LMSDossier 4-03 Birmanie EN by tyndale

VIEWS: 3 PAGES: 12

									Trade Union




                                                                                                                 U

                                                                                                                        C
                                                                                                                        C
                                                                                                               FT


                                                                                                                          IIS
                                                                                                              IC




                                                                                                                             LL
World                                                         Briefing                                                  IB




                                                                                                                   SL
                                                                                                                           FG




                                                                                                                IO
                                                                                                              C
INTERNATIONAL CONFEDERATION OF FREE TRADE UNIONS | ICFTU | JUNE 2003 | Nº4



                                    Burma:
                                  terror rules
The generals of the military dictatorship that is crushing Burma have a simple objective: to
stay in power and enrich themselves by any means. They have transformed Burma, which was
once a prosperous nation, into a developing country. The civil population is subjected to all
forms of human rights violations: forced labour, arbitrary arrests, torture and execution are
all deployed to quell the slightest protest by the 47 million Burmese, 2 million of whom have
already fled to Thailand. With half of the State budget earmarked for the army, this once
wealthy nation has been bled white. The ICFTU, which has ceaselessly denounced the very se-
rious human and trade union rights violations in the country, maintains that no connivance
with the Burmese regime can be justified. And it is calling for a halt to all foreign investment
and the withdrawal of those multinationals present in the country which, like TotalFinaElf,
are providing the dictatorship with foreign currency reserves enabling it to maintain its iron
grip on the country. Report and personal accounts.



A people exploited at will
Burma’s massive use of
forced labour by its citizens
has earned the country re-
peated international con-
demnation. However, the
military regime’s negative
attitudes have so far pre-
vented any major reductions
in forced labour.




T
           his is a major concern for
           the ICFTU. Not a single day
           goes by in Burma without
           the army forcing hundreds
           of thousands of men,
women, children and even the elderly
to work against their will, generally
without payment. The work ranges
from road and railway construction and
maintenance, to serving as messengers            Women, children and old people: no-one is spared from forced labour in
for troops and labouring in the fields           Burma. (Photo: KHRG)
confiscated by the army from farmers.
                                                                                       In most cases the forced workers have to
Abbreviations used                                                                     bring their own equipment and food
FTUB: Federation of Trade Unions-Burma                                                 with them. The most dreaded form of
FTUK: Federation of Trade Unions Kawthoolei                                            forced labour is that of “army porters”,
NLD: National League for Democracy                                                     who carry very heavy loads of weapons
SPDC: State Peace and Development Council
                                                                                       and supplies for hours on end through
SLORC: State Law and Order Restoration Council
ASEAN: Association of Southeast Asian Nations                                                          ☛ CONTINUED ON PAGE 2
| 2 | TRADE UNION WORLD | BRIEFING | JUNE 2003 | Nº4




☛ CONTINUED FROM PAGE 1
the hills, sometimes across combat
zones. Starved, beaten or even killed if
they can no longer keep up or if they
try to escape, the porters also have to
walk in front of the soldiers, so they are
the first to stumble over anti-personnel
mines. They are even used as human
shields during exchanges of fire.
Women and children are not spared
this form of work either, though it is
mainly men who are requisitioned.
    It has taken years for the military
regime to recognise the existence of
forced labour, though now it is confirm-
ing that it is taking place “against its
wishes”! The SPDC claims that it is issu-
ing orders to stop the use of forced
labour, but that it does not “always”
manage to get these orders applied by
local army officers. Maung Maung,
General Secretary of the FTUB explains:
“When a high-level ILO delegation
went to Burma, the SPDC had already
implemented a detailed plan to ensure
that every village was informed about        The most feared type of forced labour is portering: porters are beaten or
its likely arrival. The local inhabitants    even killed by soldiers if they fail to keep up. (Photo: KHRG)
knew they should reply “no” if foreign-
ers asked them whether there was any
forced labour. There is nothing to stop      and far between.”                          necessary measures to ensure the quick
the regime setting up a similar informa-                                                and effective eradication of forced
tion campaign highlighting their orders      ILO ESCORT TOO CLOSE                       labour in the country, and be provided
to stop forced labour, but the truth is      FOR COMFORT                                with all essential means and support to
that it does not intend to implement                                                    that effect. Whilst the officer and her
those orders and simply wants to make           Bowing to international pressure, in
                                                                                        assistant are indeed allowed to move
the international community believe it       March 2002 the dictatorship agreed to
                                                                                        freely around the country, they are ac-
is addressing the problem. Examples of       the posting of an ILO liaison officer in
                                                                                        companied by an escort ostensibly
punishment of army officers who im-          Burma. According to the agreement          charged with ensuring their safety. In
posed forced labour on civilians are few     that person would be allowed to take all   her report to the last ILO Governing
                                                                                        Body meeting the liaison officer, Mrs.
                                                                                        Perret-Nguyen, stressed that in accor-
                                                                                        dance with prior arrangements she was
                                                                                        escorted, on her freely arranged visits,
                                                                                        by a police car which kept a good dis-
 Porter pushed off a cliff for               such murders by SPDC troops: one           tance from her own vehicle and waited
 falling sick                                because the porter had tried to            at the entrance to villages she visited.
                                                                                        However, she was “concerned” at hav-
                                             escape and the other because the
                                                                                        ing been closely followed by 2 men on a
 Udahdi, a 46-year old Karen, is the         man was ill and could no longer            motorbike, who attempted to listen in
 father of three children and has            carry his load – he was pushed off a       on private conversations she held with
 been a refugee for 6 months in              cliff by a soldier. I was a porter but     local people, despite her protests and
 Thailand. Forced labour was the                                                        interventions by her police escorts.
                                             other people in my village were
 main reason for his decision to leave                                                     So has international pressure helped
                                             forced to repair army buildings, or
 on foot, with his wife, children and                                                   reduce the use of forced labour? “In a
                                             to build or repair roads, etc. To          sense, yes”, replies Maung Maung.
 grandmother, and cover the 30 kilo-
                                             avoid doing forced labour we had           “When a team of ILO experts arrived in
 metres of mountains separating his                                                     the Mandalay region, forced labour was
                                             to pay fines to the local authorities
 village from the Thai border: “I was                                                   stopped there for the duration of the
                                             of 500 kyats (about 50 US cents)
 called on roughly once a month to                                                      visit, but shortly afterwards it was re-
 do forced labour as a porter in             per day to avoid working in a camp,        sumed. Now the attention of the ILO
                                             1000 a day to avoid building work,         Burma office seems to be focusing more
 Burma, and it lasted 5, 10 or 15
                                                                                        on the border region, where they have
 days, or even up to a month.                and over 1000 a day to avoid work-
                                                                                        noted a reduction in forced labour. So it
 During that time I couldn’t look            ing as a porter. Often 15-year old         has not stopped in practice, and the
 after my field, of course. If a porter      children have to go and work, for          FTUB is regularly getting videos and
 tried to escape and was captured he         example when their fathers are ill or      photos of forced labour, along with
                                                                                        copies of orders from army officers issu-
 would be killed. I witnessed two            have died”.
                                                                                        ing orders for forced workers”. The
                                                                          TRADE UNION WORLD | BRIEFING | JUNE 2003 | Nº4 | 3 |




