[Date Prev][Date Next][Thread Prev][Thread Next][Date Index ][Thread Index ]

Burma Issues Annual Report, 1992; p

Subject: Burma Issues Annual Report, 1992; part 2 of 5

BURMA ISSUES 1992 REPORT: Part 2 of 3

An Economy Gone Wild
     In Rangoon today, a simple Thai-made T shirt sells for 700 or
800 kyats.  A 14" Toshiba television will set the buyer back 33,100
kyats, and one bag of cement needed for construction will cost 630
kyats.  What does that translate in terms of US dollars?  Well,
that depends on what rate you use to make the conversion.  A
foreign tourist entering Burma and changing some money on the
illegal market would get at least 100 kyats for each dollar.  For
that tourist, the T shirt would cost US$7 or $8, the television
US$331 and the bag of cement around US$6.30.  That does not sound
so bad. 
     However, a citizen of Burma who has to live with a kyat valued
by the military regime at only 5.6 kyats per dollar would have to
pay the equivalent of US$125 to $142 for the T shirt, US$5,910 for
the television and US$112.50 for each bag of cement needed to
repair a residence!
     It is, therefore, no surprise that only those Burmese who have
a lucrative government position, or have opportunity to travel
abroad, own a television, stereo and other luxury goods.  For the
vast majority of the people, simple survival is an all-consuming
     Government figures put the GDP for 1991/92 at 176.6 billion
kyats.  At the official exchange rate that equals about US$28
billion which translates into a per capita income for Burma's 42
million people of about US$673.  At the more realistic kyat rate as
reflected by the illegal market exchange rate, the per capita
income in Burma falls down to only about US$42.  
     Some Burma observers say the inflation rate is at least 50%. 
Official figures are so confusing that a reliable figure can
perhaps never be really determined.  A foreign embassy economic
report on Burma recently stated that "Government deficits are
financed mainly by borrowing from the state banking system and,
ultimately, by printing more currency.  Continuing the trend of
monetary expansion in which currency in circulation more than
tripled during the three years following the September 1987
demonetization, the money supply increased about 25 percent in
1991/92."  Not surprisingly, few people in Burma have much
confidence in the military regime's prowess to improve their
economic future, or in a currency which could be demonetized at any
time, and which is printed as rapidly as the military deems
     Thus the illegal money market continues to be a booming trade. 
Visitors to Burma are often approached by people who quietly offer
to buy any spare US dollars they might have.  They are willing to
pay 100 or more kyats per dollar.  The dollars purchased in this
way are then usually smuggled to the border with Thailand or China
where necessary consumer goods, such as cloth, medicine, soap,
etc., are purchased and smuggled back into the country to be sold
on the streets.  Although the military regime has attempted to end
this underground trade by legalizing cross-border trade, the
underground market still seems to flourish and perhaps is still one
of the most important sources for the necessities the people need
to buy.
     Following the September 1988 military coup, the military junta
tried to improve the country's appalling economy (one of the worst
in the world) by ending the "Burmese Way to Socialism" and opening
the door to international investments.  Although it was somewhat
successful, few if any benefits seem to have reached the common
people.  Exports over the past few years have risen to
approximately US$508 million.  Forestry products, mainly logs,
remain the largest single foreign exchange earner (about one-third
of total exports).  Thailand continues to be the main destination
of these forest products.  Other major export markets include
China, India and Singapore.  
     Imports have increased to about US$862.7 million during the
past few years.  This imbalance between imports and exports has cut
Burma's foreign exchange reserves from US$560 million in 1990 to
