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Burma Net News May 19, 1996 (r)
- Subject: Burma Net News May 19, 1996 (r)
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- Date: Sun, 19 May 1996 00:02:00
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Date: Sat, 18 May 1996 23:58:52 -0700 (PDT)
------------------------ BurmaNet ------------------------
"Appropriate Information Technologies, Practical Strategies"
The BurmaNet News: May 17, 1996
Issue # 411
Noted in Passing:
International pressure can change the situation
in Burma. Tough sanctions,not so-called constructive
engagement, finally brought about a new South Africa.
This is the only language that tyrants understand.
-Aung San Suu Kyi and Desmond Tutu
(See JOURNEY TO BURMA'S GULAG)
NCUB: SPECIAL RESOLUTION
THE NATION: JOURNEY TO BURMA'S GULAG
THE NATION: JAPAN INC SHAKES OFF ITS RESERVATIONS
ABOUT DOING BUSINESS IN BURMA.
THE NATION : BURMESE REBELS UNITE AGAINST
THE NATION : BURMA LOOKS TO TOKYO FOR KEY
THE NATION: FILM ADDS FUEL TO BURMA BOYCOTT
THE NATIO : RECORD RUBY TO MUSEUM
BKK POST :STANDARD SEAMEN'S PLIGHT SHOWS DARK SIDE
NATIONAL COUNCIL OF THE UNION OF BURMA
Special resolution of the 4th Conference of the National Council of
The Union of Burma (NCUB) On The Proposed U.S. Trade and
Investment Sanctions On Burma
Liberated Area, Burma
1. That investment in Burma current or in he future will have no effect:
(a) on Burma's inflation and the living standard of the people.
(b) on the current and future income of the people and it
will not stem the flow of thousands of Burmese people
seeking employment in neighboring and foreign countries
to escape suffering and poverty.
(c) on the forced labor situation regarding infrastructure
projects and the resulting human rights abuses
(d) on the stemming of the tide of Burmese refugees in
(e) on the living standard and the human rights situation of
the ethnic nationalities, including those who have entered
into cease-fire agreement with Slorc.
2. That investment in Burma current or in the future will only be
to Slorc for the following reasons:
(a) increasing the individual wealth of Slorc members and
(b) increasing military expenditure resulting in the military
expanding to over 300,000 and its security agencies.
(c) increasing Slorc's financial confidence resulting in
a complete disregard for Daw Aung San Suu Kyi's persistent
calls for dialogue towards national reconciliation, and also
the National League for Democracy's latest demand for the
convening of the People's Assembly.
(d) increasing mass relocation and forced labor to carry out
investment projects in Burma.
Dated: 16 May, 1996
U Teddy Buri
Prime Minister Office Minister
National Coalition Government of the Union of Burma
U Thein Oo
National League for Democracy (Liberated Area)
U Tin Maung Thet
All Burma Muslim Union
Dr. Naing Aung
All Burma Students' Democratic Front
U Win M0in
Joint General Secretary
All Burma Students' Democratic Front
U Myint Zaw
Democratic Party for New Society
Ashin Khay Marsarra
All Burma Young Monks' Union
Khaing Soe Naing Aung
Arakan Liberation Party
Secretary of Foreign Affairs
Chin National Front
U Tin Maung Win
Committee for Restoration of Democracy in Burma
Saw Ba Thin
Karen National Union
B. Kya Oo
Lahu National Organization
JOURNEY TO BURMA'S GULAG
Australian journalist John Pilger has just returned from Mon
State. Where an army of slave labourers is building the Ye-Tavoy
gas line. Travelling undercover with cameraman David Munro, he
gathered evidence for their documentary Inside Burma: Land of
Fear which goes on television in Britain this week. Here, he
describes a Burma tourists do not see.
The full force of events in Burma struck me travelling deep in
the south of the country, in Mon State, where I found what has
been described as a second "death railway. Connecting the towns
of Ye and Tavoy, this is an extension of the notorious railway
built by the Japanese during World War II with the slave labour
of more than l00,000 Asian and Allied prisoners of-war.
I had enered Burma posing as a travel consultant - bizarrely,
after 34 years isolation, the military regime has declared 1996
Visit Myanmar Year - and travelled to the site of the original
UK boycott gathers steam: A12
A Japanese locomotive stands as it was abandoned; on the railway
lines in front of it is a square of barbed wire enclosed three
petrified figures rendered in cement; a Japanese guard with a
rifle and two emaciated prisoners working with pick axes.
