Skip to comments.West sees no evil as Burma suffers on
Posted on 06/12/2005 3:12:15 AM PDT by LwinAungSoe
Nick Mathiason says Tony Blair must keep last week's pledge to take a stand against the junta
Walk around Rangoon and you'd never guess you were living in one of the world's most brutal regimes. The military presence doesn't feel overbearing. In plain clothes, though, lurk military intelligence agents. They are everywhere. And then there are the informers on street corners and at meeting places. Burma is a country where no one can trust their neighbour. Oppose the military junta and you will be informed on and tracked down. Evade them and family members will be arrested and tortured. Rape is a weapon of control. This may be a country of 48 million people, but the army of 500,000 - accounting for half of government spending - is sovereign.
Burma, which borders Thailand, China, Laos and Bangladesh, may be rich in gems, timber, oil and gas. It may have a thriving garment industry. But the wealth is hoarded by the army generals. Nowhere on earth is less spent on health as a proportion of GDP. And no country has a greater number of child soldiers - nearly 70,000 of them - as a proportion of its population. Then there are the displaced people: 1 million living in refugee camps. And the little matter of opium: Burma is the world's second largest producer. On the few occasions when the population has risen up over the past 20 years they have been mowed down by a junta that, in the last year, has become even more hardline after a coup solidified the army's stranglehold on the country.
It's nearly 20 years since pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi won over 80 per cent of the vote in a free election that was subsequently ignored by the authorities.
For nearly 10 years now, Suu Kyi, who will be 60 next Sunday, has lived under house arrest. The closest you can get to her is a road block manned by soldiers at the end of her street.
But perhaps even more scandalous is how little fuss is made by the G7, the EU and the UN about Burma's further slide into a vicious, sweatshop nightmare.
France, whose main oil company Total has extensive interests in the country, has opposed moves to tighten lightweight European economic sanctions. The world's biggest banks have acted to help the junta circumvent US laws stopping it trading in dollars by enabling the regime to open euro accounts.
British imports from Burma have surged from £17.8m in 1997 to £74m last year. This under a Labour government which in opposition said it would do all it could to help the pro-democracy movement.
The bulk of UK imports are clothes worth £61.3m or 10 times that figure on the high street. Chances are that you have bought clothes made in a Burmese sweatshop.
The Labour government has singularly failed until now to take a lead in Europe or even attempt to table a motion in the UN urging concerted action against the authorities.
Foreign Office ministers explain this away by saying that China, which has oil and timber agreements with the Burmese government, and France would defeat such a move.
We may be living in a media age, but the trouble with Burma is that its day-to-day struggles are not recorded. Any journalist taking notes or filming in this country runs a real risk of imprisonment.
On Friday a delegation of Burmese campaigners, led by Glenys Kinnock MEP, met Tony Blair at Downing Street. They were heartily encouraged by his words.
Blair said he would put Burma on the agenda during Britain's presidency of the EU. He promised he would try to beef up the EU's so-called 'common position'. He said he would record a birthday message to Suu Kyi on the BBC World Service - her only contact with the world.
Blair's words and actions are needed by a forgotten country.
· The Burma Campaign UK suggests sending Aung San Suu Kyi a birthday card to 54 University Avenue, Bahan 11201, Yangon, Myanmar (Burma)
I have read and seen a few things about Burma over the last few years in regards to the genocide and the Police state. I will actually be visiting the country in August and will report back if on here what I see, if anything.
Vaya con dios.