UK Tourism Clampdown in Burma as Bermuda Firm Cruises Back
A legal loophole that let British tourism operators continue doing business in Burma in defiance of European Union sanctions has been closed by an amendment to UK law.
The loophole closure by the government of Prime Minister Gordon Brown now makes it a criminal offense for tour operators to “provide financial benefits to prominent members of the military regime and its associates.”
Until this month some British companies continued to send tourists to resorts and hotels known to be under the control of the junta generals or developed through regime-approved confiscation of land and forced removal of local communities.
They included hotels at Ngwe Saung, a beachside district on the Bay of Bengal, from where several thousand people were banished, farmland stolen and traditional inshore fishing banned.
The loophole was highlighted by human rights campaigners in Britain.
British companies doing business at Ngwe Saung and hotels elsewhere linked with the regime included Audley Travel, Bales Worldwide and Undiscovered Destinations.
But the new loophole-plugging legislation seemingly does not hinder a London-based firm registered in the tax haven of Bermuda which has just announced the resumption of luxury river cruises in Burma.
The Orient Express says it is restarting four and seven-day cruises on the Irrawaddy River between Pagan and Mandalay at a minimum cost per person of more than US $2,300.
The cruises were halted after the monk-led protests in 2007 and the vessel also reportedly suffered damaged during Cyclone Nargis.
Orient Express is named in the so-called Dirty List of Western firms produced by the Burma Campaign UK.
“Orient Express has its registered office in Bermuda, is managed from London, and is listed on the New York stock exchange,” notes the campaign.
The “Road to Mandalay” ship has been expensively refitted to carry more than 80 passengers in luxury, says Orient Express on its Web site.
In a snub to human rights groups campaigning to stop Western tourism to Burma, the company says: “Orient-Express makes no apology for the actions of any of the countries our guests visit. It is our view that any form of travel between countries encourages positive communication between people and helps to broaden everyone’s outlook. It is up to individuals’ own consciences to determine whether or not they should visit a particular country.”
Foreign Public Money Funds Burma’s Shwe Gas Development
Billions of dollars of foreign public funds are to be invested in supporting development of Burma’s offshore gas reserves to feed China.
The governments of South Korea and India will contribute the bulk of an estimated US $5.6 billion to be spent on two blocks in the Shwe gas field in the Bay of Bengal on the coast of Arakan State.
That’s the amount disclosed by South Korea’s state-owned Kogas as being needed to pump up to 200 billion cubic meters of gas from the blocks to an onshore pipeline to be built by China to ferry it across Burma into China’s southwest Yunnan Province.
Kogas revealed this week it will spend almost $300 million of public funds, while privately owned South Korean industrial conglomerate Daewoo International will spend $1.68 billion.
The consortium working on the Shwe field also includes Indian state-owned Oil and Natural Gas Corporation (ONGC) and GAIL, previously called the Gas Authority of India Limited. It has not been divulged exactly how much each of these firms will contribute.
Both Kogas and Daewoo were recently named in a human rights group report to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).
The South Korean government failed to follow OECD guidelines following allegations made by EarthRights International and the Shwe Gas Movement of human rights abuses associated with the Shwe development.
China’s state-owned China National Petroleum Corporation is buying all the gas in the A1 and A3 Shwe blocks being developed.
Burma to Boost Rubber Output to Feed China Demand
The Burmese authorities are backing a major expansion of the country’s rubber plantations in a campaign which will reportedly see production increase by 33 percent over a three-year period.
The expansion is to help meet rising demand from China, said the official Chinese news agency Xinhua.
Between 2007 and 2010 the area under plantation is to expand by more than 100,000 hectares to a total of almost 470,000 hectares, the agency quotes Burma’s Rubber Entrepreneurs Association as saying.
About 90 percent of the rubber produced is exported to China and five Asean countries—Malaysia, Singapore, Vietnam, Thailand and Indonesia.
One of the biggest new plantation developments, totaling 40,000 hectares, is in the May Yu mountain region in southern Arakan State.