Further down the line, history is repeating itself. This is the
Burma's great secret. Although human rights organisations have
documented the testimonies of the slave workers on the new death
railway, few outsiders have seen it.
"Independent travellers" are banned from thus area; it is Burma's
Travelling over spine-gutting roads at night, often without
headlights, we passed silhouettes of watchtowers and groups of
prisoners in chains, quarrying rock. Those at roadblocks were
junior, asleep or uninterested; money fluttered across to them.
The towns in this remote part of the country are a step back in
time, as if the British Raj are away at the hill stations.
Ancient sewing machines whirred on balconies; the roads were
filled with bicycles not cars.
On a hill high above Tavoy loomed the Lyaung-vdaw-mu, one of the
most spectacular reclining Buddha images in the world. Built in
1931, it is as long as an Olympic running track; the palm of one
hand is one metre across and the big toe more than twice my
Two awestruck soldiers kneeling in its vast shadow without their
boots were no longer oppressors, as most soldiers are regarded in
Burma. Yet at the end of the long flight of stone steps down to
the road a truck with steel-helmeted troops ground its gears and
forged ruthlessly through the scattering bicycles.
People considered us with due curiosity; a whole generation has
grown up here having seldom laid eyes on Europeans. To talk
openly to one is to beckon interrogation, and worse. We reckoned
we had about a day and a night to find the railway before we were
Following the line of embankments north into the jungle we
succeeded in getting lost, then by chance came upon a clearing
that presented a sight that might have been a tableau of
Victorian England. Scores of people were building embankments and
a bridge across a dry river bed.
>From out of jungle so dense that its bamboo and foliage formed
great wickerwork screens, they were carving the railway. A
six-metre high embankment had been built with earth dug by hoe
and hand from huge holes.
The skilled were paid about Btl2 a day; the majority were slave
labourers of whom many were children, Laboriously and clumsily
the child workers wrested clay from the excavations, sharing a
hoe between three. One little girl in a long blue dress struggled
to wield a hoe taller than herself, then fell back exhausted and,
with a grimace, held her aching shoulder.
The children carried heavy loads of mud mixed with straw in
baskets and dishes on their heads and clearly agonised under the
weight of it. They poured it into a vat and grinder, turned by
two tethered oxen.
The sticky clay, now almost as hard as rock, was gathered by two
small children, one of them small enough to fit up to his
shoulders in a hole directly beneath the grinder.
Horrified, I watched a load of clay, like fresh cement, tip over
him, almost burying him, I reached under his arms and pulled him
out. How many children are trapped and die like that? As many as
300 adults and children have been killed or have died from
disease and exhaustion, according to one estimate.
Every village along the way must give its labour "voluntarily"
regardless of age or the state of people's health. Advance
pregnancy is no excuse. If people protest that, as peasant
farmers, their labour is all they have to keep them and their
families alive, they are fined and their possessions confiscated.
If a whole village objects, the head man is beaten or killed and
all the houses razed.
"I had malaria but still they made me work on the railway", a
former civil servant told me in a nearby safe area. "I was so
sick I kept falling down as I worked. I saw one old man
accidentally drop his load into the river. As he tried to
retrieve it, the soldiers shot him in the head. I could see the
water turn red with his blood, then the river carried him away".
A man who escaped with his wife said, "I saw people dying because
of landslides or fever. They didn't bother to bury the bodies
properly, with a funeral. They just dug a hole and left them
His wife, Min, said, "I feel for the children. They are too young
to anticipate danger, so they are vulnerable. They are the ones
who die first".
I asked her if she knew why she was being forced to work in this
way. "We were told nothing", she said. "We overheard we were
building a railway so that a French oil company could run a
pipeline through; and foreigners came to look over the site".
The oil company is Total, which is part-owned by the French
government. In partnership with the American company, Unocal,
Total is building a $1 billion (Bt25 billion) pipeline that will
carry Burma's natural gas into Thailand. The deal will give the
State Law and Order Council, or Slorc, as the Rangoon generals
call themselves, an estimated $400 million a year over 30 years.
