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The BurmaNet News, April 30, 1997

------------------------ BurmaNet ------------------------  
"Appropriate Information Technologies, Practical Strategies"  
The BurmaNet News: April 30, 1997  
Issue #708


April 29, 1997

LUXEMBOURG - European Union (EU) sanctions on Burma aimed at forcing the
country's military rulers to stop human rights abuses will be extended for a
further six months, diplomats said.

The move, to be approved by EU foreign ministers, reflects growing
frustration among EU governments with the ruling State Law and Order
Restoration Council's refusal to open negotiations with opposition leader
Aung San Suu Kyi.

At Denmark's insistence, the ministers will discuss the situation in Burma
in the wake of United States decision last week to ban new investment in the
Southeast Asian nation. An early decision to follow the US lead is not,
however, expected.

Britain, the biggest foreign investor in Burma, has yet to reach a position
on the issue. France and Germany have also expressed reluctance in the past
to impose economic sanctions.

The EU moved last October to ban members of Burma's ruling junta and senior
members of the military or security forces from travelling to Europe.
Contacts at ministerial of senior official level were also frozen.

The measures strengthened an existing package of sanctions that includes an
embargo on the sale of arms, munitions and military equipment to Burma, a
ban on military cooperation and the suspension of non-humanitarian aid or
development projects.

The EU also agreed last month to exclude Burma from the Generalised System
of Preferences (GSP) - which accords preferential access to EU markets to
goods from developing countries - to protest against the widespread use of
forced labour to promote economic development in Burma. (TN)


April 29, 1997 (slightly abridged)
BY Don Pathan, Yindee Lertcharoenchok

Infighting threatens admissions 

PHUKET ­ Violence and political instability could affect Cambodia's
admission, along with those of Burma and Laos, into the Association of
Southeast Asian Nations (Asean), Philippine Foreign Minister Domingo Siazon
said yesterday. 

Siazon expressed concern about the continuing political unrest in Cambodia,
saying ''the internal political situation" there could affect the country's
commitment to meet all the requirements of Asean before it could join the
regional grouping. 

The three prospective Asean members will have to make internal structural
and judicial adjustments to meet their commitments to the grouping's
political, economic and social obligations and programmes such as the Asean
Free Trade Area (Afta). 

Siazon's expression of Manila's concern coincides with the United States'
attempts to lobby the seven Asean countries to reconsider their decision to
admit Burma into the grouping, which is expected to be announced in July. 

Asean leaders agreed at an informal summit last December in Jakarta to admit
Burma, Cambodia and Laos simultaneously, but refrained from announcing the
actual timing of their entry. ''You have to remember the decision is to
accept them together. Now it seems that one might have a problem because of
the internal political situation among different parties," Siazon said. ''We
will have to see how things develop in Cambodia," the foreign minister said,
in reference to a recent grenade attack in Phnom Penh which killed 16 people. 

When asked whether similar incidents in Burma and Laos could kill off their
chances of membership in Asean, Siazon said it would ''depend on the level
of violence". 

''There could be violence to an extent where the government is disrupted
from functioning properly. Then it might be a situation where that
government is not able to comply with Afta and other Asean commitments." 

According to Filipino Under Secretary Rodolfo Severino, Asean is concerned
more about Cambodia and not Burma, as Cambodian domestic affairs could
affect its commitment to meet Asean requirements. He pointed out that Phnom
Penh is yet to pass legislation related to Afta schemes and that its
National Assembly could not convene following the grenade attack. 

Cambodian Foreign Minister Ung Huot, last week, tried to assure Asean
countries of his country's readiness to join the grouping, saying that the
Cambodian Parliament, which had to delay its session last week due to
political tension, will convene and pass all items of legislation by the
time Asean decides on the new memberships. 

Burma is ready to accede to Asean economic agreements, Severino said, adding
that the country, which is a member of the World Trade Organisation, already
has its trade laws in place. 

Siazon said he was briefed last Friday by Brazeal Aurelia, US deputy
assistant secretary of state for East Asia and the Pacific, about
Washington's economic sanctions against Burma. Aurelia also asked Asean
countries to reconsider Burma's future membership. 

