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Myanmar sees robust Foreign Investm

Subject: Myanmar sees robust Foreign Investment


Energy Developers, Asian Firms Lead Way

 YANGON? Despite widespread criticism of Myanmar?s military junta, the
country is on the path to prosperity, Lieutenant General Khin Nyunt,
secretary 1 of SLORC, insists.

In an interview last week with The Nihon Keizai Shimbun, Khin Nyunt pointed
to his government?s successful efforts to lure foreign investment. He added
that Myanmar?s admission into the Association of Southeast Asian Nations
would lead to lower import tariffs. 

But the government has remained unyielding on the issue of renewing talks
with National League for Democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi. Political
analysts cautioned that continued government instability in Myanmar could
limit the foreign investment needed to sustain economic growth.

Khin Nyunt mentioned Unocal Corp., Texaco Inc. and ARCO Chemical Co. as
three of the key U.S. firms operating in Myanmar. 

Premier Oil Plc of the U.K. and Total of France have also invested huge sums
in Myanmar. But Khin Nyunt?s concentration on U.S. firms demonstrates how
conscious he is of the harsh public opinion and government criticism that
has emerged from the U.S. as of late. 

Despite criticism, foreign capital has steadily poured into Myanmar.
According to government statistics that ran from 1988 through the end of
February 1997, the country had approved a total of $6.03 billion worth of
direct foreign investment, some $2 billion of which has been invested over
the past year. 

Much of the money is coming from manufacturing, real-estate, hotel and
tourism sectors based in Singapore, Thailand, Malaysia and other neighboring
countries. But energy-development investment from the U.K., France and the
U.S. is also strong. 

Khin Nyunt dismissed the need to modify Myanmar?s currency system, saying
that foreign investment had not bee affected by it. 

However, many foreign diplomat and Japanese company executives disagree,
citing skewed foreign-exchange rates as one of the biggest hurdles to
investment in Myanmar. The country?s official exchange rate of 5.6 kyats to
the dollar contrasts sharply with the market rate, in which one dollar can
fetch 160 kyats. 

But analysts say the real problem is political instability. Khin Nyunt
pointed to a recent bombing incident and anti-Muslim rioting by group of
Buddhists as evidence of the continued existence of subversive elements. 

SLORC has yet to come up with a policy that might lead to national
reconciliation and has remained firm in its stance against the efforts of
Suu Kyi and her followers.