June 20, 2007

Trade Bolsters Myanmar Junta

Another birthday of imprisoned dissident Daw Aung Sung Suu Kyi has come and gone, and the plight of Burma slips again to the back burners of the highest-profile international press.

But dig into local and regional media, and you’ll find a wealth of coverage of the repressive junta that took control of Burma and renamed it Myanmar in 1989.

More than a million refugees have fled the country since the coup, many to India and Bangladesh, where dissidents publish newspapers and Web sites about their homeland.

Inter Press Service reports that forced labor on a mass scale persists despite agreements with the International Labor Organization to monitor and register complaints directly within the country.

The agreements have fallen by the wayside since an internal coup replaced the ruling military faction with another, less accommodating group.

Meanwhile, trade with the junta is thriving, particularly with major partners in India, Thailand and China.

An international gem show in Rangoon is expected to serve thousands of gem dealers from around the world. Last year’s event earned more than $180 million off trade in locally produced gems, jade and pearls.

Overall, jade exports alone earned the junta more than $205 million last year.

Timber is also big business. Ninety-five percent of Burma’s timber exports to China — more than 1 million cubic meters of wood — were illegally smuggled across the border, the Irrawaddy news Web site reports.

But that has been bolstered by a new trade in live ye-htin-shu trees, rare specimens that are thought to impart good luck, and are coveted for their role in soil and water conservation.

Intact trees can cost as much as $13,000, and are dug up whole and transported by military forces and ethnic groups alike.

Meanwhile, fighting between the junta and rebels show no sign of letting up, with battallions en route to the eastern border for new engagements with Karen and Shan ethic militias.

Writing in the Boston Globe, two American advocates say that U.S. and international sanctions remain vital tools against a military regime that permits rape as a weapon of war.

But they also cautioned that sanctions can also worse the humanitarian crisis in a country where a third of children under five are malnourished and 52 million people have AIDS or HIV.

Dr. Chris Beyrer of Johns Hopkins University and Eric Stover of the University of California, Berkeley, said that the junta spends just 40 cents on health care per citizen each year, compared to $61 in neighboring Thailand.

“Aid can be delivered through international and local non-governmental organizations and through cross-border approaches,” they wrote, “but must not be allowed to sip into the coffers of junta-backed organizations.”


“BURMA: No end to forced labour”
Inter Press Service, June 15, 2007

“Myanmar’s Suu Kyi turns 62 in isolation”
Reuters, June 19, 2007

“Burma to hold special gem sale”
The Irrawaddy, June 18, 2007

“Aid and sanctions in Burma”
The Boston Globe, June 16, 2007

“Getting to the roots of Burma’s latest timber trade”
The Irrawaddy, June 19, 2007

“Two western battalions march east to battle Karen”
Narinjara (Bangladesh), June 19, 2007

“Burma uncertain trade policy leads to decline of imports from Thailand”
Mizzima News (India), June 18, 2007

“Over a million Burmese to be recognized on World Refugee Day”
Mizzima News (India), June 19, 2007

One thought on “Trade Bolsters Myanmar Junta

  1. The Burma Backstory: How Fossil Fuels Keep the Junta in Business

    Although most of the world’s political powers, including the United States, have condemned the Myanmar junta’s crackdown on reformist protesters,…