The Irrawaddy News Magazine [Covering Burma and Southeast Asia]

CHRONOLOGY 1998
Thursday, January 1, 1998

January

Khun Sa thrives after rebuilding empire

Notorious opium warlord Khun Sa has built a fast-growing business empire in Burma a year after he surrendered to the government in January 1996, sources said.

Khun Sa was leader of the now defunct 20,000-strong Mong Tai Army (MTA) that previously sought autonomy for Burma’s eastern Shan State. International drug agencies accused him of using the army as personal guerrilla force to protect his heroin business.

Sources close to Khun Sa said that he has since been leading what they called a life of luxury in Rangoon, where he oversees his diverse business in hotels, beach resorts and highway construction.

Slorc arrests 56 in bid to halt unrest

Lt-Gen. Khin Nyunt accused Aung San Suu Kyi’s opposition party and Communists of fomenting anti-government unrest.

The general said 56 people were placed in custody in connection with political protests, including 13 members of Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy, 34 remnant members of the defunct Communist Party of Burma, and nine people accused of throwing rocks.

Shut down affects 50,000 students prior to exam period

Burma kept some universities closed to prevent a recurrence of student unrest as it continued investigations into December’s demonstrations and bombings, senior officials said.

Officials told a monthly news conference the ruling State Law and Order Restoration Council was still trying to determine who was responsible for two bombings on Dec. 25 at a Buddhist shrine which killed five and wounded 17.

They said the bombings could be linked with demonstrations in early December when thousands of students took to the streets in the biggest anti-government demonstrations in Rangoon since 1988.

HK investment bank pulls out of Burma

Peregrine Capital Myanmar Ltd (PCM), a subsidiary of Peregrine Investment Holding Ltd, closed down its office in Rangoon because a privatisation programme had “not materialized” and its operations had been dogged by controversy.

The company was also dogged with problems relating to its former executive chairman, Mariam Segal.

Segal was ousted in July after the Hong Kong-based investment bank accused her of trying to set up a competing venture in Burma. She was sued for breach of contract and Peregrine was awarded US$ 4.1 million in New York.

Prison term for NLD member

Saw U Rei, a member of the NLD was sentenced to 10 years in prison for allegedly having links to ethnic rebel groups and publishing illegal documents. He was given three years in prison on Nov. 29 for contact with the Karenni rebel group, and another seven years on Dec. 18 for illegal publishing.

Boycotters prize Pepsi pullout

The global boycott movement against the military junta and its alleged human rights violations felled its biggest target to date: PepsiCo, Inc.

The number-two US soft drinks company was one of the last US firms to have a significant presence in Burma. In announcing its total withdrawal, the company said it was taking the step “based on our assessment of the spirit of current US government foreign policy.” Pepsi had been one of the primary consumer boycott targets since about 1990, when its move into the country coincided with the junta’s nullification of national elections won by the NLD.

Czechs honour Suu Kyi

Aung San Suu Kyi received an honorary doctorate in absentia from Prague’s Charles University. The Nobel laureate’s husband, British professor Michael Aris, accepted the honour for Suu Kyi.

The six centuries-old Czech university awarded a Doctor of Law degree on the 20th anniversary of Prague’s Charter 77 human rights declaration, for Suu Kyi’s “active participation in the fight for democracy, freedom, and human rights.”

Japan urges Burma to pursue reforms

Japanese Premier Ryutaro Hashimoto urged Burma to pursue democratic reforms and bluntly warned them to play by “international rules” if they gain admission into Asean.

Hashimoto told a news conference on the last leg of a five-nation tour of Asean members that Burma should not use Asean membership as a “smokescreen” for “autocratic rule.”

Hun Sen visits Rangoon

Cambodian Second Prime Minister Hun Sen flew to Burma for a four-day official visit. The two sides discussed their bids to join Asean.

“I think this is an important visit to extend the friendship, understanding and cooperation,” Hun Sen told reporters before departing with a delegation of about 30 officials.

The prime minister met Burmese military leader Gen. Than Shwe, and the two sides signed a cultural agreement.

Soros calls for boycott of the junta

US financier George Soros called for an international tourist boycott of Burma and an end to investments there by oil companies.

Soros appealed to the French company Total and the American company Union Oil of California (Unocal) to suspend their investments in the Yadana natural gas field.

The businessman said, “Nothing would hurt [Slorc] more than the oil companies suspending their operation on the Yadana pipeline under the pressure of public opinion from Europe and the USA.”

February

Aung San Suu Kyi murder threat

Aung San Suu Kyi alleged that Railways Minister Win Sein had encouraged junta supporters to murder her. During an up-country address to members of the pro-junta Union Solidarity Development Association (USDA) in late 1996, Win Sein reportedly told the crowd to “weed out” Suu Kyi.

Slorc has repeatedly vowed to “annihilate destructive elements” both inside and outside the country but dismissed the allegations saying, Suu Kyi “has been watching too many Alfred Hitchcock movies.”

Karen refugees attacked in Thailand

Karen refugees living in Thailand along the border were forced to relocate as a result of attacks from the Democratic Karen Buddhist Army (DKBA) and Slorc soldiers.

The domestic and cross-border forays displaced thousands, bringing the estimated number of Karen refugees on Thai soil to 100,000.

Slorc saw a ceasefire agreement with the Karen National Union (KNU) deteriorate, and is eager to finally control the rebel territory to make it safe for foreign investment projects.

DKBA troops easily crossed the Moei River separating the two countries and raided refugee camps in Ban Huay Kalok, Ban Huay Bong, and Mae Hla, located in Thailand’s Tak province.

Despite repeated warnings of the impending attacks, Thai forces were unable to repel DKBA advances drawing heavy criticism from international relief workers and certain Thai government officials. A Thai Foreign Ministry spokesman bemoaned the negligence as a “breakdown in [Thai] military intelligence.”

Suharto visits Burma

Indonesian President Suharto visited Burma on his tour of the three remaining Asean observer nations.After visiting Cambodia and Laos, Suharto went to Rangoon to sign two memoranda of understanding on Indonesian investment in Burmese industry and an airline services joint venture, as well as a feasibility study on investment potential in several sectors ranging from agriculture to manufacturing.Suharto also had a “purely private” meeting with retired Burmese leader Gen. Ne Win. Indonesia has invested a total of about US$200 million in Burma since 1988.

MARCH

Drug suspect jumps bail

Li Yun-chung, an international drug suspect indicted in the US on charges of importing 486 kgs of heroin, jumped bail and fled to Burma.

Li, with multiple aliases was indicted over his alleged involvement in the biggest heroin shipment ever to the US which was intercepted by customs officials in Hayward, California in May 1991.

The escape caused Thai authorities to investigate Mr. Somchai Udomwong, the judge who granted Mr. Li bail on Feb.7. It is believed Li was abetted by authorities on both sides of the border.

Kissinger and Mandela support constructive engagement

Former US Secretary of State and National Security Adviser Henry Kissinger voiced his disapproval of isolating Burma, supporting Asean’s “constructive engagement” policy withBurma explaining, “We should not get ourselves involved in the domestic reforms of any country because we don’t know what that country thinks.”

Meanwhile, South African President Nelson Mandela urged a greater engagement between his country and the Asean nations.