It is also estimated that two-thirds of the regime's revenue from
foreign investment comes from foreign oil companies. In its 1993
report on human rights abuses throughout the world, the US State
Department says the Burmese government "routinely" uses slave
labour and "will use the new railway to transport soldiers and
supplies into the pipeline area".
The oil companies deny the railway is linked to the pipeline
project, but although most supplies are likely to arrive by sea,
there can be no doubt that the railway will allow the generals to
protect the companies' investment and their own cut from it.
In 1993 Total was contacted by officials of the National
Coalition Government of the Union of Burma, the government in
exile representing the National League for Democracy - the party
of Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi.
They provided the company with extensive evidence of slave labour
along the route of the pipeline. They also demonstrated how the
profits from the project would invariably buy the arms and
military equipment to which at least half of the national budget
is devoted, thus helping to under-write the repression of the
population. Total's response was that it would "continue". Unocal
has described reports of slave labour as "fabrication".
None of this would be possible without the collaboration of the
Thai government, whose Petroleum Authority is the only importer
and consumer of the gas. Part of the deal appears to be that the
Thai military sends back Burmese refugees.
Since April 1993 when Thai troops burned down two refugee camps,
thousands of ethnic Mon refugees have been forced back into
Burma, many of them straight into the hands of the Burmese
"A few western businessmen operating in Burma claim that foreign
investment has multiplied as much as ten-fold since 1992. "It's
not so much a gradual pickup", said Pat James, a Texan
entrepreneur, "as a skyrocket"
This is disputed by, among others, a recent report in The
Economist. The World Bank and the International Monetary Fund
have yet to lend the generals a penny.
However, what has begun in a familiar process in which a
dictatorship's human rights violations are obscured and
"forgotten' as foreign businessmen seek to justify what the East-
Asian governments call "positive engagement" and the Europeans
and Australians call "criical dialogue". The prize is a market
of some 45 million people and a cheap labour colony that promises
to undercut even China and Vietnam.
The "tiger" governments are unambiguous in their rapacity towards
Burma, especially Singapore, the biggest investor. It was the
Singapore government, after all, that resupplied the Slorc army
at critical times during the uprising of the late 1980s when it
was running out of ammunition.
The Western governments veil their intentions hypocritically in
public statements of concern for human rights.
In 1993 the British Trade Minister, Richard Needham, told
Parliament, "The government's policy is to provide no specific
encouragement to British firms to trade or invest in Burma". In
the same breath he said, "British business visitors to Rangoon
can of course look to our embassy there for advice and support".
Documents recently discovered in London reveal that in 1990 - the
year the Slorc refused to honour an election won by the
opposition NLD - the British arms company BMARC secretly shipped
ammunition to Rangoon via Singapore.
The current British push into Burma is partly masterminded by a
merchant banker Peter Godwin, a government adviser on Southeast
When we met he had just returned from leading a trade mission to
Rangoon. I pointed out that there was documented evidence that
some two million people were being forced to build the
infrastructure of Burma in brutal conditions so that foreign
investment might get off the ground. "Isn't that a factor to you
and your business colleagues?" I asked.
"I suppose it is", he replied, "but the involvement of foreign
companies is going to improve conditions...No foreign company is
likely to employ labour under those terms".
"But you've got to use the roads and railways".
In spite of a certain sound and fury aimed at the regime by
Madelaine Albright, the US representative at the UN, American
policy is "not to encourage or discourage" business with Burma.
The EU countries have a similar policy, in spite of a current EU
inquiry into human rights violations.
The Australian Labor government, while publicly condemning the
Slorc and demanding that it meet "a series of [human rights]
benchmarks", never discourages trade or investment. Even during
Aung San Suu Kyi's imprisonment, former foreign minister Gareth
Evans assured his Burmese opposite number that Australia had aa
desire to find ways of moving the situation productively
forward". The new Coalition government has done just that. The
deputy prime minister, Tim Fischer, says Australia's new
"flexible" approach to the Slorc can lead to "mutual gain".
The regime is hoping that 200,000 tourists will visit Burma this
year and "replace foreign criticism".
"Roads will be wider, lights will be brighter, tours will be
cleaner, grass will be greener and people will be happier", says
the director of tourism, Dr Naw Angelene.
