Independence weekly, No. 11
(18 - 24 August 2002)
This week's News Digest
Burma's "drug czar"
LOOKING BACK TO BURMA OF YORE
This week's News Digest
At least 9 students, including final year law student Thet Naing Soe, who stages a sole protest on Sunday, 18 August, in front of Rangoon City Hall arrested. (Irrawaddy)
As if taking the cue, Thai police raid Burma activists' office in Sangklaburi, north west of Bangkok and arrested 31 of them on illegal entry charges. The move is taken as a fresh signal to dissidents Bangkok is poised to pounce on anti-Rangoon groups and prompts protest from several countries. (They were later released near Three Pagoda Pass)
Thailand is the most important conduit of information from Burma: much of the information gathered on human rights and humanitarian issues comes from Burmese working
Mahathir irks Shans
PM Mahathir Mohamed who is in Rangoon for a 24-hour visit is awarded with 4 oil-gas exploration contracts plus town planning and telecommunications agreements, topped with praises for saying democracy in Burma cannot be built in haste. "(T)he process of change must be gradual. We know from experience it is not easy to handle democracy. If we don't not know how to handle it, we will end up with anarchy."
Khun Htoo Oo, Shan party leader, tells RFA Mahathir's intrusion in Burma affairs is both unwarranted and outside his jurisdiction. "What he says is not only insulting to the ruling SPDC, but also to the people of Burma. And these, in fact, are our internal affairs," he says.
Aung San Suu Kyi herself responds by saying, "I think that sort of comment is patronizing to the people of Burma." (Irrawaddy)
Like the road to Mandalay in the monsoon season, the way to democracy still looks long and muddy.
Border still closed but Burmese FM visit due
The awaited border talks, capped with the reopening of checkpoints, fails to materialize. Burmese source from the Township Border Committee says Rangoon will not open until Thailand announces a clearer stance on its relationship with anti-Rangoon rebels. (Bangkok Post)
2 Buddhas donated to Myawaddy on 14 August were returned on 16 August by Burmese authorities, citing the Sangha order prohibits its members, including the Buddha, to move during the Buddhist Lent, reports Bangkok Post.
Foreign ministers, Win Aung and Surakiart Sathirathai, shall meet on 6 September, say government sources (later confirmed by Dr. Surakiart). Thai Ambassador to Burma, Oum Maolanond, says Rangoon wants Bangkok to give assurances that anti-Rangoon rebels are supported by Thailand. (Bangkok Post)
Rangoon: Rape report false
Burma's foreign ministry issues statement that Shan report, License to Rape, is "false and fabricated." "Some of the villages where the incidents were supposed to take place were non-existent " (AP) To which Shan Human Rights Foundation reporter rebuts, "The villages that are not in existence anymore, they were wiped out during the regime's 1996-98 mass relocations."
On the same day, The Nation reports Shan Women want to take their case to the International Criminal Court, quoting Nang Mohawm, the group's spokeswoman.
More drugs from Burma predicted
Pittaya Jinawat of the Office of Narcotics Control Board (Northern Thailand) says between 60-65 million speed pills are being smuggled into Thailand from Burma and Laos each month. A 20% increase in the heroin production: 72 tons in Burma and 18 tons in Laos, is also forecast. (Bangkok Post)
Wa and drugs back to normal
Rangoon's restrictions on Wa drug activities following disclosure by the United Wa States that it had listed the United Wa State Army as a terrorist organization in March fell apart after border shootout began in May, several sources confirm.
According to them, the outbreak of hostilities had provided opportunity for the Wa to move a staggering amount of speed pills from Panghsang to Hokhong, in the Paliao-Kenglarp area north of Tachilek, where they could be shipped to Thailand via the Mekhong.
"The W-number plates on Wa trucks, previously banned, are now back in force again," says a Tachilek resident. "The Wa can wear their uniforms and tote their guns openly in town and there's nobody to stop them." (S.H.A.N.)
U S will be willing to send a assistant secretary of State, probably James Kelly who is responsible for Asia, to Rangoon "if there is real progress on the democratic front," reports Far Eastern Economic Review.
the newly formed 8-party coalition, United Nationalities Alliance, meets NLD "basically to inform why we have formed the UNA", according to Sai Nyunt Lwin General Secretary of the Shan Nationalities League for Democracy.
In response to disclosure by CNN that al Qaeda members have been active in Burma, Myanmar Information Committee says Government of Myanmar is determined "to stand with the United States" on anti-terrorist cooperation.
Democratic Party for Arakan held congress, 30 May-2 June, and resolved to join hands with all the peoples of Burma for freedom, democracy and human rights, reports the party today. DPA is led by Thein Pe, Maung Sein Mra and Maung Lu Gree.
Col Kyaw Thein - Burma's "drug czar"
Burma's Central Committee for Drug Abuse Control is chaired by Home Minister Col Tin Hlaing and co-chaired by Foreign Minister Win Aung and Border Areas Minister Thein Nyunt. Col Kyaw Thein is only listed only as a senior member, but to many he is "Burma's drug czar" and to some others, he is the "key man".
He visited the United States in May and met several key people including Rand Beers, Assistant Secretary of State for Drug and Law Enforcement, who along with Francis Taylor, Ambassador at large for Counter-Terrorism, had testified to the Senate two months earlier that the United Wa State Army, Rangoon's main ally, was regarded by the United States as a terrorist organization connected to drug trafficking.