ILO’s liaison officer also stresses in her
report that even though the orders pro-
                                              A breakthrough at last?                    carrying out a pilot project” involv-
hibiting forced labour have been widely                                                  ing the building of a road. The
(though unevenly) distributed, they           The International Labour                   other components of the plan con-
have a limited impact in practice. The        Organisation (ILO) announced on            sist of finding ways of replacing
army officers sometimes try to camou-         14 May that it had reached an
flage the use of forced labour by paying                                                 forced labour and starting an
                                              agreement with Burma to appoint a          awareness-raising campaign. Mr
very low wages to some workers, or by
issuing requisition orders orally. They       facilitator charged with helping the
                                                                                         Somavia stated, at the annual
also avoid using it in areas with a rela-     victims of forced labour to obtain
                                                                                         International Labour Conference
tively large international presence, such     compensation. In a letter to U Tin
as the capital Rangoon.                                                                  wich opened in early June in
                                              Winn, the Minister of Labour, the
                                                                                         Geneva, that he wanted to examine
                                              Director-General of the ILO Juan
GOVERNMENT MAKING NO ALTER-                                                              with the Burmese delegation the
NATIVE PROVISIONS TO FORCED                   Somavia welcomed this official
LABOUR                                        agreement negotiated with                  practical implementation of this
   The very large sums of money allo-         Rangoon. He asked the military             plan. That includes the ILO’s request
cated by the government to its army           regime to implement the promised           that Rangoon establish an effective
(49% of the state budget in 1998/99) are      action plan “as soon as possible”,         verification system for assessing
diluted on their way down the hierar-
                                              including “choosing a venue for            alleged cases of forced labour.
chy. In practice the funds scarcely reach
most ordinary soldiers, who are under-
paid and underfed and consequently
supplement their income by preying on
civilians. As long as this method of dis-    the border there are hardly any roads       also in Mandalay for the Upper Burma
tributing the military budget is used it     and the battalions stationed there have     region and Moulmein for Lower Bur-
will be very hard to reduce forced           very few helicopters and use civilians to   ma), each with a phone line that
labour and the abuses carried on by the      carry their equipment through the jun-      Burmese people could call, in their own
soldiers. An international official based    gle”. Mrs. Perret-Nguyen’s report also      language and on a 24-hour basis, to sig-
in Rangoon stated that there is “cur-        stresses that the government has not        nal any cases of forced labour that crop
rently no basis for reducing the use of      provided any alternatives for those peo-    up. Up till now the ILO only has one of-
forced labour” and that it “really isn’t                                                 fice, in Rangoon. The FTUB has passed
                                             ple currently responsible for imposing
acceptable for soldiers to be using fields                                               on the contact details of this office via
                                             forced labour.
confiscated from civilians as a source of                                                various foreign radio programmes that
food for themselves. The same applies           To improve the chances of signifi-       can be picked up in Burma, but people
to the army’s use of porters: most sol-      cantly reducing the scale of forced         are scared to go there directly.
diers are not forcing civilians to work      labour, the FTUB would like the ILO to         Unless there is a change of heart by
because they enjoy doing so but be-          open several permanent offices in sensi-    the government, there is no chance of
cause they do not have proper transport      tive parts of the country (i.e. in Ran-     significantly reducing the amount of
available. In mountainous regions near       goon for the Delta and Pegu region, but     forced labour in Burma. ●




Aung San Suu Kyi arrested once again
Military junta confirms ar-                  government, the violence led to four        SPDC has acknowledged that Aung San
rest of opposition leader for                deaths and dozens of injured persons,       Suu Kyi has been under arrest since 31
                                             but the opposition groups say that          May. It maintains that this is a tempo-
her own “protection”                         dozens of people died in the violence.      rary measure whose only purpose is to


A
        ung San Suu Kyi, a Nobel Peace          Since it is impossible for foreign       “protect her” from fresh outbursts of vi-
        Prize winner and leader of the       journalists to work normally in Burma       olence. This argument is hard to accept,
        National League for Democracy        and very difficult to communicate with      given the ultra-repressive policies pur-
(NLD), the main anti-junta opposition        that country, it is hard to gain an accu-   sued by the dictatorship – especially
movement in Burma, has once again            rate assessment of what exactly hap-        since it has not said how long she will
been placed under arrest. She was last       pened on 31 May. According to eyewit-       remain under arrest.
detained for 19 months (ending in May        ness testimony collected by opposition         Since 31 May the NLD’s offices in
2002), but since then had been allowed       leaders in exile, State Peace and Devel-
                                                                                         Rangoon and dozens of others around
                                             opment Council (SPDC) henchmen
to leave the capital of Rangoon on sev-                                                  the country have been closed down by
                                             urged certain individuals (disguised as
eral occasions. This time, Aung San Suu                                                  the SPDC, senior officials have been ar-
                                             monks and students) to attack the con-
Kyi was in the northern part of the          voy which included the car in which         rested or placed under house arrest, and
country on a one-month trip to meet          Aung San Suu Kyi was travelling. It is      phone lines have been cut. Levels of
with local people and attend the open-       rumoured that the Nobel Peace Prize         trust between the SPDC and the NLD -
ing of NLD regional offices. During the      laureate was injured during the attack,     thoroughly weakened in recent months
trip clashes broke out on 31 May be-         but this has been denied by the govern-     due to the impasse in the dialogue be-
tween supporters of the NLD and fol-         ment and so far cannot be confirmed by      gun after Aung San Suu Kyi was last re-
lowers of the junta. According to the        independent sources. However, the           leased - has plummeted to zero. ●
| 4 | TRADE UNION WORLD | BRIEFING | JUNE 2003 | Nº4




Climate of terror
As with all dictatorships, the                 aware that this foreigner is a journalist,     the country and the rate of prisoners be-
Burmese regime survives in                     photographer, social researcher or so          ing released has considerably slowed in
                                               forth.                                         recent months. During each crisis or oc-
part due to its reign of ter-                                                                 currence which may encourage the peo-
                                                   The Burmese are therefore constantly
ror over the population.                       under surveillance, and all of them are        ple to rebel (food crisis, banking crisis,
There are neighbours spying                    afraid of one day ending up on the             etc.), the SPDC also takes care to erect
on each another and black                      ‘black list’ of people the SPDC advises        barb wire in sensitive areas of the cities,
                                               avoiding. Being on the dictatorship’s          to make their intentions clear, ‘just in
lists as well as the threat of
                                               records does not always involve going to       case’. “I am not sure that all these meas-
torture and execution loom-                                                                   ures are absolutely necessary”, a
                                               prison but can mean that people lose
ing over those who – even                      their means of subsistence. For example,       Burmese        scientist     living     in
verbally – oppose the                          a shopkeeper will find that his cus-           Rangoon comments. “For the vast ma-
regime.                                        tomers are warned by the regime’s              jority of people living in this country,
                                               henchmen that it would be better for           their main concern is simply staying