However, the presence of Aung San Suu Kyi remains an obstacle in
this drive for international respectability. Although she is
allowed to hold her "people forums" outside her back gate every
weekend and which the regime says are typical of its new
"openness" she is denied freedom of movement and freedom of
Members of a dance troupe who celebrated Independence Day with
her in January were arrested and each given seven years in
prison. When she tried to catch a train to Mandalay to attend a
rally, her carriage was uncoupled and left at the station.
Seldom a day pass when the official newspaper, The New Light of
Myanmar, does not abuse her; for the Slorc is clearly frightened
of her popularity.
At the mere mention of her name, the neutrality of people's
faces, by which they survive, break into smiles. People whisper
her name as you brush them in a market, then turn and put a
finger to their lips. But with expressions of admiration,
affection and solidarity are fears for her safety and the
recognition that she, and the democracy movement, may be trapped.
"She is a Mandela without a De Klerk", an exiled Burmese
journalist told me. "Unless pressure comes from the very
government that the regime is now courting in Asia and the West,
nothing will change for a long time."
Aung San Suu Kyi herself told me that foreign investment and
tourism were shoring up the junta.
I said to her that the British Foreign Office Minister Jeremy
Hanley had told Parliament that progress would be made "through
commercial contacts with democratic principles".
She laughed almost contemptuously. "Not in the least bit", she
replied, "because the so-called market economy is only open to
some. Investors will help only a small elite to get richer and
richer. This works against the very idea of democracy because the
gap between rich and poor is growing all the time.
She same applies to tourism. They should stay away until we are a
democracy. Look at the forced labour that is going on all over
the country. A lot of it is aimed at the tourist trade. It's very
painful. Roads and bridges are built at the expense of the
A corollary of her extraordinary courage is her equally
extraordinary optimism, fuelled, it seems, by her Buddhist
principles that draw a stark contrast with the realities outside.
When I asked her if Burma would be free in the foreseeable
future, she replied unhesitatingly, "Yes".
"That's not just a dream?"
"No, I calculate it from the will of the people and the current
of world opinion."
In February the UN Commission on Human Rights reported that the
following violations were common place in Burma and showing no
signs of abating: "torture, summary and arbitrary executions,
forced labour, abuse of women, politically motivated arrests and
detention, forced displacement, restrictions on the freedoms of
and association and oppression of ethnic and religious
Aung San Suu Kyi's fellow Nobel Peace Prize winner, Desmond Tutu;
said recently, "International pressure can change the situation
in Burma. Tough sanctions, not so-called constructive engagement,
finally brought about a new South Africa. This is the only
language that tyrants understand."
JAPAN INC SHAKES OFF ITS RESERVATIONS
ABOUT DOING BUSINESS IN BURMA.
Japanese corporations are moving steadily to make up for lost
time, Aung Zaw reports.
"There are human rights problems all over the world .
Since Rangoon released opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi in July
1995, a steady procession of Japanese business leaders has made
its way to Rangoon.
In February, Minoru Makihara, the president of industrial giant
Mitsubishi Corp, met Burma's military leaders to discuss
investment prospects in the country.
Makihara's visit was important for the junta and they rolled out
the red carpet. A photograph of Senior Gen Than Shwe and Makihara
was printed in the state-owned newspapers and the visit was given
Official newspapers said no formal agreements were signed during
Makihara's stay although a memorandum of understanding and
cooperation for investment was concluded.
Shortly after Makihara's visit, the chairman of Marubeni, one of
Japan's biggest trading companies, also visited and signed a
similar Mo U with the junta.
According to the deals, Rangoon will work with Marubeni on
vegetable and fruit cultivation, and with Mitsubishi on , edible
oil crop cultivation and milling. Mitsubshi is also believed to
be the first foreign company to begin directly marketing sales of
Marubeni, which has been actively _trading in Burma since 1990,
is involved in a wide range of other projects, from building an
airport to developing the teak trade and appears to be the
leading. Japanese company in Burma. Competitors estimated its
locally derived turnover at $100 million last year. Most of this
comes from the sale of oil which is said to have grown to $80
million a year.
In addition to Mitsubishi and Marubeni other Japanese business
giants such as Mitsui, Sumitomo and Itochu Corp have also signed
numerous agreements with Slorc over the past 18 months.
"Japanese businesses are shedding some of their reluctance about
investing in Burma," one Japanese newspaper noted recently.
