Did Foreign Minister Alexander
Downer intervene in
a dispute with the Burmese military Government over its ownership move against
the partly-Australian-owned weekly newspaper, the Myanmar Times, by writing a
letter to the Burmese government? He did according to a recent Bangkok Post report.

Downer denies the claim, but his spokesman Chris Kenny
confirmed that the Australian embassy in Yangon
(Rangoon) “has been
involved, to support the rights of Australian businesses.”

An Australian consortium which
owns 49% of the newspaper is headed by the Myanmar Times‘s CEO Ross Dunkley, a
Walkley-winning Perth journalist who
started a business press in Vietnam and then sold it
to Australian Consolidated Press. Another Australian investor is the Clough
Engineering firm of Perth, and board of
directors meetings were often held in Perth.

Two months ago, the Burmese
military regime began moves to seize the paper, which was founded in February
2000 by Dunkley and U Myat (Sonny) Swe, the son of a senior Burmese military
intelligence officer, Brigadier General
Thein Swe, a close confidant of the recently-ousted Prime Minister and Chief of
Military Intelligence Khin Nyunt.

Thein Swe headed the military
intelligence bureau that became the official censor of the Myanmar Times,
against the wishes of the Ministry of Information.

Sonny Swe and U Pyone Maung
Maung, a prominent Burmese businessman also closely connected to Khin Nyunt,
owned 51% of the newspaper.

In September 2003, the Prime
Minister gave the Times the go-ahead to publish a daily newspaper in opposition
to the military regime’s Stalinist-style propaganda English-language daily, the
New Light of Myanmar.

But a year later, in October
2004, just as the Times moved into swanky new downtown
Rangoon premises, the
Burmese top dog, Senior General Than Shwe purged all military intelligence
officers, shutting down the organisation. Many senior MI officers were jailed
including Brigadier General Thein Swe (152 years) and PM Khin Nyunt (44 years
house detention.)

Shortly after the MI purge,
Sonny Swe was arrested at Mandalay airport and
sentenced to 14 years prison for bypassing official
censorship.

After Sonny Swe’s imprisonment,
his wife, Yamin Htin Aung, took over the shares and directorship of the
company.

But recently, she was forced
to resign by Burma’s Minister of
Information General Kyaw Hsan after he threatened to nationalise the
paper.

Hsan is ridding the paper of
anyone connected with military intelligence and has nominated a favoured buyer,
a small scale publisher Dr Tin Tun Oo who tendered a “low ball
bid.”

Ross Dunkley has been trying
to organise a consortium of Burmese investors who are “non-military men,” and in
early September he circulated a document about the attempted takeover stating
that the “foreign side” has legal rights under its Shareholders Agreements and
The Myanmar Companies Act.

It is believed the Burmese military will bring
the matter to a head in the next few days and Ross Dunkley already has an exit
plan – a publishing venture in Kabul.