US Investment Could Fuel Problems, Say Burma Activists

By Nyein Nyein 13 July 2012

Many activists and politicians in Burma have cautiously welcomed the US president’s easing of sanctions on Burma this week, but many stressed that the US must take into consideration the unsolved issues in the country.

Burma’s opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, who is currently attending the fourth parliamentary session in Naypyidaw, said the US move was “nothing significant,” according to the AFP on Thursday. She repeated her call for the international community to press for “transparency” with the state-run Myanmar Oil and Gas Enterprise (MOGE).

NLD spokesman Ohn Kyaing pointed to general concerns about the lack of transparency in business, and said that US investment should “support” Burma’s democratic reforms.

The US statement said, “Easing sanctions is a strong signal of our support for reform and will provide immediate incentives for reformers and significant benefits to the people of Burma.”

Speaking to The Irrawaddy on Friday, Pyone Cho, one of the 88 Generation Students’ leaders, said that they welcomed the US government’s statement because it “is always supportive of Burma’s democracy movement and democratic reforms.”

“Some reforms still need to take place and the US should take these matters into consideration,” he said. “Our country still has some problems—the remaining political prisoners, continuous fighting in the ethnic areas, and the refugee issues—which remain unsolved. The current matters to tackle include workers’ and farmers’ issues, the call for the rebuilding of the [Rangoon University] Students Union, and media freedom.”

The 88 Generation group and other activists said they see the foreign investments in the country as crucial for development, but still harbor suspicions as to what extent they will make an impact.

If American companies enter into natural resources extraction projects, the human rights violations could continue to occur there, because there is no specific rule of law in these areas, said Naing Htoo, the acting director of Chiang Mai-based Earth Rights International’s (ERI) Burma Project.

He said the current oil and gas project areas are mostly situated in ethnic conflict zones and that these projects should be postponed until the conflicts are solved. However, he said, the US government’s move to allow US companies to invest in the lucrative energy sector could fuel these problems.

ERI, which is researching and profiling the companies in Burma’s petroleum and gas sector with regard to their impact on the environment, said that any company planning to invest in Burma should be very careful of its environmental impact and must avoid human rights abuses in the project areas.

“They [the US companies] must follow the guidelines according to international standards if they are to invest,” said Naing Htoo. “Because the Burmese government—and especially the contract-holder MOGE—offers no transparency.”