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Web-only Exclusives
November 30, 2000

From Our Correspondent: Hirohito and the War
A conversation with biographer Herbert Bix

From Our Correspondent: A Rough Road Ahead
Bad news for the Philippines - and some others

From Our Correspondent: Making Enemies
Indonesia needs friends. So why is it picking fights?

Asiaweek Time Asia Now Asiaweek story

Week of December 11, 1998

YANGON State media announced that 467 members of the opposition National League for Democracy (NLD) had quit the party, the biggest mass resignation since the ruling military junta began detaining activists in government "guest houses."

BANGKOK Thai officials denied that the U.N. and World Bank have promised Yangon $1 billion in financial aid if it enters into dialogue with the NLD.

Week of December 4, 1998

YANGON Another 29 members of the opposition National League for Democracy have been freed from detention after agreeing to quit the party. At least 467 more remain as "guests" of the ruling military junta.

Week of November 20, 1998

YANGON Twenty-one members of Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy resigned and closed a party office, state-run media reported. The government claims more than 50 people have quit the party since September. The junta has been holding mass meetings, gathering state employees and members of public associations to hear speakers denounce the NLD.

Week of November 13, 1998

Corruption: Myanmar's Way

NONE OF MYANMAR'S MINISTERS AND TOP CIVIL SERVANTS who were sacked for corruption last November have been brought to trial. Most, though, have been forced to bow so far out of public life that they are almost under house arrest. In some cases, their assets have been sequestered. The cleanup continues: Last month, deputy commerce minister Col. Kyaw Shwe was abruptly sacked and other officials purged. Cabinet minister Brig.-Gen. Maung Maung alleged to Asiaweek: "Yes, the deputy commerce minister took a bribe. He was kicked out." It was all done very quietly, unlike last November's sweep. A top commerce official is said to have been jailed for life. Details are sketchy, but skim-offs on rice exports and kickbacks on auto sales appear to be involved. "Kyaw Shwe was involved in many things like rice and cars, especially the cars - Pajeros, Monteros, saloons. So many," is the way Yangon Mayor Col. Ko Lay told it.

Week of November 6, 1998

THE EUROPEAN UNION AND ASEAN agreed to allow officials from Myanmar to attend meetings between the two bodies as observers. The arrangement ends a year-long freeze in relations between the regional blocs. On the same day the compromise was reached, the E.U. strengthened its existing sanctions on Myanmar, which include a ban on contact with officials from the military regime.

Week of October 23, 1998

WONDER WHY THAI AIRWAYS is increasing its number of flights to Yangon from 12 to 14 per week starting Oct. 25? Because Myanmar Airways International will close at the end of October unless it can find investors to replace its Malaysian and Bruneian backers, who are pulling out. Highsonic Enterprise of Singapore had already withdrawn its investment in MAI at the end of September.

Week of October 9, 1998

YANGON Press reports said Gen. Ne Win is receiving medical assistance in Singapore. The 88-year-old former leader left Yangon on Sept. 27, but it was not clear whether he was undergoing a check-up or receiving treatment.


Myanmar is considering building more casinos. The Andaman Club resort on Thahtay Kyun Island at the southernmost tip of the country, which caters almost exclusively to Thai high-rollers coming from nearby Ranong, is already in place. A second casino, being built by Thai business interests, is planned for another border town, Tachilek, in the north. And another may possibly appear in the capital, Yangon. Plans are apparently afoot to use a building adjacent to the Nawarat Concorde Hotel, which is said to be owned by Aye Zaw Win, the son-in-law of retired military strongman Gen. Ne Win. The idea is to lure tour groups, initially from India, who would gamble in dollars which would find their way back into the national coffers. If successful, other casinos may be opened in places like Mandalay, where direct flights from Chiang Mai were recently approved and where there is already a large, gambling-mad Chinese population.

