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BURMA NEWS UPDATE

INSIDE BURMA

TWO BOMBS EXPLODE AT LOIKAW OUTPOST

28 December: It has been learned that there were two bomb explosions in the compounds of the Military Intelligence [MI] office and the Regional Command Centre [RCC] in Loikaw, Kayah State, during the second week of December.

The first bomb explosion occurred at 2300 [all local time] on 14th December at the RCC compound located near the general hospital in Loikaw's Minzi Ward. At least 10 people were believed to have died.

Another bomb explosion occurred at about 0500 on 15th December in the compound of MI Unit-27 office at Loikaw's 500-acre model ward.

When Loikaw residents inquired about the bomb explosions the SPDC [State and Development Council] authorities lied that they were part of a military exercise.

The first bomb explosion coincided with the arrival in Loikaw of Forestry Affairs Minister U Aung Phone. Lt-Col Win Saw, commander of LIB [Light Infantry Battalion] No 426, who is responsible for the security of the minister, was arrested and is now facing a military tribunal.

Rumours spreading among the SPDC circle blamed the KNPP [Karenni National Progressive Party] rebels while some said that it was not possible because of the SPDC's stringent security measures in Loikaw. Sources close to the Defence Services circle said that it could be an inside job because of growing

dissatisfaction within the Defence Services. Some say it could be the work of a disgruntled group of forestry personnel who are angry at the timber smuggling activities of the forestry minister, the MI unit, and the command centre. (DVB)

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JUNTA LEADER CALLS FOR BUILDING STRONG NATION

1 January: Chairman of the Burma’s State Peace and Development Council Senior General Than Shwe has urged the Burmese people to firmly join hands with one another in defending the nation and citizens, building a peaceful, tranquil and stable nation in the new millennium.

Senior General Than Shwe made the call here Saturday in a message welcoming the 21st Century. He cited the country's geographical condition, favorable weather condition, richness in natural resources and so on as the good foundations in building national strength.

The government, upholding five principles of peaceful co-existence, has been maintaining friendly relations with neighboring nations, nations in the same region and the world community as a whole and cordially dealing with them on an equal footing, the junta leader stressed noting that it is also taking part in affairs of Asia and the world. (XINHU)

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BURMA BUILDS FUTURE ON ITS OWN

2 January: Burma is building up its future with its own ways and means, said official newspaper The New Light of Myanmar on Sunday.

The paper stressed in an article the importance of clear and dynamic national outlook and vigil and called for energetic efforts to catch up with the rapid changes in the world. On building the nation, the paper said the government needs to take into account the outstanding national characteristics of the nation and the people, historical and cultural traditions, religion and economic development of the nation in practicing democracy and improving human rights.

It stressed that every nation has the rights to freely choose a political system, the path of development and social value and shape its own destiny. The paper said that the government is making all-out efforts to overcome all kinds of sabotage, obstacles and hindrances and to enable Burma to stand tall in the international community, taking lessons of the country's past history. (XINHUA)

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JUNTA BRANDS SUU KYI A ‘TERRORIST’

4 January: Burma's ruling military today lashed out at the opposition party of Aung San Suu Kyi at a ceremony marking the 52nd anniversary of independence, branding them "terrorists" and calling on the people to destroy them, reports AFP.

More than 15,000 members of government-sponsored associations gathered in Rangoon's People's Park to listen to the Independence Day message from junta chairman General Than Shwe.

"It is imperative to oppose and remove with the people's might the destructive danger of the terrorist and destructive group heading for utter devastation," said the message read by Rangoon's military commander and run in all state media.

In the speech, read out following a flag-hoisting ceremony, Than Shwe also called for people "to oppose the neo-colonialists from abroad" who were assisting "internal national traitors."

Although Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi and her National League for Democracy (NLD) were not named, the language used was that typically reserved for them by the junta which has repeatedly accused them of having foreign backing.

The NLD, which won 1990 elections but were never allowed to take power, were scheduled to release a message at a meeting attended by Aung San Suu Kyi later Tuesday. (AFP)

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BURMESE VETERANS CALL FOR DIALOGUE

5 January: Veterans from Burma's independence struggle called on Tuesday for the country's military junta and the leading opposition party to initiate a dialogue to end the country's political deadlock.

"We old veterans place great hope on a dialogue between the State Peace and Development Council and the National League for Democracy, discarding personal grudges in ushering in the auspicious new millennium," said Bo Hmu Aung, leader of the 23-Veteran Politicians Group.

Bo Hmu Aung is one of the four remaining founding members of the "30 Comrades", who led Burma's resistance movement against the Japanese during World War II and later the struggle for independence from Britain, which was finally achieved in 1948.

Of the original "30 Comrades" only General Ne Win, Burma's former military strongman who ruled the country between 1962-88, Bo Ye Htut, Bo Kyaw Zaw, who is believed to be living in Beijing, and Bo Hmu Aung are still alive.

The comrades were originally led by General Aung San, who was assassinated in 1948, and whose daughter Aung San Suu Kyi now heads the NLD opposition party that won Burma's 1990 general election by a landslide.

He added, "Building national solidarity by means of national reconciliation is the only breakthrough to address the national moral deterioration and economic hindrances."

Burma's junta has claimed they might initiate a dialogue with the NLD if Nobel laureate Suu Kyi was excluded from the talks, a precondition which the opposition does not accept. (DPA)

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JUNTA OFFERS "MAIL ORDER DEGREES" WHILE UNIVERSITIES CLOSED

5 January: Burma's military junta has expanded its offer of mail order degrees with prospective students being sent letters of enrolment. Bangkok correspondent Ginny Stein reports universities were shut down in 1988 following bloody confrontations between the military and students.

Universities throughout the country have been closed for more than a decade. In the past few years a number of campuses outside of the capital Rangoon have been reopened offering postgraduate degrees to mature age students.

Late last year, letters of enrolment were sent out to prospective students inviting them to register for undergraduate courses to be undertaken by correspondence.

While the military regime has made promises in the past to reopen universities, this latest move suggests such a move is still a long way off. (RADIO AUSTRALIA)

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SENIOR NLD MEMBER RELEASED

5 January: Maung Moe Thu, alias U Sein Myint, a member of the Central Executive Committee of the National League for Democracy [NLD], movie director and writer, has been released from detention on 3rd January. Sayar [honorific] Maung Moe Thu was imprisoned for two years in Insein Jail and is reported to be in poor health at the time of his release.

He was arrested along with U Kyaw Min, architect; U Win Htein, former captain and personal aide of Aung San Suu Kyi; Sayar Maung Wun Tha; and Sayar U Thein Tin, NLD organizer for Yangon [Rangoon] Division. He was detained for two years without trial. Architect U Kyaw Min and U Thein Tin have died. The wife of Sayar Maung Moe Thu died last December. (DVB)

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JAILED BRITON IN ONE-WEEK HUNGER STRIKE

6 January: A British pro-democracy activist jailed for 17 years in Burma staged a week-long hunger strike

before Christmas to protest against the jailing of dissidents, activist and diplomatic sources said on Friday.

A British consular official visited 26-year-old James Mawdsley on December 22, the last day of his hunger strike in jail in the northeastern town of Kengtung.

The All Burma Students' Democratic Front, a dissident exile group based on the Thai-Burma border, said Mawdsley took only water during the hunger strike. It said he staged the protest against the imprisonment of Min Ko Naing, a student dissident who was one of the leaders of Burma's 1988 uprising for democracy.

Mawdsley, a Briton from Lancashire who also holds an Australian passport, was jailed after illegally entering Burma in September to distribute pro-democracy leaflets. It was his third arrest for activism in the country in two years.

Last year, after release from 99 days in Rangoon's notorious Insein Jail, he reported being beaten with bamboo poles, having staves rolled down his shins and being deprived of water. (REUTERS)

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DRUG TRAFFICKERS CHANGE ROUTE

7 January: Thailand’s anti-narcotics authorities yesterday warned that amphetamine-trafficking ethnic Wa and ethnic Hor Chinese insurgents from eastern Burma have changed their trafficking route, relying instead on flights coming in from the Northeast.

Narcotics Control Board secretary general Sorasit Saengprasert said yesterday that the amphetamine traffickers had stopped using their normal route through northern Thailand to get to Bangkok. They have instead been ferrying their drugs to Bangkok on domestic flights from Nong Khai, Nakhon Phanom and Ubon Ratchathani in the Northeast.

Sorasit said the domestic airports being used were too small to be equipped with narcotics detectors. He said even Bangkok International Airport failed to check for drugs at its facility for these domestic flights. PM's Office Minister Jurin Laksanavisit would today discuss installing narcotics detectors with Thai Airways Co and would hold similar talks with police with the aim of setting up an anti-drug squad equipped with sniffer dogs at domestic airports, he said.

At a news conference yesterday, Mae Hong Son airport director Somnuek Senabin dismissed Sorasit's claim that the airport had no narcotics-detecting equipment.

''Mae Hong Son airport has for long had metal and narcotics-detection equipment installed,'' he asserted. However, he did add that the airport authority had no duty to check hand-held luggage carried by passengers.

The anti-narcotics intelligence authorities, who have taken a pounding for being ineffectual after the recent chance uncovering of 2.6 million amphetamine tablets on a housing estate in northern Bangkok, said yesterday the drugs belonged to a trafficking group known as Maha Ja, active in the Muang Mae Hong Son district.

The intelligence authorities added that airline officials might have turned a blind eye to couriers carrying luggage containing drugs. (THE NATION)

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FISHING BOATS WARNED TO STAY AWAY FROM TOTAL DRILLING SITE

10 January: The Total Myanmar [Burma] Oil Exploration Company is engaged in offshore oil exploration activities at Block M-8. The drilling ship Energy Searcher will begin drilling M-8A1 test well from 15th January to 15th March 2000.

In order to prevent untoward incidents the Fisheries Department has issued a mariner's notice warning all fishing trawlers and maritime vessels to avoid the oil drilling zone. (RADIO MYANMAR)

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JUNTA RELEASES PRO-DEMOCRACY ECONOMIST

10 January: Burma's military junta has released from prison a noted economics writer, a former senior member of the pro-democracy party of Aung San Suu Kyi.

A junta statement on Monday said Moe Thu, 62, also known as Sein Myint, the former editor of the popular economics magazine Danna, was freed from Rangoon's Insein Jail on January 3 on humanitarian grounds following the death of his wife. He was jailed for rallying crowds without permission in June 1996 in the name of Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy, it said, without mentioning the duration of his sentence.

A friend who saw him after his release last week said Moe Thu was in good health. Also known as a film director, Moe Thu had been a senior member of Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy, but apparently fell out of favor for his left-wing views and was expelled from the party.

Hundreds of party activists and other political opponents of the military regime have been jailed or forced into exile. The regime brooks no opposition and has refused to recognize the party's sweeping victory in elections in 1990. (INDIA TIMES)

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ATTACK ON ASSK OVER EDUCATION

10 January: Educational activities have expanded in Burma, and parents and pupils are happy with current educational practices, according to a state-run Burmese newspaper. It said that these educational achievements were made in spite of the National League for Democracy's [NLD] attempts to disrupt the country, and it criticized the NLD for using students as demonstrators.

"During the 1988 unrest the NLD [National League for Democracy] clique used and sacrificed students in its attempt to gain power and when the disturbances died down around mid-September 1988, the NLD sent thousands of students and youths to insurgent camps. Today, these young people have been subjected to imperialist conditioning and they have come to wrongly believe that to oppose and interfere in the affairs of their own country and people is to engage in a democratic struggle. They are now leading the life of exiles, fugitives, terrorists, and national traitors..."

"The destructive clique has been conspiring by all means not only to close down universities, colleges, and institutes but also primary, middle, and high schools. Parents do not accept these activities. The people are disgusted with the NLD and Ma Suu Kyi [Aung San Suu Kyi] for creating problems and exploiting even the young primary students in order to gain power. While teachers and parents are taking extra care to safeguard schools, middle and high school students are starting to see the true features of destructive elements. They want to study happily and peacefully and are interested in uplifting their personal lives. That is the reason why school bells are tolling again and sounds of students reciting lessons are being heard again at primary, middle, and high schools. Today, universities, colleges, and institutes that can be re-opened have been opened again.." (BBC)

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BURMA'S NEW AIRPORT STILL EMPTY AFTER SIX MONTHS

12 January: Mandalay International Airport which cost S$250m (US $150), boasts 4.2-km runway, high tech control tower, 36 check-in counters, capable of handling three million passengers a year, still empty after six months.

Built with help from Thai construction firm Italian-Thai Development Company, the top of the range airport in Mandalay boasts a longer runway than Bangkok, a sophisticated control tower able to handle 45,000 aircraft movements annually and a fully mechanised passenger terminal with 36 check-in counters.

The pet project of Prime Minister Than Shwe, it was to have been a miracle cure for the country's economic ills, bringing in Boeing 747s full of tourists and millions of dollars of desperately needed foreign aid.

But trade sanctions imposed by Western nations and funding difficulties have until now put paid to the government's dream. But this week, Thailand's Thai Airports Ground Services (TAGS) hopes to change all that. TAGS expects to win a 28-year operations concession to run the airport. TAGS president Anuphong says: "The airport is ready but they do not have the ground equipment. The airport hasn't opened because they don't have the capital or the know-how."

The old domestic airport at Mandalay will be shut and direct flights will be laid on from Chiang Mai, in northern Thailand, and Bangkok. Travel companies have already promised charter flights of French

tourists and scheduled flights have been pledged by China Airlines, Japan's All Nippon Airways and Thailand's Angel Air.

TAGS hopes to cater to 98 flights a week, rising by 20 per cent a year over the following four years. But human rights groups and exiled groups of students are certain to oppose any dealings with Burma and the opening of the airport. (THE STRAITS TIMES)

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EFFORTS TO REVIVE EDUCATION 'FEEBLE'

13 January: The reopening of Burma's big universities appears unlikely to do more than partially resolve the dire education vacuum, informed observers said yesterday.

