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

No Subject Given

     Washington Times  December 13, 1995
     Embassy Row 
     Whose voice is it?
     Does this sound like the objective Voice of America describing a 
     military dictator? "In this usual affable way, Gen. Khin Nyunt 
     jokingly told the VOA that he was dubbed a notorious guy by the 
     international media crowd, though there is not an ounce of truth in 
     any of these negative portrayals."  Another report quoted the Burmese 
     ruler as saying his government "has not violated any human rights," 
     without mentioning repeated U.N. allegations of widespread human 
     rights abuses. Those are quotes from recent VOA Burmese-language 
     service broadcasts that prompted an angry cable from the U.S. Embassy 
     in Rangoon to Washington and the recall of the head of the VOA service 
     in Burma. VOA says it is investigating the allegations of bias, but 
     doubts any of its reporters are sympathetic to the regime.
     Douglas Steele, a former reporter in Burma, has exposed the VOA 
     Burmese-language service on the Internet and sparked anxiety within 
     VOA headquaters here. "The U.S. Embassy in Rangoon cabled Washington 
     (last month) to complain about an apparent pro-regime bias in VOA 
     Burmese-language broadcasts," Mr. Steele wrote. "The Embassy is 
     complaining about a series of reports filed by the Burmese-language 
     service chief Myint Zaw Lwin."  Ms. Lwin, who was recalled to 
     Washington, broadcast a lenthy interview with the wife of Burma's 
     secret police chief, Gen. Khin Nyunt, and was later photographed 
     making a donation for charity to the general. " American policy is to 
     treat the (Burmese government) as a pariah," Mr. Steele wrote.  "The 
     image of an American official donating money to the head of Burma's 
     secret police destroys the efforts of diplomats trying to carry out 
     the American policy."
     VOA spokesman Joe O'Connell told the Associated Press it is unlikely 
     any of the 12 members of the Burmese-language service, most of whom 
     are based in Washington, are sympathetic to the Burmese governmment. 
     "We regard the content of our broadcast very seriously," he said. "We 
     have a reputation around the world for credibility.  It's 
     The United States cut off aid to Burma after the military government 
     violently crushed unarmed pro-democracy demonstrations in 1988.  
     Washington also has refused to name an ambassador to Rangoon.  Burma's 
     rulers refused to honor the results of a 1990 election won by the 
     party of pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi, who was released after 
     six years of house arrest in July.    
     International Herald Tribune    December 12, 1995
     Activism That Hurts People in Need    
     by  Joe Pang ( The writer is managing director of Victoria Garment 
     Manufacturing Company in Hong Kong, which has four factories in Burma. 
     He contributed this comment to the International Herald Tribune .)
     Rangoon _ Should human rights activists in Western nations, in their 
     campaign for democratic reform in Burma, take away the right to work 
     of thousands of Burmese with jobs in garment factories?
     In 1989, as Burma began its open-door economic reforms after nearly 
     three decades of socialist isolation, I visited Rangoon to explore the 
     feasibility of a setting up a garment factory.  
     I was shocked to discover that unemployment was 60 percent and that 
     many young people in their mid-20s with high school or even college 
     eduaction had never had an opportunity to work.  Practically the only 
     jobs avialable were in the civil service or small scale shops and 
     After several months of negotiations, we opened our first joint 
     venture factory with Myanmar Textile Industries, a division of the 
     Ministry of Industry.
     I still remember the day we began recruiting.  Despite heavy monsoon 
     rains, more than 2,000 young Burmese came for the 400 jobs.  Many were 
     malnourished, and those who were unsuccessful at first refused to 
     leave when we announced that the positions had been filled.
     Those hired were trained by our technicians for three months. Then we 
     began shipping top quality garments to customers in the United States 
     including well known labels such as Liz Claiborne, Eddie Bauer and 
     R.H. Macy. Customer reaction was so positive that our group now has 
     four factories in Burma employing 3,300 workers.
     Other foreign investors followed our example, and today there are 
     eleven joint venture garment plants in Rangoon employing some 15,000 
     Burmese.  An experienced garment worker can earn between $30 and $40 a 
     month - nearly double the salary of a director in a state enterprise 
     or government body.