For those who wish to know more about him, Bertil Lintner, well-known writer on Burma, has provided an interesting glimpse of the man:
In April 1999, the United Wa State Army (UWSA) and the Burmese junta, now renamed the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC), decided to invite a group of journalists to attend the 10th anniversary celebrations of the CPB (Communist Party of Burma) mutiny and the subsequent cease-fire agreement between the rebels and the government. The foreign visitors were taken first to Mong La, and then to UWSA headquarters at Panghsang, where they were introduced to Mong La commander Lin Mingxian (Sai Lin) and Wa leader Pao Yuqiang. The purpose of the trip was to show the foreigners that great headway had been made in the war on drugs. According to Reuters, whose reporter was present at the occasion, Lin and Pao denied any involvement in the drug trade, and claimed that "our consciences are clear."
It was perhaps hardly surprising that the drug-traffickers themselves denied that they were running heroin refineries, methamphetamine laboratories, and regional smuggling networks. But when the reporter began to quote official reports from the US State Department's Bureau for International Narcotics Matters, which named Lin, Pao and several other leaders of the cease-fire groups as some of the most prominent drug traffickers in Burma, he was rebuffed by a high-ranking Burmese military intelligence officer, who was also present: "I think they [the Americans] are just making it up-- it's politically motivated." when asked who, if that was so, was running the refineries obviously located in areas which no doubt were controlled by Lin, Pao and other cease-fire leaders, the officer replied: "We are at a loss about that. But I think the real culprits are Chinese organised crime groups. They are very secretive and we don't know who is actually doing the trade."
When the officer, and Lin and Pao, went on to claim that their eradication efforts had been extremely successful, the reporter asked them why, in that case, were countries in the region are still being flooded by cheap heroin from Burma. The officer replied that the heroin must have come from "old stocks" which had been warehoused somewhere. The reporter pointed out that while raw opium can be warehoused, heroin is an perishable with a limited shelf-life. Only when an order has been made is raw opium taken out of the warehouse and refined into heroin. The officer said this was wrong, insisting that the heroin must have been refined years ago.
These statements could have been dismissed as uniformed jabber--if they had come from some low-ranking, local Burmese army officer somewhere in a remote border area. But the officer in question was Col. Kyaw Thein, head of Burma's Committee for Drug Abuse Control, the country's leading drug enforcement agency and the main contact man for the UN's drug control programme and international police agencies. Kyaw thein was accompanied by Lt.-Gen. Khin Nyunt, the head of Burma's military intelligence apparatus, and Lt.-Col. Hla Min, the SPDC's main spokesman, and he was only conveying the official version of the situation. Khin Nyunt himself went on to praise "development efforts" in the former CPB area, and hit out at "neo-colonialist countries" for failing to support them and "levelling false accusations."
Khin Nyunt, the head of the Directorate of the Defence Services Intelligence (DDSI), had personally negotiated the ceasefires with the rebels, and, in return, issued their leaders with special ID cards, which made them--and their vehicles--immune from police and customs searches at all check-pints in Shan State. It was the Ka Kwe Ye (KKY) concept all over again: in return for acting as local militias, the former CPB forces were permitted do whatever they wanted to support themselves and their troops.
It is clear that the druglords in the northeast are enjoying protection from the highest level of Burma's military establishment, and not just from some corrupt local commander. This became even more evident when Kyaw Thein was asked about Wei Xuekang, a UWSA leader who had been indicted by the United States for drug trafficking. The reply was that Wei was "not under government control."
As the celebrations were taking place, Wei, an ethnic Chinese from Yunnan who has been with the Was for decades and who runs several of their heroin and methamphetamine laboratories, was busy building up a "legitimate" business empire in the northern Burmese city of Mandalay.
(The Golden Triangle Opium Trade: An Overview, by Bertil Lintner. Chiang Mai, March 2000)
LOOKING BACK TO BURMA OF YORE
Times News Network
The Times of India, 27 April 2002
KOLKATA : Kamal Kumar Dass, middle-aged Secretary at an engineering firm on Park Street, could well have been the protagonist of a sequel to Amitav Ghosh's The Glass Palace. Unlike most Calcuttans of his generation, he has been watching the political developments in neighbouring Myanmar with more than an academic interest. Dass fervently hoped that someday the forces of democracy symbolised by Aung Sann Suu Kyi will prevail over the military junta.
Why should a present day Bengali, caught in his mortal coils, be nvolved in the fortunes of another country ? The reason is simple. Born in Rangoon in 1951, Dass and his family were repatriated by the military regime of General Ne Win in 1969. Kamal's father Khagendra Chandra Dass was with the British Royal Navy during World War II and subsequently settled down in Myanmar in the late 1940s. Till 1961, it was smooth sailing, but the military takeover in 1962 changed all that. "I remember listening to radio with my friends when this abrupt announcement the military regime had over-thrown the existing government-came through. The carnage on July 07, 1962 when the army entered the Rangoon University compound and butchered thousands of students for raising their voice against the junta still makes me cringe". Said Dass. The new government was highly repressive. There was press censorship, nationalisation of industries and no Indian could study beyond Tenth Standard, he informed.
The Dass family was heard-hit. Khagendra was the owner of a dye & chemical factory doing roaring business. The military took over their factory/shop and their property, recalled Dass. "We returned to India in 1969".
For the last decade or so, Dass has made it his life's mission to get compensation from the Myanmarese government for all that they lost in 1969. "I've petitioned the United Nations, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and Amnesty International without much success. All the agencies agree that ours is a fit case for receiving compensation, but plead their helplessness". It's a matter between the governments of India and Myanmar, is the common refrain, rued Dass. He spends his pastime surfing the net, trying to reach out to the exiled Myanmarese worldwide and even re-establish contact with old friends and acquaintances. "I can't help feeling a bit nostalgic when we make Khow Suey and Mohinga,," he says.
Acknowledgement: The above article was contributed by Kamal Kumar Dass_Editor