Thirty core universities were shut in late 1996 after a round of student protests rattled a military regime that has kept open defiance in check for at least 10 years.

Rather than risk simply opening even the original bruised colleges, the regime is creating "sanitised" campuses offering degrees stripped of any subjects that might touch on politics or current affairs. Such moves betrayed a carelessness that promised, at best, a feeble education and, at worst, sham degrees, one foreign expert said.

Critics of the regime have consistently claimed that the ruling generals place an unusually low priority on education.

Most universities have been open for less than three years since nation-wide protests erupted in 1988 - prompting expressions of alarm from even relatively friendly countries like Japan.

Yet military and medical colleges did not close and post-graduate study appears to have been carried on in most institutes. A few classes, especially voluntary evening classes, appear to have been held in all colleges.

The Government has also offered distance learning courses and - in 1998 - quickie degrees after a week or so of cramming. The partial return of students to the Rangoon Technology University - a traditional hotbed of student activism - appears likely to be the pattern for the rest of the country.

Classes for third- and fourth-year students in "safe" subjects like engineering restarted a fortnight ago, but at a new campus about 30 minutes drive from the capital.

Students have been made to sign papers promising not to engage in any political activity and warned sharply that any political demonstrations will see the college doors slammed shut again.

New college-age students are being forced to attend two-year engineering diploma courses, perhaps to weed out troublemakers, at Government Technical Colleges before going on to other institutions. (SCMP)

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JUNTA BARS IMPORT OF CHOCOLATE, CHEWING GUM

12 January: Burma’s military government has added chewing gum, chocolate and cake to the list of products banned from import through land, a local weekly magazine reported Wednesday.

No reason was given for the order issued by the commerce ministry, reported the Burmese-language Hmugin. Other banned items include wafers and plastic ware. There are now 15 items on the list of banned imports and 32 banned from export.

The order was dated Nov. 26 last year, two days after the reopening of border checkpoints with Thailand. The checkpoints had been closed after Thailand allowed five Burmese students who took over the Burmese Embassy in Bangkok to go free. The students were trying to publicize the cause of the pro-democracy movement that opposes Burma's military dictatorship.

Burma is one of the poorest countries in Asia, and has a tightly-controlled economy despite liberalization in recent years to allow foreign investment. The government has few

foreign reserves, and keeps the currency valued artificially high. Two-way trade with Thailand, which shares a 2,000 kilometer (1,240 mile) border with Burma, officially totaled dlrs 382.7 million in the first nine months of 1999, compared with dlrs 410 million in the whole of 1998. (AP)

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JUNTA OFFICIAL PRESS LASHES AUNG SAN SUU KYI OVER JAPAN

13 January: Burma’s official media on Wednesday lashed out at opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, branding her a "nuisance" after she told Japan it had a duty to promote democracy when dealing with the country's military junta.

In a blistering commentary, the New Light of Myanmar, rebuked the Nobel peace prize winner for "secretly and illegally" sending a message to millennium celebrations in Hong Kong.

It said her comments that Japan as a democracy and Asia's richest nation had a duty to support democratic reforms in Burma was not "normal."

"It was an attempt to interfere in the mutual understanding between the People's Republic of China and Japan," the article said, repeating familiar accusations that Aung San Suu Kyi is an agent of Western powers.

In her New Year's message broadcast at a pro-democracy rally in Hong Kong, Aung San Suu Kyi criticised Asian nations for a "lack of compassion" and failure to support the democracy movement in Burma.

"I think there is a lack of compassion, which is a great pity and a great surprise because Buddhism was born in Asia and Buddhism is the great religion of compassion," she said.

"As the richest Asian country and as a democracy Japan has a duty to promote human rights and democracy in other parts of Asia.

"We hope the year 2000 will see a blossoming of Japanese interest in human rights and democracy."

Her comments appeared to be a reaction to an economic mission to Rangoon by former Japanese prime minister Ryutaro Hashimoto last month.

Japanese officials said on the sidelines of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) summit in Manila in December that Japan was willing to help Burma if it embraced economic reform.

The attack by the official media came as Japanese Prime Minister Keizo Obuchi was due to fly in to Bangkok for a three-day visit. (AFP)

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DRUG ADDICTS REACH OVER 86,000 IN BURMA

17 January: The number of narcotic drug addicts in Burma reached 86,537 in 1999, 19,048 more than the previous year, according to the latest figures published by the country's Central Committee for Drug Abuse Control (CCDAC).

Of the total, opium addicts account for 50.01 percent, heroin addicts 37.4 percent, marijuana addicts 7.7 percent, stimulant addicts 1.2 percent, tranquilizer addicts 0.99 percent and other addicts 2.7 percent.

Up to now, Burma has established six major drug treatment centres throughout the country, giving treatment to about 2,000 drug addicts yearly.

The country has also set up eight rehabilitation centres to provide vocational training for ex-addicts.

According to the CCDAC, there were also 41,336 hectares of poppy cultivation in Burma in 1999, 19,900 hectares less than the previous year. (XINHUA)

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JUNTA SEIZES LESS AMOUNT OF DRUGS IN 1999

17 January: The Burmese authorities seized 1, 447.55 kilos of opium and 272.94 kilos of heroin in 1999, 73.16 percent and 32.4 percent less than the previous year respectively, according to the country's Central Committee for Drug Abuse Control (CCDAC).

During the year, army units, police and the customs also confiscated 274.48 kilos of marijuana, 278.97 liters of phensedyl and 28.75 million tablets of amphetamine stimulant drug and 262, 542.5 liters of precursor chemicals.

The authorities also destroyed 12 heroin refineries in 1999. According to the CCDAC, 75 percent of these seizure were in the country's Shan state, from where drugs are normally trafficked out directly across its border to the international market. (XINHUA)

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BURMA HAS STRICT CONTROLS OVER INTERNET USE

20 January: The Burmese authorities have banned the country's internet users from issuing material of a political nature.

Burmese television said the country's only authorised internet serviceprovider, Myanmar Post and Telecommunications, had outlawed the use of sites which were - as it put it - detrimental to governmentpolicies.

The regulations will come as no surprise in a country that has been among the most hostile in Asia towards the internet revolution.

Owning a computer without a licence means years in jail Government decides on what is detrimental Anti-government material on websites outside Burma

Burma has lagged behind even some of Asia's most authoritarian countries such as China and Vietnam in its embrace of the internet. The issuing of tough regulations on internet use by the Burmese Government coincides with snail pace moves by Myanmar Post and Telecommunications to extend access to the general public.

At present, government departments and authorised businesses are the main users. A so-called cybercafe opened last year in the capital Rangoon, but its computers offered no access to the internet.

Burma is clearly determined that as it bows to the inevitable and allows the new technology in, there will be none of the unwanted political side-effects that have been conspicuous in neighbouring China for example, where dissidents now routinely use the internet to exchange information and access news that is censored by the Chinese media.

The new regulations ban the posting of any material on the internet deemed by the Burmese Government to be harmful, directly or indirectly, to its policies or security.

Internet accounts are only to be used by those who have been officially granted them: a rule that could jeopardise the development of internet cafes.

Internet users are also banned from creating web pages without official permission. And no material relating to politics is allowed to be posted.

Anti-government activists in Burma, however, smuggle information outside the country where it is posted on websites maintained by Burmese exiles. And the government itself runs a website containing mainly information for tourists and businesspeople. (BBC)

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GENERAL SAYS NO AIDS CATASTROPHE IN BURMA

20 January: Burma's powerful intelligence chief says Burma's fight against AIDS is gaining momentum and the disease is not the catastrophe for the country that critics maintain.

Lieutenant-General Khin Nyunt told the opening session of the annual conference of the Myanmar Medical Association (MMA) only 23,669 HIV infections and 3,195 cases of AIDS had been detected in Burma between 1988 and June 1999.

``Therefore, AIDS is not growing as a catastrophic threat in Myanmar as alleged by those who do not want to see the nation progress,'' he said in his capacity as chairman of the National Health Committee.

The U.N. Aids programme and the World Health Organisation estimate, based on a survey in 1997, that Burma has about 450,000 people with HIV.

``This is the opinion of the government, not the WHO,'' said a WHO official in Rangoon when asked about Khin Nyunt's remarks.

U.N. officials have said military-ruled Burma has appeared to be in ``denial'' about the extent of its AIDS problem.

Khin Nyunt said data on AIDS sent by ``destructive elements'' to the international community had been totally false and disparaged Burma's dignity.

He said the military had made progress in the health sector since it came to power -- spending 3.09 billion kyats in the year to March 31, 1999 against 464 million in the year to March 31, 1988. At the free market exchange rate of about 350 kyats to the dollar, government health expenditure for last year in the country of 47 million totalled just $880,000. At the official rate of six to the dollar it was about $51 million.

The kyat traded at five to the dollar officially in 1988 and at about 88 on the black market. According to a recent World Bank report health spending in the year to March 31, 1999 represented just two percent of government spending, against 32 percent for defence. (REUTERS)

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50,000 FAMILIES NOT 50,000 PEOPLE

20 January: A reliable source claimed today that the projected number of people coming down to the Thai border was 50,000 families.

The source, who requested anonymity because "I'm making a living there," told S.H.A.N. that 50,000 households were projected to be transferred from the Wa region to the Monghsat area opposite Chiangmai and Chiangrai provinces of Thailand.

"Calculated at 5 members per household, it will eventually amount to 250,000 people in Monghsat at the end of the project". He dismissed the figure, 50,000 people, as reported by Khin Maung Myint, the Was' liaison officer on 16 January, by saying, "It has already past that figure by the end of 1999".

He put the ratio of Wa and Chinese new settlers at 7:3, while another source at 6:4. "Most of the Was are poor people, while the Chinese look well fed and prosperous. Most of them are said to doctors, teachers, instructors, technicians and traders".

The Chinese also appeared to be coming to the Thai border voluntarily, while many Was complained openly about the compulsory measures taken by the Wa leadership, he told S.H.A.N..

As to the reason for the forced exodus, the Wa officers told the source, "We won this area fromKhun Sa. And according to the Burmese promise, this shall be decreed as a new area under our administration. But we are soldiers,and soldiers by themselves, without civilians, cannot establish a nation which we are planning to do".

The Wa population, according to Hideku Takano, freelance Japanese researcher, is 500,000. (S.H.A.N)

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WHY WERE EAGLE'S WINGS CLIPPED?

21January: The Ministry of Posts and Telecommunications (MPT) closed Eagle, Burma’s only independent Internet service provider, because the company would not transfer to the ministry the final domain initials mm, denoting Burma in Internet addresses, said a knowledgeable professional source said that. Eagle says it wanted to make the transfer but could not due to snafus between its officials and the registering body in the U.S. Eagle also told various ASEAN telecommunications entities that it had the sole rights to provide

private e-mail and Internet access in Burma (Myanmar) -- a claim that apparently exacerbated the MPT's pique once it mastered the ins and outs of Internet protocol. Right now, only the MPT provides e-mail service -- and it is unreliable and over-extended. (ASIAWEEK)

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BURMA PRESENTS MOTION PICTURE AWARDS FOR 1998

22 January: Burma's Ministry of Information Friday presented seven motion picture golden statuette awards for 1998 to the country's artists, the New Light of Myanmar reported Saturday.

The seven awards include best film, best film-director, best actor and actress, best supporting actress, best cameraman and best script.

Junta’s Information Minister Major-General Kyi Aung told the presentation ceremony that 15 movies were released in 1998, up from 11 in 1997.

However, he said, the development of the film industry in 1998 was not significant compared with 1995 and 1996 when 30 and 25 movies were released respectively.

He called for efforts to produce classical movies with a view to uplifting Burmese films to meet the international standard.

He warned people against being engaged in production business without license and distributing video features abroad on their own, saying punishment will be meted out to them in accordance with the country's related laws promulgated since 1996.

There are now a total of 11,112 licensed video parlours in Burma, he said, adding that 39 of the 630 Burmese video features produced in 1998 were banned and a total of 81 foreign films were screened that year.

Burma formed the Motion Picture Promotion and Scrutiny Board in 1952 and set up the Motion Picture Association in 1989 and a motion picture museum in 1998. (XINHUA)

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KILLINGS LEADING TO DISPUTES BETWEEN JUNTA AND CEASEFIRE GROUP

23 January: Killing by junta troops of a Shan ceasefire group has ignited heated arguments between the two, reported DIN from the north.

Recent killings of 5 Shan State Army (North)'s men, including an officer, led to a fierce quarrel between Sao Kaifah, Vice President, SSA-North, and an unidentified commander of the Burmese column in Mongyai, Lashio District on 11 January, said DIN. "According to the source, the two were pointing fingers at each other and almost came to blows".

The immediate cause of the dispute was said to be the shooting of 2 SSA North's men who were bathing in the village of Loizay, Tangyan Township, earlier in the day by an unidentified SPDC unit. The two died on the spot. "1 weapon and 1 walkie-talkie were also taken from them", said DIN. There had been similar incidents that had infuriated the SSA-North's commanders.

As all the 5 victims were from Brigade 1, many officers and men were enraged, including its commander, Col. Parngfah, who is also serving as the Chief of Staff of the SSA North. Its President, Sao Loimao, also went to submit a formal complaint to Military Intelligence-9.

"So far, we have been patient", a Shan commander was reported to have said. "But we are increasingly being pressured by the rank and file to retaliate, if the provocation continues". (S.H.A.N)

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JUNTA LEADER ON POWER TRANSFER

25 January: Burma’s junta leader Senior- General Than Shwe Monday stressed the need to avoid head-on confrontation with any organisation in the transfer of state power some day.

"The government, being the Tatmataw (military) government, has entertained the conviction which is concerned with and can be accepted by the entire people so as not to cause head-on confrontation with any organisation or any party with the aim of transferring the duties of state into the hands of national people some day," Than Shwe, chairman of the ruling State Peace and Development Council, said when addressing trainees here of the University for Development of National Races.

