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April

1999

Volume 9

Number 4

"I think we have some options. We should choo46 Sa^iil^Efiailand if we want to continue the struggle because it's the nearest country. There are one million Burmese living here, why is it just the students who cannot stay." Exiled Burmese student working with an NGO in Bangkok

Burma Issues, the monthly newsletter of Burma Issues, highlights current information, related to the struggle for peace and justice in Burma. It is distributed internationally on a freesubscription basis to individuals and groups concerned about the state of affairs in Burma. P.O. Box'1076 Silom Post Office Bangkok 10504,Thailand durham@mozart.inet.co.th

P E A C E : PREPARING F O R T H I N G S T O C O M E JUSTICE: T O W A R D S JUSTICE: HUMAN T H E R O A D LESS TRAVELED BY

R I G H T S : H U N G E R IN KARENNI STATE

DEVELOPMENT: B O N G T I - T A V O Y R O A D : T H E SHORTEST DISTANCE BETWEEN T W O P O I N T S ? T H E FINAL W O R D : W H A T O T H E R S H A V E T O SAY

INFORMATION

FOR

ACTION

CAMPAIGNS

FOR

PEACE

GRASSROOTS

EDUCATION

AND

ORGANIZING

PREPARING FOR THINGS TO COME

ve years have elapsed since the turn of the century. Several replacements in the top echelons of military command, together with four years of instability in the rice market, have spelled major political changes in Burma. Sensing an opportunity, diverse opposition movements have forged a new coalition which seems to reflect a common platform. Repression of political organizing in urban areas has relaxed considerably, and fewer dissidents have been questioned or detained. On the diplomatic front, access to both the government and bureaucracy have opened up, with foreign liaisons emerging from frequent closed-door meetings to indicate that the winds of change are gathering force. One or two dissidents have even returned from exile to confer with coalition leadership. Suddenly, a program for transition to civilian rule is announced jointly by the military and opposition. A provisional council amalgamated from prominent opposition figures, remnants of the 15 year old elected parliament, and key military men will guide the way towards general elections. Burma's new political era has dawned. ary jungles and from the dank cells of prison have been tempered by necessities of office. It is easier to fight against an unpopular government than to replace it with a working solution. The new democracy may flower very slowly, with political repression, censorship and militant nationalism persisting despite elections and the convening of parliament. In Burma, the militarization of society has programmed government structuresthe army, the courts, the policeto eliminate dissent. Habits of quelling dissent and limiting the freedoms of a restless populace will be difficult to break, particularly with considerable opposition to the new government lurking in several powerful corners. Ideology also suffers under the auspices of power.

he purpose of such a forecast is not to guess how or when change will come, but to posit a new set of possibilities and reflect on their relevance, to how one thinks and acts in the present. One scenario among many, it offers a glimpse into the potential terrain of political change in the next decade.

ILE OPPOSITION ALLIANCE.


The alliance was forged as a political expedient. Unless the root issues which divided it for years, especially ethnic tensions, are an immediate and major priority of the government, armed opposition groups will be reluctant to throw full support behind a coalition. Secession may appear closer than ever, federalist rhetoric notwithstanding. They may reason that they did not suffer sixty years or war and death merely to hand over power. While a new constitution might lessen such tensions, even in the best of times drafting a. charter is slow and contentious. Moreover, quick-profit foreign capital programs will seek to exploit natural resources in ethnic minority areas, adding suspicions of exploitation from Rangoon and the potential for local corruption and warlordism.

Yet the scenario is not complete. Amid the optimism is a host of unseen pitfalls and potential flashpoints, out of sight because in the elation and optimism of the moment they are out of mind. But in reality, they are already here with us in the present, and can be identified, tagged and treated in anticipation of days to come. Burma will not be the first country to undergo a momentous political change "from dictatorship to democracy," nor the first to face immense obstacles when those long-awaited days come. Consider the following ten points, and what they mean for the present as well as the future:

3. EXPECT DISILLUSIONMENT WITHLEADERS.


With the economy in disarray, the new government will be hard pressed to refuse foreign capital for a variety of natural resource extraction and other short-term investment opportunities. Political debts owed to supportive countries and corporations will come due. In the first months and years of democracy, some politicians will be perceived to have sold out to foreign capital. This may be particularly apparent in how the government responds to pressures to privatize state agencies. Burma's government, corporate and technical sectors are so far behind the rest of the world that successful basic infrastructure reform, such as telephone service, will require significant foreign input. Furthermore, the need to distance Burma from past economic mistakes may see the government rush to privatize, rather than try to justify continued nationalization of crippled sectors. Inevitably, Burma's rich tradition of official corruption will reach some government figures, shaking confidence at home and abroad.