about $260 million presently.  The foreign debt now stands at about
four billion dollars.  
     Principle imports are consumer electronics and electrical
appliances, motor vehicles, and heavy equipment (mostly for the oil
drilling companies).  The main import sources are Japan, China and
     Direct foreign investments have increased drastically since
1988.  As the military sought more sources for much needed foreign
exchange, they began opening the door wider for foreign
investments.  Presently the US leads as the largest direct foreign
investor in Burma.  Most of its investments are for oil exploration
with three major companies, Unocal, Amoco, and Texaco providing
most of these investments.  However, it is rumored that they will
soon withdraw due to difficulties in carrying out their
     To create more confidence from the international community,
the military rulers have finally drafted a four-year economic plan. 
The plan is meant to give some guidance to the country's economic
development, and provides more possibilities for foreign investors. 
For example, a foreign investor is now permitted to receive up to
5,000 acres of land for 30 years for agricultural development. 
Foreign investments may also be wholly foreign-owned or, with
minimum 35 percent foreign ownership, be in joint ventures with
local private companies, state-private sector joint venture
corporations, or state-owned economic enterprises.
     However, as long as the economy is being controlled by
military men who have little, if any, economic sense, international
confidence in Burma as an investment opportunity will probably not
grow.  What foreign investments are actually carried out will most
likely continue to be those which provide fast returns for the
investor, and a safe withdrawal  in case of too many problems.
      While a few men in high military positions are becoming more
and more wealthy from the new "market economy" of the country, life
for the vast majority of the people continues to slide downward at
an ever increasing speed.  In March of this year, UNICEF released
a report on Burma (Possibilities for a United Nations Peace and
Development Initiative for Myanmar, March 16, 1992) which leaves
little doubt that the situation there is not improving.  The
following items were contained in their report:
     1)  The infant mortality rate at 98 per 1000 live births is
more than double what had been reported for the past two decades;
     2)  About 175,000 children under five die each year, mostly
from readily preventable or treatable diseases -- mainly due to
lack of essential drugs an essential information;
     3)  An appallingly high 10% of children under three suffer
from severe malnutrition -- comparable to the situation in Sudan,
Burundi, Pakistan and Mali.  This is primarily the result of
untreated infections and infestations, progressively eroded
purchasing power and forced resettlements;
     4)  Maternal deaths of 58 women per week is 40% attributable
to illegal abortions which in turn are caused by unwanted
pregnancies and lack of affordable contraception;
     5)  Less than 20% of primary-school age children complete all
5 years -- comparable with Bangladesh and Nepal; but unlike these
two countries, there is no second chance for Burma drop-outs or
adult illiterates, since non-formal education programs do not
     6)  Safe water supply in rural and urban areas (31% and 38%
respectively) is half that for the developing world as a whole, and
population increase outstrips current program expansion.  Even
urban water supplies remain untreated;
     7)  Many children are orphaned, abandoned, trafficked,
exploited in the labor force, institutionalized or jailed.  Some
are used in drug running, while others are targets of ethnic
discrimination.  In the civil war children have become victims or
participants in armed conflicts, at times used as porters, human
shields or human minesweepers.
     8)  At least 40,000 young women and children have now been
sold into Thailand's sex industry.
     9)  Burma, along with India and Thailand, now has the highest
HIV incidence in Asia.