K
        nowing the nature of the regime,       them to avoid shopping in his store, a         alive one more week. Believe you me, it
        foreigners landing in Burma            teacher loses his job, a tourist guide his     is anything but easy with the sort of in-
        might expect to have regular           licence, a father, even, the right to enroll   comes we receive. As for political
sightings of soldiers and police officers      his child in a university and so on.           protests, everyone who has tried it has
on the streets of Rangoon or in the            “Since my husband and I were active in         been killed, imprisoned or forced to go
tourist areas they will visit. But there are   opposing the government in the politi-         into exile abroad. It makes you think.”
none: as a rule, the forces of Burma’s         cal arena, our son was unable to find             In its desire to control the freedom of
military junta, the SPDC, are relatively       regular employment in Burma and so he          expression of an entire people, the SPDC
discrete in the areas popular with for-        had to emigrate to Thailand”, explains         has gone as far as committing a major
eign tourists. Despite the small number        Khin, a 50-year-old woman living in the        new political blunder this year: it
of police and soldiers visible on the          Shan State (see page 8). “Personally, I        bugged the room in which the Special
streets of Rangoon or in tourist areas, all    was beaten by the soldiers of an ethnic        Rapporteur on Myanmar from the UN
Burmese people are constantly being            army who signed a cease-fire agreement         Human Rights Commission, Paulo Ser-
watched. In every village and on every         with the SPDC. They tied me up and             gio Pinheiro, was meeting with political
street in urban centres, one or more peo-      dragged me behind a car, and beat me           prisoners from the Insein prison in Ran-
ple close to the SPDC are responsible for      harshly on the neck. I still suffer from       goon. Realising that there were listening
monitoring the activities of other resi-       the after-effects of these beatings but I      devices, the rapporteur announced on
dents: Do they speak out against the           have no money for treatment.”                  24 March that he was cutting short his
government? Are they meeting with op-              Several laws severely repress any at-      mission. This was a further setback for
ponents of the government? Do they             tempt to use freedom of expression to          the regime, since Pinheiro had been a
have contact with foreigners? Befriend-        even mildly criticise the SPDC. Accord-        dialogue partner who favoured the soft-
ing a foreigner is not a crime in itself in    ing to Amnesty International, 1,200 po-        ly-softly approach rather than con-
Burma unless the SPDC later becomes            litical prisoners continue to be held in       frontation. ●




Wasted youth
Burma always used to place                                                                    earn 3,500 kyats per month (around
a strong emphasis on educa-                                                                   $3.5). The owner provides room and
                                                                                              board. Some day I hope to be able to
tion but today it is reduced                                                                  save enough to buy my own teashop
to watching its children                                                                      and employ others”. If nothing
work from dawn until dusk                                                                     changes in Burma between now and
to help their families sur-                                                                   then, those employees will undoubted-
                                                                                              ly be children too: in the economic
vive.
                                                                                              context created by bad management


T
       he small chairs on the teashop                                                         on the part of the military, most
       terraces are in high demand                                                            Burmese are quite used to seeing chil-
       among the Burmese. Day and                                                             dren working.
night, they squeeze in to unwind, and                                                            Myo is still lucky enough to ‘only’
day and night they are served by chil-                                                        have to work six hours a day in a rela-
dren. “I left my village because my par-                                                      tively safe environment. Opposite the
ents couldn’t make ends meet”, ex-                                                            infamous Insein prison, where many
plains Myo, a waiter in a Rangoon                                                             political prisoners are held, a teashop
teashop. Although he is 13 years old,          Myo, 13 years old, has come to                 employs a 14-year-old waiter who
he barely looks eight. “I work here            work as a waiter in Rangoon                    works seven days a week, from 6 a.m.
every day from 12 noon until 6 p.m. or         because his parents could no                   until 11 p.m., for 4,500 kyats a month.
from 5 p.m. until 2 in the morning. I          longer pay his school fees (Photo: S.G.)       “I have no choice: my father is dead
                                                                         TRADE UNION WORLD | BRIEFING | JUNE 2003 | Nº4 | 5 |




and I have three brothers and sisters.
My mother cannot feed us all unless
we work”. Even worse than this: in a
glass factory on the outskirts of Ran-
goon, children start work at the age of
14 for 300 kyats (around $0.3) per day,
with absolutely no protective gear al-
though they work with molten glass all
day long. In the same workshop,
women return to work only days after
giving birth, keeping an eye on their
babies who sit in the heat and dust a
few metres from the ovens.

LARGEST NUMBER OF CHILD
SOLDIERS IN THE WORLD
   The worst forms of child labour are
widespread in Burma, which has not
ratified ILO Convention No.182 on
this issue. Forced recruitment of chil-
dren into the army is a common prac-
tice. According to a report by Human
Rights Watch published in 2002, Bur-
ma has the largest number of child sol-
diers in the world with around 20% of
Tatmadaw forces (the name of the
Burmese army) made up of youths un-         The arrival of tourists in Burma is a direct source of income for the regime,
der 18 (1).                                 though also for a few small businesses. Here, in Pegu, an 11-year old boy
   Boys aged as young as 11 or 12 are
                                            is sorting out some souvenirs he will try to sell to tourists, to help out his
taken away by recruiters while waiting
                                            parents. He has only had two years schooling. (Photo: S.G.)
alone at bus stops or train stations or
elsewhere and are forced to learn to
fight before joining battalions. They
are severely punished if they try to es-    and the quality of food), not to men-       hotbeds of protest against the govern-
cape; sometimes they are beaten to          tion other costs. Most of the teachers      ment, as was seen in the 1980s. They
death. “I have seen children aged 13        therefore only give a brief lesson on       had been reopened in June 2000, but
and 14 in the army”, explains a former      the theory during normal class hours        on 2 June 2003, the start of a new
porter, now a refugee in northern Thai-     so that pupils are forced to take their     term, they were again closed for an in-
land. “One day, I had a chance to           evening classes which cost $3 to $6 per     definite period after violence erupted
speak to one of them and he started to
                                            month per pupil. Some parents hold          in the north of the country (see page
cry when he told me his story. He was
                                            down two jobs (for example working          3). Since 2000, lesson times had been
press-ganged into the army. His par-
                                            during the day and then driving a taxi      cut back considerably, partly to cater
ents weren’t even told and don’t know
                                            at night) to offer their children an edu-   for the large number of students who
where he is. Child soldiers have to car-
                                            cation, but that becomes very difficult     had been going there for several years.
ry weapons which are far too heavy for
                                            if the number of children increases.
them, and walk long distances. They                                                     There is a lack of teachers in sciences
                                            Furthermore, the prospects for finding
are beaten by the officers if they can-                                                 and foreign languages because they
                                            a job after earning a qualification re-
not keep up. We were often beaten by                                                    prefer to work in the private sector
                                            main dim for the moment. As a result,
soldiers, including children, but I don’t                                               where qualified people can earn a de-
                                            according to government figures for
blame them, it’s their superiors who                                                    cent salary. ‘Small gifts’ from students
                                            1999, only 75% of children aged 5 to 9
are making them do it”.                                                                 are most welcome during exam time
                                            go to school, 35% of those 10-13 and
                                            barely 26% of 14-15 year olds!              and even essential in certain subjects if
FORCED TO TAKE EVENING CLASSES                                                          students want to receive a diploma
   Many children also work as domes-                                                    whose value, given the type of system,


