State Peace and
Development Council which runs Burma had agreed to talks with Suu Kyi.
Western newspapers debated whether the talks--the first in five
years--meant that she would finally be permitted to play a role in
Burma's future. Some reports even speculated that the junta had decided
to recognise the results of the last election, held in May 1990, when
Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy (NLD) won 392 out of 485 seats.
Six weeks after the special envoy's announcement, another news
item emerged from the news-shy country that appeared to bolster Suu
Kyi's position. A helicopter carrying 29 of Burma's senior military men
had plunged into the jungle north of Rangoon. Among the dead was one of
Suu Kyi's harshest critics who had called for her to be "crushed without
mercy"; Lt Gen Tin Oo was a leading member of a hard line faction that
opposed weakening the military's grip.
What the state media did not reveal was that the crash on 19th
February was no accident. According to US intelligence, there had been a
gunfight inside the helicopter, one general firing upon another. Until
then there had been only glimpses of a rumoured power struggle within
the military elite--such as the letter bomb that killed Tin Oo's
daughter in April 1997. In any case, Suu Kyi's supporters took heart.
Tin Oo's death removed an obstacle to dialogue, leaving the junta's
reformist faction in command.
But another more startling story that has gone barely reported in
the west is now beginning to emerge because of these same talks. Within
the NLD and without, in pro-democracy newspapers, in Rangoon diplomatic
circles and in the offices of NGOs that were previously unflinchingly
loyal to Suu Kyi, it is now being said that she has failed to give
direction to the democracy movement and lacks policy ideas or strategic
grasp. She is even accused by some of her own MPs of being too committed
to pacifism and western-style democracy to cut a deal in what are bound
to be murky negotiations. There is growing concern that her years in
isolation have made her haughty, distant and unwilling to listen.
Some of those who have raised these concerns have been ostracised
and expelled from the NLD. But this has only prompted others to express
their doubts in public. One of Suu Kyi's former aides has accused her
publicly of squandering the democracy movement's momentum and of missing
critical opportunities. Another, the party's elder statesman and
architect of the 1990 election victory, has followed suit. Moreover,
Burma's myriad ethnic groups--the Shan, Karen, Karenni, Chin, Arakanese
amongst others--who rallied to Suu Kyi's side in 1990, have also begun
to turn their backs on the NLD, putting their case through their own
The recent internal and external dissent follows years of
persecution by a vindictive junta--known as the SLORC until advised to
change its name by an American public relations consultancy. In Suu
Kyi's own 12 years of formal or informal house arrest, hundreds of party
workers have been killed and her own husband, Michael Aris, died of
cancer in England in 1999 having been refused a last visa to see her.
(If she had left Burma to see him, she would never have been let back
into the country.) Since 1990, more than 65 per cent of the NLD's
elected MPs and party members have resigned, been imprisoned or gone
into exile. Tens of thousands of exhausted NLD supporters have just
faded away. Now many in Rangoon privately fear that Suu Kyi will be
unable to convince the generals that she still wields the kind of
popular backing that has forced change so recently in Indonesia, Serbia
and the Philippines.
When in July 1989 the Burmese junta first placed Aung San Suu Kyi
under house arrest, they thrust her onto the international stage.
Amnesty International declared her a prisoner of conscience and the
following May, when the junta failed to honour the election result,
international accolades rained down, including the Nobel peace prize.
The democracy movement was bound together by global good will and by Suu
Kyi's ability to endure.
Then on 10th July 1995 the junta relaxed the terms of her
confinement and pictures of Suu Kyi surrounded by her jubilant
supporters were beamed across the world. "The forces for democracy
remain strong and dedicated," she told an impromptu rally. But now that
Suu Kyi was freer to move around she would be judged on something more
tangible than suffering: her leadership skills.
Divisions soon began to emerge. In November 1995, Suu Kyi
announced that she was boycotting the junta's National Convention, a
committee formed to devise a blueprint for democratic government and
something of a sop to the international community. Her decision was
influenced by clauses in the convention that guaranteed the generals a
leading role in any future civilian government and barred from domestic
politics anyone with foreign relatives. But what shocked some NLD MPs
and party workers was the fact that their leader had severed their sole
line of communication with the junta without consulting them.
