November 5, 2002

Remembrance vigil for victims of tourism in Burma to be held outside Lonely Planet HQ

On Friday 8th November, 8.30-10am Burma Campaign UK (BCUK) will hold a remembrance vigil for those who have suffered as a direct result of tourism to Burma. The vigil will coincide with the publication of a new edition of Lonely Planet’s guide to Burma. BCUK calls for a tourist boycott of Burma, and for the tourism industry to stop promoting the country as a holiday destination.

“Tourism provides a vital source of income for the military dictatorship in Burma”, says Yvette Mahon, Director of BCUK. “Lonely Planet’s guide encourages people to visit Burma, going against the wishes of the democratic movement in Burma.”

Burma’s regime has forced thousands of men, women and children to labour on roads, airports, hotels and other tourist sites under the harshest of conditions and often at gunpoint. Thousands more have been forced from their homes to make way for hotels, golf courses and other tourism related projects. The communities of Than Daung Gyi in Taungoo – forced from their homes in February 2000 to make way for a tourist hill resort, and the people of Sittwe in Rakhine state forced to labour for four years on a museum commonly called the ‘museum of suffering’ will be amongst those remembered on Friday morning.

Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi, leader of Burma’s democratic movement, has called on tourists not to visit Burma: “Burma will be here for many years, so visit us later. Visiting now is tantamount to condoning the regime. If tourists really want to find out what’s happening in Burma – it’s better if they stay at home and read some of the many human rights reports there are.”

The multi-faith vigil on Friday will be conducted by U Uttara, a Buddhist monk, and Father Dominic McKenna, a Catholic Priest outside the offices of Lonely Planet at 10a Spring Place, Kentish Town, London.

“Lonely Planet likes to present itself as a responsible, socially conscious company, but by publishing this guide it has shown profit is the company’s only motive, regardless of the consequences”, says Yvette Mahon. “Rough Guides, controlled by Financial Times owners Pearson, has taken a principled stand not to produce a guide. Lonely Planet should do the same. Until then the company is making money out of misery.”

Notes to Editors:

1) Burma’s military regime is responsible for:

Millions of people in forced labour – often imposed with the threat of physical abuse.
One and a half million internally displaced people, in part the result of ethnic cleansing campaigns against minority groups.
The detention of approx. 1500 political prisoners, many of them routinely tortured.
The refusal to transfer power to the National League for Democracy.
Thousands of refugees who have fled to Thailand, China, India and Bangladesh.
The production over the last decade of most of the world’s illegal opium and heroin.
One of the largest armies in Asia even though the country has no external enemies.
An impoverished population suffering widespread malnutrition, high under-five and maternal mortality and escalating HIV transmission rates.

2) In May 1997, President Clinton issued a federal order banning new investment in Burma by US businesses. The European Union has not yet imposed sanctions legislation. However a number of European governments – notably the UK – do actively discourage trade and investment. The EU also draws attention to the views of the NLD that it is currently inappropriate to visit Burma as a tourist.

3) Tourist arrivals dropped by 47.4% to a mere 104,218 during the first 11 months of 2001/02. By contrast neighbouring Thailand attracts around 9-10m tourists annually.

4) Since late 1988, contracted foreign investment in the sector of hotels and tourism has amounted to US$ 1.054 billion.

5) Minister of Hotels and Tourism, Maj-Gen Saw Lwin recently stated that the regime receives about 12% of the income of all private tour companies.

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