Than Shwe, who is also the country's prime minister, admitted that Burma lagged behind in development for various reasons, saying the government is striving to achieve development of the state and enable the nation to keep abreast of the international community.

He noted that the government has managed to build national solidarity again, emphasizing that the union spirit is the spirit of striving for prosperity of the union.

The military government took over the power of state on September 18, 1988, when the country was at the height of a political and economic crisis. Later on May 27, 1990, the military government sponsored a multi-party general election with a declaration to transfer back the state power to an elected government. (XINHUA)

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BORDER NEWS

SINO-BURMESE MARRIAGES INCREASE IN BORDER CITY

5 January: The number of transnational marriages has increased in recent years in Ruili, a small border city separating southwest China's Yunnan Province and Burma's Namhkan County.

According to preliminary statistics, there are now 500 Sino- Burmes couples in Ruili which is famous for its Naxi Dongba Culture and pictographic characters. The increase in cross-border marriage is attributed to the country's opening-up policies and the frequent business contacts between the two neighboring countries, local social analysts say. According to local officials, many Burmese people have been coming to Ruili for shopping, sightseeing, and doing business for the past 10 years, providing good opportunities for young people from both sides to nurture love. (XINHUA)

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BURMA ARMY KILLED MORE THAN 105 KAREN IN 1999

10 January: Burma Army has killed more than 105 villagers, tortured 25, raped 6 women in 1999, in Tenasserim Division, Southern Burma, recorded Mergui-Tavoy District Information Department.

Burma Army's troops that involved the killing, tortured and rape are: Infantry Battalion 285, 101, 280, 543, 103, 267, 534 and Light Infantry Battalion 559, 560, 557, 380, 373, 342, 76, 288 and Burma Army formed People Militia (Pyi Thu Sit), under the Coastal Region Military Command, and other Burma Army's Division Command which occupied Tenasserim riverside.

Burma Army's Infantry Battalion 101 is a troop that committed a massive killing. They have killed more than 46 Karen villagers mostly in raining season this year when operated to search the hidingvillagers. Lt. Col. Soe Win (Now, Aung Kyaw Lat) is the Battalion Commander of IB 101. According to the field information, the officials who involved in the killing are Captain Moe Kyaw, Kan Htain, Lt. Aung Kyaw Than, and Aung Kyaw Lat. It base in Kyweku in Mergui Township.

The second battalion who committed the massive killing is IB 285. They have killed more than 17 Karen villagers. Head by Battalion Commander Lt. Col. Soe Myint Aung. According to the field information the official who involved in killing are Aung Shan U, and Khin Maung Than. It based in Palaw Township.

Both of the Battalions are local battalion, which under controlled of Costal Region Military Command.

Most killings occurred in Burma Army controlled area and in the jungle where many of villagers have fled the Burma Army's Forced Relocation Program and hiding in the jungle. The Burma Army accused them of collaborating with the Karen resistance movement and recognized them as enemies.

The human rights abuses are worsen since the increased deployment of Battalions and one Military Command in 1996. More battalions were sent to the Yadana gas pipeline area. Now there were 50 Burma Army 's Battalions in Tenasserim Division. The Burma Army suppression of Karen resistance in this area and their main target is to control the whole Karen population. In order to bring the whole Karen population under their control, the Burma Army troops have forcibly relocated all the Karen villages in their control area.

Villagers who do not move to the relocation site and fled to the jungle and hiding behind their villages, the Burma Army defined them as enemy and killed everyone has found or captured. They search and destroy paddy fields and everything from hiding villagers.

Villages in relocation sites have to pay money in various forms demanded by the troops, and forced laborers and were often accused of having contact with Karen resistance and been killed. (KNU)

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JUNTA PLANS TO CAPTURE GOD'S ARMY BASE

12 January: Burma’s junta [SPDC] is engaging in a big offensive against the God's Army base in Kamerplaw in a bid to capture the God’s Army-controlled region near the Thai-Burma border. The SPDC staged the offensive because the God’s Army has granted a safe haven to the students [the Vigorous Burmese Students Warriors] who besieged the Burmese embassy in Bangkok. A battle took place this morning when the SPDC column from the Kamerplaw offensive met with a KNU [Karen National Union] guerrilla group.

A KNU official confirmed that the battle, which lasted about 20 minutes, took place near Amaehta region between the Tenasserim River and the Thai border. No news were available on the casualties. The battle involved troops from LIB [Light Infantry Battalion] 116 under LID [Light Infantry Division] 33.

Veteran KNU fighters based on the border believed the SPDC has already drawn an offensive to capture Kamerplaw before 27th March, Armed Forces Day. The offensive on Kamerplaw and Maechar consists of troops from LID 33, LIB 9, and columns from Coastal Region Military Command totalling six battalions.

As the SPDC forces advance, the Karen villagers are fleeing their homes and escaping towards the border. Unfortunately, the refugees were unable to travel to Htanhin refugee camp inside Thailand since the Thai armed forces have cordoned off the border. The SPDC columns, after burning and destroying the Karen villages along the Tenasserim River banks, are marching towards Kamerplaw. Sources near the border said more fierce battles are expected in the days ahead. (DVB)

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KARENS CROSS BORDER TO FLEE ARMY ATTACKS

17 January: About 1,000 Karens, mostly elderly women and children, have fled across the border to take refuge in Suan Phueng district following attacks on a Karen rebel camp.

Col Samphan Yangphakul, commander of the 29th Infantry Regiment of the Surasee Task Force, said the attack on the Karen camp opposite Huay Khok Mu pass near Ban Bo Wi began on Wednesday. The Burmese troops pounded the camp with artillery and mortar fire. An earlier attack last Saturday sent Karen civilians pouring across the frontier to Ban Bo Wi. About 300 more followed yesterday morning. (BKK POST)

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BORDER JUNTA TROOPS FITTING OUT

17 January: As the new millenium began, Burmese units along the Thai border appeared to be increasingly preparing for war, reported Saengjuen Sarawin from the border.

On 8 January, units in Mongton and Monghsat were ordered by the Triangle Command in Kengtung to send mem to train in handling heavy weapons and artillery, which would include "84 mm BA"recoilless rifles, "73 mm" Surface-to-air missile launchers and 103 mm "big guns".

Accordingly, 6 artillerymen were dispatched by the area command to Kengtung 4 days later (2 from Battery 074 in Mongton, 2 from Battery 075 in Monghsat and 2 from Artillery Battalion 318 in Mongtaw, Saengjuen informed.

"The aim is said to be combat ready against the Shan's mobile camps and 'potential' foreign aggression", he said.

He added the 318th, the newcomer on the scene, arrived very recently, after the Shan State Army's attack on the "drug convoy" near BP-1 (border pass between Mongton and Chiangdao) on 23 December.

In addition, the militia units, most of whose members are Lahu and Kokang, are being replenished with AK-47 automatic rifes, G-3 and G-4 automatic rifles, RPG - 2s and 60 mm mortars since New Year's Day. "From now on, they will be accompanying the regular troops on their operations against the resistance", said Saengjuen.

The Burmese Army's interest did not seem to be forcussed exclusively on the Shans and their movements, according to Saengjuen's source. "Captain Aung Lwin, a company commander IB 65, was found on the hill of Laktaeng, deep inside Thailand sketching the topography of Wianghaeng District, Chiangdao Province, from 8-10 January. The commander of the Thai paramilitary ranger company warned them off, but they kept coming", said Saengjuen.

The village of Laktaeng is in Piangluang Tract, Wianghaeng District. It is known for its Marajina Pagoda and Fah Wiang-inn Temple, built by the late resistance leader, General Kornzurng whose memorial is also there, straddling the border. (SHAN)

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BANGLADESHIS SHOT BY JUNTA FORCES

18 January: Burmese frontier guards have shot and wounded two Bangladeshis and abducted 20 along Bangladesh's southeastern border, security officials said on Tuesday.

``The incident occurred at Tumbru border point, 65 km (40 miles) southeast of Cox's Bazar resort town, on Monday afternoon,'' a Bangladesh Rifles (BDR) border force officer said.

``The Nasaka (Burmese frontier guards) conducted the raid when the victims were collecting woods in Bangladesh territory close to the border,'' Lieutenant-Colonel Mohammd Wasim told Reuters.

Two people were admitted to hospital with bullet wounds and 20 of their companions were abducted, he said.

``We have sent a note of protest to Nasaka and demanded immediate release of our nationals.''.

Cross border shooting incidents are not uncommon between the two sides, often accompanied by Bangladeshi allegations of intrusions by Burmees forces into its territory. (REUTERS)

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WA SHIFTING 90,000 NEAR THAI BORDER

19 January: Some 90,000 ethnic Wa under the protection of the United Wa State Army are being relocated to Mong Yawn on the Thai-Burmese border, a reliable source told the Bangkok Post yesterday.

The source, who is well connected on both sides of the sensitive border adjoining Chiang Mai province and Burma's Shan state, said the 90,000 were on top of the 50,000 villagers from opium-growing areas in Shan state who are being relocated under a joint Burmese-Wei Hsueh-kang project to eradicate the crop by 2005.

The 90,000 will bring up to 120,000, the population of Mong Yawn, a newly developed UWSA settlement opposite Thailand's Ban San Ton Du in Mae Ai district, Chiang Mai.

The Thai government, under the strong recommendation of army chief Gen Surayud, closed off the San Ton Du-Mong Yawn temporary border crossing five months ago in an attempt to deny the UWSA the fruits of their drug trade. It is convinced the UWSA is funding its massive development projects with money from sales of millions of methamphetamine pills to the Thai market.

The source, who paid a recent visit to Mong Yawn, said soldiers were working day and night to build small huts to accommodate the newcomers and that the area of Mong Yawn, some 30km from the Thai border had expanded beyond recognition from his last visit a few months ago, with little space left for anything else.

The newcomers are given one sack of rice and 50 baht per family per month for the first year. They are also to be engaged in the UWSA agricultural project to be completed in four years. The first two years are intended to clear forest and mountainous land for fruit and vegetable planting, before moving on to rice cultivation.

The population was just 10,000 in March last year; it increased to 12,000 in June and reached 30,000 last December. The source said the newcomers were ethnic Wa, mostly from Burma's eastern Shan State, but also from neighbouring Yunnan province in southern China, who are well-educated. Most are civilians.

Thai agricultural experts were hired last year to start huge fruit plantations near Mong Yawn. It has also hired some 500-600 Thai workers in Mong Yawn for its infrastructure projects which include a dam, roads, electricity and water, telephone lines, a fuel storage a school and a hospital.

The source said thousands of longan trees had been planted under the project and were growing well. Mong Yawn had less success with rice cultivation because of a large number of rodents.

The closure of the border has slowed but not stopped the development projects, with supplies reaching Mong Yawn through other border crossings. Mong Yawn leaders are confident the newcomers can be accommodated.

Mong Mai, opposite Ban San Maked in Mae Fah Luang district, Chiang Mai, another new settlement of the UWSA under the control of rival drug baron and 46th brigade commander, Wei Hsueh-kang, is also doing well. Some 500,000 longan trees have been planted there. The source said Wei had also initiated plantations of teak and plum trees but he was unsure of their progress.

The massive and well funded development projects in Mong Mai (also known as Ban Hong or simply "46" after Wei's brigade number) and in areas between Mongshat and Tachilek under Wei's control, will have no problem absorbing the 50,000 being relocated with the help of the Burmese military government.

Wei Hsueh-kang, alias Prasit Chivinnitipanya, is wanted by Thailand and the United States on drug trafficking charges. Washington has placed a US$2 million reward for information leading to his arrest and conviction. (BKK POST)

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JUNTA REFUSES RETURN OF 14,000 MUSLIM REFUGEES FROM BANGLADESH

19 January: Burma’s junta is refusing to accept the return of some 14,000 Muslim refugees who have been held in camps in Bangladesh since escaping Burma in 1991, officials here said Wednesday.

The military junta refused to recognise the refugees as Burmese citizens during a weekend visit to Rangoon by a Bangladeshi delegation sent to settle the problem, a foreign ministry official said.

However, junta softened its stand on the repatriation of another 7,000 of the refugees, who it cleared earlier, saying they could return home at any time, he added.

A seven-member delegation led by the secretary of Bangladesh's Relief and Disaster Management, Azad Ruhul Amin, returned to Dhaka Saturday after talks with a Burmese team led by the deputy immigration and population minister, Maung Aung.

More than 250,000 Burmese refugees took shelter in Bangladesh's southeastern frontier district of Cox's Bazar nine years ago. Most returned by 1997 under a 1992 bilateral agreement and subsequent intervention by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. The return of the 21,000 has been stalled since 1997 by questions of identification and clearance by Burma, and also by logistical problems, said a Relief Ministry official who asked not to be named.

An official report here last month said that in the past nine years some 31,500 children have been born to the refugees, who fled Arakan Province to escape atrocities by the Rangoon troops. Burma's military rulers deny the atrocities ever took place. Nearly 7,500 of the refugees died in the Bangladeshi refugee camps.

Dhaka, which has called the refugees an "economic burden," said the children were not entitiled to Bangladeshi citizenship because their parents were in the country "illegally." (AFP)

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BURMESE REBELS DENY INDIAN ROBBERY

19 January: A spokesman for a rebel fighting group fighting for independence in Burma, the Chin National Front, has said his group was not responsible for the theft of more than one million dollars from a bank in the north-easternIndian state of Mizoram.

Earlier, police said they had arrested three of the seven members of the group whom they suspected of the robbery.

The chief minister of Mizoram province also doubted the involvement of the Chin National Front, saying the robbery was probably committed by a group of ordinary Indians and Burmese who were acting only for monetary gain.