                                                C
                                                       hild soldiers
tics and in the construction and agri-                                                  is more than dubious.
culture sectors. The vast majority of
                                                       have to carry
                                                       weapons which                       This is the result of the policy of a
Burmese dream of sending their chil-
                                                                                        government which spends six times
dren to school but the indirect costs of        are far too heavy for
                                                                                        less on education than it does on its
schooling are too high, even for pri-           them, and walk long                     army. ●
mary education, and salaries too low to
                                                distances. They are
ensure the survival of households.                                                      (1) There are presently around 450,000 men
Aside from uniforms and school sup-             beaten by the officers
                                                                                         in the Tatmadaw, which is one of the largest
plies, the pupils need to pay towards           if they cannot keep                          armies in Southeast Asia despite the fact
the teachers’ income: primary school            up.                                         there is no external threat to the country.
teachers earn just $5 per month, sec-                                                      Note:This year, the ICFTU will publish a re-
ondary school teachers between $6              The higher the level of education,       port on the situation of Burmese children liv-
and $8 while a minimum of $50 to            the worse the situation gets. Universi-         ing in Burma and as refugees in Thailand.
$100 is needed each month to feed a         ties were regularly shut during the           You can order it from in advance by writing
family in Burma (depending on its size      1990s to curb the development of new              to press@icftu.org or by mail to ICFTU .
| 6 | TRADE UNION WORLD | BRIEFING | JUNE 2003 | Nº4




Foreign businesses support
government
Foreign investment in Burma
contributes to the harsh re-
alities which the Burmese
people suffer every day, in-
cluding forced labour. Never-
theless, companies continue
to endure the difficulties im-
posed by poor management
of the country and exploit
Burmese workers to the full.


I
    n the late 1980s, the military dicta-
    torship decided to open Burma up to
    foreign investors. It is reaping direct
benefits: part of the currency brought in
by investors falls into the hands of the
dictators through bribes, the purchase
of licences (for a phone line, fax, elec-
tricity, etc.), the unfavourable exchange
rate applied to official transactions or
via other ploys. This desire to attract
foreign investment has been used as jus-
tification for forced labour, as con-         Leading clothing manufacturers can get Burmese factories to produce
demned by the FTUB in its report on
                                              their labels at extremely low prices: the wage of non-skilled workers is no
the Burmese economy in June 2002: “In
                                              more than 10 to 15 dollars per month in some firms. (Photo: S.G.)
developing infrastructure for both the
tourist and the oil and gas industries,       who are collaborating with the gener-       Malaysia and Indonesia as well as from
the junta has extensively used forced         als.”                                       the United Kingdom, the United States,
labour under extremely harsh condi-                                                       France, the Netherlands, Japan and
                                                 The main areas in which foreigners
tions. Fees and profits from tapping                                                      South Korea (1). The FTUB report ex-
Burma’s natural gas resources go              invest in Burma are energy (gas and oil),   plains that since 1990, while ASEAN
straight to the generals. Some hotel          the manufacturing sector, hotels,           countries pledged to invest $4.26 bil-
projects are also in partnership with the     tourism, real estate and mining. In-        lion and Western countries $2.89 bil-
generals, and front companies reported-       vestors mainly come from ASEAN coun-        lion, the latter invested 80% of what it
ly run others for major heroin dealers        tries such as Singapore, Thailand,          had promised compared with around
                                                                                          31% for the ASEAN countries. As such,
                                                                                          most foreign investment in Burma em-
                                                                                          anates from Western countries.
 Bargains for the Thai prime                  believe that. In May 2002, the Thai
 minister                                     company Shin Satellite signed a             BARRIERS TO BUSINESS
                                              contract to provide telecommunica-              Several large companies have decid-
 Relations between Burma and                  tions services for Burmese villages,        ed to withdraw from Burma in recent
                                                                                          years (Triumph, Accor, etc.), partly due
 neighbouring Thailand were                   many of which have no phone lines.
                                                                                          to the pressure of public opinion in the
 extremely strained in 2001 shortly           Shin Satellite is a company affiliated      West but also (and especially) because it
 after Prime Minister Thaksin came            to the telecommunications group             was almost impossible to operate ‘nor-
 to power in Bangkok. Some shells             Shin Corporation, which is con-             mally’ in Burma. Obstacles to the
 were even fired just north of the            trolled by Prime Minister Thaksin’s         smooth running of business included
                                                                                          fluctuations in the exchange rate: while
 border between the two countries.            family. The contract worth $12 mil-         the official rate is 6.2 kyats to the dollar,
 Since then, relations have improved          lion was signed with the semi-gov-          the black market rate which everyone in
 spectacularly – indeed to such an            ernment company Bagan Cybertech             the street uses (as well as the official bu-
 extent that at the end of 2002,              and has been implemented on the             reau de change in Rangoon’s tourist of-
                                                                                          fice!) is around 900 or 1,000 kyats to the
 Thailand tightened its stranglehold          ground in cooperation with the
                                                                                          dollar, and the rate for business transac-
 on Burmese opponents on its terri-           government company Myanmar                  tions should be around 400 kyats al-
 tory, to the satisfaction of Rangoon.        Post and Telecom. All profits there-        though there is differing information
 Are these closer relations between           fore go to the company’s military           on this (some companies with close ties
 the two governments due simply to            backers … and into Mr Thaksin’s             to the government are permitted to use
                                                                                          exchange rates which are closer to the
 diplomacy? It would very naïve to            own pocket.
                                                                                          street rate).
                                                                            TRADE UNION WORLD | BRIEFING | JUNE 2003 | Nº4 | 7 |




