Written by U Ne Oo on 1997-12-03
Following is the communication from Australian Department of Foreign Affairs in regards to the Australian Government's activities on Burmctivities on Burma. It has been the case that current Australian Government(Conservative Coalition), generally, is not praised well for the lack of enthusiasm in regional diplomacy. Notwithstanding such Government's pre-occupations with domestic agendas, the Department of Foreign Affairs being able to do whatever it can to help Burma democracy movement. This in no doubt is as a result of lobbying efforts by our pro-democracy groups and supporters in Australia. My special thanks goes to the people of Stirling (Adelaide, South Austrade, South Australia) who in the past year have made every effort to raise Burma concerns with their Member of Parliament-Elect: The Hon. Alexander Downer.
The letter mention something about the further study for Burmese refugees in Thailand. I certainly have made enquiries about the program at the local AusAID office. Nothing concrete was told, but it said a small program (English Language ?) currently running in Thailand. The program seems likely to be an extension of the existing program. Wouldn't that be nice if a few more activist-students joining BurmaNet in the future?
With best regards, U Ne Oo.
DEPARTMENT OF FOREIGN AFFAIRS AND TRADE
CANBERRA ACT 0221
22 October 1997
Dr U Ne Oo
18 Shannon Place
ADELAIDE SA 5000
Dear Dr U Ne Oo
Thank you for your letter of 14 October 1997 to the Minister for Foreign Affairs expressing concern about the political and human rights situation in Burma. Mr Downer has asked me to reply on his behalf.
Mr Downer fully shares your cly on his behalf.
Mr Downer fully shares your concern about the abysmal human rights situation in Burma and the failure of the SLORC to make progress towards the restoration of democratic government. The Government has in place many restrictions on our dealings with the SLORC, including the suspension of government-to-government development assistance and a ban on defence exports. We have a policy of neither encouraging nor discouraging trade and investment with Burma. We have made our concerns on these issues clear to the SLORC on a number of occasions and we will continue to do so. Mr Downer has repeatedly called on the Government of Burma to open a genuine process leading to political reform involving all the main players - the SLORC, leaders of political parties represented in the election and representatives of the ethnic minorities. Most recently, at the UN General Assembly in early October and at the ASEAN meeting in Kuala Lumpur in late July, Mr Downer raised human rights issues with Burmese Foreign Minister Ohn Gyaw and urged the SLORC to build on its tentative SLORC to build on its tentative contact with the National League for Democracy (NLD) over recent months.
The Government has also devoted much effort to Burma in our regional and multilateral diplomacy. In particular, we have urged ASEAN countries to use their new relationship with Burmese leaders to encourage change in Burma and an improvement in the human rights situation there. Mr Downer has taken every possible opportunity to raise the Australian Government's concerns about the situation in Burma in international fora, most recently at the United Nations General Assembly, the ASEAN PMC, the ASEAN Regional Forum and in his meetings with ASEAN and other Foreign Ministers in the margins of these meetings. While we will work with Burma within ASEAN, we will continue to make known bilaterally to the Burmese Government our concerns about developments in Burma. Similarly, in multilateral fora, such as the United Nations General Assembly and the Commission on Human Rights, we have worked, and will continue to work, with other like-minded countries to with other like-minded countries to produce tough consensus resolutions on Burma. Be assured, Australia will once again be working towards a credible and strong resolution on Burma wihicn we can co-sponsor at this year's General Assembly.
The Government also shares your particular concern about the safety of ethnic minorities living astride the Thai-Burma border. In mid-February this year Mr Downer deplored attacks on the refugee camps on the Thai side and called on the Burmese Government to ensure that no further attacks occurred. Our Embasccurred. Our Embassies in Bangkok and Rangoon also made representations on this issue at the time. We understand that some Karen refugees were repatriated from Thai areas near Kanchnaburi in February but returned to areas in Burma well south of the fighting zone. During the subsequent visit to Australia in late February, Thai Foreign Minister Prachuab, gave reassurances that no one would be repatriated involuntarily and these have recently been reiterated to us by Thai officials. Along with other members of the international communinational community, the Australian Government will continue to seek assurances from the Thai government that temporary sanctuary will continue to be extended to civilian Karen and other refugees as long as it is unsafe for then to return to Burma.
