Have the Junta gone too far?
As the trial of Aung San Suu Kyi continues, so does the world-wide
condemnation of what are perceived as trumped-up charges by Than Shwe and
the Burmese military government. Reports state that the junta’s intent may
be to ensure that countrywide support for the Nobel Peace Prize laureate
known as ‘The Lady’ does not disrupt next year’s multi-party elections,
already widely derided as a sham.
The extraordinary tale of American John Yettaw’s involvement has led to
rumour and speculation. Mormon Yettaw, 53, although suffering from asthma
and diabetes and in receipt of disability payments as a Vietnam veteran,
supposedly swam 2 kilometres across a lake wearing homemade flippers after
avoiding security forces on 24- hour guard in order to gain admittance to
Suu Kyi’s house.
The result of his action, however it was accomplished, led to the arrest,
only days before her anticipated release from house arrest on May 27, of Suu
Kyi and 2 female party members who were her sole companions. Yettaw was also
Suu Kyi and her two companions have been charged with violating the terms of
the house arrest, and are being tried in closed court. If, as seems
inevitable, she is found guilty, she will be sentenced to 5 years’
imprisonment. Yettaw is charged with immigration violations and trespassing,
and has also been brought to trial.
The British, French, German and Italian ambassadors were refused entry to
the prison where Suu Kyi is being held, although the US ambassador was
allowed entry as Yettaw is a US citizen.
Although the trial could last as long as 3 months, lawyers are speculating
that it could be rushed through in order to dampen down world-wide criticism
of the junta and the calls for Suu Kyi’s immediate release. The US State
Department has stated that the charges were ‘unjustified’; the British
government has expressed disgust at the ‘show trial’, and suggested that it
could lead to Myanmar (Burma)’s global isolation.
The East Timor president, Jose Ramos-Horta, himself a Nobel Peace Prize
laureate, together with the Burma Lawyers’ Council, announced last week that
they were ready to appeal to the International Criminal Court (ICC) to
charge Than Shwe with criminal acts. The move is being supported by the
Women’s League of Burma, which called for the international community to
join in appealing to the ICC to incite proceedings, based on evidence and
collated information on the junta’s activities as regards human rights
abuses and violations of international law in Myanmar.
In Brussels, EU ministers denounced the trial and called for Myanmar’s
neighbouring countries to press for positive change in the country. In
Yangon, a security crackdown has begun, with barricades being erected by
armed riot police and approaches to the area of the prison and courts sealed
off. One day after unexpectedly allowing diplomatic and press access to the
trial, the junta has now closed the court again.
Meanwhile, US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton has stated that the 2010
elections in Myanmar may be considered ‘totally illegitimate and meaningless
to the international community’, and lawyers representing Suu Kyi have
stated that, should she be convicted and imprisoned, they will press for an
emergency meeting of the UN Security Council.
Amid growing concerns about Suu Kyi’s health, based on reports that she is
suffering from low blood pressure, dehydration, and poor nutrition, together
with the detainment of her personal physician for questioning after he had
been barred from giving her a routine check-up, ASEAN’s human rights charter
is in the spotlight. At present, only Indonesia, the Philippines, Singapore
and Thailand have issued statements expressing their concern, with Thailand
also stating that it was ready to mediate in Myanmar’s national
reconciliation process and ‘peaceful transition to democracy’.
The issue is proving to be the first major test of the ASEAN charter - at
present there seems to be little change from pre-charter announcements, with
the rest of the member nations remaining silent. The ASEAN ‘non-interference
policy’ applied to its member states appears to many to condone the Junta’s
ignoring of human rights and the rule of law.
In Chiang Mai, Burmese residents, workers and students are expressing their
concern. One told the Chiang Mai Mail, “On the surface, this is absurd; we
must look at it from another perspective, to try to see what the real
purpose is. For example, are they looking for a way to postpone the
so-called elections? As there is no freedom of speech, and no party can
organise properly, there are no proper regulations for the election. Now,
because of her arrest, any elections will look even phonier.”
