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Bkk articles 11 Sept
PERSPECTIVE, THE SUNDAY POST
BANGKOK SEPTEMBER 11,1994
Gas contract with Rangoon overrides everyone's future best interests
HUMAN rights be damned. The Mon refugees must go and the gas
must be allowed to flow through to fulfill Thailand's need for more
energy and thereby continue to prop up an illegitimate government in
This was achieved recently when the Mon were forced to return to
Burma after Thai authorities cut off their food supply and after the
Government and Burma's State Law and Order Restoration Council
struck a deal to buy natural gas from Rangoon.
This deal was made possible with the participation of Total SA of
France and Unocal Corp of the United States, which together with the
Petroleum Authority of Thailand, signed a memorandum on Friday with
the Myarxmar Oil and Gas Enterprise for the sale of natural gas from a
massive offshore field being developed in the Andaman Sea by the two
giant oil companies.
As for pushing the Mon refugees back to Burma, Thai-based analysts
believe it is part of a campaign by some key Thai-decision makers to
force the Mon guerrilla group into a ceasefire with Rangoon. This is
necessary because the onshore gas pipeline from the Gulf of Martaban
to the Thai border runs through Mon territory.
The historic contract would earn the Burmese military regime $400
million a year for 30 years after the gas is expected to be piped to
Thailand starting in mid-1998. In return, Thailand would receive 130
million cubic feet per day (cfd) of gas when it goes online, rising to 525
million cfd in 15 months. Officials say it could eventually reach 650
million cfd under the terms of the contract.
Thai Industry Minister Sanan Kachornprasart, who signed the
memorandum, insisted that the deal serves the best interests of energy-
hungry Thailand. A PM's Office minister said the deal would generate
much-needed foreign exchange to support development leading to
positive changes in Burma.
This we have to see. Thirty years is a long time for a despotic regime to
survive in a country where abuse of human rights is rife. Democracy
forces inside and outside Burma are relentlessly working toward the
"second independence" of their country from a government which has
ignored the aspirations of its people by negating the result of the 1990
Thailand must bear in mind, so must Total and Unocal, that contracts
signed with an illegitimate government will hold no water when the
regime is overthrown and a democratic government elected by the
people is installed. When this happens a free Burma will either
renegotiate or declare null and void contracts signed by the previous
administration which it does not recognise.
Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, under house arrest since 1989, spoke on
foreign investments in Burma when US Congressman Bill Richardson
and a New York Times reporter met her in February this year. Suu Kyi
suggested that too many nations were using economic carrots, and not
sticks, to encourage improvement in Burma's human rights.
Sending a clear message to foreign corporations, she said that foreign
governments should consider whether their trade with Burma was
"really helping the people or is it simply helping the government to dig
in its heels. This is the question to be asked".
With the pending issue of political settlement yet to be resolved in that
country, Suu Kyi's concern for the people should be food for thought to
any foreign company wanting to do business with Burma. It is a fact
that Burma's market economy benefits only a few-the ruling military
elite, its immediate families and close associates.
One good example is the sale and availability of petrol to fuel Burma's
estimated half-million vehicles. The commodity is limited to two-to-four
gallons a week as of August when the official price was jacked up from
16 kyat to 25 ks a gallon. However, an unlimited amount could be
bought in the black market for 100 ks to the gallon .
Sources inside the country claim this was possible because of the
unlimited supply made available to military motor pools where lower
ranking officials siphon off the commodity and resell it on the black
market. These people have so much money that recently an army private
involved in a motor accident with a civilian was said to have found
50,000 kyat overnight to pay for the damage caused to the civilian
vehicle and thereby avoid legal action .
Meanwhile, Unocal, in a recent report to stock-holders, defended its
business activities in Burma, saying its presence, not isolation, benefits
people. It cited Thailand as an example, saying that its natural gas
production in the Gulf of Thailand has fuelled Thailand's robust
economy since 1981.
It also pointed out that gas production helped launch Thailand's
petrochemical industry and many other downstream businesses,
creating thousands of jobs, and more than 93 per cent of Unocal's 1,150
employees are Thais, including many in management and supervisory
No doubt Unocal will achieve the same results in Burma. But it must
surely know the jobs will go to the people with Slorc connections and
not to the ordinary Burmese. Unlike a democratic Thailand, where the
wealth is shared with its people, Unocal's presence in Burma will benefit
only the Slorc and its cohorts and fortify the grip it has over its already
Unocal also said that its investigations into allegations of human rights
abuses and environmental destruction connected with the gas export
pipeline found the claims absolutely false. But human rights groups and
environmentalists say otherwise. The slave labour being employed on
the Ye-Tavoy railway under construction speaks for itself. Burma says it
is voluntary labour.
Dissidents and human rights workers claim it is one of the major
infrastructure projects in southwestern Burma to pave the way for the
416 kilometre pipeline from the gas field to Thailand. Can Unocal
guarantee its shareholders the 66-km overland pipeline to the Thai
border will not be constructed by forced labour?