L EXPECT TO COMPROMISE AND COOPERATE WITH THE MILITARY.


The military has become such a powerful and pervasive force in Burma that one can not expect it to simply disappear. Rather than "topple" the military government, those seeking political change will need to graciously hold the door open while the military slowly withdraws itself and redefines its role in the Burmese state. Both individual soldiers and the collective military institution have traditionally understood their role to be champion and protector of the nation, tough when necessary, but motivated by noble intentions. Overt and vehement challenges to this identity leave little space for a dignified passing of the mantle. Though difficult to condone, the only way to avoid an imminent military coup may be to offer temporary or provisional amnesty to military leaders.

EXPECT 5. ECONOMY.

A FALTERING

It is easier to fight against an unpopular government than to replace it with a working solution.

Believe it or not, the Burmese economy could be worse than it is today. To some degree, this will be a matter of perception; the military government neglected the economy and rural poverty for so long that nobody really knows how bad it is. Once the new government starts looking into the economic health and welfare of the people, the report card may be grim indeed. In the short and medium terms, some of the traditional sources of rural credit and income may evaporate with political change. Moneylenders and merchants dependent on military ties may not have the cash available to prop up the agricultural sector. The true extent of landlessness will become apparent, and once the plight of poor workers is cast in terms of "unemployment" the figures may be surprisingly high.

6. EXPECT RAPID DISSATISFACTION AMONG THE URBAN MIDDLE CLASS


A fickle urban middle class will pose great threat to the coalition's proximate support base. Following a brief "honeymoon" period, moneyed interests such as prominent military families and Chinese traders will begin organizing and agitating among the middle class. Their first tactic will be to frighten small businessmen into joining

2. EXPECT A CONSERVATIVE SHIFT


Around the world, fire and brimstone from the opposition bench, from the revolution-

4. EXPECT CRACKS IN A FRAG2

2 April 1999

forces with them by projecting real threats to their own monopolies and black market trade as less probable threats against small merchants. The second argument will be that economic progress has been too slow, and that the new government lacks technical expertise. They will convince businessmen that they have a common interest in protective political representation. This new opposition will take advantage of the new multiparty system to assemble its own well-funded political party and win over one or two prodemocracy politicians for good measure. It will be a major thorn in the coalition's side.

1. EXPECT GROWING RURAL/ URBAN INEQUITY.


As political and economic tensions in the cities increasingly occupy the government's attention, little change will take place in longneglected rural areas. Long-standing trends of rural poverty, hunger, population displacement and the erosion of traditional economies will continue. If the urban centers experience an economic boom, migrant labor and urban poverty will be major new social trends. If the government fails to guide and control them, international development organizations and the UN will prop up rural economies through development programs operating on a poverty-eradication model, rather than a social justice model demanding greater participation. Securing a fair and effective land rights program throughout the country should be the highest priority. If inequities in the rural economy are neglected, within ten years most of the wealth generated by rural development schemes will be in the hands of local merchants, moneylenders and agricultural commodities middlemen and the landless peasant class will be larger and worse off than ever.

tensions will increase, with minorities perceiving the army's refusal to withdraw despite democracy in Rangoon as proof that the Burman majority secretly (or openly) aims to enslave and annihilate ethnic minorities. Tensions in western Burma may escalate over the land tenure crisis created by the displacement and resettlement of a half y - - million Rohingyas in the last decade. By 2005, many new settlers on lands once occupied by Rohingyas will have been living and working there for almost a generation, compounding the racial animosity.

E X 9. PECT CRIME AND SOCIAL UNREST TO RISE.

Human rights abuse has become not only a military tactic, but a habit as well... It will take a long time for soldiers to unlearn this behavior.