Two NLD MPs, who had spent many years in prison while Suu Kyi was
under house arrest, publicly accused their leader of acting
unilaterally. One of them, Than Tun, recalled: "I objected openly,
partly because we had no idea what to do after the walkout. Suu Kyi just
shouted at me and Thein Kyi." While the NLD debated what would replace
its involvement in the National Convention, Suu Kyi stuck to her belief
that economic sanctions--which she had lobbied for since 1988--would
break the regime. Her lobbying had met with some success. Although no
large country had formal legal sanctions, the US and the EU had
discouraged trade and since the early 1990s trade with the west has
fallen sharply. Several big companies, including Land Rover and Coca
Cola, have closed their operations in Burma.
In the summer of 1996 Than Tun and Thein Kyi challenged their
leader again. They presented Suu Kyi with a ten-page report, signed by
seven NLD MPs, that called on her to adopt "more realistic policies."
Not only was the NLD refusing to negotiate with the junta but it was
also advocating a strategy that cut the Burmese people off from the
outside world. The economic embargo had failed to bring the junta to its
knees but, the dissenters claimed, it had scared off progressive foreign
investors who would have introduced tools for democratic dissent such as
fax machines, e-mail and mobile phones and access to the ideas of the
A meeting of the NLD executive was convened to address the report.
"They weren't happy," Than Tun recalled. "They said they wouldn't expel
us as long as we didn't try to organise other members. I told Suu Kyi
'you must be more tolerant, we're only ten people--we're not a threat.'"
The NLD leadership closed ranks. A resolution was passed that gave
Suu Kyi and her chairman, Aung Shwe, complete control over
decision-making. They argued that this was made necessary by the junta's
outlawing of NLD party congresses. "If there had been a secret vote, a
lot of MPs would have voted against her. They know that if we go on like
this the party will wither away. The NLD does not tolerate any dissent,"
Than Tun said.
On 6th January 1997, he and his colleague Thein Kyi were expelled
from the NLD, accused of "disobeying policy" and "creating disunity."
Suu Kyi broadened her sanctions call to include NGOs stationed in Burma,
who she accused of prolonging the life of the junta. "No aid, trade or
investment," went the new slogan. One aid worker told us how his Burmese
staff, who had risked arrest to meet Suu Kyi, were reduced to tears
after she accused them of being stooges. According to Suu Kyi all aid
had to be funnelled through the NLD but, as the NLD now barely existed
outside Rangoon, that policy prohibited all undercover condom giveaways,
HIV education campaigns, malnutrition studies and rice distribution
programmes. A second international NGO that was in the midst of delicate
negotiations to set up an HIV project in the north, where there is an
HIV problem of gigantic proportions, told us how they were ridiculed and
lambasted by Suu Kyi at a diplomatic function. A minute from an aid
conference the following year in Amsterdam records how one
representative from a well-known organisation "ruefully conceded that it
was easier for international NGOs when Aung San Suu Kyi was imprisoned."
In April 1997, Suu Kyi's campaign for sanctions scored a formal
victory when the US imposed an official ban on new investment in Burma.
But soon after the NLD was hit by an internal tremor. U Kyi Maung, a
founder member of the NLD, and the man who drew Suu Kyi into politics in
1988, withdrew from politics. Friends talked of his concerns about the
party's inability to countenance dissent. Certainly, self-imposed exile
was a radical move for a man who had written the NLD manifesto. While U
Kyi Maung stayed silent, Suu Kyi publicly belittled his contribution,
stating that the man she had once called her "guide, mentor and friend"
had never been "my key adviser."
This storm had barely settled when another of Suu Kyi's close
aides broke ranks. In February 1998, the Far Eastern Economic Review
published an extraordinary article entitled "The Burmese Fairy Tale"
written by Ma Thanegi, who had served three years in prison after
joining the democracy movement. "My fellow former political prisoners
and I are beginning to wonder if our sacrifices have been worthwhile,"
Ma Thanegi wrote. "Almost a decade after it all began we are concerned
that the work we started has been squandered and the momentum wasted...
