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Burma Related News - May 01, 2003.



 
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BURMA RELATED NEWS - May 01, 2003.

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HEADLINES

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AFP - Powell hits out at "despotic" Myanmar

AFP - Japan ex-PM holds talks with Myanmar military leader

AFP - Media watchdog says press freedom took sharp downturn in 2002

Asia Pulse - Asean Leaders Agree on 6-Point Plan to Control Sars Spread

AP - N Korean Crisis Dominates Plans For Asian Security Mtg

Reuters - US democracy expert teaches Venezuelan opposition

The Star - Junta leader blames 'neocolonialists' for discrediting Myanmar

Friends of the Earth - KUONI TRAVEL PULLS OUT OF BURMA

ABC online - US to raise Burma concerns with ASEAN allies

The Nation - Thailand, neighbours agree on jobs strategy

Asian Tribune - Jacob Makes Clothes in Burma: Montreal business goes against a government recommendation

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Powell hits out at "despotic" Myanmar
Wed Apr 30, 5:28 PM ET

WASHINGTON (AFP) - US Secretary of State Colin Powell condemned Myanmar as "despotic" but admitted that it would be a tough task to "crack the will" of its military regime.

Powell told a Senate committee he would work with US allies in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) to apply pressure to the junta in Yangon, which is locked in a bitter struggle with democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

He said he will discuss the situation in Myanmar with ASEAN counterparts at regional security meetings in the Cambodian capital Phnom Penh Cambodia in June.
Myanmar remains a member of the ASEAN bloc.

"It is a despotic regime and we condemn its policies, and we condemn the manner in which they have kept Aung San Suu Kyi away from the political process and participation in civil society and civil life.

Aung San Suu Kyi is the Myanmar opposition leader whom Yangon's ruling junta released from house arrest last May.

"It has been difficult to find a solution to crack the will of this ruling regime. We must continue to work within the UN framework, continuing to work with our Asian partners," Powell said.

The Secretary of State was asked by Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, a staunch supporter of Myanmar democracy campaigners, whether ASEAN members really cared about pressing Myanmar towards democratic reform.

"They do, but they're at a loss also as to what to do... they have not yet generated the collective political will to apply the kind of pressure that might change the nature of this regime or the regime itself," Powell said.

The United States and the European Union maintain a raft of economic and political sanctions against Myanmar, but ASEAN states have preferred a policy of "constructive engagement" staying faithful to their creed of non-interference in one another's internal affairs.

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Japan ex-PM holds talks with Myanmar military leader

Thurs May 1, 5:26 PM ET

YANGON, May 1 (AFP) - Former Japanese prime minister Yoshiro Mori concluded a three-day visit to Myanmar Thursday during which he held a rare lengthy meeting with military ruler Senior General Than Shwe, officials and diplomatic sources said.

Japan is the biggest aid donor to Myanmar and Mori, who resigned as premier in 2001 but remains an MP, led an 11-member team to the Southeast Asian state to discuss economic ties and other bilateral issues.

"This is just a further indication of the ongoing Myanmar-Japan cooperation process," a Japanese embassy source told AFP.

He also confirmed Mori's one-hour meeting Wednesday night with Than Shwe, the length of which strongly suggests the discussions went far beyond the typical visit paid to the general.

"It was not just a mere courtesy call," the embassy source added.

Mori also held talks with General Khin Nyunt, the number three in the ruling State Peace and Development Council and chief of military intelligence, as well as Foreign Minister Win Aung, government sources said.

On Wednesday Mori took in a tour of Yangon, stopping at schools as well as Yangon's anti-drugs museum, while Thursday saw him visit a war cemetery outside the capital as well as a nurses training college built with Japanese aid.

Japan suspended all but a small amount of humanitarian aid in the aftermath of a 1988 military coup in Myanmar and crackdown on pro-democracy demonstrators, but the flow of funds resumed in 1994.

In February Japan's overseas aid agency JICA said it planned to spend about 20 million dollars in Myanmar in the fiscal year beginning last month despite a reduction in its overall budget.