Reflecting the Government's on-going strong interest in this issue, in September Mr Downer instructed senior officials from our Embassy in Bangkok to once again travel to a widely representative group of border camps to observe first-hand the current situation facing Karen and ot facing Karen and other ethnic minority peoples living there. There they spoke to representatives of the Karenni, Karen and Shan, to Thai officials and to NGOs involved in looking after these camps. their conclusions were that while some anecdotal evidence of forced repatriation continues, international attention and visits to the camps by foreign observers have had a salutary effect on local officials and policy. As a result, the displaced people involved now feel less likely to be forcibly repatriated than before. At the same time, although conditions in many of the camps are comparatively good by international standards, there is scope for improvement, particularly in those camps in the South.
With this in mind, we will continue to do what we can to improve the material conditions of refugees living in these camps. In March this year Mr Downer announced the grant of an additional $1.3 million in humanitarian relief for the welfare of the Karen refugees. Further to this, you will be pleased to hear that AusAID is currently working witat AusAID is currently working with an Australian Non-Government Organisation to develop a distance education program for refugees from Burma still living in camps on the Thai/Burma border. This program, which is expected to commence in 1998, will provide up to 200 Burmese refugees access to higher education in Australia.
Because Mr Downer shares your frustration with the lack of progress in Burma, he continues to look for practical and creative ways to bring about democracy and greater respect for human rights there. In this context, he re this context, he recently sent a senior official of his department (Mr John Dauth) as his Special Envoy to Rangoon from 10-14 September to follow up on his discussions with Burmese foreign Minister Ohn Gyaw at the ASEAN meeting. Specifically, he asked Mr Dauth to find out directly from the SLORC at as high a level as possible what it proposes to do about taking forward the process of political reform in two key areas: a roadmap for constitutional reform and serious intent to engage with the NLD. Mr Downer also asked Mr Dauth to tell r Dauth to tell the Burmese Government that we looked to them to make tangible progress towards democratic institutions and the better observance on human rights so that they might in future have more normal relations with Australian and other countries.
In Rangoon, Mr Dauth was able to deliver Mr Downer's message to a range of senior members of the Government, notably, one of the top four leaders of the regime, Secretary-1 of the State Law and Order Restoration Council (SLORC), Lt-Khin Nyunt, but also five other key minisve other key ministers, including those responsible for Home Affairs, Foreign Affairs, Border Areas/National Races and Development Affairs, Forestry and national Planning and Economic Development. Mr Dauth also met the Attorney General, Chief Justice and a range of very senior officials. the visit allowed him to raise the Australian Government's concerns about the human rights situation in Burma directly with the key players responsible for these policies. It was therefore the best opportunity Australia has ever had to register our to register our concerns directly with the SLORC. Mr Dauth came away with no doubt that the Burmese understand the direction in which we want them to move. Throughout this process, we have stayed in close touch with the General Secretary of the National League for Democracy (NLD), Daw Aung San Suu KYi and we will continue to inform and consult her about our Burma policy.
Since Mr Dauth's visit, Mr Downer has publicly welcomed the decision of the SLORC to allow the NLD to hold a Congress on 27-28 September, the ninth anniveer, the ninth anniversary of the formation of the NLD in 1988. He has acknowledged it as a definite step forward since three provious attempts by the NLD to meet since May last year were prevented or hindered. At the same time, he noted that we should not forget that this concession takes place against a background of continuing restrictions on the party's activity over the past year and a half. In this context he called on the SLORC to build on this setp to bring about national reconciliation.
While it is still too early to sstill too early to say one way or the other what will come to this contact, Mr Downer believes we owe it to the Burmese people to remain alive to creative ways to encourage reform and reconciliation in that country.
Sd. Jon Philp
Acting Assistant Secretary
Mainland South East Asia Branch
Letter from The Hon. Chris Schacht
PARLIAMENT OF AUSTRALIA - THE SENATE
OFFICE OF SENATOR CHRIS SCHACHT
3 NOVEMBER 1997
Dr U Ne Oo
18 Shannon Place
ADELAIDE SA 5000
Dear Dr U Ne Oo
Thank you for your letter of 14 October 1997, enclosing the report "BURMA: On the road to peace" and a letter to HE Mr Nennadiy Udovenko. I read both of them with interest.
Thank you keeping me informed on this important issue.
Sd. Chris Schacht
Labor Senator for South Australia