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BurmaNet News December 27, 1995
- Subject: BurmaNet News December 27, 1995
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"Appropriate Information Technologies, Practical Strategies"
The BurmaNet News: December 27, 1995
Noted in Passing:
Forced labour and portering of civilians by the military is
not accepted by any other country in Asean. Why is it not
criticised when used in Burma? - Faith Doherty, SAIN
(see: BKK POST: BURMA: BEHIND THE MASK)
BURMANET: MERRY CHRISTMAS AND APOLOGIES
NATION:SUU KYI PREVENTED FROM VISITING KAREN NEW YEAR
NATION: A LONG TIME COMING FROM THE SHADOWS
BKK POST: MOEI RIVER STALLS TO BE MOVED AND CHANNEL DREDGED
BKK POST: BURMA: BEHIND THE MASK
NATION: NO ATTACK ON BURMA VILLAGE, SAYS TOTAL
NATION:'BURMA IS IN NEED OF ENERGY AND HOPE'
BKK POST: REBELS RENOUNCE CEASEFIRE AGREEMENT WITH BURMA
BKK POST: UNCERTAIN FUTURE AWAITS KAREN REFUGEES
FINANCIAL TIMES: BURMA TO ALLOW JOINT VENTURES IN BANKING:
BURMANET: MERRY CHRISTMAS AND APOLOGIES
First, Merry Christmas and Happy New Year's to all of you on the BurmaNet.
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THE NATION: SUU KYI PREVENTED FROM VISITING KAREN NEW YEAR
FESTIVITIES December 24, 1995 AP (slightly abridged)
Authorities stopped dissident leader Aung San Suu Kyi from
attending a New Year's celebration of the Karen ethnic minority
and whisked her to military headquarters where they warned her,
a party spokesman said yesterday.
Four others who tried to get her to attend the Thursday
celebration were detained and are still to be released, said
Win Htein, spokesman for Suu Kyi's National League for
Democracy. He said the four_ three NLD members and the patron
of the New Year's event_ were arrested on Wednesday night.
Suu Kyi, who was released in July from six years of house
arrest by the country's military government, tried to attend
the celebration in the northern Rangoon suburb of Insein but
was stopped en route by authorities, Win Htein said.
Before being allowed to go home, she was taken to Rangoon
Command military headquarters, were she was told the
celebration was a traditional get-together of the Karen and not
a political gathering, he said. The military seized power in
1988 after violently suppressing pro-democracy street
demonstrations. It held a general election in 1990 but then
refused to hand over power after a landslide victory by the NLD.
The Karen New Year is celebrated annually with speeches,
feasting, dancing and music. Insein, a working class neighbourhood,
has a high concentration of Karens. The minority has been one of the
most active in fighting the Burmese government for greater autonomy
in its homeland in the country's east.
Win Htein identified the arrested men as Khun Myint Tun and Tin
Tun Oo, youth members of the NLD; Saw Tin Win, a member of the
NLD's central committee in Pa-an, the capital of Karen state;
and Mann Htay Shein, the patron of the Karen celebration.
Win Htein also confirmed a report that an NLD member in
Mandalay, the country's second biggest city, had been detained
for distributing videotapes of the NLD activities. He said the
reason given for the Dec 16 arrest of Sein Hla Aung was that it
is illegal to distribute videotapes without clearance from the
government censorship board. Sein Hla Aung will be tried on Dec
26, he said.
BKK POST: MOEI RIVER STALLS TO BE MOVED AND CHANNEL
DREDGED IN LINE WITH BURMESE DEMANDS
December 24, 1995 (abridged)
Burmese demands for the removal of 140 stalls along the Moei
river and the dredging of a channel will be met, a district officer said.
The agreement opens the way for work to resume on the opening of
border checkpoints and the Thai-Burmese Friendship Bridge at Myawaddy.
Mae Sot District Officer Somchai Hatayatanti said the stall
owners agreed to relocate to three rai of state-owned land.
Deputy Finance Minister Newin Chidchob and Deputy Interior
Minister Suchart Tancharoen are to visit Tak today to find ways
to allocate the Treasury Department land to the stall owners.
Riverside stall owners have insisted they will move out of the present
site only if they receive official approval from the Treasury Department
and that plans for the new site are organised.
THE NATION: A LONG TIME COMING FROM THE SHADOWS
December 24, 1995 (slightly abridged)
United Press International reporter John Hail testifies from
Rangoon about the uneasy stand-off between Burma's ruling junta
and opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi.
If Aung San Suu Kyi is to become the Nelson Mandela of Burma,
she is going about it very cautiously. The war of nerves
between her National League for Democracy and the ruling State
Law and Order Restoration Council, universally known as Slorc,
presents outside investors and diplomats with an awkward
dilemma: to invest in Burma's cash-strapped economy in the
interest of "constructive engagement", or further isolate it to
increase pressure for democratic reform.
The dilemma also will confront some tourists considering a
visit to the country during the Slorc-promoted "tourism year"
in 1996. The United Nations, Human Rights Watch Asia, Amnesty
International and Burmese refugees have documented continued
human rights abuses by Slorc, including the use of forced
labour in the construction of tourism projects.
Since her release in July from nearly six years of house
arrest, Suu Kyi has studiously avoided confrontation with the
military while working hard to rebuild her shattered political
party. Almost every day, National League for Democracy
delegations troop through the gates of Suu Kyi's lakeside
Rangoon home to meet their charismatic leader.
