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Boycott Visit Myanmar Year 1996! (r)

Subject: Re: Boycott Visit Myanmar Year 1996!

coincidently, the company Myo Aye cites below, wrote me an email
a few days ago describing their operation and justification for 
continuing to sell tours to burma.
frankly, i don't know how to respond to them, but have enclosed
that email below in case anyone else would like to write them.

Anyone, please send the campaign letters (Boycott Visit Myanmar Year 
1996!) to the following travel agency.

Interpid Adventure Travel
246 Brunswick, Fizroy VIC 3065
Ph: (61) (03) 9416 2655.
Fax: (61) (03) 9419 4426.

>                         An advertisement for travel to Burma
>                         ************************************
>         -----------------------------------------------------------------
>         -                                                               -
>         -                          BURMA                                -
>         -                          *****                                -
>         -                                                               -
>         -       See for yourself why Burma holds such special appeal    -
>         -       for us at Intrepid - the fantastic sights, amazing      -
>         -       history, stunning scenery and the incredibly friendly   -
>         -       people: despite all they have endured. Samll groups,    -
>         -       Australian leaders, frequent departures, unbeatable     -
>         -       value. Call Intrepid for your brochure now on 1800 335  -
>         -       401.                                                    -
>         -                                                               -
>         -       [INTREPID, South East Asia.]                            -
>         -                                                               -
>         -----------------------------------------------------------------
>         [ Travel, The Weekend Review, The Australian, 6-7 July 1996 ].
> ------------------------------------------------------------------------------
             Travel to Burma
             Thur, 11 Jul 96 03:18:27 -1000
             Intrepid Travel <seatours@xxxxxxxxxxxxxx>
             Intrepid Travel

Hi there.  Impressive site.  For those searching for the latest news and 
views on traveling  in Burma (as we are) it's a great source.  

We are an Australian based company running small group tours to South 
East Asia.  Groups of 12 max, local transport, small guesthouses and 
staying with local families where we can, western leader, a "soft 
adventure" element. Over 5000 passengers from all over the world 
expected in 1996.  We're  getting big.

Ethical and responsible travel has been a guiding goal from the 
company's inception 8 years ago.  We now find ourselves well involved in 
the Burma debate as we have been running groups to Burma for the past 
year or so. I notice we make the list on this site of investors in 
brutality. Alot of correspondence has passed between us and various 
human rights organisations in relation to our Burma trips, as there 
seems to be a tendency to condemn any travel organisation visiting Burma 
without first checking the extent that they may have considered the 
issues.  We have.    We are not convinced that a travel boycott of Burma 
is the most effective method of influencing change in the country. We 
feel that as a small group tour operator we can play a more  
constructive role in actually going to Burma, and educating the 

 I attach below a draft note that I am preparing.   It will be sent to 
all passengers who express an interest in going to Burma on an Intrepid 
trip.  It enables all passengers to make an informed decision on whether 
to travel to Burma or not, and also gives a bit of a summary of how we 
are travelling there. Sorry about its length - there is a fair bit to 
say. I'd be interested in your comments on what we are doing, and the 
draft too if you have any specific thoughts.  I'm also preparing a list 
of "alternative" sites and actions to be handed out to our passengers in 
Burma, along the lines of "Striders" suggestions on this site.  
I look forward to hearing from you.
Tom.  Intrepid Travel.

The Ethics of Travel to Burma
July 1996

Thank you for your interest in travelling to Burma with Intrepid.  Our 
trip in Burma has quickly become the most talked about trip in our 
South-East Asia program, due to both its attractions and the continuing 
debate on whether travellers should boycott Burma as a destination while 
it is ruled by the military regime currently in power.  The attractions 
of Burma are summarised in our brochure and trip notes; here we want to 
focus your attention on the ethical delimna facing the traveller.  They 
are issues which we have thought about long and hard before commencing 
our operations in Burma, and we review our stance on tourism in Burma 
regularly.  We believe that in respect for the people of Burma every 
potential traveller should also carefully consider the ethical 
implications before visiting the country.  We have summarised below the 
main arguments both for and against going to Burma, and the reasons why 
Intrepid has decided to run trips there.  We want you as a responsible 
traveller to make your own assessment.  

