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LA Times: Under Greater Pressure
- Subject: LA Times: Under Greater Pressure
- From: ktint@xxxxxxxxxxxxx
- Date: Fri, 04 Oct 1996 00:51:00
Los Angeles Times, October 3, 1996. (Business)
UNDER GREATER PRESSURE
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,"
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
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
Source: Investor Responsibility Research Center Researched by EVELYN
IRITANI and JENNIFER OLDHAM / Los Angeles Times
Copyright Los Angeles Times