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Myanmar, Vietnam get drugs blame

Posted by arnon_k On September - 7 - 2012 ADD COMMENTS

Chalerm says neighbours fuelling narcotics trade
Deputy Prime Minister Chalerm Yubamrung blamed Myanmar and Vietnam yesterday for a massive influx of drugs flowing into the country.

His comments came after Wednesday’s seizure of 3.29 million methamphetamine pills with an estimated value of 1 billion baht in Nakhon Pathom’s Buddha Monthon district.

He said the methamphetamine production bases are in Myanmar while the precursor chemicals used to manufacture the drugs come from Vietnam.
Mr Chalerm said the government’s crackdown on pseudoephedrine, one of the main methamphetamine production precursors, has prompted traffickers to switch to Vietnam.

“The pills are manufactured in Myanmar while the trafficking route of base chemicals has switched to Vietnam after we successfully blocked pseudoephedrine,” he said.

The United Wa State Army (UWSA) rebel group in Myanmar has been linked to the production of narcotic drugs.

Mr Chalerm said he had raised the issue with Myanmar during a recent meeting of Asean ministers but Myanmar claimed the rebel area is under the supervision of the military.

He said he would ask China to coordinate with Myanmar in addressing the narcotics problem.

Mr Chalerm also lashed out at the Office of the Narcotics Control Board (ONCB) which had cautioned him to be careful when discussing the drug situation to avoid straining bilateral relations.

“They don’t need to tell me what to do. I am mature. If we can’t tell Asean, who can we tell?” he said.

Mr Chalerm said he would assign the Provincial Police Bureau 5 and the Border Patrol Police to work with the Pha Muang Task Force to contain drug smuggling along the northern border.

According to the deputy premier, the Pha Muang Task Force, which oversees the Thai-Myanmar border, estimates that 500 million speed pills are waiting to be smuggled in from Myanmar.

He said that Chiang Rai is a strategic location to curb drug trafficking.

Permpong Chavalit, deputy secretary-general of the ONCB, said he believed Deputy Prime Minister Chalerm sent the message in order to seek cooperation, not to assign blame.

Mr Permpong said the deputy premier wanted to make it clear that Thailand now faces a severe drug problem. Without close cooperation from neighbouring countries, it will be more difficult to suppress the drug trade.

Mr Permpong said Thailand has been cooperating well with its neighbours on drug suppression and prevention.

They have exchanged information on the drug trade and trafficking that led to arrests of drug suspects and seizures of drug shipments in past years, he said.

“For me, I don’t think that the remarks of deputy premier Chalerm will affect our regional cooperation on drugs. Instead, it will make our neighbouring countries understand our problem more and our need for them to help,” he said.

Mr Permpong said the government planned to announce its new anti-drug campaign next month; the existing campaign comes to an end this month.

He said the government’s new campaign would focus on suppression, prevention, cooperation of people and communities, and rehabilitation of addicts.

Mr Permpong said newly appointed ONCB secretary-general Pol Gen Pongsapas Pongcharoen would help make the campaign a success.

Meanwhile, authorities yesterday announced two major drug busts of 10 kilogrammes of crystal methamphetamine, or ya ice, and 500,000 speed pills worth millions of baht.

The ya ice was seized on Wednesday afternoon and five people were arrested on Ratchadapisek Road for suspected trafficking. The suspects allegedly smuggled the drugs in from a neighbouring country. The value of the ya ice was estimated at 30 million baht.

In Chiang Mai, police arrested two Hmong villagers and seized 500,000 speed pills in Chai Prakan district.

Myanmar removes names from blacklist

Posted by arnon_k On August - 31 - 2012 ADD COMMENTS

(CNN) — Former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi’s two sons are among about 2,000 names removed from a blacklist in Myanmar, the president’s office revealed Thursday.

The list of those barred from entering the country also features international political figures, rights campaigners and journalists, such as British investigative reporter John Pilger and CNN’s Dan Rivers.

Another person no longer blacklisted is John Yettaw, an American citizen who made his way into Suu Kyi’s house — reportedly by swimming across a lake — in order, he said, to save her from assassination.

The late Philippine President Corazon Aquino is also on the list of names, as is Britain’s Glenys Kinnock, a former minister for Europe and wife of former Labour leader Neil Kinnock.
Rights campaigners include Human Rights Watch’s Asia director Brad Adams and the late U.S. singer, activist and politician Sonny Bono.