8. EXPECT A SLOW END TO HUMAN RIGHTS ABUSE IN CIVIL WAR ZONES.


Because the military isn't just going to disappear, and will be unlikely to instantaneously recall troops from front lines, a Burma army presence throughout certain i rural areas will persist despite the change in government. Human rights abuse has become not only a military tactic, but a habit as well. Bullying civilians into uncompensated labor, stealing food, summary executions, corporal punishment and rape constitute the reality of army field operations. It will take a long time for soldiers to unlearn this behavior, and for Burma's cultural and legal mechanisms to prevent and rectify enough incidents for a new military norm to take root. In the meantime, civilians and insurgents alike , will continue to resist such treatment, and the army will see their resistance as justification to maintain a vigilant presence. Ethnic

Fifty years of civil war hold two serious implications for Burmese society. The first is that guns and munitions are widely available throughout the border states. In addition to insurgents, a variety of pocket armies, narco-gangs and dacoits will remain well armed and unwilling to give up their guns. Logging and drug trafficking will respond vigorously to new opportunities. Secondly, while combatants and their guns can be decommissioned, the psychological and experiential impact of using violence is not so easily erased. For those soldiers who have participated in serious human rights abuse, both violence and impunity may have become a way of life. Given the dire economic circumstances, Burmese police will have their hands full.

decades demands some formal legal redress. To prosecute every execution, every case of torture and detention, every rape and every village burning requires enormous political will. When even a vigorous and sophisticated legal system would creak under the strain of such a caseload, how much load can the Burmese courts bear, emerging from decades of hibernation? Many will oppose intensive investigation for a variety of reasons. Some key military figures will, of course, refuse to submit themselves to such scrutiny, at the very best accepting amnesty. A few cases tried and convicted may be the only recourse possible. This unfortunate truth highlights the necessity of a community-level truth and reconciliation process, a peoplecentered declaration of human dignity, survival and conciliation.

EXPECT JUSTICE TO BE 10. SLOW, PARTIAL AND SELECTIVE.


The extent of human rights abuse which Burma has experienced in the last several

Some, all or perhaps none of these expected difficulties may come to pass. Anticipating them today is an exercise in broadening the perspective on social change and social justice. Together, these ten points underscore a truth which should be considered early as possible: political change is but one essential step on a longer and more complex journey towards the goals of peace and justice. The better one appreciates this point in. the present, the more effective will be his contribution to the future. While it may not be possible to solve any of these problems before they occur, it is possible to help Burma prepare for them so that they do not deter its course towards a better society. J* Chris Cusano

ARTICLE REQUEST
Burma Issues is requesting stories for our upcoming newsletters. If readers have stories of grassroots people working towards building a creative and constructive peace in their communities we would appreciate it if you would send these stories to our mailing address on the front of this newsletter for consideration. Thank you for your help.
3 April 1999