Suu could have changed our lives dramatically. With her influence and
prestige, she could have asked major aid donors, such as the US and
Japan, for help. She could have encouraged responsible companies to
invest here, creating jobs and helping to build a stable economy. She
could have struck up a constructive dialogue with the government and
laid the ground for a sustainable democracy...We had hoped that when she
was released from house arrest that the country would move forward
again," she wrote. "Suu's approach has been moral and uncompromising,
catching the imagination of the world. Unfortunately, it has come at a
real price for the rest of us."
Ma Thanegi said that in Burma "any public criticism of the NLD is
met with accusations of treachery." In the months following her
outburst, democracy campaigners laid siege to Burmese chat-rooms and
websites, denouncing her as a traitor and suggesting that her article
was written by the generals.
On 16th September 1998, the NLD finally announced a policy to fill
the void created by its withdrawal from the National Convention three
years earlier. Suu Kyi unveiled a ten-member Committee Representing the
People's Parliament (CRPP) that "annulled" all laws enacted by the
regime, a gesture which provoked a harsh response: 110 NLD MPs were
jailed and 43 NLD offices closed.
The following spring 28 NLD MPs, including Tin Tun Maung, a
central committee member, and Kyi Win, a former student leader, said the
unsayable and called for the NLD to hold talks with the regime without
Suu Kyi. In May 1999, Tin Tun Maung, Kyi Win and two others were berated
by Suu Kyi as "lackeys," accused of "colluding with military
intelligence" and suspended from the party.
It is inevitable that an opposition movement such as the NLD will
have disagreements and even splits. Many of these schisms will be
engineered by the regime itself, a sophisticated exponent of the
politics of divide and rule. But even outside the closed world of NLD
politics, support for Suu Kyi is beginning to fracture. Student
campaigners who had triggered the mass democracy uprisings of August
1988, in which thousands were shot by the junta, are frustrated at the
lack of progress. For the past decade, many of them have taken up arms
against the Burmese regime from malarial jungle bases or campaigned for
her from squalid camps on the Thai border. Their families back in Burma
have been persecuted, while they have forfeited the right to return
In October 1999 a breakaway student group called the Vigorous
Burmese Student Warriors laid siege with automatic weapons to the
Burmese Embassy in Bangkok. It was a desperate measure, the students
claimed, to raise the democracy struggle from where it had slumped.
Their action was dismissed by the NLD as inflammatory. But then a
magazine published by exiled Burmese students in Chiang Mai, northern
Thailand, warned Suu Kyi last year that she was running out of time.
Unless her party consolidated its victory of 1990 very soon, she would
be remembered as "a victim of history."
The breach that has opened up between Suu Kyi and Burma's ethnic
groups matters even more. They make up 30 per cent of the population and
until now have fought alongside the NLD. Yet last year, in Shan State in
north-eastern Burma, a senior officer of the Shan State Army (a rebel
force fighting to expel the Burmese regime from the region) said to us,
"I have met Aung San Suu Kyi and all she ever talks about is democracy
for the Burmese people. She never has anything to say about the needs of
ethnic groups like the Shan. 'Democracy first,' she tells us 'and then
I'll consider your demands.' We're sick of waiting." Now the Shan and
others have broken away, dividing the front pitted against the junta
into various micro-nationalist struggles which are probably hopeless.
What does Suu Kyi have to say about the ethnic groups? "I have not
studied the culture of the other ethnic peoples of Burma deeply enough
to comment," she told an interviewer in 1999, "apart from the fact that
my mother always taught me to think of them as very close to us,
emphasising how loyal they were." A patrician response that provides
little encouragement to the Shan State Army and others like it.
Suu Kyi often says that free debate is the barometer of a healthy
democratic movement but, questioned in 1999 by Asiaweek about internal
dissent, she said this about her critics. "We have had a few people
leave but they were working with the authorities... Not everyone has the
staying power." To which her critics reply that not everyone has the
patience of a saint or wants to see Burma's costly struggle for
democracy descend into an endless battle of wills. Whenever questioned
about her achievements, the NLD leader cites the numbers of her
supporters who have been murdered or imprisoned by the regime, as if to
say that suffering is an achievement in itself. Suu Kyi's international
supporters stress her personal sacrifice: two sons growing up in Oxford
without her, the tragic death of her husband, thousands of miles away.
