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Burma's exiled ethnic nationalities seminar held in North America

Commentary
 
Will President Jacques CHIRAC Speaks for France or TOTAL?
 
Kanbawza Win
 
The news that the French President Jacques Chirac will not attend a ceremony welcoming delegates of Burma’s military Junta, to an Asia-EU summit in Vietnam on 7 October was welcome by the world. The President is concerned that the attendance of the ceremony might tantamount to recognition, if not approval to the Junta, which has been committing human rights abuses, all the times. Chirac's spokesman, Jerome Bonnafont said the president, in stead, would be inspecting an archaeological site over a former imperial city in the centre of the country. At least this action will indicates that unlike the ASEAN countries President Jacques Chirac does not condone the gross human rights violations carried on by the Burmese Junta and the entire Burmese people should congratulate him for this stance. Full Stop. But this gesture is only a speck in a wide ocean of the injustice meted out to the entire Burmese people by a giant French oil company TOTAL.
 
But this will not compel the Burmese people to forget that President Chirac is very close to the French oil company TOTAL which has been operating in Burma and he is one of the EU leaders who urge against imposition of economic sanctions on the junta. In fact the people of Burma always sided with the Third World countries where their human and natural resources were ruthlessly and mercilessly exploit by the first world nations. Karen, Mon or the local Tavoynians have to flee into Thailand as refugees because the Burmese army has confiscated their farms in order to make way for the TOTAL pipeline.
 
Because of globalization, power has been transferred more and more from ruling governments to huge companies and multilateral corporations which demonstrate that economic power has taken precedence over political power. Some governments especially the French are simply at the mercy of these corporations who pulls invisible strings to suit their own taste. This is exactly in the case of France, where TOTAL controls the people at Quai d’Orsay (the French foreign ministry). What more proof is wanted than the fact that the former French ambassador to Burma, M. Bernard Amaudric du CHAFFAUT, stationed in Rangoon, was previously head of the International Division of the TOTAL.  Moreover, very lately the French government itself has invested in TOTAL. How many times had Dominique GERARD, director of the Asian and Oceania desk of Quai d’Orsay, has met with Col. Khin Nyunt`s men?. His secret deal is anybody’s guess.
 
In the non-existential context of moral values, TOTAL’s ultimate aim is exclusively material: to get oil at the cheapest cost, even if it is with the blood and sweat of the Burmese people. To date there is no single proof that TOTAL and its economic bandits have done anything for the local population, whom they regard as a little lower than human beings. This French Oil Company simply cannot comprehend the civilized method of drawing up a combination of moral rules and economic gains. They simply have no idea that the company in their conducts of the terms of involvement is playing an important role in the struggle for democracy and the prevalence of human rights in Burma. This has now badly tarnished the entire French people’s moral conduct and that of the entire European Community as well.
 
The very fact that TOTAL endeavours to invest in countries with the worst records of environmental and human rights, e. g. Sudan, proves that it deliberately choosing these countries so as to be less accountable to the civilized world, while at the same time filling the coffers of the dictators in order to maximize profit. In the Yadana gas field of Burma the drilling mud is made up of many substances including arsenic, barium, lead, corrosive irons and radioactive material such as Radium 226, which are simply dumped on the ground or into the water column.
 
What could be more paradoxical than when the company said that human rights would be less respected if they were not there? Logic seems to be missing in a country like Burma if “the trickle-down policy” is ever counted. In their lust for profit it has glossed over the uniqueness of the Burmese Junta's determination to prevent the expansion of the middle class, which is the base for democracy.  The Junta has made an exceptional rule that every foreign investment must pass through the Myanmar Economic Holdings, which is owned by the military and has influence over the private sector of the economy.  In other words, the opposite of the “trickle-down policy" is true, i.e., TOTAL's investment in Burma prolongs the dictatorship and the misery of the entire 55 million Burmese people.
 
In its obsession to maximize profit, this ugly French company has unwittingly adopted somewhat like an animal-instinct; their thinking is that because they are financially strong they could control not only the Burmese army but also the country’s economy and that any apposition will be eliminated by any means. In other words they cherish the law of the jungle. The common Burmese people with whom they have come into contact are not even considered as a pawn in the internal chess game of oil profit.
 
Perhaps this animal like instinct can best be illustrated when the chemical gas tank exploded in Toulouse killing and wounding several people. This highlighted not only cutthroat policy of saving money by refusing to take necessary safety precautions but also influencing the media to minimize the effect. Since profit motive being the main criteria even at the cost of life and limb of French citizens one can easily draw the fate of the Third World people like the Burmese.
 