     Business in supporting industries has also grown, and the trickle-down 
     economic effect has been significant, as shown by the shops that have 
     opened near the factories.
     However, since last year many of our U.S. customers have been under 
     pressure from various human rights groups, including the New York 
     based Coalition for Corporate Withdrawal from Burma. These activists 
     threaten to picket any stores selling Burmese-made  goods.  They also 
     threaten to buy shares of any publicly listed company importing such 
     goods, to voice their views at annual stockholders' meetings.
     Initially the activists' threats were ignored. However, under 
     continuous pressure, including picketing, some of our customers 
     finally caved in.
     Garment exports to the United States from my group of companies in 
     Burma reached $32 million in 1994.  This year we expect the figure to 
     fall below $10 million.  Workers' average pay, which is mainly 
     calculated by piece-rate, has fallen to $12 dollars a month. In the 
     next few months we expect to have to lay off up to half of our 
     workforce because of the slump in American demand.  
     American human rights activists assert that the Burmese government 
     violates human rights and represses democracy.  But do they consider 
     the rights of workers in Burma? Their misguided actions will hurt the 
     very people they purport to help.
     World Street Journal       December 11, 1995
     Most prospective American Investors are likely to wait 'until they see 
     an improvement in the political situation' in Burma, says Mark  Mason, 
     a professor at Yale University.
     Burma Bashing 
     Activists and Exiles keep up Pressure on Slorc in the West
     By Eduardo Lachica 
        Staff Reporter
     Washington - A loose but effective network of human-rights activists 
     and Burmese exiles is almost all that stands between Rangoon's 
     military junta and international respectability.
     While the Association of South East Asian Nations is expected this 
     week to take another step toward eventually admitting Burma as a full 
     member, activists and exiles are making it hard for Burma's State Law 
     Order Restoration Council to attract foreign aid and investment from 
     Western governments  and investors.
     The latest product of these tireless anti-Slorc efforts is a United 
     Nations General Assembly resolution that knocks the junta for failing 
     to live up to its promise to restore civil liberties in Burma.  Human 
     Rights Watch/Asia, a U.S. advocacy group group at the heart of this 
     movement, expects the resolution to be approved early this week.
     The timing is awkward for Burma's generals.  The resolution will 
     hardly help Rangoon make its case for admission to Asean at the 
     regional group's annual summit in Bangkok later this week.  But 
     experts say neither is it likely to stop Asean's move toward admitting 
     Burma into the fold.
     " Asean shouldn't accept Burma too quickly because that regime isn't 
     accountable to anyone," says Sein Win, head of a group of Burmese 
     exiles and anti-Slorc activists that calls itself the National 
     Coalition Government of the Union of Burma. 
     Mr. Win, a nephew of postwar leader General Aung San and a first 
     cousin of Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi, is the closest 
     thing that the Burmese diaspora has to a leader. He fled Burma in 1990 
     after Slorc repudiated the National League for Democracy's landslide 
     electoral victory and threw protesting citizens, students and Buddhist 
     monks in jail.  But before departing for self-exile, the 
     German-trained mathematician was named prime minister of a 
     "provisional" Union of Burma government by a coalition made up of the 
     NLD, the largest democracy party, and groups representing the Karenni, 
     Arakan, Chin and Shan minorities.  Its claim to speak for such a union 
     isn't recognized by any country, although the organization indirectly 
     gets financial support from some Western governments. 
     Working out of a low-rent, two-room office in downtown Washington, Mr. 
     Win helps keep the cause of Burmese democracy alive among a number of 
     friends in the Clinton administration and Congress.  The most vocal of 
     them, Sen. Mitch McConnell, keeps in his desk the draft of a bill that 
     would restrict U.S. business dealings with Burma so long as political 
     repression continues.  The Kentucky Republican hasn't introduced the 
     bill, but the mere threat that he will gives a number of prospective 
     investors pause. 
     Mr. Win leaves much of the public advocacy to Mike Jendrzejczyk, Human 
     Rights Watch/Asia's Washington director. The HRW/A office also runs 
     the Burma Roundtable, which draws other special-interest groups such 
     as those concerned with refugees and the rights of indigenous people 
     into the mix. 