Nearly all come away impressed with her determination and her
faith in the eventual triumph of democracy in Burma. "Daw Suu"
(Aunt Suu), as she is known by her followers, gives priority to
NLD delegations visiting from outside Rangoon, hoping to
restore the nation-wide power base her party enjoyed before her
arrest in 1989.
On Saturdays and Sundays she mounts a platform behind her front
gate and talks through a loudspeaker system to crowds ranging
from few hundred to several thousand. The talks have evolved
from speeches to informal question-and-answer sessions
punctuated by laughter and applause and characterised by a
rapport between the 50-year-old Nobel Peace laureate and the
public. Suu Kyi's talks often contain subtle criticisms of the
military, but her overriding theme is reconciliation.
"National reconciliation is a vital prerequisite for achieving
the three main national causes laid down by the Slorc itself,
namely non-disintegration of the Union [of Burma], non-
disintegration of national solidarity and consolidation of
national sovereignty," Suu Kyi told 4,000 supporters in November.
Suu Kyi's weekend appearances are videotaped by her supporters,
copied and sent all over Burma.
"Although Aung San Suu Kyi has been released, this is only a
small positive step," said Zaw Min, an activist for the All
Burma Students' Democratic Front in Thailand. "She is in
Rangoon, but she cannot do much about the rest of the country.
She has to reorganise her party first. During her imprisonment
her party became weak."
Suu Kyi's front gate gatherings are technically illegal under
Slorc's strict military law, but authorities have kept direct
intervention to a minimum. Clearly the military also wants to
avoid, or at least delay, a confrontation with the NLD, not
only because it would exacerbate the country's status as a
human rights pariah but also because of Suu Kyi's status as the
daughter of Burmese independence hero Aung San.
But Slorc's hands-off policy toward the lady behind the gate
may be changing. The junta has refused to recognise the NLD's
Oct 10 reappointment of Suu Kyi as the party's general
secretary. The NLD's Nov 29 withdrawal from the National
Convention drafting principles for a new constitution was
regarded as a blow to the junta's desire for legitimacy.
The government responded by accusing Suu Kyi of falling under
the influence of the US ambassador to the United Nations,
Madeleine Albright, who visited her on Sept 9, and continued
the convention without the NLD. The NLD withdrawal came as no
surprise to most analysts. Suu Kyi and other party leaders had
previously labelled the convention a sham aimed at legitimising
and perpetuating military rule.
The junta has ignored Suu Kyi's repeated calls for talks
between the Slorc and the NLD. But it responded to her
criticism of the National Convention by publishing an article
in the state-controlled New Light of Myanmar newspaper warning
of possible civil unrest. Law and order has been the overriding
theme of government propaganda for the past seven years.
Government-run media contrast the current climate of increased
business activity with the savage upheavals of 1988, when
thousands of unarmed demonstrators were mowed down by army guns
and the heads of several soldiers were severed by angry mobs
and paraded around Rangoon on pikes.
Many in the foreign business community have ignored Suu Kyi's
calls for a moratorium on investment until multi-party
democracy is installed. Bertil Lintner, a Bangkok-based Burma-
watcher, said the military and the democracy movement appear to
be further apart than ever.
He said Western businesses rushing to get a piece of the Burma
market are partly responsible for tipping the balance further
in favour of the men with the guns. "Now Aung San Suu Kyi has
two enemies_ Slorc and the international business community,"
Lintner said. "Whatever she does next will get her in trouble,
including doing nothing. She risks being marginalized."
The rush to invest in Burma has been spearheaded by Singapore
and China, but Western companies are scrambling to catch up. A
US$400 million natural gas pipeline is under construction by
the petroleum gaints Total of France and Unocal of the United
States. Japan resumed development aid to Burma in October and
international lending institutions are considering a loan of
several billion dollars to help the country decontrol its currency.
Military spending accounts for an estimated 65 per cent of the
government's budget, contributing to an inflation rate of more
than 35 per cent.
Christopher Bruton, a Bangkok-based business consultant, said
he does not expect Suu Kyi's political campaign to interfere
with the gradually improving investment climate. "The way she's
proceeding is in a very persuasive, reconciliatory way, and I
think that's much to be applauded," Bruton said. "How far will
she get? Not very far with the kind of people that she's dealing with_
the State Law and Order Restoration Council. These people aren't very
conciliatory. They want to do things their way."
BKK POST: BURMA: BEHIND THE MASK
December 24, 1995
Well-heeled tourists, dignitaries and diplomats see the glossy
side of Burma_ a bluff painted by the ruling Slorc. But just
off the beaten track, the real economic forecast becomes
evident. It lies with the children who dig roads in chains, and
others who are fighting for the survival of their family. FAITH
DOHERTY of Southeast Asian Information Network reports.
The newspapers in Burma daily show images of generals
travelling around the country, carefully creating and maintaining
the illusion that Burma under their rule is developing and secure.
Virtually every delegation, whether it's a Japanese multi-
national or a donation of two computers for the much heralded
New Computer Centre in Rangoon, is exalted and filmed. Much
fuss is then made about who attended the meeting with the General.
The longer you stay in Burma the easier it is to see how
important it is for the ruling State Law and Order Restoration
Council (using their controlled media) to promote the facade.