TOWARDS JUSTICE: THE ROAD LESS TRAVELED BY


A nonviolent struggle for political, eco ^jLnomic, social and cultural change is one of the more difficult forms of struggle. It focuses not so much on fighting against injustice as it does in building justice as envisioned by the most invisible and oppressed in society. The difficulties are many, but one of the most complex is that of building truly just structures within areas where corrupted and oppressive ones are already firmly established. This difficulty can be further exacerbated by the tendency of many activists, who, craving the adrenaline rush of massive street gatherings, try to create mass uprisings before actually doing the tedious and time-consuming work of building up small grassroots movements. Garssroots action is the only type of action that can both build the new just structures within their communities and at the same time find creative and effective ways to destabilize and render ineffective the old unjust structures. Mass uprisings like the August 8, 1988 demonstrations in Burma, are successful in destabilizing or toppling dictatorial regimes only if and when the environment is truly suitable for such action. A suitable environment is one in which the existing power structures are in sufficient internal conflict or dysfunction to be unable to work together effectively in countering the uprising. Thus, many successful mass uprisings tend to be spontaneous; as they can take advantage of sudden weaknesses and/or divisions within the power structures to mobilize large numbers of people and take power. By nature, dictatorships are not especially internally strong, although they usually appear to be so. They are very authoritatively top/down and this creates jealousies, distrust and often hatred among the various leadership levels. Corruption may also be rampant, causing even further jealousies and distrust. These weaknesses are usually carefully kept under control in order that the regime can continue to survive. A mass uprising, at the wrong time, can pull the members of the regime together more tightly in order to protect themselves, making the success of the uprising less of a possibility, and increaing the chances for bloodshed. However, the distrust, fear and jealousy which exist among members of the regime are elements which can and should be used for a successful long-term nonviolent struggle. They represent the weaknesses of the regime which must be exploited in positive ways to move the struggle for change forward and provide space for people to begin building the just structures which they envision. 4 April 1 9 9 9 A nonviolent struggle, therefore, should focus its efforts on several very important tasks. The first is to encourage and assist local communities in thoroughly analyzing the power structures in their areas. Among other things, this analysis must identify the weaknesses which exist among various people in power as well as between the various levels of power. Once these weak points have been identified, the local communities can brainstorm ways to exploit them in order to destabilize the system to the point that it can no longer effectively maintain solid control over the community. The second task builds on the first. As the exisiting exploitive and abusive control system weakens, the local people gain more space in which to work at creating the just structures they need to replace it. These new just systems must encompass the ONCE economic, political, social and cultural THESE spheres of the comWEAK munity. POINTS Just economic structures must be built at the community level which completely avoid both direct and indirect exploitation of all people in the community no matter their gender, race, physical appearance, place of origin, religion or ethnic origin. This generally requires that the new economic structures be built on already existing traditional economic practices in order that all members of the community can participate in them easily and effectively. Any economic practices which exploit, in any way, some members of the community, destroy life, damage the environment, or break down ethnic culture and tradition cannot be considered as a just alternative to those systems which already exist. carefully protect people from all forms of deprivation as these are an affront to human dignity. Adequate food, shelter, clothing, health care and basic education are not only economic issues, but are also directly related to human dignity. Human beings need all of these basic items for security and happiness. The social structures which are newly created must guarantee the flow of these necessities to all members of the society equally so that all can live with the security that they and their families will not be deprived of what they need for a happy life.

All people in the community must have the right to practice their own culture as long as it does not negatively affect the lives of others. Culture is a part of human dignity, and thus structures need to be designed to ensure that everyone's culture is protected and respected. (From Burma Issues Ideology, April 1998) It is the people themselves who must work at building these new just structures. As they make use of the space created by destabilizing the old exploitative system they will slowly begin transforming the community until the old system can no longer survive. This does not suggest that the old system will not strongly attempt to fight back for survival, but if its weaknesses have been effectively exploited, its power will be substantially exhausted and its ability to put up a strong resistance undermined. The third task, which builds on the first two, involves organizing the international community for positive support in bringing about the final steps of transformation. International support is only a "support," not a solution, and it can only be effective if the first two tasks discussed above have effectively been initiated and provide the context in which the international community can organize and focus appropriate campaigns. A nonviolent struggle must be looked at as a long-term strategy which requires slow and detailed planning and organizing at the grassroots level. Its design is to slowly erode the ability of the old system to maintain exploitative control, while at the same time building, from the bottom up, new economic, political, social and cultural structures which are deeply embedded in justice and dignity. This can only be done with the full and active participation and leadership of the grassroots people themselves. M a x Ediger

HAVE BEEN IDENTIFIED, THE LOCAL COMMUNITIES CAN BRAINSTORM WAYS TO EXPLOIT THEM

New just political structures must emphasize the equality, liberty and safety of all people. Equality refers specifically to the right of equal participation in both national and local political activities, and the self-determination of all ethnic groups. Liberty refers to the right to act freely in any political activity without interfering in the lives of other people. Safety is the exemption from slavery, torture, arbitrary arrest, arbitrary execution, forced exile or any other form of human rights abuse. Just social structures must be created which 4

