Nov 15, 2003

Burmese apartheid and multinationals

The impoverishment of Mon farmers and other ethnic groups is like that of the previous South African apartheid system in which multinationals ignored the suffering of millions of people
Local villagers were asleep in southern Moulmein, capital city of Mon State when a gas pipeline exploded close by their village forcing them to flee to the nearby mountains. The impoverishment of Mon farmers and other ethnic groups is like that of the previous South African apartheid system in which multinationals ignored the suffering of millions of people.
Development projects, under the direction of the Rangoon military officials, places local people at risk, especially farmers, who receive nothing from the Kanbauk-Myaaingkalay Gas Construction project between Mon and Karen States, while gas flows to a cement factory, money is funneled to corrupt businessmen and opportunistic investors.
Over the last seven years, farmers are forced to hand over their historical farmlands without compensation to the State. Human Rights Foundation of Monland released its exclusive report on "No Land to Farm" condemning the officials of the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC), the current ruling Rangoon regime, which has confiscated over 7,000 acres of farmland in southern Burma. Over three hundred farmers will face constant hardship, which not only threatens their immediate survival, but their natural resources vital for the future of the Mon community who have managed their natural resources for countless generations. With no option for survival, many flee to the Thai-Burma southern borders for sanctuary at one of the Refugee’s camps.
Independent Mon News Agency reported on October 17 that a part of Kanbauk-Myaingkalay gas pipeline, which transports gas from Yatana on-shore gas station to a new cement factory in Myaingkalay village in Karen State, exploded near Kwan-hlar Village of Mudon Township in Mon State, Union of Burma.
The Ministry of Construction manages the construction of the gas pipeline project while Southeast Command base in Moulmein is placed for security. Nai Toe Nah, a local Businessman in the village said, No (5) Military Intelligence officials based in Mudon are not convinced of a claim that "no actors were involved" in the explosion despite the local Burmese military guards reporting to the head office.
During 2003, four gas explosions occurred in Mon State including the latest, but locals receive no relevant information regarding either the construction of the project or of the security threat it poses. The Rangoon regime claims the project is for the "development" of the region managed by the government. In fact, the 150-mile gas pipeline serves only the military’s interests rather than the good of the public and the surrounding community.
There is no clear information whether TotalFinaElf and Unocal were involved in Kunbauk-Myainkalay Gas project, but the two investors are major shareholders of the Yatana Gas production to Thailand from Burma.
According to a report of the Collaborative for Development Action (CDA) in January 2003, three CDA members, including Mary Anderson, traveled to Myanmar (Burma) from October 18 to 30, 2002 to examine the impact of the Yadana construction’s operations on surrounding communities and, more generally, the impact of corporate operations on the situation in Myanmar.
Since 2002, human rights workers based in Mon State reported that further human rights violations at the gas construction site continue to be exercised by government troops and security guards. No action is ever taken to bring justice to the victims who are beaten, killed, or tortured or compensation given to the farmers who lose their land.
Local people including anti-government armed forces based on southern Thai-Burma border know nothing about the gas line production in the earlier 1990s. Consequently, the Mon National Liberation Army, armed wing of New Mon State Party was forced to agree to a cease-fire deal to Rangoon regime in 1995 as an attribution of Yatana Gas production project in southern Burma.
However, TotalFinaElf proudly announced in its recent statement to the Burmese people that today, 23 villages, and the local population of 34,000 people benefit directly from the program, which was implemented in late 1995. Doctors, agriculturists, communication officers and veterinarians employed by the project live full-time in the villages. The program often extolled by the regime as a model for development, most recently stated by General Khin Nyunt, which encompasses medical and health care, educational initiatives, support for business initiatives, and the construction of infrastructure, such as bridges, roads and drinking water supply and sports fields.
A recently released report of "No Land to Farm" said, since the military came to power, the regime has adopted a policy that every military command be involved in local business activities to raise funds for the welfare of their battalions. In practicing that policy, the southeast command ordered its Infantry Battalions to raise funds for their budgets, which in turn props up the regime.
The people who are the prime owners and caretakers of the natural resources are excluded from business dealings between foreign investors and the Rangoon regime. Multinationals in Burma while hiding their actions in the dense jungle have claimed no link to the military, the destruction of Burmese farming communities will continue if they have little or no say on issues that affect their daily life and socio-economic well-being in Mon State.
Mon National Relief and Development Committee based on Thai-Burma border has no official communication access to foreign investors in Mon State despite the organization have served the public’s interests in southern Burma for years. The MNDC works in close cooperation with New Mon State Party, a Mon national political party.
Shareholders of the gas production including TotalFinaElf and Unocal have blatantly ignored the impact of Burmese domestic politics while over 300,000 illegal Burmese migrant have fled to Thailand for employment.
Committee for National Development on Border Areas led by the State Peace and Development Council meanwhile fails to use transparency or to acknowledge the impact of the domestic political crisis, which only boasts the positions of members of cease-fire groups and local high ranking Burmese officials.
The AFP reported in August of this year, that the US Oil Giant Unocal must stand trial in California for alleged complicity in human rights abuses by Burma’s military junta, including forced labour, rape and torture. Such action will not take place in Burma to protect the rights of local people or of their right to use natural resources for their survival.
In 2002, there are over thirty non-government organizations in Burma who work on health, education and environmental issues but have no access to rural areas, the so-called "black areas" in the country.
For the Rangoon junta development programs in rural and border areas means the use of forced labor, illegal cash collection, forced relocation, extrajudicial killing and portering. The majority of rural people in southern Burma live without electricity, education, gas stoves, a clean water supply, and telecommunication lines to other parts of the country while foreign investors bring home million of dollars amid claims of acting on behalf of the poor of Burma and demonstrating their goodwill to unskilled Burmese politicians on the wonders they have brought to the local population. Cut off from the outside world, the local community has little knowledge in comparing the benefits of investors with other alternatives.
Myanmar Oil and Gas Enterprise (MOGE), a government business body serving the military, operates the Kanbauk-Myaingkalay gas production. According to a source from the Mon political community, the cease-fire leaders are unaware of the impact of the environmental outcome which could be destroying their natural resources and who lack interest or understanding for further community debate despite explosions going off in all directions.
Development projects in a country such as Burma with ongoing political instability are a risky business venture. The Mon Women Organization capable of mobilizing the community in Mon State has little access to foreign donors or aid for further cooperation in development and capacity building training because the organization is considered an unofficial association by the ruling military government. This is the major challenge facing the people of Burma, where doors continue to be closed off to the right people who are the true leaders of the community while foreign investors who don’t speak the language continue to ignore the plight of the rural communities whilst claiming to contribute to the welfare of the people.