Sometimes it works, and unless you've seen the Burma behind the
mask, you too can begin to believe in "progress" under the Slorc.
In Rangoon, seemingly endless new high-rise hotels, which only
business people or very rich tourists can afford, and a
partially finished freeway for private cars, hide another
reality. Rangoon is a city where cholera is endemic, and
hygiene standards so low that one visiting sanitation
consultant estimated it would take five years to be even close
to acceptable standards. Fresh seafood is available in
restaurants that will not accept local currency, but there is
very real hunger in back alleys.
Over the last 12 months, delegations visiting Burma have
stated, and lobbied, to the effect that the country has improved,
the Slorc are amenable to reform, and that the welfare of the Burmese
people. These sentiments are met with utter disbelief by those who
live in Burma and who face both the extreme measures of control by
the State, and their own growing poverty.
Capital investment is a term often used in the Slorc media, and
by the elite living in Burma, to describe current "development"
efforts. Since some multi-nationals and a small group of
foreign oil companies are prepared to stake claims in the
country before democratic reforms have begun, the general
public and the international community are asked to believe
that these investments will actually benefit the millions of
impoverished people in the country.
For the rulers of Burma, this is key component of their facade.
There is, as yet, no tangible evidence that any funds supplied
by these companies have done anything but worsen the plight of
civilians living in industrial "development" zones.
The Slorc illusion is made complete by investors who not only
have business dealings with the regime, but are taking steps to
publicise their involvements with glossy annual reports,
opinion pieces run in foreign countries, and in the case of the
oil industry, with professional lobbyists to pound the floors
of US Congress with their arguments of constructive engagement.
The truth is that most investors see only what the Slorc allows
them to see. Travel is restricted, itineraries worked out well
in advance, and local people know well the cost of any honest
discussions with VIP guests. Travelling in comfort, from
beautiful hotel rooms to chauffeured air-conditioned cars,
eating at state banquets, taking carefully orchestrated side
trips to the Shwedagon Pagoda, it is easy to be fooled. And to
convince yourself that what you do is not only going to make a
pile of money but help the local people.
Even without tight controls on a given visit, the poor have
been removed in forced (usually unpaid) relocations from scenic
areas, ensuring that visitors will see only beautiful buildings
and smiling staff. Burma's premier tourist city, Mandalay, has
recently undergone such an "improvement."
To construct a new ring road around the city, communities who
have lived for decades on the Irrawaddy, have been forcibly
relocated to a new satellite area on the outskirts of Mandalay.
The authorities offered this community their own land at the
new site, which they accepted. However, it soon became apparent
that the increased costs of travel to work were a major
economic burden. In addition, promised water and electricity
services were unavailable, not affordable, or often both.
Many people from these communities have returned to the river
to live and work. They will almost certainly be forced to move
again. Community members have stated they know they will be
forced (without pay) to help construct the ring road.
Another outcome of the Slorc facade is that opposition
movements, including democratically elected ones, are dismissed
and discredited, both at home and abroad. They are accused of
being "anti-business" and under the influence of "propaganda"
from ethnic rebels groups.
Little acknowledgement is given to the fact that these groups
are in touch with the people of Burma at grass roots levels
along the borders, but also in the heart of the country. If the
leaders the people themselves have chosen to represent them
have reservations about the way investment is being undertaken
in Burma, there voices cannot and should not be ignored.
If you leave Rangoon, avoiding the Slorc-controlled tourist
route of Upper Burma, and head south, you will encounter the
real story of Burma. Here the facade wears thin, the military
is nakedly in force, and the lives of the people you see confirm the
stories told by civilians who have fled to the many borders of the
country. This is not a country moving forward into rapid economic
growth, but a poverty-stricken place of fear and hunger.
As you leave Rangoon and head north towards Pegu, it is clear
that this will be the next part of the country used to promote
Visit Myanmar Year 1996. Roads are being repaired and widened,
and you already see the occasional tourist van guiding people
through the many hundreds of local communities.
The road work is being done by local people forced to work on
the roads for no money, but the tour guides are unlikely to
tell this part of the story. If they do mention that the
workers are local people, it will tell you about the wonders of
"volunteerism" in Burma, and how the people you see in the hot
sun are "gaining merit" by their contribution to the country.
Stories of forced labour are not new in Burma. In the last 12
months, as Visit Myanmar Year approaches, heated arguments
between proponents of the Slorc (including tour operators) and those
who have witnessed forced labour first hand have been fast and furious.
For the record, there is no law in Burma, including those dating from
colonial times, that allows the use of forced labour. There is no law
in Burma that allows the use of minors for forced labour, and there
is certainly not one person who has been used for forced labour who
has reported being happy or content with this abuse.
The people who work in the dust and heat while trucks and cars
roar by are not only villagers, but their children. An argument
that has been used to justify this human rights abuse is that
in Western societies we don't understand "the Asian Way". This
argument is an insult to the many of millions of Asian people
who believe that their labour is worth as much as that of any
person in any region.
To add insult to injury, many of these forced labourers know
that they and their families will never be in positions to gain
benefit from these construction projects. Forced labour and
portering of civilians by the military is not accepted by any
other country in Asean. Why is it not criticised when used in
Burma? Is it the Asian way to have a system that includes the
forcing of children, some under 12 years, to work a day sorting
stones on a hot and dusty highway?