Despite no longer being Japan's leader, Mori was accorded all the courtesy due a visiting head of state, reflecting the importance Myanmar attaches to relations with its largest benefactor.

Yangon-based diplomats said there was speculation that Mori had come to Myanmar in an effort to urge Than Shwe to make changes to the impoverished country's policies.

Myanmar government sources said they did not expect any dramatic policy change or deepening of Japanese assistance to Yangon as a result of the visit.

In what was seen as a crucial meeting last August between Myanmar pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi and Japan Foreign Minister Yoriko Kawaguchi, Suu Kyi told the minister she would no longer oppose foreign aid provided it fell within strict guidelines.

Mori was not scheduled to meet with the Aung San Suu Kyi on his trip, sources said. He was was due to leave Myanmar later Thursday.

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Media watchdog says press freedom took sharp downturn in 2002

PARIS, April 30 (AFP) - Freedom of the press hit new lows in 2002, watchdog group Reporters without Borders (RSF) said in its scathing annual report, with the number of journalists assaulted or threatened doubling since 2001.

"Press freedom is not guaranteed in more than half of the world's countries, so we must continue to be vigilant in 2003," according to the report, released to coincide with the 13th World Press Freedom Day on Saturday.

While the number of journalists killed went down from 31 in 2001 to 25 in 2002, the number of reporters detained went up by 40 percent and twice as many were physically attacked or threatened than in 2001, the group says.

Over the course of the year, "at least 1,420 journalists were beaten, abducted, charged by the police, harassed or threatened with being killed," the Paris-based organization notes.

RSF also alleges that at least half "were murdered by regime henchmen, armed groups, organized crime figures or agents of powerful interests the victims angered."

The group called for the immediate release of the 121 journalists in prison as of January 1, including 18 behind bars in Eritrea, another 18 in Nepal, 16 in Myanmar, 12 in China and 10 in Iran.

Asia proved to be the most dangerous continent for journalists -- with 11 killed there in 2002 -- and the most repressive, with the highest number of reporters attacked, threated, arrested, imprisoned and censored.

The group lamented the fact that in 2002, "the press freedom gap between Europe and the former Soviet republics widened significantly."

The Americas offer a mixed bag with respect to press freedoms: while the Dominican Republic, Ecuador, the United States and Uruguay have "broadly respected" media rights, Colombia and Cuba were black spots in 2002, RSF says.

The situation in Africa revealed some rays of hope, with Benin, Botswana, Cape Verde, Mali, Mauritius and South Africa lauded for being particularly respectful of the rights of journalists.

"It was further proof that respect for freedom of _expression_ is not limited to the developed, western countries, that respect for human rights is above all a question of political will," the group says.

But RSF hit out at other countries, saying "some African leaders despise journalists" and citing Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe as the "most striking example".

Mugabe, Eritrean President Issaias Afeworki, Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi and Rwandan President Paul Kagame are among the African leaders on RSF's hit list of "press freedom predators".

Also to coincide with World Press Freedom Day, RSF added some new names to the list, which includes 42 heads of state, ministers, armed guerrilla groups and security forces accused of targetting reporters.

New faces in the "who's who" of press enemies include Nepal's King Gyanendra, Liberian President Charles Taylor, Singapore Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong and Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev.

In a statement, Reporters without Borders called early figures for 2003 "worrying". Since the start of the US-led war in Iraq on March 20, more than a dozen journalists have been killed.

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Thursday May 1, 9:48 AM
Asean Leaders Agree on 6-Point Plan to Control Sars Spread

BANGKOK, May 1 Asia Pulse - The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) concluded its one-day summit on the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, agreeing on a six-point plan to control the outbreak of the deadly disease that have killed more than 350 people and infected 5,500 in nearly 30 countries.

The ten leaders, along with China Prime Minister Wen Jiabao, also agreed to impose rigid screenings of international travelers with strict pre-departure and arrival checks at airports and ports across the region.

