August 8, 1996

The Burma Action Group (BAG) will be joining members of the Burmese democracy movement in holding a demonstration and photo opportunity outside the London headquarters of Venice Simplon-Orient-Express Ltd, Sea Containers House, 20 Upper Ground, London SE1 at 8am on Thursday 8 August to mark the eighth anniversary of the start of the 1988 uprisings in Burma which began at 8.08am. The demonstration will protest the Orient Express Groups continued operations in Burma. Four of the Burmese present will be manacled as forced labourers, working on a tourism project in symbolic representation of the murderous link of tourism development with human rights abuses in the country.

A vigil outside the Burmese Embassy, 19a Charles Street, WIX 8ER will take place at 1pm.
THE ORIENT EXPRESS GROUP

The Orient Express Group is one of the largest foreign tour operators in Burma, promising clients “cocooned comfort” on the “Road to Mandalay” cruise liner. They have already earned at least US$2.5million in advance bookings, helping to support the State Law and Order Restoration Council’s “Visit Myanmar Year” promotion; through which the SLORC hope to further legitimise military rule and attract an influx of hard foreign currency. The company abdicate all responsibility for the fact that serious human rights abuses are taking place in order that tourists, their clients amongst them, can visit the country. They disregard entirely Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s request that tourists and the tourism industry stay away from Burma until meaningful democratic reforms have taken place.

THE ANNIVERSARY

In 1988 Burma exploded in a series of mass proÿdemocracy rallies protesting one party rule. The eighth of August 1988 saw the largest and most widespread democracy uprising. As many as 10,000 people were gunned down by the Burmese army in the weeks that followed; school children, students and buddhist monks were amongst the dead and wounded.

EIGHT YEARS ON…

Eight years on and the people of Burma are still suffering under military rule:

*An estimated two million people have been coerced into slave labour to develop infrastructure projects.

*Thousands of ordinary people have been forced from their homes to clean up tourist sites and make way for new developments.

*Since March at least 80,000 people in Shan and Karenni States have been forcibly relocated to military controlled areas where they are being forced into slave labour.

*There is still no sign of any move by the SLORC to initiate dialogue with the democratically elected representatives of Burma; the National League for Democracy (NLD), or of any genuine commitment to democratisation. The SLORC detained 273 elected Members of Parliament in May this year, and continues to hold at least 800 members of the NLD in jail. A new law passed on June 7 threatens to impose 20 year prison sentences on anyone who even so much as speaks in a way perceived by the SLORC to “disrupt the stability of the state, community peace and tranquility and the prevalence of law and order”.

*Two democracy supporters, Honary Consul (Nordic countries) James Leander Nichols and MP U Hla Than have both recently died whilst in detention, giving much additional cause for concern.

Eight Years on little has changed in Burma.

BRITISH BUSINESSES LAG BEHIND

Foreign companies particularly in the oil and tourism sector, have been eager to profit by conducting business with the military junta in Burma against the expressed wishes of the elected representatives of the country led by Daw Aung San Suu Kyi.

Encouragingly an increasing number of respected international companies have withdrawn from the country under pressure from consumers and pressure groups.These include; Heineken, Carlsberg, Levi Strauss, Liz Claiborne, Eddie Bauer, Macy’s, Columbia Sportswear, Osh-Kosh, Reebok, Starbucks and Amoco.

British companies however lag behind in responding to Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s call for a cessation of operations. Companies such as the Orient Express Group, Premier Oil, British Home Stores and Landrover are all active in the country.

The continued presence of these British companies lends financial support and political legitimacy to one of the most brutal military regimes in the world. Daw Aung San Suu Kyi has called for the implementation of economic sanctions against Burma, sanctions “that will make it quite clear that economic change in Burma is not possible without political change.” The Burmese economy is almost entirely under military control, a recent economic report by the World Bank notes that the junta has additionally imposed a 5% tax on all exports by joint ventures and private companies. Companies conducting business in the country are thus providing direct financial support to the military junta, and therefore to the SLORC’s pervasive and aggressive violation of human rights.

The Burma Action Group call today on British companies to end all links with Burma based on trade, tourism and investment. We urge that they demonstrate their support of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and the Burmese democracy movement by ceasing operations in the country as a matter of urgency.


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