Week of September 18, 1998

YANGON In two waves of arrests, the junta detained some 220 dissidents, most of them members of the opposition National League for Democracy - including at least 50 members of the disbanded Parliament elected in the 1990 polls that the opposition won. The sweep was a pre-emptive strike: the NLD has been threatening to convene a Parliament based on the 1990 voting in the near future. The state-run Mirror ran an article accusing the NLD's leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, of sediti on and suggested deporting her.

Week of September 11, 1998


GETTING A VISA FROM THE MYANMAR EMBASSY in Bangkok has become a lot more difficult since the military junta in Yangon deported 18 foreign activists for distributing pro-democracy leaflets early last month. What used to be a routine 10-minute procedure can now take up to two weeks - even in the case of tourists. Most applicants are interviewed and "suspicious-looking" people, that is, those who might be undercover journalists or activists, are referred to the first secretary or the ambassador. Some cases even go to Yangon.

Week of August 21, 1998

YANGON State televison said the 18 foreign activists detained by the junta on Aug. 9 for allegedly attempting to incite unrest had received training in sabotage and were bent on destabilizing the country. The group was rounded up while handing out pamphlets in Yangon to commemorate the 10th anniversary of the crackdown on anti-government demonstrators on Aug. 8, 1988. Detained were one Australian, two Filipinos, three Indonesians, three Malaysians, three Thais and six U.S. na tionals. They were all allowed visits from their embassy officials on Aug. 11, but only after stringent diplomatic protests. Meanwhile, supporters of leading dissident Aung San Suu Kyi claim new security measures around her home amount to house arrest.

Week of July 17, 1998

YANGON As a series of sensitive anniversaries of political events approaches, the government accused opposition groups of trying to sow panic. Aung San Suu Kyi, leader of the opposition National League for Democracy, was kept from meeting supporters outside the capital. University exams, the first since campuses were reopened after unrest in December 1996, were reportedly postponed. Thailand expressed concern that political tension could erupt and urged restraint by both the Y angon junta and opposition parties.


As we predicted in our June 5 issue, following secret tripartite talks between exiled Burmese leaders and the Thai and Australian governments, Myanmar resistance "cabinet ministers" Maung Maung Aye, Teddy Buri, Sann Aung, Thein Oo and other senior figures decamped to Sydney in mid-June. This exodus has removed Thailand as a base for the exiled Burmese government - and severe ly dented its clout as a resistance movement. Said one sympathetic academic: "The [anti-government] movement in Thailand is now leaderless." Its ministers are scattered in Australia, India and the U.S. Sympathetic diplomats in Bangkok, whose governments gave financial aid to the exiles in the past, are miffed by their clandestine departure and concerned about the funds they have been giving them. And now the Thais fear that the departure of the leadership could set a precedent for the thousands of ordinary Myanmar refugees along the Thai border, who might feel they can now apply for refugee status in Australia.

Week of July 10, 1998

YANGON The ruling military junta emphatically denied reports of the death of 87-year-old strongman Ne Win, who ruled the country from 1962 to 1988.

Week of June 26, 1998


ON MAY 26 AND 27, Japan's deputy foreign minister Haraguchi Koichi met in quick succession with Myanmar's Gen. David Abel and the de facto top man in the junta, Lt.-Gen. Khin Nyunt. Haraguchi delivered a letter from PM Hashimoto Ryutaro stating that Japan was pleased to resume aid to Myanmar, but added that it hoped the government would continue to pursue political reform. It said that a more flexible attitude in allow ing the National League for Democracy to hold its anniversary celebration would be admirable.

The generals are nothing if not realists - realists short of money. On the evening of May 26 - and without reference to a prior warning not to hold the meeting - a curt new message was sent out giving the NLD approval to hold a ceremony marking the eighth anniversary of "their election." The NLD did, and a week later its leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, was allowed to host a reception at her residence for the visiting l eaders of several ASEAN women's groups. A Yangon Spring? Don't bet on it. Even after the junta's change of heart, plans for the emigration to Australia of the Thai-based leaders of the so-called Burmese government-in-exile went ahead at a June 12 meeting in Bangkok between Thai and Australian officials. As for Japan, it agreed to give Myanmar 2 billion yen in debt relief and has further plans for a 600 million yen grant for farm machinery.

