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Junta's old friend lends voice to t

Subject: Junta's old friend lends voice to the opposition.


Myanmar's military rulers have upset their former European ally, Germany, 
which has now given its blessing to a deal to strengthen a dissident 
radio station. However, Gemini News Service reports that human rights 
activists should not get up hopes that Bonn is about to slap on trade 

3 December,
Cologne, Germany 


In a key policy shift, the German Government has backed a deal that  
allows the telecommunications giant Deutsche Telekom to boost an 
opposition radio station broadcasting into Myanmar (formerly

The decision, announced in mid-November by German Foreign Minister Klaus 
Kinkel, represents a withdrawal of earlier "misgivings" his ministry 
expressed to Telekom over the $100,000-a-year contract.

If the deal now goes through, as looks likely, the German firm - a 
state-owned company currently being privatised - will provide powerful 
new transmitters for the Norway-based Democratic Voice of Burma (DVB), 
which is backed by Burmese democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

The Foreign Ministry's U-turn is significant because, in the past, 
Germany has been an important European ally for Myanmar. The decision to 
back the DVB reflects growing frustration in Bonn with the military 
rulers in Yangon (Rangoon), who recently tightened their  political clamp 
on opponents.

"Germany has had traditionally close ties with Burma and backs dialogue 
[rather than sanctions] to bring change in Rangoon. But now Germany may 
be losing patience," says Martin Smith, a London-based writer on Burmese 

Announcing the change of heart, an embarrassed Kinkel blamed low-level 
officials for the original thumbs-down in July. He said he could find "no 
reason in international law" to block the deal. His only proviso: that 
the radio station does not promote violence or revolution.

DVB organisers responded by saying their aim was to broadcast accurate 
information, not incitement to violence, and that talks with Telekom 
would resume. DVB director Harn Yawnghwe, son of the first Burmese 
President, Sao Shwe Thaike, welcomed the reversal, saying: "The 
decision is more consistent with Germany's usual stance on human rights 
and democracy."

The radio station is hoping to improve short-wave reception via new 
frequencies and to expand air-time from the current one hour per day.

Established in Oslo in 1992 on the back of a wave of Norwegian support 
following the 1991 Nobel Peace Prize award to Aung San Suu Kyi, the DVB 
is the mouthpiece of the self-styled government-in-exile, the National 
Coalition Government of the Union of Burma.

The $270,000-a-year operation is funded by Norwegian, Swedish, Danish and 
US organisations, mostly with money originating from their national 
governments, and by a foundation established by international currency 
dealer George Soros.

Bonn's change of mind on the Telekom deal shows that it recognises the 
need for information in Myanmar, "where the media is totally controlled," 
says Peter Traub, a Bangkok-based regional expert with the Friedrich 
Naumann Foundation, which is close to Kinkel's Free Democratic Party.

He helped lobby for the change, and adds that it reflects a recent 
toughening of Germany's stance towards the military junta.

This harder line is confirmed by Dietrich Mahlo, spokesman on south-east 
Asia for the senior German coalition partner, the Christian Democratic 
Union. "Relations with Burma reached a new low in February when Rangoon 
refused a visit by our Development Minister," he  says. In his view, Myanmar
wasted a chance to improve ties with one of its traditional allies  
because it refused to allow the minister to meet Aung San Suu Kyi.

Until the military suppression of pro-democracy protests in 1988, Germany 
was proud of its links with Myanmar, and was its second largest source of 
development aid, behind Japan. When Yangon was internationally isolated 
and aid cut off, Bonn moved quickly to distance  itself from its former 
friend, and from charges that a German state-owned arms company had 
supplied weapons used in the suppression.

"Nowadays, Kinkel has no illusions about the character of the [ruling] 
State Law and Order Restoration Council (SLORC)," says Traub. Yet despite 
this, Germany still uses its weight within the European Union (EU) to 
preach the need for dialogue, rather than trade  sanctions, in fostering 
change in Myanmar.

Several EU member states, led by Denmark, are demanding an embargo after 
this year's harassment of members of Aung San Suu Kyi's National League 
for Democracy, which was prevented by the military from taking power 
after it won elections in 1990. In addition, preferential trade tariffs 
could be suspended when an EU inquiry into forced labour in Myanmar is 

However, Traub points out that EU action will have little effect as long 
as the Association of South East Asian Nations continues to lend "basic 
support" to the SLORC.

Meanwhile, any hopes by human rights activists that Bonn might try to 
prevent German firms from doing business with Myanmar seem in vain at 

Bilateral trade remains small, totalling about $50 million in 1994. But 
several German holiday companies are promoting Burmese packages to 
coincide with the SLORC's Visit Myanmar Year. Big firms such as 
engineering giant Siemens and clothing multinational  Triumph have set up 
offices or joint ventures there. And in November, an important business 
council, the German Asia-Pacific Business Association, felt confident 
enough to open a liaison office in Yangon.


[About the Author: HUGH WILLIAMSON is a Cologne-based freelance journalist 
covering international affairs.]

[OneWorld, 9 January 1997].