     Heroin has also played a major role in the Burmese economy
during the past years.  Although it can not be proved that the
Burmese military itself is directly involved in the drug trade,
there are some very interesting links.
     Burma remains the world's largest source of illicit opium and
heroin.  Opium production has doubled since the September 1988
military coup.  In 1991 Burma produced an estimated 2,350 metric
tons of opium which makes up 60 percent of all illicit opium
produced in the world.  The military has been trying hard to
convince the world that effective steps are being taken to
eradicate opium production in their area, and thus to convince the
UN and the US to supply more funds to enlarge these efforts.  In
1991 they claimed to have eradicated about 1,016 ha of opium
plants.  While this may sound impressive, it is less than one
percent of the total estimated crop in the country.
     Following the military coup of 1988, the military regime began
trying to negotiate with several ethnic groups known to deal in
opium trafficking.  These include the Wa and some of the Shan
groups.  Ceasefires with some of these groups were finally
arranged, and these ceasefire agreements allow these groups to
exercise their own security/militia functions.  The Burmese army
could thus move out of these areas and concentrate more troops in
the Karen, Karenni and Kachin areas.  At the same time, these
ceasefires allowed the groups to continue to engage in the
narcotics business with at least tacit military approval.  In 1989
the Wa were able to expand their control of areas where much of
Burma's opium is produced, enabling them to increase their heroin
refining and trafficking operations.  Some reports from opposition
groups still operating in these areas suggests that the Burmese
military may even be providing military trucks to transport the
opium in return for peaceful accommodations.  Rumors also abound
that the Burmese military is earning much of the money they need to
buy more advanced weaponry from the sale of opium and heroin.
     Thailand remains the primary outlet to the world market for
Burmese-grown opium and refined heroin.  Lately, however, the flow
through southern China to Hong Kong, and from Rangoon to Malaysia
and Singapore has been increasing.  There are also routes reported
to pass through India and Bangladesh.  
     Burma, itself, now has 51,000 registered addicts, but UN
figures suggest the total addict population my approach 150,000. 
This is perhaps one of the major causes for a tremendous increase
of HIV positive cases being reported in the country recently.  (US
State Department report on Burma, 03/03/92)  
     If foreign currency entering the country does not benefit the
people, where does it go?  The vast majority of the money which
does not find its way into the pockets of those in power, is used
to buy military hardware.  Presently the armed forces of Burma
number 300,000, and Slorc has set a goal to increase the number to
500,000 in the next few years.  For poor, uneducated Burmans, the
military is a good place (perhaps the only place) to earn a decent
salary in order to support their families.  
     Slorc is also struggling hard to upgrade their military into
a more modern army.  In the past three years, large purchases of
planes, heavy artillery and munitions have been purchased from
countries all around the world.  (see list on page 5)  With no
external enemies, the military can only be planning to use this
army and its modern weapons against its own people.  In a meeting
earlier this year, a Burmese military officer is quoted as saying,
"We will completely wipe out the Karen.  In the future, if anyone
wants to know who the Karen were, they will have to go to a
     The people of Burma continue their struggle to buy the basic
food items needed to feed their families.  When they enter the
hospital, they are forced to purchase the medicines they need on
the illegal market at exorbitant prices.  Education facilities for
their children continue to be poorly equipped and staffed.  What
has gone wrong with an economy which was once the strongest in the
region?  "Incompetent leadership" is what most people of Burma will
say, and until this leadership steps aside and allows more capable
people to lead the country, the suffering will continue.