The Asean leaders also announced an emergency international hotline on SARS, the employment of an Asean Emergency Health Fund that would institute, among other things, an exchange of information and research.

The measures, released in a joint statement by Asean and China, direct its health and other relevant ministers to:

- Undertake the exchange information on the latest developments of SARS, including its control and treatment and its related study and research, through linking China's SARS information network and the Asean SARS Containment Information Network, based on unified rules, standards and methods.

- Appoint a focal/contact point in every country for the routine exchange of information as part of a hotline network to facilitate communication in an emergency, carry out cooperative research and training programs focusing on SARS spread patterns, SARS pathology and the care and treatment of severe SARS cases.

- Jointly sponsor a high-level international symposium on SARS control and treatment in China as soon as possible.

- Sponsor a special symposium to assess the political, security, economic and other possible impact of SARS on this region and come up with regional counter-measures to address the impacts; and work to take rigorous measures for immigration and customs control to prevent the spread of SARS, including for example, pre-departure and arrival screening and better flight management.

A meeting will be held soon by officials from immigration and health authorities for such purposes.

Philippine President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo noted that the leaders, including the Chinese Premier, stressed the need for proper information on SARS as lack of it causes fear against the mysterious disease.

"The fear of SARS is the one that seems to be more destructive than SARS itself," the President said.

The point that is being stressed is about information and prevention even if there is no known cure, there is a way of preventing it from spreading and that is the most important thing," she said.

Aside from the President, the leaders of Thailand, Brunei, Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam, Malaysia, Indonesia, Myanmar and Singapore also attended the summit.

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Wednesday April 30, 8:34 PM
N Korean Crisis Dominates Plans For Asian Security Mtg


SIEM REAP, Cambodia (AP)--North Korea's nuclear crisis dominated talks by senior Asia-Pacific officials who gathered here Wednesday ahead of a major regional security meeting, a Cambodian official said.

The 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations, and its partners in the ASEAN Regional Forum, or ARF, said talks on the Korean issue in Beijing last week augured well for an eventual settlement of the conflict.

"I think a positive note is there and prevailing, and we would like to encourage that what was the right start (in Beijing) would continue and develop into major results," said Cambodian Foreign Ministry Secretary-General Chem Widhya.

Foreign ministers from 23-member ARF will meet in the Cambodian capital Phnom Penh in June. The one-day preparatory meeting in Siem Reap was attended by all ARF member countries except for Papua New Guinea.

At the Beijing talks - involving China, the U.S. and North Korea -Pyongyang offered to give up its missiles and nuclear facilities in exchange for substantial U.S. economic benefits.

Chem Widhya said the Asia-Pacific officials saw the talks as "a good start in the right direction" toward peaceful settlement of the conflict.

He said China, Japan and South Korea stressed to ASEAN representatives at Wednesday's meeting "the importance of the denuclearization of the Korean peninsula."

U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Matthew Daley and other U.S. officials declined to talk to reporters, as did North Korean representatives.

Alexander Ivanov, director of the Bureau of Asia-Pacific Regional Issues of the Russian Federation, described discussion of the Korean issue as "very constructive."

"For us two things are unacceptable," Ivanov said. "The first thing is nuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, and the second thing also unacceptable to us is the (settlement) of the issue by force."

Wednesday's meeting also discussed Aceh, Myanmar, Sri Lankan peace talks, East Timor, Afghanistan, weapons nonproliferation, counterterrorism and transnational crime, Chem Widhya said.

The ARF consists of the 10 ASEAN members - Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, Vietnam - plus Australia, Canada, China, the European Union, India, Japan, Mongolia, North and South Korea, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, Russia and the U.S.

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US democracy expert teaches Venezuelan opposition
By Pascal Fletcher


CARACAS, Venezuela, April 30 (Reuters) - Retired U.S. army colonel Robert Helvey has trained pro-democracy activists in several parts of the world so he knows something about taking on military regimes and political strongmen.

Now he is imparting his skills in Venezuela, invited by opponents of President Hugo Chavez who accuse the leftist leader of ruling like a dictator in the world's No. 5 oil exporter.

