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Burma 19 March 2003

Regime bans magazine articles by historian


The Censorship Office banned publication in early March of articles by Burmese historian Than Tun. The move is thought to be linked with his remarks on the US-based Radio Free Asia about the recent discovery of three white elephants in western Burma. The military regime said they were a very good sign of the country’s future prosperity, but Than Tun said there was no connection between them and national development. Burma is in deep economic crisis. The magazine Irrawaddy, published in Thailand, said the move could be due to articles by the historian in the monthly Klaya about how Burma was governed in the 18th century. Censors may have spotted references to how the country was currently being run by the army, it said.

Military junta bans reporting on banking crisis


A month-old news blackout imposed by the military junta on a crisis in Burma’s banking system is flagrant violation of the right of the Burmese people to be freely informed, Reporters Without Borders (Reporters sans frontières) and the Burma Media Association (BMA) said today. Newspaper editors have been threatened with reprisals if they violate the ban.

"The Burmese government, one of the few in the world to impose prior censorship on privately-owned publications, has yet again shown its inability to accept the free flow of economic news," the two organisations said, reiterating their call for an immediate end to news censorship.

The Literary Works Scrutinising Committee (LWSC), the interior ministry offshoot responsible for censorship, summoned the editors of Burma’s main privately-owned newspapers to a meeting on 19 February at which they were threatened with reprisals if they published any reports about the serious banking crisis. This news blackout would prevent the crisis from being exacerbated and put a stop to rumours, officials said.

Journalists based in Rangoon told Reporters Without Borders and the BMA in the past few days that it was still impossible for them to report on the banking crisis. "I wrote three stories on the subject and they were all rejected. It’s very frustrating," one said. No report has appeared on the crisis, not even in the privately-owned English-language Myanmar Times.

The banking crisis was set off by the government’s decision to close a dozen savings and loan institutions that were offering better interest rates than the banks. On 20 February, the central bank limited transfers and cash withdrawals from the country’s 20 banks. Hundreds of Burmese line up outside banks every day, especially the Asia Wealth Bank, in an attempt to make cash withdrawals on their savings.

A serious financial crisis in 1988 set off the first demonstrations that led to the emergence of the pro-democracy movement led by Aung San Suu Kyi.

Burmese language foreign radio stations meanwhile reported that the authorities had banned the publication of any reports about the death on February 17 of 14 students in a bus crash on the road from Syriam to Rangoon.

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