    There are other barriers to business,
too: the road infrastructure is extremely
                                               Priority to the army                         for ten Russian MIG-29 fighter
dilapidated, air travel within the coun-                                                    planes in 2001 (they will cost
try is not advised due to frequent acci-       The dictatorship’s official newspa-          $130 million in total).
dents, and there are regular power cuts.       per, The New Light of Myanmar,               Over the last ten years, the number
Money placed in banks cannot always            dedicates whole pages each day to
be withdrawn as banks do not always
                                                                                            of Burmese army soldiers has
                                               praising the merits of the govern-           increased by 242% from 186,000 in
have enough kyats, forcing companies
to temporarily shut their doors because        ment and its social ‘achievements’.          1988 to 450,000 in 1999. “Why do
they are unable to pay their workers.          While it may be true that the SPDC
                                                                                            they need so many soldiers?”, asks
Corruption is widespread and the repa-         has financed the opening of a
                                                                                            Min Lwin, a FTUB representative in
triation of any profits can be erratic: for    school or clinic, these are only tiny
example, since it is unable to change its                                                   Mae Sot (a Thai town on the
                                               drops in an ocean of abject poverty
kyats into dollars, a major Canadian                                                        Burmese border). “Since 17 armed
cigarette manufacturer is forced to use
                                               suffered by the Burmese people as a
                                                                                            opposition groups signed the cease-
its kyats to buy food products in Burma        result of SPDC policy. A quick
                                               glance at the State’s budget is very         fire, there are only 3 armed groups
and export them to Hong Kong, where
it resells them for dollars.                   revealing: during the period 1998-           in opposition. However, in 2002,
APPALLING WAGES                                99, the SPDC spent 49.93% of its             50 battalions were added to the
    So why do companies invest in Bur-         budget on the army, only 6.98% on            army with around 15,000 soldiers.”
ma? Among the most attractive factors          education and 2.6% on healthcare.            This means more mouths to feed
for unscrupulous companies are low             Among its major purchases, the               and more wages to pay (around $5
wages and a ban on all trade union ac-
                                               regime paid a deposit of $40 million         per month per soldier) …
tivity (see page 9). For example, the
Myanmar Joon-A International textile
company, based in Rangoon and fully
owned by South Koreans, pays its work-        and their currency, which in turn help        stop investment in the country and to
ers between 10,000 and 15,000 kyats           keep the military junta in power, to Bur-     allow democracy to be reinstated.” ●
per month, or around $10 to $15 (2). It       ma. For this reason, the ICFTU and
is impossible to have a decent standard       Burmese trade unions are supporting              (1) The Global Unions group maintains an
of living in Burma on such a salary but       the view held by Aung San Suu Kyi, the        up-to-date list of companies which have busi-
it is still three times more than a civil     leader of the National League for             ness links with the dictatorship. It is available
service employee earns. The complete          Democracy. She recently reaffirmed her                 on the Internet at http://www.global-
indifference of the Burmese govern-           call for the strictest international sanc-                                 unions.org/burma.
ment to the plight of workers also en-        tions to restore democracy to the coun-               (2) It employs 1,300 at present, mostly
courages some investors to neglect basic      try. “It is worrying to see that one of the   young women, and its South Korean director
regulations on health, safety and the         most brutal dictatorships in the world is       plans to increase the number of employees
environment. Working conditions are           continuing to receive support from for-       to 1,500 in the very near future: although or-
even worse in local companies.                eign companies,” says Guy Ryder, ICF-             ders from some European customers have
   Pitiful wages, no trade unions and         TU General Secretary. “We are asking             slowed due to fear of Burma’s image, busi-
non-application of regulations on work-       these companies to cut their ties with         ness in general is doing well with many well-
ing conditions and the environment are        Burma immediately and are calling for                known global brands sourcing jumpers,
therefore helping to attract investors        governments to take stronger action to                    sportswear, etc. from the company.




                                                                                            This 80-year old woman works ten
                                                                                            hours per day, six days a week,
                                                                                            modelling bricks in a factory in the
                                                                                            centre of Burma. She manages to
                                                                                            make about 50 bricks a day and is
                                                                                            paid 7 kyats for each. Her daily
                                                                                            wage is therefore less than half a
                                                                                            dollar. “Of course it’s not enough
                                                                                            but it helps my family a bit, she
                                                                                            says. We are living in poverty. The
                                                                                            workshop is badly lit and there is a
                                                                                            lot of dust. My eyes are always
                                                                                            hurting”. No unions, no labour
                                                                                            inspectorate and no labour legisla-
                                                                                            tion worthy of the name… Burma
                                                                                            is a paradise for unscrupulous
                                                                                            employers but a nightmare for
                                                                                            workers. (Photo: S.G.)
| 8 | TRADE UNION WORLD | BRIEFING | JUNE 2003 | Nº4




Taxes, taxes and more taxes
The military regime in Bur-                   to 12 of the baskets are sold to it at a     Maung, General Secretary of the FTUB.
ma, the SPDC, seems to be                     price 5 to 10 times lower that the mar-      “Nothing like that has been done in
                                              ket price for rice. The government is        Burma, quite the opposite: some peas-
using the tactic of keeping                   supposed to be building up food re-          ants have been cruelly beaten by sol-
the population in abject                      serves to be distributed in times of hard-   diers because they could not sell them
poverty so that they are                      ship, but several witnesses have seen        the quota set in advance. What can
                                              lorries loaded with rice crossing Burma’s    these defenceless peasants do when
more preoccupied with daily
                                              borders, especially the border with          their crops have been destroyed by the
survival than any thoughts                    Bangladesh, and assume that at least         floods? They are terrified because if they
of rebellion.                                 some of the reserves have been export-       fail to sell the quota to the government,
                                              ed by the regime while almost every-         they are likely to lose the right to farm


“T
             he sun set long ago. Now,
                                              where in the country, people are going       their land. It’s a ridiculous system. They
             we’re waiting for the dawn”.
                                              hungry from lack of rice.                    are acting as if a farmer’s harvest can be
             Khin (1), a 50-year-old
                                                                                           predicted in the same way as industrial
women who lives in a village in the              The unfair system of selling quotas
                                                                                           production”. While top SPDC digni-
south of Shan state, is not in the habit      at reduced prices has been maintained
                                                                                           taries are gorging themselves on the
of criticising the military junta by          this year despite the fact that floods in
                                                                                           finest of fare, peasants have been forced
name, not even on a visit to her family       October and November 2002, followed          to borrow the money to buy rice which
in Thailand: given the widespread re-         by five days of continual rain in Janu-      they then sell on to the government to
pression, you can never be too careful.       ary 2003, have considerably reduced          meet their quotas. ●
However, during the two hours we              the harvests. “There have been floods in
spent with her, Khin, a sympathiser of        other countries such as Thailand but            (1) For obvious security reasons, we have
Aung San Suu Kyi’s party, the NLD, was        the government there intervened to           changed Khin’s name and are unable to give
brave enough to tell us about the litany      help those affected”, emphasises Maung                        the village where she lives.
of abuse suffered by the villagers in her
region. “We are harassed by both SPDC
soldiers and soldiers from the former
armed opposition group who signed a
cease-fire with them. Both regularly de-
mand forced labourers or donations of
rice or a few dollars per family. This
might happen once a month, every oth-
er month or sometimes several times in
the same month. It just depends. And
then there are all these taxes that the lo-
cal authorities are continually invent-
ing and which push us ever further into
poverty. For example, in January 2002,
every family had to give 10,000 kyats
(around USD 10) for building a road.
And if you have a visitor in your home,
you need to pay 50 kyats per day if it’s a
child, 100 kyats if it’s an adult. There is
a fine of 500 kyats for not reporting the
visit to the authorities. I even had to
pay for my own mother’s visit! Each
family in my village has also had to pay
10,000 kyats three times over to equip
the village with electricity but we still
have none. Where has our money
gone? It’s like the time the families had
to pay a 650-kyat contribution towards
the purchase of a fire engine: we didn’t
see hide nor hair of the fire engine but
the village head bought himself a new
car!”
    Khin’s is a good illustration of the
harassment suffered by all those living
in Burma, especially in the ethnic areas
located far from Rangoon. Throughout
the country, the government forces
peasants to sell it part of their harvests
at considerably lower than market
price. Using this system, the quotas of
products to be sold are set even before
harvesting has taken place. This means
that if an acre (0.4 hectares) of paddy-
fields produces 30 to 40 baskets of rice
(one basket of rice weighs around 23 kg)
                                              To attract foreign tourists, the dictatorship has repaired a large number of
per harvest, the SPDC demands that 10
                                              historical sites, using forced labour. (Photo: S.G.)
                                                                            TRADE UNION WORLD | BRIEFING | JUNE 2003 | Nº4 | 9 |




