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BurmaNet News: October 21, 1996

"Appropriate Information Technologies, Practical Strategies"

The BurmaNet News: October 21, 1996
Issue #547

Noted in Passing: 

		It seems that authoritarian rulers is Southeast Asia are joining 		forces
to justify their monopoly of power for as long as 			possible (see: FEER:


October 24, 1996

Mark R. Thompson, author of  The Anti-Marcos Struggle: Personalistic Rule
and Democratic Transition in the Philippines (1995), is lecturer in politics
at the University of Glasgow.

As Southeast Asian countries debate whether Burma fits into their ASEAN
circle, it's worth reflecting on their own basic traits: Many Asian leaders
say democracy must never precede development, and they back their words
with actions.

The recent suppression of opposition in Indonesia and the clampdown on
Burma's democratically elected forces show how dictatorships hold on to
power in name of development. From this authoritarian perspective, the
Philippines is an economic laggard because it democratized too early. As
Singapore's Senior Minister Lee Kuan Yew told a Manila audience a few years
ago: "I do not believe that democracy necessarily leads to development. I
believe that what a country needs to develop in discipline more than democracy."

This argument is disingenuous in three respects. It can first be asked how
long democracy has to wait until sufficient development has been achieved.
Singapore has already delayed democracy for quite along time, considering
its level of development. Aside form the oil-producing countries of the
Middle East, Singapore is in per-capital terms the richest non-democracy in
the world. Malaysia is the second-richest nation to fall short of full
democratic openness.

Yet recent successful democratization in newly industrialized South Korea
and Taiwan (and also, Thailand), shows that such a change of regime does not
necessarily endanger economic growth. These example have often been cited by
Western observers as vindication of the dictum that capitalist development
will-through social transformation and, particularly, the growth of the
middle class-lead to greater democracy. But in Singapore and Malaysia,
democracy remains postponed despite substantial economic development.

The second question is whether authoritarianism really does promote economic
development. In the case of the Philippines, it was the strongman rule of
Ferdinand Marcos that wrecked the economy, not subsequent democratic
governments. Modest growth was achieved during Corazon Aquino's early years
in power before military coup attempts undermined it. Now, under the
enlightened leadership of Fidel Ramos, the Philippine economy has rebounded.

Research has shown (and a quick glance around the world confirms) that while
some authoritarian regimes have done very well economically, others have
performed disastrously. While dictatorship may promote development, it is by
no means a guarantee of growth. It is often argued that interest-group
politics and populism, not to mention corruption, tend to plague democracy's
rule, slowing economic growth in its early stages. But equally, the
concentration of power in an authoritarian leadership can open up even
greater opportunities for graft.

In fact, the nature of the state, particularly its degree of effectiveness
and honesty, is much more decisive in determining the prospects for growth.
An efficient state is likely to promote growth even if it becomes part of a
democratic political system. But if a state has been predatory, as the
Philippines has been in the past, rather than development, in the manner of
Singapore, then it's preferable to have some democratic constraints on an
authoritarian state than can on society at will.

This is not to suggest that the World Bank's emphasis on "good governance,"
a diplomatic code word for greater democracy, should been as a panacea for
economic ills. But as the Philippine experience shows, democracy can
restrain the worst of a state's depredations and thus allow more space for
growth. This may fall short of an economic miracle, but it is more likely to
avoid disaster.

Finally, it should be asked why some Southeast Asian development
dictatorships have in fact advanced economically. The role of Japanese
investment and development assistance in the region has been crucial. More
Singaporean, Malaysian and Thai investors have also contributed to the
economic success of some of the poorer countries in the region.

But the political support of ASEAN has been particularly helpful for
authoritarian regimes in Southeast Asia. Vietnam, despite a poor
human-rights record, was admitted as the association's seventh member last
year, enhancing its prospects of becoming a new "tiger" economy. Rapid
growth in Burma (if official statistics can be believed) has been made
possible, in part, through political support and investment from several of
its South Asian neighbours who seem poised to invited it to join ASEAN. As
boycotts mount in the West, Burma's dependence on its Asian partners will
increase. By contrast, elsewhere in the world unsavory dictatorships have
been isolated by regional groups.

