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OSI: Burma News Update No. 56 (r)

Burma News Update No. 56       20 May 1998
Burma Project, Open Society Institute

Heroin Trade Flourishes

Burma's military junta is seeking international aid for what it calls a 
major anti-drug campaign, but recent reports from inside Burma say the 
regime is making only cosmetic efforts to reduce the trade or actively 
promoting it. A Christian Science Monitor correspondent in Burma taken by 
military authorities to witness poppy eradication reported "[A]s we stumble 
with our cameras and notebooks across row upon row of budding poppies it 
becomes obvious that something is terribly wrong. The opium traders have 
apparently been here and gone. All the tens of thousands of bulbs covering 
the mountainside bear the tell-tale slits from which local growers have 
scraped the opium-rich sap, the raw material of heroin. In effect, the 
entire crop of opium has already been harvested and sold to smugglers and 
heroin refiners." London Sunday Times correspondents who visited Burma 
report that villagers are being forced to grow opium poppies by local army 
commanders, and described alleged senior junta involvement in heroin 

Christian Science Monitor, 5 May; Sunday Times, (London), 10 May

Amnesty Targets Oil Firms

Amnesty International has launched a campaign to convince oil companies 
working in repressive countries to use their influence to improve human 
rights conditions. Among the target companies are UNOCAL and TOTAL, which 
are operating in Burma. "We feel those oil companies have certainly more 
influence than U.N. bodies, or other governments, because they are really 
the lifeline in terms of the resources that the regimes need," commented 
Amnesty Secretary-General Pierre Sane, adding, "I think companies are more 
and more aware that for their own image ... it is important to be seen to 
be friendly to human rights and not to be seen to be pumping blood money 
out of countries run by military dictatorships."

London, Reuters, 13 May

Burma Risky Investment

Burma ranked the fifth-riskiest country in the world in which to invest, 
according to a new report released today by Merchant International Group, a 
London-based risk consultancy, in which country rankings were based on both 
the traditional measure of sovereign risk and non-conventional risks. 
Non-conventional risks include bureaucratic delays, corruption, unfair 
market competition, lost labor hours, cultural problems, extremist 
activity, fraud, theft and poor communications that may seriously affect 
investment performance.

London, Financial Times, 11 May 

Chinese Navy Builds Burma Presence

China's military has stepped up its military presence in the Indian Ocean 
by deploying engineers and operations officers at seven Burmese naval bases 
in the Bay of Bengal, a leading Indian newspaper reported. The bases being 
used by Chinese forces are said to include the Coco islands, the Hainggyi 
islands and the Ayeryarwady naval station. Chinese spy ships have been 
traveling near the Indian coast to intercept signals intelligence.

New Delhi, Agence France-Presse, 10 May 

Burma Health Crisis

Burma is facing a health crisis of huge proportions due to massive military 
spending that has left few resources for social programs. UNICEF statistics 
show Burma's 1996 infant mortality rate of 105 out of every 1,000 live 
births, as compared to 33 in Vietnam, 31 in Thailand and 11 in Malaysia. 
One million children are reportedly malnourished, about 100,000 of them 
severely. There is lack of treatment for preventable diseases, and donated 
medicines have reportedly been stolen and sold on the black market.

Japan Times, 9 May

Singapore "Respects Diversity"

Saying that "Singapore has profound respect for the diversity in the 
region," Singapore's Information and the Arts Minister, Brigadier-General 
George Yeo, stated Singapore believes no country can tell another how to 
run its internal affairs, and refuses to accept the West's negative view of 
Burma. Yeo was on a six-day visit to Burma at the invitation of the Union 
Solidarity and Development Association (USDA). [The army junta-created and 
controlled USDA is a nominally grass-roots civilian mass organization that 
has been holding rallies across Burma in support of the military 
The Straits Times (Singapore), 12 May

BURMA NEWS UPDATE is a publication of the Burma Project, Open Society 
Institute: 400 West 59th Street, New York, NY 10019 Tel: (212) 548-0632 
Fax: (212) 548-4655