1992 Civil War Report
     On April 28th, Slorc dramatically announced an end to their
military offensive in Karen State, in order to "expedite attainment
of amenity among all national races, for national unity, with a
view to strengthening national solidarity." This pledge was
reaffirmed on October 5, by Burmese Foreign Minister Ohn Gyaw,
during his speech to the UN General Assembly, in which he
proclaimed an end to the Burmese Army's attacks on ethnic minority
resistance. Unfortunately, these promises of peace have proven
hollow, as Slorc's counter-insurgency campaigns in rural minority
areas have rumbled on, largely unabated.  Beyond the natural lull
in fighting which accompanies the annual rainy season between May
and October, sporadic attacks have continued to occur throughout
the summer months, and are now intensifying, as Slorc gears up for
the all-out push of the dry-season campaign. What follows is a
brief run-down of some of the specific incidents of conflict which
have been documented during the April-November period. It has
become quite evident that Slorc's idea of a cease fire involves a
surprising amount of violence.

A History of Slorc Cease Fire Violations
     The Slorc did not waste any time in violating its original
cease fire pledge in April.  Within 24 hours of the well-publicized
announcement, Slorc troops around Manerplaw, the allied
resistance's jungle headquarters, fired over 200 mortar bombs and
rockets into the besieged camp.(The Nation, Apr.30) Fighting at
Manerplaw did die down in the coming weeks, due to the onset of the
rainy season, and the heavy losses incurred by Slorc during its
biggest effort yet to capture Manerplaw, and wipe out the KNU

Attacks in Kachin State
     Later the same month, however, in a completely different
sector of the civil war, the Slorc launched a major offensive in
the Kachin State of northern Burma. The Slorc campaign was
successful in overrunning much of the territory previously held by
the KIA (Kachin Independence Army) 3rd Brigade. The KIA is the
military wing of the insurgent KIO (Kachin Independence
Organization), Burma's second strongest rebel group, after the KNU. 
Slorc planned next to attack the KIA 2nd Brigade areas along the
Burmese-Indian border, and by late May over 4000 Slorc troops had
been mobilized for this purpose.
     Before they could fully mobilize an attack, however, the KIA
2nd Brigade seized Slorc posts at Pang Sau and Nam Yung on June
5th, in a preemptive strike designed to de-rail the Slorc's coming
summer offensive. The Army quickly retaliated sending in regiments
37, 74, 86, 238, 260, and 318, as well as artillery units, rocket
launchers, and PC6 and PC7 jet bombers. On June 6, the Burmese army
began aerial bombing, and artillery barrages against Pang Sau, Nam
Yung, and nearby villages. On June 7, 200 airborne commandos were
brought in by helicopters.
     At this time, the KIA also intercepted Burmese army radio
transmissions which discussed the use of an unidentified chemical
weapon. The transmissions seemed to be ordering frontline troops
and army porters to pull back 300 meters, as they were preparing to
use some type of gas weapon for the first time. The drop was
off-target, however, and the type of weapon used remains a mystery.
     By June 15th the KIA troops had retreated from the Burmese
army attacks, and abandoned their positions. During the entire Pang
Sau-Nam Yung operation, 11 major battles and 14 minor skirmishes
were fought. The KIA suffered 20 dead, and 25 wounded. Over 1000
local Burmese fled into India to escape the Army attacks, but were
later escorted back by Indian authorities upon normalization of the
area. An estimated 1800 porters were forcibly commandeered by Slorc
for the operation.(OFA/12FA/050) All told the Burmese army has
maintained 21 permanently based regiments in Kachin State, with 20
units in reserve.(OFA/12FA/020)
     Other incidents in the Kachin arena also violated the total
cease fire with all minority insurgents proclaimed by Foreign
Minister Ohn Gyaw before the UN on October 5.  Among these was the
Slorc attack on the KIA 251st battalion in Mogaung Township, one
day after the UN promise was made.  On Oct.26 the Army also
captured and executed Aik Yi and Brang Mia, two soldiers of the KIA
12th battalion, who were taken prisoner after the Burmese army 69th
Regiment overran their base.   Also executed on Oct. 31, by the
Burmese army 18th Regiment near Mohnyin, were Te Tong and Aik Tu,
both members of the ABSDF. Kyaw Win, an NLD member, was executed on
Nov. 5, after being forced to reveal KIA military locations. The
Burmese army 18th Regiment ambushed the KIA 5th battalion the next
day.(KIO Info. Dep.)

Attacks in Karen State
     Recent violations occurring in Karen areas include a series of
air strikes against KNU positions in Papun District by Burmese war
planes and helicopter gun-ships, beginning in late July. Karen
rebels and Burmese troops engaged in combat there every day from
July 25 to August 28, according to the KNU field reports. Over 20
Karen villagers have been killed by the air strikes so far.(Bangkok
Post, Oct. 4, 1992)  Burmese army troops also attacked the KNU base
at Saw Hta, 100 km north of Manerplaw, which they overran Oct. 6,
one day after Ohn Gyaw's cease fire announcement at the UN. The
fighting there has forced over 500 Karen refugees to flee into
Thailand.(Bangkok Post, Oct.9) 
     In a violation of Thailand's sovereign boundaries, the Burmese
Army also moved 3 km inside Thailand's Mae Hong Son province,
taking over 2 villages with around 200 soldiers. The Army
confiscated animals and dug in for a prolonged stay. They were
pursuing some 3000 Karen refugees who had fled into Thailand ahead
of the incursion.(Bangkok Post, Nov.7) Burmese troops have also
been occupying a position within Thailand known as Hill 491, in the
Chumpon region, informing Thai officials that it was now Slorc
territory.(Bangkok Post, Nov.18)
     Several weeks of heavy fighting in October between Karenni
rebels and Slorc was also reported on the eastern frontier.(The
Nation, Oct. 12). Many Karen civilians fled into Thailand after
Slorc troops captured the KNU rebel camp at Maw Pasu in heavy
fighting in late October.(Bangkok Post, Oct.26)

