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Borderline News

(This report comes to us from a border source. -BurmaNet Editor)

Index of Basic Commodity Prices in Rangoon and Pa'an (the Capital City of
Karen State).

Second week of March '98.

(All prices are in Kyat).

Item    Quantity        Rangoon Pa'an

rice - low-quality, unbroken 8 condensed milk tins 80   72
cooking oil - standard quality 1.0 kg   100     140
cooking oil - "Meizan" brand 1.0 kg     310     360
onions  1.6 kg  150     120
garlic  1.6 kg  200     160
fish paste      1.6 kg  180     200
catfish 1.0 kg  100     n/a
chillies - dry  1.6 kg  300     250
diesel petroleum (official)     1.0 gallon      180     180
diesel petroleum (black market) 1.0 gallon      250     380

* Petrol is severely rationed at present. The daily allowance is 3 gallons,
which is not enough for many people, especially those who operate transport
and generators, etc. Accordingly there is a thriving black market with much
higher prices.

* The exchange rate at the time was: US$ 1.00 = 270 Kyat
FEC 1.00 = 250 Kyat
FEC is the Foreign Exchange Certificate equivalent to US$ 1.00. They
provide a source of income to the Burmese regime when cashed into banks by
local businesses as 10% of their value is exchanged into Kyat at the
official exchange rate of US$ 1.00 = 6 Kyat. Tourists have to exchange US$
300.00 for FECs upon arrival at Rangoon Airport. Tourists leaving Burma can
only cash in their remaining FECs if they amount to over US$ 200.00.

Borderline News

Observations in Pa'an, the Capital City of Karen State, Burma. March '98

* Pa'an is a busy town, which is expanding rapidly. It plays an important
role as a trading point and transport centre for the surrounding areas and
further afield, especially as the ever-popular Tha Ma Nya Buddhist
community lies only about an hour's drive away to the east. There is a
constant flow of special Tha Ma Nya buses plying the road between Pa'an and
the religious site every day, and many Burmese visitors arriving in Pa'an
are only in transit on their way to the Buddhist village. Nonetheless it
provides a lot of business and creates an atmosphere of constant movement
in the town. The bus fare is 70 Kyat.

* There are significant Burman and Muslim sections within Pa'an's
population. Burmese seems to be the main language used in town, with some
Pwo Karen and a little Sgaw Karen being spoken. The 'motorcycle and
Marlboro' culture is starting to make its presence felt amongst the young
people, but further from the centre, especially in the outskirts to the
north east, life still retains a village atmosphere with bumpy earthen
tracks, communal water wells, and houses and their contents generally made
from local natural materials. Karen languages are spoken more in these
areas. Farmers coming into town on horse and cart to sell their wares are a
common sight.

* Life in the town seems to be busy but surprisingly relaxed. This however
does not necessarily reflect the deeper feelings of the residents, which
are no doubt kept hidden. The Police Station is quite foreboding, with
small sniper positions cut into the upper storey's otherwise windowless,
wooden panelling, and Light Infantry Division 22 has a large base near to
the town centre. But despite this, there was little sign of an overt
military presence at the time. Locals said "the troops have gone on duty
into the surrounding area."

* Apart from the Police Station, one of the largest buildings in the town
centre is the Mosque, which has a well-attended Muslim school across the
road. The two churches in Pa'an were not prominent - the Baptist church
being located on the outskirts, near the lake to the south. A number of
monasteries were located around the town.

* It seems that the allegiance to a particular group is quite important for
some in Pa'an. Almost all public transport and some private vehicles
display flags of a particular group. The most common are the Tha Ma Nya
flag (one red and one yellow circle on a white background), a Buddhist
flag, which locals said was specifically used to designate the DKBA (five
vertical stripes of (L-R) blue, yellow, red, white, and purple, with the
same stripes laid horizontally to the right side of the purple stripe), and
the SPDC-official Kayin (Karen) flag (three horizontal stripes of (T-B)
blue, white, and red, with a white star in the top left corner). Even the
KNU flag (three horizontal stripes of (T-B) blue, white, and red, with a
blue and red sunrise in the top left corner) could be seen on some public
and private vehicles. This flag-flying, however, was only really visible on
vehicles - houses generally didn't display any allegiance.