The announcement that about 2,000 names were being taken off the blacklist was reported by state-run newspaper New Light of Myanmar on Monday.

But the full list in English was only released on the website of the president’s office overnight Wednesday to Thursday.

Dozens of American names, often accompanied by passport numbers, are included in the document, including the late U.S. Rep. Tom Lantos. Scores of Britons, Australians and Germans are also among those named, as are many people from neighboring Thailand and nearby Malaysia.

Others are listed as “ex-Myanmar,” some of whom are probably exiled opposition activists. They will now have the chance to return home.

Announcing the decision Monday, New Light of Myanmar said it was being carried out in line with democratic, political and economic reforms. There was no mention of how many people might remain on the blacklist.

“In the past, companies and persons from all fields including media men were blacklisted and banned by the government in the national interest. But the government is lifting the ban on them in accord with the reforming system,” the newspaper said.

“Green light would be given to those Myanmar citizens who are currently in foreign countries, enabling them to return home.”

The move follows a series of reforms in the past year under the government of President Thein Sein, as the country’s ruling generals have loosened their grip.

Myanmar has released hundreds of political prisoners, including Suu Kyi, and instituted a series of political reforms after decades of repressive military rule. Western governments have responded to the efforts by easing sanctions on the country.

London (CNN) — Aung San Suu Kyi appealed for international support for Myanmar’s process of democratic reform Thursday as she gave a historic address to both of Britain’s houses of parliament.

This is her nation’s time of greatest need, Suu Kyi told lawmakers, saying the help of Britain and other nations is needed if Myanmar is not to lose this opportunity to embrace true democracy.

Her first trip to Europe after years of house arrest signals the progress toward reform in Myanmar, also known as Burma, over the past year.

Suu Kyi is the first figure who is not a head of state, the first woman from abroad and the first person from an Asian nation to address both houses of Parliament in Westminster Hall, House of Commons Speaker John Bercow said as he introduced her.
He paid tribute to her as a “legendary” figure, who had “withstood unimaginable suffering” during the dark days of her long house arrest and political oppression.
Addressing an audience that included current and past British prime ministers, Suu Kyi appealed for “practical help” from Britain in the days to come, saying international aid can help give her people a better life through education and training, as well as supporting civil and economic progress.

The Nobel laureate praised the “sincere” efforts of President Thein Sein, a former general, to promote political reform in Myanmar since his military-backed government was elected in 2010.

But she also called for international support to ensure Burma does not waver as it follows the path to a full, free and open democracy.

“We have an opportunity to re-establish true democracy in Burma. It is an opportunity for which we have waited many decades. If we do not use this opportunity, if we do not get this right this time round, it may be several decades more before an opportunity arises again,” she warned.

It is also important that a permanent political resolution is found to ethnic conflicts and violence in the north, west and east of the country, she said.

Suu Kyi met with British Prime Minister David Cameron at Downing Street ahead of her speech to lawmakers, where they appeared jointly before reporters.

Cameron said it was a huge honor to welcome Suu Kyi to Britain, saying she has been “inspirational in her courage in fighting for democracy” in Myanmar.

Britain is a “resolute friend” to Myanmar and will “remain staunch in its support, just as it has been through the long period of darkness you and your people have lived through,” he said.

The prime minister also backed Suu Kyi’s warning against “reckless optimism” over political reforms in Myanmar, saying his country will “remain vigorous in our questioning until those changes have been made irreversible.”

At the same time, Cameron defended the decision to invite Thein Sein to Britain, saying the visit signals the United Kingdom’s willingness to engage so long as the president remains committed to reform. Britain’s sanctions against the regime are only suspended, not lifted entirely, he pointed out.

Suu Kyi, who was recently elected to parliament as her National League for Democracy won dozens of seats in by-elections, said she supports the invitation to Myanmar’s president because “we don’t want to be shackled by the past.”

She said it is by strengthening and empowering the people of Myanmar that a genuinely democratic society can be built.

She also called for responsible investment in Myanmar to aid its economic development. The country’s future should lie in the hands of all its people, rather than those of the military or a small elite, she said.