Mandela told reporters that “We [South Africa] are willing to deal with any region irrespective of the internal policies of those regions.”

But Mandela also added that South Africa “will be willing to play our part” if the international community decides on concerted action against the military regime.

However, Thailand’s two major English-language dailies were critical of Mr. Mandela’s Asean policy accusing him of “biting the hand that liberated, fed, and nurtured him.”

Muslim aggression

Religious unrest between Muslims and the Buddhist majority in Mandalay resulted in the vandalism of Muslim property and left at least one monk dead of gunshot wounds.

The clashes, sparked by the alleged rape of a Buddhist girl by a Muslim spread to other areas within the country including Rangoon, and caused the government to impose curfews and heighten security in several of the troubled areas.

Burmese intelligence suggested the unrest was caused by destructive elements intent on sabotaging Burma’s Asean bid in July.

“The main reason for this tension...[is] to create unrest in the country by creating disturbances wherever and whenever opportunity arises, to create misunderstanding between Myanmar and her Asean friends, especially with Indonesia and Malaysia which are both Islamic nations.”

However, some analysts reported that the real cause for the unrest was Slorc’s systematic looting of treasures at several temples in upper Burma, particularly the Maha Myat Muni Buddha statue in Mandalay. Others have suggested that some of the monks are being manipulated by the generals themselves.

April

Bomb kills Tin Oo's daughter

Cho Lei Oo, the eldest daughter of top military official Lt-Gen. Tin Oo, was killed by a parcel bomb delivered to their home on April 6.

The parcel, which had Japanese stamps, caused the government to accuse anti-Slorc groups in Japan for the attack. Burmese in Japan and Thailand as well as Karen guerillas denied any involvement in the explosion while Aung San Suu Kyi condemned the attack as “cowardly.”

The parcel was the second bomb attempt in recent months for which Tin Oo had been the target. In December 1996, a bomb blast at Kaba Aye Pagoda killed 5 and injured 17, but Tin Oo was unharmed.

Slorc continues offensive against Karen

Government forces targeting KNU guerillas continued to attack Karen settlements and rice supplies as they tried to flush out guerillas in eastern Burma.

Refugee camps in Thailand were also attacked, displacing thousands of Karen and other ethnic minority groups along the border.The KNU remains the lone ethnic group who have not yet signed a ceasefire agreement with Rangoon.

KNU joint First General Secretary Mahn Sha said the offensives are “not just operations against the KNU, but against Karen people and all people inside Burma.”

US Sanctions

US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright announced a ban on new investment by American businesses in Burma.

The decision was approved by President Bill Clinton based on the view that “repression by the military authorities of the democratic opposition in Burma has deepened since enactment of the Cohen-Feinstein provisions this past Sept. 30; and that a state of large-scale repression exists,” Mrs. Albright said.

The Cohen-Feinstein law, sponsored by Californian Senator Dianne Feinstein, and the now Secretary of Defence William Cohen of Maine, authorised the administration to outlaw new investments if the junta arrests, harms, or exiles Aung San Suu Kyi or her followers on a large-scale.

The ban is not retroactive so it will not affect existing investment projects in Burma, including Unocal’s US$1.2 billion pipeline which is Burma’s largest investment project. However, under the new sanctions Unocal will not be allowed to commit to new investment opportunities in Burma.

Search for weapons in Shan State

Ten Burmese soldiers and 13 Shan United Revolution Army (SURA) soldiers were killed in a one-day clash over rumours of hidden treasures and weapons near Khun Sa’s former stronghold of Ho Mong. Located about 25 km from the Thai border, Ho Mong used to house over 20,000 Mong Tai Army (MTA) guerillas and Khun Sa’s massive drug operations before he capitulated to Slorc in January 1996. 
But a SURA source claims that Khun Sa hid weapons, jewelry and gold in Ho Mong before surrendering.
“Khun Sa does not totally trust the Burmese so he hid valuables and weapons before his surrender, and reliable sources say most of his money is still in banks in Thailand.”

Hollywood appeals for comic's release

A group of American comedians signed letters sent to top military government officials urging the release of Burmese comic Par Par Lay, Human Rights Watch Asia said.

The letters, signed by actors including Carl Reiner, Ted Danson, Paul Reiser, Mike Farrell and Mary Steenburgen, argued Par Par Lay had been jailed for exercising his internationally guaranteed right to freedom of expression. In letters sent to Prime Minister Gen. Than Shwe and top junta official Lt-Gen. Khin Nyunt, the Hollywood comedians urged Par Par Lay’s immediate release.

May

Ohn Gyaw thanks Asean

The Slorc expressed its “sincere appreciation” for the “support and understanding” of Asean in planning to admit Burma to the regional group, the official press said.
“We are indebted to the Asean secretariat support, as well as to our Asean friends for their support,” Foreign Minister Ohn Gyaw said at a meeting of Burmese and Asean officials in Rangoon — one week after the US imposed an investment ban on Burma and appealed to the regional grouping to bar Rangoon’s admittance.

Unocal boss holds talks with Suu Kyi

The president of Unocal Corp held informal talks with Aung San Suu Kyi in Rangoon on issues including the US energy firm’s involvement in the Yadana gas project. With government approval, John Imle met Suu Kyi at her home for several hours on May 16.

Details of the talks, the first of their kind between the two parties, were not disclosed at the discretion of both parties.

Suu Kyi has urged the US firm to pull out because she sees its role as tantamount to supporting the ruling Slorc.

Mr. Imle wanted to hear directly from Suu Kyi why she perceived the Yadana gas development scheme as hindering political change in the country and why it was not seen as a catalyst in boosting the economy.

Unocal has a 28.26-percent stake in the US$1.2 billion Yadana project in the Gulf of Martaban, which has been developed by a consortium led by Total of France, largely for exporting natural gas to Thailand.

Rangoon welcomes Do Muoi

Vietnamese Communist Party Chief Do Muoi and his 65-member delegation cut short a three-day official visit to Rangoon because of excessively hot weather.

However, the trip was hailed as a success in forging unity between the two countries against “foreign acts of domination and oppression,” and was seen as a gesture to support Burma’s entry into Asean.

Do Muoi, the party secretary-general, became the second highest-ranking Vietnamese official to visit Burma since 1988.

Clinton signs ban on new US investment in Burma

US President Bill Clinton issued an executive order putting into effect a ban on new American investment in Burma in response to “a deepening pattern of severe repression” by the junta.

Clinton said the junta’s policies and its “large-scale repression of the democratic opposition in Burma” after Sept. 30 last year “continue an unusual and extraordinary threat to the national security and foreign policy of the United States.”

Generals accuse opposition of terrorism

Burma’s army chief of staff said traitors within the country are turning into “terrorists” with foreign backing, official media reported.

Tin Oo made the comments a week after Washington imposed economic sanctions on Burma, banning all new US investment in the country in protest against reports of continued human rights violations and repression of the democracy movement.

Crackdown on the opposition

Just one day after Clinton’s order, the junta renewed its large-scale crackdown on the NLD ahead of a planned party congress on May 27 — the seventh anniversary of the nullified general elections in which the NLD won an overwhelming majority of seats.

About 50 NLD MPs, members, and organisers were arrested en route to Rangoon to participate in the celebration.

