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Wired News on October 9 & 10, 1995

Attn: Burma Newsreaders
Re: Wired News on October 9 & 10, 1995

Tourism in Burma a dobble-edged sword

      By Sonya Hepinstall 

    PAGAN, Burma, Oct 9 (Reuter) - Aung is hitching his horse cart and his
fortunes to ``Visit Myanmar Year 1996''. 

    The 18-year-old, the second bread-winner in his family, long ago had to
abandon his dreams of continuing his education. Tourism is his ticket to a
better future now. 

    His horsecart, one of 160 licensed to take tourists around the famed
temple complexes of Pagan, belongs to his farmer grandfather, who bought it
for 75,000 kyat -- $650 at the more realistic black market rate but
officially $12,500 -- and who takes 70 percent of Aung's daily income. 

    With the tourists the government expects to draw to Burma, or Myanmar, in
1996, Aung hopes to save enough to buy the cart himself -- a hefty forecast
in a country where average per capita income is estimated at less than $300
and a civil servant earns below $20 a month. 

    Everyone in Burma, it seems, is trying to figure out how they can get
even a crumb from the tourism pie, from the market stall owner planning to
pre-package traditional cornhusk cigars to the powerful general renovating a
former state hotel. 

    But for many Burmese and some visitors, tourism is a double-edged sword.
How many of those tourism dollars are going to ordinary people and to
sustained development in one of the world's poorest countries, and how much
to prop up an unpopular military regime? And at what price? 

    Burma's biggest asset is its incredible cultural and historical
diversity, from the experience of modern Buddhism in practice at the
Shwedagon and Mahamuni temples in Rangoon and Mandalay, to the remnants of
colonial life in old British hill stations like Maymyo, to the 11th century
ruins of Pagan. 

    So there are few reasons why the tourism promotion should fail, with the
government doing everything it can to encourage tourism and with even those
sceptical Burmese seemingly unable to supress their natural hospitality. 

    Government projections are for as many as 300,000 tourists in 1996, up
from 61,000 in 1993-94. 

    The regulation that all tourists must change $300 into ``foreign exchange
certificates'' for use at hotels and travel services is rarely, if ever,
enforced. Exchanging money on the black market rather than at the official
six kyat to the dollar rate is ludicrously routine. 

    ``We were afraid because we thought we would be bothered by
administrative problems,'' said one French tourist, travelling to Pagan via a
leisurely 13-hour boat ride from Mandalay. 

    ``But when we arrived it was very easy, there were practically no
controls,'' she said. 

    Travel in the more remote parts of Burma, long restricted on the grounds
that ethnic minority insurgencies made certain areas dangerous, has been
opened to tourists since the government signed ceasefires with all but a few
of the groups. 

    Visitors expecting a dour police state will also be pleasantly surprised.
People are open to contact with foreigners and love to talk -- as long as
it's not about politics. 

    For many Burmese, an increase in tourism will mean more business and
perhaps more opportunities, especially for those whose livelihood is
connected to the industry. 

    ``More tourism means more development,'' said Go Zaw, 35, a drinks seller
on the road to Maymyo from Mandalay. 

    But there's an insidious flip side. 

    Hotel industry sources say that out of 44 state-run hotels in 1990, only
five remain nationwide, looking sadly out-of-date beside their
newly-renovated cousins. 

    ``By the time of Visit Myanmar Year, all the hotels will be privatised,''
said one state-run hotel employee. ``Nowadays we have to compete... With all
the tourists, the management must be changed.'' 

    Questions about the ownership of a few hotels reveals, however, that
often only the military and a few wealthy individuals have the funds and
connections for such operations. 

    Sources at the town-level confirm what Western human rights groups have
long said, that labour behind some projects to upgrade roads and other
infrastructure is forced and unpaid. 

    In Pagan, the entire original village was forcibly moved some miles
(kilometres) south in 1990, at least partly because of fears of what the
combined impact of increased tourism and continued village development would
have on the temples. 

    A February 1988 United Nations/World Tourism Organisation report often
cited as having recommended such a move had in fact said only that another
town centre would soon be necessary. 

    These days in nearby Nyaung-oo the road is continually being widened for
the hoped-for onslaught, forcing residents and shopowners to rebuild,
reportedly at their own expense. 

    ``It is difficult to feel this situation,'' the French tourist said.
``Everyone seems so friendly and happy. Not too many people complain.'' 

 REUTERReut 02:33 10-09-95

Burma team to seek Singapore tourism investment

      SINGAPORE, Oct 10 (Reuter) - Senior Burmese government officials will
visit Singapore on October 16 to seek private sector investments in tourism
infrastructure development, Singapore said on Tuesday. 

    The delegation, to be led by Burmese Deputy Minister for Hotels and
Tourism Tin Aye, will speak at a seminar to be jointly organised by the
Singapore Trade Development Board (TDB) and the Singapore-Myanmar
International Leisure Enterprise. 

    The TDB said that so far about US$600 million in total foreign investment
has gone into the construction of 17 hotels in Burma, mainly in the capital

    ``Besides the construction of hotels, Myanmar (Burma) is eager for
Singapore to invest in the building of roads, communication and
transportation facilities, ports and airports, and in the setting up of
travel agencies,'' TDB deputy chief executive officer David Chin said in a

    The Burmese government, placing top priority on tourism development, is
offering incentives for foreign direct investment, the TDB said. 

