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Excerpts from NEW FRONTIERS
- Subject: Excerpts from NEW FRONTIERS
- From: brelief@xxxxxxx
- Date: Sat, 18 Jan 1997 05:35:00
Excerpts from NEW FRONTIERS: Monthly Briefing on Tourism, Development and
Environment Issues in the Mekong Subregion (November 1996)
--SLORC Fears Sabotage of ?Visit Myanmar Year'
--Tourism-Related Projects Anger Mandalay Residents
--The Ruining of Pagan
--Campaign: A Clear No to SLORC's Tourism Campaign
--Special Concern: Voices from Ethnic People under ?Village Arrest'
SLORC FEARS SABOTAGE OF ?VISIT MYANMAR YEAR'
[The Nation (TN): 15.10.96; 22.10.96; 5.11.96; 9.11.96, 11.11.96]
Lt-Gen Tin Oo, a member of the ruling State Law and Order Restoration
Council (SLORC), announced tougher internal security measures in the context
of ?Visit Myanmar Year' (VMY) 1996, officially beginning on 18 November. He
said: "At a time when all-out efforts are being made to develop and
modernize the nation, internal axe handles are attempting to destabilize the
nation through various means to coincide with Visit Myanmar Year."
At the recent opening of the new Golden Butterfly Hotel in Rangoon, SLORC's
minister for hotels and tourism Lt-Gen Kyaw Ba, also known as the "Tiger"
general, described as "despicable traitors" anyone who tries to discourage
tourists from visiting Burma.
A few days later, Kyaw Ba attended the opening ceremony of the 206-room
Novotel Mandalay Hotel ? a three way enterprise between a Thai-Burmese joint
venture and a French management team from Novotel of the Accor Group. On
that occasion, he also sent out an unequivocal message that any attempts to
hinder VMY will not be tolerated and sternly warned "destructive elements"
inside and outside Burma not to rock the boat if they want to see improved
living conditions for Burmese people.
"We have to keep in mind that we have a handful of destructive elements
attempting to destroy the development of the tourist industry and create an
ugly image for our country," the "Tiger" general declared. "They say
boosting the tourism industry only benefits the government, not the general
population. We need to put more effort into telling the world that the
accusations of those undesirable elements are completely wrong."
"It is undeniable that the general public have enjoyed the boosting of the
tourist industry," he claimed. "I was sorry to be informed that in the last
few months, visitors to Pagan have decreased and local people have suffered
financial difficulties as their income gets lower. This is of course linked
to the undesirable elements which try to hinder visitors."
Then Kyaw Ba lamented: "Those who say world travellers should not visit
Burma have no heart for the people of Burma ... The leaders of the country
are quite sad to see and hear all these complaints and accusations that the
military junta has no heart for the people. In fact, the military are also
"Like all human beings created by the Supreme God, we have hearts to love,
to care to share. Sometimes, we are set to bear the pain of those
destructive elements, but our love for the people keeps us strong and trying
harder," Kyaw Ba said.
One of SLORC's most powerful generals, Khin Nyunt, who is also head of the
secret police and chairman of the tourism development committee, joined the
campaign against "despicable" people who urge for an international boycott
"Without consideration for the welfare of the country and the people, low
intelligence and despicable people are spreading false and disparaging
reports about the country," he was quoted as saying in the 8 November issue
of the state-controlled newspaper New Light of Myanmar. "Unscrupulous
persons and organizations are spreading rumours that Visit Myanmar Year will
not be successful, and also discouraging investment saying that the people
do not benefit from such investments," Khin Nyunt said.
Meanwhile, Aung San Suu Kyi renewed her calls to the international community
for economic sanctions on Burma and a boycott of Visit Myanmar Year on the
occasion of the visit of two leading members of the European Parliament,
Glenys Kinnock and Glyn Ford from Britain.
TOURISM-RELATED PROJECTS ANGER MANDALAY RESIDENTS
Farmers in Mandalay are upset about losing land they have cultivated for
centuries because of a dam project at Taungthaman Lake, 20 kilometers south
of the city.
"The government has dammed the lake because they want to see tourists go
water-skiing," said a local resident involved in governmental development
projects. As a result, 30 villages have lost farmland and their way of life
without any compensation.
Before being dammed at two points, the bottom of Taungthaman Lake had been
used for farming when it dried up in the dry season. "There's a famous old
bridge across this lake," the source explained. "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 that the government is planning to build hotels
around the lake.
Many Mandalay residents also complain about other changes in the city. They
say the government has, for example, torn down a beautiful old wooden market
to build a huge concrete market downtown.