Another stated that, “I am interested to see what the ‘Third Force’ will
say. They have been willing to compromise with the government plan, while
saying they are for democracy. I am waiting to see what they will say now -
whether they will acknowledge how unjust this is.”
A third said, “Her arrest by this government is so unjust. By law, they have
to release her. There should be rule by objective law in Myanmar.”
over religious complex
The site of controversy – the religious ritual
and Buddhist educational complex being built at the entrance to Huey Tueng
The famous astrologer, Warin Buaviratlert, is attracting controversy
over his plans to erect a building to be used for religious rituals, a
statue of the Lanna King, and a sacred sanctuary and pavilion including a
footprint of the Buddha on land at the entrance to the Huay Tueng Tao
reservoir in Chiang Mai.
The aim of the 185 million baht project, to be funded by donations from the
astrologer and his followers, is to counter the negativity caused by
wrongdoing and the political unrest at present evident in the country. The
complex will also be used to spread knowledge about the history of Buddhism.
However, local people are objecting as the land may not be suitable for such
a project, as the area is used for recreational purposes.
Recently, Warin, his father and a number of his followers conducted the
blessing ceremony for the setting of the foundation posts at the site. The
area is under the control of the Kawila Army Camp; many high-ranking
military personnel have faith in Warin’s abilities as an astrologer, saying
that he is able to accurately predict solutions to the present political
problems. For this reason, Warin was given permission to build on the land.
During an appeal for donations, Warin stated that his latest predictions,
made between April 8 and 13, indicate that the political unrest will die
down and the Thai people will be reconciled. He added that all organisations
should work together to solve the present political difficulties.
Chiang Mai gears up to prevent swine flu
A press conference was held May 21 by the Chiang Mai Provincial Public
Health office, with the aim of informing local residents and visitors of the
precautions being taken to prevent an outbreak of swine flu in the city. At
present there are no cases of infection by the H1N1 virus in Chiang Mai,
although 9 people who later tested negative for the virus were recently
hospitalised and monitored after complaining of flu symptoms
sanitizer, face masks and information leaflets are available to fight any
outbreak of swine flu in Chiang Mai.
The Public Health Office’s deputy head, Dr Surasing Wisaruthrat, stated that
his office and Chiang Mai ‘s Provincial Administration Organization have
prepared more than 10,000 medical kits containing face masks, hand rub
solutions and leaflets on preventative measures for distribution to the
Arrivals from countries affected by the virus will be specifically targeted
for distribution of the kits at Chiang Mai International Airport (CNX),
hotels, guesthouses and travel agencies. The Public Health Office has
reserved 300 doses of Tamiflu; 700 more doses are expected to arrive in the
Border crossings will be under close surveillance as ordered by the
government, with village volunteers encouraged to help with the monitoring
process, and extra facilities at CNX have been set up, including temperature
scans and medical staff for inspections of arrivals.
Ruling on Viktor Bout extradition to USA due in August
Viktor Bout, the Russian national arrested in Bangkok on a charge of
arms dealing in March 2008, will have to wait until August 11 for a court
ruling on a US application for his extradition. However, if the court’s
decision goes against him, another appeal will be able to be submitted.
Since his arrest, Bout has been fighting extradition from a maximum security
prison outside Bangkok. If the US application succeeds, he will be tried
under anti-terrorism laws in America, and will face imprisonment for life if
He is accused of transporting weapons using a number of cargo planes, to
Africa, the Middle East, and South America, and was arrested in Thailand as
a result of a ‘sting’ operation carried out by US special agents posing as
fighters from a known South American terrorist group, the Revolutionary
Armed Forces of Colombia.
Bout has been known as the ‘Merchant of Death’ since a British Foreign
Office official coined the term, which was also used in a book about his
activities published in 2007. The character played by Nicholas Cage in the
film, Lord of War, released in 2005, is reputed to have been based on Bout.