No one can deny that this is a brutal regime, but where is all this
tremendous suffering leading?
Suu Kyi has stifled debate within her own party and appears to
have no domestic strategy beyond her opposition to armed conflict, mass
demonstrations or civil disobedience. Her belief is that personal
freedom is curtailed inside Burma to such an extent that only a powerful
external lobby will force the generals to change. "The opinion of the
international community cannot be ignored. No country is an island unto
itself," Suu Kyi has reassured her supporters. When she called for
sanctions in 1990, she cited their success with South Africa, where
Nelson Mandela had been released in February of that year.
But she is not a Mandela--her pacifism rules that out. Indeed,
when it became clear that the Burmese regime was not going to honour the
election results of May 1990, Suu Kyi instructed her hundreds of
thousands of supporters to end their demonstrations. "I do not want to
encourage this tradition of bringing about change through violence," she
Can a nation like Burma, forged by thousands of years of conquest,
annexation and bloodshed, be reformed through peaceful means alone? How
can a state that has had no independent judiciary since 1948 resolve
issues of internal dissent unless it is forced to do so? The brief lull
in 1990 created by Suu Kyi's retreat was all the generals needed to
regroup and in the months that followed, one of the most significant
eras in Burmese history, post-independence from the British, passed.
Having made what some claim was a critical error of judgement, Suu
Kyi was now entirely reliant on her sanctions strategy. But Burma,
unlike South Africa, does not participate in the global economy and it
can endure years of western boycotts. And there are many Asian
businesses and organisations, angered by what they see as
neo-imperialist meddling, who will invest where Britain and the US will
not. The Burmese economy is in shreds, the 41st poorest country in the
world--despite being more industrialised than Malaysia in the 1950s.
Western sanctions have simply pushed the generals into the arms of the
drug barons and forged closer ties with the Association of South East
Asian Nations (Asean).
After the last round of talks between Suu Kyi and the generals
broke down in 1994 and she reiterated the need for sanctions, Asean
invited the Burmese regime to join it as an observer. Three months after
the US imposed a ban on new investment in Burma in April 1997, Asean
responded by admitting the country as a full member. And when the talks
were announced this year, it was Asean who brokered the meeting. Razali
Ismail, the UN special envoy, is an adviser to the Malaysian Prime
Minister Mohamad Mahathir, the Burmese regime's strongest supporter.
So what has Suu Kyi's alliance with the west brought to the
struggle in Burma? It has made her into the world's most prominent
spokesman for "freedom and democracy" after Nelson Mandela. One of Bill
Clinton's last acts as president was to confer upon her the Presidential
Medal for Freedom, the highest civilian honour in the US. And we in the
west have adopted Burma as our pocket pariah, regarding its people as
passive victims in need of salvation.
But surely the time has come for the west to face the limits of
sanctions: they have achieved very little and have cost us little. This
empty gesture is echoed in the actions of an army of international
travellers, some of them with messianic aspirations. James Mawdsley, the
British student who was released from prison last October, was one of
those who "fell in love with the jungle, the people and their culture"
and couldn't wait to lead the Burmese to freedom. In August 1999,
Mawdsley stood in Tachilek market in Shan state for nearly half an hour,
handing out cassettes and leaflets highlighting human rights abuses. He
was then whisked off to jail, where he found "rapture" with the help of
the spiritual exercises of the 15th-century monk Thomas a Kempis.
Mawdsley was released 14 months later and passed directly to
Broadcasting House. He was saved by the colour of his skin (and
passport) and his romanticism served only to salve his own conscience.
"It is we Burmese who pay the price for these empty heroics," says Ma
Thanegi, Suu Kyi's former aide.
Aung san suu kyi was the preordained leader of Burma's opposition
even though she resisted the mantle for many years. When she returned to
the country in March 1988, after almost 20 years of absence in Europe,
it was to see her sick mother, Daw Khin Kyi, and not to join the
demonstrators protesting at the collapse of the economy.
On 22nd July 1988, Michael Aris and their sons Alexander and Kim,
flew to Rangoon to join the vigil at Daw Khin Kyi's house in University
Avenue. A surprise news broadcast the next day drew Suu Kyi away.