It is the Asian way to force people from the homes so that a
railway line can be finished on time? The people of Burma
should have the right to answer this question, and without fear
of persecution for doing so.
This is not the Asian way, but the Slorc way, and no amount of
researching through colonial laws or use of racist divides will
ever justify these abuses. Local communities in the Pegu area
state that every two weeks they must contribute 50 kyats per
house-hold member to the development of a new highway through
In one village along this route, locals said the money they
"donate" is used to pay for a steamroller and tar machine. It
does not go to the families or children forced to work. If families
don't pay this levee, they are used to work the roads instead.
One begins to wonder what happens when all the hotels are
built, and the roads are straight and wide, and tourists
happily go about seeing the beauty of this extraordinary land.
What will be the situation for local people then? But tourists
bring money and jobs don't they?
Yes, if you are educated and connected to an influential
person. Not if you are from a rural area where the military
will rely on your labour for the development of infrastructure
to build a tourist-based economy.
Through the encouragement of the Asian Development Bank's
Regional plan, which includes Laos, Cambodia and Yunnan, Visit
Myanmar Year has been chosen by the military regime as a method
of development. But development for whom?
Since July 1994 there has been an increase in tourists visiting
Upper Burma and the negative impact of this is already
apparent. Take Sagaing for example. Tourists visit the area and
look at the many beautiful pagodas which are increasingly being
filled with local children who will greet you laughing and smiling.
They will reach out to you and take your hand, leading you through
the temples and posing for photographs, which seems so innocent.
>From a child's perspective it is, perhaps, innocence. But the
reality is that payment in some form, usually money, but
sometimes just a present, is expected, and at times demanded.
The problem with this innocent scene is that children are now
earning up to four times as much as their parents, encouraging
other poor working families to join the trade. These children
are now becoming bread-winners, and not, it goes without
saying, attending school.
This occurs in other countries, of course, but is just starting
in Burma, and we know all too well the consequences of this
form of "development". What happens to a young girl who is
uneducated and unskilled when she reaches puberty and can no-
longer perform for tourists as a child? And the young boys?
There is an alarming increase of street children in the country
and tourism is not going to help this generation develop into
As you travel by land through Pegu and continue south to
Moulmein the face of the Slorc army reappears. Bunkers with
armed soldiers are dug in around most bridges. There are
multiple checkpoints. The real face; forced labour, chain gangs
and prisoners. Gone are the billboards promoting the Golden
land and the advertisements for tourists.
Further North, the townships of Bilin and Thaton are familiar
names to people listening to those that have fled Burma as a
result of extreme hardships, fear of death and abuse by the
Slorc military. People enslaved along these roads are from the
poorest of the poor. They have no chance of benefiting from
tourism, let alone and development plans the Slorc may have.
They come from the rural base of the Tennasserim Division in
Southern Burma, and are mostly farmers and fishermen.
The month of December is traditionally harvest time here. With
an increased quota of rice ordered by the Slorc army, every
able body is out in the fields harvesting. At this crucial
time, orders have been given to village headmen for
contributions of road-repair labour from each household. The
only labour the villages can spare at harvest time are children
and so, as you drive through Bilin and Thaton, it is the faces
of these young people you see sifting stones and laying gravel
while their parents toil the land.
Back in Rangoon the New Light of Myanmar heralds the opening of
a newly asphalted 37th street in Kyauktada by Secretary 2 Lt
Gen Tin Oo. The opening of a new Toyota service station is
given great status by the presence of Economic czar Minister
Brig Gen Abel and the Ambassador of Japan. Development?
The people of Burma are not fooled. They may be only whispering
their grievances to friends and foreigners at the moment, but
down the road from Slorc's PR biltz, thousands of people gather
each weekend at 54 University Avenue to hear their questions
addressed and the reality of their experience, spoken openly.
The newspaper pictures of generals travelling around the
country, smiling and ever-present, will not work. The true face
of the Slorc is clear to the people of Burma, even if it is not
to foreign investors, visiting dignitaries, and well-heeled
tourists. If people in Burma, with limited access to information,
can see the truth of their situation, how much more should those
in countries with free presses, unlimited access to information, and
the Internet, be aware of the reality of life under the Slorc. (BP)
BKK POST: REBELS RENOUNCE CEASEFIRE AGREEMENT WITH BURMA
December 25, 1995 AFP
Karenni ethnic rebels have declared a ceasefire agreement
with the Burmese junta null and void due to continued
violations of the agreement by the Burmese military, a
statement received here yesterday.
"In violation of the agreement (Burma's army) started
collecting porters' fees and press-ganging civilians for porterage,
(and) launched a major military offensive sending thousands of its
troops into the KNPP-controlled area," the statement said.
The Karenni National Progressive Party (KNPP) said it was
willing to continue holding ceasefire talks, however, and
that it believed peace could be achieved under the terms of
the former agreement, signed March 21.
The KNPP was one of fifteen armed ethnic opposition groups to
have signed ceasefire agreements with the ruling State Law
and Order Restoration Council (Slorc) in return for
development aid and de facto control of designated areas.
The March agreement "did not amount to an official agreement," but
had achieved a state where the KNPP was prepared to return to the
legal fold, Slorc military authorities were cited as telling a KNPP
delegation to Rangoon.
