Date: Thu, 3 Apr 1997 10:10:23 -0500
Sender: Forum on Labor in the Global Economy <LABOR-L@YORKU.CA>
Subject: Western Environmental Groups in Bed With Burmese Goverenment
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Date: 25 Mar 1997 11:01:37
From: Tim.Nunn@dial.pipex.com (Timothy Nunn)
[please excuse any errors. I have not had time to properly proof read this. Tim Nunn] [Publisher's note: I do not know whether the first half of this material is part of the Observer article or Tim Nunn's introduction to it.]
WORLD-renowned wildlife organisations are working with Burma's military regime on huge conservation projects on sites being cleared by the systematic slaughter of the Karen ethnic minority. Human rights groups yesterday condemned the conservationists collaboration in Burma's 'killing fields' and demanded their immediate withdrawal.
The Burmese army has murdered 2,000 people and driven 30,000 from their homes to prepare for the nature reserves. Thousands of others are being used as forced labour on the projects, according to eyewitness accounts obtained by the Observer.
Two of the world's most prestigious conservation bodies are involved: the Smithsonian Institution in Washington and the New York based Wildlife Conservation Society which has projects in 52 countries. They are the first charities, to work with the Burmese State Law and Order Restoration Council (SLORC) since it massacred 3,000 demonstrators in 1988.
The Worldwide Fund for Nature also has links with Buma. Last month it held an elephant conference in the capital, Rangoon, and it plans to do research on Burmese tigers.
The ruling Burmese junta is delighted to have support from such prestigious organisations. They hope the reserves - one of which will be the biggest in the world - will attract millons of tourists and improve Burma's appalling international image, shaped by one of the worst human-rights records in the world. Josh Ginsberg, the Wildlife Conservation Society's science director, said: 'We do ont sanction forced relocation or killings but we have no control over the government. We are in Burma because it is one of the highest biodiversity countries.'
The Smithsonian said: 'We are there to do important conservation work. We may disagree with a regime but it is not our place to challenge it.'
Robin Pellew, WWF-UK director, said WWF International had discussed one of the nature reserves projects, on Lambi island, with the Burmese authorities but had decided not to get involved.
Faith Doherty of the South Asian Information Network, said: 'Environmentalists should not be involved with Burma at any level.'
Rangoon wants a nature reserve. So do conservationists. But first they have to get rid of villagers. Adrian Levy and Cathy Scott-Clark in Burma and David Harrison report.
WE FOUND them deep in the Burmese jungle, east of the Tenasserim river. About 2,000 of them, hungry, exhausted and fearing for their lives. They have no money, no change of clothes, and they eat what food they find. They sleep under palm leaves propped teepee-style against the trees. A sickly child is crying. An old woman sobs endlessly, Saw Lyi, 56, holds out his hands: 'We do not know what to do. We do not know what will happen to us.' Saw Lyi knows he will not be going home. He, and thousands of the Karen ethnic group, a gentle, cultured and religious people, have been driven out of their homes by the Burmese army. He also knows that in a strange way he is lucky, because he made it to the jungle, starving and homeless but alive. Hundreds of people, including Saw's son, a father of six, have been murdered in the two months since the army launched its offensive to crush the Karen, according to human rights groups which base their evidence on independent research, including hundreds of eyewitness accounts. Tens of thousands have been forced to work, unpaid and unfed, building roads and railways, and 30,000 have fled into the jungle or across the border to Thailand.
Why? Because the Burmese army is clearing the Karen area, razing entire villages, killing, raping, enslaving, to make way for the biggest nature reserve of its kind in the world. Dwarfing' the Masai Mara and the Serengeti, it is home to rare flora and fauna, tigers, elephants and the Sumatran rhinoceros. It will attract millions of tourists. Most importantly. it will be a sign to the world that Burma, shunned because of its appalling human, rights record cares about endangered wildlife and the environment.
ALL the Rangoon govemment needed was a few major international conservation organizations to turn a blind eye to atrocities committed against an irksome ethnic minority. It got them from the top drawer of wildlife protection: the New York-based Wildlife Conservation Society and the Smithsonian Institution in Washington. It also claimed to have 'an open. channel of communication' with the Worldwide Fund for Nature International, whose patron is Prince Philip. The junta running Burma was thrilled - as we discovered when, after our dispiriting trek into the jungle, we made for Rangoon to see if a Minister would talk about the project and the role of those conservation giants.