Apart from the Middle East, Southeast Asia has been the region least
affected by the recent worldwide wave of the democracy that has so far
reached only the Philippines and Thailand.

Demands for democracy have been fended off with the warning it would
undermine development. But skepticism is warranted because dictatorships
have not always led to development and, when they have, democracy has been
put off indefinitely. It seems that authoritarian rulers is Southeast Asia
are joining forces to justify their monopoly of power for as long as possible. 


How Asean should handle a wayward neighbor
October 25, 1996

Talk about bad timing. It was only three months ago that ASEAN accepted
Myanmar into its ranks as an official observer - and a month later that
Yangon formally applied for membership. Yet late in September, Slorc, the
country's ruling junta, detained more than 500 democracy activists and
barricade the home of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, the opposition leader and Nobel
Peace prizewinner. The hamfisted move brought Asian's strategy of
"constructive engagement" with Yangon under renewed international fire. It
also threatened to divide the grouping itself, understanding its treasured
cohesion. Will Slorc ever learn to behave?

It had better do so if it wants the benefits of acceptance by its
neighbors. ASEAN, of course, would like to welcome the Burmese into the
fold. Its goal is to form a 10-nation grouping that would unite Southeast
Asian and extend the benefits of freer trade and economic relations to all
members. But on the eve of its acceptance of Yangon, ASEAN appears to have
sent the wrong signal to the generals - that their membership is already in
the bag. Even so, the latest crisis, in Myanmar as well as in its ties with
ASEAN, may prompt a healthy rethink by both sides.

That does not mean ASEAN should abandon constructive engagement and slap
sanctions on Slorc, as many in the West advocate. History shows that
economic interdictions in themselves rarely succeed in compelling
authoritarian regimes to adopt democracy. Isolated by choice since the early
1960s, Myanmar has long become used to living without the approbation of
others. While the cessation of foreign investment would lend some bite to
any sanctions, they are unlikely to turf out Slorc or change its ways much.

The West's democracy-above-all approach is flawed for another reason.
Political freedom is certainly an important criterion of human well-being.
But it is not the sole, or necessarily the most important, priority for
developing countries. Other factors, including economic growth and the
people's livelihood, must also be weighed in any responsible assessment of
the overall national interest. ASEAN is right when it tells the critics of
constructive engage that by maintaining links with Yangon, it is providing
valuable economic benefits to all Burmese. Besides, across Asia, from South
Korea and Taiwan to China, foreign trade and investment have proven the most
effective tools to prize open and ultimately liberalize authoritarian nations.

Besides, ASEAN was not founded to promote democracy. The grouping was set p
in 1967 to further economic development and cordial relations among
Southeast Asian countries. Nor has ASEAN ever pretended to be a club of
democratic nations: Vietnam is communist, Indonesia autocratic and Brunei is
a near-absolute monarchy. In short, the association has no grounds for
excluding Myanmar simply because the government in Yangon is authoritarian.

Geo-strategic realities also ensure that ASEAN can never ostracize Myanmar.
Unlike outsiders, neighbors have to live with one another - forever.
Patient, sensitive diplomacy is usually the only practicable approach to
difficult relationships. For ASEAN, ganging up on Yangon would produce
another undesirable outcome by pushing the Burmese further into China's orbit.

None of that makes a rethink on Myanmar any less necessary. Consensus is the
very lifeblood of ASEAN. Given the growing internal rifts over the issue,
the grouping should not try to rush Yangon's admission before all members
are comfortable with the notion. Indeed, acceptance will be a problem if
Slorc continues to act in ways that embarrass Asian's leaders and expose
them to criticism at home and abroad. In this context, ASEAN must consider
carefully whether to admit Myanmar next year, as some members want, or to
defer admission until Slorc displays a greater responsiveness to
international sensibilities, including those of its neighbors.

