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Burma Issues Newsletter, April 1994

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  "Appropriate Information Technologies--Practical Strategies"

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                      April 1994

PO Box 1076
Silom Post Office
Bangkok 10504
662 234 6674

Burma Issues is a non-governmental organization based in Bangkok
which monitors the current situation in Burma and focuses on
human rights issues, the civil war and the pro-democracy






  Mrs. Htoo Htoo Mo from Myint Kyo Village, Thaton District
  February 17, 1994


Among the recent changes in SLORC policy has been the active
pursuit of foreign aid from non-governmental organizations
(NGOs).  Neglected for decades, Burma's economic, educational and
health service systems have landed the country on the UN's "least
developed" list.  Available statistical indicators of human well-
being, including life expectancy, average income and infant
mortality, underscore the reality of this crisis.  Equally urgent
for SLORC, however, is the legitimation and positive exposure
provided by relationships to foreign aid agencies, and salvation
from an association with squalor.

The unprecedented opportunity for foreign assistance leads to a
complicated debate over whether NGOs should enter Burma.  Is
SLORC sincerely seeking foreign aid on behalf of the Burmese
people?  Will NGOs merely lend credibility to an abusive regime? 
Will NGOs be free to operate according to their own priorities,
or will SLORC seek to direct their activities?  Will
international aid bolster or obstruct the struggling Burmese
democracy and human rights movements?  At what point should
"humanitarian" concern override political objection?  The
controversy turns on a single difficult question: Who really
stands to gain from NGO involvement in Burma?

As one obsever sees it, NGOs may take sides according to how they
forecast the future.  If the democracy movement is destined to
obscurity and today's cease fire agreements will tone down the
outright domestic warfare, then delaying aid negotiations with
the SLORC is simply costing innocent people's lives.  Also, NGOs
that enter Burma now will get a crucial first foot in the door
of an a hitherto untrampeled country-- an important motivator in
the competitive arena of international aid.  The time has come
to accept that SLORC has sovereignty over the nation.

Raising the other hand are those who believe the SLORC is capable
of imminent capitulation (if not collapse), potentially yielding
to a less brutal and more participatory government.  Because the
future will naturally give way to democratic reform, temporary
abstinence will serve the Burmese people better in the long run,
because it will expedite the arrival of much-needed political

How these differing perspectives shape arguments within the
boardrooms of international NGOs depends as much on internal and
global politics as on any sincere assessment of Burma's civil
crisis.  It is no secret that many international NGOs are by
their very nature donor-driven, often venturing into new
countries and fields because simply because funding is available. 
The larger the organization, the greater the likelihood that the
most influential donors are governments, who by their own nature
link aid to state policy.  Thus, to varying extents humanitarian
aid is often a reaction fueled by economic opportunity and
official state policy.

Given the variety of interests concerned, perhaps the best
position an NGO can take is critical self-awareness, analyzing
its true motivation for wishing to enter Burma.  

If concern for millions of people living without adequate access
to health care, for example, compells organizations to enter
Burma, then NGOs should assess pragmatically the capacities and
constraints of their work.  They must be prepared to admit that,
though altruistic and commendable in purpose, aid can have subtle
or even blatant negative effects on target populations.  Any
measures taken in earnest to minimize the negative would
reinforce any humanitarian mission.

If, however, NGOs find that they are motivated other concerns--
such as competition, another shaded country on the annual
report's map, or an ulterior donor agenda-- then they must
honestly consider their ability to work for the good of the
Burmese people.  

In any case, NGOs operating in Burma will be faced with the
pervasive and unrelenting role of the military and military
intelligence in daily life.  NGOs should be aware that, in all
likelihood, and based on previous experience:

     --Locally-hired staff will be the subject of military
     surveillance, will be routinely interrogated and coached
     about their contact with foreigners;

     --Locally-hired staff may be military intelligence
     informers planted to report on NGO and citizens' activities
     and attitudes;

     --Citizens' groups, cooperatives or any form of democratic,
     self-directing social organization encouraged by
     development projects will be compromised by the unrelenting
     role of martial law and repression of civil liberty;

     --The military can not be trusted to coordinate medical or
     other material supplies for civilian use;

     --Manual labor organized by government agencies may be
     treated as slave labor, with the money designated to pay
     them diverted to other interests;

     --Photo-opportunites, official ceremonies, and public
     relations events will be organized to publicize the
     cooperation of NGOs with the SLORC for use in international
     legitimacy campaigns;

To negotiate with an oppressive regime, sign its contracts and
shake its leaders hands recognizes its sovereignty over Burma's
land and people.

