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From New Frontiers, two articles on
- Subject: From New Frontiers, two articles on
- From: brelief@xxxxxxx
- Date: Tue, 20 Feb 1996 03:21:00
Subject: From New Frontiers, two articles on tourism
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Monthly Briefing on Tourism, Development and Environment
Issues in the Maekhong Subregion
Vol. 2, No. 2
SUU KYI SLAMS ASEAN BURMA POLICY, TOURISM
(The Nation: 31.01.1996) - IN an interview with AFP,
opposition leader and Nobel Peace Price winner Aung San Suu
Kyi believes ASEAN's policy of constructive engagement with
the Burmese military regime is flawed because it concentrates
on current economic prospects at the expense of political
change. She also suggested that tourists avoid Burma to show
they support calls for democratic reforms.
Economic "half-measures" taken by the junta would not bring
democracy, she said. "It will only lead to a widening gap
between the haves and the have-nots which is, in fact, inimical
In Suu Kyi's view, ASEAN should have second thoughts about
the early admission of Burma, which would join Brunei,
Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and
Vietnam. "Apart from anything else, I do not think the Burmese
economy is in as good shape as ASEAN would like it to be,"
She believed the average six to eight per cent economic growth
rate was already beginning to tail off. "There are some very,
very necessary structural changes that would have to take place
before there can be real economic development."
The opposition leader pointed out that her National League for
Democracy (NLD) was less than enthusiastic about the Junta's
plans to earn more tourist dollars by promoting "Visit Myanmar
"I do not think that it would help very much if the coming of
tourists is taken to mean that people don't care whether or not
there is democracy in Burma," she said. Referring to her earlier
statements that it was too soon for foreign investors to come to
Burma, she added: "I think for tourists, too, there is a time to
come and a time not to come."
Aung San Suu Kyi said she and the NLD would continue to
speak out, despite attacks against her in the official press.
"Under the law, of course, silence is consent, and we certainly
are not consenting to the existing situation." she stressed.
DON'T MISTAKE PEOPLE'S SMILES
(Relief Notes: 1995; The Irrawaddy: Dec. 95; Asia Inc.: Feb.
"It has been my experience, in a lifetime of studying repressive
societies, that people often smile, not because they are happy
but because they are afraid," said Madelaine K. Albright, US
Ambassador to the UN, on 9 September 1995 after SLORC's
No. l Khin Nyunt claimed the smiles of the Burmese people
proved they were contented
While the SLORC is promoting Visit Myanmar Year, trying to
present Burma as the "Golden Land" with happily smiling
people, the Burmese Relief Center - Japan is one of the many
groups that suggest tourists should not go. "If you go, you can
be sure that the red carpet you walk on was dyed with the
sweat, tears, and the blood of the Burmese people," they say.
Their primary objection to visiting Burma is that the tourism
industry rests on slave labour and exploitation of ordinary
citizens, thus directly adding to the already considerable misery
of oppressed Burmese civilians. Meanwhile, even the latest
report by UN human rights investigator Yozo Yokota
acknowledges that Burma may be using forced labour for
Mandalay with a population of 850,000 has become a boom
town. Trucks loaded with Chinese consumer goods clog the
narrow streets leading to the city's moated Citadel. At the foot
of Mandalay Hill, a Thai - Burmese joint venture is developing
the US$30 million Novotel Mandalay hotel in preparation for
Visit Myanmar Year. Singapore Technologies Industrial Corp.
in investing US$360 million to construct a new airport capable
of handling wide - body jets. The Mandalay City Development
Committee is spending US$166 million on infrastructure
improvements that include two dams it hopes will produce
sufficient electricity for the city, where brownouts are an
everyday experience. Meanwhile, tens of thousands of citizens
have been paid nothing to prepare the city for the expected
tourist influx. The military ordered that each family in
Mandalay contribute three days a month of free labour. Often
the labour is so long and tiring that people complain of not
recovering for several days. One young woman pointed out that
all the work could be done better by machines, but trucks and
machines use gas; people cost nothing.
