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LA Times (r)
Los Angeles Times
Myaumar Official Says Sanctions Not Hurting Its Growth
By THOMAS S. MULLIIGAN
Times STAFF WRITER
NEW YORK- Though the Myanmar economy is widely reported to be a shambles
top officials of the country's military junta came here Thursday with
Washington publicists in tow and declared there is no problem.
U.5. economic sanctions against Myanmar, fomerly Burma, have not hurt the
country's growth prospects and ultimately will backfire. Foreign Minister U Ohn
Gyaw said in a rare meeting with Western reporters.
In fact, Gyaw said, Myannmar continues to develop its domestic economy and boost
Trade, especially with its Southeast Asian neighbors.
"As you know," he said, "the Asian mentality is such that if there is a
challenge, we work more, we have more sacrifice. Then [the sanctions) will be a
blessing in disguised".
The minister's upbeat assessment contrasted sharply with other accounts, such as
a recent report in the Far Eastern Economic Review that Myanmar currency, the
kyat, has collapsed and its economy is in tatters.
Instead, Myanmar officials asserted that foreign investment totals S6.39 billion
from 22 couniries, and that through Aug 31 there has been ~ fourfold increase
over the same period last year.
But dozens of U.S. and other foreign firms have pulsed out of the country, and
Texaco Inc. announced last week that it was selling its stake in a controversial
offshore natural gas project there, although it denied any connection with the
Unoal Corp. and Atalantic Richfield Co. are the major U.S. firms that remain
active in Myanmar. Unocal has been widely criticized for its partnership with
the government's state oil and gas company in a $ 2 billion pipeline project.
Another Unocal partner on the pipeline is Total, the French oil giant that this
week defied a U.S. embargo against Iran by signing a $ 2-bililon natural gas
Although the official reason for Gyaw's U.S. trip was to address the, UN General
Assembly last week reversing negative perceptions about the regime he represents
is an evident part of his mission.
Indeed, the UN meeting presented a rare opportunity to plead Myanma's case,
since top government officials end their families have been banned from the US
as part of the economic sanctions. They were allowed in temporarily.
But in image-building, they face an uphill fight. The ruling State Law and Order
Restoration Council has become an International pariah since it rejected the
outcome of free elections in 1990 and refused to hand over power to the
victorious pollilcal party headed by Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi.
The government also has been implicated in international drug trade and in
widespread human rights violations, leading to the Clinton administration's ban
on new investment there and to sanctions by Massachusetts and more than a dozen
cities, including San Francisco, Oakland, Santa Monica and Berkeley.
While Gyaw and fellow ministers-assisted by the public relations firm of Bain
& Associates sat down with the media in a middtown Manhattan hotel, a crowd of
several dozen protesters stood on the sidewalk outside screaming: "Gyaw lies!"
The protesters, members of the Burma Action Committee New York repeated a charge
by Sun Kyi that the junta has imprisoned more than 1,000 people for political
"This is wrong," said Gyaw. "We do not have political prisoner, that much." He
explained that when the current leaders seized power in 1988, there was
widespread "anarhy" in the land and lawbreakers were jailed in due course.
"If that particular person who transgressed the law happens to be from the
[opposition ] political party, we can't help it." Gyaw said.
Gyaw was asked to explain the government's refusal to grant a visa to a
representative of the International Committee for the Red Cross to inspect
Myanmar's prisons for suspected Human rights violations.
He replied that some of the Red Cross' proposed inspection procedures violate
Myanrnar's existing penal code namely an 1890 prison manual dating to British
colonial rule. The law must be revised before the inspection can proceed, Gyaw
The minister said he and his delegation have had no contact with U.S officials.