The robbery took place at a state bank in Lawntlai in Mizoram. (BBC)

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4 THAI SOLDIERS DIE IN CLASH WITH BURMESE REBELS

20 January: Four Thai soldiers were killed and five seriously injured in a clash with Burmese rebels in the border province Ratchaburi, a Thai army spokesman said Thursday.

The clash took place Wednesday afternoon when Thai soldiers were deployed in the area around Kao Krachom, about 200 kilometers west of Bangkok, after the army learned about an armed intrusion into Thai territory.

The deaths and injuries all came from land mines in the area, Col. Somkuan said.

The rebel force is believed to have been the 'God Army,' an armed faction of the Karen National Union, the strongest rebel opposing the military junta in Rangoon.

The God Army was attacked by the junta last week and the guerrillas lost their base. It is believed they wanted to capture Thai territory for a new base to fight the junta, a military officer said.

The operation has also forced more than 1,000 Karens to flee Burma into Thailand. (KYODO)

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BORDER ALERT OVER UNITED WA STATE ARMY RESETTLEMENT

20 January: The Third Army is keeping a close watch on the United Wa State Army amid its plan to resettle tens of thousands of soldiers and civilians opposite Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai.

Lt-Gen Watanachai, the Third Army commander, said he was concerned about the latest activities of the biggest drug trafficking group in the Golden Triangle.

A source close to the UWSA leadership in Mong Yawn, opposite Ban San Ton Du in Mae Ai district, Chiang Mai, said some 90,000 ethnic Wa, mostly civilians, are moving in from eastern Shan state and Yunnan, China.

The relocation programme, to be completed by April, would boost Mong Yawn's population to 120,000, the source said.

Burma said it planned to relocate 50,000 to opium-growing villages in Shan State in conjunction with Wei Hsueh-kang, a Wa commander based in Mong Mai, opposite Ban San Maked, Mae Fah Luang district, Chiang Rai.

The Mong Yawn and Mong Mai leaders, though at odds, remain UWSA members. Lt-Gen Watanachai said as many as 20,000 newcomers were approaching Mong Yawn. He said Burma aimed to gather ethnic minorities in one place.

The source said the UWSA were responding favourably to the Rangoon policy in the expectation of political rights.

"The mostly civilian ethnic Wa in Mong Yawn are unlikely to cause problems," he said, and they were happy with their new homes after years of war with Burma, he added. (BKK POST)

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THAI TROOPS READY TO REPEL KAREN FIGHTERS

20 January: Security has been stepped up in Suan Phung district after Karen guerrillas fleeing an attack by Burmese troops crossed into Thailand.

About 200 armed members of God's Army had fled the Burmese action and many had crossed the border, said Maj-Gen Sanchai Ratchatawan, chief of the Surasi Task Force.

He warned that troops would push them back, first with warning shots, and then fire on them if they refused to leave. (BKK POST)

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TENSION ON BORDER WITH BURMA AS SMUGGLERS' BOAT IS SEIZED

21 January: Seizure of a boat carrying smuggled goods this morning has triggered tension along the border with Burma at Naikkongchhari-Tombro.

The border security forces of the two countries, BDR and Nasaka, have taken up position along the border.

Sources said that a group of smugglers took three boats loaded with smuggled goods from Burma and tried to enter Bangladesh through the Dhekibunia canal this morning. The BDR jawans obstructed the boats and seized one of them. The other two boats fled under cover provided by Nasaka, sources added.

A three-hour exchange of gunshots took place on December 29, 1999 after the Nasaka forces started firing into the Bangladesh territory over a dacoity incidence.

The Nasaka troops abducted 20 Bangladeshi woodcutters from the Tombro-Amtali border area after firing for about an hour on Monday. Two woodcutters were injured. They were admitted to the local Ukhia Thana Health Complex. (TIB)

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REBELS REPORT SHELLING BY THAI ARMY, ASK HELP FOR REFUGEES

22 January: Two small rebel groups under attack from Burmese junta’s troops said Saturday that their joint camp had been shelled by the Thai army in apparent retaliation for a land mine explosion that killed four Thai soldiers.

A faxed statement signed by the two groups, the Vigorous Burmese Student Warriors and God’s Army, did not say if there had been any casualties from the shelling. It expressed "heartfelt sorrow" for Wednesday’s land mine deaths and said the groups did not regard the Thai army as their enemy. It also said the land mine was inside Burma, contrary to claims of the Thai army.

The statement did not say when the shelling took place, but Thai newspapers had reported the shelling of rebel-held territory on Wednesday, immediately after the land mine blast.

The statement said that the Kamaplaw region where the groups are based has recently been under attack from three Burmese military columns, sending ethnic Karen refugees fleeing in to Thailand. It said government troops are continuing their offensive, and requested Thai authorities "to stop attacking our bases as well as to help out refugees fleeing from the war with humanitarian concerns."

According to the Thai army, its troops have fired warning artillery shots to keep the fighting off Thai soil, but on Wednesday some 100 Karen fighters intruded over the border.

The four Thai troops were killed by a land mine explosion as they chased them back toward Burma. The sensitive area of the Thai-Burma border at Suan Phung district, in Ratchaburi province, 150 kilometers (95 miles) west of Bangkok, has been sealed off by Thai military since fighting began last week. (AP)

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MONGKUL DENIES AIDING BURMA IN OFFENSIVE

22 January: Thai Armed Forces Supreme Commander Gen Mongkhol insisted yesterday that the Thai Army was not helping Burmese troops in their week-long offensive against ethnic Karen rebel army with the Thai bombardment of the rebels. He said the mortar salvo on the rebels was to prevent the fighting from spilling over into Thai territory.

Mongkol also ruled out talks with the Burmese rebels aimed at containing the fighting on Burmese soil.

Fighting between the Burmese government troops and rebel soldiers from the God's Army over the past week has resulted in about 1,000 refugees fleeing across the border into Ratchaburi's Suan Phung district.

Lt-Gen Thaweeep, commander of the First Army Region, during an interview on Independent Television (iTV) yesterday, said the situation was under control and that Thai troops were able to prevent the fighting from spilling over into the Kingdom. Most expressed concern with the heavy bombardment by Thai troopers on the Burmese rebels.

Army officials on the ground defended the shelling, saying the aim was to prevent fighting from spilling across the border (into Thailand). (THE NATION)

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SHAN REFUGEE CAMP BURNT DOWN BY THAI ARMY

24 January: A refugee camp under the protection of Shan resistance was put to the torch by the Thai army yesterday, reported Shan army sources.

A make shift camp made by refuge-seeking Shans, 2 kilometers deep inside Thailand near Pangbawng Village, Mailarn Tract, Pang Mapha District, Maehongson Province, was set fire by the raiding Thai army (Company 751, Battalion 5, Regiment 7) at noon yesterday, as the 300 exiles, who had arrived there last month with the assistance of Yawdserk's Shan State Army, helplessly watched.

The Shans, among whom were small children and newly-borns, were then driven back across the border, said the source from Maehongson.

"Shans are not considered refugees by Thailand", said Kham Harnfah. "And as such, they are not entitled to relief aid like Karens and Karennis".

More than 100,000 non-Burman refugees, designated as "persons of concern", are living in camps along the Thai border and looked after by foreign humanitarian organizations.

"Nobody understands why Thais, who are historic kindred of Shans, are exercising a policy of discrimination towards them", said an aid worker. (S.H.A.N)

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REPATRIATION OF ALIENS TO INTENSIFY

26 January: The Department of Employment is intensifying efforts to repatriate alien workers, especially Burmese, in the wake of the hospital seizure, according to department director-general Somchai Watana.

"About a million alien workers are currently in Thailand while our limit for legally registered alien workers is set at only 106,000. The illegal alien workers are the biggest concern because they are beyond our control," he said yesterday.

Mr Somchai has ordered his subordinates to launch more efforts in looking for illegal alien workers especially in Ranong, Kanchanaburi and Tak pro-vinces which border Burma. He said vigorous efforts to repatriate alien labour would not affect Thai operators because they were not suffering from labour shortages.

"Of the 106,000 jobs that we are ready to offer to alien labour, operators have registered only about 99,000 alien employees with us. This proves the operators are not suffering labour shortages as they claim," he noted.

Meanwhile Wut Sukosol, the labour minister, confirmed the authorities were adhering to the cabinet resolution of Aug 3, 1999, that the grace period for illegal Laotian, Cambodian and Burmese immigrants working in plantations in 37 provinces would end on Aug 31 this year. He said any

relaxation of the ruling could give alien labourers a chance to create problems.

According to the Department of Employment, the state earned 99 million baht from registration fees of the 99,974 alien workers legally registered. The majority, 19,200 foreigners, worked in Samut Sakhon, followed by 11,236 in Ranong. The smallest number was 83 registered alien workers in Nakhon Phanom. (BKK POST)

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SHAN STATE ARMY SEEKING CEASE-FIRE

29 January: The Shan State Army [SSA] under leadership of Col Yotsuk reportedly issued a statement on 25th January noting that it was facing many problems and wanted to discontinue the armed struggle against the Burmese military government.

According to the statement, peace and tranquillity are the ambition of everyone in the world community, not just in Burma and the Shan State. The Shan people were living in fear of being killed or tortured. They have had to move around as if they were homeless and suffered from hunger. Their homes have been destroyed by the policy of the Burmese military administration to eliminate ethnic minorities.

A Thai intelligence official said the SSA was ready to enter into a cease-fire agreement with the Burmese government because it faced various kinds of pressure and its anti-narcotics policy resulted in it being ostracized by other ethnic minority groups. The SSA also suffered from shortage of fund and ammunition to fight against the Burmese government. Many SSA soldiers defected to the government due to hunger and loss of confidence in their struggle. The SSA have been avoiding clashes with government soldiers. The source said if the Burmese government rejected the cease-fire overture of the SSA, the SSA could switch to narcotics trafficking for its own survival. This would compound the narcotics problem in Shan State and generate more drug dilemma for Thailand. (SIAM RAT - Thailand)

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NEW PRESIDENT CALLS FOR ALL KAREN UNITS TO COME TOGETHER

31 January: Saw Ba Thin, the new president of the Karen National Union, has called for various Karen factions to reunite for the solidarity of the Karen people.

In an interview with the Bangkok Post at a border area opposite Tak province, 73-year-old Saw Ba Thin, while calling for unity, stressed his "politics-before-military" policy which emphasises negotiations with Rangoon for a truce.

"Many groups have broken away from the KNU. Some have defected to Rangoon while others remained independent. We regard them as having committed a mistake and are ready to give them a pardon when they return," he said.

Saw Ba Thin joined the KNU in 1949 as a private soldier and was promoted to higher positions including prime minister and general secretary before being elected top KNU leader in the 12th KNU Congress held last week.

His first job as KNU president was making an announcement to pardon the breakaway elements and assign the commanders of all seven divisions to do everything possible to persuade them to return to the fold.

"Without unity, our struggle will lack efficiency and it will be difficult to achieve victory. "We will be like people in a colonised country who are "divided and ruled." A worse scenario is that Rangoon will "divide and kill" until all groups are eliminated one after another," he said.

The breakaway Karen groups include the Democratic Karen Buddhist Army led by Phra Uthasana which has defected to Rangoon and Karen Solidarity Organisation under Maj Robert Zan (son of former KNU president Mahn Ba Zan) and the God's Army, led by 12-year-old twins which are still fighting the Burmese regime.

Saw Ba Thin said it is the Karen's culture to forgive not only misled Karens but also enemies. The KNU used to release a large number of Burmese soldiers who defected or were arrested after clashes. He said he will adhere to negotiations and resort to politics before military action.

"We will not attack Burmese units which are located in our occupied areas. But if we are attacked, we will defend ourselves." "The KNU and Burmese regime have fought each other for longer than 50 years. We have lost lives and resources despite the fact that both sides want peace.

"I think it's time for both sides to stop the loss of flesh and blood and use our resources for the well-being of our people," he said.

The KNU and Rangoon have held many rounds of talks to end fighting but little progress has been made because there are some conditions which are not acceptable, he said. Burma wants the KNU to lay down arms. The KNU wants a ceasefire without being disarmed and a demilitarised zone. The Karens want an autonomous area and representatives in the central government-proposals that are not acceptable to Burma.

Saw Ba Thin called for the Thai government to have mercy for Karen people who have fled fighting between the God's Army and Burmese government forces. They are in need of food and treatment for the sick and the wounded, he said.

He said Thailand's decisive action that saw all 10 God's Army rebels killed was within the scope of the Thai law and will not affect relations between Thai and Karen people.

The KNU and Burmese government sat on a negotiation table in 1949, 1960, 1963 and 1997. Three rounds of talks were held in 1997 when Gen Bo Mya was president.

In the 12th KNU Congress held opposite Tak last week, it was concluded that the 50-year struggle failed because of disunity. KNU general secretary Pado Mahn Sha Lar Hpan said the Rangoon regime has chosen to negotiate with many different groups and offered different interests. The government's tactic is to "divide and rule," he said.

Pado Mahn Sha admitted there are "Young Turks" in the KNU and said they are given importance by being put in various executive committees.

Although Gen Bo Mya has stepped down, he is still the defence minister, chairman of the Democratic Alliance of Burma and president of the National Council of the Union of Burma. (BKK POST)

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KAREN REBELS SHELTER GOD'S ARMY

31 January: Burma’s main ethnic rebel group said Monday it would shelter members of a beleaguered guerrilla gang led by twin 12-year-old boys, but only if they accept the larger group's leadership.

God's Army, led by Johnny and Luther Htoo, was blamed for the armed takeover of a hospital in Thailand last week and was engaged in heavy fighting with the military junta on Monday.

David Tharckabaw of the Karen National Union said the group was preparing to contact God's Army with an offer to take them in, but ``only if they agree to follow our leadership and promise not to do any more foolish acts.''