Helvey, who has taught young activists in Myanmar and Serbian students who helped topple the former Yugoslav leader Slobodan Milosevic in 2000, is giving courses on non-violent opposition tactics this week at an east Caracas university.

Secrecy surrounds the classes. A sign outside the door, apparently there to deflect the curious, reads: ``Seminar on strategic marketing.''

But the strategies Helvey is sharing with some of Chavez's foes focuses not on balance sheets but on how to resist, oppose and change a government without the use of bombs and bullets.

After initially declining to answer questions, Helvey, a former U.S. military attache in Burma and now a consultant with the private U.S. Albert Einstein Institution that promotes non-violent action in conflicts, told Reuters non-violence was the key to the tactics he taught.

``In every political conflict, there is a potential for violence, and it is incumbent on leaders to make sure they don't cross the threshold of violence,'' he said.

Organizers of the seminar did not welcome journalists. ``This is a private meeting of friends,'' one said.

The attendees included representatives of Venezuela's broad-based but fragmented opposition, who are struggling to regroup after failing to force Chavez from office in an anti-government strike in December and January.

Chavez, a fiery populist first elected in 1998, survived a brief coup last year by dissident military officers who now form part of the opposition movement, which also includes labor and business chiefs, politicians and anti-Chavez civic groups.

CHAVEZ, DEMOCRAT OR DICTATOR?

Opposition sources said Helvey was invited to Caracas by a group of businessmen and professionals. They in turn organized the course involving a broad cross-section of the opposition.

Helvey's presence comes at a time when a debate is raging inside and outside Venezuela about whether Chavez is a democrat or a power-hungry autocrat. That debate is important for the United States, which is a major buyer of Venezuelan oil.

Chavez's critics portray him as a dangerous, anti-U.S. maverick who has extended his personal political control of the country's political institutions, judiciary and armed forces.

They say he has strengthened his country's ties with anti-U.S. states like communist Cuba, Iran, Libya and -- until the U.S.-led invasion toppled Saddam Hussein -- Iraq.

Since the April 2002 coup that briefly overthrew him, Chavez's relations with the United States have remained edgy. The U.S. government has fiercely denied accusations from some Venezuelan officials that it encouraged or supported the coup.

Chavez fiercely condemned the invasion of Iraq. But Venezuelan oil shipments to the U.S. have kept on flowing.

The Venezuelan leader, who was elected to office six years after failing to seize power in a botched coup, denies he is a communist, says his government is democratic and regularly pillories his opponents as ``terrorists'' and ``coup-mongers.''

His foes have staged huge, anti-Chavez street protests over the last 18 months. He portrays them as a wealthy, resentful elite opposed to his self-styled ``revolution'' which he says aims to benefit the oil-rich nation's poor majority.

Neither Helvey nor the organizers of the Caracas seminar would give details of exactly what opposition tactics were being taught. But in his work in Serbia before Milosevic's fall, Helvey briefed students on ways to organize a strike and on how to undermine the authority of a dictatorial regime.

In the mid 1990s, he traveled to the Thailand/Myanmar border to give classes in non-violent resistance to exiled Burmese students opposing the military junta in their country.

His former students remember him as ``Bob.''

``He used his military skills in strategic planning for non-violent protest methods ... Everybody was fascinated by Bob, because he was a military man and was applying that to non-violence,'' Aung Naing Oo, former foreign secretary for the All Burma Students Democratic Front, told Reuters.

A spokesman for the U.S. Embassy in Caracas told Reuters the embassy knew nothing about Helvey's visit and had nothing to do with the secretive seminar.

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The Star - Thursday, May 01, 2003
Junta leader blames 'neocolonialists' for discrediting Myanmar

YANGON, Myanmar (AP) - Myanmar's military junta leader, in a May Day message, has accused "neocolonialists'' of trying to discredit the country under the pretext of human rights and workers rights.

Myanmar's state-controlled newspapers on Thursday quoted Gen. Than Shwe as saying that the workers should join the people in resisting the neocolonialists.