"Slorc has not only violated an agreement reached with KNPP
on March 21, 1995. It also categorised KNPP as the only party
that surrendered. Hence, KNPP regards the agreement reached
with Slorc as null and void," the statement said.
During the November 21 talks in Rangoon, the junta also said
it would not withdraw its troops from Karenni-held areas
designated in the agreement, the Karenni said. (BP)
THE NATION: NO ATTACK ON BURMA VILLAGE, SAYS TOTAL
December 25, 1995 By Yindee Lertcharoenchok
(abridged, see following article for more information)
France's oil giant Total has denied that any attack took
place on Dec 2 against a Burmese village where the company
was preparing to lay a pipeline to pump natural gas from
Burma's Gulf of Martaban to Thailand.
Joseph Daniel, Total's public affairs vice president, who has
just returned from a visit to the project area in southern
Burma, rejected the rumours that a group of armed men
attacked Kanbauk village, in which one foreigner working for
Total was either killed or wounded.
He [also] reiterated that the victims, who were killed and wounded
during the March ambush, were all Burmese and not foreigners
as claimed by the Karen National Union (KNU), suspected of
involvement in the attack.
A senior official from the KNU Fourth Brigade in southern
Burma told The Nation in a recent interview that at least one
foreigner was either killed or injured when a group of local
Karen villagers attacked the village on Dec 2. He said his
group was still waiting for a final confirmation of the attack.
Kanbauk, which is located a few miles from the coast, was to
serve as the main headquarters for the Total pipeline operation
which pumps gas from the Yadana Field in the Andaman Sea.
Daniel said laying of the pipeline had not yet started but
confirmed that some civil engineering work had started in
October, including the construction of a landing strip and a
wharf to accommodate ships which would deliver the equipment
needed for construction of the onshore pipeline. He added
that workers on the project "were hired locally in order to
provide local employment".
While Karen officials said they had received no reports of
forced labour on the project so far, the wages paid to the
workers was said to be 100 kyat a day (Bt385 at the official
rate and Bt20 at the black market rate). Daniel, however,
denied that saying "their salaries are above the prevailing
wage scale for the region and their training will be comprehensive".
He said skilled workers earned 300 kyat per day, 250 kyat per
day for semi-skilled workers, and 200 kyat per day for
unskilled workers. In addition to the salary the workers
receive free accommodation, food, safety equipment and
medical examinations, he said.
The Total spokesman rejected KNU officials' claims that Total
foreign staff do not stay on the at the site for security reasons and
were being flown in daily by helicopter from Rangoon. He said both
foreigners and Burmese workers live locally at the site in a Total
accommodation camp. "Helicopters are mainly used as a personnel
shuttle and for transportation between the accommodation camp and
the work sites," he said. (TN)
THE NATION: 'BURMA IS IN NEED OF ENERGY AND HOPE'
December 25, 1995
Yindee Lertcharoenchok talked by telephone last week to
Joseph Daniel, Total Vice President of Public Affairs, in
Paris. Here are his answers to those questions and other
submitted in written form.
I have heard from Karen officials that there was an attack on
Dec 2 by a group of unidentified armed group in Kanbouk
village and that some foreigners working for the Total gas
pipeline project were either wounded or killed. Is it true?
It is absolutely untrue. I am absolutely sure that no attack
or ambush has taken place in the area since March 8 [when a
group of unidentified armed forces attacked Total survey
team]. I visited the pipeline site last week and I am
absolutely firm on my information. It is not the first time
that such rumours were spread. I also want to mention here
once again that during the March 8 attack, the five people
killed were Burmese and the 11 wounded were also Burmese.
Karen officials said some groundworks have already started
for the laying of the gas pipeline. Is it true? If not, what
is the status of the gas pipeline project on the ground now?
How does the Yadana project and the natural gas pipeline
project proceed from now on? When will the pipeline be laid,
how long does it take to lay the pipeline, when will it be
completed and when will the natural gas started to flow to Thailand?
The laying of the gas pipeline strictly speaking has not yet
begun. As I already said before, the onshore gas pipeline will be
laid between October 1996 and April 1997, during the dry season.
Gas deliveries to Thailand are scheduled to begin on July 1,
1998. From the initial rate of 65 million cubic feet per day,
deliveries are expected to rise progressively over the next
14 months to a plateau level of 525 million cubic feet per
day. Planned for a period of 30 years, the gas will be
delivered to Thailand's Ratchaburi region, where it will be
used to fire a 2,800-megawatt power plant run by the
Electricity Generating Authority of Thailand. Over the longer
term, production from the Yadana gas field could rise to 650
million cubic feet per day, with the additional output used
to supply Burma's domestic energy demand.
On the other hand, we confirm that civil engineering works
have started last October. These works include in particular
the construction of a landing strip and the building of a
wharf. The aim of this wharf is to accommodate the barges
which will deliver all the equipment needed for the
construction of the onshore gas pipeline. These works are
being executed by an international contractor, working under
We have heard that Total/Unocal will have to call two more
biddings, one in the supply of the pipeline and the other for
the laying of the pipeline? Is it true? What will be the process from now?
Calls for tenders to international construction companies for
both the offshore and onshore works are under way. As usual,
like in all our projects throughout the world, we select
specialised and recognised contractors. As long as the contractors
are not chosen yet, we generally do not give further information.