God's Army, which has at most 200 people, is only loosely associated with the KNU but the hospital takeover caused outrage in Thailand and a backlash against the Karen cause. (AP)

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INTERNATIONAL CONCERN

THAI PM BLAMES BURMA FOR NARCOTICS INFLUX

4 January: Thai Prime Minister Chuan Leekpai Tuesday indirectly blamed Burmese authorities for a lack of cooperation in stemming the inflow of illicit drugs believed responsible for soaring addiction rates amongst youth.

The criticism follows the discovery by police here of two hauls totaling 3.8 million amphetamine tablets allegedly manufactured by ethnic Wa insurgents in eastern Burma.

Although Chuan did not directly name Burma, junta has repeatedly vowed to cooperate with neighbouring Thailand to clamp down on the illicit cross-border trade.

Thai Foreign Minister Surin Pitsuwan received an assurance of cooperation while in Rangoon in August at a meeting with powerful junta First Secretary Lieutenant General Khin Nyunt.

Thai officials have blamed the United Wa State Army for trafficking hundreds of millions of amphetamine tablets made in jungle laboratories across the border.

Critics of the Burmese regime accuse it of allowing the Wa insurgents to continue trading drugs in return for a ceasefire. Many believe the junta also profits financially from the trade, a charge Rangoon's generals deny.

Burma is one of the world's biggest producers of heroin along with Afghanistan and is accused of hosting hundreds of amphetamine factories along its border with Thailand.

Meanwhile, Thailand reportedly has more than 600,000 child drug addicts. Researchers from Chulalongkorn University's Education Centre for the Underprivileged recently found that children made up more than 50 percent of total drug arrests and up to 80 percent of cases in the juvenile court related to methamphetamines. (AFP)

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THAILAND EXECUTES BURMESE NATIONAL

5 January: Thailand executed a Burmese national who was on death row for attempting to smuggle 11.2 kilograms of heroin out of the kingdom, officials said on Wednesday.

Hla Win, 60, was shot dead Tuesday at Bang Khwan maximum security prison, Corrections Department officials said.

He was the first prisoner to be executed in Thailand this year, and the second death-row inmate to receive capital punishment for heroin trafficking in recent years, Thai officials said.

Thailand executed altogether 16 prisoners in 1999, including one woman and Burmese national Tong Nyunt, 51, an illegal immigrant accused of killing his Thai wife, her nephew and niece with an axe three years ago.

Hla Win had received a sentence of capital punishment after being found guilty of attempting to smuggle 11.2 kilograms of heroin out of Bangkok International Airport to Indonesia on September 13, 1993. (DPA)

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THAI GENERAL WARNS OF BURMA ARMY EXPANSION

7 January: Thailand should remain vigilant with Burma posing a potential security threat, the supreme commander warned yesterday. Gen Mongkol Ampornpisit made the remark while delivering a lecture to some 200 officers at National Defence College and Joint Staff College.

"Though posing no threat now, Burma could change in the future. While most countries are downsizing their armed forces, Burma keeps expanding its military capability," he said.

Gen Mongkol said such concerns had been voiced at a recent meeting of supreme commanders from the Asia-Pacific region. Neighbouring countries such as Malaysia, Laos and Cambodia are not a threat to the region, despite an enhancement in Vietnam's naval capability, he said.

Gen Mongkol also stressed the importance of maintaining good relationship with Cambodia.

The supreme commander said the Thai defence budget is the smallest compared to those of Singapore and Malaysia. The latter is meanwhile developing its air defence capability by procuring fighter jets-F/A18, F-16 and MiG-29 models. Malaysia's procurement of MiG-29 equipped with so-called Amraamskis from Russia would likely make the United States sell its Amraams to other countries in the region, Gen Mongkol added. (BKK POST)

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INDIA SEEKS BURMA BORDER HELP

7 January: The Chief of the Indian Army, General Ved Prakash Malik, is in Burma to explore possible joint military operations against ethnic rebel groups operating along the border between the two countries.

Delhi has had some reservations about Burma's military regime, but is now coming to terms with what Indian foreign ministry officials described as "realities on the ground."

At the peak of the anti-military uprising led by Aung Sang Suu Kyi, India came out in open support of the cause of democracy in Burma. That upset the government in Rangoon, but inspired hundreds of Burmese pro-democracy activists to take shelter in India.

But after the military suppressed the uprising and established close relations with China, India began a reassessment of its Burma policy. In 1995, Delhi tried to co-ordinate a joint military operation against a column of nearly 200 rebels from north-east India who were trying to enter the country from Burma after having picked up a huge assortment of weapons on the Arakan coast. But the Burmese government backed out halfway into the operation when Delhi awarded the Nehru Peace Prize to Aung Sang Suu Kyi.

Though the Indian army is largely apolitical unlike its counterparts in Pakistan and Burma, it is increasingly resentful of what it sees as the inept handling of national security issues by the political leadership.

Army leaders believe that they should be involved in making policy regarding national security. The three services - the land army, the navy and the air force - have been openly critical of Delhi's decision to trade off three Kashmiri militants for the hijack hostages in Kandahar.

Observers say that India is trying to develop close relations with its neighbours - not least because of the activities of anti-government insurgents along its borders.

Bhutan, Nepal and Bangladesh have been under pressure from Delhi to tackle militants and so-called Pakistani agents who, Delhi says, are active in those countries. India has never made such allegations against Burma, but it is keen to get Burmese support to crush ethnic rebellions active on the borders of the two countries.

Observers say that if General Malik could manage to get his Burmese counterpart to agree to joint military operations against these rebels, he would have achieved much of Delhi's perceived strategic objectives in the east. (BBC)

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INDIA TO HELP BURMA

9 January: Military chiefs of India and Burma have met to discuss improved communication and exchanges between their forces along a border where a dozen tribal groups are fighting secessionist wars, an Indian Foreign Ministry statement said yesterday.

General V.P. Malik, the Indian army chief, met General Maung Aye, deputy commander-in-chief of the Burma defence services, during a visit to Mandalay on Thursday, said the Indian statement.

"The two sides agreed to adopt concrete measures to enhance co-operation in the fields of agriculture, industry, infrastructure development and science and technology," the statement said. (AP)

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INDIA AND BURMA ALL SET TO CHECK DRUG TRAFFICKING

9 January: Authorities of the tow neighbouring countries of the Burma and India have to a greed to beef up security on either side of the border to check cross border smuggling of narcotics and psychotropic substances.

The decision to check cross border smuggling was arrived during the Indo-Burma talk held on January 7 in Shillong. The Union minister of the commerce and industry and the Union power minister represented India at the talk. Chief secretaries of Mizoram, Arunachal Prates and Manipur took part in the talk. Union home ministry officials also attended the meeting. High ranking officials including the vice chairman of peace and development council represented the Burmese side.

Talking to The Sangai Express chief secretary H Jelly who returned Imphal today after attending the meeting, said countries have agreed to intensify security and check cross border smuggling of drugs and other psychotropic substances on a war footing.

A sectoral level meeting will be held at Aizawl next month as a follow up measure, he said. The next meeting may be held Imphal.

A joint inspection team of the two countries are presently conducting surveys over boundary disputes between the two countries.

The meeting endorsed the idea of the further promoting border trade and the Indian delegations gave assurances to their Burmese counterpart of full co-operation. Both countries recommended the idea of adding more commodities to present 22 items for cross border trade.

Opening of the UBI branch at Moreh to facilitate smooth flow of trade and commerce was mooted. Efforts are also on to extend telecommunication link to Tamu. The meeting also discussed the progress of the 170 km long road linking kalimeo to Tamu. The road is being constructed by the BRTF. (THE SANGAI EXPRESS)

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HONG KONG AND S'PORE ECONOMIES MOST FREE, BURMA LEAST FREE

10 January: Hong Kong and Singapore have the most free economies in the world, according to a ranking of 123 countries published on Monday.

The study by the Washington-based Cato Institute and Canada's Frasier Institute said the two Asian economies shared the number one ranking, followed in descending order by New Zealand, the United States and Britain.

Other economies ranked near the top included Ireland in sixth position, Canada and Australia sharing the seventh position and the Netherlands, Luxembourg and Switzerland sharing the ninth position.

At the bottom of the table stood Burma ranked in the 123rd position.

The economies are ranked according to seven categories which include size of government, structure of the economy, monetary policy and price stability, freedom to use alternative currencies, security of private ownership, freedom of trade and freedom of capital markets. (REUTERS)

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THAI POLICE SEIZE 126 KILOGRAMS OF U.S.-DESTINED HEROIN

12 January: Thai police, acting on information provided by the United States's Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA), have seized 126 kilograms of heroin that was destined for the U.S., a senior government minister said on Wednesday.

Two Thai nationals, identified as Thitichot and Preeya, both 24, were arrested on Monday after they allegedly left the huge heroin shipment at Bangkok International Airport, the Thai Interior Minister Sanan said.

The planned heroin shipment, worth 60 million baht (1.6 million dollars) in Thailand, was uncovered with the assistance of the DEA that had requested Thai police help in cracking down on ethnic Chinese gangs importing the drug into the U.S., Sanan told a press conference.

According to the DEA, Chinese criminal gangs based in the U.S. have been cooperating with Hong Kong triads based in Thailand to export heroin from Burma to the U.S.A. on a regular basis, said the interior minister.

Thai Police Commissioner Lieutenant General Kongkrit identified the Bangkok-based Hong Kong triad behind the seized shipment as the 14K gang.

Law enforcement authorities have long warned that Hong Kong and Macau triads would shift their operations to Thailand after the two former colonies were handed back to mainland China in 1997 and 1999, respectively.

Thailand is a major transit route for heroin refined in neighbouring Burma, one of the world's largest growers of opium. (DPA)

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JAPAN PROVIDES "GRASS-ROOTS" ASSISTANCE TO CHIN STATE

13 January: Japan signed on Thursday signed over 57,796 dollars in grant aid to a non-governmental Baptist churches association to construct a small hydroelectric power station in the impoverished Chin state in northwestern Burma, news reports said.

The grant contract was signed by Japanese Ambassador to Burma Kazuo Asakai and the Reverend Di Van, general secretary of the Lautu Association of Baptists Churches, based in the Chin state, about 300 kilometres northwest of Rangoon.

The grant is part of Japan's Grass Roots Assistance Scheme for Burma, designed to direct development aid to non-governmental organizations in order to avoid criticism that Tokyo is supporting Rangoon's pariah military regime. (DPA)

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TWO BURMESE MON "RESISTANCE" LEADERS DETAINED

17 January: Two activists of the independence movement from Burma crossed into Cambodian territory through the Fifth Military Region and were sent to the security and criminal office of the military police headquarters of Battambang Province at 1800 [local time] on 12th January.

Col Pao Vannak, the provincial military police commander, ordered his men to take the two resistance movement leaders to the Defence Ministry's research department the same night.

Lt Kaeut Sophal, head of the military police's provincial security and criminal office, told 'Reaksmei Kampuchea' that one of the leaders of the resistance movement for independence, based on the Thai-Burmese border, is Mawn San, a 40-year-old man of Mon [a major ethnic group in Burma] descent; he is the leader of the resistance movement. The other is Kau Soek Nuonchhay, a man of Mon descent; he speaks Thai.

The two told the Fifth Military Region commander that they crossed into Cambodian territory through Thailand, accompanied by Thai soldiers. They said they came to Cambodia with the aim of requesting political and military assistance from the Royal Government of Cambodia, reasoning that they are from the Khmer-Mon stock sharing the same blood, had been oppressed, and that 29 of their provinces in Burma had been annexed. In their opinion, they think the Cambodian government has sentiments on the basis of which they can establish relations.

Reasoning that this is beyond his authority because this is an inter-governmental matter, Col Pao Vannak said he decided to send the two resistance leaders to the research department of His Excellency Mol Roeup at the Defence Ministry that night without waiting until the next day. (REAKSMEI KAMPUCHEA (CAMBODIA))

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BURMA-HKSAR(HK) TRADE UP

18 January: Trade between Burma and China' s Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (HKSAR) amounted to 86. 67 million U.S. dollars in the first eight months of 1999, up 8.43 percent from the same period of 1998, according to the latest issue of the official Economic Indicators.

Of the total, Burma's imports from the HKSAR was valued at 53. 41 million dollars, a 1.44 percent increase, while the country's exports to the HKSAR stood at 33.26 million dollars, a rise of 21. 92 percent.

During the period between April 1994 and July 1999, Burma drew investments totaling 69.32 million dollars from the HKSAR, accounting for 1.2 percent of the total foreign investment of 5.64 billion dollars in 10 projects. (XINHUA)

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BURMA ROW LEAVES BORDER VULNERABLE

19 January: Problems with Burma are leaving the Thai border vulnerable tomore landmines, sources in the Defence Ministry said on Monday.

The Thailand Mines Action Centre (TMAC) is worried over thepossibility that more mines would be laid at the Burmese frontier, some of which could spill into Thai territory since theborderline remains unclear, the sources said.

They said the two main factors contributing to the problem were recent border tensions after the Burmese embassy seizure in Bangkok on Oct 1 last year, and Thailand's intensified efforts to seal off the supply route of methamphetamines from Burma.

Thailand has accused ethnic minority rebels in Burma of producing and sending the drug into the country.

Thai armed forces stopped laying mines since a global ban went into effect in Thailand in May last year. Under an agreement signed in 1997, Thailand has to destroy its stockpile as well as clear mined areas.

According to TMAC, there are mines scattered over 796 square kilometres in Thailand. Along the Thai-Burmese border alone, mines have been found in areas totalling 53sq km in Chiang Rai, Mae Hong Son, Tak and Chumphon provinces.

The sources said only the border with Burma remained vulnerable to the risk of more mines being laid, since fighting inside Cambodian is now over and since Thailand no longer has seriousconflicts with its other neighbours.

The mines action centre was set up last year to train deminers, to destroy mines in stock and to clear mined areas before returning them for civilian use. (BKK POST)

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ALLEGED BURMESE REBELS NABBED IN SAMLOT

19 January: Two anti-government activists from Burma were arrested after allegedly attempting to solicit Cambodian training to use against their country's military junta, officials said yesterday.