For those organizations with the courage and skill to bargain
tirelessly for unlimited access to the country's devastated civil
war zones, unhindered control of their projects, and the freedom
to serve the people without the tatmadaw's interference,
partnership with SLORC may bear fruit for some of the junta's
many victims. 

For others, whose humanitarian aspirations are compromised to the
point that they directly support and glorify SLORC, widespread,
lasting benefits of the aid they offer may be very hard to find.


For the common people, the economy in the country is now much
worse than it was before 1988.  All of the foreign investments
have brought higher expectations to the people but have provided
little if any increased income for them.  In fact, foreign
companies and tourists coming into the country simply cause
prices to skyrocket and people have less to eat.  (a Rangoon

Many people still question why Burma, which has such vast natural
resources, remains one of the poorest countries in the world. 
Since 1989, foreign investments in the country have also brought
millions of dollars into Burma with little positive affect on the
common people.  There seems to be a hole in the country's
economic pocket.  Inflation continues to rise, and few if any of
the people can easily survive from the earnings of a single job. 

A teacher, for example, can not meet basic monthly expenses from
the meagre salary he or she earns from the school.  In order to
afford the food needed for the family, the teacher must also
moonlight as a private tutor during all free hours.  

Consequently, the best  education available in Burma today is not
within the educational institutions, but rather from private
tutors.  However, these tutors are expensive, so parents who want
their children to get a good education, must also moonlight at
a variety of other jobs in order to pay the tutorial fees.  Many
of these jobs must be within the illegal market sector.  

In the meantime, SLORC simply keeps printing more and more bank
notes to try to fill this pocket with holes.  They take foreign
currency from tourists and foreign investors at the legal rate
of about 6 kyats per dollar, and then use them at the true market
rate of between 100 and 150 kyats per dollar.  The profits stay
with the military for the purchase of more military equipment and
to keep their military forces well paid and thus loyal.

The system seems to work - at least well enough to basically keep
people alive, but it can not go on like this forever.  A time
must come when having a pocket full of cash which has no buying
power will push people to the point of explosion once again.  The
people themselves, will not have much to lose in such an
explosion since they are not benefiting from the present system,
but foreign investors stand to lose almost everything they have
invested for their own quick profits.  Yet they continue to fuel
an economy which has little if any future, and which is clearly
designed simply for the benefit of a small, elite crowd of
corrupt leaders.

ASEAN's constructive engagement policy is based on the
possibility of the Burmese economy surviving and strengthening
to the point that SLORC can remain indefinitely in power.  
Thailand, for example, has now made it clear that their foreign
policy towards Burma is to recognize SLORC as the legitimate
ruler of the country.   To make this policy practical, they have
put increasing pressure on Burmese opposition groups operating
in Thailand to cease activities and/or negotiate with SLORC for
cease-fires.  At the same time, more and more Thai companies
enter Burma to establish business.  A large number of these new
businesses now focus on the growing tourist sector of Burma.
Frustrating as this position on Burma is to the opposition
forces, the ASEAN constructive engagement policy is at least
clear and predictable.  

The same can not be said for the relationship between other
countries and the military junta of Burma.  The United States,
for example, has taken a strong position condemning SLORC's
barbarous human rights record and their continued detention of
opposition leader Daw Aung San Suu Kyi.  Yet the United States
ranks as one of the highest foreign investors in Burma and the
US Embassy in Rangoon encourages joint ventures between US-based
companies and SLORC. (see box below)  This kind of policy
contradiction is difficult for opposition forces to understand. 
"We see the US as a friend", said one member of the opposition,
"but if the US were truly concerned about democratic changes in
Burma, they could do more to prove this.  A total economic
embargo against the military junta would do much to strengthen
the democratic movement."

What the international community must clearly understand is that
a military dictatorship such as SLORC is not easily moved by
words of criticism.  In fact, they seem quite immune even to
criticism from the United Nations bodies of which they are
members.  SLORC will only respond to something which hurts them,
and at this point their ability to stay in power depends on their
ability to keep up a strong military which can hold the people
underfoot.  They have shown little interest in true democracy,
or in working towards a total solution to the conflicts which
have created civil war for over 45 years.  Money flowing into the
country simply makes this all possible rather than contributing
to an improvement in the life of the people.  

A Rangoon resident recently stated,  "A total economic embargo
against Burma would hardly hurt the people.  We don't  get any
benefits from all of the so-called development anyway.  Economic
sanctions against SLORC would be the greatest show of support for
democracy in Burma which the international community can give."