Traders Hotel struck from airline deal

Northwest Airlines ended a controversial promotion which offered bonus kilometres to frequent flyers who stayed at the Traders Hotel in Rangoon.

The Traders is part-owned by Lo Hsing Han, once known as the “King of the Golden Triangle,” and now identified by the US State Department as a “narco-trafficker.”Mr. Lo’s son and business partner in the Traders Hotel, Steven Law, is barred from the US due to his suspected involvement in the drug trade.

“Since 1988, some 15 percent of foreign investment in Burma and over half of that from Singapore has been tied to the family of narco-trafficker, Lo Hsing Han,” US Assistant Secretary of State for International Narcotics Affairs Robert Gelbard said.

Rangoon returns narcotics suspect who jumped bail

The junta delivered major heroin trafficking suspect Li Yun-Chung to Thai authorities, after earlier denials that he had fled to Burma upon jumping bail in Thailand last February.

Li, wanted by the US on charges of smuggling 486 kilogrammes of heroin — the largest heroin seizure in US history — into Oakland, California, was handed over to Thai authorities during Prime Minister Chavalit Yongchaiyudh’s official visit to Burma.

When asked by journalists to explain Slorc’s decision, Chavalit only said: “He had Thai nationality. He must be sent to us.”

NLD official jailed

The junta said it had sentenced a member of the NLD to four years in jail on a charge of falsifying documents.

Myo Khin, 39, NLD secretary for Yankin township in Rangoon, was arrested on May 12 and charged with fraudulently altering a family registration list and citizen registration card, the Slorc said in a statement.

The court had passed the sentence after a week of hearings. The statement said Myo Khin’s arrest and sentence had nothing to do with an NLD party gathering.

“Myo Khin coincidently happens to be the secretary of the Yankin township NLD and thus, being a political party member of a certain political party, does not grant him the right to make any fraudulent alterations on official documents,” the statement said.


June

Democracy activist dies

A democracy advocate jailed since 1991, died of heart failure at Rangoon General Hospital. Tin Shwe, a 67 year-old organiser for the NLD, was known to suffer from heart disease and his family had visited him just two days before his death, a Slorc statement said.

Tin Shwe, a lawyer and well-known writer, came from Monywa in Mandalay Division. Aside from his membership in the NLD, he was a prominent student activist during the student revolt of 1962.

Suu Kyi activists released

Hundreds of supporters of Aung San Suu Kyi detained to stop her from holding a party congress were released.

Opposition sources confirmed that most of the 316 activists were released. But the status of several members detained in Irrawaddy Division, just west of Rangoon, was unclear.

Burmese student group disappointed

A Burmese dissident student group said Asean’s decision to admit Burma into the regional grouping was an “historic mistake” which would only encourage the brutal military regime to step up its campaign of terror against the Burmese people.

“Amid the height of repression inside Burma, the ABSDF (All Burma Students’ Democratic Front) is disappointed to learn of its entry into Asean this July.

“We are also extremely disturbed by the decision made in the Asean Foreign Ministers Meeting in Kuala Lumpur on May 31.

The ministers made a conscious choice to blatantly ignore the wishes of the overwhelming majority of Burma’s citizens,” the ABSDF said in statement.

It said the decision had perfectly portrayed the reality of the “unconstructive engagement” policy of the Asean towards the Burmese people and their aspirations for democracy, and the realisation of human rights.

Slorc dampens birthday celebrations for Suu Kyi

Burmese military police prevented about a hundred of Aung San Suu Kyi’s supporters from visiting her Rangoon home to celebrate her 52nd birthday.

However, about 20 of Suu Kyi’s relatives and aides were allowed into her compound for a quiet ceremony in which she offered food to five Buddhist monks, a traditional merit-making ritual.

Asean agrees to Burma’s entry

Asean announced its decision to admit its final three members — Burma, Cambodia and Laos — in July, reaffirming their belief that this best serves regional and international interests.

The Asean foreign ministers hailed their controversial decision to “complete” the grouping, by expanding it to bring all 10 Southeast Asian nations into its fold, but critics warned that further repression was likely in Burma as a result.

The decision was made on the recommendation of the Asean Secretariat, which reported in detail on the three countries’ readiness to fulfill all technical requirements and economic and non-economic commitments of membership.

Malaysian Foreign Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, chairman of the Asean Standing Committee, said the three new members would be given 10 years, beginning in 1998, to join the Asean Free Trade Area (AFTA).

NYC joins action to punish firms with Burma links

New York City became the eleventh US city to impose sanctions on Burma, as Mayor Rudy Giuliani signed a law barring contracts with companies operating in the country.

“We want to see major changes in Burma,” Giuliani said, describing conditions there as “beyond what the human conscience can tolerate.”

Critics of the junta have long viewed such a ban in New York City, the US financial capital and seat of the United Nations, as a major symbolic victory. US officials estimate US investment in Burma at about US$240 million, led by Unocal.

Consumers’ organisation urges paraquat ban

A report by the Southeast Asia Information Network (SAIN) that 10,000 litres of paraquat were sold in Burma was confirmed by the Danish company involved, but denied by the Slorc.

Saree Angsamwong of the Consumers Foundation said that her organisation has called for a ban on the sale of paraquat — a potent herbicide often used to kill weeds along roadsides, around homes and on rubber, palm and sugar plantations — because of its public health and environmental impact.

Considered one of the “dirty dozen” pesticides, paraquat has already been banned by nine countries, including Denmark, but the Danish firm East Asiatic Co Ltd still sells the agrochemical in Southeast Asia under the trade name Gramoxone.

Slorc fails to reopen schools

Schools across Burma remained closed two weeks after the scheduled beginning of the new academic year, but the government assured they would be reopened “very soon.”

After the usual three-month vacation from March through May, the hottest months of the year in Burma, the regime told nearly eight million students nationwide not to return to classes.

The reason for the delay remains a mystery for parents and teachers alike, although by most accounts, many students enjoyed the additional time off.

Many Burmese suggested that the government would keep all schools closed to prevent any possible student demonstrations before Burma is formally admitted to the Asean.

Japan insurer sets foot in Burma

Yasuda Fire and Marine Insurance Co, Japan’s second-biggest insurance company, signed a memorandum of understanding to form a joint venture with state-owned Myanma Insurance Co.

The agreement was signed by the managing directors of each company in the presence of Finance Minister Brig-Gen. Win Tin, who said the venture was the first in the industry and would “enhance healthy growth of the insurance market.”

The agreement will give Myanma Insurance Co, for 30 years the country’s sole insurer, added capacity as market-oriented reforms expand the Burmese economy.

Karenni party vows to continue fight with Slorc

The Karenni National Progressive Party vowed to continue its fight with the Slorc until the latter withdraws its four battalions from Kayah State.

KNPP commander Maj-Gen. Aung Mya said from his jungle base that he would hold talks with the Slorc only after their withdrawal.

The commander recalled the incident when he and other KNPP senior figures were nearly poisoned to death by government officials during their past talks in March 1995. The treatment cost him 200,000 baht.

Ramos says Asean will sway Burma

Burma’s Asean membership will draw the military regime back into the international community, Philippine President Fidel Ramos said.