"Part of this investment gamble rests on a hunch: it won't be
long before the Japanese government reopens the aid tap for the
politically estranged Southeast Asian nation," it said.
In 1993, Japanese investment in Burma totalled US$101 million
(Bt2.5 billion), placing it fourth behind Thailand, Singapore and
As of March this year Japanese firms had invested $119.8 million
in seven enterprises, while a sharp increase, it was still far
behind Britain, France, Thailand and Singapore.
Ironically, what Japanese businessmen have found over the last
seven years is that while Washington was publically condemning
the junta, more and more US companies were entering the country
to do business in Burma. The Japanese don't want to miss out.
Corporate Japan's dilemma goes back to 1988 when the Burmese army
killed thousands of street demonstrators. Donor countries
including Japan, which up until that year had been Burma's
biggest donor, cut off aid.
Japan official overseas development assistance (ODA) was resumed
last year after the release of Aung San Suu Kyi, although not to
its previous level.
The opposition in Rangoon and activists outside of the country
have accused Tokyo of providing far more aid than appears on
paper. And Japanese companies are pressing the government to
resume more aid and assistance to Burma.
In March, Burma's tourism minister Lt-Gen Kyaw Ba said, "The
Japanese, Germans, French and South Koreans are developing a
positive attitude towards us".
An observer in Bangkok said, "The military leaders are not
worried about loans from the World Bank and International
Monetary Fund as long as Japanese, Singaporean, Chinese, French
and Germans are doing business in their country." Without foreign
aid the junta had faced hardship in recent years. "But they
survived," he added.
Japan's Daiwa Research Institute, an affiliate of Daiwa Bank, is
helping to set up Burma's first stock exchange.
The Bank of Tokyo has also concluded an agreement with the Slorc
aimed at assisting Japanese banks invest in Burma. The bank,
which will merge with Mitsubishi bank to become Tokyo Mitsubishi
Bank has created a project to develop human resources in the
country, under which up to 60 students, including medical
students, will receive scholarship stipends of $20 to $25 a
month. Mitsubishi Heavy industries Ltd. Nippon Steel Corp, and
three other Japanese firms have tendered bids for a project to
construct bridges over three rivers. Both Mitsubishi and Marubeni
have discussed with the junta the possibility of exporting
agricultural and mining machinery to Burma and developing the oil
and natural gas sectors. It was reported that the government had
already permitted Marubeni, Itochu and Mitsubishi to develop the
country's natural gas resources as a source for raw fertiliser
Another Japanese firm very active in Burma is Mitsui. In the
February issue of the Far Eastern Economic Review it was reported
that "Mitsui had agreed provisionally with Burma's Ministry of
Construction to build an industrial estate near Rangoon airport."
"Everyone in Japan and Asia is watching this country ... If we
fail, this is a failure for Myanmar as well," Mitsui's Mike Nagai
was quoted as saying.
To help develop Burma's economy, Mitsui is orchestrating a grand
plan that includes not just its own group members but companies
such as Bangkok Bank and Singapore's Kepple Corp. Among its plans
is a scheme to establish a shipbuilding company in Burma,
although its core focus appears to be oil drilling, oil refining
Without question, Japanese companies are heavily investing in
Burma. But doing business in Burma is not easy and connections
play a vital role.
But apparently the importance of Japan's economic might has not
been lost on the Rangoon generals and meeting the right people
has not proved difficult for the Japanese.
When Mitsubishi's Makihara arrived in February, among the senior
government officials who turned out for the reception were Gen
Than Shwe, Gen Maung Aye, Lt Gen Khin Nyunt and Foreign Minister
Japanese businessmen from Mitsui are known to enjoy a special
relationship with Burma's leaders including military strongman
Gen Ne Win. Tomoo Takahara of Itochu is also said to be close to
the generals in Rangoon.
Part of this "special relationship" goes back to Japan's role in
training the Thirty Comrades, Burma's first nationalists,
followed by continued monetary support for Comrade Ne Win's
regime from 1962 up until now. It is said the general is a close
friend and frequent guest of the Mitsui family.
Come what may, for Japanese businessmen Burma is good.
The Asahi Evening News noted: "Japanese companies don't need to
worry about shareholders, lawsuits or messy scenes at the annual
meeting over doing business in Burma like American companies, but
they still fret about bad press."
