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In Burma, Suharto will mix diplomac
Subject: In Burma, Suharto will mix diplomacy with some business (The Asian , Age, 21/2/97)
In Burma, Suhatio will mix diplomacy with some business
The Asian Age (New Delhi), 21/2/97.
By JOE MCDONALD
Singapore, Feb. 20: A visit to Burma by President Suharto of Indonesia
will be more than just a political boost for the isolated Burmese
military rulers. It is also a chance for Mr Suharto to do some family
During a two-day stop in Rangoon starting on Friday. the Indonesian
leader plans to attend the signing of an agreement between his daughter's
company and one owned by the Burmese government. The deal adds to a web
of business ties that link the Suharto family to Burma, giving its ruling
generals financial and political support to resist pressures for better
human rights and greater democracy.
Other foreign investors have been driven away by threats of boycotts,
combined with economic mismanagement that has turned one of Asia's
richest countries into one of its poorest. But conglomerates run by Mr
Suharto's children are stepping up involvement in its communications,
construction, petrochemical, logging and animal feed industries,
according to activists and the companies.
"With many companies pulling out of Burma, it will create less
competition for the companies owned by the ruling elite, " said George J.
Aditjondro, an Indonesian sociologist who teaches at the University of
Newcastle in Australia.
Burma has actively sought closer ties with Indonesia, Mr Aditjondro said
in a telephone interview. Burmese leaders want to copy the political
system created by Mr Suharto, a former general who has held power since
1966 through a military-dominated ruling party, Mr Aditjondro said.
"Burma also 'wants Indonesia to become a big brother in the international
human rights battle," he said. "That's why they make it easier for the
Indonesian companies. It's really a kind of defence mechanism." In
exchange, he said, Indonesia would gain an ally in the association of
Southeast Asian nations, which is expected to give Burma full membership
this year despite western protests.
Indonesia's overtures to Burma are similar to those of Thailand,
Singapore and other Southeast Asian countries that are defying outside
criticism by stepping up business and political ties.
None of the Suharto family companies will comment on criticism of their
dealings with Burma. But Indonesia and its Asean partners have argued
that it is inappropriate to mix trade with what they regard as unrelated
issues such as human rights.
The Suharto children, having become immensely wealthy at home through
state contracts and monopolies for roads, telephones and other services,
are beginning to branch out overseas. A lot of the official visits of Mr
Suharto are now very closely in line with his family's business
interests, said Mr Aditjondro. He calls their dealings "Suharto's
The agreement to be signed this week is between Burma's Union of Myanmar
Economic Holding Ltd. and Citra Lamtorogung, owned by Mr Suharto's eldest
daughter, Siti Hardiyanti Rukmana, according to the Indonesian state news
It didn't say what the deal covers; but Ms Rukmana's company is known
best for building roads in Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines, while
Burma needs investment in roads and other infrastructure.
Among other family members, the Bimantara Group led by Ms Rukmana's
billionaire brother, Bambang Trihatmojo is installing a phone network in
Rangoon and starting a factory there to make animal feed, according to Mr
He said Mr Bambang also owns 35 per cent of a company with logging
operations in Burma, Cambodia and elsewhere. The Humpuss Group, owned by
another brother, Hutomo "Tommy" Mandala Putra, says it has a share in a
logging joint venture, but hasn't started work.
It says it received a concession in 1993 to cut timber on 200,000
hectares (500,00 acres) of Burma's forests, which are being rapidly wiped
out to earn the government foreign exchange. Humpuss did not confirm a
report by the Jakarta Post that, Mr Hutomo was appointed head of an
agency in charge of promoting private investment and trade with Burma in