One source said he had seen a blueprint of a redevelopment plan for Mandalay
which included the knocking down of old buildings in the downtown area to
clear the way for wider roads. Tourists to Mandalay reported they ended up
leaving sick and tired of hearing construction drills that are destroying
the city's appeal.
Locals also still talk bitterly about the controversial digging of a new
moat around the old royal palace in 1995 to "beautify" the site for Visit
Myanmar Year. Once resident living near the palace said 10 people died, and
this was "common knowledge" among his neighbours. "It's like 500 years ago
in other countries," he said. "Slaves digging a moat in front of a palace.
Like slaves building pyramids in Egypt. But it's still happening in my
THE RUINING OF PAGAN
With Visit Myanmar Year 1996 looming, SLORC is cracking the whip on
restoration work at Pagan's glorious archaeological site. But orders to
accelerate work there is threatening to do irreparable damage to the
800-year-old historical complex, said Burmese involved in the restoration
project. They complained untrained local workers were brushing off or
pasting over ancient paintings on temple walls and pagoda stones in order to
"beautify" Pagan for tourists. They also planted trees and grasses that
threaten to change the arid area into a green monster that will eat the stones.
"We are in danger of losing our heritage," said one source. "This has
become an urgent problem in the last 10 months. When 800-year-old ruins are
destroyed, they won't come back again tomorrow."
Shortly after SLORC came to power in 1988, they ordered the restoration of
all Pagan's 2,230 monuments. Foreign experts under a UNESCO programme had
drawn up a master plan aimed at regulating development in the face of the
expected tourist influx. The draft plan banned development in some areas,
controlled the height of buildings in others and set up a special zone to
the south where high-rise, international-style tourist facilities were
allowed to be built. But those involved in the restoration project reported
that visiting generals and ministers often gave their own orders without
anybody daring to check if they were consistent with the plans or discussed
policy. Today, the skilled UN teams no longer work on the site, which has
fuelled rumours of a dispute between military officials and UNESCO.
"We have very little training," admitted one source working at the Pagan
site. "Most people in Burma think restoration means building (something)
new, painting it white and covering it with gold. But this in not
restoration, this is destruction."
CAMPAIGN: A CLEAR NO TO SLORC'S TOURISM CAMPAIGN
ASEAN: At the Alternative ASEAN Meeting in Bangkok on 29 and 30 October,
international and regional human rights advocates and Burmese opposition
groups formed a worldwide network to step up pressure on ASEAN and the
international community as a whole to take a clear-cut position on concerns
about Burma. On the regional front, they called on ASEAN countries to
abandon the much-disputed policy of "constructive engagement" with Burma,
which has reinforced "untold injustice and suffering" for the Burmese
people, and instead adopt a policy that will bring about democratic and
human rights reforms in the country. ASEAN was also urged not to grant
membership to Burma as this would prolong the illegitimate rule of the SLORC
and give them a de facto licence to continue the repression of Burmese citizens.
The represented groups issued an Alternative ASEAN Declaration, which
included a call for an international boycott of SLORC's ?Visit Myanmar
Year', which officially begins on 18 November. They urged citizens of the
world to postpone plans to visit the country until the human rights
situation improves in Burma, "further that they communicate the grounds for
their decision to representatives of the SLORC and their local travel industry."
Hong Kong: The Hong Kong Section of Amnesty International stated in a letter
to the South China Morning Post (20.10.96) that supporters of the Burmese
people, including members of the HK Legislative Council and many students,
were appalled at the human rights situation in Burma which has deteriorated
sharply, just as Visit Myanmar Year is scheduled to begin.
"We have seen massive crackdowns and detention of National League for
Democracy (NLD) members," said the letter. "Thousands of people have been
coerced into working on tourism-based infrastructure projects. Members of
the country's many ethnic groups ? precisely the people who tourists will be
encouraged to see in traditional dress ? are particularly targeted to work
as porters for the military." The letter concluded: "Hong Kong now has
direct air links to Burma, and we cannot remain immune to the human rights
violations in our near neighbourhood, when we have freedom to speak out."
Germany: The Society for Threatened Peoples (GfbV) held a press conference
in Bonn on 9 October to inform about tourism development in Burma and send a
clear message to the public: "Don't Visit Myanmar." GfbV urged holiday
makers to resist the bait offers of the German tourism and travel industry,
as several German tour operators ? e.g. Deutsche Reisebuero (DERTOUR),
Neckermann, Kreutzer, Phoenix ? have included Burma in their programmes. In
addition, the German charter airline Condor offers weekly direct flights to
Rangoon from November onwards.