Three decades ago, very few foreign companies were permitted to
do business in Burma but among them were Hino, Mazda Motor Corps,
and Mitsubishi Electronics Industrial Co. Now almost 30 Japanese
companies are doing business in Burma.
Despite the country's appalling human rights record and the
continuance of political persecution in Burma the justification
from Japanese businessmen is, "If we don't grab the opportunity,
someone else will."
Akinori Seki, a executive member of Marubeni shrugged off
criticism about doing Business in Burma telling the Asahi Evening
News last year, "...there are human rights problems all over the
(Aung Zaw is a freelance writer. He contributed this story to The
BURMESE REBELS UNITE AGAINST SLORC CHARTER
UMPHANG, Tak - Burma's ethnic and opposition groups have ended
their week-long conference on the border with a pledge to support
pro-democracy movements inside the country.
The Democratic-Alliance of Burma (DAB). an umbrella organisation
comprising a dozen ethnic guerrilla forces and exiled Burmese
dissident organisations, agreed to neither support nor recognise
the drafting of a new constitution, a lengthy process which the
~Burmese junta began in January 1993. It supported the decision
late last year of the National League for Democracy. (ED) to
boycott the National Convention, whose 700 members were hand
picked by the junta to draft the new charter.
The ruling State Law and Order Restoration Council (SLORC) has
refused to recognise the results of the May 1990 general
elections in which the NL won an overwhelming majority.
Participants at the meeting, which took place at the base of the
Sixth Brigade of the Karen National Union from May 8 to 15,
decided to abandon their armed struggle and opt instead for a
political dialogue with Slorc as a means of resolving political
turmoil in the country.
The DAB said it will continue to oppose military rule and urged
Slorc to hold tripartite talks with opposition politicians and
representatives of armed ethnic groups. The group reiterated its
sup port for a federal union.
BURMA LOOKS TO TOKYO FOR KEY DEVELOPMENT
TOKYO- Burma's National Planning and Economic Development
Minister David Abel, yesterday urged Japan to play a "leading
role" in the country's economy as market-oriented reforms take
The brigadier-general, speaking at a conference in Tokyo, said
Japan had to "forge a new partnership" with Burma, whose gross
domestic product is projected to grow by a minimum average of six
per cent annually over the next five years.
"Japan will have to play a leading role in the new order. She
will have to change her strategic outlook in partnerships, Abel
said- Agence France - Presse.
FILM ADDS FUEL TO BURMA BOYCOTT
LONDON - Eleven British travel agents have declared that they
will m any tours of Burma this year in support of a growing human
rights y to boycott efforts by the Burmese military junta to
boost tourist promotion known as the "Visit Myanmar Year of the
Aung San Sui Kyi and the opposition movement regard tourism as a
negative force that will only prop up the dictatorship and have
called upon the international community to adopt 1996 "Don't
Visit Burma Year".
One British travel agency, Himalayan Kingdoms, informed Lt Gen
Kyaw Ba, Burmese Minister for Tourism that we feel it is morally
wrong to operate in a country that has used forced labour
forcible relocation of people to develop tourism" and concluded
"we would very much like to start tours in Myanmar [Burma], but
will not do so until we can be convinced that the benefits will
outweigh the costs paid by the Burmese people."
Tourism Concern, a British NGO that lobbies the travel industry
to show more concern for the impact of mass tourism on developing
countries, has hailed the boycott decision of some UK operators
as "a unique stand on human rights abuses in Burma".
Public opinion was also stirred on Tuesday night by the showing
on prime TV of John Pilger's "Land of Fear's documentary. The
film dramatically exposed the use of child labour and slave gangs
deployed in the building of a new railway from the towns of Ye
and Tavoy in Mon State, dubbed by many human rights workers as
Burma's new "death railway" (a reference to wartime Japan's
railway over the River Kwai.
The programme also exposed for the first time a secret British
arms deal which supplied the junta with guns and ammunition in
1990 at a critical time which later played a part in the
suppression of the National League for Democracy after the
Immediately after the programme, the Burma helpline number beamed
nationwide across the ITV network was jammed with calls by the
viewing public. Nomadic Thoughts was among the British operators
who have this year stopped sending tourists to Burma. In 8 letter
to the tourism minister in Rangoon, the firm's director wrote "we
have decided to suspend our tours in Myanmar and we stress that
it is with great regret that we came to this decision" adding
that they will not assist clients to visit Burma until Slorc [the
State law and Order Restoration Council] stops denying all
Burmese citizens basic human rights".
