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                         Exiles Say Burma Uses Forced

                         Monday, October 20, 1997; 6:05 p.m. EDT 

                         BANGKOK, Thailand (AP) -- Burma's military
government is
                         using forced labor to build tourist facilities at a
national park, a
                         student group in exile said Monday. 

                         Burma's government, meanwhile, accused U.S.
diplomats of
                         interfering in the country's internal affairs and
warned it may
                         consider downgrading diplomatic ties to the United
States and
                         other Western nations, Burma's state-run press

                         A villager who escaped from Burma said he was among 150
                         villagers rounded up each week by the Burmese
military to
                         work without food or pay at a marine national park
on Lampi
                         Island, off Burma's southern coast. 

                         About 400 Burmese prisoners also are used as forced
labor in
                         the project, the villager told the All Burma Students
                         Democratic Front in Thailand. 

                         A 1996 report by the U.S. Embassy in Rangoon
estimated that
                         forced labor accounts for about 3 percent of
Burma's gross
                         domestic product. 

                         Burma's military government admits it uses forced
labor to
                         build infrastructure, but says its citizens are
happy to contribute,
                         in keeping with Burmese traditions. 

                         The marine park is one of two environmental
projects the
                         Burmese government is developing in the Mergui
                         a chain of about 800 islands in the Andaman Sea.
The other is
                         the Myinmolekat Nature Reserve. 

                         The student group estimated that 80,000 villagers
on the
                         islands have been forcibly relocated to make way
for the
                         parks. There are reports that villagers who
protested were

                         The student group also said soldiers killed 40
villagers and
                         arrested 200 on Lampi Island at the beginning of
this year. 

                         Until the past two years, Burma's southern
peninsula and
                         islands were out of the military's reach and mostly
controlled by
                         ethnic groups. But the army launched several
offensives in the
                         past two years to gain control. 

                         Burma's state-run press, meanwhile, lashed out at
                         from five Western countries for attending a congress of
                         democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi's political party in

                         In an opinion piece, the New Light of Myanmar accused
                         Western diplomats of interfering in the internal
affairs of Burma,
                         suggesting their actions were so shameful they
should commit

                         The only country named was the United States,
although the
                         military government has expressed displeasure in
the past with
                         diplomats from the United States, Great Britain,
                         France and Germany. 

                         Burma's newspapers are under the tight control of
the military
                         government and opinion pieces are frequently written by
                         military intelligence officers under pen names. 

                         The article, signed by ``Pauk Sa,'' warned that
``diplomatic ties
                         can be downgraded ... due to the malpractices of
the so-called