Speaking before diplomats and government officials as part of a “report to the nation,” Ramos said, “We are confident that membership in Asean will have an ameliorating effect on [Burma’s] economy and society,” adding that membership would “gradually draw the Rangoon regime into the international community,” although he did not elaborate.

Ramos defended the impending extension of Asean membership to Burma saying, “To us in Asean, that [Burma] is part of the Southeast Asian family is reason to bring her into the fold.”

ATM allots forex coupons

The first automatic teller machine dispensing foreign exchange coupons was opened in Burma by the May Flower Bank.

The privately-owned May Flower Bank operates the only ATMs in Burma, and only has about four or five of them, all in Rangoon.

Mon rebels surrender to junta

More than 300 Mon soldiers surrendered to the Burmese military near the Thai border in Prachuab Khiri Khan and handed over some 1,700 pieces of arms and ammunition.

However, more than 1,000 members of their families broke away from the mainstream New Mon State Party nearly two years ago because New Mon State Party president and commander of the Mon forces, Nai Shwe Kyin contacted and signed a ceasefire agreement with the Slorc against the will of the Mon freedom fighters.

Japanese envoy arrives in Rangoon

Japanese envoy Hiroshi Hirabayashi was in Rangoon for talks with Burma’s leaders to underscore Japan’s concern over the crackdown on the democratic movement in Burma. The special envoy of Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto met Foreign Minister Ohn Gyaw and Lt-Gen. Khin Nyunt.

It was believed that the envoy delivered a personal message from Hashimoto to the country’s military rulers urging the junta to talk with the NLD.

July

Trade drops amid fears over scrapping of the kyat

Thai-Burmese border trading in Mae Sot declined sharply as many Thais feared Rangoon would soon scrap the kyat currency.

Jirasak Paiboonthamrote, chairman of the border trade committee of Tak’s Chamber of Commerce, said the situation resulted from reports that dealers in Rangoon had bought a quantity of foreign currencies, causing the Burmese currency to drop from 180-200 to 280-300 kyat per US dollar.

Former strongman dies

Saw Maung, the general who headed Burma’s junta when it seized power in 1988, died of a heart attack, family members said.

The 68 year-old Saw Maung, who held the rank of senior general, had been in poor health for a long time. He resigned as chairman of the junta in April 1992 on medical grounds.

The official announcement of his leave said his medical condition had “become severely impaired by the stress of work and heavy responsibilities of the state.”

The report, and the suddenness of his resignation, lent credence to widespread rumours that he had suffered a nervous breakdown. He was rarely seen in public after he was replaced by Senior Gen. Than Shwe, who still heads the junta.

Born in December 1928 in the northern city of Mandalay, Saw Maung joined the army in 1949, a year after Burma gained independence from Britain. He became a battalion commander with the rank of major in 1967, five years after Gen. Ne Win overthrew a democratically elected government and installed single-party rule. Saw Maung had a reputation as a Ne Win loyalist.

Slorc receives NLD assurance

Khin Nyunt met the chairman of the NLD party, but the gathering did not signal the start of a political dialogue between the two, government and NLD officials said.

The meeting between Slorc’s Secretary-One and NLD chairman Aung Shwe, as well as two other senior NLD members, was the first between military rulers and the opposition since Suu Kyi was released from six years of house arrest in July 1995.

NLD officials said the meeting was to explain to Slorc that the party and Suu Kyi were not involved in terrorist activities and that they had not received foreign financial assistance.

Asean admits Burma & Laos

On the eve of the regional grouping’s 30th anniversary, Asean officially admitted Laos and Burma as its eighth and ninth members, bringing the founding fathers’ dream of a 10-member community one step closer.

The ceremony, however, was flawed by the exclusion of Cambodia due the ousting of Cambodian First Prime Minister Norodom Ranariddh by his archrival Second Prime Minister Hun Sen.

The Burmese delegation included Rangoon’s ambassadors to all Asean capitals, except Vietnam and Brunei. Laos killed its earlier plan for all Asean ambassadors to join the ceremony, citing budget constraints and regret over Cambodia’s exclusion.

Chettha firm on refugee policy

Thai Army Commander-in-Chief Chettha Thanajaro assured American Refugee Committee chairman Anthony Kozlowski that no refugees on the Burmese border will be forcibly repatriated.

“Mr. Kozlowski says he deeply appreciated the country’s generosity in providing humanitarian aid to refugees from Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia and Burma during the past decades,” said a Thai army officer.

Shan civilians slain by Slorc

The ethnic Shan resistance faction accused Burmese troops of massacring 58 civilians in Shan state, Shan and Thai army sources said.

The Shan State Army (SSA) said in a statement that on June 6, Burmese troops arrested 26 people in Chianglom village of Kunhing district. The troops said the people had relocated without permission and subsequently all 26 villagers were tied up and shot dead at close range, the statement said.

The SSA is a loose grouping of fighters who broke away from Khun Sa’s former Mong Tai Army before the former opium warlord surrendered to Rangoon in January 1996.

US city approves anti-Slorc curbs

Santa Cruz, California passed a law banning transaction deals with companies that do business in Burma.

The “Free Burma Law,” effectively bars contracts with companies doing business in Burma by giving a 10 per cent bidding preference to companies that do not.

Santa Cruz joins other American cities, counties and states — including Berkeley, Madison, Santa Monica, San Francisco, AlamedaCounty, and the state of Massachusetts — that have passed similar rulings. Companies that have continued to invest in Burma include Unocal, Total, Texaco, Caterpillar, Arco, Procter and Gamble, Mitsubishi and the Swedish firm Ericsson.

IRI returns fire over Slorc condemnation

“It’s Orwellian that the Slorc regime, guilty of forced labour, torture, execution of dissidents and myriad other human rights abuses, could term as ‘terrorism’ the non-violent work aided by IRI,” President of the International Republican Institute, Lorne Cramer said after Lt-Gen. Khin Nyunt accused the United States of sponsoring state terrorism attacks against top figures in Burma’s military.

IRI is a US-based nonprofit organisation which conducts educational activities for political parties, activists and governments in over 30 countries. Resistance methods taught by IRI include listening to banned broadcasts of the Voice of America or Radio Free Asia and disseminating information on democracy and human rights.

Burma’s Asean entry linked to currency attacks

Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad made a thinly veiled attack on US financier George Soros, blaming him for Southeast Asia’s currency turmoil.

As he addressed a business group in Japan,Mahathir accused a foreign financier opposed to Burma’s Asean entry of upsetting currencies to pursue his own political agenda. Soros was clearly the target.

“We feel that there is some other agenda apart from making money. As you may have noticed, Asean countries are the targets,” Mahathir was quoted as saying.“If they want to attack the British pound, by all means do so. Britain is rich. Malaysia is a poor country and it is not right for people like these to play and speculate with our currency.”

UK clothing firm cuts Burmese ties

British High Street clothes retailer Burton ordered its suppliers to stop using factories with the Burmese military, the BBC said.

The Newsnight programme, using hidden cameras, uncovered evidence that workers in factories making clothes destined for the West earned $2 a day, but had to give $1 a day back to the Burmese army.

Investments in Burma increase

According to government statistics, foreign investment in Burma’s manufacturing sector soared during the past year to more than US$1 billion.

Foreign investment in the manufacturing sector at the end of fiscal 1996-1997 totaled $1.13 billion, up from $193.5 million at the end of fiscal 1995-1996.

