Contact: Roland Watson, roland@dictatorwatch.org
Please see www.dictatorwatch.org for links to the reports and photography described below.


22 August 2003

(Note: We have posted two new photo essays, with accompanying articles, about child soldiers in Burma. The first documents a program by the Karen National Union to remove children from their army and to have them enrolled in school. The second describes a program of assistance for four escaped child soldiers from the Burma Army, including interviews therewith. Also, we have updated the Saving Lives link in the DW navigation frame.)

The police have a saying: “Follow the money.” What it means is that is you want to find the person or persons responsible for a crime, any crime, in most cases there will be a financial motivation. Find the money, and you will find the culprit.

There are great sums of money being made in and out of Burma because the country is ruled by a military dictatorship. Leading the charge are the international “investors” in the country, although a more apt description would be “pillagers.” This includes Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra of Thailand, Special UN Envoy Razali Ismael, oil companies such as Total, Unocal, Halliburton and Caltex, and the many other companies from North America (e.g., Ivanhoe), Europe and Asia that have no ethical problems working with murderers. Instead, their governing ethic is that money rules and that there are no acts that are unacceptable (rape, genocide, etc.) if their commission helps contribute to the earning of a profit.

Burma is a self-contained system. Everything in the country is interconnected. The crimes of genocide, rape and murder are fundamentally linked to, actually, enabled by, such investments, however much the investors may argue otherwise. The most direct way the crimes are enabled is by the Burmese generals, the SPDC, using its share of the take to buy weapons, which it then turns on its own people.

The money trail heats up when one considers Burma’s immediate neighbors, in particular Thailand. Following the trail helps explain why the current Thai government, under PM Thaksin, is so supportive of the Burmese criminals.

Thais, a great number of individual Thai businessmen, and also what are said to be Thailand’s national interests, benefit from the political situation inside Burma in the following ways:

- It guarantees a supply of slaves for Thai slave owners, including brothels, wealthy households (for maids and other “servants”), fishing boats, and warehouses and factories. Thai businesses (and upper class families) used to exploit, to force indentured servitude if not outright slavery on, at risk members of the Thai lower classes. Indeed, this still continues to some degree. But changes in Thai society have for the most part eliminated this option, hence new supplies have been required. As some commentators have pointed out (notably Sanitsuda Ekachai of the Bangkok Post), these new sources include migrant laborers from Burma, Laos and Cambodia.

- It is used as the justification to deny certain lifelong residents of Thailand, the members of ethnic groups who live in villages along the Thai/Burma border, Thai citizenship and hence education, healthcare and normal employment opportunities. This also excludes them from the Thai political process, so they are denied their right of representation, and it makes them subject to the same types of abuse just described.

This is what is considered to be in Thailand’s national interests, that denying whole groups of people their legitimate rights could somehow serve the country.

- In addition to labor resources, support of the Burmese dictatorship enables Thai businessmen to exploit Burma’s natural resources, including its rainforest timber (and saleable wildlife, such as tigers), fisheries, natural gas and minerals, and as with the proposed dams on the Salween River, which must be stopped, its prospective sources of hydroelectric energy. (Thai border villages see a regular stream of Thai businessmen coming to check on their sweatshop factories, timber deals, etc.)

- Similar to this is the general trade into Burma of consumer and industrial products. Since the Burmese economy under the rule of the generals is essentially nonfunctioning, this creates an opportunity for foreign traders who can supply needed goods.

In summary, Thailand’s relationship with Burma can most succinctly be described as one of economic colonialism, which the Burmese generals willingly accept because it helps them retain their power.

- Lastly, Thai businessmen (and others throughout the region) also profit, to a huge degree, from the supply of narcotics from Burma. Opium, heroin and methamphetamines likely generate billions of dollars in revenue, from production (e.g., the sale of precursor chemicals) through to retail distribution. The narcotics industry emanating from Burma is one of the largest and most profitable industries in all of Southeast Asia.

With so much money at stake (from all of the above activities), Thai support for the SPDC is not surprising. Prime Minister Thaksin’s most important constituency is the Thai business community, and he will never block one of their major cash streams.

As for the narcotics, we do not mean to infer that the Prime Minister himself, who spent fourteen years in the Thai police, rising to the rank of Lieutenant Colonel, and who is also from Chiang Mai, is involved. (A man is innocent until proven guilty.) But it is accepted that many leading Thais, including political, military and business leaders, are involved in the drug trade. (In light of the current police corruption scandal, we call upon the PM to declare that he never took a bribe while an officer of the law, nor that he has paid one since.)

Also, there is one other thesis that needs to be considered. Some people speculate that the Burmese generals are in fact blackmailing the Thai government; that they have made behind the scenes threats to reveal the names of influential Thais who are involved in narcotics. It is noteworthy that no leading Thais were arrested in Thaksin’s highly publicized war on drugs. (Similarly, no Thai police generals have been indicted for corruption.) It is also noteworthy that the drug lord Khun Sa (and others) have been given sanctuary in Rangoon. The usual view of this arrangement is that it was in exchange for money. A more enlightened view, though, holds that Khun Sa agreed to provide the names, backed by hard evidence, of the Thais who run the drug trade inside Thailand. The Burmese generals, if they have this information, can use it as the basis for extortion to keep the Thai government, for decades, on their side.

On the other hand, this can also be viewed as a win/win situation. Thai businessmen remain free to exploit Burma and to make money from narcotics, and the Burmese generals ensure that they have a long-standing ally in their effort to fend off democracy.

Recently, Thaksin implemented by executive fiat anti-terrorist legislation. (This was just one more example of his totalitarian tendencies). Many commentators have suggested that in doing so he kowtowed to US demands. The above scenario provides an explanation for why he so strongly opposes the US position on Burma. Also, in response to the PM’s statement about shutting down the Wa, we must highlight the fact that he is only talking about their drug caravans. We will believe it when we see it when he destroys the actual drug labs.

One final comment: the Burma democracy movement would be better served if its participants thought more like rebels and less like activists. Burma requires a rebellion to achieve democracy. Returning to the issue of money, Burmese who are resident outside the country should consider setting aside up to ten percent of their income to give to groups that provide humanitarian assistance and that are actively involved in the democracy resistance, including by making contributions to groups organized by individuals of different ethnic identities (just as the Karen helped the Burman child soldiers in the second photo essay described above). Please contact Dictator Watch for advice on how you can assist front-line Burma democracy organizations.