    Singapore, Burma's second largest investor behind the United Kingdom, had
invested some US$528 million as at end August, the TDB said. 

    Of this, some US$279 million was invested in tourism projects with the
rest in agro business, mining and manufacturing. 

Reut10:41 10-10-95

Vietnam and Burma to sign air services accord

      HANOI, Oct 10 (Reuter) - Vietnam and Burma are expected to sign an air
services agreement on Friday, the Civil Aviation Authority of Vietnam (CAAV)
announced on Tuesday. 

    The news was contained in a CAAV press release. It gave no further

    However, a senior Burmese diplomat in Hanoi told Reuters the agreement
would cover flights involving the two national carriers Vietnam Airlines and
Rangoon's Myanmar Airlines. 

    ``Relations (between Vietnam and Burma) have been developing in recent
years,'' he said. 

    ``We are close, so we should have air links, not only for tourism, but
for business as well,'' he added. 

    The diplomat said no date had been set for the inauguration of direct
flights between the two Southeast Asian countries, but he expected it to be

    At present, air travel between Vietnam and Burma involves changing
flights at Bangkok. 

    It was not clear who would sign the accord on the Vietnamese side, but
the diplomat said Burma's ambassador to Hanoi would initial the agreement on
behalf of Rangoon. 

Reut10:10 10-10-95

U.N. human rights official meets Burma's Suu Kyi

      RANGOON, Oct 10 (Reuter) - United Nations special rapporteur for human
rights, Yozo Yokota, on Tuesday met with Burmese democracy leader Aung San
Suu Kyi, one of her aides said. 

    Suu Kyi and three other top opposition leaders met Yokota on Tuesday
afternoon, and will likely meet the U.N. official again before he leaves
Burma, the aide said. 

    He did not say what they spoke about, and did not give details of how
long Yokota was planning to stay in Burma. 

    Yokota, who writes annual human rights reports on Burma, was denied
access to Suu Kyi by the ruling military government on all of his previous

    Nobel Peace Prize winner Suu Kyi was released from six years of house
arrest in July. She was arrested by the military government in 1989 following
pro-democracy uprisings. 

    Yokota was last in Burma in November. 

Reut07:51 10-10-95

Burma's opium king reiterates vow to step down

      By Sutin Wannabovorn 

    BANGKOK, Oct 9 (Reuter) - Golden triangle opium warlord Khun Sa has
reiterated his vow to relinquish power once his top aide -- said to have
defected to a rival faction -- returns, guerrilla sources said on Monday. 

    Khun Sa also warned Shan leaders supporting the faction that broke away
earlier this year that their lives were in danger, the sources said. 

    Khun Sa repeated his vow to step down during a ceremony to mark the end
of Buddhist lent at his Ho Mong headquarters over the weekend, they said. 

    He was waiting for the top aide, Kan Chit, to return before stepping
down, they said. 

    ``He (Khun Sa) said since Kan Chit was appointed as the chairman of the
Shan State Administration Council (SSAC) while he was absent in August, he
would have an official handover ceremony once Kan Chit returns,'' Keunsai
Chaiyen, a close aide of Khun Sa, told Reuters. 

    Veteran Shan fighter Kan Chit was sent by Khun Sa sometime back to
persuade more than 3,000 former guerrillas who broke away from his Mong Tai
Army (MTA) in early July to join the rebel organisation. 

    But Kan Chit has not yet returned and sources close to the defectors said
he had decided to join their group. 

    In order to patch the rift in his organisation, Khun Sa in August quickly
reshuffled his faction and established the 12-man SSAC council, which was
meant to replace his one-man absolute rule and run the organisation by
collective power. 

    A Shan leader confirmed Khun Sa's remarks over the weekend, but said the
opium kingpin was also threatening the people who support the defectors. 

    ``He frightened us by saying that somebody might kill us and he won't
take responsibility for it,'' a veteran Shan politician who claimed to have a
tape of Khun Sa's speech told Reuters. 

    Khun Sa, 61, is the half Shan, half Chinese commander of about 10,000
strong MTA guerrillas who he says are fighting for the independence of Shan
state. But the Burmese government and international drug agencies accuse Khun
Sa of using the MTA as a personal army to protect his heroin trafficking. 

    He denies the charges, saying he only taxes opium traders travelling
through areas his forces control on the golden triangle, where the borders of
Burma, Laos and Thailand meet, to finance his political programme. 

    The July defection was sparked by some 3,000 ethnic Shan angry with Khun
Sa's role in drug trafficking. After breaking away, the group vowed to fight
against him. 

    Intermittent fighting between MTA and the breakway faction has already
begun in central Shan state. 

    A source in the Thai border police said thousands of combined troops from
Burma and the United Wa State Army were poised to attack Khun Sa once rains
were over next month. 

    The Thai source said hundreds of people from Khun Sa's camp have fled to
Thai border villages in the past week in apparent prepararation for an

    But Khun Sa's aide played down a possible attack and said the poeple
merely left the jungle to work in Thailand. 

    ``Yes, people have left from our camps but they have gone to seek work in
Thailand,'' Keunsai said. 

Reut01:18 10-09-95

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