March 27, 1996

The Shadow Foreign Affairs Minister Derek Fatchett and the Burma Action Group are today calling on tourists to think again about Burma as a holiday destination. 1996 has been deemed Visit Burma Year by the repressive military junta that controls the country.

The call coincides with the publication of the Burma Action Group’s Alternative Guide to the region. The report documents the links between the development of the tourism industry and wide-scale human rights violations being carried out by the State Law and Order Restoration Council (SLORC).

The report exposes:

A massive programme of development is being carried out to make the country ready for tourists. An estimated two million people – including children – have been forced into slave labour alongside prison chain gangs. Scores have died.

Thousand of ordinary Burmese people are being forcibly removed from their homes to ‘clean up’ tourist sites or to make way for new developments.One such development is the Myanmar Golf Club in Rangoon. At first, the army blockaded the area, home to people who had been living there for decades. When this failed, the SLORC arrested one member of each family and sent them to jail.The remaining families were then forcibly moved to a new ‘town’ 25 kilometres out of the city. No compensation was paid.

The SLORC is pushing tourism to increase its legitimacy and to draw in hard currency. This money goes into the pocket of SLORC, or straight back out of the country to foreign businesses. Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, the leader of Burma’s democracy movement, has said: “Those foreign businessmen, who come here to strike up deals while ignoring the reality, should know that we are all suffering…they need to be reminded that this is one of the most brutal military regimes in the world and putting money into the country now is simply supporting a system that is severely harmful to the people of Burma.”

Daw Aung San Suu Kyi has urged tourists to “make 1996 a year for not visiting Burma” to demonstrate their support for democratic reforms. The National Coalition Government of the Union of Burma and other Burmese opposition groups, have also asked tourists to boycott Burma until true democratic reforms have taken place.

Yvette Mahon, Co-ordinator of the Burma Action Group, said “Burma isn’t going anywhere, so please visit it later, once conditions for its people have genuinely improved. We can understand the attractions, but people should be aware that by visiting Burma now they are lending legitimacy to a cruel and greedy military dictatorship, damaging the democratic movement that struggles to combat it, and sanctioning the continued abuse and suffering of Burma’s people, many of whom have lost their lives in the name of tourism.”

Derek Fatchett MP, Shadow Foreign Affairs Minister, said: “Burma stands condemned by the United Nations for its human rights abuses. The regime is clearly one of the worst in the world. The development of the tourist industry has been at a price to the local community which every decent person would regard as unacceptable. I would strongly urge tourists to think carefully before booking a holiday in Burma. The price of an exotic holiday could be someone else’s life.”

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