For its part, Yangon must learn that if it is to be a valued member of any
regional organization, it must not let the term down by its own behavior. No
countries are keener to accept Myanmar, or are better able to understand its
problems, than the ASEAN states. It is time that the generals showed they
care about the relationship - and desist from such as rounding up the
political opposition en masse.

For Slorc, the choice should be clear enough. The generals can stick to
their ways - and be content to see their country remain isolated and
underdeveloped indefinitely. Or they can undertake reforms, and partake of
Asia's economic boom by opening a broad range of links with other countries.
As always, ASEAN remains Myanmar's best bridge to achieve the latter
scenario. Slorc needs to realize that a less draconian regime will enhance,
not undermine, economic and political stability in Myanmar. It would be
constructive indeed if ASEAN were able to drive that point home while
engaging its stubbornly wayward neighbor. (AW)


October 16, 1996 (Malaysia)

    MYANMAR is receptive to the idea of tuning its policies towards the
requirements suggested by the Association of South-East Asian Nations
(ASEAN) in its bid to join the group, according to an international
consultant group with
business in Yangon.

    Coopers & Lybrand general manager for Myanmar, Mr Francis Lee, said the
response from Myanmar's policymakers seems "positive towards the suggested

    "They are currently outlining what is needed (for them to join ASEAN)," he
told reporters after attending a talk on "Potential Investment in Cambodia" at
the two-day Conference on Cambodia, Laos and Myanmar in Kuala Lumpur.

    Lee is scheduled to speak on an update on Myanmar at the conference today.

    He was asked to comment on suggestions from certain ASEAN members that
Myanmar adhere to policies related to the ASEAN Free Trade Area.

"In fact, there already seems to be liberalization of trade in Myanmar," he

    He also said the Myanmar's policymakers are ironing out issues that are
difficult for them to implement in its attempt to join ASEAN.

    Myanmar, along with Cambodia and Laos, hopes to become ASEAN members by
the end the century.

    ASEAN comprises Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand, the
Philippines and Vietnam.

    Asked on the potential of property industry in Myanmar, Lee said in line
with the reformation of Myanmar's economic activities, this industry is not
being left out for development.

    "This is especially so in terms of developing the tourism industry
especially in building new hotels.

    "In fact, there are already the presence of established international hotels
such as the Novotel and Shangri-La in Myanmar," he added.

    Lee has been with Coopers & Lybrand in Myanmar since September last year.  


October 17, 1996


 (SINGAPORE) Tuan Sing Holdings has bought a tyre retreading company 
to boost its trading business.  The mainboard-listed company said yesterday 
that it paid $ 6.6 million for Singapore Bandag (Pte) Ltd, which comes with a 
subsidiary in Malaysia called Performance Retreads Sdn Bhd.   Tuan Sing is 
controlled by the Nursalim family, which owns PT Gadjah Tunggal, Indonesia's 
largest tyre company.

Earlier this year, Tuan Sing entered the tyre market through its subsidiary
Globaltraco International, which has sole distributorship of PT Gadjah
Tunggal's tyre and related products in Singapore, Malaysia, Brunei,
Thailand, Myanmar, Cambodia and some parts of West Africa.


Over 13 million US dollars worth of gems, jade, pearl and jewelry will be
sold at the mid-year gems emporium to be held from October 17 to 24, Myanmar
Deputy Minister for Mines U Hlaing Win said at a press conference here
today. About 400 merchants of 130 companies from 14 countries and regions
are expected to visit the emporium.  Gems emporiums have been held regularly
in Burma since 1964, and a total of over 238 million US dollars was earned
through 33 emporiums and 4 mid-year emporiums.


The second Myanmar Medical and Pharmaceutical Exposition '96 was inaugurated
here today.  The four-day event, organized by the Ministry of National
Planning and Economic Development and the Ministry of Hotels and Tourism, is
featuring a wide range of the latest medical equipment, pharmaceutical and
health care products and services.  During the exposition, a symposium on
medicine, surgery, obstetrics and gynecology will also be held, at which
speeches will be given by top medical specialists from Burma and overseas.