Now, because of world pressure, the French company became nervous again and began to embark on some small humanitarian projects and tried to impress the pro-democracy forces with vague promises. Obviously they want to be on the winning side. Only time will tell whether they will succeed in luring the pro-democracy and autonomy-seeking groups. It is rather sad to see that France once considered as the centre of European civilization has nurtured such a company that embarked its business on trampling human rights and democracy and where resources are distributed in secret with the majority of the population having no voice.
 
Economist Hernando de Sato has proved that the poor are marginalized because they have no capital and that the business corporate can encourage the Third World governments to develop the legal structures to allow the marginalized to participate in the market, which in turn will support the Corporations. The neglected opportunity for Corporations to contribute to peace and democracy seems to encourage war, violence, ethnic cleansing etc. In short the failure to empower the people and to model themselves on peaceful society and sustainable environment will automatically contribute the opposite as what TOTAL is doing now.
 
Because Burma was not a French colony and not much known in France the people of France have little if any idea regarding the gravity of the situation in Burma . They cannot comprehend that it is somewhat similar or worse than the situation of the French citizens prior to 1789 French Revolution.  A French reporter who wrote about the economic conditions of Burma and the French company involvement in a Paris newspaper was threatened. At that time everybody knew that TOTAL was partly owned by the French government.  Their attitude was "It is their business, we will not get involved in other people's internal affair [See an article in Le Figaro]. The French baron Thierry Desjardins an ardent supporter of Chirac states," Burma is now on the right track economically. Experts foresee this country will become one of the most powerful of Asia's dragons in the 21st century" It fails to mention any word about the gross human rights violations, nor the drug trade which the Burmese Generals are encouraging. Many French citizens do not know where Burma is, or are visiting the country without a twinge of conscience. The crowning event is in Paris, during the World Tourism Fair, General Kyaw Ba, the former Junta's Minister of Tourism, was the guest of honour. The organizers, together with the President of the Association of Professional Journalists for Tourism, and the director of Asia Tours, the main French tour agency operating in Burma , were awarded the Gulliver Prize of Cultural Discovery to Burma , a distinction that was created in 1996.
 
When General Maung Aye, Vice-Chairperson of the Junta, visited France , a red carpet, welcome was awarded even though the EU has adopted a common position. The Chirac administration knowingly violated the spirit of the European Union sanctions forbidding entry to any of the regime officials. This illustrated a typical French Connection.
 
The French narcotics watch group, Observatoire Geopolitical Des Drogues (OGD), charged that payments by the oil company TOTAL have been used by the Junta to disguise the fact that the sale of heroin finances weapons purchases. Such purchases have amounted to $2 billion according to Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI). Smaller weapons contracts have been concluded between the Junta. According to a report by Francois Casanier, in the Nov.5th 1996 issue of the Digipresse in Paris, the Burmese Generals have for the last four years, been using the Myanmar Oil and Gas Enterprise (MOGE) as its main channel for laundering drug money. The Junta's partners have devised a strategy to diversify the regime's apparent sources of income. The Visit Burma Year 1996 is but one of them. In the meantime another French Bank, Banque Francaise du Commerce Exterior, (the first is BNDP), was opened in Rangoon . Mr. Pascal Becker, the bank's chief representative for Burma and Thailand , said that it would serve clients from Europe and Southeast Asia . The peculiarity and distinctiveness of the French came to light when in Thierry Desmarest, the Chief Executive Officer of TOTAL, at a shareholder general assembly meeting, taking a leaf out of the Junta's book of lying, flatly denied that TOTAL was a partner with the Burmese Junta in the gas exploitation, and maintained that TOTAL had done nothing wrong.
 
Thus despite the high-sounding rhetoric from Chirac's Presidential office about France as a historic land of the rights of man and not attending the ceremony nobody would dare to point out that Michel Junot, the former Deputy of President Jacques Chirac, oversaw the deportation of 1,000 Jews from occupied France to a Nazi death camp in 1942 during the Vichy regime. So what is it to consider the plight of these unknown Burmese? It is a sorrowful sight to see that they have not learned their lesson, and tirelessly continue to mock as if the world did not know better. 
 
But to be candid the hope and aspirations of the Burmese people for democracy were pinned on the West, and the belief was that human rights would not be sacrificed at the altar of trade and economics. If the formidable European Union backed down, and one of the global community's last crucial chances to dismantle the increasingly bizarre concept of Constructive Engagement, and to pressure the Burmese Generals into embracing democracy will be lost. Will President Jacques CHIRAC do more than the symbolic gesture is still to be seen?
 
Kanbawza Win, is the former Visiting Senior Research Fellow at the European Institute of Asian Studies based in Brussels.

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