Karen officials said that people working in the gas pipeline
area are now being paid 100 kyat a day [125 kyat equals US$1
on the black market rate}. Is it true? Who are these people working
on the ground? Are they recruited from Rangoon or from the area?
Workers directly participating in the construction of the
Yadana pipeline are hired locally, in order to provide employment
locally. Total and its contractors use and will use a majority of local
workers, we go through normal hiring process and are duly paid.
We have established employment guidelines that assure that a
proportional cross-section of the ethnic population of each
village is hired. Their salaries are above the prevailing
wage scale for the region and their training will be comprehensive.
The wages paid are 300 kyat/day for skilled workers, 250 kyat/day for
semiskilled workers, and 200 kyat/day for unskilled workers. In addition
to their salary, the workers receive free accommodation, food, safety
equipment and a medical examination.
Karen officials said that foreigners working for Total/Unocal
do not stay in the project area because of security reasons.
They are, instead, being flown back and forth daily by
helicopter from Rangoon. Is Total concerned with the lack of
security protection on the part of the Burmese Army?
This allegation is absolutely untrue. Both foreigners and
Burmese workers live locally on the site, in our accommodation
camp. Helicopters are mainly used for shuttle and local transport
between accommodation camp and work sites.
Karen officials said Total has twice transported equipment by
boat from Singapore to the pipeline site. Is it true?
We confirmed that all our equipment is and will be shipped by
sea. This is the very reason why we are building wharf
referred to in our earlier questions.
There are 13 villages near the pipeline project. What is the
number of the population living there? Are they Burmese,
Karen or Mon? Are they affected by the project either by
means of relocation or recruitment as forced labour?
The 13 villages in the vicinity of the pipeline route are:
Zadi, Hpaungtaw, Daminseik, Kaunghmu, Tchechaung, Ohnbinkwin,
Pingyi, Eindayaza, Migyaunglaung, Kaleinaung, Zinba,
Migyaunggaing and Kanbauk. These villages are predominantly
of Burman, Mon and Karen origins.
Your mentioned some displacements and relocations of
population. Since the signature of the Production Sharing
Contract in 1992, no population has been moved, to our best
knowledge. Furthermore, we have no plan to move anyone in
connection with this project, as the route of the pipeline has been
carefully selected to ensure that it does not pass through any villages.
When construction begins, the pipeline will cross some
cultivated land, which often happens in large building
projects around the world. As it is normal and expected,
Total and its partners will naturally provide compensation,
either in monetary or land terms, to the people who could be affected.
Burma's Opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi has urged foreign
investors not to rush to Burma for the time being, but to
wait until democracy is restored. What is your comment to
that remark? Do you think that your project, one of the
largest in Burma, could affect democratic reforms in Burma?
As a major international company, we do not, as a rule,
generally comment on the political situation in the different
countries where we operate. Having said that, we think that
through our presence in Burma, Total participates in the
economical development of this country for the benefit of a
people that has been isolated for the past 33 years and is in
need of energy and hope to shape its future.
The right to economic development is a basic human rights in
countries with limited resources. Indeed, we think it is in
the interest of a country rich in confirmed energy resources
to open up to the rest of the world, to foster social change
and to ensure peace on its territory. This would earn the
much-needed confidence of international investors with a view
to tapping and marketing its natural resources that are a key
factor to economic growth.
Do you foresee the March 8 ambush on Total survey team as a
obstacle or a possible threat to the smooth operation of your
Yadana gas pipeline project? If not how does Total plan to
proceed its project smoothly, and what will be a guarantee of
the security for both Total staff members and the project as a whole?
As a general rule, Total never comments on security matters
on our plants or sites.
Will the laying of the offshore pipeline start at the same
time as the onshore pipeline?
The timetable is as follows. The onshore pipeline will be
laid in Oct 1996-April 1997 dry seasons, while the offshore
platforms will be installed from mid-1997 to early 1998.
Offshore pipeline will be laid from mid 1997 to late 1997.
Gas deliveries to Thailand are scheduled to begin on July 1,
1998, as already said before.
What is the total reserve of Yadana Gas Field?
The gas in place is estimated to be over five trillion cubic
feet (i.e. 140 billion cubic metres). (TN)
BKK POST: UNCERTAIN FUTURE AWAITS KAREN REFUGEES
December 24, 1995
Living in fear
Thailand has been a sanctuary for Karens seeking a safe haven
from the persecution of the Burmese military. However, darkness
still prevails and their safety still precariously hangs - by a
thin thread. SOMBAT RAKSAKUL and SAW SYLVIA find that fear
continues to be their constant companion.
THOUGH the media often says the Thai Army "protects the camps",
in reality little is being done to protect refugees, let alone
the territorial integrity of Thailand.
Early this month, the breakaway Democratic Karen Buddhist Army
(DKBA) once again intruded Thailand to harass one of the many
camps on the Thai side of the border. This time, armed with M-16
rifles and AK-47 grenade launchers, they attacked the Sho Klo
camp. One missionary was killed.
Since the fall of Manerplaw, the Karen National Union's
headquarters, this year the Burmese military and the DKBA have
conducted frequent cross-border raids to harass and threaten camp
residents, putting pressure on them to return to Burma.
