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LA Times: Under Greater Pressure

Los Angeles Times, October 3, 1996. (Business)


     Critics Seek Sanctions Against Myanmar

By EVELYN IRITANI, Times Staff Writer

      Pressure is mounting on the Clinton administration to tighten the 
economic noose around Myanmar since that country's massive crackdown last 
weekend on its democracy movement and enactment of a congressional bill 
designed to block new U.S. investment in the event of "large-scale repression."
      The White House is expected, perhaps as early as today, to impose a 
ban on travel to the United States by members of Myanmar's government, 
the State Law and Order Restoration Council, or SLORC.
      Of much greater concern to the human rights community and business 
leaders--particularly energy giants Unocal, Atlantic Richfield and 
Texaco--is the mounting pressure from Congress and elsewhere to cut off 
future investment in the politically unstable Southeast Asian country.     
      A Clinton administration official confirmed Wednesday that the 
White House is close to implementing the travel ban and is discussing the 
possibility of other U.S.responses--including economic sanctions--to the 
latest stepped-uprepression in Myanmar, formerly known as Burma.
      Last weekend, Myanmar's military leaders, who seized control of the 
country in 1988, arrested close to 800 members and supporters of the 
National League for Democracy, according to slipped past police 
barricades in Yangon to talk to reporters Wednesday.
      SLORC, which disputes that figure, maintains it has released at 
least 88 of those imprisoned and accused the United States of colluding 
with Suu Kyi to overthrow the government.
      Congressional leaders and human rights groups fired off letters and 
e-mail Wednesday urging Clinton to impose the tougher sanctions outlined 
in the congressional amendment co-sponsored by Sens. William S. Cohen 
(R-Maine) and Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif).
     "If the administration tries to wiggle out of implementing this 
amendment, it will do great damage to U.S. credibility not only on Burma, 
but to human rights everywhere," said Mike Jendrzejczyk, Washington 
lobbyist for Human Rights Watch/Asia.
      Rep. Bill Richardson (D-N.M.), who has been active in the Myanmar 
debate, said the worsening human rights situation there has forced 
Congress and the Clinton administration to consider a tougher stance.
      "The SLORC needs to loosen up on their recent actions, otherwise 
they will face some tough sanctions, even if Congress is out of session," 
he warned.

      In addition to the visa restrictions, the new U.S. law prohibits 
the Clinton administration from extending government aid to Myanmar, with 
the exception of humanitarian and counter-narcotics funds, and from 
supporting international finance programs for Myanmar.
      But the key issue is whether last weekend's crackdown constitutes 
the "large-scale repression" or "violence against the democratic 
opposition" that would, under the law, trigger a ban on future investment.
      "We're reviewing all of the issues surrounding this, including the 
question of the possible application of the Cohen amendment," a Clinton 
administration official said late Wednesday.
      The questions of how the economic sanctions would be implemented 
and how "new investment" would be defined were deliberately left vague to 
give the president greater flexibility, according to an aide to Cohen.
Even if such a ban is imposed, it  is not clear what effect it would have 
on major U.S. investors such as Unocal, the Los Angeles-based energy 
giant, which is a partner with Total, a French company, and Myanmar's 
state-owned oil company in a $1.2-billion natural gas project.
      The economic sanctions, if implemented, would prevent U. S. deals, 
partnerships or contracts that provide royalties or earnings. But it is 
not clear whether that could restrict ongoing projects such as Unocal's 
that might require new contracts or renewals of previous agreements.
      A U.S. president can waive any sanction if it would threaten 
"national security."
      Unocal and Arco said they could not speculate on the effect any 
sanctions might have on their activities. Unocal has no plans to alter 
its involvement in Myanmar, and the company believes its investments have 
provided jobs and improved the local economy, spokesman David Garcia 
said. "It is too early to tell what particular impact this will have on 
Unocal," he said. "Neither the triggers [for economic sanctions] nor the 
implementation have been established." Unocal has repeatedly denied 
accusations that the pipeline project has used slave labor or that it has 
threatened indigenous communities along the pipeline route.
      Even those who have opposed further isolation of Myanmar, including 
the Assn. of Southeast Asian Nations, are distancing themselves. In 
recent days, ASEAN officials have said they will put on hold any decision 
to admit Myanmar to the organization. And Japan has called on SLORC 
officials to release imprisoned opposition leaders immediately.
      Even before the latest actions, Myanmar's military leaders were 
feeling the heat from an international human rights campaign that has 
included consumer boycotts, government purchasing bans, shareholder 
resolutions and lawsuits.

      Recently, Apple Computer joined a long list of U.S. companies that 
have pulled out of Myanmar under pressure from human rights groups. Apple 
spokeswoman Nancy Keith Kelly said the company, which supplied computers 
to Myanmar schools, was responding to a new Massachusetts law that 
prohibits state agencies from doing business with companies involved in 
Myanmar. Six cities, including Santa Monica, Berkeley and San Francisco, 
have passed similar laws.
      Companies doing business in Myanmar could also be affected by a 
landmark California antislavery law signed this week that prohibits the 
state's purchase of goods produced by slave labor.
      A group of Myanmarese citizens said it will file a lawsuit in 
federal court today in Los Angeles accusing Unocal, its top executives 
and its foreign partners of violating international human rights treaties 
and U.S. business laws. A similar lawsuit was filed recently by the 
country's exiled government and a prominent labor union.

                         * * *
     Trouble Ahead? The noose is tightening around U.S. companies doing 
business in Myanmar, where the military government has stepped up its 
efforts to suppress a democracy movement headed Nobel Peace Prize winner 
Aung San Suu Kyi. Some U.S. companies with direct investments or 
employees in Myanmar:
* Atlantic Richfield Co. (Los Angeles): Arco signed a contract to drill 
in the Bay of Bengal. It also signed a contract with the energy ministry 
for offshore oil and natural gas exploration.
* BJ Services Co. (Houston): The oil services company said in its 1994 
annual report that it had expanded into Myanmar in fiscal 1994.
* Black & Veatch (Kansas City, Mo.): The engineering consulting company 
has operated in Myanmar since 1913.
* East Asia Gold Corp. (Spokane, Wash.): The company is permitted to mine 
gold and copper in Myanmar.
* Halliburton Co. (Dallas): The company provides oil services in Myanmar.
* ITT Corp. (New York): A subsidiary, ITT Sheraton, has two wholly owned 
subsidiaries in Myanmar: Fencourt Reinsurance Co. and Risk Analysis Ltd.
* Interdigital Communications (King of Prussia, Pa.): It signed a 
contract last spring with Myanmar Posts & Telecommunications to install 
500 telephone lines in Rangoon and 350 lines elsewhere.
* Interpublic Group of Cos. (New York): Its McCann-Erickson subsidiary 
opened advertising offices in Myanmar in 1994.
* Texaco (White Plains, N.Y.): The energy company is the lead operator in 
a multinational consortium--it has a 50% stake in the group--that is 
drilling for natural gas in the Gulf of Martaban.
* Unocal (Los Angeles): The energy company is the largest U.S. investor 
in Myanmar. It is one of several companies building a controversial 
pipeline across the Tenasserim region that will ferry natural gas to the 
Thai border.

     Source: Investor Responsibility Research Center Researched by EVELYN 


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