Switzerland: On 5 November, the Working Group on Tourism and Development
(AKTE), the Swiss-Burmese Association, and the Geneva-based International
Union of Food, Agricultural, Hotel, Restaurant, Catering, Tobacco and Allied
Workers' Association (IUL) jointly directed an appeal to Swiss citizens and
decision-makers to support the threatened Burmese democracy movement, and
declared: "No Holidays on the invitation of Burma's generals." The call was
supported by the Working Group against Child Prostitution, the Working Group
on Human Rights of the Swiss Protestant Church Union (SEK), Bread for All,
the Women's Information Center Third World (FIZ), the Society for Threatened
Peoples (GfbV) Switzerland, the International Union of Private Employees
(FIET) and the International Transport Workers' Federation (ITF).
The groups urged Swiss tourists not to travel to Burma for the time being,
as an expression of support for the Burmese democracy movement and
repudiation of tour operators who turn a blind eye to human rights abuses in
the holiday destination. They also renewed calls on Swiss tour operators to
follow the recommendation of the Working Group for Environmental and Social
Affairs of the Swiss Association of Travel Agencies not to support Burma
tourism under the present conditions. In addition, the Swiss business
community in general was urged not to invest in Burma. The Swiss government
and related agencies were urged to effectively support the threatened
democracy forces in Burma, in particular opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi,
and to take decisive action that will help accelerate democratization in the
SPECIAL CONCERN: VOICE FROM ETHNIC PEOPLE UNDER ?VILLAGE ARREST'
The Padaung women, who are often refereed to as ?long necks' but actually
call themselves ?Kayan', have become one of northern Thailand's biggest
tourist attractions. Since more than 10 years ago, Kayan people in
particular have been taken from Burma to settle in Mae Hong Son province for
tourism purposes. At present, over 70 women and children ? all wearing
neck-coils as part of their traditional dress ? live in the three tourist
villages of Huay Phu Keng, Nai Soi and Huay Sua Tao. More ?long necks' have
recently come or been brought to other tourist sites in northern Thailand.
In an attempt to cash in on the Thai success story, SLORC has also begun
constructing ethnic villages in Burma for ?Visit Myanmar Year 1996'. Wimin
Wright [TN: 2.11.96] talked to Kayan in Mae Hong Son and found that when
they are given a chance to speak out, it may well make the listener
speechless. It belies the conception that these ?tribal' people are not
like the rest of us and they consequently do not mind a life spent smiling
to tourist who do not hesitate to ask how the Kayan bathe, sleep or make
love. Here are some of their voices:
Ma Noe, Kayan woman: "Sometimes when tourists take pictures of me, I am
proud that they want to take my picture. But at the same time, they make me
feel like an animal. I have to pose in awkward positions. I have to be
there, ready to do whatever they want me to do. We have no freedom here.
We are just like animals in a zoo. I truly feel this a zoo. Whether we
have money or not, I can never be happy here. I have suffered a lot. I
worry all the time about my children, their health and their future. We
have all had very serious malaria many times here. I remember all the time
my children who have died. I can never be happy here."
Lada, husband of a Kayan women: "Whether we are happy or not here isn't a
consideration for us. We have no choice. We have to live here and put up
with the life. We just try to survive. We can't imagine how we would like
our lives to be. It's demeaning: We are embarrassed and shamed to see our
wives being treated like animals or objects. We feel exploited. We have
never become accustomed to it, because we know our wives suffer even more
than we do."
Lapoe, husband of a Kayan woman: "We were officially brought (from Burma) by
the KNPP (Karenni National Progressive Party) to preserve our culture and
traditions. The people in the refugee camps fled on their own." (Refugee
camps along the Thai-Burmese border are strictly off-limits to tourists.)
Ma Phoe, Kayan woman: "At he first two (tourist) villages I stayed, I
received neither money nor rice from the authorities. I had to depend on my
family and relatives who had come (there) before me to survive. Nai Soi was
the worst village to live in. (Now she receives US$40 a month, but it is
not really enough to cover the cost of food and the purchase of weaving
materials she uses to make cloth bags.) We are allowed to shop or seek
medical treatment in Mae Hong Son (town), but we can't stay overnight.
Before, when I was living in Nai Soi and Huay Sua Tao, this was permitted."
Ma Noe, Kayan woman: "When I think about our situation, it's like we are
just the bell around the cow's neck. The bell rings, but it's the cow's
belly that gets fat," (referring to tour operators and other business people
who are getting rich off the image of the Kayan.)
Asked whether they would like to return to Burma, Kayan women agreed: "Yes.
But only if the conditions that now exist under the SLORC regime change. If
any of us tried to return, we would be shot dead by the SLORC soldiers. We
will only go back if we can go together."