Other British travel agents complained in a joint letter that
"travellers who recently returned from Burma related that their
itinerary was disrupted, and their movements restricted by
However while many smaller operators are heeding the "Boycott
Burma 1996" campaign led by the London-based Burma Action Group,
some of the bigger travel agencies continue to promote their
Burma programmes. The director of Orient Express group James
Sherwood (they run deluxe cruises on the Irrawaddy) claims to be
totally unaware of human rights abuses.
One of the biggest tour operators in Burma, Orient Express -
which operates the much-publicised Orient Express luxury train on
the London Venice-Istanbul route - also offers champagne-cruises
on board a converted Rhine steamer from Mandalay to Pagan.
Sherwood, a US executive interviewed on "Land of Fear" commented.
that on the basis of talks with a senior CIA official in the
region "it was confirmed that allegations about human rights
abuses were all untrue or related to the drugs war."
Yesterday, hundreds of protesters led by Burma Action Group held
a demonstration outside the London offices of Orient Express
demanding that they stop their support for the military regime.
According to sources in the travel industry Orient has already
netted approximately $2.5 million (Bt62.5 million) in advance
bookings for Burma tours.
British guns were sent to the Slorc regime in 1990, in spite of a
British export ban to Rangoon in place at the time.
The evidence was unearthed by Gerald James, a former chairman of
Astra. While Singapore actually delivered the arms to Slorc- it
was a British company called Bmarc (a subsidiary of Astra) that
supplied them. In the John Pilger documentary James confirmed
that only last year it was discovered that Bmarc was running a
secret order book.
THE NATION: RECORD RUBY TO MUSEUM
Burma will display the world's largest uncut ruby, discovered at
a northern mine in March, at the Burma Gems Museum along with
other spectacular and rare gemstones, a government official said
The crimson red and flawless 21,450-carat ruby, measuring 17.78
centimetres long, 11.43 cm across and 10.16 cm high, was mined in
Mogkok, said U Ohn Myint, deputy director of the state-owned
Burma Gems Enterprise.
Displayed alongside the ruby will be the world's largest
sapphire, weighing 63,000 carats, also mined in Mogkok in 1972,
and Burma's largest pearl, obtained from Pearl Island in 1966.
Burma, which has some of the world's richest deposits of precious
stones, sells most of the stones and jade mined nation-wide for
fixed prices at expositions held twice a year.
Industry sources said illegal trade in Burmese gems is rampant
and Burmese officials have often complained most of the gems and
jade mined in the country are smuggled to neighbouring countries.
At the moment foreign companies are not allowed to engage in
mining gems and jade," Ohn Myint said, but added there are two
joint ventures with foreign companies in Burma involved in the
gems and jewellery trade. One is a joint venture with a Thai
company to produce modern jewellery and the other is with another
Thai firm to operate a gemstones polishing plant.
BKK POST: STANDARD SEAMEN'S PLIGHT SHOWS DARK SIDE OF GLOBAL
May 17, 1996
By Amy Barrett, Rouen, France, AP
NYAN dreamed of sailing on a merchant ship, seeing the world and
earning money for graduate studies.
He left impoverished Burma and flew to France, lured by the
promise of adventure and a salary many times what he could make
at home. From Paris, he and five compatriots were put on a bus to
Rouen, where the chemical tanker Stainless Glory was waiting to
take them to sea.
Nearly a year later, it's still waiting. So is Nyan. The
Stainless Glory is a ghost ship, seized by creditors and
abandoned by an owner fleeing a tidal wave of debt.
"We call it Endless Story" Nyan says. He and 10 other seamen -
five Burmese, three Russians and two Koreans - live on board
without heat, running water or electricity, surviving on handouts
from local well-wishers.
They've seen neither sea nor pay, stranded at a deserted dock in
this drab Seine River port near the Normandy coast.
Their predicament is not unique.
In France alone, six cargo ships sit abandoned with unpaid crews.
Five belong to Stainless Glory's Greek owner, Adriatic Tankers,
and one Angolan ship has languished in Le Havre for two years.