HUNGER IN KARENNI STATE


ne of the biggest problems facing the government, people were still able to get by. cient to feed a household. Eventually many Karenni, now and in the future, is the Things changed after 1987, however. people had to sell their land; either to busiproblem of hunger. However, this has not nessmen from outside the village, who had always been the case. I tractors and fertilizer, or to grew up in a village just outthe government. side of Loikaw in the North West corner of Karenni As more and more of the State, near the border with farm land gets bought up by Southern Shan state. There businessmen, people are were about 500 homes in the looking for other types of village and most of the work. People are now lookpeople were farmers, but ing towards education. some of the villagers While in the mountainous worked in service jobs or parts of Karenni state acfor the government. The cess to schools is difficult, majority of the people in the in the Loikaw area everyone village were ethnically can study, though the costs Karenni but there were also are very high. There are some Shan and Burman three high schools in who lived in the village as Loikaw, run by the governwell. There is little flat land ment through the Karenni in Karenni State so most of State education ministry, the agriculture is hillside which teach only in Burswidden farming; however, mese and English. Each the land around Loikaw and year's entry fees, teacher's Deemawso allows for tradifees and book fees must be tional wet rice farming. My paid at the start of the year, family had two small plots and a monthly school fee is of land. One was about two also collected. Each grade acres and the other was level the fees get higher and three acres. In my village higher - when I was ih ninth Town ^ Base (or) Camp the average farmer owned standard I had to pay 5 kyats > Mobile Troop between five and ten acres a month and it was raised to O Regiment Control Command Support troop of land. Most farmers also six kyats in tenth standard. * Tactical Operation Central Command had between ten and On top of the monthly fees, => BP Border Pass twenty oxen that were used there were also water-pot KAREN STATE to plow the fields or could fees, broom fees - everybe sold to provide extra thing in the school was paid money when needed, and for by the students. Other Map of Karenni State many people also kept a Children traveled a long, disfew chickens or pigs. My family owned more More soldiers started coming into the area tance to come to school in Loikaw, because than 20 oxen. during 1987 and over the next several years they could not afford to rent a house in town. the situation got worse. Rice prices de- Many students dropped out because they Like many of the ethnic groups the Karenni creased significantly and people had to sell couldn't afford the costs. With needing to people have been at war with government most of their rice to the government with not buy food and sending me and my brothers troops since 1948, when the Burma army enough for themselves. Villagers had to start and sister to school through the tenth stanstarted to invade Karenni State. My area near selling their cattle to get money to eat. Then dard, my parents after 1988 had sold all but Loikaw has been under the control of the in 1992, the government required farmers to three of the oxen. Most people in my area government for most of that time. After the grow summer rice paddy as well as the rainy had an eighth standard education, but even government took over our area, militias were season crop. This caused different kinds of having graduated from the tenth standard formed in the villages to keep the people problems. The government initially gave we were unable to find jobs. Very few Karenni under control and to serve as extra troops in farmers summer crop rice seed, but made farm- students go on to study at a university. campaigns against the Karenni troops in the ers pay for the costly irrigation themselves; Those students who want to go on must go jungle. However, during my childhood there and there wasn't a sufficient amount of wa- to Southern Shan state, as there are no uniwere only five battalions of government sol- ter in the local reservoir to irrigate two crops versities in Loikaw. A university education diers in Karenni state, compared with the a year. At the start of the double cropping is very expensive and those who graduate more than twenty that are currently stationed program the administration sold fertilizer to often become civil servants - there is no there. At that time the Karenni National Pro- farmers, but later no fertilizer was made avail- work for them at home. gressive Party (KNPP) controlled much of able, so crop production dropped signifithe land in Karenni State including the land cantly. Before the government program, one Forced labor and forced relocation have also between the Salween and Pon rivers and the crop a year was enough for each family, but increased the hunger situation in Karenni land up to the Thai border. No soldiers came later, having to grow the summer rice caused state. In 1996, after a failed three month to recruit forced labor from our village, and the soil to degrade and made each individual Continued on page 7 while we were forced to sell our rice to the crop poorer. No longer was one crop suffi-

April 1 9 9 9

BONGTI-TAVOY: THE SHORTEST DISTANCE BETWEEN TWO POINTS?


he port town of Tavoy in Burma served as a convenient outlet for low bulk items from Thailand as early as the beginning of the 16th century. Traders in the gulf of Thailand region maintained communication links with the port towns along the Malay peninsula; and if weather or political conditions were unfavorable in the straits of Malacca , items would be taken to the Andaman sea ports and shipped from there. 1 With the advent of modern transportation technology a quick and direct route from Thailand to Tavoy has become an even more tempting option for both Thai business people and the Burmese government.

economic collaboration.4 Transportation was a central element to the development project and much of the plan hinged around propsed road projects linking Moulmein and Tavoy with Kanchanaburi and Victoria Point with Kraburi.5 With the deep sea port under construction

agreement to invest U.S. $1 billion in 12 projects along the tollway corridor; including a sugar mill, a sugar cane plantation, an industrial estate, a hotel and an airport.8 The wealth of raw resources and cheap labor in Burma made the area particularly inviting to Thai investors of all varieties; fishing and logging interests, for example, have played a significant role in lobbying for the road. The tourist industry in Kanchanaburi also hopes to benefit from sightseers who would use the road to make day trips into Burma, filling area hotels in the evenings.