That pushed the manufacturing sector from sixth place in terms of dollar value of foreign investment to second place, behind the energy sector.

Rangoon denies plan to void 200,500 kyat notes

Burma denied rumours it will void 200 and 500 kyat notes because of counterfeiting as value of the currency plummeted to a record 260 kyat to the dollar, the state-run New Light of Myanmar newspaper said.

The rumour falsely claimed that a government newscast had announced that 500-kyat bills with serial numbers beginning with the letters AL and AM would be demonetized, said Rangoon residents.

In 1987 the government demonetized 25, 35 and 75 kyat notes, offering no compensation to people who held them.

The move eliminated 60 to 80 per cent of the money in circulation and wiped out the saving of millions of people.

August

Canada boosts sanctions to maintain heat on Slorc

Canadian Foreign Minister Lloyd Axworthy announced additional economic sanctions against Burma to increase pressure on the country’s military leaders to improve human rights and move toward democracy.

Canada would withdraw Burma’s General Preferential Tariff eligibility, require all Canadian exporters to Burma to have an export permit and encourage businesses not to invest in the country, he said.

“The actions we have taken today are intended to convey the seriousness of our concerns over the suppression of political freedoms and our frustration with Burma’s failure to curb the production and trafficking of illegal drugs,” said Mr. Axworthy who spent much of his news conference seeking to justify differences in treatment by Canada, which has applied sanctions against countries such as Nigeria and Burma while opting for dialogue with China, Cuba, and Indonesia.

Junta jails Suu Kyi’s relatives

Three democracy supporters, all of whom are related to Aung San Suu Kyi, were each sentenced to 10 years in prison, the government said in a statement.

Suu Kyi’s cousin and close aide Cho Aung Than, his sister Nge Ma Ma Than, and her husband Myint Swe were found guilty and sentenced under national security laws in Insein court in Rangoon.

“Cho Aung Than, Myint Swe and Nge Ma Ma Than have been sentenced for three years imprisonment for breaching the Unlawful Associations Act and a further seven years under the Emergency Provisions Act,” the statement said.

The three were detained in June and questioned in relation to smuggling videotapes of Suu Kyi’s speeches abroad. They have also been accused of being conduits for foreign funds the government said were received by the NLD earlier in the year, officials said.

The US strongly condemned prison terms and rejected charges that they are involved in a terrorist plot to overthrow the junta.

Schools reopened

Burma reopened nearly 38,808 schools two months late, but nearly 30 universities and colleges suspected of being linked to student unrest remained closed.

The reopening involved more than seven million children whose schools had been closed since March and had been scheduled to reopen in June.

Japan urges more dialogue with NLD

Japan’s State Secretary for Foreign Affairs Masahiko Koumura, met top Burmese leaders and urged the government to continue talking with the NLD, a Japanese Embassy source said.

“Mr. Koumura expressed Japan’s appreciation of Secretary One’s [Khin Nyunt’s] meeting with NLD chairman U Aung Shwe in July and urged him to continue such meetings,” the source said adding that Koumura suggested the NLD should be included in the constitution drafting process.

Khin Nyunt offered no comment, but emphasised that drafting the country’s new constitution was a time-consuming process since the Slorc wants to ensure reconciliation with all of Burma’s ethnic minorities, Mr. Ihara explained.

Rangoon defends concept of ‘discipline democracy’

Burma defended its concept of “discipline democracy” and dismissed “concocted accusations” from abroad of human rights abuses.

“Myanmar [Burma] is building the system of discipline democracy which is considered the most appropriate for its situation and which will guarantee perpetuation of sovereignty and contribute to political, economic and social uplift,” an editorial in the state-run New Light of Myanmar daily said.

Summarizing Khin Nyunt’s remarks, the daily said: “While people are losing human rights in the so-called democratic countries, people in Myanmar are enjoying their rights fully, upholding their cultural norms and traditions which are in harmony with their religion.”

Report says junta forces Mon labour

The military is increasingly rounding up members of the Mon ethnic minority for forced labour since the Mons signed a ceasefire with Rangoon, said a report.

The ceasefire “has given a relatively easy chance for [the military] to increase its conscription of forced labour from Mon State,” said the report issued by the Mon Information Service, based in Bangkok.

The report documents human rights abuses, including forced conscription as porters to carry supplies for the army, forced relocations, and extortion.

Rice prices soar as kyat plummets

Burma is experiencing a second consecutive year of heavy damage to its rice crop due to this year’s flooding in the Irrawaddy basin, according to source in Rangoon.

Prices of rice for local consumption are rising, and exports will be far below the government’s ambitious targets.

The floods have destroyed dikes along the Irrawaddy and some parts of the rail system in the most serious damage since the Slorc took over the country in 1988, foreign sources said.

A 50-kilogramme bag of good quality rice is now being sold for 3,120 kyat, compared with between 2,000 and 2,200.

State-run press raises issue of racial purity

A long commentary in the state-run press raised the issue of racial purity, saying Suu Kyi “has no desire to safeguard the race.”

After marrying a Briton, “she gave birth to children who have blood of colonialists without any shame instead of the blood of the national leaders.”

The commentary compared her to “garbage” and said the pro-democracy movement she has led since 1988 had been “overshadowed” by the influence of Washington.

In 1988, “Daw Suu Kyi was a piece of refuse drifting with the tides of anarchistic insurgency which was brought into shape like a democracy revolution.”

Unusually, the article repeatedly referred to her as Daw Suu Kyi — the form of address for Burmese women who do not take their husbands’ names. Previously, the media had called her Mrs. Michael Aris.

Suu Kyi illegally receives $80,000 gift says Slorc

The state-controlled press hinted that Aung San Suu Kyi was heading for her downfall as a politician.

“It is certain to foretell that she will perish after her raft has dashed against the consolidated rock of national politics,” said the secondinstallment of a lengthy diatribe against Suu Kyi that appeared in all government-controlled dailies.

The article, entitled “From Washington to University Avenue,” also accused Suu Kyi of accepting a cash donation of US$80,000 from American citizen John Vincent Osolnick Jr., who visited Rangoon on January 24 to 26.

Under Burmese law it is illegal for a political party or politician to accept donations from abroad.

Venerable politicians urge talk

A group of veteran Burmese politicians wrote to the military government urging it to hold a dialogue with the NLD.

The letter said a dialogue between Slorc leaders and the NLD was the only hope for the nation which it said was mired in an economic and political crisis.

The letter was signed by 23 politicians, including former colleagues of Suu Kyi’s father, national hero General Aung San.

“We humbly appeal to the Slorc and representatives of the NLD which include Daw Aung San Suu Kyi to meet and discuss how to get over the crisis of the country for the benefit of the entire nation,” the three-page letter said.

September

Rangoon threatens action on sanctions

Burma announced plans to take the United States to the World Trade Organisation (WTO) over sanctions imposed by US states and cities which blacklist companies investing in Burma, an official said.

Noting that the European Union, backed by Japan, was already taking the US to the WTO, a Slorc minister said, “When we have the next WTO meeting, we will take it up also.”

Slorc accuses UK of hypocrisy on drugs

The junta attacked the British for accusing Rangoon of profiting from the drugs trade.