The two men were taken into custody last week in Samlot, a battle-scarred town on the Thai border, after apparently asking former Khmer Rouge rebels to teach them guerrilla tactics.

"They were seeking help in training and supplies from our regional military to fight the Burmese government," Im Dara, deputy commander of military police in Battambang province, said by telephone.

Khmer Rouge guerrillas in Samlot were among the last to surrender, negotiating their integration into the Cambodian army in late 1998.

The Cambodia Daily identified the dissidents as Mon Say and Kao Sik, names which if correct are likely to belong to members of Mon, one of Burma's ethnic minorities. (The rebel Mon army has made peace with the Rangoon government a few years ago. ) Provincial authorities did not know what resistance group they are affiliated with.

Some of the resistance groups in the past have obtained weapons from Cambodia, where there is a huge supply of armaments – a legacy of more than two decades of war which ended only recently. The weapons were smuggled across Thailand to the Burmese border.

A Burmese embassy official in Phnom Penh said yesterday that Ambassador Tint Lwin planned to contact the Cambodian government about the arrested dissidents, but declined to comment further. (AP)

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CAMBODIA TIGHT-LIPPED ON RETURN OF BURMA REBELS

19 January: Cambodian authorities remained tight-lipped yesterday about the fate of two Burmese nationals jailed after they allegedly sought weapons to fight the military regime in Rangoon.

Military intelligence chief Mol Rouep refused to say where the pair, Mon Say and Kao Sik, were being held. He said authorities had not yet decided whether or not to send them back to Rangoon.

"The government will decide on this later when we finish our investigation," he said.

The United Nations Convention on Refugees bane the deportation of nationals who might face persecution in their home country. The UN human rights office in Phnom Penh is monitoring the case, an official said. (DPA)

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U.N. HITS AT PAKISTAN, BURMESE MILITARY SPENDING

20 January: U.N. officials hit out at Asian states like Pakistan and Burma on Thursday for boosting military spending at the expense of education and other basic social services.

Kul Gautam, the United Nations Children's Fund Asia-Pacific director, told a news conference after a regional education conference that global military spending had fallen since the end of the Cold War, but spending on arms in Asia had risen.

``Some of the countries that are actually reducing expenditure on health and education are increasing expenditure on the military. Obviously there is enough money but it is not going to the right place.''

While global arms spending had fallen from $1 trillion in 1990 to $700 billion last year, ``in Asia, military expenditures have gone up from $95 billion to $130 billion,'' he said.

At the same time, some Asian countries like Vietnam and Thailand had set good examples in reducing military expenditure and prioritising education, he said.

A recent World Bank report on military-ruled Burma, which kept its universities closed for much of the last decade to prevent student unrest, spent 32 percent of its budget on the military it its last fiscal year, versus 14 percent on education. (REUTERS)

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SYDNEY INVOLUNTARILY HOSTING DRUG STATE BURMA

20 January: The invitation to the Sydney 2000 Oympic games of East Asian Burma, number two in the top 25 list of narco-nations, has greatly appalled both the host nation Australia and international human rights organizations.

Personally invited by IOC boss Antonio Samaranch, to take part this summers Olympic Games in Sydney. His friendship with and invitation to this dictatorial junta regime, nowadays Myanmar (land of the happy) but once called Burma. Means that Australia will receive it's illegal 'house-dealer' - (providing 86 % of the 'in the land down under' circulating heroin) - as an official guest.

Australian parliamentarians have already alerted Michael Knight, the Minister responsible for "Syd 2000". But all he could give as an answer to their questions was "If Samaranch invites the junta, then I cannot prevent that."

For the time, European governments have not protested against participation of Burma, after Afghanistan the world's largest producer of opium. Where a ruthless military junta rules with iron hand. And earns gold and cash over the heads of poppy cultivating farmers from the export of hard drugs.

The capitals of Europe refer to Brussels when an issue is a possible sportsboycott of Rangoon. On which a weapon embargo is already in place. But before a policy from this European capital will be effective, all EU members must comply with such a boycott. To the international Human Rights organization MIHRA the invitation of Samaranch, who on top of all is campaigning against doping, is so heavily condemned by evidence that the IOC boss is an unreliable, corrupt figure, is a double standard policy.

"How can one pursue an anti-doping policy if Burma is admitted to the Games", says MIHRA spokesperson Roger Bunn from London. "Such politics is merely a farce when the largest producer of hard drugs is not being targeted."

MIHRA does not rest it's case. Under the slogan "Burma Out!" Roger Bunn, a 57 year old ex-musician that campaigned successful for sports sanctions against South Africa in the days of the apartheid, and his organization launched a campaign against the participation of the East-Asian country to the 'Millennium Olympics'. The main place of

protest activities will be Sydney, but there will also be demonstrations in the Swiss Lausanne, headquarters of the IOC.

"In Australia there is a lot of support from the unions. They are planning demonstrations in the spring against participation of Burma", says Bunn. The activist admits that there are more narco-nations participating in the Olympic Games. There is no representing team from Afghanistan, exporting country number one, but countries like Columbia are participating. "Unfortunately we can only concentrate on one country at the same time", says Bunn, who played bass in the band of Marianne Faithfull in the early sixties. "After the Games we will lobby the international football organization FIFA to prevent the participation of Colombia in the World Championship in 2002.

In the meantime the junta in Rangoon continues to attempt to convince the world of the fact that the drugs economy in Burma is being tied down. A number of journalists were proudly taken on a tour recently to a mega project in which 50 000 opium farmersin a period of three years will be forced to leave their homes at the Chinese border and live to grow longan-fruit, some 160 kilometers further in the area close to Thailand. The Wa State army, with whom the junta maintains a cease fire, will take careof the transportation of the farmers and their families. Roger Bunn is most skeptic about this operation. "It's uncontrollably. I doubt whether such policies can be effective, while by so doing, the whole social structure of the country is being damaged. The military regime at times burns down some poppy fields. But in the meantime enough are left over. The whole Burmese economy floats on drugs. Without opium production, the junta could not exist." (TELEGRAAF -Amsterdam)

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BURMESE DEMOCRACY BACKED

21 January: President of the ruling Nepali Congress Girija Prasad Koirala toady extended his "wholehearted" support for the struggle for democracy in Myanmar. Koirala lauded the effort made by the Burmese leader and Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi to restore democracy in her country.

"The heroic struggle that Suu Kyi has been waging deserves a global applause and our wholehearted support," said Koirala. "I salute her for her great courage and tenacity..."

Attributing Burma as "a very old friend" of Nepal, Koirala said "When I think of Myanmar (Burma), it makes my heart heavy with profound agony," said Koirala who remembered the historic Nepal-Burma ties established in the 1940s.

He was addressing a two-day international conference on "Democracy for Burma" organised by International Confederation of Free Trade Unions (ICFTU)/ITS. (KATHMANDU POST)

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JUNTA CRACKS DOWN ON INTERNET: MEDIA GROUP

22 January: Junta has banned the publication of political material on the Internet and arrested at least three people for consulting opposition websites, Reporters Sans Frontieres (RSF) said Saturday.

Telecommunications authorities had issued new restrictions prohibiting the use of e-mail to disseminate information "detrimental to the government," said a statement issued by the media freedom group.

"The new regulation was adopted a few weeks after the arrest of at least three people, one of them an army officer, who were accused of consulting opposition web sites based in foreign countries," RSF said.

The move follows the closure last month of the country's two privately owned Internet service providers (ISP), leaving the state-owned Myanmar Post and Telecommunications agency as the military-run country's sole ISP.

The junta does not allow public access to the Internet or the unauthorised possession of a computer or fax. RSF has described Burma as one of the world's "20 worst enemies of the Internet." (AFP)

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CANADIAN COMPANY INVESTS IN BURMESE OIL AND GAS INDUSTRY

25 January: A Canadian company has signed an agreement to exploit gas and oil reserves in western Burma, the government said Tuesday.

The production-sharing agreement between the government's Myanmar Oil and Gas Enterprise and Prime Resource Management (Cyprus) Ltd., which was signed Monday, calls for the Canadian company to explore an area 280 kilometres northwest of the capital, Rangoon, and produce natural gas and oil.

The amount of investment, commencement of exploration and other details were not mentioned.

Foreign investment slumped following the Asian financial crisis in mid-1997. Oil and gas remain the predominant sector for foreign investors, comprising about 35 per cent of approved investment in Burma. (AP)

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CALL TO RELOCATE MANEELOY HOLDING CENTRE

26 January: Thai Defence Ministry spokesman Lt Gen Sanan Kajornklam has recommended that in order to sever links between the Burmese rebels and their allies -- Burmese students in exile -- the Maneeloy student holding centre should be relocated away from Rachaburi.

The Maneeloy Holding Centre was established in 1992 on a 200-rai plot in Ratchaburi's Muang district to house Burmese students who fled political persecution in their homeland.

In an exclusive interview with The Nation, Sanan recommended this action following the successful ending of the hostage-taking crisis at Ratchaburi Hospital.

He said, ''the relocation should be carried out as soon as possible to avoid any recurrence of Burma-related acts of terrorism like the seizure of the Burmese embassy in Bangkok last year and the just-concluded incident.''

''We have found there are connections between the Burmese students in the Maneeloy centre and the Burmese who committed acts of terrorism in Thailand. In view of this the centre should be moved to a new location to cut the connections,'' Sanan said.

He said it was certain that Burmese students from Maneeloy led the taking of the Burmese embassy and were also involved in the hospital siege.

''The Maneeloy centre acts as the headquarters for Burmese terrorism on Thai soil,'' he said. The students were well-equipped with modern technology, including mobile phones and computers,'' he added.

In moving the centre, the army would be able to take part in administering it and officers could help in collecting intelligence information.

''At present the interior ministry is responsible for administering the holding centre while the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) provides a spending allowance and budget for the students. The army could help with the intelligence aspect,'' Sanan said.

He added that the UNHCR has agreed in principle to the idea that the army takes part in the camp's administration. At present there are about 1,500 Burmese students living in the centre. The UNHCR has set a condition that only Burmese students eligible for asylum in a third country are allowed to enter the camp.

National Security Council chief Kajadpai Burutpat said the Maneeloy centre will eventually be closed down and the Burmese students relocated to a third country. Kajadpai warned that students in the centre must not do anything to damage Thailand.

''The centre is now under tight control to avoid any new acts of terrorism. The students must not attempt anything that could stir Thai public opinion,'' Kajadpai said. (THE NATION)

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THAILAND WARNS EXILED STUDENTS TO BEHAVE

26 January: Thailand on Wednesday delivered a stern warning to exiled Burmese students living in the country following the bloody end to the hostage siege at Ratchaburi hospital.

Interior Minister Sanan told students they could face legal action if they made trouble.

"Anyone who misbehaves will be taken away and detained," he said, adding that Thailand was still committed to helping refugees with cases grounded on solid human rights concerns.

Up to 2,000 exiled students registered with the Nations High Commisioner for Refugees (UNHCR) live in Thailand and have had an uneasy relationship with the authorities in recent times.

One student was detained by police on Tuesday after he expressed unease about the killing the 10 hostage-takers in a raid which ended the 24 hour siege, Sanan said.

After a siege at Burmese embassy in Bangkok last year, in which several of the Ratchaburi hostage takers were involved, Thailand announced it planned to send the 2,000 students to third countries.

Most of them are living in a detention camp at Manelooy, near Ratchaburi, which has been the scene of unrest several times in recent months.

Thailand is also home to 100,000 refugees who have fled fighting between insurgent groups and the Burmese junta. The government also last year launched an operation to deport around a million illegal workers, most of which were from Burma. (AFP)

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BURMA LOSING ALL FINANCIAL FOOTING

31 January: Nearly half of the approximately 270 billion yen in Japan's outstanding

official yen loans to Burma have gone sour.

As of March 31 last year, the final day of fiscal 1998, Japan's outstanding yen loans to developing countries totaled 9.8 trillion yen, of which 272.5 billion yen was being held by Burma, according to the Japan Bank for International Cooperation.

Of the total outstanding yen loans to developing countries at that time, 377.8 billion yen had been in arrears for six months or longer, according to the JBIC, a government-affiliated aid organ created in October through a merger of the Overseas Economic Cooperation Fund and the Export-Import Bank of Japan.

According to government sources and people familiar with the matter, the amount of arrears on Burma's huge official debts to Japan is continuing to rise sharply and has already exceeded the 130 billion yen level, compared with the 94 billion yen level four years ago.

This means that Burma is responsible for about one-third of the total amount of arrears on official debts owed to Japan by developing countries and that nearly half of the 272.5 billion yen in Japan's outstanding loans to Burma have gone bad.

For its part, the JBIC refuses to give the names of developing countries with overdue official loans, let alone a country-to-country breakdown.

"We have a long-held policy of not making public which country owes Japan overdue official debts and how much," a JBIC spokesman said. "That's partly because doing that might hurt the credit of countries with such debts and partly out of foreign-policy consideration."

Until fiscal 1998, Burma had continued to repay several billion yen or more in arrears to Japan each year. But no such repayment has been made during fiscal 1999, which ends on March 31, further adding to the Southeast Asian country's ballooning overdue official debts to Japan.

In accordance with a 1978 resolution by the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development, Japan has automatically provided the same amount of money Burmese repays, in the form of grant-in-aid, after an interval of only one or two months. The UNCTAD resolution urges aid-donor countries to forgive official debts owed them by the poorest of Third World countries.

The fact that Burma has stopped making repayments despite this arrangement indicates just how tight its financial bind is.

Minoru Kiryu, a professor of economics at Osaka Sangyo University and a leading expert on Burmese affairs, said Burma's foreign currency reserves are extremely scant.

"The Myanmar (Burma) government's fiscal condition is so severe that it has to run just to keep from going bankrupt."