Asean, said the Filipino minister, ''will always have to take into
consideration their [Washington's] request, because we have to think about it." 

He said Asean members will come to a decision on the membership of the three
candidates when their foreign ministers hold an informal meeting on May 31
in Kuala Lumpur. ''As I said, on May 31 we will make our decision," Siazon

Asked about the Philippines' position on the membership of the three
candidates, Siazon said it is ''very flexible". 

He said Asean countries are awaiting a final report from senior officials
that will evaluate the readiness and the progress made by the three
countries towards Asean. The report will be submitted on May 31. 

Siazon arrived in Phuket yesterday to attend a joint Thai-Filipino
commission to be held today. Apart from bilateral topics, along with Thai
counterpart Prachuab Chaiyasarn, he will also discuss new memberships to
Asean, United Nations reforms, preparations for the upcoming annual meeting
in July of Asean foreign ministers and the back-to-back meetings of Asean
and its dialogue partners. 

Prachuab and Siazon will be joined by Singapore's Foreign Minister Shunmugum
Jayakumar, who is arriving tonight. (TN)


April 28, 1997 (slightly abridged)

MANILA, April 28 (AFP) - The Philippines, which has remained silent over US
sanctions against Burma, is torn between supporting Washington and
maintaining links with Rangoon, an analyst here said.

Manila, which itself emerged from dictatorial rule 11 years ago, has toed
the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) line, which prefers 
"constructive engagement" with Burma's military rulers.

Philippine officials have declined to comment on the sanctions called by 
Washington last week.

John Avila, a political economist with the private think tank Center for 
Research and Communications, said that privately, Filipino officials may 
sympathize with the Burmese opposition because "we also came from an 
authoritarian background."

"But officially they will toe the ASEAN line because that (ASEAN unity) is a
higher goal and basically ASEAN works on non-interference in each other's
internal affairs," he told AFP.

Avila was referring to the Philippines' emergence in 1986 from the 20-year 
dictatorship of the late president Ferdinand Marcos. The country spent 14 of
those years under martial law and saw thousands of Marcos' political
opponents jailed, Congress padlocked, rule by decree and heavy media

Filipino opposition leaders at the time called on the international
community, led by the United States, to isolate Marcos. He was toppled in a
popular uprising in 1986 and died in exile in Hawaii in 1989.

Avila said US sanctions were unlikely to "drastically" affect Burma's
economic development, saying US investments in Rangoon are limited and
investors from ASEAN and Europe are "already knocking at the door of Burma."

Avila said ASEAN, which includes some of the world's fastest growing 
economies, has "become more assertive" in dealing with the United States and
other industrialized nations.

"They (ASEAN nations) are more confident about their own development and
their own inter-regional cooperation that they feel more in command where
they should go," Avila said.

He said Washington's call to shut out Burma from ASEAN would be difficult
because ASEAN's goal of including all 10 nations before the end of the
decade "is a primordial goal, a goal that cannot be compromised."

Washington, however, might resort to strong moves to force other countries
to support the sanctions such as passing legislation similar to the
Helms-Burton act against Cuba, Avila said.

The act penalizes companies from within or outside the United States that
deal with Cuba, with such actions as taking away visa privileges from these
firms' executives and their dependents.

While Avila said this could be a "far-fetched" move by Washington, it could
still be implemented if the situation in Burma becomes worse. US domestic
public opinion would favour such a move, he added.


April 28, 1997 (slightly abridged)
by Matthew Pennington

BANGKOK, April 28 (AFP) - Indonesian Foreign Minister Ali Alatas on Monday
dismissed the impact of both US sanctions against Burma and the US call for
ASEAN to keep Burma out of the southeast Asian grouping.

Alatas also played down concerns over political stability in Cambodia,
saying he believed the warring partners in the fragile coalition government
would be able to resolve differences "without resorting to force."

Burma and Cambodia, along with Laos, are expected to be admitted to the 
Association of Southeast Asian Nations this year. ASEAN groups Brunei, 
Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.

"We in ASEAN don't believe that sanctions are relevant or workable in the
case of Myanmar," Alatas said, referring to Burma by its official name.