KNU and KIO Denounce Slorc's "Cease Fire"
     In a joint communique in November, Kachin and Karen rebel
groups together condemned as lies the Slorc assertion that it has
halted military operations against minority resistance. The two
groups(the KNU and the KIO) also claimed that the Slorc has greatly
underestimated government casualty figures for the April-November
period. The KIO and the KNU, Burma's two strongest insurgent
groups, went on to declare that, from their perspective, it is
clear that the Slorc is still firmly committed to resolving ethnic
conflicts through war, not political means, as they have suggested.
Their field reports provide plenty of data to back up their charge
of Slorc deception and treachery.
     The two rebel groups also challenged the casualty figures
issued by Slorc in recent months.  The KNU claims over 500
government troops have been killed and 400 wounded for the
April-November period, and rejects the 168 estimate of the Army.
The KIO claims over 700 government casualties in its sector of
combat for the same period.(The Nation, Nov.18, 1992)
     General Bo Mya, leader of the KNU, declared that, "Even though
the Slorc has announced a halt of hostilities, the civil war has
never for a minute halted".(The Nation, Nov.18,1992)  He branded
Slorc pronouncements of a cease fire as outright lies. Rangoon has
recently deployed 6 fresh battalions close to the opposition's
jungle headquarters at Manerplaw, Bo Mya revealed. "Three
battalions(of 1200 men) are now at Notha, 20 km to the south of
Manerplaw, and three battalions at Kamamuang, of the Pa-Pun
district, merely one day's walk from here", Bo Mya informed. All
told, the Slorc has deployed 10,000 fresh troops to its eastern
border for the annual dry-season offensive against minority rebels.
<T>KNU leader, Bo Mya, went on to assert that, "They {Slorc} attack
KNU positions all the time, and force the people to Slorc areas.
The Slorc declared the halt of military operations merely to avoid
the strong criticism of foreign countries," he suggested.  Bo Mya
claims the Slorc has overrun 3 KNU camps since October, in heavy
fighting. Burmese troops are poised to capture the KNU's 7th
Brigade headquarters at Tawoohta, 100 km south of Manerplaw, where
600 Karen guerrillas are locked in combat with 3000 Burmese
attackers presently. It is not expected that they will be able to
hold out much longer.(The Nation, Nov.18,1992)     

     It has become obvious that the Slorc's cease fire initiatives
in 1992 have been completely cynical ploys designed to alleviate
growing international condemnation of their human rights record.
There is more than ample evidence to suggest that an on-going
situation of civil war continues in Burma's minority areas. Sadly,
the forced relocation, forced labor, forced deprivation, internal
refugees, extortion, torture, killings, beatings, rapes, and
destruction of villages that accompanies a Slorc counter-insurgency
campaign, also continues. For the sake of these minority farmers
and villagers, who daily suffer the violence of a racist regime,
the least the world can do is recognize and declare the truth of
the situation, as it is described by those who have experienced it.
Perhaps, Slorc will soon feel the moral pressure of this truth, as
it slices through the fog of their own systematic lies. More
likely, it will require strong, international, economic and
political pressure, in conjunction with the moral force of the
suffering of the common people of Burma, to convince Slorc to
abandon its deluded policies of totalitarianism, racial
superiority, and ethnic genocide, and allow for the long overdue
emergence of peace and democracy in a new Burma.  

