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Dr Sein Win, Prime Minister of the National Coalition
Government of the Union of Burma (NCGUB) and senior
colleagues, including representatives the National Democratic
Front and groups in Shan State, were in Paris for a few days
last week to meet French Government officials, deputies,
senators, non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and the media.
One highlight was a reception at the Senate, addressed by Dr
Sein Win and Ambassador Hessel, former Permanent
Representative of France at the United Nations in Geneva.
According to one French government official, this was the
NCGUB's most successful visit so far to Paris. Their programme
was organised by a collective of French NGOs.  The delegation
came from the UN Commission on Human Rights in Geneva, where
their presence had made an important contribution to the
strong resolution on Burma adopted this year by the
Commission. From Paris they continued to the Netherlands. The
following interview with Dr Sein Win was made by "Le Monde"
Asia-Pacific chief,  Bruno Philip.
     "The Burmese regime is afraid of a new uprising. The
junta continues to refuse dialogue and the situation is very
tense". The Burmese Prime Minister of the "National Coalition
Government in Exile", Dr Sein Win, judges that conditions
today are the same as in 1988, before the army's bloody
suppression of the Rangoon uprising.  "The economic situation
continues to deteriorate, ... it is even worse than in 1988.
The economic opening sought by the junta only benefits a small
handful of people". The most recent report by Amnesty
International estimates that 1996 was a particularly black
year for human rights in Burma, with the arrest of thousands
of democracy activists, the harassment of opposition figures,
and constant pressure on the opposition leader, Nobel Peace
Laureate Mme Aung San Suu Kyi.
     Dr Sein Win is Mme Aung San Suu Kyi's cousin. His father,
U Ba Win, was the brother of Independence hero Aung San. They
were both assassinated by soldiers in 1947. Elected in the
1990 Elections, which were overwhelmingly won by the National
League for Democracy (NLD), M. Win ended by escaping into the
jungle with a dozen other elected representatives, after the
the regime refused to honour the election results. He has
lived in the United States since 1992. Meanwhile, the
headquarters of  his government in exile had to be moved
following the fall in 1995 of Manerplaw, the base of the Karen
rebels, with whom Dr Sein Win's government was associated. 
     This 53 year-old mathematician, passing through France
last week, refuses the whole array of theories of
"constructive engagement".  On the question of whether foreign
investment in Burma is preparing the ground for a restoration
of democracy: "If we look at what has happened since 1988, we
see that this theory does not hold. In nine years, the army
has grown from 185,000 to 350,000 men. The regime has bought
1.4 billion dollars worth of arms, which amounts to half the
national budget. Heroin production has grown from 800 tons in
1988 to 2560 tons in 1996. And the military is directly
involved in this traffic. As for spending in the social
sector, it represents less than 10% of the budget". And
furthermore, "Foreign investments are helping the regime get
rich, modernise its army and ensure its own survival".
     The attitude of the French Government, which has more or
less the same views as the countries of the Association of
Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) --  which will soon include
Burma -- on the theory of "constructive engagement" is
criticised by Dr Sein Win: "in spite of the positions taken by
the European Union on human rights, the policy of France is
one of increasing engagement with Burma". And it is true that
the construction of a gas pipeline by Total, which is accused
by human rights organisations of bankrolling a regime which
uses forced labour, leaves the French no other choice but to
justify such a policy. In contrast with the choice made by the
United States, which has just prohibited American companies
from investing in Burma. 
Bruno Philip. 
"Le Monde" 27-28 April 1997
(Unofficial translation from the French)