Now, two years into the project, the highway has become mired in politics on As in most regional developthe Thai side of the border ment projects, however, the and in controversy over story of the Bongti-Tavoy human rights abuses on the road is not a simple or Burmese side. The Thai straight forward one. During army and National Security the years it has been in proCouncil have been opcess the Andaman highway posed to the project from project has acquired its share v the beginning, arguing that of both supporters and deI DP's Who have fled Human rights abuses along the Bongti-Tavoy opening the -border at tractors and has gone from Highway corridor, BI1999 Bongti would cause an inheadline news to business crease in illegal migration section blurb. Tracing the history of the Bongti-Tavoy project is diffi- and the Western Seaboard development and in smuggled goods. A potential change cult; initial agreements have been made, but scheme in place, the stakes for Thai busi- in the watershed would have serious ramifiin the light of the Asian economic crisis, the nessmen looking to open a route to the cations on both border demarcation and the parties involved have been hesitant to make Andaman seaside were raised significantly. environment. They also fear security probfirm commitments. However, for those people With the ability to avoid the trip around the lems in transporting goods through areas whose homes and fields lie in the path of the Malay Peninsula, shipping time from Thai- still under the control of Karen and Mon roadway, the ramifications are all too con- land to Europe and South Asia could be re- groups. However, recent attempts by the crete. duced by seven days, saving investors Thai House committee on economics to shift money. A road from Tong Phaohum to Tavoy attention towards the border crossing in Mae was rejected due to its close proximity to the Sot failed when Burma's ruling State Peace In late 1994, Thai Foreign Minister Thaksin Shinawatra went to Rangoon with the plan Yadana gas pipeline and a highway through and Development Council (SPDC) refused a to initiate the development of a deep sea port Three Pagoda Pass was dismissed due to soft loan to improve the road from the Tak 9 at Tavoy.2 Two years later, after the signing border disputes in the area and susceptibil- border town to Rangoon. However, other than these occasional notes of dissent from of a memorandum between the two coun- ity to insurgent attack. The route from Bongti tries, Italian-Thai Development Pic. started was deemed to have the right combination certain corners of the Thai government, the 6 work on the 5 billion Baht port project-which of geography and stability; and in Novem- Andaman highway has dropped out of the was to be built in stages according to cargo ber of 1997, with Thai investors lobbying news in the last couple of months. It keeps needs. Also contained in the agreement were the Burmese government, Kanchanaburi- on progressing with the support of plans to develop a large industrial estate in Tavoy Development Pic. in a joint venture Kanchanaburi investors - just much more Tavoy, with businessmen having already with Kyaw Lin Naing (KLN) Company of quietly. signed agreements with Italian-Thai on build- Burma signed an initial agreement on a thirtyyear U.S. $40. million concession to build and As with any development project involving ing a petrochemical project on the estate.3 do upkeep on the 110 km road.7 the government of Burma, one question that eventually needs to be asked about the At the same time, the Thai government's National Economic Development Council While the use of the highway as a quick and Bongti-Tavoy highway project is what was surveying the western seaboard area of easy access route to the Andaman Sea (and SPDC's intentions are in the project. Like its Thailand for it's prospects as a development subsequently to world markets) was the pri- Thai counterpart, the Burmese government zone. The resulting initiative was to develop mary attraction for businessmen, Thai en- has been sending mixed messages. While agriculture and industry along Thailand's trepreneurs saw a plethora of other uses for Kanchanburi-Tavoy Development and KLN coast, increase the competitiveness of Thai the highway as well. At the time the road have held the concession for the project for products in the world economy, and create concession was signed, Kanchanaburi- more than a year it is not clear yet whether closer relationships with Burma through joint Tavoy Development and KLN also made an the Burma government has given its final