Only Burma's "capacity and preparedness to accept and fulfill the economic
obligations" of membership would determine the timing of Rangoon's
admittance to the grouping, he added.

Speaking to reporters ahead of a UN Economic and Social Commission for Asia
and the Pacific (ESCAP) ministerial meeting, Alatas said the Burma was
better prepared than the other candidates to meet the obligations of
membership, including participation in the ASEAN Free Trade Area (AFTA).

"The economies of Laos and Cambodia need readjustment ... but we are
flexible on this," he said, citing the 10-year grace period they would get
to reduce tariff barriers under AFTA.

"The Myanmar economy is in many ways more developed," he added, underscoring
Rangoon's membership of the World Trade Organization (WTO) and other such
international organizations.

Commenting on recent political tensions in Cambodia, Alatas said ASEAN was
"following closely" any developments.

"We have been reassured that things are being overcome. These things were
bound to happen in any developing country, especially in Cambodia after a
long period of instability, war and destruction," he said.

"I'm convinced the leadership of Cambodia will overcome the trenchant 
difficulties without resorting to force," he added.

He criticized the West's handling of Burma, saying that stepping up
isolation and sanctions against Rangoon would only further isolate a country
that for a long time had already isolated itself.

"Getting Myanmar into ASEAN is the better way of insuring greater peace, 
greater development and stability in our part of the world," Alatas said.

Last week, Washington announced investment sanctions against Burma and said
it would be lobbying ASEAN states to turn down Rangoon's entry bid because
of human rights abuses by the ruling junta.

He hoped that US-ASEAN ties would not be hurt by the sanctions and by 
differences over Burma.

"There are many common interests between ASEAN as a whole and the United
States as well as with ASEAN (members) individually. Let's hope these common
interests will be preserved," he said.

The European Union (EU) is to extend sanctions on Burma by six months. EU
sanctions ban members of the ruling junta and senior members of the military
or security forces from travelling to Europe.

Contacts at ministerial or senior official level were also frozen. Sanctions 
also include an embargo on arms sales and military cooperation as well as on
non-humanitarian aid.

Last month, the EU agreed to exclude Burma from the Generalized System of
Preferences (GSP) which would give Rangoon preferential access to EU markets.


April 29, 1997

Possible visit will be around May 12-17

Prime Minister Chavalit Yongchaiyudh is expected to postpone his trip to
Burma to mid-May, the Foreign Ministry said yesterday.

A possible visit would be around May 12-17, when he had earlier been
scheduled to visit France and Italy but postponed the trip because French
President Jacques Chirac called national elections.

Gen Chavalit will decide on the timing of his Burma trip soon, said Foreign
Minister Prachuab Chaiyasan.

The trip had been set for May 3-4 but Rangoon said that was not convenient
and proposed a later date, ministry officials said. The request was not
related to the United States ban on new American investment in Burma, they said.

Following the US move, Japan has urged Thailand to ask Burma's military
leaders to work towards improved human rights and democratic progress.

Mr Prachuab said he made no commitment to the request by Japanese State
Secretary for Foreign Affairs Masahiko Koumura during a meeting on the
sidelines of a conference of the United Nations Economic and Social
Commission for Asia and the Pacific.

Mr Prachuab said Thailand's priority is to stop the influx of illegal
Burmese immigrants by giving Burma "special assistance" to create jobs.

"We cannot allow illegal immigrants, who now number 700,000, to increase to
two million," he said.

The hour-long talks between Mr Prachuab and Mr Koumura also touched on
regional co-operation. Mr Prachuab quoted Mr Koumura as restating Japan's
pledge to support a bridge between Mukdahan and Savannakhet, Laos.

Japan earlier agreed to extend separate soft loans worth 1.5 billion baht to
Thailand and Laos to build the bridge, and grant aid for construction of
route 9 from the bridge to Danang, central Vietnam.

Mr Prachuab said the government had yet to decide whether to finance half of
the bridge itself or to use Japanese funds, saying loan conditions loans had
to be considered.