Week of June 5, 1998

YANGON: The military government agreed to allow the opposition National League for Democracy to hold a gathering to mark its 1990 election victory. The junta granted the permission one day before the meeting was scheduled to start.

Week of April 10, 1998

On Armed Forces Day on March 27, senior general Than Shwe extended an olive branch to the last holdout minority group, the Karen National Union, and also indirectly to Aung SanSuu Kyi's National League for Democracy. He referred to "above-ground" political parties as "our citizens" with differing "beliefs and commitments." He called for all parties to drop their grudges and strive for unity.

Week of April 3, 1998

MYANMAR-THAILAND Bangkok may change its policy and allow the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees to help shelter 90,000 refugees from military-run Myanmar. The decision came after recent attacks by Burmese troops and their allies on camps in northwestern Thailand.

Week of March 27, 1998

Tectonic Shift in Myanmar

Now that Myanmar is an ASEANmember, it is coming under pressure to fall into line with other member-countries' notions of acceptable behavior - although ASEAN diplomats insist they do not interfere in each other's internal affairs. But there is increasing activity, and possibly some movement, to break Myanmar out of its internal political stalemate. Between February and April, five senior ASEAN government officials will have made the trek to Yangon. Malaysian Foreign Minister Abdullah Badawi last week accompanied PMMahathir Mohamad, meeting with members of the ruling State Peace and Development Council (SPDC) and later with four top leaders - including Aung San Suu Kyi - of the opposition National League for Democracy (NLD).

There is growing evidence of strong divisions in the NLD, with Suu Kyi wavering but leaning toward a group that favors some sort of rapprochement with the SPDC. Last month, she did not deny the possibility of a power-sharing arrangement with the generals. But exiled student leaders and other hardline oppositionists (including, some say, the 40 alleged activists arrested a few weeks ago), are said to be vehemently against cutting any deal with the junta.

Week of March 20, 1998

The U.S. State Department says the country continues to be the world's largest source of illicit opium and heroin, despite eradication efforts. Production declined slightly from 1996 levels. The 1997 crop estimates indicate there were 155,150 hectares under opium poppy cultivation, which could yield an estimated 197 metric tons of heroin.

Week of February 6, 1998

Keeping Tight Reins on Burmese Officials

W hen Myanmar's former dictator Ne Win visited his old friend President Suharto in September, he was reportedly told that then Burmese commerce minister Tun Kyi had been involved in arranging a large delivery of fuel from Pertamina, Indonesia's national oil company, and that payment had not been received. Within weeks of Ne Win's return to Y angon, Tun Kyi was sacked and is currently in detention pending the outcome of investigations into his activities. Which activities are not exactly known. Several members of his family and friends were also indicted. Last week, his daughter Kyi Kyi Than and her husband Khin Maung Zaw fled to Thailand with their children to escape prosecution. A well-known Yangon nightclub, Mr. Guitar, run by Tun Kyi's daughter-in-law was also shut down.

Myanmar does have some oil of its own - fields around Magway supply a bout 10,000 barrels a day, and are still under development. Deputy energy minister Tin Tun - who, by the way, denies that Myanmar bought the disputed oil from Indonesia or that bills were left unpaid - says the country needs only 20,000 barrels daily right now; industry sources say it is more like 30,000. Either way, where does the money to buy the extra fuel come from? One of the junta's main trading partners, South Korea, recently stepped in to help Yangon settle the outstanding bill with Jakarta. But giv en Seoul's own problems, that is unlikely to happen again. Meanwhile, the junta is taking no chances: as part of a government-wide corruption crackdown, top bureaucrats and ministers, especially in the commerce sector, are under tight observation.