As for the presumption that the latest business package with Slorc
would improve Burma's economy and bring positive political change for
its 43 million people, we know this will not happen as long as the
military remains in the driving seat. How can a country develop when
more than half of a nation's budget is allocated for military expenditure?
Today almost 300,000 men are in the armed forces.
The least Thailand and giant oil companies can hope for is that Slorc
stays in power for another 30 years. If that does not happen, all parties
involved can kiss the natural gas deal goodbye for then they will have
to answer to an elected government which might declare the
THE SUNDAY POST SEPTEMBER 11, 1994
Second talks set between Mya Han and Bo Mya
BURMESE CHURCH LEADER MAY GET COLD RECEPTION
By U THANMANEE
RANGOON'S Anglican Archbishop Andrew Mya Han, who is slated for
a second meeting with Karen National Union (KNU) leader Bo Mya to
discuss ceasefire talks, is likely to find a polite, but cold reception upon
his arrival .
The Karens have been fighting Burma's central government since 1948
and is the second largest insurgent group still in the field, ranking in
size only behind the Shan rebel army led by drug lord Khun Sa.
Privately, Karen leaders complain that Mya Han carries no new
proposals from Burma's ruling State Law and Order Restoration Council
(Slorc) and therefore there is nothing to talk to him about.
As one lower-ranking officer deadpanned. "He can come -- and he can
Mya Han met on August 11 with Gen E30 Mya and senior Karen leaders
in Manerplaw, the KNU's headquarters on the Thai-Burma border. Mya
Han later announced that he had assumed the role of mediator between
the Karens and Rangoon because of the plight of lower ranking soldiers
in the KNU.
According to KNU Prime Minister Ba Thein: "We won't make any
objections to anyone who comes." Ba Thein however stated that unless
the Slorc is ready to talk about a political settlement to the war, a
ceasefire would be pointless.
The Karen leaders, who are Christian, appear to be giving Archbishop
Mya Han somewhat more deference because of his rank, despite there
being few Anglicans in what they call the "Karen Revolution."
"According to Ba Thein, we enquired about his intentions and whether
he was sent purposedly by the Slorc or Khin Nyunt and he told us that
nobody sent him.
He also said that Mya Han told them that he "had no idea how the
The Karens maintain that they want a peaceful settlement and the 45-
year old conflict should be settled by political means.
They are however, averse to negotiating inside Burma in part because
they do not trust Slorc to guarantee the security of the negotiating
They point to an incident during a previous round of negotiations
between the KNU and Ne Win's government in 1963.
After the talks deadlocked then, the Burmese army attempted to
apprehend the Karen negotiators despite a guarantee that they would
he given safe passage.
The KNU is also demanding a neutral international observer be present
at any talks.
According to Ba Thein, "the problem is that they [Slorc] are in control
of news media and can say anything... and people will think we are the
ones making trouble."
The Slorc has insisted that talks take place inside Burma without
Slorc also refuses to discuss political issues, but is instead proposing to
allow the Karens to keep their weapons and offering to let them attend
the National Convention as observers if they give up their resistance.
Originally, the KNU had insisted on negotiations only in concert with all
Burma's other rebellious ethnic groups, a demand they have essentially
backed off from.
Ba Thein tried, and failed, to suppress a laugh when asked about Mya
Han's estimation that at least half of KNU officers and an even larger
percentage of his lower ranking fighters are Anglicans.
By most counts, Buddhists and animists make up 95 per cent of the
KNU forces and even among the small number who are Christians,
Anglicans are few and far between.
The Karen Prime Minister said that he does not believe Thailand will
allow the KNU to reopen its Foreign Affairs office in Bangkok, which
was closed by Thai police earlier this year.
The US government has since moved to cut off military aid to Thailand
unless pro-democratic opposition groups are allowed to function
without harassment and refugees from Burma are protected.
Ba Thein went on to say that "according to my judgement, America is
the only country right now, that to a certain extent, understands
Burma's situation [and] politically stands on the side of democracy."
He expressed moral support for the Mon refugees at Halockani who
were forced to return to Burma this week after soldiers from the Ninth
Army Division impounded their food stocks.
Asked whether the 60,000 Karen refugees in Thailand were being urged
to leave, Ba Thein responded that "even now the pressure is there. We
feel that slowly, slowly the pressure will build."
A Karen trader reported that he relayed a "friendly warning" from a Thai
National Security Council officer to Gen Bo Mya that it would be better
for the Karen leader to cut a deal with Slorc soon because as the NSC
officer put it, "we would rather visit the President [Bo Mya] in his home
than in a refugee camp in Thailand."
Ba Thein went on to deny reports of an armed conflict at Manerplaw
which surfaced in the Bangkok press in August.
According to the report, 50 persons were killed and Bo Mya wounded in
what amounted to an attempted coup.
According to Ba Thein, Gen Bo Mya was unhurt in the incident, which
was unrelated to politics.