What would be your reaction to a travel brochure which advertised 
"Visit our country - a land in political turmoil!  Join in street
protests and hunger strikes!  See rioters and police clash in the
streets!  Visit our country - a land of instability and change!?
(The Challenge of Tourism, Ecumenical Coalition on Third World
Tourism, January 1990) 

A strange suggestion for a travel brochure perhaps, but as SLORC
opens Burma's door to tourism as a new source of foreign
currency, and as international tourist agencies jockey for a
first place position in the country's fledgling tourism industry,
a brochure of this nature will not be far from the truth.  Peace
is still far from a reality in Burma and many countries, as well
as the United Nations, continue to list Burma as having once of
the worst human rights records in the world.  What is it that
draws tourism to Burma?  What is SLORC's intention in encouraging
a growth in this industry, an industry which the military for
many decades has tried to suppress and control?  And should
tourism be encouraged at this time in a country where the
democratic movement continues to be put down?

Some international human rights organizations would argue that
tourism can be good for a country where military oppression in
rampant.  They argue that the presence of foreigners makes it
more difficult for a dictator to carry out overt suppression of
the people, and that these foreign visitors also provide
encouragement and boldness to a democracy movement which must
constantly face the threat of arrest and isolation from the eyes
of the world.  Foreign visitors can also be a channel for
information to be brought in and out of the country, thus
supporting the movement and helping link it with efforts for
democracy and human rights being conducted outside of the

In response to this argument, the Ecumenical Coalition on Third
World Tourism, cited above, goes on to say, "Few tourists
travelling around the world want to be bothered with political
upheavals during their week or two of rest and relaxation.  They
want to see the sights, tan themselves on the beach and do their
shopping without having to be bothered by social and political
issues.  These are the very things they are trying to escape in
their travels around the world.  The slightest indication that
a country is not politically stable quickly sends the tourists
scurrying off to other more 'safe' destinations. (page 11).
Burmese political opposition groups still hold to the view that
tourism to Burma holds more negative implications than potential
positive benefits to the people. Three major arguments are used
to support their claims.

1.  The cost of a tourist visiting Burma is high.  Tourists must
change from US$200 to US$300 into Burmese kyats at the airport,
depending on the amount of time they will spend in the country. 
This money must be spent in the country.  While they receive an
exchange rate based on the legal rate of around 6 kyats per
dollar, they must spend it at the market rate of 100 to 150 kyats
per dollar, making their purchases extremely expensive.  At the
same time, most hotels and transportation costs must be paid in
US dollars.  With expenses so high, tourists who also have a
political consciousness will more than likely not be able to
visit Burma.  The majority of the tourists will probably be more
monied travellers who want a comfortable, good time with visits
to a few pagodas and some good shopping sprees.  SLORC will keep
them far from any indication of political instability or military
oppression, so there is little chance that they can serve as a
good information channel for the democratic movement.  The few
politically aware tourists who do visit the country will probably
be carefully watched by SLORC's extensive MI (military
intelligence) network.

2.  Money which is generated by tourism, will probably provide
few if any benefits for the people of the country.  While a few
jobs in hotels and guide agencies may offer an income to some
privileged people, the majority of the income will benefit SLORC
which needs ever increasing amounts of money to keep its growing
military machine equipped and loyal.  At this point, tourism of
any sort will most likely help feed this vast military machine.
Linked to this concern is also the concern that tourism will
rapidly destroy cultural values of this Buddhist country.  Almost
everywhere tourism has become a dominant economic business, the
culture and values of the people being visited must be exploited
to the fullest in order to insure that the visitors keep coming. 
This has direct implications  for the women and children of Burma
who face becoming the new target of the international
prostitution racket.  

3.  Finally, the democratic movement is concerned that tourism
to Burma will divert the attention of the urban people away from
the need for on-going democratic struggle.  With the hope of
getting one of the potential jobs the tourist business will bring
to the urban centres, and with a flood of foreign visitors giving
a feeling of more "democratic space", urban populations may be
lulled into passiveness and the feeling that "things are
improving", thus prolonging the struggle for much needed changes. 
One must never forget that calm in the urban centres does not
mean the distant urban populations are also experiencing a sense
of peace.  Human rights abuses have always been far more brutal
in these villages, and can continue unabated despite urban
changes and "improvements".  
Any group thinking of becoming involved in tourism in Burma would
do well to discuss the pros and cons carefully with various
opposition groups.  If tourism is to serve as a support for the
advancement of human rights and democracy in Burma, than it must
be coordinated very carefully with the strategies and actions of
the opposition.  Acting alone, in any way, can only serve to
create  further confusion within the democratic struggle, and
this will further benefit SLORC which depends on such confusion
to keep control over the population.                           

LP Holding International Co Ltd has signed a hotel management
contract with Accor Asia Pacific for a new five-star hotel
project in Rangoon.  The hotel is scheduled to open in 1996 with
an investment of around US$40 million.