Both sides also exchanged views on the prospective membership of Burma,
Cambodia and Laos in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations and reform
of the United Nations Security Council, Mr Prachuab added. (BP)


April 29, 1997

Rangoon - Burma had no plans to retaliate against the United States for
economic sanctions imposed last week on Rangoon, Foreign Minister Ohn Gyaw
said yesterday.

"We don't intend to take any retaliatory measures against the US for their
decision against us," Mr Ohn Gyaw said.

"They started it on their own volition and we'll just let it go," he said.
It will not affect our country very much." (BP)


April 29, 1997

COX'S BAZAR, Bangladesh, April 29 (Reuter) - A Burmese Moslem was killed and
his son wounded when they detonated an anti-personnel mine on Bangladesh's
border with Burma on Monday, police said.

Bangladesh security sources also said on Tuesday mines had been laid on
Burmese territory either by Moslem guerrillas to restrict the movement of
Burmese troops in the area, or by Burmese guards to stop cross-border

Police said at least seven people, including one Bangladesh border security
guard, had been killed by mines during the past year.

An agreement was reached between the border forces of Burma and Bangladesh
in January to launch a joint operation to remove the mines along the border.
But the mine sweeping drive has yet to start.


April 28, 1997
By David Brinkerhoff

LOS ANGELES, April 28 (Reuter) - Unocal Corp, facing increasing political
pressure over its controversial investment in Burma, said Monday it has no
plans to move its headquarters out of the U.S.

The El Segundo, Calif.-based energy company has come under fire from 
human rights groups who claim Unocal should divest its $340 million stake in
a Burmese gas field because the country's military government abuses human

Other large companies, including Pepsico Inc, have withdraw from Burma 
under pressure from the U.S. goverment and shareholders.

Earlier this year Unocal sold its U.S. refining and marketing operations 
to Tosco Corp for $2 billion in order to focus its resources on 
international exploration and production.

The sale has fueled speculation Unocal might leave the United States in 
order to bypass U.S. sanctions.

According to a report in the May 5 edition of BusinessWeek, Unocal has 
restructured its operations to leave the U.S. if the company finds it 

However, Unocal spokesman Barry Lane said the company has no plans to 
move out of the United States.

"We're not just a regional company anymore but international," Lane said. 
"That's not to be construed that we're no longer a legal entity here."

Last week, President Clinton approved economic sanctions against Burma 
due to human rights abuses by the Burmese military government. The 
sanctions ban new U.S. investment in Burma.

The United States and many other Western countries have criticized Burma for
human rights abuses and for failing to recognize the democratically elected
government of the opposition National League for Democracy, which was
co-founded by Nobel Peace laureate Aung San Suu Kyi.

Unocal Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Roger Beach said he was 
"terribly disappointed" by the president's decision to approve economic 
sanctions againt Burma.

Analysts say its typical for multinational companies like Unocal to 
separate their domestic and overseas operations, like Unocal did last 
year, for tax purposes.

"They're not packing up their bags as far as we can tell, that's not 
necessary," said Natwest Secututies Corp analyst Jennifer Weinstein.

Unocal has long claimed the best way to promote democracy in Burma is to 
allow foreign investors to help build infrastructure and not target them 
for sanctions.

But Weinstein says Unocal may not even be considering leaving the U.S. 
since previous sanctions against rogue states have grandfathered, or let 
continue, established projects by U.S. companies.

"(Unocal) hopes it will be grandfathered out," Weinstein said, adding 
Unocal also has valuable U.S. Gulf production that would be costly to 
give up.

The Free Burma Coaliton, a group which has attacked Burma's government --
the State Law and Order Restoration Council (SLORC) -- has said Unocal's
investments support a government uses murder and rape to coerce citizens
into working on Unocal's project.

"If your investing in Burma...it means your helping keep SLORC in power, 
which means keeping the country repressed," said Pamela Wellner, a 
spokeswoman for the coalition.


April 26, 1997 (excerpts from unofficial translation from Dutch)

Yesterday in Amsterdam David Taw, representative of the Karen National
Union, called for a hold on trade with Burma. Trade outside involvement with
the junta is not possible. European companies are currently the largest
investors in Burma. The minority group Karen are being pushed into Thailand
because of the oil and gas exploitment in their area. The largest foreign
exploiting company in this sector is the French oilcompany Total.