Week of January 30, 1998

A Growing Rift Within the NLD

There are frequent reports about splits and maneuverings within Myanmar's junta, the State Peace and Development Council, but little has been written about similar divisions within the opposition National League for Democracy (NLD). Often, information that does emerge is presumed to be fabricated by the junta in an attempt to discredit the party's high -profile leader Aung San Suu Kyi. Still, diplomats and businessmen in Yangon who have contacts within both the government and the NLD are reporting apparent new strains in the party's hierarchy.

The NLD is ostensibly led by its elderly and somewhat reclusive chairman Aung Shwe, but real power rests with the charismatic Suu Kyi, who is increasingly accused of being haughty and intolerant of criticism. Other NLD leaders are, like Aung Shwe, getting older and there is a feeling among some younger members tha t the leadership's attitudes are becoming ossified.

The unease is multiplied by reports from NLD sources within Suu Kyi's compound about her relationship with a younger party member, David Hla Myint, 36, who was elected for the NLD from the Irrawaddy division in the 1990 elections. The closeness between the two has reportedly upset senior party men like vice chairman Kyi Maung, 79, as well as diplomats and local Burmese sympathetic to her cause. Said one Asian diplomat: "It is the policy differences betwe en some of the party leaders that is really most worrying, but it is the other thing that would make most headlines and could be fatal to her in my country." Many feel the allegations may be just another junta attempt to discredit Suu Kyi, while some with close party ties say they are inclined to believe the claims. "The information is from normally reliable NLD sources," said another diplomat.

Week of January 16, 1998

That ASEAN-EU Hassle

Don't expect the postponed meeting between the European Union and ASEAN to come about any time soon. The session was canceled in November because the Europeans refused to sit at the table with new ASEAN member Myanmar, although they have little trouble breaking bread with other authoritarian Southeast Asian regimes. It was rescheduled for February, but both sides have dug in their heels even deeper o n the Myanmar question. And Thailand - which was to host the meeting - is quietly relieved not to have to carry any additional expenses these days. The Thais are so strapped for cash that for the coming year they intend to defer many diplomatic postings overseas just to save a few million dollars.

Few ASEAN states see much mileage in getting together with the Europeans as a group anyway. All sides seem to do well enough handling trade and diplomatic issues bilaterally. And as for ASEAN's concern that Myan mar not be isolated, Burmese officials in Yangon say the EU policy of not granting visas to officials working for the ruling State Peace and Development Council is usually not enforced. Whenever they request visas for European countries, they seem to get them with little delay.

News from Myanmar in 1997

News from Myanmar in 1996

News from Myanmar in 1995

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This edition's table of contents | Asiaweek home



U.S. secretary of state says China should be 'tolerant'

Philippine government denies Estrada's claim to presidency

Faith, madness, magic mix at sacred Hindu festival

Land mine explosion kills 11 Sri Lankan soldiers

Japan claims StarLink found in U.S. corn sample

Thai party announces first coalition partner


COVER: President Joseph Estrada gives in to the chanting crowds on the streets of Manila and agrees to make room for his Vice President

THAILAND: Twin teenage warriors turn themselves in to Bangkok officials

CHINA: Despite official vilification, hip Chinese dig Lamaist culture

PHOTO ESSAY: Estrada Calls Snap Election

WEB-ONLY INTERVIEW: Jimmy Lai on feeling lucky -- and why he's committed to the island state


COVER: The DoCoMo generation - Japan's leading mobile phone company goes global

Bandwidth Boom: Racing to wire - how underseas cable systems may yet fall short

TAIWAN: Party intrigues add to Chen Shui-bian's woes

JAPAN: Japan's ruling party crushes a rebel at a cost

SINGAPORE: Singaporeans need to have more babies. But success breeds selfishness

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