He did not identify the neo-colonialists but was apparently referring to Western countries, human rights groups and United Nations bodies that have repeatedly criticized the junta for allegedly using forced labor and ignoring human rights as well as democracy.

"Nowadays, it should be noted that the neo-colonialists, manipulating international organizations are using human rights and protection of workers' rights to discredit Myanmar and to cause disunity among the people,'' Than Shwe was quoted as saying.

The current group of generals headed by Than Shwe came to power in 1988 after crushing a pro-democracy movement.

The junta called elections in 1990 but refused to hand over power to the victorious National League for Democracy party of Nobel peace laureate Aung San Suu Kyi.

The government has been holding reconciliation talks with Suu Kyi since October 2000, but no tangible results have resulted, except the release of a few hundred political prisoners.

More than 1,000 other dissidents remain in jails.

The International Labor Organization, a U.N. body, has long accused the Myanmar military of using unpaid labor on public works and forcing civilians to serve as army porters.

The junta denies the charge.

In November 2000, the ILO urged its 175 member governments to impose sanctions on the country and review their dealings with its junta to ensure it is not abetting forced labor.

In March 2002, the junta signed an agreement allowing the organization to put a representative in Myanmar to ensure "the prompt and effective elimination of forced labor.'' - AP

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Friends of the Earth   Thu May 1 16:08:00 UTC+0900 2003
KUONI TRAVEL PULLS OUT OF BURMA
Apr 30 2003

Europe's sixth largest travel company, Kuoni Travel, today announced that it would pull out of Burma and that it will not return until democracy is restored. The move follows pressure from The Burma Campaign UK and Friends of the Earth and increases pressure on those UK companies still collaborating with the military regime, such as Orient Express and British American Tobacco.

Burma, ruled by one of the most brutal military dictatorships in the world, is the subject of a tourist boycott following calls by Aung San Suu Kyi, leader of Burma's democracy movement, for tourists to stay away. Tourism provides the Burmese generals with an important source of foreign currency. Slave labour has reportedly been used to build tourist infrastructure.

Friends of the Earth Corporate Accountability Campaigner Craig Bennett said:

"Any company operating in Burma is propping up an illegitimate military regime. It's great that Kuoni has pulled out, but they leave behind BAT and Orient Express flying the flag for corporate irresponsibility.

"Surely, it's about time Patricia Hewitt changed UK company law to make UK plc behave? Profits must stop coming before people and the environment."

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US to raise Burma concerns with ASEAN allies
01/05/2003 13:05:54 | ABC Radio Australia News

The United States has condemned Burma's government as despotic.

However, the US Secretary of State, Colin Powell says it would be a difficult task to crack the will of the military regime in Rangoon.

Mr Powell has told a Senate committee in Washington that he will work with US allies in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations - ASEAN - to apply pressure to the junta which has been locked in a bitter struggle with opposition pro-democracy leader, Aung San Suu Kyi.

Burma remains a member of the ASEAN bloc.

Mr Powell says he will discuss the situation in Burma with ASEAN counterparts at regional security meetings in the Cambodian capital Phnom Penh Cambodia in June.

The US and European Union maintain a raft of economic and political sanctions against Burma, but ASEAN states have preferred a policy of constructive engagement.

Mr Powell also says he will raise Washington's concerns over political violence and instability in Cambodia with its leaders when he visits the country.

The US State Department has recently issued several strongly worded statements of concern on issues ranging from the probity of Cambodia's July elections to the government's environmental record.

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The Nation
Thailand, neighbours agree on jobs strategy
Supalak Ganjanakhundee
Published on May 1, 2003

Thailand has agreed with Laos, Cambodia and Burma to draw up a common strategy to create jobs for millions of migrants from the three neighbours who would be encouraged back to their home countries, Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra said yesterday.

Leaders of the four nations agreed on the new strategy raised by Thaksin during a corridor meeting on the sidelines of the Sars summit in Bangkok on Tuesday, he said.

