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Date: Mon, 11 Aug 97 10:49:59 CDT
Subject: Free Burma Digest (Aug 9-10): REFUGEES NEED ASSISTANCE

From: Silver Andrew <>
Date: Friday, August 08, 1997 10:21 AM

A rising tide of reasons to boycott Burma

By Andrew Silver, Chapel Hill. 8 August, 1997

An economic boycott of South Africa was instrumental in bringing an end to the brutal apartheid regime in 1991. The country then elected as president a man who had been recognized as leader by the majority of his countrymen while kept in prison the previous 27 years.

South Africa has Nelson Mandela. Burma has Aung San Suu Kyi, the fearless daughter of Aung San, the man who led Burma to independence from British rule.

In 1988 Suu Kyi (pronounced Soo Chee) unexpectedly found herself to be the voice and chosen leader of the Burmese people after she returned to Burma from her home in England to visit her mother.

To quell countrywide demonstrations in the summer of 1988, Ne Win, dictator of Burma since 1962, handed official power over to the State Law and Order Restoration Council, known as SLORC. The SLORC generals massacred thousands of demonstrators. High school boys and girls were pursued by soldiers and drowned one by one in a lake near the center of Rangoon. Bodies collected nightly in the streets were burned in crematoria, some while still alive.

Suu Kyi began speaking publicly against SLORC. She exhorted the people to resist non-violently, a message amplified in her book "Freedom from Fear." Thousands gathered to hear her speak as she toured Burma. Once she calmly faced soldiers ordered to shoot her, who dared not pull the triggers.

In 1989 Suu Kyi was placed under house arrest while SLORC called elections. Despite its precautions, SLORC lost the election in 90 to Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy, which won 82% of parliamentary seats. SLORC ignored the elections and arrested all elected NLD candidates who did not flee. Suu Kyi was kept under arrest until 1995. She remains alone in her house today, with streets blocked and telephone lines cut.

Since 1994, Aung San Suu Kyi has appealed for a worldwide boycott of Burma, such as was instituted against South Africa. In response, local laws have been passed prohibiting purchases from any company doing business in Burma. In the U.S., the state of Massachusetts and thirteen cities, rom New York City to Carrboro, NC, have passed selective purchasing ordinances. Most U.S. and some European companies investing in Burma have pulled out, including Amoco, Levi Strauss, Motorola, Pepsico, and Heineken.

This year in the North Carolina General Assembly, Senator Dan Page, R-Dunn, sponsored Senate Bill 1054, modeled on a bill passed in 1987 during the anti-apartheid campaign. The bill authorizes the implementation of local selective purchasing laws directed at Burma. Senator Ellie Kinnaird, D-Carrboro, co-sponsored the bill, which passed the Senate unanimously on April 29.

One Representative, Chairman David Miner of the House Commerce Committee, citing opposition from corporations, has blocked action on the bill. Reportedly, opposition comes from IBM, although that company declares that it does not do business in Burma and keeps only one employee there, to be ready to start up when political conditions improve.

North Carolinians who took a stand against apartheid should understand what is at stake in the campaign to bring down SLORC. Where sections of the 1987 bill were entitled "Anti-Apartheid requirements," they are entitled "Anti-heroin requirements" in the 1997 bill.

Drug abuse of all kinds costs the United States an estimated $76 billion annually. The country has 600,000 users of heroin. Heroin injection with shared needles is a leading cause of AIDS. In the United States, 25% of all AIDS cases in men and 40% of cases in women are among injecting drug users.

According to the Drug Enforcement Agency, heroin is more plentiful in North Carolina than in previous years, being sold at higher purity for a lower price.

Heroin use is skyrocketing, as indicated by hospital emergency room visits. From 1990 to 1995 the annual number of heroin-related emergency room visits rose from 33,900 to 76,000.

In 1985, Burma was thought to be the source of 14% of the heroin in the U.S. The latest estimate is 60%. Burma's opium harvest has increased more than five-fold since 1985. Drug lords who formerly led private armies in the mountains now live in mansions provided by SLORC in Rangoon, where they are leading lights of the Burmese economy. Four heroin refineries have been built in Mandalay, Burma's second city. One is known to be a joint venture between drug kingpin Khun Sa and the SLORC intelligence service.

On July 28, Secretary of State Madeleine Albright stated "We are increasingly concerned that Burma's drug traffickers, with official encouragement, are laundering their profits through Burmese banks and companies - some of which are joint ventures with foreign businesses. Drug money has become so pervasive in Burma that it taints legitimate investment and threatens the region as a whole."

All American and European companies ought to divest from Burma, to cease supporting SLORC's heroin empire, and to restore democracy. Sen. Page's bill needs to be pulled from Rep. Miner's Commerce Committee and put to a vote.