The UN human rights envoy to Burma, Paulo Sergio Pinheiro, informed reporters in Bangkok that the Burmese junta told him the opposition National League for Democracy (NLD) will be one of eight groups invited to the reconvened National Convention. Most NLD leaders, including Aung San Suu Kyi, remain imprisoned or under house arrest, and have not commented on Pinheiro’s statement. The constitution drafting body is set to meet for the first time since 1996 in early 2004. Pinheiro said after his six-day trip to Burma in early November that "there has been a regression in the area of human rights" since his last visit in March.
Indian Vice President Bhairon Singh Shekhawat visited Burma for four days in early November. He is the highest-ranking Indian official to hold talks in Burma in 16 years. Shekhawat met with Sr-Gen Than Shwe, chairman of the ruling junta, for more than one hour. After meeting with business officials, Shekhawat said India and Burma aim to boost bilateral trade to US $1 billion by 2006. India also agreed to extend a $57 million line of credit to Burma, for upgrading its Rangoon-Mandalay rail link.
Indian authorities from the Burma border area say drug and gem smuggling is on the rise. Burmese drug gangs are feeding bags of illicit drugs to cows and buffaloes and driving the animals across the border, say police in Manipur, India. A recently arrested Burmese trafficker revealed the details of the operation. The Assam Rifles, which provide security on the India side of the border, said the Manipur border town of Moreh has become a major smuggling point for Burmese gems. An officer from the Assam rifles said 428 kg of gems were seized from two Indian youths who said the rubies and sapphires were from Burma.
The Paris-based Financial Action Task Force (FATF) has called on its member states to impose sanctions on Burma for failing to cooperate with international efforts to combat money laundering. The group is comprised of the 31 member nations of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. Burma was first identified as "uncooperative" by the FATF in 2001. The task force released a statement on Nov 3, when a new deadline for improvements passed without notice. It said Burma’s existing money laundering law "lacks the implementing regulations necessary to make it enforceable." Only the Pacific island of Nauru has ever been sanctioned by the group.
A US Congressman from Illinois said the current UN approach to Burma is not working and called on the international body to replace its special envoy to Burma, Razali Ismail. Lane Evans said the UN envoy’s authority should be strengthened and someone "capable of rallying international support for change" should be chosen to succeed Razali. Three other US Congressmen criticized the Burmese junta for failing to engage in talks with the opposition. They also called upon the US, UN and other nations to change tactics in dealing with Burma, saying three years of UN efforts have not delivered any progress.
Bagan Cybertech is selling prepaid kits for access to the World Wide Web to Burmese with a computer and telephone line. Bagan, which is Burma’s largest Internet service provider and partly owned by the government, sold 300 kits at a Rangoon communication technology fair in late October.