Merciless repression of trade unions
T
        he non-respect of union rights in
        Burma is straightforward: unions
        are prohibited in law and collec-
tive bargaining does not exist. The mili-
tary junta uses sackings, detentions and
even torture to prevent any attempts at
protest. Free trade unions, such as the in-
dependent Federation of Trade Unions-
Burma (FTUB) and the Kawthoolei Edu-
cation Workers’ Union (KEWU) therefore
have to operate underground. When cap-
tured, their leaders are sentenced to
heavy prison terms or assassinated. On 4
August 2002, U Saw Mya Than, a mem-
ber of the FTUB and of the KEWU, was
shot dead by SPDC soldiers in retaliation
for an ambush set by forces opposed to
the regime, whilst he was being forced to
work as a porter for the SPDC. A union
leader, Than Naing, was imprisoned for
life in 1989 for playing a leading role in
forming strike committees during the
                                              Trade unionist U Myo Aung Thant (pictured here to the right of the
1988 democracy uprising, which was vio-
lently crushed by the military.
                                              General Secretary of the FTUB, Maung Maung) has been serving a life
                                              imprisonment term since 1997 on the charge of “high treason”, following
   Two members of the central Executive       confessions extracted from him under torture (Photo: FTUB)
Committee of the FTUB have been im-
prisoned since 1997. U Myo Aung Thant
was arrested with his wife and children       ties have never stated the charges under       They collect information on the working
and sentenced to life imprisonment for        which he is currently held but it is           and living conditions of workers and pass
“high treason” on trumped-up charges.         known that his case is related to that of U    it on to international trade union organi-
His conviction rested on a confession ob-     Myo Aung Thant. He is serving a 17-year        sations such as the ICFTU. “In regions
tained under torture, his trial was held in   prison sentence in Thayarwaddy prison          where it is possible, we are also organis-
secret and he had no legal counsel. His       in Pegu division and his health is poor.       ing trade union training courses”, ex-
wife was sentenced in the same trial to           Despite the repression, several            plains Dot Lay Mu, General Secretary of
ten years in prison as an accomplice to       Burmese unions have managed to pene-           the FTUK. “Inhabitants of villages are
her husband. U Kyin Kyaw, another             trate the country and conduct operations       very interested to hear what is going on
member of the central Executive Com-          there from abroad. For example, they use       elsewhere. We also explain about interna-
mittee of the FTUB was also arrested with     various foreign radio stations that can be     tional bodies defending workers’ rights,
his wife in 1997. He had already been         picked up in Burma (BBC, Radio Free            which convinces them of the importance
charged for union activities in 1993 and      Asia, Voice of America, etc.) to transmit      of the information they are passing on to
had been tortured in prison. The authori-     uncensored information to the people.          us”. ●



 Burma faces a new official com-              organisations to “apply for permission        Burmese seafarers serving on foreign
 plaint from the ICFTU to the                 to form” to the Ministry of Home and          ships, who are prevented by law from
 ILO                                          Religious Affairs. Those breaching the        contacting the London-based
                                              decree risk a five-year jail term.            International Transport Workers’
 On 28 May the ICFTU lodged a new             In practice, legislation in place after
                                                                                            Federation (ITF) in order to protect
 complaint against Burma’s military           four decades of military rule has left
                                                                                            their interests. Seafarers returning to
 government to the Committee on               the country “without any functioning
 Freedom of Association of the                industrial relations system”, says the        Burma after obtaining the settlement
 International Labour Organisation            ICFTU complaint. It adds that anyone          of back-wages with ITF assistance
 (ILO), this time for the systematic vio-     who challenges the arbitrary power            have faced imprisonment and confis-
 lation of the Convention on Freedom          of the military “faces arrest, violence       cation of their earnings.
 of Association and Protection of the         and possibly death” (see article              The complaint states that the ICFTU
 Right to Organise, ratified by Burma         above). The complete denial of trade          “believes strongly in the work of the
 in 1955. It describes in detail how the      union rights and horrendous working
                                                                                            ILO Liaison Officer that is being car-
 convention has been violated both in         conditions, especially in the export-
                                                                                            ried out in the field of forced labour
 law and practice. Various legal texts        oriented textile industry, are also
 are quoted by the ICFTU as evidence          described in the complaint, which             in Burma”. However, it adds that,
 of this violation, in particular Order       details violent repression of strikes in      “nothing sustainable and serious can
 6/88, a military decree issued on 30         several factories in recent years. It also    be achieved in this regard if … obsta-
 September 1988 which compels all             denounces the situation faced by              cles to organise are not lifted”.
| 10 | TRADE UNION WORLD | BRIEFING | JUNE 2003 | Nº4




Government burns down
hundreds of villages
A
        ccording to our sources, there       with education or medical infrastruc-        for the Karen ethnic group alone, not
        are between 600,000 and 1 mil-       ture and displaced persons are not al-       to mention other groups such as the
        lion internally displaced persons    lowed to leave the sites without a mili-     Karenni, Shans, Mons and Rohingya.
(IDPs) in Burma, the vast majority of        tary escort. Once the one-week notice        Some hide in jungle areas close to their
whom have been forced to leave their         period has elapsed, the soldiers seize the   old village where they try to return
villages by SPDC troops who use this         goods left behind by the villagers and       from time to time to cultivate what
tactic to empty and control areas popu-      destroy their houses and crops to dis-       may be left, at the risk of detonating
lated by ethnic groups reputedly hostile     suade them from returning home.              antipersonnel mines planted by the
to the government in Rangoon. In cases           A considerable number of victims of      SPDC. Living conditions in the jungle
of forced displacement, the soldiers         forced displacement attempt to escape        are, of course, extremely difficult but
generally give the inhabitants of a vil-     life in the relocation sites by hiding in    some villagers still manage to start mi-
lage one week to move by their own           the jungle where they need to be con-        ni-schools which follow them in their
means to a relocation site. This site will   tinually on the move to avoid being          movements. Several non-governmental
often be located close to military bar-      tracked down by government soldiers.         organisations and Burmese trade
racks (where the villagers are put into      No-one knows exactly how many such           unions in exile send brave members
forced labour) and consist of an expanse     jungle refugees there are, but well-in-      through the jungles with sacks of medi-
of land with absolutely no buildings.        formed non-governmental organisa-            cine and school supplies, which they
Relocation sites are rarely equipped         tions estimate the number at 120,000         hand out to the displaced persons. ●




