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OSI: Burma News Update No. 56

     Burma Project, Open Society Institute
     Burma News Update No. 56
     5 May 1998
     More Arrests, Death Sentences
     Six pro-democracy activists were sentenced to death, and 33 others to 
     long prison sentences in an intensified crackdown on opposition forces 
     in Burma. A junta spokesman claimed that the six men given death 
     sentences were caught with explosives and that others were jailed for 
     "activities to cause instigation and agitation in the country." 
     Several people have recently been jailed for their writings or for 
     disseminating materials to diplomats and international media.
     (Bangkok, Agence France-Presse, 30 April)
     Heroin Causes Burma AIDS Crisis
     The New York Times reports that an AIDS crisis spurred by heroin 
     addicts sharing contaminated needles is at crisis levels in Burma, but 
     that the country's army junta claims an AIDS/HIV rate less than five 
     per cent of the actual figure, in part not to scare away potential 
     tourists. Excerpts: "[The junta] has reported registering only 60,000 
     addicts, with as few as 17,000 infected with AIDS. Foreign medical 
     researchers put the total number of addicts closer to 500,000 and 
     estimate that several hundred thousand heroin injectors have become 
     HIV-positive. . . . [Burma] offers a harrowing example of 
     drug-producing or transit countries that find their own people growing 
     addicted. . . . [The regime's] own AIDS statistics have been suspect 
     since 1996, when it wooed foreign tourists with a `Visit Myanmar' 
     campaign that portrayed the country as a vacation paradise." 
     (New York Times, 3 May)
     Japan Urges Talks
     Japan's decision in March to fund repairs to Rangoon's airport was a 
     one-time exception to its freeze on aid to Burma's army junta, a 
     Japanese Foreign Ministry spokesman said in Bangkok on 30 April, 
     adding that his government remains concerned over continuing human 
     rights abuses in Burma and has again urged the junta to open talks 
     with democracy leader Daw Aung San Suu Kyi.
     (Bangkok, Associated Press, 1 May)
     EU Extends Ban
     European Union Foreign Ministers extended the ban on senior-level 
     official contacts with Burma's army junta for six more months on 27 
     April. Officials said restrictions on contacts and visas for junta 
     members were extended because of the military regime's ongoing human 
     rights violations. (Luxembourg, Deutsche Presse-Agentur, 27 April)
     Chinese Presence Worries India
     India's defense minister, George Fernandes, said on 3 May that India 
     is deeply concerned over a sophisticated electronic surveillance base 
     China has built on Burma's Coco Islands, which he says can monitor 
     defense activity along India's east coast. Fernandes said Chinese 
     activities in Burma and the growth of Burma's army from 160,000 to 
     over 450,000 over the past six years are potential threats to India's 
     security. (New Delhi, Reuters, 3 May)
     Oil and Heroin Mix
     A French newsweekly reports that France's soft policy towards Burma is 
     driven by the French TOTAL oil company's  investment in a billion 
     dollar natural gas pipeline project being built across southern Burma. 
     The article reviews Francis Christophe's new book, Burma, the Poppy 
     Dictatorship, which notes that since the current military junta seized 
     power in 1988, Burma's opium production has leapt from 800 to almost 
     3000 tons annually, and describes the army's involvement in every 
     stage of the drug trade. France is the only Western country which does 
     not condemn the junta, the article says, adding that this "human 
     rights contempt" may be joined by "financial waste" if the current 
     Asian financial crisis hurts TOTAL's pipeline investment.
     (Paris, L'?v?nement du Jeudi, 16 April)
     UNOCAL Outlook Negative
     Standard & Poor's revised its outlook for the UNOCAL Corp. from stable 
     to negative, noting that two-thirds of UNOCAL's reserves are in 
     countries of high political risk, including Southeast Asian nations 
     now experiencing economic turmoil. [UNOCAL, a partner with Burma's 
     military junta in a one billion dollar natural gas pipeline, also 
     faces suit in federal court in California over its alleged complicity 
     in human rights abuses by its military partner in the pipeline 
     (New York, Business Wire, 30 April)
     BURMA NEWS UPDATE is a publication of the Burma Project of the Open 
     Society Institute.
     400 West 59th Street, New York, N.Y. 10019 tel: (212) 548-0632