A five-member Myanmar Cultural delegation led by Minister for Culture U 
Aung San left here this afternoon for Beijing on an eight-day goodwill visit to
China.  Under the cultural exchange program of China and Myanmar, the
Myanmar delegation is visiting Beijing, Xi''an and Shenzhen at the
invitation of Chinese Minister of Culture Liu Zhongde.  During the visit,
the Myanmar delegation will study China's construction and management in the
field of culture, reforms of arts and cultural associations and
institutions, and preservation of ancient cultural relics.


October 16, 1996 (Rianforest Action Network)

Press Contact:
Mark Westlund-ranmedia@xxxxxxx
Donna Parker-boycottmc@xxxxxxx



In an internationally coordinated show of force, activists from Rainforest
Action Network and like-minded groups around the world conducted
demonstrations and civil-disobedience at Mitsubishi-owned businesses in
five major U.S. cities, as well as in Japan and Australia. Whether it's
supporting forced labor and the military junta in Burma, destroying vast
regions of the world's rainforest, or practicing institutional sexual
harrassment, Mitsubishi's the one!  Mitsubishi Corporation's activities lay
waste to thousands of square miles of forest, and contribute to the
destruction of native rainforest cultures.

"Today's international protest against Mitsubishi shows beyond a doubt that
there is no safe harbor for companies that plunder the environment and
promote human rights abuses," said Donna Parker, Mitsubishi Boycott acting
director: "Mitsubishi is the world's largest company and could lead the
world towards a sustainable future.  Instead, Mitsubishi continues to
profit from death and destruction.  Until Mitsubishi makes a U-turn, we
will keep the pressure on full force."

In San Francisco, two activists climbed the Mitsubishi-owned Union Bank of
California building facade, and hung a 900-square-foot banner across the
colonnade.  On the ground, a demonstration featuring a giant inflatable
chain saw attracted hundreds of office-worker spectators.  Police SWAT
team-members removed the climbers after nearly five hours.   Mitsubishi
Bank and its domestic holdings fund environmentally destructive projects
around the world.

In Portland, Oregon, two activists rappelled from the 25th floor of Key
Bank Tower, which houses Mitsubishi International and Bank of
Tokyo-Mitsubishi offices, and unfurled a huge banner, reading:  Stop
corporate forest destruction-boycott Mitsubishi.  Another three activists
blockaded the lobby by locking themselves to concrete-filled steel drums.
As of 12:30 PM, six activists had been arrested.  Mitsubishi Corporation is
the largest purchaser of whole logs from the Pacific Northwest, causing the
loss of thousands of U.S. jobs.

In Tokyo, activists from Burma Relief-Japan gathered in front of Mitsubishi
Corporation headquarters, handing out  fliers documenting the company's
activities in Burma to employees, passers-by, and to the Foreign
Correspondents Club.

Demonstrations also took place in Tasmania and New Castle West, Australia,
and in Tucson, Boulder, and Los Angeles.

Rainforests are being destroyed at an accelerating pace around the world,
eliminating vast numbers of plant and animal species, and devastating the
traditional lands and cultures of the people who live there. Every year, an
area of rainforest the size of Italy is destroyed, and much of that
destruction derives from exploitation by multinational corporations.

Worldwide, Mitsubishi Corporation has timber and mining operations
stretching from the U.S. to Malaysia and Brazil.  Mitsubishi Corporation's
Alberta Pacific Chlorine Bleach Kraft mill is the largest wood pulp
processor in the world, running around the clock to process 300 truckloads
of trees a day. The Mitsubishi-owned Canadian Chopsticks Manufacturing
Company throws away 85% of the trees it cuts down to produce disposable
utensils because the wood is not white enough.

Rainforest Action Network works to protect the Earth's rainforests and
support the rights of their inhabitants through education, grassroots
organizing and non-violent, direct action.


October 18, 1996

CHIANG MAI - Thai Rangers pushed back across the border about 200 Akha
and Lahu refugees from Shan state's Ban Ai Long village last Saturday, two
days after they fled marauding Burmese troops.

