Date: Wed, 15 May 1996 03:12:25 GMT
Sender: Activists Mailing List <ACTIV-L@MIZZOU1.MISSOURI.EDU>
Subject: Forced Labor In Burma
/** labr.global: 202.0 **/
** Topic: Forced Labor In Burma **
** Written 11:02 AM May 11, 1996 by labornews in cdp:labr.global **
From: Institute for Global Communications <firstname.lastname@example.org>
The whole of Burma is gearing up for "Visit Myanmar Year 1996." But it is already March, and the preparations are way behind schedule. Even though the official start of the tourism year has been put back to October, authorities are worried that the country is not yet ready to receive tourists in large numbers.
Huge signboards everywhere urge the people to work together to make the project a success. In every town and city new hotels are being constructed. Roads are being repaired and widened. With dwindling foreign reserves, Burma's generals are hoping for salvation in the form of foreign tourists and their dollars, and they are desperate that everything go according to plan.
But there will be no salvation for the Burmese people. While the generals' pockets become fat with tourist dollars, it is the ordinary people whose slave labour is being exploited in the name of development. 1996 should more aptly be dubbed "Forced Labour Year".
In the delta region, the situation is very bad. For example, the SLORC (State Law and Order Restoration Council -- the military junta) has been constructing a tourist resort near the town of Chaung Tha in Irrawaddy division. Troops moved in and took over large areas of land to be used for the resort.
Coconut plantations adjacent to the beach were confiscated, and compensation of 1000 kyat (about $10) for each coconut tree was promised to the farmers. In fact, only 350 kyat was paid. Vegetable farms behind the coconut plantations were also confiscated, but without compensation.
In addition, households in good locations near the beach or town centre were ordered to pay a minimum of 15,000 kyat or face eviction. Most of the local people are poor and were unable to pay. They are mostly farmers, whose only income is from coconut oil. When the soldiers took over, it was the harvesting period, but since the farmers were not permitted to harvest the coconuts, they lost a whole year's income. They have been facing many problems since then, including malnutrition, especially the young children.
Those people who were evicted were relocated in a forest plantation quite some distance away, near the village of Shaw Bya. Here there was no infrastructure, roads, electricity or safe drinking water, and no way for the people to earn a living.
The result of projects like "Visit Myanmar Year" is that poor people are becoming ever more destitute, while those in power are becoming incredibly rich. Corruption is rife, especially among top leaders. In one recent case the Minister for Hotels and Tourism demanded 10% of construction costs as a personal bribe to allow the building of the Novotel hotel in Rangoon.
People in Mandalay say that they regularly face conscription for projects such as road construction. The only way to avoid this is to pay a 200 kyat fine. Those who cannot pay are forced to work, and must even provide their own food. Thus it is the poorest sections of society, those who need to work every day just to provide their families with enough food, who are most affected. All over Burma, people tell the same story.
In the north of the country, local officials are selling Burmese ID cards to Chinese traders from Yunan, who then come to northern cities and set up business, taking advantage of cheap real estate. When asked about the apparently thriving economy in Mandalay, a trishaw driver replied, "The economic situation for the ordinary Burmese person has not improved. The Chinese businessmen and the military are the only people making money. The labourers, tea-boys and prostitutes are the Burmese."
Tourists visiting Burma should know what kind of system they are supporting -- how many people were evicted to make way for the luxury hotel they are staying in; how many people were forced into slavery to widen the road for their tour bus; and where the dollars they spend are going.