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02 December 2005

Myanmar / Burma: a UN yawn in the right direction, more house arrest for Nobel Peace winner

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Myanmar -- perhaps better known by its former name Burma -- is run by a brutally oppressive military junta and has the distinction of holding a Nobel Peace Prize winner (and winner of an overruled democratic election) almost perpetually under house arrest.

From Wikipedia:

In 1990 free elections were held for the first time in almost 30 years, but the landslide victory of the NLD, the party of Aung San Suu Kyi was voided by the military, which refused to step down.

One of the top figures in Burmese history in the 20th century is Army founder and freedom figure General Aung San, a student-turned activist whose daughter is 1991 Nobel Peace Laureate and worldwide peace, freedom and democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi of the NLD, now under house arrest.


The Lonely Planet travel guide specializes in getting ambitious travellers to the farthest reaches of the Earth. Its section on Myanmar is the only entry I've ever read in Lonely Planet telling people NOT to go there.

from Lonely Planet:

Reasons Not to Go: Aung San Suu Kyi has asked tourists not to; the government used forced labour to ready tourist-related sights and services; international tourism can be seen as a stamp of approval to the Myanmar government; the government forbids travel to many areas, particularly in areas inhabited by minority groups; it's impossible to visit without some money going to the military junta (visa, departure fee, tax on purchases); and Activists claim that tourism dollars fuel government repression directly.

Reasons to Go: Tourism remains one of the few industries to which ordinary locals have access - in terms of income and communication; vast majority of locals want you there; human-rights abuses are less likely to occur in areas where the international community is present; the government stopped mandating foreigners change 200.00 into government notes upon arrival; the majority (possibly over 80%) of a careful independent traveller's expenses goes into the private sector; and Keeping the people isolated from international witnesses to internal oppression may only cement the government's ability to rule.

If You Decide to Go

In order to maximise the positive effects of a visit among the general populace, while minimising support of the government, follow these simple tactics:

Stay at private, locally owned hotels and guesthouses; Avoid package tours connected with Myanmar Travel and Tours; avoid MTT-sponsored modes of transport, such as most Yangon-Mandalay Express trains, the MTT ferry between Mandalay and Bagan, and Myanma Airways (MA) flights; buy handicrafts directly from the artisans, rather than from government shops; avoid patronising companies involved with the military-owned Myanmar Economic Holdings. Companies with solid links to the Tatmadaw (armed forces) are often called Myawadi or Myawaddy; write to the Myanmar government and to the Myanmar embassy in your country expressing your views about the human-rights situation there.


Friday 2 December 2005

UN Council backs US bid
for first Myanmar meeting

By Irwin Arieff

UNITED NATIONS, December 2 -- The Security Council agreed for the first time on Friday to discuss human rights in Myanmar after its rulers extended house arrest for opposition leader and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi for another year.

But the action, which came at Washington's request, fell short of adding the situation in the military-led Southeast Asian country to the council's formal agenda.

U.S. Ambassador John Bolton said he hoped U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan would agree to brief the 15-member council personally on Myanmar in the next few weeks.

No date was set for the closed-door briefing, which the council agreed to unanimously, and it was unclear if Annan would accept.

"I think it is quite important that the situation in Burma will now be before the council," Bolton told reporters. U.S. officials routinely refer to Myanmar as Burma, the country's name before the ruling junta changed it in 1990.

Putting the matter on the council's formal agenda would have opened the way to further discussions as well as official council statements and resolutions. But it also would have required the support of nine members if a vote was demanded.

The United States has unilaterally imposed wide-ranging sanctions on Myanmar, including a ban on most imports, and has criticized Asia-Pacific nations for not speaking out against the country's human rights record.


Algerian Ambassador Abdallah Baali, who earlier questioned the U.S. plan along with China, Russia and Japan, said the council action meant only that there would be a briefing.

"That means there is no follow-up, and we do not expect any follow-up," Baali said.

Bolton urged a long-term view, telling reporters to "keep your eyes on the prize."

The Washington-based U.S. Campaign for Burma called the move "especially significant ... because it had been widely presumed that China and Russia would refuse to participate."

The National Coalition Government of the Union of Burma, a Rockville, Maryland, group saying it represents a government in exile, called the action "but a small step forward" because the council failed to put the matter on its formal agenda.

An earlier U.S. attempt to shine a Security Council spotlight on political repression in Myanmar was rebuffed in June when Russia, backed by China and Algeria, argued the issue was outside the council's mandate to ensure international peace and security.

Bolton raised the matter again earlier this week, only to have China object it needed more time to study it.

Bolton had asked the council for the briefing in a letter expressing concern about "the deteriorating situation" in the country, which the military has ruled since 1962, ignoring a 1990 landslide election victory by Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy party.

Suu Kyi has been under house arrest since May 2003. Officials informed her last weekend of the decision to extend her detention by 12 months.

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