The Burma Centre Netherlands (BCN) shares the view of the Karen. The
organization had a 'Burma-index' placed  yesterday on the front of the
option market building in Amsterdam.


April 29, 1997

Student groups yesterday urged the Petroleum Authority of Thailand (PTT) to
stop construction of the Yadana pipeline project.

"It is an illegal project which destroys the forest and community life. The
project is helping the Burmese government to eradicate minority groups,"
Sawittri Pulsukkho, coordinator of the 16 Institutes Conservation Group said.

The future of the project must be decided by people nationwide, she added,
saying that if it goes ahead, students will continue to oppose the project.

Songkiert Tansamrit, director of the PTT's Public Relations Affairs
Department, said the students' demands are impossible to meet. "Construction
has started and will continue as quickly as possible," he said.

Songkiert said that he approved of the student movement but advised that
they contact his agency. "It is good that the students are concerned about
social issues, but they must obtain information from both sides. They have
never talked to us," he said. (TN)


April 29, 1997

Burma is the problem nation most frequently cited in discussions about how
to enlarge the Association of Southeast Asian Nations. But there are serious
problems surrounding the other two applicants. Laos is a small nation
already stretching its assets to strive for Asean membership. But an even
greater problem in Cambodia.

Within the next 100 days, the seven Asean foreign ministers will decide
whether to enlarge the group to 10. The current belief is that they will
vote in late July to admit Burma, Cambodia and Laos.

At its 30th anniversary, the Association will be complete, with all 10
nations of Southeast Asia holding full membership. This has a neat sound to
it. Unfortunately, Asean is not really ready to accept the three new
applicants. And the three Thai neighbours are far from ready to join.

The major controversy concerns Burma. This is understandable, because the
Rangoon regime rules by force and violence, and without the support of its
people. It is the only one of the 10 present and future Asean members
without a claim to popular support.

While democracy is not a major feature of many Asean members, it is only in
Burma where the population has voted out its government by a wide majority.
The excessive violence used by Burmese generals to cling to power and
profits has put Slorc in the bull's eye of publicity.

Come July, Asean should keep Burma in the purgatory of its observer status.
Admitting the country will cause a lowering of respect for Asean. It has
taken 30 years of effort for Asean to become a highly esteemed group in
world economic and political circles. Embracing the dictators of Rangoon
will lower that admiration.

But Asean ministers should also have severe second thoughts about rushing
Cambodia and Laos into the group. Such action carries great risked, of the
kind Asean has always prudently avoided.

None of the three new applicants has displayed the economic professionalism
or respect for Asean rules which membership is supposed to demand.

In recent months, Cambodia's actions have raised serious questions about its
readiness, mostly by Cambodians themselves. King Norodom Sihanouk is the
most prominent Khmer to oppose full membership just yet, but he is far from
alone. Keat Chhon, the economy and finance minister, pointed out last month
the entire Cambodian tax structure is out of tune with that of Asean and it
would take at least four to five years before a new tax structure is stable.

Like Cambodia, Laos has had major problems filling both the diplomatic and
bureaucratic positions necessary. Qualified civil servants are already hard
to find in Laos, especially at the salaries offered. Residents of Vientiane
trying to obtain information about Asean have often found designated offices
empty. The few enforceable tax laws in Laos are far out of line with Asean

It is all very well for Asean ministers to claim they cannot get involved in
the internal political affairs of members. The fact is they have little
choice. Asean delegations with Burmese representatives will be shunned in
Europe, barred from America, and draw demonstrators and protests elsewhere.
The group was nearly dragged into last month's China-Vietnam dispute, and
there is little doubt it will have to face up to China over the Spartly
Islands fracas.

These are samples of real problems Asean simply must face in today's world.
There is no reason to look for more, in the form of revulsion with the
Rangoon regime or government factions in Cambodia.