Arguments against travelling to Burma

The State Law and Order Restoration Council. 
Burma is ruled by a military dictatorship known as the State Law and 
Order Restoration Council, or SLORC.  SLORC has evolved from a period of 
more than 30 years of military rule in Burma, during which time the 
economy steadily declined and the country was cut off from the rest of 
the world.  In 1988 the people of Burma held public demonstrations 
against their military rulers, demanding democracy and the upholding of 
basic human rights.  The response of the army was swift and brutal, with 
an estimated 10,000 people being killed throughout the country in a 
crackdown against the democracy movement.  Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, who had 
emerged as the leader of the democratic opposition, was placed under 
house arrest in Rangoon in 1989.  Despite her imprisonment her National 
League for Democracy still managed to win 82% of the vote in a general 
election held in 1990.  However SLORC refused to hand over power to the 
elected candidates, and is still in power today.  The political 
situation has stabilised somewhat since 1990, with the release of Daw 
Suu Kyi in June 1995 seen as a positive step towards a move to 
democracy, but the repression of free speech and other human rights 

1996: Visit Myanmar Year
SLORC needs foreign investment to boost Burma's ailing economy, and has 
encouraged tourism as a major source of foreign funds.  Visa and travel 
restrictions have been eased, foreign hotel and tourism corporations 
welcomed and 1996 has been declared "Visit Myanmar Year", with a target 
of 500,000 visitors to the country.  Travellers to Burma are indirectly 
supporting SLORC's tourism policy simply through their presence in the 
country.  Regardless of the attitude of the traveller or the method of 
travel adopted, some amount of foreign exchange will end up in the 
government hands, whether it be through hotel "pay-offs" and taxes, the 
use of public transport systems (however bad they may be!) or fees for 
visas and entrances.  Travelling to Burma also gives legitimacy to SLORC 
regime.  SLORC are asking tourists to visit and accepting the offer can 
also been seen as accepting the offerers.

Forced Labour
Reports of International human rights groups such as Amnesty, Human 
Rights Watch/Asia and the Australian Council for Overseas Aid have 
documented the widespread and increasing use of forced labour throughout 
Burma.  Estimations as to numbers involved vary but it is clear that 
SLORC has forcibly ordered thousands of civilians to labour on 
infrastructure projects such as roads and railways .  On one view the 
provision of labour is a substitute for the payment of taxes on projects 
that benefit the entire community, and this occurs in many countries.  
However the people of Burma have been forced to work for weeks and 
months on projects, and human rights abuses by the army which overseas 
civilian labour is reported to be endemic.  Many of the forced labour 
projects can be linked to tourism, whether it be through the indirect 
use of roads and railways or the restoration of tourist sites such as 
Mandalay Palace.

The "beautification" of tourist sites
Part of SLORC's push to encourage tourism has been the "cleaning-up" of 
the country's main tourist sites.  The most prominent example of this is 
the relocation of thousands of families from areas of Rangoon, Mandalay, 
Maymyo and most notoriously Pagan, where 5,200 people were forced to 
pack their belongings in 1990 and move to a site 7km away.  Compensation 
for such relocations is minimal (if paid at all) and those relocated 
face diminished emplyment prospects due to the distance they are moved 
from the cities.  Some residents of main tourist areas have also been 
forced to replace their wooden or bamboo fences with brick walls so the 
facades will look more impressive to international visitors.  An 
associated concern is the cultural destruction caused by this 
"beautification" process as the military overseas a program of rapid 
tourism development.

The opinion of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi
Daw Aung San Suu Kyi has become the figurehead of the people's fight for 
democracy in Burma, and she has stated that this is not the time to be 
strengthening ecomonic and diplomatic ties with Burma.  She has asked 
that travellers stay away until Burma is a democracy.  "As long as new 
money is coming in SLORC is under less and less incentive to change", 
Daw Suu told The Times newspaper in March 1996.

Arguments for travelling to Burma

Boycotts are not effective
The record of SLORC is atrocious and unarguable - the facts listed above 
are ample demonstration of this.  What is debatable is whether a boycott 
of Burma by travellers is the best way to protest against the regime and 
assist the Burmese people in their struggle for democracy.  It is 
questionable whether boycotts work.  Trade boycotts have not helped Iraq 
rid themselves of Saddam and they were of questionable benefit in 
installing democracy in South Africa. Gadaffi is still in Libya, Castro 
is still in Cuba.  The ordinary people of the country are usually the 
ones who suffer most from an international embargo with a decrease in 
living standards, while the corrupt regimes which are the subject of the 
protest continue in power.

Keeping Burma under international scrutiny
A boycott on foreign investment and travel to Burma would see the 
country isolated from the international community once again.  Isolation 
puts a protective cacoon of silence around inhumane regimes, and the 
close scrutiny of SLORC from the international press and human rights 
groups would become more difficult in the event of a tourism boycott of 
the country.  SLORC's desire to be accepted at an international level 
means that the presence of foreigners in Burma acts as a deterrent to 
the mistreatment of it's people, at least in the areas where travellers 
are permitted.  

