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IPS: U.S.-BURMA: Pressure Builds fo

Subject: IPS: U.S.-BURMA: Pressure Builds for Investment Ban

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>                [Image] U.S.-BURMA: Pressure Builds for Investment
>         BACK  [Image]  Ban
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> by Jim Lobe
> WASHINGTON, Apr 18 (IPS) - With the administration of President Bill
> Clinton apparently unwilling to take action, pressure is once again
> building in the U.S. Congress and in state and local governments
> around the country to impose a ban on new U.S. investments in Burma.
> The powerful chairman of the Senate Foreign Operations Subcommittee,
> Republican Sen. Mitch McConnell, indicated here Wednesday that he
> will submit new legislation to impose an immediate ban soon.
> Aides on Capitol Hill told IPS they expected the bill to be ready
> within the next week and predicted that it would sail through an
> impatient Congress, unless the situation in Burma suddenly improves.
> Proponents of such a ban say their cause has been bolstered in
> recent days by several events. On Tuesday, the U.N. Commission on
> Human Rights passed its strongest ever resolution on Burma, noting
> its deep concern at continuing restrictions and abuses levelled
> against Burma's Nobel Peace Laureate, Aung San Suu Kyi, and members
> of her party by the military government, the State Law and Order
> Restoration Council (SLORC).
> The Commission also condemned the practice of forced labour and
> ''recent attacks on ethnic nationalities resulting In death,
> destruction and displacement,'' and called on the SLORC to cooperate
> fully with the Special Rapporteur on Burma, who has not been
> permitted to visit the country for over a year.
> Ban supporters have also been heartened by Secretary of State
> Madeleine Albright's explicit warning in a speech Monday to the U.S.
> Naval Academy. Noting that the SLORC has increased its restrictions
> and harassment of Suu Kyi and her supporters, Albright said,
> ''Burmese leaders are on notice that, unless the clouds of
> repression are lifted, they will face investment sanctions under
> U.S. law.''
> While analysts here believe the administration does not intend to
> impose sanctions immediately, they say Albright's remarks suggest
> the White House is feeling the pressure. ''They'd like to stall this
> indefinitely,'' said one key Congressional staffer. ''But they know
> people up here have run out of patience.''
> That was the message delivered to the administration by McConnell
> during Wednesday's hearing. ''Since July 10, 1995, the
> administration has told me our policy (towards Burma) has been under
> review,'' he told a State Department witness. ''Even on the slowest
> learning curve, 654 days is a long, long review period.'' July 10,
> 1995, was the date that Suu Chi, whose party swept elections in
> 1990, was released from five years of house arrest.
> At stake is a law approved by Congress last July which requires a
> ban on new U.S. investment in Burma if Clinton determines that the
> SLORC has harmed Suu Kyi or engaged in ''large-scale repression'' of
> its democratic opposition.'' The same law also gave Clinton the
> power -- which he has since invoked -- to deny visas to SLORC
> members, their families and key supporters.
> Ban supporters say that general round-ups of members of Suu Kyi's
> National League for Democracy party, as well as continued
> restrictions on Suu Kyi's movements, meet the conditions set out in
> the 1996 law for imposing the investment ban.
> They point to a February report by Amnesty International which found
> that, with 2,000 political arrests, 1996 was ''the most repressive
> (year) since 1988'' when hundreds of people were killed during and
> after a military coup d'etat. In a video-tape smuggled out of Burma
> earlier this month, Suu Kyi also declared that her supporters were
> facing increased persecution.
> Indeed, the State Department, which in its annual human rights
> country report on Burma conceded that the SLORC's ''rolling
> repression'' of the opposition worsened during 1996, reportedly
> concluded in December that the conditions had been met.
> But further action has been stalled at the White House, which has
> hosted a series of inconclusive inter-agency meetings since January.
> The U.S. Trade Representative and the Department of Commerce -- both
> of which tend to oppose unilateral sanctions -- have reportedly
> argued against the ban.
> ''They feel that an investment ban would not affect the SLORC and
> would hurt American companies, and they're under terrific pressure
> from Unocal,'' the California-based oil company that is the biggest
> U.S. investor in Burma, says one key Congressional aide. ''The
> administration is generally sceptical of unilateral sanctions
> anyway,'' he notes.
> Unocal, which holds 28 percent of a 1.2-billion-dollar pipeline
> project that runs from an off-shore field through Burma to Thailand,
> is also feeling some pressure, however.
> A federal court judge ruled last month that the company and its
> French partner, Total, could be held liable for human rights abuses
> committed by the SLORC in connection with the project.
> In denying Unocal's appeal to dismiss the case, Judge Richard Paez
> said that the company's payments to the government for providing
> labour and security -- despite widespread charges of forced labour
> and other abuses -- would be similar to ''participation in slave
> trading'' if the charges were proven in court.
> Unocal, which has repeatedly denied knowledge of any abuses in
> connection with the project, intends to appeal the ruling in the
> case, which was brought last year under the 200-year-old Alien Tort
> Claims Act by Burmese farmers who were allegedly forced to work on
> the project. The Act permits foreign victims of human rights abuse
> to sue the perpetrators in the United States.
> In recent years, Haitian, Argentine, and Guatemalan plaintiffs have
> been awarded millions of dollars in damages against political and
> military leaders in their countries under the law. Paez' ruling that
> private firms could also be liable for the actions of these abuses
> marks a major expansion of the law.
> Unocal and the handful of U.S. companies which have not yet pulled
> out of Burma also face growing problems with local and state
> governments which continue to enact ''selective-purchasing'' laws
> whose effect is to ban local governments from contracting with
> companies doing business in Burma.
> The state of Massachusetts, San Francisco, and almost a dozen other
> towns and cities have approved such laws. Connecticut, New York
> City, and at least a dozen other cities are expected to adopt
> similar measures in the coming weeks and months.
> Those local laws have been cited as a major reason for the decisions
> of a growing list of U.S. companies to leave Burma. They include
> PepsiCo, Amoco, Levi Strauss and Co., Eddie Bauer, Motorola,
> Hewlett-Packard, Walt Disney, and Eastman Kodak.
> ''The pressure continues to grow,'' says Simon Billeness, an analyst
> at Franklin Research and Development Corp. and a leader in the
> anti-SLORC campaign. ''The longer the administration dithers, the
> more the policy vacuum will be filled by these initiatives.''
> (end/ips/jl/yjc/97)