BY SUE WHEAT
Burmese civilians and prisoners in chains are being used as slave labour by Burma's military junta, to build hotels, railways, and roads in preparation for 'Visit Myanmar Year 1996'. Tourism Concem, a British membership organisation which is collecting information for a campaign on people displaced through tourism, point out that forced labour and forced relocation tactics have been used before to create 'strategic zones' for oil and gas exploration, but to use these methods to build hotels and services is a new turn of events.
Tens of thousands of civilians have provided slave labour to build Loikaw-Aungban railway way in Kayah State, the airport in Putao and the Myitkyina-Putoa highway. Some 120,000 mainly Karen and Mon ethnic people have been forced to build about 150 kilometres of extension to the Ye-Tavoy railway. An estimated 2-3,000 people have died through malnutrition and exhaustion.
'Volunteer' civilian labour and prisoners - chained together with heavy shackles around their waists and ankles - dredge the mud-filled moat at the Palace of Mandalay by hand. The palace is one of Burma's most popular tourist sites.
Bumla's military regime, known a SLORC, the State Law and Order Restoration Council, receives an estimated 65 per cent of its financial support from oil companies. However, latest trends show that tourism is now taking over as SLORC's biggest earner as Burma becomes more popular with travelers. The number of tourists visiting the country is expected to increase to 500,000 by 1996, from just 8,000 in thc early 1990s.
Many Burmese have now lost their homes for tourism developments: 200,000 people have been forcibly moved from the capital Rangoon to a 'new town' more than 50 kilometres away, and Pagan, an ancient town boasting hundreds of pagodas, is now ghostly, as over 5,000 people have been moved elsewhere.
from Geographical Magazine