Personalising the issues
Travelling to Burma allows the individual to gain an understanding of 
the country and an appreciation of its people.  It is unlikely that the 
traveller will experience the political tension in the country, as 
popular tourist locations show no sign of conflict and the Burmese are 
reluctant to talk about  political issues for fear of persecution.  
However by meeting the wonderfully warm Burmese people and making some 
sort of personal contact the traveller is far more likely to become 
active in supporting human rights issues in Burma on his or her return 
home.  Travelling to Burma (and even considering a trip there and 
deciding not to go) encourages discussion of the issues affecting the 
country and raises the general level of awareness of what is occurring 

Providing the Burmese people with economic and moral support
Well designed tourism can result in a cash flow into the pockets of 
ordinary Burmese people.  The Burmese have sufferred declining living 
standards for 40 years and tourism can help arrest these trends.  There 
are now private guesthouses, restaurants and transport services in Burma 
and the traveller who supports these enterprises can help  improve of 
the standard of living in the country.  A middle class has developed in 
urban Burma and tourism has helped create this private wealth.  All 
tourist operators must be licensed by the government,  so the concern 
about a percentage of all dollars ending up in the hands of the military 
is real, but it is now possible to travel outside the state owned 
system.  The traveller can also offer moral support to the Burmese in 
their fight for democracy by letting them know they have international 
support for their cause.  

South-East Asian perspective
It is an unfortunate reality that most governments in Asia have low 
standards on what the West regards as important human rights issues.  If 
the traveller was to boycott Burma because of the treatment of its 
people there is a strong argument that Indonesia, Malaysia, Vietnam and 
China should be boycotted as well.  No country in South-East Asia - with 
the possible exception of Thailand - is a democracy as we know it.  
While this is not a reason in itself for travelling to Burma it does put 
the debate into perspective .

Intrepid's decision to run trips to Burma 

Until mid 1994 Intrepid did not go to Burma. We felt that to travel to a 
country with such fundamental abuses of basic human rights was not 
right.  At about that time we came in for some criticism for our policy 
along the lines that it was the people of Burma who suffered most from a 
boycott. It was also about this time that travel regulations in Burma 
were relaxed to allow independent travel and arrangements through 
non-government agencies. As a result we undertook a revaluation of our 
policy. We talked to Burma writers, other ethical tour operators, our 
staff, and people who had travelled extensively in Burma. As a result of 
these discussions we decided to run trips to Burma, operating in the 
following manner:

?       Intrepid small group adventures operate outside the government
as far as possible. We use privately owned hotels, trains and vehicle 
transport. While we can never be sure some "backhanders" are not paid, 
we attempt to minimise the flow of funds to the SLORC regime.  

?       Intrepid operate completely independently of Burmese tour
After consultation with a number of political and human rights groups 
and commentators we felt that we could not be sure that tour operators 
were beyond reproach in regard to SLORC connections. 

?       We do not knowingly use any infrastructure project that has been
or maintained by the use of slave labour. We do however point out in 
Mandalay that the moat - now looking so pristine - has been restored 
through the use of slave labour.

?       As part of Intrepid's policy of "giving something back" we have
to establish aid projects at a local level in Burma.  A project has been 
set up in the first half of 1996 where schoolchildren at a town in the 
Inle Lake region are supplied with a stationery "starter kit" when they 
start school.  In the 1995/6 financial year Intrepid donated $40,000 to 
aid groups.  Over the next 12 months we hope an increasing portion of 
our aid will be donated to Burma.  

As a tour operator we cannot have a lot of influence on the politics of 
a given country. That is not our objective  and we don't want it to be.  
We do however feel that the tour operator can play an important role in 
the education of the traveller and in raising the level of awareness 
about issues in a particular country.  We hope that these notes have 
helped in this goal to some degree.

Further contacts and reading - 
Australia Burma Council, PO Box 2024, Queanbeyan, NSW, Australia, 2620.  
Tel: (06) 297 7734;  Fax: (06) 297 7773.

Burma Action Group, Collins Studios, Collins Yard, Islington Green, 
London, England N12XU.  Tel: 0171 359 7679; Fax: 0171 354 3987; e-mail 
bagp@xxxxxxxxxxx  "BAG" have written the excellent Burma, the 
alternative guide ('96) which covers these ethical arguments and more in 

Tourism Concern, Southlands College, Wimbledon Parkside, London, 
England, SW19 3NN. 
Tel: 0181-944 0464: Fax: 0181-944 6583. 

Slave Labour In Burma - an examination of the SLORC's forced labour 
policies, May 1996; a report by the Australian Council for Oveerseas 
Aid, Human Rights Office at 124 Napier St, Fitzroy, Victoria, Australia 
3065.  Tel: (03) 9417 7505; Fax: (03) 9416 2746; e-mail: 

See also the Free Burma Website at http://sunsite.unc.edu/freeburma for 
a comprehensive coverage of the latest develpments in Burma's struggle 
for independence.  To quote the site "Free Burma is a collection of 
software, hardware, documentation, and volunteers, all doing what we're 
best at to hasten the replacement of the current military government who 
tortures its citizens with one chosen by the people who live there. What 
Free Burma has to offer is information, and assistance in its 

http://FreeBurma.org is the Burma information starting point.
http://sunsite.unc.edu/freeburma/whatsnew.html  <--See what's new