Karen camp leaders said they often warned Thai border guards
stationed at the camps a day or two in advance of imminent
attacks by the Burmese and the DKBA. Though these reports had
often turned out to be true, no defensive measures were taken.
"We warned them of a possible DKBA attack but they simply adopt a
nonchalant attitude. We live in constant fear," said a Karen refugee.
Karens have set up their own security measures. They have their
own guards working round the clock. It is easier for them as they
are familiar with each other, whereas Thais may not be able to
differentiate them from a Slorc soldier.
"There is really not much we can do. We have no weapons to defend
ourselves yet we cannot rely on the Thais for protection," said a
Karen camp leader.
It has been alleged that Thai officials often regard raids on
camps as an internal problem within the two Karen groups.
Therefore, they dismiss routine trespassing of Burmese troops and
DKBA onto Thai soil.
The Karens are not the only target of DKBA violence. Local people
in Tak's border districts also fear they will be hurt or killed.
In April, three members of a fiveman Thai police unit were killed
by DKBA in Sob Moei district of Mae Hong-Son. Tourism on the
border towns have also suffered. Last month, a tour van carrying
employees of the Telecom Holding Company was ambushed in Tak.
They were attacked by a hand grenade and rifle fire. One man was
killed and 10 others injured.
A managing director of a tour agency in Mae Sot said the incident
led to many cancelled trekking tours and border incidents have
"It is a national disgrace that the Thai armed forces, whose job
is to defend Thailand's national integrity, cannot defend its
international rights," said a Thai-Karen living in Mae Sot.
There seems a lack of unity in Thai foreign policy towards Burma.
It has been alleged that there are too many government ministries
with vested interest involved in the formulation of a Burma policy.
There is little coordination and centralisation between the
ministries of Foreign Affairs, the Interior, the Prime Minister's
Office and the Defense Ministry. This has proved to be an
obstacle to the urgent need for a firm and credible Burma policy.
The Thai Government has time and again tried to play down border
tensions between Burma and Thailand. In an attempt to reverse the
tide of Burmese anger and hostility against Thailand, it tried to
restore "brotherly" relations by drawing on personal connections
with the Burmese junta.
This reconciliatory stance is said to have led authorities to
avoid making a firm decision concerning proper security
arrangements at refugee camps. Though the Thai military have
stationed Thai civilians as guards at the camps, they are ill-
equipped to fend off attacks by the DKBA. These guards also do
not have the authority to retaliate.
There is a long chain of command they have to follow. It is
necessary for them to seek the approval of higher authorities in
Mae Sot and Mae Sariang, who in turn have to seek permission from
Army headquarters in Bangkok.
Most Thai officers stationed at the border are low-ranking
officials. In addition to not having any authority to make
decisions, they are also concerned with over-stepping Ministry
lines because of an unclear policy on Burma.
"When we inform the guards of an imminent DKBO attack, they
simply say they will inform Bangkok," said a Karen camp leader.
Another security fear is Thai authorities' policy of
consolidating various refugee camps into a large camp. Karen camp
leaders have raised fears that it will be difficult to manage and
the security threat will be greater.
However, it will make it easier for the Thai National Security
Council to carry out mass forced repatriation. An officer from
the Interior said it is Thai policy to send "displaced people"
back to Burma as soon as the situation is "back to normal."
Thai authorities, is seems, have failed to recognise the fighting
in Burma is not the only reason why refugees had to leave their
homes and flee to Thailand. The influx of these refugees pouring
into Thailand is the result of systematic persecutions carried
out by the Burmese military.
This includes the practise of torture, summary and arbitrary
execution, forced labour and the violation of basic human rights.
"Ceasefire agreements do not mean refugees will be safe if they
go back," said a border relief worker. "Unless there is a drastic
change in the way Slorc treats the Karens Burma will never be
normal for them to go back to."
Despite numerous tough measures and humiliation inflicted by
Slorc, it seems the Thai Government continues to court the
military regime in Rangoon.
Thai border and tourism have suffered from the abrupt closure of
the Myawaddy-Mae Sot border crossing- and an anti-Thai goods campaign.
The presence of Karens at the border is seen as a thorn in Thai-
"The Karen refugee sticks out like a sore thumb in the eyes of
Thai officers with a vested interest in Burma," said a border
relief worker. "And thus is the cause of suspicion and mistrust
between both countries. "
The United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) has been
prohibited from being directly involved in caring for Karens in
camps because Thailand does not recognise them as "refugees" but
as "displaced" people.
"The Government treats the Karens different from Cambodian refugees
because the situation is different," said a Thai Interior Ministry official.
In the 1980s, Thailand regarded Vietnamese troops in Cambodia as
"the biggest security threat", and therefore supported the
Cambodian resistance factions against the Vietnamese.
Similarly, the Cambodian resistance needed allies and therefore
turned to Thailand for support. Thus the Thais were willing to
recognise Cambodians at the Thai-Cambodian border as refugees and
accept support from UNHCR and other international organisations.
However, in Burma there is no similar security threat. Instead,
there are economic benefits that Thais want to gain from engaging
with Burma. Therefore, displaced Karens-are seen as an economic
burden and a political obstacle: said a Thai Interior Ministry official.
To avoid interference from UNHCR, the Ministry of Interior has
been assigned to oversee-the management of refugee camps along
Thai-Burmese border and have allowed medium-size non-governmental
organisations to bring in food and medical supplies.