What Suu Kyi’s moment teaches us

Suu Kyi also spoke on the need for a “clean, efficient civil service” to help run the nation even as governments change.

Cameron said British lawmakers will visit Myanmar in July to scrutinize its progress toward full democracy, and will continue to support the country up to its planned elections in 2015.

Britain, which is the biggest aid donor to Myanmar, will also offer aid to support peacemaking in parts of the country torn by ethnic conflict and back responsible investment in the country, Cameron said.

Suu Kyi said she was moved by the warmth and kindness with which she had been welcomed to Britain.

During a four-day visit to Britain — her first since 1988 — Suu Kyi has also visited Oxford, the city where she studied from 1964 to 1967 and lived with her late husband, Michael Aris.

She received an honorary degree Wednesday at Oxford University, her alma mater.

Suu Kyi was awarded the honorary doctorate in civil law in April 1993, the university said, but until now has been unable to receive it in person.

“‘The most important thing for me about Oxford was not what I learnt there in terms of set texts and set books we had to read, but in terms of a respect for the best in human civilization,” she is quoted as saying at the ceremony.

Visiting London on Tuesday, Suu Kyi described how supporters around the world had given her strength while she campaigned against Myanmar’s military regime.

She also paid a visit to the BBC’s Broadcasting House, where she met DJ Dave Lee Travis, whose BBC World Service music show made her confinement “much more bearable,” she said.

On Saturday, Suu Kyi finally gave her Nobel acceptance speech in Norway, more than two decades after she won the peace prize.

She was unable to accept the Nobel when it was awarded in 1991 because she was under house arrest in Myanmar. Her husband and two sons collected it on her behalf.

She has also visited Ireland, where a music concert was held in her honor Monday, and Switzerland.

The elections that gave her party seats in parliament, albeit in a minority, marked a turning point for the country after decades of oppression by its military rulers.

A military coup in September 1988 put Gen. Saw Maung in power, setting off anti-government demonstrations and a crackdown that left hundreds dead.

Suu Kyi — whose husband remained in England when she returned to Myanmar in 1988 — became a leading activist and co-founder of an opposition group, the National League for Democracy. She was placed under house arrest for the first time the following July on charges of trying to divide the military. She spent much of the next two decades confined to her home by the ruling junta.

When her party won the 1990 general election in a landslide vote, the military rulers — in power since 1962 — refused to let the National League for Democracy serve, nullifying the results.

The military rulers have recently loosened their grip on power, allowing a series of democratic reforms. Her house arrest ended in 2010, and she was able to travel around the country during her party’s election campaign this year.

U.S. firms eye Myanmar as sanctions suspended

Posted by arnon_k On May - 18 - 2012 ADD COMMENTS

(Reuters) – The suspension of U.S. sanctions barring investment in Myanmar in response to political reforms in the poor Southeast Asian state opens the door to U.S. firms queuing to scout for business in one of the last frontier markets.

U.S. firms are expected to join those from Asia and Europe that have already moved into a market of up to 60 million people in the former British colony. Analysts and experts have said there will be opportunities for foreign companies across the industrial landscape – from energy, mining and construction to agriculture, finance and tourism.

General Electric Co, the biggest U.S. conglomerate, said on Friday it was working with the Myanmar government on possible infrastructure projects and opportunities in the healthcare and energy sectors.

“We are looking at healthcare. We are working with the government on energy. Eventually we will look into all of the infrastructure businesses,” GE Vice-Chairman John Rice told Reuters in Hong Kong.

“We are looking at Yangon’s power needs, working with the ministry and the government to figure out how we can help reduce some of the shortages,” said Rice, who runs GE’s global operations and visited Myanmar in April.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announced the suspension of sanctions at a news briefing on Thursday with Myanmar Foreign Minister Wunna Maung Lwin, on his long-isolated nation’s first official visit to Washington in decades.

“Today we say to American business: invest in Burma and do it responsibly,” Clinton said.

Nabil Barakat, CEO of Wamar International, a U.S.-based energy services firm, met Myanmar government officials this week to discuss projects including repairing gas-fired power plants in Yangon, media reported.

Myanmar, also known as Burma, has huge gas resources, but a dysfunctional power grid, with nationwide rolling blackouts.

A spokesman for automaker Ford Asia told Reuters: “It’s very encouraging to see the rapid and positive developments … We are sure Ford will find opportunities to participate in this ongoing transformation.”

