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Reich Cancels Myanmar Briefing
Journal of Commerce
Nov. 15, 1996
Reich Cancels Myanmar Briefing
Clinto Administration is Cautious
by Tim Shorrock
Washington-- A briefing by US Labor Secretary Robert Reich on labor rights
in the Asian dictatorship of Myanmar was cancelled at the last minute
Thursday, raising questions about the Clinton administration's policies
toward that country.
Mr. Reich, a key advisor to President Clinton, was set Thursday
to announce a new initiative urging US clothing importers not to buy
products made in Myanmar, formerly known as Burma.
A Labor Department press release said Mr. Reich - who is resigning
in January - was going to make the request based on the country's "record
of forced labor and child exploitation." Mr. Reich also was planning to
highlight US companies that have stopped doing business in Myanmar.
But hours before his announcement, aides announced that a
telephone interview with Mr. Reich was postponed indefinitely. A
spokeswoman cited logisitical problems for the delay, saying Mr. Reich was
in Boston. The interview was not rescheduled.
Some observers suggested the Clinton administration did not want
Mr. Reich to answer questions at a time when the political situation in
Myanmar is worsening.
During the past week, a car carrying opposition leader Aung San
Suu Kyi was attacked by a mob, and a top general made a speech suggesting
that Myanmar citizens should "crush" the dissident movement.
Meanwhile, a bipartisan group in Congress and human rights groups
are pushing for a tougher US response to the repression.
"Burma is a human rights disaster that demands a further
response," said Mike Jendrzejczk, Washington Director of Human Rights
Watch/Asia. "The situation has dramatically deteriorated in recent
US interest in Myanmar has been growing since 1990, when the
military government cancelled the results of a popular election that
brought an overwhelming victory for Ms. Suu Kyi. The dissident leader,
who was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1994 (sic), was released from
house arrest in July 1995.
But serious human rights and labor problems have worsened
Myanmar's reputation as a police state. Many US and European companies
have either pulled out of the country or refused to do business there.
Still, Japanese corporations and several US oil companies have
major interests in the country.
This year, lawmakers sought legislation that would have cut off
all US investments in Myanmar.
At the suggestion of the Clinton administration, however, the bill
was softened. The final language said US investment should be prohibited
if the president determines that the government of Myanmar has harmed or
re-arrested Ms. Suu Kyi or "committed large-scale repression of or
violence against the democratic opposition."
With those conditions now present, putting Mr. Reich in a position
where he would have to answer questions may have been awkward, one
observer suggested. The Labor Department said political considerations
did not play a role in the cancellation.