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                       THE FRENCH SPEAK OUT
These articles appeared in "L'Evenement du Jeudi" of 
8-14 May 1997
                       by Patrice Piquard
Notwithstanding the boasting and buffoonery of the Burmese
junta which after the ban on new American investment in Burma
declared that it was "sorry, but all deals go to firms from
countries with coherent foreign policies", Burma is very sick.
Inflation has topped 30%; the price of rice has doubled in a
year; foreign exchange reserves have dropped to their lowest
level since 1988, the year the military seized power; exports
are down and the national debt has already reached 8 billion
francs. The diagnosis of the IMF is that Burma must devalue
its currency by 99% and initiate long-awaited structural
reforms. Behind the dictators' seeming confidence lies an
economy in tatters, held together only by drug trafficking and
the black market, which are largely controlled by the
authorities. Despite rosy official figures, foreign investment
is declining outside the oil and gas sector (where Total plays
the leading role) and tourism.  But hotel construction will
pay the price of the failure of the "Year of Tourism", since
only the French and Italians are visiting Burma without a
twinge of conscience. In other sectors, the primitive
infrastructure and fear of boycotts deter punters from
touching the Burmese market. The advice of the resistant Aung
San Suu Kyi not to invest in Burma has led thirty American
cities and states to refuse contracts to firms which have a
presence in Rangoon. To these official boycotts (against which
the European Union has threatened to file a complaint at the
World Trade Organisation) must be added the informal boycotts
of human rights organisations. We must therefore conclude that
if the Europeans, especially the French, began a boycott of
Total, the pressure on the junta would become irresistible.
(unofficial translation) 
                       by Stefane Hessel
The visit to Paris by the leaders of the Burmese government in
exile - at the same time, it seems, as members of the military
regime (the SLORC) - brings to mind the human rights
violations in a country which has given Asia an exemplary
Nobel Peace Laureate, Aung San Suu Kyi, whose calls have not
been echoed as widely as they ought. The 1990 elections,
though agreed to by the junta, were won by the National League
for Democracy. SLORC canceled them, introduced martial law and
placed Aung San Suu Kyi, the party's leader, under house
arrest. Over a period of seven years the authorities have
extended the use of forced labour to the whole of Burma and
crushed the minorities. Of all the countries in the European
Union, France can least afford to remain indifferent to human
rights violations, unless it wishes to lose one of its main
advantages in the international arena. Yet, against the wishes
of Aung San Suu Kyi, Total is continuing with the construction
of a pipeline which crosses a part of Burma from which the
ethnic minorities who lived there have been cleared out by the
SLORC.  France also publicises "Visit Myanmar Year", whose
principal beneficiary is the SLORC. It is precisely because of
our economic presence in Burma that our indignation must be
expressed through urgent and firm measures. The SLORC is a
disgrace on account of its denial of democracy and its major
role in narcotics trafficking. By placing ourselves
unambiguously on the side of Aung San Suu Kyi, we would
restore a degree of credibility to the reputation of France. 
Stefane Hessel is ambassadeur de France and a writer.  
(unofficial translation)