1.  OFA/12FA/050 = Kachin Independence Organization field report,
July 21, 1992
2.  OFA/12FA/020 = Kachin Independence Organization field report,

     ASEAN, South East Asia's most powerful organizational bloc,
once again came under international attack for its dubious policy
of "constructive engagement" towards the Slorc regime in Burma. 
This time around the "heat" of international pressure was directed
by the European Community at the annual ASEAN-EC Ministerial
meeting in late October of this year. The EC has repeatedly crashed
into a brick wall in its attempts to encourage ASEAN to flex its
significant collective muscles, and put some pressure on Slorc to
change its oppressive ways. Human rights organizations worldwide,
and many Western governments, have increasingly been expressing
their desire to see ASEAN officially condemn the Slorc's
well-documented and widespread human rights abuses against its own
citizens.  Furthermore, it is believed that a major force for
change could be brought to bear on the unstable and cash-strapped
Slorc junta, if only the ASEAN nations would begin to withdraw
their substantial trade, investment, and aid from Burma until
genuine developments of peace and democracy emerged internally.

Thailand's Accommodating Stance  
     Also highlighted by the EC-ASEAN meeting was Thailand's
continuing dance of obfuscation and rationalization with regards to
its next door neighbor in Burma.  Of all the ASEAN nations,
Thailand has the closest economic ties to Burma, with heavy
investments along the Burmese border in teak logging, gems, cattle,
etc..  Bangkok also harbors future hopes of a steady stream of
natural gas and hydro-electric power flowing from Burma to its
energy-starved economic growth engine. These entrenched economic
interests, which involve many top government officials personally,
have resulted in Thailand establishing itself as the most active
defender of Burma in the region, often protecting Slorc from
international criticism and economic sanctions like a buffer. 
<T><T>Current Thai Foreign Minister Prasong, an elected Bangkok MP
from the "angelic" Palang Dharma party, stated a week before the
EC-ASEAN meeting that "there will be no change in bilateral
Thai-Burmese relations."(TN, Oct. 24, 1992)  Prasong sees
Thailand's role to Burma as that of a close, older friend, who will
generously help Slorc improve its battered image in the world's
eyes.  He explained his position saying, "Thailand is in the
position to help its neighbors develop into strong nations with
recognized status in the international community."(TN,Oct.24, 1992) 
Prasong's stance is a surprising one since it directly contradicts
his campaign pledges during the August election, when he was one of
the strongest critics of Thailand's constructive engagement policy
towards Burma. For example, after the May pro-democracy uprising in
Thailand, which Prasong supported, he urged the interim Anand
government to give "moral support to the people of Burma who fought
for democracy", claiming that "only a handful of powers-that-be"
supported the Slorc junta.(TN, Oct.24, 1992) However, Prasong is
now declaring his new-found belief that "in principle, {the
constructive engagement policy} is good. We cannot afford to live
alone.", he concluded.(TN,Oct.24,1992)
     More recently, in November,  Prasong indicated that calls for
a review of Thailand's much-challenged policy of constructive
engagement towards Burma would be a "delicate matter", because, "we
have to preserve existing relationships ... the isolation of Burma
is not necessary", he asserted.(BP, Nov.10,1992)