April 1999

approval for the project. It was announced in March of this year that the final approval would be forthcoming by the end of the month, but no confirmation followed. It is also unclear how willing Burma's authorities will be to allow the free flow of products across their borders. The Burmese military has periodically shut down the border when they have felt that too many resources spilling out of the country too quickly; or, conversely, that too much Burmese money was lining the pockets of foreign importers of manufactured goods (draining the country's currency reserves). Since the project's inception, the road construction has been a catalyst for human rights abuses in the region. Whatever their future intentions, at the moment the military government seems determined to push the project as quickly as possible- a decision that has grave repercussions for the ethnic people living along the project route. Several thousands of families have already been relocated from the area and forced portering has been a problem. At the end of November, 1998, the Coastal Military Region Command (CMC) headquarters in charge of the region, handed down orders that the highway was to be finished by the beginning of the 1999 rainy season and set a goal of acquiring 1000 forced laborers. This was accomplished in part by capturing villagers Continued from page 5 cease-fire between the State Law and Order Restoration Council and the KNPP, government soldiers started forced relocation programs. People from 96 villages have been moved to the Shadaw relocation camp. At Shadaw and other relocation sites eat what little corn they can grow, or beg for food in neighboring villages. Faced with these conditions, many people taken to the relocation sites have fled from them; to the jungle, to refugee camps in Thailand and to the Loikaw area.

as they traveled from town to town and sending them to work near Mittya village where CMC's frontline command headquarters are set. At the end of January 1999, CMC decided that 1000 workers would not be sufficient to finish the project, and demanded more forced laborers from the surrounding townships. Those laborers who were captured by the military were fed only a small amount of rice and fish paste twice a day and were expected to work until the project was finished. Others who were sent by village administrators had to provide their own food and work ten to fifteen day terms. Those laborers who were captured would be released only if a relative would come to the site with a note from the village administrator and pay 10,000 to 15,000 kyat ($30-$40) to the army officials. Villagers have to sell oxen or family jewelry to pay the bribe. Malaria is rampant at the sites and the workers are not given medicine. According to one laborer, people were forced to work despite illness and 10 people died at his site.10 The implications for the people do not stop with the immediate human rights abuses associated with the building of the road. As more and more people are forced off their land and their fields are transformed into industrial complexes and sugar plantations, the ethnic minorities in the area will find themselves under pressure to become the low paid to my parents. Older people, who don't have children who send them money must clean or do odd jobs for the richer people in the village. The people who fled to the village from the relocation sites now have started begging on the streets. The jungle that has been left by the big logging companies, has already been stripped of edible vegetation traditionally the last resort for the Karenni people.

labor that has attracted Thai investors to the region in the first place. This weakening of their culture and dependency on outside forces will be consequences equally as great as the immediate issues. Some voices from the Thai government would suggest that there may have been some lessons learned from the difficulties brought about during the building of the Yadana gas pipeline. However, with the lack of strong voices raising the issue, the Bongti-Tavoy road has sunk to the back of the world's collective consciousness as it creeps ever closer to completion. > Erich Miller

Endnotes
1 Lieberman, Victor B. 7rBurmese Administrative Cycles Anarchy and Conquest,- Princeton University Press, Princeton, NJ 1984 2 Woranant Krongboonying, 7rTavoy Port Plan Excites Rangoon,- Bangkok Post, 21 Jan 1995 3 7rltalian-Thai to start B5bn Tavoy port, - Bangkok Post, 13 Nov 1996 4 Supannabul Suwannaku, 7rThai-Burma link could speed exports,- The Nation, 17 May 1997 5 xBong Ti- Tavoy ' The Gate to the Andaman,- Sai ThaiBhama, jan 1999 translation from Thai 6 Preecha Srisathan, 7rTraders to awaken sleepy village,-Bangkok Post, 5 ]une 1998 7 WatcharapongThongrung, 7rThai firm plans huge investment in Burma,- Bangkok Post, 21 Nov 1997 8 ibid 9 Nussara Sawatsawang, 7rRangoon rejects Mae Sot road,BangkokPost, 25 April 1999 10 Burma Issues Internal Report