“The British Foreign Secretary’s statement criticising Myanmar on the involvement in narcotics drugs is regarded here as the century’s greatest hypocritical statement,” a government official said.

“The drug problem which we are encountering today is the direct result of Britain’s colonial strategy of 150 years ago,” he added.

“Britain should actually be taking the lead in assisting the victim countries clean up the mess she had originally and internationally created, instead of pointing fingers.”

Leaders will not be given visas says Cook

British Foreign Secretary Robin Cook ruled out Burma’s participation in an Asia-Europe summit next April in London as Burmese leaders would be refused visas to the country.

“I have not found any problem expressed on this because the Asem meeting is not a dialogue between the European Union and Asean.

It’s a dialogue between the European countries and some Asian countries at which membership is resolved by consensus...and indeed the Asean members do understand our difficulties with Myanmar,” Cook explained.

The Asem now groups 10 East Asian countries including China, Japan, South Korea, the Asean economies — excluding Burma and Laos — as well as the 15 EU members.

UN team reports severe damage in floods

A UN disaster management team reported serious flooding in Burma leading to heavy damage and loss of life, a Japanese embassy statement said.

“Unusually heavy rainfalls in the last week of July 1997 have caused flash floods in many parts of the country, particularly in Mon State and the Pegu and Irrawaddy Divisions,” the statement cited a UN report as saying.

Low-lying areas in Pegu and Irrawaddy, with Rangoon, provide the bulk of Burma’s rice for its population of 47 million.

“This has resulted in substantial damage and loss of life. The total number of persons affected [in the three areas] were 103,650 persons from 20,451 households,” the report said.

US denies issuing Suu Kyi permit

A spokesman for the US State Department said it had no knowledge of reports that Aung San Suu Kyi used her high profile to obtain a green card to the United States.

“We are very supportive of her, but I have not heard anything about a green card,” James P. Rubin said. A green card is a permanent resident permit usually obtained before applying for US citizenship.

NLD party ‘too rigid’

Former member of the Burmese Socialist Programme Party that ruled Burma from 1962 to 1988, and current NLD member Tun Shwe, called the opposition party “too rigid” and urged them to be more flexible towards starting a dialogue with the Slorc.

Although party secretary-general Aung San Suu Kyi would be excluded from such talks, he argued that the NLD should allow a dialogue to be initiated between Slorc and Aung Shwe as a means of overcoming the current political stalemate.

NLD cancels meeting with Slorc

The NLD called off a meeting with Khin Nyunt due to the military’s insistence that NLD party secretary-general Aung San Suu Kyi not attend. Several other government officials were also invited.

Unocal remains bullish on Burma despite embargo

Unocal Corp. will continue to focus on economics before politics for itsinvestments worldwide, Unocal president John F. Imle said.

“Political decisions follow economic fundamentals,” Imle said, pointing to Unocal’s controversial investment in Burma, as an example.

“We believe engagement works better than isolation,” Imle explained. “That aligns us a lot more with Asean than it does with official US policy or some of our friends on Capitol Hill.”

Thai helicopter goes down near border

A Thai army Jet Ranger helicopter flying along the Thai-Burmese border south of Mae Sot was shot down by Slorc troops on August 28, 1997 dissidents and news agencies alleged. Four Thai soldiers including two pilots died in the crash.

Burmese rebels claimed that the plane was shot down with machine guns and automatic rifles by troops from Slorc’s Light Infantry Division 32, led by captains Thein Lwin and Kyaw San.

Sources also suspected Slorc troops have already destroyed the helicopter and disposed of the dead soldiers.

Thai firm quits Burma airline

Krong Sombat Co Ltd of Thailand sold its 49 per cent stake in Burma’s money-losing domestic Yangon Airways Ltd to Myanmar May Flower Group, one of Burma’s largest private conglomerates, a spokesman for the Burmese company said. Terms of the sale were not disclosed.

Yangon Airways was set up in October 1996 and was 51 per cent owned by state-run Myanmar Airways and 49 per cent held by the Thai company.

Reclusive Ne Win goes to Jakarta

Former dictator Ne Win, not seen in public since 1989, visited Indonesia at the invitation of President Suharto.

The 86 year-old former leader was accompanied by an 11-member entourage that included his eldest daughter, Sanda Win, his son-in-law, grandson and several military intelligence officers.

Many Burmese believe Ne Win still exercises control over the present government. Although there is little hard evidence to support those assertions, Slorc leaders do brief him at least twice a month and have great respect for him, foreign diplomats said.

Some analysts have written that there is little hope of breaking the political stalemate in Burma until Ne Win dies.

Burma’s military leaders have been studying the Indonesia system of government, called pancasila, which provides for a dual defense and political role for the armed forces, with an eye to adopting a similar system in Burma.

Ne Win and President Suharto, a former general who seized power in a 1965 coup, have known each other for more than 30 years.

OCTOBER

Burma could join AFTA before 2008 deadline

Asean announced that Burma is likely to join a proposed regional free-trade area before its 10-year grace period expires in 2008, according to Asean secretary-general Ajit Singh.

Ajit praised Burma’s offer to cut tariffs as one of the newest members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.

Under a 1993 accord, Asean’s six most developed members — Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore and Thailand — agreed to work toward an Asean Free Trade Area by implementing common effective preferential tariffs of five per cent or less on 98 per cent of their products by 2003.

Vietnam, which joined the group in 1995, has been given until 2006 while Burma and Laos have another two years.

Philippine foreign minister meets Suu Kyi

Philippines Foreign Minister Domingo Siazon, who traveled to Burma with Philippine President Fidel Ramos and a delegation of government and business officials, met Suu Kyi for lunch at her lakeside home.

Mr. Ramos requested permission from the government to see Suu Kyi during his visit, but when the Burmese did not respond, he dropped the matter.

The meeting with Suu Kyi was denied by the junta, but diplomats in Rangoon confirmed that the meeting had taken place and viewed it as a positive development.

Junta ready to go mainstream

Military strongman Khin Nyunt said that his country was ready to play its part in the regional mainstream following its entry into Asean.

Speaking at a joint ministerial meeting with Singapore, he hailed the support extended by the rich city-state, Burma’s chief trading partner and number two investor, and said his country was set for “economic takeoff.”

Expressing gratitude to neighbouring countries backing for Rangoon’s efforts to be integrated into the “Asean family,” he said “Burma looks forward to contributing its share for peace, stability and prosperity of the region.”

Burma opens hi-tech warfare & spying centre

The military opened a hi-tech warfare and spying centre built and supplied by a Singaporean company, a defence journal reported.

The new Cyber Warfare centre is located inside the Ministry of Defence compound in Rangoon, reported the Asian Defence Compound in its September issue.

The centre “has been optimised for tapping domestic phone, fax and e-mail lines on a countrywide basis,” the journal said.

“It was built and supplied under a turnkey project by an unnamed Singaporean company, whose representatives are currently training their [Burmese] counterparts in how to use advanced electronic intelligence hardware installed in the centre,” the Malaysian-based publication said.

Khin Nyunt's brother to face legal action

Five members of the NLD, including elected MPs, were arrested for trying to hold meetings and will face legal action.