Early last year, Mandalay's military commander decided to
eliminate traffic congestion by widening roads adjacent to the
old walled city by precisely seven meters. Families with houses
extending into the roadway were ordered to chop them off or
suffer the consequences. Residents complied without having a
chance to complain. Now, Mandalay travel guides, after taking
tourists to the obligatory temples and antique factories,
sometimes end their tours with showing their city's new "slice
In what the BBC calls "the largest forced labour gang since the
Japanese occupation," the government is building a six - lane
highway from Rangoon to Mandalay. Most of the work is being
done by women and children, but prisoners working in leg irons
have also been seen.
The widening of the legendary Burma Road from Mandalay via
Maymyo and Lashio to Mu Se on the Chinese border is another
Visit Year project. Truck drivers are routinely ordered at
gunpoint to unload their vehicles so they can be used to
transport crushed rock and other building materials. "The army
returns the truck but it never offers to protect the cargo that's
left dumped along the roadway," complained one driver.
Moreover, villagers are expected to willingly contribute labour,
and woe to those who resist. Recently, 60 villagers of Se Zone
near Maymyo were ordered to spend two weeks working on the
road, equipped with nothing more than their hoes and hands.
Inle Lake is another beautiful tourist spot. In order to prevent
the level of the lake from falling in summer and to keep it green
all year, the government is planning to build a dam on the
Biluchaung River. Tourists may enjoy the year - round beauty
of the lake, but Intha and Pa-O ethnic communities will no
longer be able to grow rice around the lake during the dry
season..The dam will flood 7,500 acres which currently
produce 300,000 sacks of rice per year. Ironically, the very
same people, who will be adversely affected by the dam, are
being forced to work on its construction, under the watchful eye
of the army.
The Ye - Tavoy railway under construction will enable tourist
access to the southern part of Burma. But it has been dubbed
the "new death railway", referring to the railway built during
World War II by the Japanese in the Thai - Burmese
borderland. It is estimated that the new project has already cost
200 to 300 lives, mainly through illness and exhaustion.
Workers have been recruited forcefully, and some of the written
orders are chilling in their bluntness. One letter says: "We
hereby inform you to come see the column commander as soon
as you receive this letter. If you fail for any reason, it will be
your responsibility, we inform you... If you are absent, a bullet
will come to you."
The military elite and their families are exempt from all the
forced labour projects. They have access to the best food, the
best medical care, and the best education in Burma, while the
rest must do with very little.
The list of forced relocations all over the country is also endless.
In preparation for Visit Myanmar Year, the International
Confederation of Free Trade Unions reports that a slum
clearance programme has destroyed the homes of a million
people in Rangoon alone. Soldiers have forced inhabitants into
trucks and dumped them in new "satellite towns" - often
roadless rural areas without housing, running water, sanitation,
or transportation to the city and work.
Meanwhile luxury hotels are mushrooming in Rangoon. Ne
Win's favourite daughter Sanda Win, for example, now runs the
exclusive Nawarat Hotel. According to a foreign diplomat, the
hotel is a gathering spot for high - class prostitutes. "Prostitution
in Burma is illegal, but you can find them at Sanda's hotel," he
Recently, it was also discovered that SLORC plans to demolish
the historic Secretariat building or rent it to foreign companies
to build a new hotel on the site. The building is of high
historical value for Burmese people, as it is the place where
Gen. Aung San and his colleagues were gunned down decades
ago. Significant meetings and parliamentary conventions were
held at the Secretariat.
The privileged tourist insists that travel is a basic right. But
what about the basic rights of Burmese citizens under the thumb
of a repressive and brutal regime? How much more hardship
will they have to take - for the sake of tourism? Of course,
people - with abundant leisure time and money to spend - are
free to go, but they should not expect that we wish them a