* Occasionally, groups of armed DKBA soldiers riding on large transport
trucks and pick-ups would speed through the town, with flags and bandanas
flying, heading east. Locals gave the impression of them being a lawless,
yet accepted, element of life in the area. There are a number of Mon
residents in Pa'an, and a New Mon State Party vehicle travelled around town
with the initials "NMSP" blazoned in large letters on its side.

* There is currently road work taking place on the main street near to the
clock tower in the town centre. The road is being resurfaced by a gang of
10-15 young girls, all aged between 12 and 16 years old. They are paid 100
Kyat for their daily 10 hour shift (8:00 am to 6:00 pm), and their work
consists of boiling tar in large oil drums, laying and smoothing it onto
the road, and then overlaying it with grit.

* Also near the clock tower is a local Council billboard, announcing
certain 'facts' about Karen State in the English language, for example:
Area - 11,730 square miles
Population - 1,318,162 (1997)
Kayin State Day - November 7th (since 1956)
National New Year - 1st waxing moon of Pyatho
National Song - 'Hplone So Po Tar Khu'

* There is a great amount of house building taking place on the outskirts
of Pa'an, along both sides of the road that approaches Pa'an from the south
(which is the route taken when coming from Rangoon/Thaton). All the new
houses along this 2-3 km stretch of road are being built in similar design
from brick and cement. The plots of land lie side by side, and are also
similar both in shape and size. Most of the building is at the same stage
of development. It's a strange sight considering that the few existing
houses along the road are almost all exclusively bamboo and wood, and lie
in a more random, village-like fashion. Whether this a part of a local
Council beautification policy, a project to house a large group of people
being resettled, or some other programme, it certainly appears to be a
coordinated housing plan.

* About 15 kms east along the road towards Tha Ma Nya, a new pagoda is
being built. Each vehicle is persuaded to stop by young boys and girls
standing in the road shaking ornate aluminium alms bowls. Travellers seem
quite willing to comply with the request for donations for the pagoda. On
the other side of the road, there is a small shaded area with a table and
chairs. Here, a framed photograph of U Thuzana (the DKBA leading monk)
stands prominently in the middle of the table surrounded by Buddhist
paraphernalia, while one elder broadcasts Buddhist chants through a
loudspeaker and amasses the money from the collectors.

* The Pa'an bridge that spans the Salween River to the south west of the
town is currently open from 6:00 am to 6:00 pm daily. Checkpoints on either
side of the bridge are operated by the Burmese Military. All baggage on
public buses going to Rangoon are searched thoroughly. There is a DKBA
checkpoint at a major intersection 5 kms further west on the road to
Thaton, where identification cards are randomly checked.

* There are currently at least four guest houses in town, generally
charging 300 Kyat for a single room and 400 Kyat for a double. Tourists are
restricted from travelling more than 25 kms from town.

* If the Buddhist flag referred to earlier does indeed specifically
designate the DKBA, then the DKBA's presence in the area is quite
prominent. A number of the monasteries displayed these flags, while others
did not, and the flags could be seen at various strategic points and on
buildings both in the town and in surrounding areas.
In fact, on Wednesday March 11th, the day prior to the full moon, there
were several temporary pitches set up on the pavements around Bogyoke Aung
San Street in Rangoon, highly decorated with these flags, playing recorded
Buddhist speeches, and eagerly collecting donations from passers-by. There
was no visible reference to U Thuzana though. The upstairs storeys of
Universal Concord Co. Ltd on Phone Gyee Street (between Mahabandoola and
Strand Roads) was also broadcasting loud Buddhist chants and flying the
same flags from across its facade and the top of the building. The
following day both these activities had ceased.
It seems hard to believe that the DKBA has such a presence in the Capital,
in which case the flag is probably a general Buddhist symbol. If anyone can
provide information about the significance of this flag (five vertical
stripes of (from L to R) blue, yellow, red, white, and purple, with the
same stripes laid horizontally (from T to B) to the right side of the
purple stripe), please contact us at the following address, and we shall
pass it on to the author of this article.

Borderline News