Nor is there any good reason for the Asean seven to stop their forward
progress while they wait for the other three to get their laws, procedures
and civil servants into order. Burma, Laos and Cambodia are not prepared for
the trials of full Asean membership, either politically or economically.
Their applications should be held until they are ready. (BP)


April 29, 1997

Letter to the Editor

We warmly applaud the action taken by the government of the United States in
the form of economic sanctions against the Slorc military regime which is
continuing to violate human rights. We welcome President Clinton's
government on the clear cut action taken on the Burma democratic struggle.
This kind of penalty should have been imposed earlier on a regime that is
only interested in keeping power.

There is no way the grassroots people will be affected by this economic
sanction. Nearly all the joint ventures and investments are monopolised by
either Slorc directly or their associates, and it is only these businesses
and these people who will be affected.

This economic sanction by the US is a big development for the Burma
democratic movement. It is a clear warning against the human rights
violations being violated in Burma, one of which is the disregard shown for
the 1990 elections.

We remind Asean governments that the people of Burma clearly stated in the
1990 elections their strong desire for democracy and non-acceptance of a
dictatorship. We would like all countries to join the US in this strong and
clear action against the military regime. We especially hope the Asean
governments respect the will of the people of Burma. The constructive
engagement policy implemented by Asean has not been helpful in establishing
democracy in Burma.

We ask all countries to help establish democracy in Burma by educating SLORC
to enter into a peaceful dialogue with the democratic forces led by Daw Aung
Suu Kyi and the ethnic nationalities.

Maung Maung Aye
Elected member of parliament
National League for Democracy


April 28, 1997 (abridged)

RANGOON, Burma (Reuter) - Burma on Monday said Western nations 
were likely to maintain pressure on the country following the imposition of 
U.S. sanctions until opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi won power.

"(The West) will continue to exert pressure on Myanmar (Burma) until the
woman they prefer ascends the throne," a commentary in state-run 
newspapers said.

"They will continue to harass Myanmar with a heap of fabricated news 
until Myanmar people are impoverished and starved and kneel before her 
and ask 'Save us! Help us!"'

The commentary did not mention Suu Kyi by name, but referred to the
"daughter of the national leader." Suu Kyi is daughter of Burma's 
independence hero Aung San.

"I have already reckoned this (sanctions) would happen one day. I have 
also estimated what further steps they will take," the commentary by 
columnist Sithu Nyein Aye said.

The Rangoon newspaper commentary said Washington wanted Suu Kyi to 
be leader because she would be "pro-West" and would give Western 
nations a foothold on the most strategic region of Southeast Asia.

Burma's media, considered a mouthpiece of the military government, and
government officials often accuse Suu Kyi of being a "minion" or "lackey" 
of the West, in part because of her marriage to British academic Michael 

"Myanmars took interest in the daughter of the national leader they
respected and admired and flocked to her for curiosity," the commentary 
said. "She relished it and she later cannot see the truth."

Since being released from six years of house arrest in July, 1995, Nobel
Peace laureate Suu Kyi has made repeated, unanswered pleas to the 
government to talk about ways to restore democracy to Burma.

She has also urged foreign investors not to come to Burma until the
situation improved and was a vocal proponent of the U.S. economic 

The commentary said Suu Kyi was trying to ruin the country.

Suu Kyi has been under virtual house arrest since December when students
took to the streets in rare anti-government protests.


April 28, 1997
Stephen Brookes

It was about half an hour after sunset, and the hills of Shan State were
deepening into rich shades of blue as the sky darkened and the lights of the
town blinked on below. There were five of us on the balcony of the Kyainge
Tong Hotel - four journalists and an articulate young colonel from Myanmar's
Office of Strategic Studies - and we were engaged in an unusually open
discussion about politics in this troubled country. Suddenly a reporter from
Japan's NHK burst in. "CNN just announced that the United States is imposing
sanctions on Burma," he said. 

The conversation stopped. We all looked over at the colonel, who a few
minutes earlier, had been telling jokes and describing his experiences as a
soldier fighting the Burma Communist Party insurgents in this same part of
the country. 

His face went taut and he stared off into the dark hills. "This is just
politics," he said grimly, after a few moments. "We aren't politicians -
we're only trying to develop the country. We survived without anyone's help
for 26 years and we can do it again if we have to." 