ASEAN summits with dialogue partners now set for October
The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) have agreed to hold their
twice-postponed ASEAN summit, with key dialogue partners, in Thailand in
October, according to a Thai senior foreign ministry official.
Director-General Vitavas Srivihok of the Department of ASEAN Affairs said
that, sixteen countries had agreed to attend the meeting in October as
proposed by the dialogue partners, but the venue has yet to be fixed.
Discussions regarding the site of the meeting are ongoing with the Thai
The summit of the 10-member ASEAN pact with its dialogue partners and
related summits were originally scheduled to be held in Pattaya during April
10-12, but were cancelled on April 11 after anti-government protesters
stormed the hotel hosting the meeting, forcing an early close of the event.
The summits were first rescheduled to June 13-14 in Phuket, but then they
too were postponed as the proposed dates were inconvenient for leaders whose
schedules in the upcoming months have already been fixed. (TNA)
Strict quarantine facilities in place for weightlifting championships
Following the arrival of young athletes from across the world for the
1st Youth Weightlifting Championship, the Thai deputy minister of public
health, Manit Nop-amornbordee, paid a visit to the city on May 17 to
inspect the quarantine facilities put in place by the municipal public
health office since the recent worldwide outbreak of swine flu.
and their coaches arrive for the 1st Youth Weightlifting Championships
in Chiang Mai.
The minister visited the Lotus Pang Suan Kaew (the host hotel), the
quarantine station recently set up at Chiang Mai International Airport,
and the 700 Year Stadium, where the championship was taking place.
Later, Manit expressed his concern that municipal public health
officials should take good care of the visiting athletes and their
entourages, and should be stationed at every checkpoint until the end of
the championship on May 24. If any athletes were to develop a fever or
flu symptoms, they would be quarantined and observed for at least 24
hours. At the end of the event, the public health officers themselves
will now be quarantined for a week as an extra precaution.
Drugs and weapons seized
in Chiang Rai raid
In an early morning raid in Chiang Rai’s Wiang Pa Pao district,
officers from the local Office of Narcotic Control Board (ONCB) and the
Pha Muang Task Force seized 3,800 amphetamine pills and a quantity of
weapons and ammunition. The haul included an AK47 rifle and ammunition,
an M16 rifle and ammunition, 4 further rifles, one with ammunition, 2
hand guns and a bomb.
Officers of the ONCB and Pha Muang Task
Force display some
of the weapons seized during the raid.
The deputy commander of the Pha Muang Task Force, Colonel Prakarn
Chonlayut, explained that the area is a well-known route used by
criminals to smuggle drugs from the border, and that emergency measures
put in place at checkpoints and within the community had resulted in a
number of useful sources of information. He added that violence in the
area is mainly caused by drug dealers, and that all concerned
authorities need to work in cooperation with each other in order to
achieve their stated goals.
Drug smuggler’s car shot up during escape attempt
After being warned of an upcoming attempt to smuggle
amphetamines across the border at Mae Sai, Chiang Rai province, a local
police drug suppression team were recently forced to shoot out a tyre on
the smuggler’s car to stop him escaping.
The car, driven by Prayong Pikulthong, from Rayong, was pulled in by
police at a checkpoint on Boon Jong Road, but failed to stop,
immediately accelerating away from the checkpoint. The driver was seen
to throw a large number of amphetamine tablets out of the car as he sped
off. Police fired at the car’s tyre, shattering it and bringing the car
to a stop. Prayong was arrested and police were sent to recover
approximately 12,000 amphetamine tablets from the road where they had
During questioning, Prayong admitted that this was the fourth time he
had purchased amphetamines in Myanmar and smuggled them across the
border, intending to sell them to his Bangkok contact. He was charged
and is being held for further investigation at Mae Sai police station.