LP is a joint venture of Thai and foreign investors with existing
business interests in international trading.  
The hotel, called Sofitel Yangon, will have 270 rooms and target
tourists as well as businessmen.  
Tourism is a growing business for Burma.  Fifty thousand tourists
are expected to visit the country this year - triple lasts year's
number.  (TN 94\01\26

In order to get in on Burma's possible tourist bonanza, the
Central Hotels Group of Thailand has signed an agreement with the
Minister of Hotels and Tourism Lt-Gen Kyaw Ba to operate a
floating hotel at Wadan Jetty of Rangoon Port.  
The ship will be a four-star hotel with 132 rooms.  
Kyaw Ba said that in 1992 four foreign companies became involved
in the hotel business in Burma.  In 1993, eight more foreign
companies joined in.  (NLM 94\01\19)

The number of hotels throughout the country is rapidly increasing
as SLORC looks to foreign tourists as a major source of dollars
for their military coffers.  They are promoting a "Visit Burma
Year" to start by the end of 1994.  There has been no indication
yet that SLORC, or any of the investors, has done a study on the
negative impact tourism might bring to Burma.  Other than a few
jobs, the Burmese people may benefit little, and the culture of
the country could suffer seriously if major steps are not taken
to prevent the growth of sex tourism which has had such a
negative effect on some of Burma's neighbours.

Cease-fire talks between SLORC and several of the ethnic
opposition groups have raised hopes in some quarters that peace
may be a possibility in Burma.  Those who view the talks with
optimism hope that, after cease-fires can be arranged, talks to
solve political issues can be initiated bringing Burma nearer to
a democratic future.  While the Burmese people in general yearn
passionately for peace, many are sceptical about SLORC's
conviction to building democracy in Burma, or of ever truly
turning power over to a civilian government.  This obviously is
not the time for international pressure against SLORC to abate. 
The end to the civil war is far from over.  Human rights abuses
continue, and the suffering of village people continues. 
Although their cries for help may now be drowned out by the
clamour over possible cease-fires and peace talks, their
situation remains as desperate as ever.  The world must not lose
interest and concern in their stories. 

 Mrs. Htoo Htoo Mo from Myint Kyo Village, Thaton District
 February 17, 1994

     I don't even want to talk about the SLORC.  I hate talking
     about them, but I will tell you how they killed my 2
     nephews from Htee See Baw village.  They were studying in
     town, and they had just come home to visit their mother in
     May 1993.  Their names were Kyaw Bwe and Kyaw Aye.  One day
     the two boys were just outside the village near the forest. 
     The Karen soldiers had attacked the Burmese and disappeared
     into the forest, so the Burmese soldiers came and fired
     their guns all around the village, and shot the two boys
     dead.  Kyaw Bwe and Kyaw Aye didn't know anything, they
     didn't even know how to run away.  But the SLORC couldn't
     catch any Karen soldiers, so instead they just shot dead 2
     innocent boys.

     The SLORC also drove everyone out of Htee See Baw Kee
     village to the Main Htee See Baw village.  The didn't even
     give the villagers enough time to bring all their property,
     so the villagers left some of their food and other things
     hidden in the forest.  They planned to come back once a
     week to get things, but they lost it all because the SLORC
     soldiers found everything, took what they wanted and
     destroyed the rest.

     Three of my other nephews from Htee See Baw Kee village
     were also killed brutally by the SLORC troops.  They had
     run away into the forest when the soldiers had come to
     catch porters, and they were hiding in the forest for 2
     weeks.  They didn't even know the villagers had been driven
     out.,  When they returned to the village without knowing,
     the soldiers grabbed them right away, forced them to put on
     Karen army uniforms and shot them.  What kind of life is
     this for villagers in the area where the Burmese control? 
     If you don't escape when they come for porters, they you
     are taken as a porter.  If you escape being taken as a
     porter and they catch you, you are killed.

     My son, Making Win Myint, was at the farm tending our
     cattle and buffalos and they shot him dead.  He was 17
     years old.  My daughter Ma Chit Htoo was killed by a
     gunshot when she was sleeping in her room.  She didn't even
     have time to hide or take cover.  The gunshot hit her in
     her chest and she couldn't talk to us - she just survived
     for a couple of minutes and then she passed away.  She was
     18 years old.

     I almost went mad.  I was suffering indescribably, and I
     can never forget it.  Then 2 months later, there were two
     girls who went to relieve themselves at night, using a
     candle for light.  The SLORC were patrolling, and when they
     saw the candlelight they fired their guns and shot both
     girls dead.  Their names were Ma Thaung and Ma Peh.  Their
     mother was so miserable and lonely that she didn't even
     want to live any more.  She had only 2 daughters and the
     SLORC killed them both.  She was hysterical for several
     days.  Innocent people like this keep being killed.