The Clinton Victory and Thai Policy Review
     However, since the US election of Bill Clinton to the
presidency, Prasong has changed his tune yet again. With reference
to the Thai decision to round-up Burmese immigrant students into a
"safe-camp", Prasong is now asking Interior Minister Chavalit to
reconsider the ramifications the action may have on Thailand's
international image, asking "How can we tell the world about it?". 
He continued, commenting, "Burmese students are not criminals but
political dissidents who should be treated properly."(BP, Nov.9,
1992) Deputy Interior Minister Chamni pointed out the source of
Prasong's rediscovered concern for the plight of the Burmese,
admitting that Thailand's foreign policy of constructive engagement
towards Burma was being reviewed, and possibly moving towards a
softer line, in light of the Clinton victory and his perceived
stronger policy stand on human rights. Reuters quoted a
"highly-placed government source" as admitting that Thailand has
increasingly been aware of criticism by the West, and the Burmese
opposition, against its support of Slorc and its appalling human
rights history. "We will have to overhaul the policy on Burma. I am
against all measures that contribute to prolonging the power of
Slorc," Reuters quoted the source as saying.(BP, Nov.9, 1992)
     Thailand possibly fears a future in which the Burmese military
does actually control the entire border area between the two
countries.  There have been constant tensions between Thai
authorities and Burmese military leaders over where the border
between the two countries actually runs.  Several years ago the
tensions centered on the Thai Pagoda Pass area of Thailand's
Kanchanaburi Province, and more recently on a small hill called
Hill 491.  Thai authorities would prefer a situation in which the
Karen, Mon, Karenni and Shan provided more of a buffer zone between
Thailand and the Burmese, but at the same time economic interests
among some of Thailand's ruling elite have tried to push these
fears aside.
     Whatever the situation, the Burmese have rarely shown much
fear and/or respect of Thailand.  At a recent meeting of the
Regional Border Committee in Chieng Mai Thailand, Burmese military
officials called on their Thai counterparts to help rein in
Thailand's vigorous free press, which has been largely critical of
the Rangoon junta since it came to power in a bloody coup in 1988. 
Just how long Thailand can afford to continue is "constructive
engagement" policy with such a regime is yet to be seen.
The Asean History of Constructive Engagement
     These recent public battles over the Thai-led ASEAN policy
towards Burma, are just the latest in an on-going debate which
stems back to July of 1991, when ASEAN shocked Western nations at
its regular ministerial meeting in Kuala Lumpur by first announcing
its policy of "constructive engagement" towards the Slorc
dictatorship in Burma.  
     The ASEAN catch-word of "constructive engagement" has its
roots in the Reagan doctrine towards South Africa in the 1980's.
The theory holds that a human rights abusing nation should not be
isolated and cut off from international economic aid, but rather,
gently prodded towards change, with a stronger, more positive
influence being possible for outside nations only if they keep
economic contacts intact, for use as a bargaining chip. The
convenient fact that these economic contacts are very lucrative to
the outside nations in the meantime, is simply a pleasant fringe
benefit to the essentially disinterested concern of for-profit
corporations in improving the lives of oppressed people in other
countries, so they would claim.
     It wasn't too surprising, therefore, when Thailand quickly
emerged as the strongest ASEAN defender of this cozy relationship
with Rangoon, and appeared to be protecting Burma from Western and
NGO pressure for human rights and democracy. Thailand has claimed
the policy is its only alternative, and fits the long-term
interests of its economy. 
     Throughout the year and half since the policy was implemented,
Thailand has consistently upheld its position, despite several
changes of government during this turbulent political period.  For
example, Thailand was quick to applaud the Slorc's minor cosmetic
changes of early 1992, highlighting them as justification for their
on-going supportive role of the regime. "Thailand and ASEAN are
satisfied with the changes in Burma", declared one Foreign Ministry
official at the time.(TN, Oct.28,1992)  Thailand did discourage
high-level delegations of Thai officials to Burma, however,
admitting that "some of the ministers have gone to Rangoon for
personal economic benefit."(TN, Oct.28,1992)
     In July of 1992, Thai Foreign Minister Arsa, under the Anand
interim government, suggested that ASEAN should do all it can to
help Burma enter the ASEAN ranks quickly, by creating a "conducive
environment" for admittance of Burma to the regional power
bloc.(TN, July 22,1992)  Rather than moving away from the Slorc,
Thailand seemed to be desiring even closer, legitimizing relations.
In September, Thai senior Foreign Ministry official, Sarasin, urged
Thailand to "remove enmity" between itself and Burma, and work for
closer relations, and the Burmese signing of the regional Treaty of
Amenity and Cooperation.(BP, Sep.3,1992)  And within only a few
short minutes of being appointed Thailand's new prime minister on
Sep. 23, 1992, Chuan Leekpai made his first foreign policy
statement by affirming the continuity of Thailand's policy of
constructive engagement towards Burma.  He asserted that, "We can
work as an international mediator between Burma and the
international community."(TN, Sep.24, 1992)