It was a strange and significant moment. Just about every observer in
Myanmar had assumed that a US ban on new investment was inevitable, but the
news had come in the middle of a trip led by Lieutenant-General Khin Nyunt,
one of Myanmar's top leaders, to show journalists and diplomats the
government's efforts to wipe out opium and develop the region's economy. 

A lot of the trip was pure public relations, but it was also a lesson in the
realities of power politics in a country that faces potentially explosive

The ruling State Law and Order Restoration Council was able to take us into
the Shan region, for example, because it had struck a cease-fire arrangement
with the drug-trafficking insurgents who formerly held control. A stable
modus vivendi had been achieved. "We allow them to keep their arms, and we
work together with them to develop the economy," the young colonel had
explained earlier that day in Mong La, a rapidly-expanding town on the
Chinese border. "Everybody's tired of fighting, so now we're cooperating for
economic development," he said, pointing to a group of soldiers lining the
air strip where our helicopter had landed. 

"The guys with the G-2s are ours," he said, indicating the semi-automatic
weapons they carried, "and the guys with the AK-47s are the former
insurgents". They looked to us like part of the same army. 

That cease-fire with the insurgents was the result of a realistic strategy
on the part of the SLORC, explained one diplomat on the trip. "The West has
a strategy of arresting drug traffickers and seizing their assets," he said.
"But here, that doesn't work. It takes a long time to eradicate the opium
and you need to have an economy. So the government goes to the traffickers
and says: 'Cut back some of your activities and we'll turn a blind eye to
the rest, as long as you put money into building the economy'. It's a
transitional process and it takes a long time." 

So when the US sanctions were announced - with Secretary of State Madeleine
Albright saying the SLORC had "chosen not to listen" to US demands for
political change, and had "failed to cooperate in the war against drugs" -
the professional diplomats in Myanmar agreed that the ban reflected
America's failure to come to grips with realities in the region, both in
terms of drug control and political evolution. 

"It's hard to see how the US ban will realistically improve anything in
Myanmar," said one diplomat a subdued reception in the hotel, shortly after
the news had spread throughout the group. "It only creates more
intransigence on both the government's part and on the part of Aung San Suu
Kyi." Another Western diplomat agreed, predicting that unilateral sanctions
would completely end Washington's already-weak influence in Yangon. "This
must be America's new policy of 'splendid isolation'," he said sarcastically. 

There was no discernible support among the ambassadors, military attaches
and drug enforcement experts in the room for the decision, and almost a
sense of disregard for them. "US sanctions have already been factored into
ASEAN's decision to admit Myanmar," said one ASEAN diplomat. "They don't
matter to us at all." 

The Japanese ambassador also shrugged the move off, saying Tokyo was
concerned that a sanctions policy would isolate Myanmar. Beijing had a
policy of non-interference in other countries' affairs, added the Chinese

And in the middle of the room, surrounded by a small crowd, was General Khin
Nyunt. He seemed tired and disappointed at the news, but not angry. 

The US move "will have no effect", he told us. "In politics you have to
expect these things." Asked whether the sanctions would cause the SLORC to
reconsider any of his policies, he said: "We don't have anything to
reconsider because we are walking in a straight line. And we have many
friends in the region." 

It was a subdued crowd that left Kyainge Tong the next morning. The
journalists were bundled onto a plane and sent off to Tachilek, where we
wandered around listlessly in the dust for a while before being fed and
taken back to Yangon. 

It had been a long trip, and we had all retreated into our own little worlds
of fatigue and heat exhaustion. 

As we were packed onto the bus for the final trip out to the airport, I
found myself sitting behind Dr Khin Maung Nyunt, an all-purpose academic who
had been brought along for our benefit. As the bus started, he suddenly
burst into song. 

"Que sera, sera," he sang, "whatever will be, will be." He looked around
cheerfully, to see if anyone wanted to join him in a Doris Day sing-along.
No one did. "The future's not ours to see," he urged. We were oblivious.
"Que sera, sera," he said quietly. Then he fell silent too. (AT)