Only 20 officers from Bangkok and officers from border provinces
and districts are assigned to monitor and manage the camps.
Recently, the Ministry employed two companies of civilian guards
to be stationed in Tak and Mae Hong Son province. However, no
budget is allocated to the management of this area.
"The Ministry of Interior does not pay for food and medical
supplies as it is the business of foreign aid organisations. The
ministry's expense is to only provide allowances for civilian
guards and officers working in the field," said an officer from
the Ministry of Interior.
However, without the presence of an international organisation,
there is widespread abuse of power among Thai officers working in
the field, an NGO worker claimed.
An NGO source said Thai civilian guards stationed in the camps
often demand a fraction of food supply and materials brought in
for the refugees. There are frequent abuses of power and Karens
have to constantly put up with the demands of Thai officers.
"They take some of the building materials for personal use. This
has left the refugees with barely enough construction material
remaining so that houses have had to be built in various stages,"
said a border relief worker. This is said to have caused undue
delays in constructing hospitals and housing for refugees.
Thai authorities hold a tight rein on private overseas
organisations providing for refugees and use it as a weapon to
get what they want, according to another relief worker.
"Anytime they can stop us from bringing aid in. And the refugees
would be totally isolated," he said.
As the Ministry of Interior becomes more involved in the border
situation, restrictions become more stringent. They have
disallowed individual foreign relief workers into the camps and
have restricted the number of NGOs working with the Karens.
One Australian wanted to set up training programmes for the
Karens. There was adequate funding and resources. All it needed
was formal approval from the Interior Ministry. But he had to
encounter numerous bureaucratic problems.
"The Ministry of Interior has no structural framework in their
management of the Karen camp," he said. "I was told to obtain
approval from Bangkok, from the province and numerous other
government agencies. I have been going on a merry-go-round. It is
He also said NGOs who already working with the Karens have not
been very helpful. "They seem only interested if I have rice and
fish paste to offer. This is understandable but it is necessary
to see the entire Karen well-being from the long-run and a larger
A former volunteer teacher "The young generation of-Karens face a
bleak future. They has struggle against boredom. There is almost
zero opportunity to further their studies after the 10th standard."
Several organisations before conducted vocational training;
programmes, running courses such as health education, politics
and education management. But they were only short-term courses.
Now closure of camps to individual foreign relief workers makes
it difficult for private organisations to organise courses.
"Many feel at a loss. They have potential as young adults but no
opportunities, and the Thai government have not been much of a
An Officer from the Interior Ministry said the reason for not
supporting the Karens with anything other than shelter is the
Thai policy of "pushing them back as soon as possible and the
camp is a temporary condition."
Thai foreign policy towards Burma is constantly under criticism.
It attempts to play the field but is unable to firmly define
rules with its counterpart.
The Karens are sandwiched between two big powers _ Thailand and
Burma. They are but a pawn in their courting game and have to
take the heat.
A Karen refugee summed up the feelings of ordinary Karen
villagers: "Burma is my home and will always be. The internal
dynamics of politics is beyond my comprehension. I just want to
live a normal life and not live in fear.
FINANCIAL TIMES: BURMA TO ALLOW JOINT VENTURES IN BANKING:
December 20, 1995 By Chit Tun and Ted Bardacke
Representative office is the first requirement for foreign banks
The Burmese government is to allow foreign banks which have opened
representative offices to set up joint ventures with private Burmese banks.
Foreign banks must provide at least 35 per cent of the equity capital in the
joint venture banks but there is no upper limit on foreign participation and the
exact ratio would be subject to negotiation between foreign and local partners,
Brig Gen Win Tin, the finance minister, said in a speech carried by the official
The move, which one foreign banker said had been under consideration for at
least a year, is the second important financial reform Burma has put in place
since an International Monetary Fund team set up a technical monitoring
programme for Burma. Under it, the government would have to implement a set of
recommendations in order to be eligible to apply for renewed funding.
The finance minister said that foreign banks must first open a
representative office in Rangoon, the capital, in order to form a joint venture
with a Burmese private bank.
Twenty-two foreign banks, including Banque Indosuez, Bank of Commerce
Malaysia, Banque Nationale de Paris, Hongkong and Shanghai Banking Corporation,
and Standard Chartered Bank, already have representative offices in Rangoon.
Nine more foreign banks have been issued licences to open such offices.
Since Burma's first round of financial reforms in 1992, 15 private Burmese
banks have been established, 13 in Rangoon and one each in Mandalay and
Taunggyi, capital of the Shan state. All these banks are available for joint
ventures with foreign banks, the finance minister said.
The joint-venture banks will be allowed to take deposits in local and
foreign currencies but any overseas transfers will still have to be done through
the government-owned Foreign Trade Bank.
The minister said the joint venture banks will continue to exist even after
existing representative offices of foreign banks have been allowed to convert
No time frame for such a conversion was given but Mr Kyi Aye, the central
bank governor, said in interview earlier this year that the government wanted to
give local banks 'a number of years to develop' before allowing wholly-owned
foreign banks to compete on equal footing.
Earlier this month the government allowed private companies and citizens
legally to exchange the local currency, the kyat, at the market rate of about
125 to the US dollar as opposed to the official rate of 6 kyat to the US dollar.
The government still maintains strict controls over capital outflows.