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Washington Times December 13, 1995
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.
Activists and Exiles keep up Pressure on Slorc in the West
By Eduardo Lachica
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
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
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.
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
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