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A deadly business (Comment)

Manchester Guardian Weekly
August 9, 2000


  A deadly business

    What do Dick Cheney, Slobodan Milosevic and the British company Premier 
Oil have in common?
Answer: they all believe in doing business with Burma. For Mr Cheney, 
George W Bush's Republican
running-mate, the appalling human rights record of the Rangoon junta 
presents no bar to trade. As chief
executive of Halliburton, the world's largest oilfield services company, he 
backed a lobbying group
opposed to sanctions on Burma. As a board member of another pressure group 
he helped to persuade
the United States supreme court to overturn a Massachusetts law that 
imposed penalties on firms trading
with Burma. Mr Cheney, who was US defence secretary during the Gulf war, 
believes in making the
world a safer place for America's oil industry.

Slobodan Milosevic's top priority is a safer world for Slobodan Milosevic. 
The isolated Yugoslav
president will talk to almost anybody these days. Last month he entertained 
Burma's foreign minister,
Win Aung, in Belgrade. Mr Milosevic said they agreed that sanctions imposed 
on sovereign states were
"a criminal form of behaviour [and] a massive violation of human rights". 
He is not troubled by the
International Labour Organisation's accusation that the junta has committed 
"an international crime",
possibly amounting to "a crime against humanity", in exploiting forced labour.

Nor, apparently, are Burma's hundreds of political prisoners, its thousands 
of arbitrary arrests and
torture cases, and the tens of thousands of tribespeople killed or driven 
from their land over-troubling to
Premier Oil, which is persisting with its Yetagun gas pipeline. Never mind 
that Aung San Suu Kyi,
leader of the National League for Democracy, and her supporters still face 
intimidation 10 years after
elections in which they won 82% of the vote. Forget the junta's involvement 
in heroin production and
trafficking, and the humanitarian and refugee problems resulting from its 
tyranny. All that, Premier seems
to say, is not our business. It may sound sick to you. But it makes Dick 
and Slobodan proud.