Burma has been shunned by many sectors of the international community since 1988, when the military took power in a coup. The country's military junta, which now refers to itself as the State Peace and Development Council, continues to refuse to accept the results of 1990 national elections in which Nobel Peace laureate Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy won a landslide victory.

The United States and other industrialized countries in Europe have toughened economic and other sanctions against Burma in recent years in protest at the military regime's violations of human rights and democratic principles, including the continued crackdown on the prodemocracy movement led by Suu Kyi.

Since the 1988 coup in Myanmar, or Burma as the country was once called, Japan has also frozen fresh yen loans and grant-in-aid, except those for humanitarian purposes and debt-relief under the UNCTAD resolution.

In addition to the economic sanctions, the Asian economic crisis that erupted in Thailand in the summer of 1997 and spread through much of the region dealt a serious blow to Myanmar's economy, which saw a sharp decline in foreign investment, especially from its fellow ASEAN members. TheAssociation of Southeast Asian Nations admitted Burma immediately before the Asian economic crisis occurred. (JAPAN TIMES)

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INTERNATIONAL LOBBYING AND CAMPAIGNS

BURMESE PROTEST FAILS TO MATERIALIZE

4 January: Nearly 100 policemen kept vigil at the Burmese Embassy in anticipation of a protest by dissident Burmese students on the occasion of Burma's 52nd anniversary of its Independence Day.

Plainclothes and uniformed police from the Special Branch Bureau, the Immigration Bureau and the Metropolitan Police Bureau were put on standby at the embassy in anticipation of a protest, but nothing happened.

Pol Maj-Gen Sawek Watthanakij, commander of the Special Branch Division 2, said the extra security was ordered for fear of a recurrence of the Oct 1-2 Burmese embassy siege.

A security police officer who requested anonymity, said the Burmese students had decided against protesting for fear of arrest on charges of illegal entry, instead of being sent back to Maneeloy holding centre as used to be the practice. At least 20 Burmese students who slipped out of Maneeloy in the past fortnight were arrested, and all face charges of illegal entry. (BKK POST)

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SUU KYI URGES MANILA WOMEN'S MEET HELP US BE FREE

17 January: Nobel Prize-winning dissident Aung San Suu Kyi urged an international women's conference on Monday to help her country, Burma, become free. Suu Kyi issued her appeal in a video message shown at the opening session of a three-day meeting in Manila of women leaders from around the world to discuss how to advance the rights of women.

``I look forward to the time when Burma too will be able to host a kind of meeting such as you're having now,'' Suu Kyi said. ``That will come when we are a free society and I hope that you will all help us to become a free society.''

Former Philippine President Corazon Aquino, who restored democracy in her own country after helping oust dictator Ferdinand Marcos in a popular revolt in 1986, cited Suu Kyi and Nobel Peace laureate Mother Teresa, the ``saint of the gutters,'' as her role models.

Aquino called Suu Kyi ``the rightful leader of Burma.'' ``(She) has remained steadfast to the cause of democracy in her homeland....She has chosen to endure isolation...rather than abandon the cause,'' Aquino said. Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy won Burma's last election in 1990 but was never allowed to govern by Rangoon's generals. Aquino said politics must not remain a bastion of male dominance, specially as the world enters a new millennium beset by poverty at unprecedented levels and armed conflicts.

She lamented that many governments were not acting fast enough to empower women despite their natural leadership abilities. ``There is much that women can bring into politics that would make our world a kinder, gentler place for humanity to thrive in,'' she said. ``It seems that it is only when women take matters into their own hands that they are able to secure their rights and privileges as equal partners of menfolk...The time to act is now.''

Conference organisers set up a billboard outside the session hall on tips to guide women's fight for equality. The tips include: ``Put our money where our beliefs are,'' ``Share all strategic and tactical information about winning elections and toppling dictators'' and ``Balance of power: if we make up half the population, we will manage half the power.''

The conference is attended by women leaders from Asia, Africa, Europe and the Americas. (REUTERS)

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CANADIAN HELP SOUGHT IN PERSUADING FARMERS TO SWITCH FROM OPIUM-GROWING

19 January: Burma is calling on Canada for help in providing alternative crops for opium farmers. Opium from Burma is one of the main sources of heroin around the world and the Burmese government has long been under pressure to stamp out opium production.

Tens of thousands of hill farmers have been moved to more fertile areas where they can grow crops other than opium. The head of Burma's anti-drug programme, Col Kyaw Thein, says this is an opportunity for Canada to follow up on last year's promise to explore ways of cooperating against drugs...

Experimental projects under way include a pig farm, a fruit plantation and a vineyard. Burma is asking for hundreds of millions of dollars to develop alternative sources of income for the farmers, saying if they do not get it they will have no choice but to go back to opium production.

Canadian diplomats say talks on cooperation with Burma are still at the exploratory stage. (Radio Canada International)

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PRESS BURMA TO REOPEN UNIVERSITIES'

19 January: Burmese opposition groups in exile have appealed to Unesco, now meeting in Bangkok, to press Rangoon to reopen universities.

The National Council of the Union of Burma (NCUB) said the Rangoon government's continued closure of universities has hampered Burmese citizens' access to education.

The closure was against Unesco's goal, set at its previous meeting a decade ago, to promote education and reduce the illiteracy rate, it said on Monday in a letter to participants of the Unesco conference in Bangkok.

"The closure of the universities to prevent student activists from organising political groups has placed thousands of young Burmese in limbo," it added. Though the Rangoon government recently allowed universities to reopen, the process was selective and the government still blocked students from involvement in various activities, it said.

Forty-two countries are participating in the regional conference of the United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organisation. The meeting, which ends tomorrow, is to evaluate educational progress in the Asia and Pacific region.

"We appeal to the participants of the ongoing conference in their collective or individual capacity to urge the military junta to respect the human rights of the people of Burma, particularly to stop all activities that violate the rights of people to education," said the Bangkok-based NCUB.

The NCUB is made up of exiled Burmese activists and opposition members of parliament. (BKK POST)

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JAMES' CAMPAIGN GOES ON

20 January: A protest is to be staged outside the Burmese Embassy in London next month to highlight the plight of jailed pro-democracy campaigner James Mawdsley.

The 26-year-old human rights protestor from Durham has spent the past four-and -a-half months locked up in a prison cell in remote northern Burma. He was sentenced to 17-years imprisonment on September 1, for alleged illegal entry into the south-east Asian country and for handing out pro-democracy leaflets, banned by the ruling Burmese military junta.

The plan to peacefully demonstrate outside the Burmese Embassy emerged from a meeting at Westminster on Tuesday, between members of James' family, human rights campaigner Lord Alton, and the action group Jubilee Campaign, which speaks up for oppressed minorities round the world.

James' mother Diana said the protest would be staged on St Valentine's Day, February 14, her son's 27th birthday.

"It will raise awareness, not just of James' situation, but hopefully make our Government aware of what is happening out there. "That's what James wants. It's not an ego-trip for himself. He wants to expose the horrors of what is happening in Burma.

"Thousands of people from the largest minority group, the Karen, have been killed, and hundreds of thousands have been displaced. It's ethnic cleansing, genocide, and yet British companies continue to invest in Burma and tourists take holidays there."

She visited James in November and her estranged husband, David, a London businessman, returned at the weekend after also seeing his son in Burma.

"James is speaking up for the people by what he's doing. Because he's British it gets attention, and for the moment he's determined to keep it going."

While in prison James has received a message of support from Aung San Suu Kyi, the leader of Burma's democratically-elected party, which has been never been allowed to take power by the junta. (THE NORTHERN ECHO)

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DISSIDENTS URGE PRESSURE ON BURMA

20 January: Burmese dissident exiles called in a letter to the conference -- one of five regional meetings ahead of a global meeting on education in Dakar, Senegal, in April -- to pressure Burma’s junta to fully reopen the universities.

Victor Ordonez, UNESCO's Asia-Pacific director, said the closures were ``unacceptable to the world community,'' even though some classes had restarted.

``We have expressed explicit concerns about the future of the universities in Myanmar,'' he said, adding that junta’s Education Minister Than Aung had been invited to the conference but had not come.

``More and more the government of Myanmar is being made aware about the concerns of the international community about the sad state of universities there,'' he said.

Kul Gautam said the problem was not confined to university level and extended to basic education too.

``Myanmar was quite a star in education in earlier years. Myanmar needs to give high priority to education at all levels from primary schools to opening up the universities.''

Koichiro Matsuura, newly appointed Japanese director-general of the U.N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation, said the Bangkok conference resolved that all children worldwide must have access to ``good quality'' education and this would be a global priority in the next 10-15 years.

He said Asia had achieved greater successes than some other regions in meeting the goal of the last global education meeting in Jomtien, Thailand, 10 years ago --``Education for All.'' (REUTERS)

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UN URGED TO HELP BLOCK KAREN INFLOW

23 January: Atop national security official has called on the UNHCR to take an aggressive approach in dealing with the problem of Karen refugees in Thailand.

Kachadpai, the National Security Council's secretary-general, said he was very concerned about the situation as the number had risen from 18,000 to 100,000 as more Karen refugees continued to flee the fighting in Burma.

Nearly a thousand Karen villagers have crossed into Thailand after Rangoon resumed its dry season offensive against Karen rebels along the Thai-Burmese border, he said.

Up to 900 people have sought shelter in Ratchaburi following the fighting on the Burmese side opposite Ban Suan Phueng. They are under the supervision of the Surasi Task Force.

The NSC secretary-general said the UN High Commissioner for Refugees should hold talks with Rangoon to take back the refugees who wanted to return home.

Unless the UNHCR takes an aggressive approach the refugee problem will remain unsolved and add to Thailand's burden, he said.

Mr Kachadpai said the increase was posing problems for Thailand and people living along the border. (BKK POST)

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TRADE UNION MEET DECIDES TO OPPOSE BURMA JUNTA

23 January: Trade Unions must play a leading role in opposing Burma's military junta and help pave the way for democracy in the country, union representatives from 29 countries agreed here on Saturday.

The 60 delegates adopted the Kathmandu Declaration at the end of a three-day conference organized by a number of national and international unions, including the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions and Nepal Trade Union Congress.

They called for the country to respect human rights, and said political and economic pressure should be exerted on the military junta. Their declaration also called for the lunch of a postcard campaign to demand the release of imprisoned Burma trade union leaders--Myo Aung Thant and Khin Kyaw.

Federation of Trade Unions of Burma delegate Maung Maung said at the end of the conference that he expected the country to become democratic soon.

The head of the NTUC, Mr. Laxman Basnet, told the delegates that worker rights could only be exercised in a democracy. (AFP)

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CALL TO PUT PRESSURE ON BURMA JUNTA

23 January: An international conference organised here to explore ways to support the restoration of democracy in Burma concluded here today with the participants stressing the need to politically and economically pressurise the military junta in Burma.

At a press conference organised here to highlight the outcomes of the three-day conference, participants said unless economic and political sanctions are imposed against Burma's military rulers, democracy cannot be restored.

The participants also expressed commitment to impose the sanctions, and called on the trade unions to extend solidarity for the cause of restoration of democracy in Burma.

"We are prepared to take initiatives," said the participants. More than 60 participants from 25 countries participated in the conference organised by International Confederation of Free Trade Union (ICFTU/ITS).

General Secretary of the confederation, Noriuky Suzuki said that the trade union members have plan to circulate a "Call for Action" to 144 trade union offices in 29 countries so as to garner supports for the cause.

The conference has also decided to launch a postcard campaign for the release of Burmese trade union leaders, Myo Aung Thant and Khin Kyaw.

In a bid to pressurise the military junta, the participants have planned to mail the cards to Burmese Embassies based in various countries around the world.

Laxman Basnet, President of Nepal Trade Union Congress said the organisation will launch signature campaign next week to support the restoration movement and hand it over to Burmese Embassy. (KATHMANDU POST)

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".. at the very worst, we are faced with a country which is at war with its own people. At the very best, it is a country which is holding its people in hostage…" Judge Lallah

 

APPENDICES

 

Seizure of a hospital in Ratchaburi, Thailand (Summary)

Brief background

Before the hospital siege, Burma’s junta (SPDC) troops launched an offensive against God's Army because God's Army has sheltered five Burmese students who raided the Burmese embassy in Bangkok last October. (see special news on embassy storming in November issue of Burma News Update.) God’s Army is an insurgent guerrilla group of 200 mostly ethnic Karen fighters battling the military regime in Burma. It is led by 12-year-old twin boys, Luther and Johnny Htoo. Their followers believe the boys have mystical powers that make them invulnerable during battles.

Thailand’s 9th Infantry Division had allowed Burmese soldiers to use Thai soil in launching attacks against God's Army. Mines laid by God's Army guerillas to deter such collaboration had killed four and injured some Thai soldiers. There is a widely held views that this led to the Thai military's decision to shell God's Army positions. Due to the coordinated sandwich offensive of the Burmese junta and Thai Army, more than 200 people including women and children were killed and wounded in the camp without any medical assistance. Thai Army did not allow the refugees to cross the border to seek temporary safety in Thai soil. Therefore over one thousand people including the wounded were living under very dangerous circumstances in the battlefield. This forced some young men from God’s Army and Vigorous Burmese Student Warriors (VBSW) to find all possible ways and means to halt Thai's shelling and to get medical attention for their comrades and refugees who had been injured in several days of fighting with junta troops.

Ten armed young men from God’s Army (aged between 14 and 30) slipped across Thai-Burma border and hijacked a bus. They seemed confused, unsure of where to go, and anxious to get medical attention for comrades and refugees. Eventually the hijackers descended on a hospital in the provincial capital of Ratchaburi. In early morning of 24 January, they stormed the emergency room and surgical ward, trapping inside about 500 patients and hospital staff. Soon after the hospital storming, Thai special forces and police sealed off the buildings and the centre of the town of Ratchaburi. A doctor in the hospital said no one had been hurt in the attack, but the gunmen had mined the building.