     There doesn't appear to be any central direction in what's arguably 
     one of the most productive, low-budget lobbying efforts on behalf of a 
     developing country.  "We're just a loosely knit, information-sharing 
     operation," says Mr. Jendrzejczyk, some events, such as the picketing 
     of U.S. companies with interests in Burma by Greenpeace and the Rain 
     Forest Action Network, are just "spontaneous" actions taken at those 
     groups' own initiative, he says.
     It isn't just words that U.S. groups are throwing at this cause. This 
     year the congressionally funded National Endowment for Democracy will 
     spend some $350,000 in taxpayers' money on a Burmese-language 
     "alternative" newspaper distributed inside Burma; on the Democratic 
     Voice of Burma radio program, which is tapped in Bangkok and broadcast 
     by shortwave from Oslo, Norway; and on several other anti-Slorc 
     activities.  Mr. Win says his government-in exile also gets support 
     from the U.S. fund as well as from similar funds in Sweden, Norway, 
     Denmark and the European Union.  
     Mr. Win acknowledegs  that the world isn't prepared to punish 
     Slorc-ruled Burma as harshly as it did South Africa for that country's 
     apartheid plicy.  But even the half-measures applied by the U.S. and 
     other Western countries - neither encouraging nor discouraging 
     business dealings with Burma - are having some effect, he says.
     Although there has been a resurgence of foreign investment in Burma - 
     a cummulative $2.65 billion since 1989 by Rangoon's count - much of it 
     is in energy projects that won't start generating significant income 
     for many years.
     Unocal corp., for instance, is aware of strong anti-Slorc sentiment in 
     the U.S. and has structured its Burmese venture accordingly. There 
     won't be any "instant reward" to the Burmese government for Unocal's 
     $1 billion joint project with Total SA to pipe natural gas from the 
     Andaman Sea to consumers in Thailand and Burma, a Unocal spokesman 
     Unocal and its French partner have paid Rangoon only $20 million in 
     cash for the gas concession, Unocal Chairman Roger Beach told the U.S. 
     Senate at a hearing earlier this year. Royalties to Rangoon for gas 
     production will be paid in kind as gas that the government can use for 
     power generation or to produce fertilizers, Unocal says.
     Texaco Inc. has yet to determine whether its offshore gas find 420 
     kilometers south of Rangoon is commercially viable. But it, too, is 
     making some accommodations to the anti-Slorc campaign. "Should we 
     expand our activities in Myanmar ( Slorc's name for Burma ), we 
     believe that our presence could help build economic conditions that 
     encourage human-rights advancement," the New Yoprk company says. 
     Texaco alos intends to be a "positive influence" there by "respecting 
     the rights of individuals and by conducting our operations in an 
     ethical manner."
     Mark Mason, a professor at Yale University's management school who 
     closely watches the Burmese investment scene doesn't see much U.S. and 
     European money going into nonenergy ventures. By other accounts, most 
     nonoil investment is coming from other Asian countries - notably 
     Thailand and Singapore - that have a higher comfort level with the 
     current regime. But most prospective American investors are likely to 
     wait "until they see an improvement in the political situation," Mr. 
     Mason says.
     Even Japan, has the closest ties to Rangoon among the industrialized 
     countries, isn't totally immune to the anti-Slorc campaign. Since Ms. 
     Suu Kyi's unconditional release from house arrest in July, there has 
     been a resumption of Japanese aid but not enough to materially improve 
     the government's fortunes, Japanese diplomats say. The regime is 
     getting two grants - $16 million for the construction of a nursing 
     school and $50 million to reduce Burma's Japanese debt. But assistance 
     for higher-visibility projects such as the renovation of Rangoon's 
     airport is still awaiting a go-ahead from Tokyo.
     Tokyo says it provides aid to Burma on a "case-by-case" basis. A rough 
     translation of this diplomatese is that further business with Slorc 
     will depend on the reopening of political discourse with the Burmese 
     --------------------------------- end --------------------------