ASEAN, Human Rights, and Aid Conditionality
     But Thailand is certainly not alone among the ASEAN nations in
its supportive stance towards the Slorc.  The final, 19-page, joint
communique, issued by the ASEAN nations at its last ministerial
gathering in July 1992, made no mention of Burma whatsoever. 
     A key issue for all the ASEAN members is "aid conditionality".
The ASEAN countries feel that conditioning economic aid to any
country on the basis of human rights is an interference in the
domestic affairs of sovereign nations. This principled position of
respect for sovereignty, however, is largely a mask for more
self-interested motivations.  For most, if not all, of the ASEAN
countries, the use of a human rights criterion for aid is very
threatening, as they all have their own internal human rights
quagmires to worry about. 
     For example, 4 of the 6 ASEAN nations were recently rated by
Amnesty International as being countries where torture,
ill-treatment, and poor conditions in detention centers could be
found.  Indonesia has been feeling strong international heat over
its near genocidal appropriation of the former Portuguese colony of
East Timor. The Philippines have a long-running rebel insurgency of
their own to clamp down, and charges of government corruption there
are rampant.  Neither Singapore, nor Brunei, are known for their
strong democratic traditions, with long-time strongman Lee Kuan Yew
still essentially at the helm in Singapore, while the Sultan of
Brunei remains as one of the last absolute monarchs on the planet. 
And even though Thailand is making strong strides towards
democracy, is has just emerged from a bloody governmental crackdown
on its own citizens earlier this year, and carries a long heritage
of military rule. Its neo-imperialistic economic interests in the
natural wealth of its weaker neighbors in Burma, Cambodia, and
Laos, require that human rights take a distant back-seat to growth,
profit, and resource exploitation. One can soon understand why
ASEAN is hesitant to take a firm human rights stand anywhere. If
ASEAN's members where to start strongly raising the issue of human
rights abuses in Burma, it would makes themselves even more
vulnerable to charges against their own weak human rights records.
     Singapore's Prime Minister Goh succinctly described ASEAN's
attitude towards human rights by insisting that, "it is not the
culture of ASEAN or individual ASEAN nations to interfere in our
neighbor's policies. We have our own bilateral contracts and ... we
prefer to do things privately."(BP, Jan.29, 1992)  His outburst
came on the heels of an EC letter asking ASEAN to use its influence
to help secure a family visit to Aung San Su Kyi, Burma's most
prominent political prisoner. 
     In Nov. 1991, Philippine's Foreign Secretary, Raul Manglapus,
visited Rangoon on behalf of all of ASEAN, and concluded that given
"positive developments" by Slorc, he had invited the Burmese
foreign minister to observe the ASEAN ministerial meeting scheduled
for July in Manila.  However, the invitation was later blocked by
Malaysia, a heavily Moslem country, who was offended by Burma's
atrocious human rights record against the Burmese Moslem Rohingyas.
     Manglapus went on to say that, "recent events seem to confirm
the wisdom of the policy of the Philippines and ASEAN of
constructive engagement with the government of Burma. Our policy is
beginning to show it can be fruitful."(TN)  He pointed to the 
Slorc's concession allowing Aung San Su Kyi's husband and two sons
to visit her as a sign of this "fruitfulness".

Burma Issues
PO Box 1076, Silom Post Office
Bangkok 10504 Thailand

phone: 662 234 6674

Burma Issues (formerly Burma Rights Movement for Action,          
B.U.R.M.A.) is a Bangkok-based non-governmental organization that
monitors events in Burma with a focus on human rights, ethnic
minorities and the ongoing civil war.