The International Monetary Fund has estimated Myanmar’s gross domestic product at a little more than $50 billion. Neighboring Thailand, with a population of about 67 million, has a GDP of $348 billion.

SANCTIONS SUSPENDED, NOT LIFTED

Clinton said Washington would issue a general license to permit U.S. investments across Myanmar’s economy, allowing U.S. energy, mining and financial services companies to look for opportunities in an economy which is rapidly re-opening after having been run down by five decades of military rule.

But she stressed the laws underpinning U.S. sanctions on Myanmar would remain – as leverage while pushing the government further on democratic reforms.

“We are suspending sanctions. We believe that is the appropriate step for us to take today,” Clinton said. “We will be keeping the relevant laws on the books as an insurance policy, but our goal and our commitment is to move as rapidly as we can to expand business and investment opportunities.”

Myanmar welcomed the announcement.

“It is excellent,” Industry Minister Soe Thein said in an interview with Reuters in the capital, Naypyitaw. “This morning I heard the news and I am very, very happy.

“For the investor, financial sanctions are very important. Because of them, I haven’t been able to move … The U.S. can invest in a lot of areas.”

Soe Thein, who met Rice in Naypyitaw last month, said GE was interested in leasing generators to supply electricity to Yangon. An official in Yangon said the project would consist of four generators of 25 MW each.

President Barack Obama, elaborating on the policy shift, said Washington would work to “ensure that those who abuse human rights, engage in corruption, interfere with the peace process, or obstruct the reform process do not benefit from increased engagement with the United States”.

Myanmar’s reformist, quasi-civilian government took office a year ago and has started overhauling its economy, easing media censorship, legalizing trade unions and protests, freeing political prisoners and agreeing to ceasefires with ethnic minority rebels. Nobel Peace Prize laureate and pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi has a seat in parliament.

“TOOL TO MAINTAIN PRESSURE”

Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy, Myanmar’s biggest opposition force, won a 1990 election by a landslide but the military refused to cede power and for two decades suppressed the party’s activities, jailing many of its members.

In response, the United States and other Western countries imposed sanctions that drove the country closer to China. Now, Derek Mitchell, the State Department’s coordinator for policy towards Myanmar, is to be nominated U.S. ambassador.

Pro-democracy advocates have urged the United States to move cautiously, saying sanctions are an important tool to maintain pressure on the government to follow through on pledges of greater democratic openness.

Illustrating those concerns, the United Nations is investigating reports of possible weapons-related deals between North Korea and Myanmar, according to a confidential report seen by Reuters.

In preparation for a likely wave of foreign investment into the resource-rich economy, Myanmar’s central bank said it would seek to weaken its newly floated kyat currency and prevent further rises that could derail economic reforms.

“In the near future there will be a massive inflow of foreign direct investment, and as a result Myanmar’s kyat is expected to appreciate. We will do our best to prevent this,” Nay Aye, a deputy central bank governor, told Reuters in an interview.

Hans Vriens, a Dutch consultant and adviser to European companies and the Myanmar government, said the economy was “desperate for foreign investment and especially for Western investment” as it didn’t want to be “a client state of China”.

“The regulatory system is completely outdated,” Vriens told Reuters. “It’s difficult to import, difficult to export. They need to modify that most of all. The government means well and they’re very open to asking for advice, but you need to remember that the government is staffed by former generals.

“They know how to fight an insurgency, but they don’t know how to run an economy,” he said.

Some human rights activists remain wary.

U.S. Campaign for Burma, which opposes wholesale lifting of sanctions until the government makes deeper reforms, said Myanmar’s army continued to wage a campaign against the Kachin ethnic minority in northern Myanmar and the new U.S. policy would do little to stop it.

Bill Davis, Burma Project director of the group Physicians for Human Rights, said Kachin and other ethnic minority groups whose homelands hold Myanmar’s natural resources told him in interviews they were “still afraid of the government”.

“If the people of Burma do not trust their government, the U.S. administration should not either,” he said.

(Additional reporting by Matt Driskill in SINGAPORE, Henry Foy in MUMBAI, Alison Leung in HONG KONG and Jason Szep and Aung Hla Tun in NAYPYITAW; Editing by Robert Birsel and Nick Macfie)

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