Manhunt in the jungle
The story of Zaw, a 40-year-                                                              where my family and I were hiding.
old man, is typical of the ex-                                                            They opened fire on the shelter then
                                                                                          they burned it down. Our clothes and
perience of those Burmese
                                                                                          food were destroyed so we wandered
forcibly displaced from one                                                               like animals in the jungle eating what
region to another by the mil-                                                             we found there. My wife was pregnant
itary junta. We met Zaw in a                                                              and she was forced to give birth in the
refugee camp in Thailand.                                                                 jungle because we didn’t dare leave. She
                                                                                          did not survive labour. I was alone in


B
       efore being forcibly displaced, I                                                  the jungle with my wife and my chil-
       was a farmer and chief of the Pla-                                                 dren during the delivery and I had no
       kee village in the region where                                                    medicine to help her. All I could do was
the Karennis live. Two or three times a                                                   spread hot water over her body to help
week I would have to work as a porter                                                     but it wasn’t enough, she was too weak.
for the army, build roads, cut bamboo
                                                                                             The baby survived for six months af-
and so on. My village no longer exists
                                                                                          ter the birth but in the end he died as
because all the people living there were
forced to move elsewhere by SPDC sol-                                                     well due to lack of food. It was at this
diers. They torched the village in 1997                                                   point that I decided to cross the jungle
and ordered us to move to another                                                         to come to Thailand with my three re-
                                                                                          maining children. It was our only
place which was a day’s walk from the        Zaw has hidden in the jungle with
                                                                                          chance of survival. I was unable to do
village. They promised us they would         his family for months, in order to
                                                                                          this earlier because only one of my chil-
give us food there. In actual fact, we       escape SPDC soldiers. After his wife
were only given food for 12 days. After      died whilst giving birth deep in the         dren was old enough to walk and I
that, we had to find our own means but       jungle, he decided to flee to                would have needed to carry the others
we had no fields left to cultivate. There    Thailand (Photo: S.G.)                       which would have been impossible over
was no school and no clinic in this                                                       such a long distance. I started out when
place. The soldiers forced my family to                                                   my baby died, with two children on my
                                             weapons but no ammunition. I was ter-
stay there and told me I had to serve the                                                 back and one walking next to me. I had
                                             rified and I finally escaped into the jun-
government: sometimes I had to do                                                         no map but a man gave me directions. I
                                             gle.
construction work or return with them                                                     tried to remember how many moun-
to my former village to try to find vil-        My family, who could no longer car-       tains and valleys I had to cross and
lagers who had stayed in vicinity, hid-      ry on because they were given nothing        where to change direction to reach
ing in the jungle. There were sometimes      to eat, joined me in the jungle. We were     Thailand. I got lost several times. After
skirmishes with soldiers from the Karen-     continually on the run because the           travelling for a month, we arrived here
ni army and one of my friends from the       SPDC troops shoot villagers hiding in        in 1999. My children are now safe and
village was killed in one of these inci-     the jungle and destroy our huts. One         well. They can go to school in the
dents. The SPDC soldiers had given us        day, soldiers discovered the shelter         refugee camp where we live. ●
                                                                          TRADE UNION WORLD | BRIEFING | JUNE 2003 | Nº4 | 11 |




Healthcare system in death throes
The desperate lack of invest-                 bribes for the doctors and so on. An op-       Doctors from this hospital, com-
ment in healthcare and doc-                   eration in a public hospital is supposed    pletely demotivated by their salary and
                                              to be free but patients rarely leave hav-   working conditions, have no idea of
tor training is responsible                   ing paid less than $100, an astronomi-      how diseases such as AIDS are transmit-
for thousands of deaths each                  cal sum in a country where the month-       ted despite the fact they left university
year in Burma.                                ly salary of government employees is        barely three years ago. They refuse to set
                                              around $5.                                  foot in the women’s prison near to their

W
            ith barely 2.6 % of the na-
            tional government’s budget            Aid from non-governmental organi-       hospital which they are supposed to su-
            dedicated to the healthcare       sations remains limited in Burma due        pervise because they say “all the women
sector, nobody expects miracles: Burma        both to restrictions imposed on NGOs        in that prison are carrying the AIDS
is one of the worst countries in Asia to      by the SPDC on extending their activi-      virus. We don’t dare touch them in case
be a patient. Life expectancy was             ties and to international condemnation      they contaminate us”. This is, of course,
55.8 years for the period 1995-2000 and       of the regime. The death throes of the      completely wrong but how can you
infant mortality 78 per 1000 in 2000 (1)      public sector have led to the develop-      blame these young doctors for being in-
- and these are only a few of the statis-     ment of small private clinics, mainly in    competent when many of their course
tics indicative of a poor healthcare sys-     the towns. They are often held by doc-      books date from as far back as 1948 and
tem. Looking inside an average public         tors from public hospitals seeking to       they have no access to up-to-date docu-
hospital (normally forbidden to foreign-      improve their income in the evening or      mentation using new technology? And
ers) gives an idea of just how much is        during working hours, but the quality       as if the lack of training were not
needed: there is for instance no free         of care and medicine they sell leaves       enough, doctors can not search for basic
medicine, no blood bank, no laborato-         much to be desired. “We earn 7,500 ky-      scientific information since the
ry, electricity, drinking water or ambu-      ats (around $7.50) per month”, explain      Burmese government has banned al-
lance, no sheets, pillows or bedcovers,       two doctors from a public hospital near     most the entire population from access-
few staff (and those who are there are        Rangoon. “We can earn eight or ten          ing the Internet. ●
unmotivated). When a surgical opera-          times more by working in a large pri-
tion is performed, the patient has to pay     vate hospital but the government will            (1) Source: UNDP, Human Development
for the needles, the thread for stitches,     not let us resign”.                                                       Report 2002