"The idea is to create jobs and revenue for people in neighbouring countries, rather than allowing millions of illegal migrants to seek jobs here," he said.

"Relocation to low-cost neighbours of some sectors which Thailand cannot sustain because of its rising costs is part of the plan. We will produce and share benefits as partners," he added.

Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen told a press conference after a bilateral meeting with Thaksin yesterday that he supported the new economic strategy. "Prosperity in neighbouring countries is also prosperity for Thailand. If jobs could be generated in Cambodia, difficulties with job seekers would not fall on Thailand," Hun Sen said.

Thai Foreign Minister Surakiart Sathirathai said foreign ministers of the four countries would meet to prepare an outline of the new strategy in Chiang Mai around July, before a meeting of four leaders in Burma's Pagan.

The Thai economy absorbs more than a million migrants from Burma, Cambodia and Laos each year.

Thailand has granted 409,339 work permits for them this year and has no effective measures to handle the remaining illegal immigrants.

Last October, it signed a memorandum of understanding with Laos for labour arrangements to prevent illegal migrant workers. Under the pact, Lao workers can get jobs here only through authorised agencies.

Another memorandum will be signed with Cambodia when the cabinets of the two countries meet on May 31, said Surakiart, who added that a similar accord with Burma was being sought.

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Asian Tribune
Date : 2003-04-30
Jacob Makes Clothes in Burma: Montreal business goes against a government recommendation

Boutique Jacob, a Montreal based clothing company gets a portion of its clothes, through sub-contractors, from Burma a country ruled by a military junta guilty of human rights abuses such as forced labour and child labor.

The Canadian Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade requests that Canadian businesses abstain from doing business in Burma or investing there until improvements have been made. Internationally, many people have called for a boycott of Burma most notably opposition leader and Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi.

In the U.S, more than 40 businesses such as Wal-Mart, Costco, Tommy Hillfiger and Fila chose to stop doing business with Burma. Boutique Jacob does not see a problem with doing business in Burma. ?We know certain groups oppose the political regime in Burma but we have never heard anything about the working conditions? explained Alain Lessard, vice-president of global marketing at Boutique Jacob. ?Only some of our products are made in Burma out of a total of over 300. For our September collection we have some products made in Burma. It is Colby International our agent in Hong Kong that advises us and respects a code of ethics? he said.

Colby International, a multi-national import-export business that employees 600 people, has 35 offices around the world and generated over $1 billion (U.S) dollars in revenue last year..

For Shareef Korah, director of Canadian Friends of Burma, companies that do business with Burma contribute directly by financing the illegal military government that has ruled since 1988. ?All commercial exchange with Burma helps the regime financially. They use the money to purchase weaponry and to consolidate their power? he said. ?What we want is for companies like Jacob to make a decision in favour of human rights and terminate business with Burma.?

Flawed position

Since no law stops Canadian companies from doing business with Burma, the Canadian government?s position is to discourage companies from doing business in this country. ?As long as the military government remains in power we discourage Canadian business from going there? explained Andre Lemay, head of communication at the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade.

Burma is governed by one of the world?s totalitarian regimes. In his 2002 report, the United Nations human rights rapporteur said: ?Systematic human rights violations by the government, extra judicial killings, forced relocation, rape, torture, inhumane treatment, mass arrests, forced labour and the denial of the freedom of _expression_ and movement [all exist in Burma].?

Between 1200-1300, political prisoners remain in Burmese prisons. Democracy activist and Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi has appealed to foreign enterprises to not do business with Burma, a position she believes: ?Send a strong political and economic message to the military regimes that rules the country.?

Boycotts of American companies are starting to have a direct impact on the financial health of the country: In the year 2002 imports from Burma fell close to 30%. According to the last report from the U.S Department of State, forced labour including forced child labour was used in the industrial sector to make goods for export most notably in the clothing industry.


Translated from the French language Montreal daily newspaper called "La Presse" - dated 19 April 2003, by Shareef Korah, Canadian Friends of Burma - www.cfob.org

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