Demands of hostage-takers

Few hours later, the hostage-takers released at least ten elderly hostages followed by some fifty hostages. They allowed some TV crewmen into the hospital and interview them. A cameraman from a Thai television station said the gunmen claimed that 200 Karen women and children had been injured in fighting on the Thai border. He said the gunmen also wanted Thailand to put pressure on Burma to stop an offensive against the group.

The leader of hostage-takers said the siege would end if the Bangkok government satisfied his demands. "We have five proposals ... if the government agrees we will go back," he said in a television interview with the iTV network. "We didn't harm anyone, we have released many hostages," said the man who was identified by the station only as Nui.

(The demands are:

to keep Thai security forces away from the hospital,

to stop shelling at God's Army position,

to open Thai border and to allow their members and Karen civilians to take refuge,

to provide medical treatment for wounded comrades and civilians who have been bombarded for weeks,

to persuade Burmese Army to halt an offensive against God's Army.)

When medical assistance and immediate halt of shelling were secured by

the Thai authorities after several hours of

negotiation, (already January 25, Tuesday) the hostage-takers agreed to

surrender to the Thai authorities.

Response of Thai authorities

"Thailand will open its border for the sick people to come for treatment in exchange for all the hostages being released safe," Thai army commander General Surayudh Chulanont said at a press conference..

Thai Interior Minister Sanan Kachornprasart and Deputy Foreign Minister Sukhumbhand Paribatra rushed to the scene to lead negotiations. They have successfully negotiated with five armed Burmese students who stormed Burmese embassy in Bangkok last October. Sanan said he had ordered the security forces to take tough action against the attackers, but also to protect the lives of patients and medical staff. He told reporters the gunmen also wanted to broadcast on television.

"Thailand's standpoint is to negotiate with them, to ask them to surrender and we will give them a fair trial in a Thai court," Sanan told reporters, adding that the crisis was not expected to be resolved overnight. Thailand had flatly refused a demand by the God's Army gunmen for two helicopters to take them to the Burmese border, he said. But he added that the use of force to end the siege was "out of the question."

The gunmen want to fly to the border like five Burmese students who seized the Burmese embassy in Bangkok last year, a military source told AFP.

Thai Prime Minister Chuan Leekpai arrived late Monday to take charge of talks with the gunmen. Chuan left Bangkok after emergency meetings in Bangkok with top military leaders and was accompanied on the 120-kilometre (70-mile) drive by Thai Supreme Commander General Mongkon Ampornpisit. Asked by reporters whether Thailand would use force to end the crisis, Chuan said he would await for a decision from the army. "As of now the army commander is negotiating with the hostage-takers," he said before leaving Bangkok. Chuan, who also serves as Thailand's defence minister, went straight to the army base in Ratchaburi to discuss the negotiations with the hostage takers.

What happened next?

According to the reliable sources who closely observed the incident, the hostage-takers agreed to surrender to the Thai authorities when medical assistance and immediate halt of shelling were secured by Thai authorities. However, Thai security forces ordered all reporters to move away from the hospital and then sealed the compound at 2:00 am of 25 January. The reporters realised Thai security forces were well prepared to raid the hospital soon or later. (One hostage said that during the period of time, gunmen told them that they would not hurt any hostage, that Thai authority would send two helicopters at 10:00 am and let them go to the border. The hostage also said that the gunmen are polite and provided them some food and coffee. )

At 5:00 am, helicopters arrived above the hospital and spotlighted the location of gunmen. Once they saw the signal from the helicopter, more than 100 Thai commandos stormed the hospital and open fire. The hostage-takers were first prepared to defend themselves, but they surrendered to the commandos as the hostages requested them to save their lives. It is obvious that there was no exchange of gun fire between the Thai commandos and the hostage takers.

After 40 minutes of heavy gunfire, Lieutenant General Thaveep Suwannasingh, first army region commander claimed 9 gunmen died during the assault, one was missing and all hostages were freed unharmed. In the afternoon, Thai authorities claimed all ten gunmen were killed. Foreign Ministry spokesman Don Pramudhvinai said 10 God's Army rebels were shot dead in the pre-dawn raid. "We tried to solve the problem in a peaceful way by negotiation but it didn't succeed," Don said.

Police on Tuesday afternoon (6 hours after the siege ended) displayed the bodies of the 10 dead insurgents wrapped in heavy white sheets. At least 5 of the corpses were still bleeding from the head and nowhere else. Within 24 hours, the hostage drama was over. However there are many questions remained to be answered.

Consequences

Some experienced reporters speculated that gunshots they heard during commando raid was like some one who were placed near the wall and shot at close range. The reporter speculated that some commandos arrested hostage takers and placed them near the wall and then shot them dead in cold blood. Since then, the reporters are very keen to know what really happened during commando raid. They tried to interview some hostages who want to share what really happened during the storming.

Criticism came after a witness said the commandos had over-reacted and that they shot some hostage-takers in the head without caring about the safety of the people in the hospital.

The Thai media have also quoted witnesses as saying the hostage-takers were killed in cold blood after special forces stormed. There were reports some of the gunmen had surrendered, but were still shot in the head after being ordered to undress and kneel down. Some were shot in the head at close range, though they offered no resistance, said some of the hostages. Recent news reports suggest that the gunmen treated the hostages well, had no intention of harming anyone, did not fight back and according to some witnesses were summarily executed after surrendering. The Bangkok Post quoted an unnamed hospital official as saying " the insurgents were ordered to strip and kneel before they were each shot in the head."

Thai military officials denied that the kidnappers had been murdered. The Thai military and police have maintained that " all 10 insurgents were killed while the hospital was being stormed." Thai PM Chuan Leekpai also denied that extra-judicial killing was practised and vowed to clarify all the government's action to the public.

But it was some witnesses' accounts that fuelled the speculation. Hostages said the gunmen were very polite and never threatened. When the firing started some gunmen told them to lie down and get out of harm's way. Several hostages said they saw some of the gunmen trying to surrender. " I saw one taken by commandos out of the room where I was hiding with his arms up holding his gun above his head", said a woman. Krittaya Uleenoi, 11, recalled that Pre Dah (the group leader) was about to set off his grenade when the Thai commandos started sweeping in, but hostages begged him not to. ''I pulled his arm and pleaded with him not to do it. All the others were making the same plea. He looked at me and put the grenade down,'' she said. Afterwards, about 50 other hostages who were in the outpatients room screamed out the window to the Thai authorities: ''They've surrendered, they've surrendered.'' ''The gunmen put their weapons down and then the Thai troops came into the room and took them away. All of us were still on the floor. After a few minutes, we heard more shooting,'' she said.

Some of the God's Army guerrillas were shot dead after they had raised their hands in surrender, a special forces officer who took part in the mission said on 26 January. Speaking on condition of anonymity, the officer said it was necessary for the troopers to shoot despite the fact that some of the hostage-takers had surrendered. The officer from a Lop Buri-based special forces unit said he had shot dead a guerrilla who had raised his hands. He was not sure the rebel had really meant to surrender. Some of his men might have shot dead a few guerrillas who surrendered after having told them to take off their shirts for a quick search for weapons and explosives. In such a case, the decision to kill was made by the individual troopers, he said.


Some of the guerrillas were shown in Khao Sod newspaper yesterday stripped to their underwear, one with his hands tied behind his back. Special forces personnel had not stripped them, he insisted, suggesting that was the work of other units that arrived afterward to scour the area for hidden explosives.

A police paratrooper, however, suggested the dead guerrillas were stripped by provincial officials for the purpose of medical examination. Pol Col Preecha Boonsuk, superintendent of the air support unit of Naresuan camp, denied his men executed the near-naked guerrillas.


There are still bloodstains, partially covered by sand, in the room on the second floor of another section of the hospital where reportedly most of the terrorists were killed. There was no physical evidence of fighting as everything in the room was intact, except for what appeared to be bullet holes in the wall about 30 centimetres above the ground.


Public opinion in Thailand is running strongly in favour of the decisive action ordered by the authorities, and comments by senior official and members of the government suggest that there is unlikely to be any detailed investigation of whether the insurgents were summarily executed as a warning to would-be terrorists.

However, the president of the human rights committee of the Law society of Thailand, Mr Somchai Homalor,said that all of the bodies should be the subject of a forensic examination. "The office of the Attorney General should require an investigation because these persons died in custody or as a result of actions by officers who were on duty," Mr.Somchai told the Herald. "This is what the law says should happen." Mr.Somchai ,who is also the secretary-general of the human rights organisation Forum Asia, said government officials had released few details of how the deaths occoured.

There were reports in Thai media that all of the bodies were later buried by Thai authorities in unmarked graves. Akapol Sorasuchart, the government spokesperson, said the bodies were kept at a secret place and had not been cremated or buried as reported. Pol Maj-Gen Chalermchart said the bodies were kept in the shrouds to lessen any feeling of revenge that the God's Army may feel at seeing their fallen comrades. The doctors at Ratchaburi regional hospital will be asked to check the bodies again on January 27 to clear remaining doubts. (AFP, AP, DVB, BBC, BO)

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NATIONAL COALITION GOVERNMENT OF THE UNION OF BURMA

Statement on the 52nd Anniversary of Independence

  1. Today, the independence of Burma, which became independent from the British colonialists on January 4, 1948, has reached its 52nd Anniversary.On this auspicious occasion, we extend our best wishes, to the entire people of Burma, for freedom from all kinds of fear and danger, for peace of mind body, with liberty and security.

  1. Burma, which had existed with its own monarchy and sovereignty, gained her independence, after living in serfdom as a subject of another country, for 124 years. The independence was gained not because of the effort one person, one group or one organization. The independence was gained because of the struggle, with unity, by the entire nation comprising of all the ethnic nationalities unceasingly, for than 120 years and for many generations.

In the 120 years of struggle for independence, victory was achieved, only after a great sacrifice together with blood, tears and sweat.

  1. However, as the civil war broke out within 83 days of independence, all the ethnic nationalities of Burma have to suffer the evil consequences and viciousness of the civil war, up to this day, for 52 years, equal in time to the time span of the independence.

  1. The SLORC/SPDC have been propagating the lies, at home and abroad, that there is no civil war in Burma and that they are able to maintain peace and stability in the country. The covering up of the civil war by the SPDC is a deliberate evasion, as it does not want to resolve the political problems by political means. After independence, as the successive regimes in power have focussed mainly on total annihilation of resistance, instead of peaceful resolution of conflict, the civil war has been continuing for 52 years. For the cessation of the civil war and resolution of the severe political, economic, educational, health, social etc., crises afflicting Burma, we must hold a dialogue, without delay, to address the problems politically.

 

  1. Currently, in Burma, the essence of independence, gained by unity of the ethnic nationalities, has totally dimmed and disappeared, and the national unity is in pieces, because of oppressions by the SPDC military dictatorship, which has usurped the state power by the use of the army, as a stepping stone. In the 50 years of independence, the ethnic rights, the democratic rights and the basic human rights have gradually waned, and in this time of the SPDC military junta’s rule, those rights have been more severely curtailed.

In his speech, on August 1, 1943, on the 1st anniversary of independence given by the Japanese, General Aung San said,"Now the independence of Burma is one year old. What have we gained in this period? If I have to tell you the truth, our people still have not had a chance to enjoy the taste of independence. Those who are enjoying the fruits of independence are only a small group. The persons, who are included in this small group, are our top government officials, including me, and those who have attached themselves, for privileges, to these top officials, and the profiteers who have made the suffering of the people as their business investment."It is most saddening to see that in all these 52 years of independence, the people of Burma have never had a chance to enjoy the fruits of independence, fittingly.

  1. The deprivation of freedom under the SPDC is much worse than the deprivation of liberty under the rule of the foreign power. As the political, economic, education, social, etc., freedoms have been totally controlled, the people, under the domestically bred military dictatorship, have been turned into military serfs, once more. Under the arbitrary rule of SPDC, the people of Burma, leading the life of military serfs, are in a precarious state, as there is no rule of law, and as there is only the warlord system ruling by unjust orders and corruption in high placed.

  1. As General Aung San said,"The people will have no more independence, if there is a system similar to fascism in which democracy, based on the will of people, cannot thrive," the system of fascism in Burma must be totally ended, if we are to reach the goal of democracy.

  1. In conclusion, on the occasion of the 52nd anniversary of independence, we would like to earnestly urge the entire nation to unitedly join hands with us in the struggle for liberation from the military serfdom and for the second independence, regarding it as the great historic task of today, just like the various ethnic nationalities had unitedly participated in the struggle against colonialism and resistance against fascism.

January 4,2000

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National Coalition Government of the Union of Burma

NCGUB Says 'Violence' Should Not Be Option In Seeking Change

he National Coalition Government of the Union of Burma is deeply concerned by the armed seizure of

Ratchaburi hospital in Thailand by members of the "God's Army." No action that endangers innocent lives is pardonable, not even when it is meant to highlight suffering of innocent civilians. We call on the "God's Army" to release all hostages unharmed and to resolve the problem without any bloodshed.

We praise the Royal Government of Thailand for allowing the Karen people hurt in the shelling of the "God's Army" areas at the border to cross into the country for medical treatment and for maintaining its traditional calm and patience in dealing all forms of terrorism.

This deplorable incident coupled with the influx of methamphetamine drugs into neighboring countries only bring to mind the concern that we have been expressing for so long: that the consequences of the oppressive military rule in Burma, if left unchanged, will spill over to the region. Taking the opportunity at hand, we call on all parties concerned to endeavor toward bringing peaceful change to Burma.

Dr. Sein Win, prime minister of the National Coalition Government of the Union of Burma, said "When oppression is severe, there will be parties that succumb to the temptation to resort to violence. We oppose the use of violence which is detrimental to the goal of setting a precedence for peaceful change in the country and diverts the attention of the world away from peaceful efforts to bring democracy to Burma."

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