The refugees said they were forced to leave their village, about 500 meters
from the Thai border, after government troops arrived and started arresting

The Burmese troops, from Light Infantry Battalion 256 based in Tachilek,
seized about six villagers.

According to witness accounts, the soldiers beat them for allegedly
supporting Shan rebels, renegades from former Mong Thai Army soldiers who
continue to ambush Burmese troops.

The Burmese army detained Ai Htoo, 50, the village headman.

The refugee found little help when they arrived in Thailand near Doi Tung,
about 20 kms west of Mae Sai in Chiang Rai.

"Some refugees were forced to stay and sleep in the jungle because they were
scared of being arrested and being pushed back by the Thai police," said one

"They had no food for two days," he added.

But after two days on Saturday, about 40 Thai Rangers forced them back into

"When the villagers returned, they found that the Slorc troops had located
all their possessions," said a source.

"They killed chickens, ducks, pigs, and left nothing." Moreover, some of the
villagers were then gangpressed into serving as porters for the Slorc troops.

They were made to carry the looted possessions to a Slorc camp several hours
walk away.

Saturday was the second time that these refugees have been pushed back
across the border by the Thai Rangers. In March 1995, they had fled because
of government reprisals following an MAT attack on Tachilek border town.

They sought refuge in Thailand, but were also pushed back after only a few
days. It was reported that Akha refugees who were forced back to Burma were
caught by government troops and severely interrogated.

Since March of this year, more than 80,000 villagers have been forced to
relocate in central and southern Shan state. In Burma, foreigners, diplomats
and journalists have been banned from traveling to Shan state where forced
relocations have allegedly been carried out by the army.

It was reported that these villages were forced to move out to weaken the
remaining Shan insurgent groups.

As a result of the massive relocation program at least 20,000 Shans have
fled to Thailand. Shan groups claim that in Chiang Mai's Fang district
alone, almost 10,000 Shans are living there. Khun Kyar Oo, chairman of
Volunteers for the Displaced Shans sent an urgent letter to a UNHCR
representative to ask for assistance. In his letter, he requested refugee
camps be set up at suitable location these camps.

"Hopefully, they will respond to our requests in the bear future," Khun Kyar
Oo said. Local NGO workers in northern Thailand and Shan human rights
workers have expressed great concern over the influx of refugees from Shan


October 18, 1996

Farmers in Mandalay are upset about losing land they have
cultivated for centuries because of the damming of a local lake,
residents in the northern town say.

Since the government began damming Taungthaman Lake,20 kilometres
south of Mandalay, 30 villages have lost farmland and their way
of life, said a local resident involved in government
redevelopment projects.

"The government has dammed the lake because they want to see
tourists go waterskiing," he said.

Before being dammed at two points, the bottom of Taungthaman Lake
had been used for farming when it dried up in the dry season, the
source said.

"There's a famous old bridge across this lake," said the source.

"In the dry season, we used to see farmers walking under the
shade of the bridge on their way to planting rice and nuts. IT
was a beautiful sight for tourists, and they enjoyed walking
around in a place that would fill up with water in the rainy season."

It is believed the government is planning to build hotels around the lake.

He said the farmers received no compensation for the lost farmland.

Many Mandalayans also complain in private about other changes in
their city. They say the government has torn down a beautiful old
wooden market to build a huge concrete market downtown.

"The building is so stuffy when the electricity goes out," said a
local businessman. "It's also cold and damp in the cold and wet
seasons. It's already leaking and falling apart," he said.

The source said he had seen a blue print of a redevelopment plan
for Mandalay. Scribbling a map on a piece of paper, he pointed to
a grid of downtown area where engineers will knock down old
buildings to clear the way for wider roads. Detains of the
project and the name of the companies involved were not available.

Many tourists who go to Mandalay for its historic charm said they
end up leaving sick and tired of hearing construction drills that
are destroying its very  appeal.

Mandalay residents also still talk bitterly about the
controversial digging of a new moat around the old royal palace in 1995.

One resident living near the project said 10 people died, adding
that this was "common knowledge" among his neighbours.

The moat was old explained the source. So when the government
sees something old, they want to make it look new for "Visit Myanmar Year".