They include Dr. Than Nyein, brother of the first secretary of the ruling junta Lt-Gen. Khin Nyunt — and the NLD chairmen for Taketha and Mayangone, the two townships which Suu Kyi had visited in the two weeks prior to the arrests, as part of a campaign to organise an NLD youth wing.

A senior military official said the NLD was holding the meetings in defiance of the law, in an effort to embarrass the government.

US group on fact-finding trip to region

Former US ambassador to Thailand Morton Abramowitz met with leaders of the Burmese opposition in Bangkok after visiting Singapore, Burma, and Thailand to assess the situation in the region.

Mr. Abramowitz was accompanied by former ambassador Richard Lee Armitage, who served as Assistant Secretary of Defence for International Security Affairs in the Pentagon from June 1983 to May 1989.

He was also accompanied by an academic and a senior official of the Burma-Myanmar Forum which financed the trip.

The meeting was attended by Tin Maung Win, vice president of the Democratic Alliance of Burma and Presidium member of the National Council of the Union of Burma, Teddy Buri and Aung Naing Oo of the foreign affairs department of NCUB and a senior official of a Mon organisation opposed to the government.

NLD man dies in prison

Kyaw Din, a 58 year-old former member of the NLD, died at a prison hospital of acute pulmonary disease while serving a two-year jail sentence, the government said.

“U Kyaw Din of NLD Wakema Township, who is serving a two year prison sentence since July 24, 1997, for violation of Burma Criminal Act section 505 (B) ... passed away on October 20 at Wakema Township hospital,” the statement said. It said he was also suffering from renal failure and “malignant hypertension.”

Suu Kyi plays host

Slorc permitted Aung San Suu Kyi and more than 300 members of her NLD to hold a religious ceremony at her home.

Party faithful dressed in their customary peach-coloured jackets paid respects to 60 senior politicians, including some of Burma’s independence fighters, during the traditional ceremony of obeisance to elders that marks the end of the three-month Buddhist lent.

Asean attempts to resolve political deadlock

The European Union (EU) called off a meeting with Asean members ofin Bangkok because of disagreement over Burma’s participation. A spokesman for the EU Commission said the bloc “regretted” the decision but insisted that Asean’s demands that Burma should be given full observer status in the talks, due to be held on November 17-19, were “not acceptable.”

Suu Kyi's first political trip since release

Aung San Suu Kyi traveled on her first political trip outside the capital being released from house arrest in 1995. A division-level official of the NLD party said she went to Thakata on the outskirts of Rangoon to organise the NLD youth wing and speak to supporters.

“We can say there is still hope for understanding to grow between the NLD and the Slorc. Maybe this is a sign of relaxation of the Slorc’s control over the NLD,” one analyst said.

Burma, Philippines sign pact on drug-trafficking

Burma and the Philippines signed an agreement to fight international drug trafficking on the first day of President Fidel Ramos’s three-day visit to Rangoon.

The other accords included a trade agreement, an agreement on technical cooperation in forestry and forest industries and an agreement establishing a joint commission for bilateral cooperation, a Philippine government statement said.

NOVEMBER

Asean steps up pressure on EU

Asean threatened to restrict the number of European Union (EU) representatives in future meetings if it insisted on excluding Burma from the upcoming Asean EU Joint Cooperation Conference (JCC).

The EU reminded Asean that Rangoon was not party to the 1980 cooperation agreement signed between the two blocs and therefore should not participate in the JCC meeting as it would require the explicit agreement of all participating members.

According to a senior official, the EU compromised by allowing Burma to attend the meeting in an “informal and passive” manner, which would mean a different seating arrangement and that it not display its flag.

Riot police shuts down NLD meeting

Dozens of riot police were deployed to stop an NLD meeting in the Rangoon township of Tamwe, but the party decided not to go ahead with the gathering.

It would have been the third gathering at NLD offices around the capital, spearheaded by Suu Kyi, to organise an NLD youth wing, but the authorities would not give approval unless it took place at Suu Kyi’s home.

Suu Kyi landlord arrested

Slorc arrested Thaung Aye, owner of a building in the South Okkalapa township of Rangoon who agreed to rent an office to democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi’s political party.

Slorc also arrested the chairman of the Okkalapa branch of Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy, Chit Khin.

98 pardoned Thai fishermen return home from Rangoon

Ninety-eight Thais jailed in Burma returned to Bangkok after being pardoned by the ruling junta.

Their release followed talks between Thai Army Commander-in-Chief Gen. Chettha Thanajaro and Slorc First Secretary Khin Nyunt, who agreed to release the prisoners to commemorate His Majesty the King’s birthday.

All prisoners were housed in Rangoon’s Insein Prison. Most had been charged with illegal logging or encroaching on territorial waters. Many of the released prisoners suffer from permanent disabilities due to inadequate care and complained about substandard jail conditions.

Suu Kyi holds national day celebration

Authorities allowed Aung San Suu Kyi to hold a mass meeting at her home to celebrate National Day, but restricted the numbers attending.

Although more than 800 people had been invited, local authorities gave permission for only 200 to attend, but about 350 were present, including 100 who had arrived the previous day and spent the night.

The crowd included party members, as well as the heads of diplomatic missions from Thailand, the US, Britain, France, Germany, Italy, Australia, Japan, South Korea, and the Philippines.

Karen beaten, missing amid forced repatriation

Three Karen males were beaten, and hundreds of others are still unaccounted for among the more than 1,000 Karen sent back to Burma on Nov. 15, Karen relief sources said.

“There are eyewitness reports of human rights abuses, including beatings, kickings, molesting of people by troops, some of whom were Thais,” said a source on the Thai-Burmese border.

Relief sources said three Karen males were beaten as they resisted the movement back across the border. Assistants were described as wearing dark uniforms, red scarves, and masks.

But a Thai source in Bangkok strongly questioned reports about the incident at Ban Nupho, in Umphang district of Tak province, pointing out that they were collated from people on the Burmese side of the border who were living far away from the scene.

Suu Kyi blocks democracy

The military called Suu Kyi “confrontational” and “uncompromising,” saying she was blocking the path to democracy and supporting terrorist activities in the country.

The government statement said that “unfortunately, her actions and motives are not only unsupportive in the building of democratic institutions but a serious setback for Myanmar in becoming a functional democracy in a reasonable amount of time.”

Generals remain in new leadership

On November 15, Burmese media announced, “For the emergence and practice of disciplined democracy and for the emergence of a peaceful and prosperous modern state and in the interest of the state and the people, the State Peace and Development Council [SPDC] has been formed with immediate effect.”

The dissolution of the State Law and Order Restoration Council reinforced the power base of the top generals.

Junta chairman Than Shwe, army chief Maung Aye, military intelligence chief Khin Nyunt, and army chief of staff Tin Oo, retained their positions.

Of its 19 members, 15 are high-ranking army, navy, air force, or regional commanders. The government also formed a new 40-member cabinet.

Khin Nyunt, who retained his position as Secretary-One, announced that the government had set up two new ministries — electric power and military affairs.

Several senior Slorc members were shifted to a newly created advisory board, presumably to inactive posts.

Ex-minister under house arrest over corruption

The SPDC placed former Trade and Commerce Minister Tun Kyi and two other former ministers under house arrest over a corruption case, sources said.

Two of Tun Kyi’s daughters were arrested, but the former minister has so far only been restricted to his residential compound in a government-owned neighbourhood in Rangoon where most ministers are provided housing, they said.