Ships owned by Romanian, Ukrainian, Russian, Syrian and
Indonesian companies have been ditched in Australia, New Zealand
and Singapore in the past year.
"We deal; with this kind of thing on a daily basis. It's
happening all over the world," says Jean-Yves Le Gouas, head of
the French branch of the International Transport Federation,
which represents transport workers world-wide.
He says that for shipping companies hard pressed in today's
competitive market, it is cheaper to abandon a poorly maintained
vessel than to pay lenders, port authorities and other creditors.
And hapless sailors.
Adriatic Tankers is in serious financial trouble. Of its 90
ships, 55 are being detained in ports around the world. But the
creditors who ordered the ships seized cannot get at the parent
Like many shippers, Adriatic Tankers registers each of its
vessels as a separate company in countries like Panama or Liberia
that have less restrictive maritime regulations. In 1939, such
ships represented just 1% of the world merchant fleet. By 1992,
they accounted for 37%.
Registering their ships in "flag of convenience" nations lets
shippers avoid having to hire high-pay Western sailors and rely
instead on cheaper, non-union crews from Asia.
Dreamers like Nyan sign away months of their lives on crudely
"The contracts, often in pidgin English, contain a clause binding
seamen not to complain," Le Gouas says. "This would be rejected
in any European court, because it's not the contract of a free
A former merchant marine captain himself, Le Gouas got his-
federation to use Adriatic Tankers seeking back pay for the
Stainless Glory's crew.
Nyan and the other Burmese sailors were in a double bind, because
Burma's authoritarian government made them swear not to contact a
third party to seek back wages. Labour activism is harshly
repressed in Burma, and they could have their seamen's permits
confiscated and face imprisonment.
Even speaking to the press is risky, so the sailors asked that
their full names not be used and didn't want their pictures
After months of persuasion, the Burmese Embassy in Paris agreed
to let Le Gouas' federation represent their seamen. In March, a
Rouen court ordered Adriatic Tankers to sell the ship and pay the
crew. But the company still has at least a three-month grace
Executives of the company couldn't be reached for comment. The
company sent no one to represent it in French court, and the
phones at its Athens office have been disconnected. The Greek
Merchant Marine Ministry says it has no comment because the
company's ships are under foreign flags.
Meanwhile, the sailors wait.
The Korean captain, Chun Kong-an, is at the top of the heap. He
has the only hearted cabin, with kitchen and living room. And
his Uruguayan wife, Maria, is with him.
At age 39, after 21 years at sea, Chun doesn't mind being a
landlocked sea captain. Nonetheless, when this misadventure ends,
he'll do something else.
"Before, Koreans had no money. Going to sea was a good deal. Now
we are a rich country. We don't need to do this," he says
Mikhail, the chain-smoking Russian chief engineer, sits in the
galley in a parka and sweatpants, tapping ashes into a cut-off
beer can. He hasn't seen his family for a year. When he phones
his wife, he lies.
"I can't tell her the truth. She would worry. She and my
daughters moved in with my parents, because I haven't been able
to send any money," he says.
Worst off are the six Burmese. They huddle together on a bench in
the sailors' mess like birds on a telephone wire, trying to keep
Not only are they penniless, they're in debt: They owe their
government 10% of their wages, whether or not they're ever paid,
as a "free" to work abroad.
They sleep three to a cabin. Though redolent of unwashed bodies,
the cabins are tidy and cheerful, decorated with pictures of
Burmese dissident Aung San Suu Kyi and Buddhist prayers in red
Despite their problems, they receive a visitor warmly. They offer
tea, dried fish and Burmese cheroots, gifts from Burmese emigres
in Paris who heard of their plight.
"We feel happy, and sad," says Khin, a former pharmacist, who,
like the others, seems never to stop smiling. "We are a long time
apart from our families. Sometimes I am very sad," he says,
looking suddenly bereft.
Next to him, San chuckles and adds, Sometimes we are sad because
we don't have our salary."
They giggle until Khin says "Until we get our money, we can go
They will get home eventually. But it's an idea that seems hard
to hold onto. Standing on the dock in bare feet and sandals on a
frigid afternoon, dwarfed by the tanker's hull, they call out to
a departing reporter, Come again soon." (BP)
Typed by the Research Department of the ABSDF [MTZ]