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Keep the pressure on SLORC to refor

Subject: Keep the pressure on SLORC to reform, from the Japan Times,  April 17, 1997

APRIL 17, 1997

Keep the pressure on SLORC to reform

by MIKE Jendrzejczyk 
Special to The Japan Times

Dealing with Myanmar's military government has become an intractable policy
dilemma. Neither the Clinton administration, which has tried to isolate
Yangon, nor Myanmar's Southeast Asian neighbors, wedded to a policy of
"constructive engagement," have succeeded in bringing about fundamental change. 

But increased pressure from both East and West could help to end Myanmar's
human rights emergency. Through its quiet diplomacy, the Association of
Southeast Asian Nations could get the United Nations involved in talks to
break the current political impasse, while the United States and other
governments raise the economic costs of continued intransigence by Myanmar's
ruling State Law and Order Restoration Council. 

SLORC has been charged with violating virtually every international human
rights standard. The U.S. State Department's annual report for 1996
criticized the "arbitrary and sometimes brutal dictates of the military
dictatorship," and the United Nations Commission on Human Rights once again
unanimously condemned Yangon at its annual session just concluded in Geneva.
A report delivered to the commission describes the Orwellian conditions in
Myanmar saying there is "essentially no freedom of thought, opinion,
expression or association." But unless these declarations arc backed up with
action, they will have little effect. 

For months the U.N. has been stymied in trying to send a special rapporteur
to Myanmar to investigate its massive use of forced labor, torture, the
arrests of political activists, and other abuses. Myanmar has also refused
to allow the secretary general's representative to facilitate a "dialogue"
between the government, Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy,
and ethnic minority leaders, as requested by the U.N. General Assembly. 

Members of ASEAN claim that isolating Myanmar is counterproductive, and 
that change will come gradually as Myanmar's leaders are exposed to free
market economics and principles; they have agreed to Myanmar joining ASEAN
without any preconditions. Singapore's foreign minister recently argued that
"in Asia, we marry first and expect the wife to adapt to the marriage,"
rejecting the nation of a "prenuptial agreement" with Myanmar. 

Yet ASEAN governments could help ease Myanmar's isolation by persuading the
generals to give the U.N. immediate, unrestricted access to the country and
to Suu Kyi and to declare a moratorium on arrests of NLD activists. Ideally,
this should occur before the ASEAN summit in July at which SLORC is expected
to become a full-fledged member. ASEAN should also support one of its
founding members, Thailand, in calling for an end to crossborder attacks on
Karen refugee camps that have killed both Myanmar and Thai civilians. Under
criticism to justify its decision to admit Myanmar, ASEAN needs to show that
its approach can yield concrete results. 

Japanese Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto, during a visit to ASEAN countries
in February, said that ASEAN membership should not be a smokescreen for

Meanwhile, the Clinton administration will lose its credibility on Myanmar
if it does not move soon to cut off new investment in response to "large
scale repression," as required by a law signed by President Bill Clinton
last September. No accountant is needed to tabulate the results of hundreds
of arrests in recent months, the military offensive against the ethnic Karen
that forced over 10,000 civilians to flee to Thailand, or the Myanmar army's
use of hundreds of thousands of men, women and children to construct roads
bridges and railways to attract foreign investors. 

The U.S. Embassy in Yangon estimate that approximately 3 percent of
Myanmar's gross domestic product is generated by forced labor, and names the
country's military, aka the Union of Myanmar Economic Holding Company Ltd.,
as a leading joint-venture partner with foreign investors. 

Western countries, including France, the U.S. and the United Kingdom, are
among the top five sources of investment in Myanmar. What SLORC fears most
is a White House that takes its own human rights rhetoric seriously. But
other governments should also move to exert economic leverage. 

The European Union, Japan, Australia, the U.S. and Canada might informally
agree to suspend all public funding or credits for new investments, and take
other steps to actively discourage companies from doing business in Myanmar
until the use of forced labor has ended and the International Labor
Organization is given free access to verify this. Canada, for example, could
cut off Myanmar's textile imports. On March 24, the EU decided to suspend
preferential trade benefits to Myanmar, due to the use of forced labor,
affecting $50 million worth of exports annually. 

The international community has reached consensus on the need for change in
Myanmar, expressed in numerous U.N. resolutions. Governments in both East
and West should now take effective action to alleviate the suffering of
millions of Myanmar. 

Mike Jendrzejczyk is Washington director of Human Rights Watch, a
nongovernmental organization.