Will the generals enforce
the death penalty?
B
        urma produces between half and
        two-thirds of the world’s opium
        and heroin. It is also a major pro-
ducer of amphetamines. The quantity
of drugs produced in Burma has explod-
ed since the SLORC (predecessor to the
SPDC) came to power in 1988. Drugs
are destined not only for local con-
sumption but also (especially) for ex-
port. Thailand, in particular, is com-
plaining about the large quantities of
amphetamines distributed across its ter-
ritory from Burma. Amphetamie abuse
is rife amongst Thai teenagers. Accord-
ing to the FTUB, around 60% of heroin
brought to the United States originates
in Burma (1).
   Smallholders improve their standard
of living a little by producing poppies,
but it is mainly the major traffickers        On many placards in Burma the dictators threaten drug traffickers with the
that fill their pockets as well as the gen-   death sentence. In fact, they themselves are the guilty parties (Photo: S.G.)
erals who protect them. Burma’s most
infamous drugs baron Khun Sa, and his
                                              avail. In the meantime, there are large     also seem to be cultivating a certain
associate Wei Hsueh-Kang, enjoy a
peaceful existence in Rangoon where           notices all over the streets of Rangoon     sense of self-mockery about their activi-
they carry out their business activities.     announcing that “Drug trafficking a se-     ties … ●
The United States is pressuring the           rious crime which may lead to the
Burmese government to hand over               death penalty”. As well as poppies, the       (1) Source: FTUB, Economic Report on Bur-
these two major traffickers but to no         regime leaders who put up these notices                                 ma, June 2002.
| 12 | TRADE UNION WORLD | BRIEFING | JUNE 2003 | Nº4




41 years of dictatorship
Where do the dictators in                                                                      ment of democracy, the lead-
power in Burma come from?                                                                      ers of China and the ASEAN
                                                                                               (2) countries have chosen a
What support do they have?                                                                     policy of ‘constructive engage-
We provide some answers to                                                                     ment’ with the military
these questions by glancing                                                                    regime, allowing their busi-
through the country’s turbu-                                                                   nessmen to land lucrative con-
lent history.                                                                                  tracts. In particular, China
                                                                                               sells several million dollars


B
       urma gained independence from                                                           worth of arms each year to
       the United Kingdom in Janu-                                                             Burma in addition to another
       ary 1948 after lengthy negotia-                                                         billion dollars worth of con-
tions led by General Aung San, who was                                                         sumer goods (as long as this
assassinated six months before inde-                                                           economic relationship is
pendence. A parliamentary democracy                                                            maintained, the regime’s lead-
was set up after a fashion despite the ac-                                                     ers may feel they have little to
tivity of numerous rebel movements. In                                                         fear from calls originating in
1962, a military coup led by General Ne                                                        Europe and US for economic
Win overturned the government. The                                                             sanctions). Relations with
new regime set its country on the
                                                                                               some neighbours have, at
‘Burmese Way to Socialism’, which led
                                                                                               times, become strained. This
to economic catastrophe and was cou-
                                             The Nobel Peace Prize winner and opposi-          was the case with Thailand
pled with a drastic reduction in civil       tion leader Aung San Suu Kyi, advocates           when the Burmese army
and political rights. In 1987 and 1988,      passive resistance and calls for stronger         crossed the Thai border to at-
there were mass demonstrations calling       economic sanctions against the regime.            tack Burmese refugee camps
for the departure of Ne Win. He retired      She was again arrested on 31 May 2003.            situated a few kilometres
in July 1988, but it was too late to quell
                                                                                               away, and with Malaysia and
popular unrest. The demonstrations
                                             ated State Law and Order Restoration     Indonesia following continual Burmese
continued, including one particular
                                             Council (more widely know as the         repression of Rohingya Muslims in the
demonstration on 8 August 1988 during
                                             SLORC) introduced martial law. It aban-  Rakhaing State. However, these dis-
which the military opened fire on a
                                             doned the ‘Burmese Way to Socialism’     agreements are always resolved: eco-
crowd of unarmed protestors. The exact
                                             and opened up the economy to the pri-    nomic interests necessitate it. ●
number of deaths brought about by this
                                             vate sector and foreign investment.
reckless act of repression will never be
                                                 Elections were organised in 1990, the           (1) There are currently only three ethnic
known, but it certainly runs into the
                                                                                                 armies still opposing the Tatmadaw (the
thousands. The army stayed in power          first for over 30 years. They resulted in a
                                                                                           name given to the Burmese army): the Karen
and in September 1988, the newly cre-        landslide victory for the NLD (National
                                                                                              National Union, the Karenni National Pro-
                                             League for Democracy), founded by
                                                                                                 gressive Party and the Shan State Army-
                                             Aung San Suu Kyi, the daughter of Aung        South. These three groups no longer control
                                             San, which walked away with 392 of the         the swathes of territory they did in the past
 Burma or Myanmar?                           485 seats to be filled despite a series of     but rather tend to carry out guerrilla activi-
                                             military manoeuvres. The army did not          ties against SPDC soldiers who are afraid to
 Following the demonstrations in             respect the verdict. It invaded the of-            venture beyond the major roads in many
 1988, one of the modifications              fices of the NLD and arrested its main                                           ethnic areas.
                                             leaders. In the 1990s, the dictatorship           (2) ASEAN is the Association of Southeast
 made by the dictatorship was that
                                             further consolidated its hold on power            Asian Nations. It has 10 members: Brunei
 of changing the country’s name              by winning important victories against              Darussalam, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos,
 and the names of several towns.             the Karen and Mon rebels along the             Malaysia, Myanmar (official name of Burma,
 Its argument was that a clearer             border with Thailand and by signing              see box), the Philippines, Singapore, Thai-
                                             cease-fires with 17 other armed ethnic                                     land and Vietnam.
 break was needed with the colo-
                                             groups (1). Aung San Suu Kyi has been
 nial past by choosing names
                                             awarded the most prestigious interna-
 which were closer to modern                 tional accolades, including the Nobel
 Burmese, but the democratic                 Peace Prize in 1991, but being under
 opposition does not agree with              house arrest she was unable to receive         Publisher responsble at law: Guy Ryder,
                                             them in person. In November 1997, a            General secretary
 these alterations. “Burma” has
                                             reorganisation within the regime trans-
 become “Myanmar”, a term                                                                   ICFTU
                                             formed the SLORC into the SPDC (State
 which no longer identifies the              Peace and Development Council) but in
                                                                                            5 Bld du Roi Albert II, Bte 1,
                                                                                            1210-Brussels, Belgium
 nation with a given ethnic group.           practice there was no change. Aung San         Tel:…+32 2 2240211, Fax:…+32 2 2015815
 The capital “Rangoon” has                   Suu Kyi was freed from house arrest on         E-Mail: press@icftu.org
                                             6 May 2002, but she was re-arrested on         Web Site: Http://www.icftu.org
 become “Yangon”, the town of
 “Moulmein” is now                           31 May 2003 (see page 3).
                                                                                            Editor in chief: Natacha David
 “Mawlamyine”, “Pegu” is now                    Since the 1990s, while the West has
                                                                                            Report from Burma: Samuel Grumiau
                                             exerted pressure and imposed sanctions
 “Bago” and so forth.
                                             on the junta to demand the reinstate-

								
To top