General Ne Win, Burma's dictator since his 1962 coup, announced that he
was standing down and calling an election. Chillingly, he also warned
"if the army shoots it hits--no firing in the air."
As thousands of protesters were shot, Suu Kyi sought out the old
allies of her father General Aung San, the man who led Burma to
independence in 1947. Among them was U Kyi Maung, a 69-year-old former
colonel and the man who Suu Kyi would dismiss later as a minor
influence. It was U Kyi Maung who advised Suu Kyi on her first tentative
political steps. On 26th August, with her husband and sons by her side,
Suu Kyi addressed a rally of 500,000 at Rangoon's Shwedagon Pagoda. "My
family knows best how tricky Burmese politics can be and how much my
father had to suffer on this account," she said.
She was referring to the assassination of her father, murdered
along with six cabinet colleagues on 19th July 1947, six months after he
had obtained Clement Attlee's signature on an independence charter. Many
suspected that the man who ordered the killings was Ne Win, a
hard-drinking, womanising former post-office clerk who had clashed with
Aung San from the day he enlisted in the independence struggle in 1940.
This (presumed) act of vengeance ensured the beatification of
Burma's untested warrior statesman Aung San. And it explains the
excitement that rippled through Rangoon when his daughter took the
platform more than 40 years later. One of Suu Kyi's aides wrote of that
day: "The way she talked, her complexion, her features and gestures,
were strikingly similar to those of her father. She resembled him in
almost every way. I thought she was a female replica... She was the lady
to carry on his work." Millions agreed but for Ne Win she must have been
an apparition from his past.
It was the death of Daw Khin Kyi on 27th December 1988 that
elevated Suu Kyi and U Kyi Maung's fledgling party, the NLD, to national
consciousness. A state funeral that wound its way through the streets of
Rangoon attracted thousands of protesters to University Avenue. The
house with the blue gates became a shrine to a dynasty: the main meeting
room dominated by a portrait of Aung San, its walls pasted with his
writings. Burma's Camelot was emerging and the generals were appalled.
Outside the country, the romance of an Oxford mother taking on the
barbarous generals in a little known Asian nation proved irresistible.
Her life-story was embossed with a fable-like quality. The scion of a
fated family, separated from her young sons who, back in Britain, waited
for glimpses of their mother on television. Her childhood spent riding
with Rajiv and Sanjay Gandhi; university years at St Hugh's, Oxford; a
marriage on New Year's Day 1972 to a brilliant young academic to whom
she had been introduced by Lord Gore-Booth. An inscrutable, beautiful
land stalked by Kipling. Vanity Fair put Suu Kyi on its cover; "Burma's
Saint Joan," the magazine declared. The west transformed her into a
Suu Kyi has written of holding on to dharma and metta (loving
kindness) in the face of the generals who demonstrate "the banality of
evil," damning Ne Win as a man "who my father disapproved of and
despised." The junta has talked of "annihilating the foreign whore
married to a British Jew" and the army chief has said: "I will never
deal with those who would have us hung."
What began as a miracle, the reincarnation of Aung San through his
daughter, has degenerated into a kind of recurring nightmare; the
Burmese waking up every morning to be reminded of the fear and guilt
felt by Ne Win's heirs towards Aung San's daughter. Burmese politics are
incestuous, with dissidents and ministers often coming from the same
elite families. But it seems unlikely that anyone sitting around the
table when talks begin will be able to clear the first hurdle--that of
Burma's history. This is why many in the NLD and the democracy movement
are calling for talks without Suu Kyi. Only political horse trading can
enable progress, by ensuring that neither side loses face. With her
unwavering moral standards and western sensibilities this seems to be
something that Suu Kyi will never accept. It is possible that Burma
could adopt a power-sharing agreement, a peculiarly Asian form of
democracy not unlike that which thrives in Thailand, where army generals
have abandoned their khakis for pin-striped suits. Would Aung San Suu
Kyi be able to cope with this small shuffle towards the light?
Adrian Levy and Cathy Scott-Clark are writers based in Asia. Their
book Stone of Heaven is published by Weidenfeld & Nicolson.
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