The Burma sanctions debate in the West is made largely immaterial by the investment currently flooding the country, mostly from Asian nations that have few moral reservations about enriching the Burmese ruling generals. Chief among the eager investors are China, Thailand, South Korea, Singapore and India. Their target? Burma’s rich natural resources that are only now being fully exploited. Although some analysts hope for a trickle-down effect in which the country’s poorest benefit even a tiny amount from the billions flowing into Burma, the reality may be far different. To clear land for new dams, oil fields, natural-gas pipelines and a whole host of mines, Burmese are often kicked out of their homes without proper compensation. Because much of Burma’s natural bounty is concentrated in areas where ethnic minorities abound, a populace already persecuted by the entirely ethnically Bamar (or Burman) junta is facing further troubles. Those that try to protest can be arrested or jailed.
Now, a two-year investigation by the respected NGO EarthRights International (ERI) details the unfolding impact of one of the largest foreign projects to date, the Shwe gas and oil transport pipelines that originates in western Arakan State and bisects the country in the north, where it passes through land settled by the Shan and Kachin ethnic minorities. Multinationals who are part of the investing consortium include China National Petroleum Corporation, Daewoo International (the South Korean conglomerate) and the Gas Authority of India. ERI alleges that the foreign firms have not acquired the proper “social license” to operate in Burma. The NGO also has released interviews with locals who say they have been tortured for trying to oppose or simply educate villagers about the project. Other witnesses told ERI they were used as forced labor, a common way in which the Burmese regime gets work done in the hinterlands.
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