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Conde Nast TRAVELER: Burma Boycott?

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Re: Burma Boycott?

Conde Nast TRAVELER  magazine
June 1995
JUNTA ethics (Page 46)

Burma Boycott?
New Tourist Drive Uses Forced Labor
By Gary Stoller

The military junta that rules Burma -- and which renamed it Myanmar -- has
designated 1996 Visit Myanmar Year. But recent eyewitness reports make it
clear that forced labor is being widely used to prepare the country for a
tourist boom. "Countless times I've seen what looks like forced labor,
including people working in chains, says English guidebook author Nicholas
Greenwood, who has visited the country 16 times during the last few years.

"At Putap Airport, in the north, I saw forced labor being used to extend a
runway so tourists could arrive on large jets," says Greenwood.

Barton Shulman, a student at the San Francisco -- based New College of
California who recently returned from a trip to Myanmar, says he saw forced
laborers building roads in the country and repairing a moat around the palace
in Mandalay. "For every five workers, there were two guards with guns," he

Myanmar has been censured for human rights abuses by both the United Nations
Commission on Human Rights and the U.S. State Department, which reported that
the "military forced hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of ordinary
Burmese (including women and children) to 'contribute' their labor, often
under harsh working conditions, to construction projects throughout the

Human rights activists are calling for a travel boycott that would deprive
the junta of foreign capital. But companies helping the regime to build its
tourist infrastructure argue that breaking the country's isolation will
eventually soften the junta's grip.

David Gevanthor, an executive vice president at Radisson Seven Seas cruise
line, told Conde Nast Traveler: "by opening up destinations like Burma to
outside visitors, we feel we are fostering change for the better in the long

Upscale tour operator Abercrombie & Kent makes the same argument.

Officials at Myanmar's embassy in Washington deny that forced labor is used.
"Our country wouldn't do that," says Aye Hla Bu, third secretary of the
embassy. Bu admits that "volunteers" work on government projects without pay
but says such labor is a part of Burmese culture that's misunderstood by

This is denied by Khin Ohmar, a leader of pro-democracy student
demonstrations, who escaped from Myanmar. She says Burmese Buddhists often
volunteer time for temple-related projects but never to build roads for the
government. Ohmar wants to see a boycott of the 1996 tourist campaign.

The Nobel Prize for Peace winner Betty Williams, who, along with Bishop
Desmond Tutu and eight other Nobel prize laureates, was refused entry into
Burma in 1993, is also in favor of a boycott.

"In the first place, there's no such country as Myanmar," she says. "It's an
invented name made up by a repressive military junta."

Hima Singh, whose Asian Pacific Adventures has been offering Burma tours
since 1987, said she would "reevaluate the situation" if convinced that
forced labor was being used. Guidebook author Greenwood, however, is against
a boycott and says that it is an issue for individual conscience.

Unlike travel firms that continue to operate in Burma, some major U.S.
corporations -- Amoco, Liz Claiborne, and Eddie Bauer -- have already pulled

The romance of old Burma, like cruising the Irrawaddy River from Mandalay to
Rangoon, appeals to many travelers. Khin Ohmar says, "Burma is beautiful. It
offers exotic adventures. But anyone who travels to Burma contributes to the
agony of the Burmese people."