Unfortunately, the problems of hunger will not end when the civil war is finished. The land has been depleted by double cropping Those villagers who were not relocated face programs and the use of chemical fertilizers. forced labor as porters. Soldiers also demand Furthermore, there is a whole generation that money, logs and even cattle manure that the was born in, and will marry and have chilI people would have used to fertilize their own dren in, the refugee camps. These people lands. When logs are demanded, the people will spend much of their life dependent on have to travel as much as 8 hours to the the NGOs to feed and cloth them, and won't forest, fell the trees themselves and then haul have the skills to grow their own food when them back by bullock cart. My family spent they return to Karenni State. For now, howfifty percent of their time working on military ever, the international community needs to outposts and railway lines for the military, continue to support us, both by putting presand the government heavily taxed the fifty sure on the government to stop killing percent of the work that we did for ourselves. Burma's ethnic peoples and by not investing in Burma. Now, in my village, there are hardly any young people, as most of them have moved I out of the area to look for work. Two of my brothers moved to Pa Ga area in Kachin State This article was taken from interviews and to mine jade and gold and send money back other writings by a friend of Burma Issues.

HIV/AIDS in Burma The U.N. Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) has cited Burma as having an AIDS epidemic second only to that of Cambodia on the Asian continent. During a press conference in Bangkok, Peter Piot, the program's director, said that UNAIDS estimates there are at least 440,000 HIV-infected people in Burma, which has widespread problems with intravenous drug use and a thriving cross-border sex-trade with China and Thailand. "The big challenge is the recognition of the problem by the government," said Piot, noting that Burma's junta acknowledges only 21,503 confirmed cases of HIV and 2,854 cases of AIDS. The government of Burma released a response to the UN report denying that it had any sex industry and stating that "the number of drug users compared to other countries is much less." According to the detailed statement, Burma has been studying HIV since 1986, three years before the first AIDS fatality in the country, and the situation is under control. UNAIDS has named Burma its next priority country in Asia.
"Myanmar AIDS Epidemic Second Worst in Asia after Cambodia, " Deutsche Presse Agentur, 2 April 1999 "Burma Rejects UNfears of AIDS Epidemic, " The Nation, 12 Apr 1999.

April 1999

The Last Word


What Others Have to S a y About Burma
"In good times we can simply send migrants home when"We are at a crossroads. We know that drugs are wrong, but how do we get out and survive financially and politi- ever neccessary but in dificult times we cannot send them cally in Burma." Statement by a senior officer in the United home or away at will because we are dealing with human Wa State Army (USWA) about the dilemma of the USWA, just beings and human tragedies," Thai Deputy Foreign Minister previous to a meeting between the drug producing group and Sukhumbhand Paribatra at the International Symposium on Migration in Bangkok starting April 21, 1999 SPDC Secretary 1, Lt-Gen Khin Nyunt

"We're very concerned about the human side and the human [rights] record of Burma. We have to deal somehow with [the military junta] and we have to try to impress upon ASEAN member countries that they themselves will have to influence Rangoon on this matter." German ambassador to Thailand Herman Erath speaking on the behalf of the of his country which hold's the European Union presidency on the continual conflict with ASEAN over Burma's presence in meetings between the two blocks.

"Whenever they want to go back they can always go back because they have their homes and families in our country. Let me assure you, we will not take action against them," Deputy FMKhin Maung Win inviting migrants to come back to Burma during the three-day International Symposium on Mirgration in Bangkok.

"Unocal's pipeline project is in a civil war zone, Unocal knew, or should have known, that the pipeline would lead to human rights violations or death." ACalifornia activist explaining why Unocal's corporate Charter should be revoked.

"Because we have no option. We cannot go back to Burma and we cannot stay in Thailand. We must choose our own way for our future. If I could go back to Burma with a guarantee of being a political activist, I'm sure I would not have chosen the refugee way." Former All Burma Students Democratic Front member anu resident of the "safe area " at Baan Maniloi in Ratchaburi province on why he chose to apply for asylum outside of Thailand.

"We understand the complexities and sensitivities, but we feel very comfortable with our role in the Myanmar project and some of the changes and benefits that we have brought to the pipeline region," Unocal spokesman, Micke Thatcher, defending the involvement of the California based oil giant in Burma.

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