So dirt-poor villagers were brought in and paid a pittance along
with prisoners who were paid nothing.

Some died of old age and exhaustion in the bitter early morning
cold in December. Others were beaten to death by soldiers he said.

"Its like 500 years ago in other counties. Slaves digging a moat
in front of a palace. Like slaves building the pyramids in Egypt.
But it's still happening in my country."


October 1996

A letter from Lake Forest High School to President Clinton, regarding 
the U.S. government's Burma policy

Dear Mr. Clinton,
 My name is Susannah Kim, and I am a junior at Lake Forest High
 School. My friends and I have started an organization at my school
 called G.R.A.E.S. (Grass Roots Activism Encompassing all Species), we
 are an animal and human rights group. On behalf of my group and the
 school I am writing a letter concerning the situation in Burma. This
 week, our organization took part in a fast for Burma along with the
 rest of the world. Twenty-five students at my school fasted and more
 then 200 students supported us in our endeavor. Still there were many
 students who did not understand what the outcome of our fasting would
 be. One boy who read our petition to you, asked "Do you actually
 think you can make a difference?" This is the presumption held by
 many of the students at our school. My friends and I created this
 club to directly combat this attitude. We believe that passivity and
 complacency are not better then hard efforts lost. Our belief is that
 we effectively spread awareness in our community about Burma and in
 resisting we have made a difference. The students who signed this
 petition are serious and concerned. They have been informed on the
 atrocities occurring in Burma and are shocked that U.S. companies are
 perpetuating the military dictatorship with their money. As a student
 in America, I have learned a lot from being involved with the Burma
 campaign. The rights my peers and I have taken for granted are things
 the people in Burma and other countries are dying for. My right to
 copy and distribute flyers is punishable by death and imprisonment in
 Burma. I firmly believe in the ideals that this country was founded
 upon. The ideal that every human had certain, unalienable rights and
 that the government was a tool in protecting and maintaining these
 rights. To stand a passive witness to the crimes committed against
 the Burmese directly conflict with the beliefs we as a country
 supposedly champion. I can not believe that we as a country allow our
 companies to do business with a government that exterminates it's own
 people. Myself and millions across the globe abhor the actions of
 PepsiCo., Texaco, Unocal, and Disney. Their value of money over
 humans is appalling, and although they are not directly killing the
 Burmese, the Burmese's misfortune and misery is their gain. We know
 that election time is drawing close and we know of the conditional
 sanctions you had passed. Still this is not enough, election time
 does not relieve you from your duty as President of the United States
 of America. Simply, coasting toward election without making any
 changes to foreign policy is not responsible. As a group, we believe
 in the integrity of the government and we are sure that you will not
 let election time interfere with our nations duties. A lot of
 students at our school have been echoing the sentiment, " What direct
 difference are you making?" To many we are thought of as wasting our
 time. After all, we are only high school students, we can't even
 vote. As a new generation of Americans, we feel that the only way to
 take part in the political process is to change it ourselves. Please
 prove to us that we can make a difference. Show us that the U.S.
 government is indeed a government run by the people and not by
 multi-national corporations. We know in our hearts that you will do
 what is best for the people of Burma and in the name of true democracy.
   Sincerely Yours,

     Susannah Kim
     626 Buena Rd..
     Lake Forest, Il. 60045


October 19, 1996
by Seth Mydans

Machak's initiation into womanhood came a month ago, when she turned 6
and her mother wound a coil of 10 brass rings around her neck, pushing up her
chin and pressing down on her chest with their weight.

   "It's heavy," Machak said, in tears.

But her mother, Mateu, who wears a 10-pound coil of 24 rings around
her own neck, told her to endure; girls like her represent the economic
future of
the Padaung tribe of long-necked women, known to 19th-century explorers as
"giraffe women."

   Refugees from across the border in Myanmar, formerly  Burma,  where
they say they fear the military Government, the Padaung women have become an
increasingly lucrative business for tour operators here in the mountains of
northern Thailand.