Senior aides in the ministry — and those of former hotels and tourism minister Kyaw Ba and former agriculture minister Myint Aung were also arrested in connection with the investigations, they said. The three lieutenant-generals were among Slorc veterans transferred to the 14-member advisory council.

Chuan wants Burma to adapt

Thailand’s Chuan Leekpai administration announced it will follow a policy of “constructive engagement” with Burma, but the Thai Deputy Foreign Minister urged Rangoon not to isolate itself.

“The policy of constructive engagement is going to carry on, but we will put stress on the word ‘constructive’,” Deputy Foreign Minister Sukhumbhand Paribatra told Parliament as part of a presentation of the new government’s policies.

UN slams Burma on liberties

The UN criticised Burma’s record on human rights in a report by the Special Rapporteur of the Commission on Human Rights, Rajsoomer Lallah, pointing to continuing extra-judicial activities and the absence of steps towards a democratic government.

It also noted that the violation of children’s rights continue.

Lallah has repeatedly been refused permission to enter Burma by the Rangoon authorities to obtain information firsthand for this report — even though the ruling junta has indicated that the UN special rapporteur would be allowed to enter.

Thai army asked to stop anti-Slorc groups

Burma called on the Thai army to prevent Burmese minority groups from using Thai territory as support bases for their activities.

Thai army chief Gen. Chettha Thanajaro said he agreed toprevent Burmese minority groups, especially the Karen National Union, from using Thai soil as bases for their anti-Slorc moves as requested by Slorc first secretary Lt-Gen. Khin Nyunt.

Bangkok and the Thai army have a policy not to support any minority groups, Chettha said after meeting Khin Nyunt in Rangoon.

Khun Sa under tight security in military compound

Khun Sa moved to a military compound after claims by the Burmese government that US officials were trying to nab him, Thai narcotics sources close to Khun Sa said.

Khun Sa’s associates and Thai narcotics officials said he was moved from his lakeside compound after Washington began an investigation into $600 million of laundered money that was believed to be circulating in Burmese business areas.

Khun Sa tells Shans to lay down arms

According to a Thai border official from Mae Hong Son, Khun Sa said in a radio broadcast monitored in Thai-Burmese border areas on November 10, that he wanted Shan ethnic groups to disarm and cooperate with Rangoon to create peace in Burma.

The broadcast was made after over 2,000 Shan State Army (SSA), Shan State National Army (SSNA) and Shan United Revolutionary Army (SURA) forces attacked strongholds of Burmese troops in central Shan State during November 8-9 and managed to take two towns from Rangoon troops.

December

Advisory group dissolved

The 14-member Advisory Group made up of members of the former ruling military body was dissolved only a few weeks after the formation of the SPDC. The reason for the dissolution was not given.

But the 14 members of the group, 13 of whom are over the age of 60 and many of whom held senior military ranks, no longer hold any military positions.

Diplomats and analysts said the Advisory Group had been made up of former ministers and Slorc members who were seen as corrupt, and whom the government wanted to get out of the public eye.

Rangoon to assist return of illegal aliens

The SPDC pledged to help Thailand repatriate close to one million illegal Burmese workers and agreed to set up a joint subcommittee to begin a of classification to facilitate their reentry.

The issues of illegal Burmese workers and the influx of replies were brought up in talks between Burmese Foreign Minister Ohn Gyaw, who was reappointed as FM under the newly created SPDC, and Thai Prime Minister Chuan Leekpai.

Rangoon commutes sentences for civilians

Burma announced it would commute sentences for civilian prisoners serving terms of 10 years or more and convicted before Nov. 15.

Order 1/97, signed by SPDC chairman Senior Gen. Than Shwe, said that prisoners sentenced to death would have their sentences commuted to life or 20 years in prison. Prisoners sentenced for life will have their terms reduced to 10 years in prison under the order.

It also reduces the term of those serving 20 years or more to 15 years, while those serving between 10 years and 20 years will be imprisoned for only 10 years.

Three ousted from charter-drafting panel

The SPDC said it had removed three senior officials of the key National Convention Convening Commission (NCCC) in charge of drafting a new constitution for the country.

A statement said that NCCC chairman Lt-Gen. Myo Nyunt and vice-chairmen Lt-Gen. Maung Thint and Brig-Gen. Myo Thant had been replaced and transferred to the Advisory Group.

Minister of Hotels and Tourism Maj-Gen. Saw Lwin was appointed the new NCCC chairman, while the minister of religious affairs, Maj-Gen. Sein Htwa, and minister of social welfare, Brig-Gen. Pyi Sone were named vice chairmen.

Shan independence fight taken overseas

Shan ethnic group leaders in Burma are seeking support from overseas Shans to intensify their campaign against Rangoon for an independent Shan state.

A leading member of a Shan ethnic group told the Bangkok Post that it was very likely that Shan people in Burma and other countries would join forces as a big nationalist movement to seek independence from Rangoon. According to the source, the son of a Shan prince, Chao Sua Hom who is now residing in Australia, recently set up a Shan nationalist movement called the Shan Democratic Union.

Junta in new reshuffle

The SPDC reshuffled eight ministers in the first cabinet changes since Nov.15. Only Foreign Minister Ohn Gyaw appears to have maintained the same cabinet position. Portfolios including finance, national planning, energy, and education have been changed, continuing the biggest shake-up in the regime in nine years, designed to spur the military state towards economic development.

Kyat plunge worries dealers

Burma’s currency, the kyat, fell to a record low against the US dollar, prompting fears among some currency dealers that the government would blame them for it and punish them.

The kyat was trading at 314 to the dollar in the “gray” market, marking the first time the kyat has fallen to 300 against the dollar.

The official exchange rate is about six kyats to a dollar, but that is used mainly for state enterprises.

Otherwise, money is changed through grey market dealers, who follow market forces, and government exchange counters, which at times attempt to control or influence the rate. Some Burmese businessmen, however, have said that the drop in value of the Thai baht has hit the kyat because there is so much cross-border trade between the two countries.

Analysts in Bangkok have frequently cited Burma’s high defence and weapons expenditures, and the mismanagement of the economy, as the main reasons behind the kyat’s decline.

UN envoy to Burma to push for free polls

SPDC chairman Than Shwe met with UN General Secretary Kofi Annan during the informal Asean summit where the two reportedly discussed Burma’s move towards democratisation. Annan also announced that a UN envoy will travel to Burma in January to press Burma for free and fair elections.

“The meeting went very well,” Annan said. “We talked about democratisation in Myanmar [Burma], about development issues, about Aung San Suu Kyi, and we agreed that I will send my envoy to Myanmar in January.”

Burma eyes “One Asean, One vision”

The informal Asean summit in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia was considered a success by Burma’s generals, who declared their support for the regional grouping’s vision of regional peace and stability.

The state-run press hailed the summit — the first attended by Rangoon since its controversial entry into the grouping in July — as “one of the most significant events in Asean’s 30-year history.”

It ended with a “resounding crescendo on the note ‘One Asean, One Vision’,” an editorial in The New Light of Myanmar said, referring to the Asean Vision 2020 document adopted by the summit.

Copyright © 2008 Irrawaddy Publishing Group | www.irrawaddy.org