   In recent weeks, a small war has erupted among Thai tour companies who
have created competing settlements of long-necked women to attract foreign

One tour operator lured 12 women from a Thai refugee camp in August to a
new home where he reportedly charges visitors $12 to view them.

   "In  Burma,  if a girl doesn't want a long neck, never mind," said
Mateu, who is 24 and has never removed the footlong coil from her neck since
her mother initiated her as a girl.

   "But here it's different," said Mateu, who like the other villagers
uses just one name. "If there are no long-necked women, nobody will come to
see us and we will have no money."

   It is more money, with less work, than they could ever have imagined.

Condemned by some human rights advocates in Thailand as a "human zoo," Nai
Soi is the dream of any poor farmer toiling in the fields.

   "I like it here; I don't have to work," said Marnang, 42, who with her
husband was a rice farmer in Myanmar and now, like the other women here,
receives $60 a month to be on show for tourists. "In  Burma  you work every day 
and still there is not enough to eat. Here, there is plenty of money."

   X-rays of the Padaung women have shown that the neck is not actually
lengthened but that the weight of the rings pushes down on the rib cage,
causing the shoulders to slope dramatically.

   If the rings are removed -- when a woman enters a hospital for medical
treatment, for example -- Marnang said the neck had become too weak to
support the head without a brace, and that it was difficult to eat.

   There is a peculiar rhythm -- a stillness -- to this tiny mountain
village, surrounded by the canopied forests of the Thai-Burmese border.

   The women, rouged and beribboned, their neck rings polished daily with
lime and rice straw, sit quietly in the doorways waiting for tourists.

   They have an otherworldly air as they go about their business, cooking
or washing, their tiny heads bent slightly forward, almost floating, high
above their shoulders.

   Their small daughters, with their lengthened necks, have a choked and
distracted look as they play jacks or bounce their smaller sisters on
their hips.

   The men, too, differ from men in other poor villages: they do not work.
With no economic role to play, they spend their days swinging in their
hammocks, smoking cheroots and sipping rice wine.

   The 200 residents of this village -- including about 30 long-necked
women and girls -- are members of the Padaung subgroup of the Karen ethnic
minority whose homeland is in Kayah State in eastern Myanmar.  Poverty and
abuses by the Burmese military have driven them into Thailand in the last

   The glittering brass neck rings of the women are not in fact individual
rings, but coils of metal that are wound around the necks of girls by
experts like Marang.

   The initiation does not involve any ceremony or spiritual knowledge,
said Marang, who is the village's most accomplished expert in applying the
coils. "What is important is to have strong hands," she said.

   The girls start as young as 4 or 5 or 6, she said, with one kilogram,
or 2.2  pounds, of brass coil. A second kilogram is added at about the age
of 8, a
third at 12 and, if the girl's neck is supple enough, a final two kilograms
at 15.

   "I like the rings because they are beautiful and because my mother
wears them," said Madang, who is 12 and who wears three kilograms of brass.

   But they take some getting used to, Marnang conceded. Some girls cry
and complain at first, and sometimes the rings must be removed for a time to
relieve chafing on the shoulders. But she said other girls whose parents are too
poor to  afford the coils also complain: "They are crying too, because they
want to wear it."

   When her neck chafes or itches in the heat, Marnang said, she sometimes
slips a piece of newspaper inside the rings for insulation. She also keeps her
money there.

   None of the women here seemed to have a clear idea of the origins of
their unusual custom, saying only that they wear the neck rings because their
mothers and grandmothers did before them.

   They seem never to have heard the stories told by tourist guides of
legends about protection from mystical tigers or rituals performed on girls born
under a full moon.

   "These are stories told by people who don't know," Marnang said. "Some
tribes have long ears; some have big knees; some have long necks. It depends on
your parents. My mother had a long neck, so I have a long neck."

   She wears her ornaments with pride -- more than 20 pounds of metal in
all, including rings around her calves and wrists.

   "It is most beautiful when the neck is really long," she said. "The
longer it is, the more beautiful it is. I will never take off my rings. I'll
them until I die, and I'll be buried in them."