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Burma: the roll call of shame

As the world watches with horror at the actions of the military junta that rules Myanmar (Burma) with an iron fist, the generals are not the only ones to bear the blame for the suffering of millions of people who are victims of Cyclone Nargis. The international roll call of shame is a long one.

Step forward China, the junta’s main weapons’ supplier and supporter, which blocked a UN resolution aimed at pressuring the regime to accept humanitarian aid at once. China was also at the forefront of preventing the UN from acting when the people of Myanmar rose up against their oppressors in October last year. But they are not alone.

Step forward Russia, which in 2006 signed a deal with the junta that it would supply weapons and an anti-aircraft system in return for a chance to exploit the country’s oilfields. Step forward the Association of South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN), criticised this week by Human Rights Watch (HRW) for failing to put any pressure on the regime. Thailand, Indonesia, India and South Korea continue to trade with the junta.

Step forward the European Union, whose trade sanctions exempted the most profitable areas and which therefore have had no affect whatsoever. Mark Farmaner, director of the Burma Campaign UK said: "The EU sanctions are pathetic: it's as if they've been designed to miss the mark.” Whilst they would affect a state-owned pineapple company, or a small tailor’s shop, the timber and gas industries, where the regime earns most of its revenue, are not affected.

Step forward France, whose national oil company – Total Oil, the fourth largest in the world – provides around $450m revenue each year to the junta. They are associated with an oil pipeline project built, it is asserted, by forced labour.

Step forward Britain, where companies say they get no clear message that the government opposes trade with the junta. Mike Packer, from Timbmet, a British wood company which has now pulled out of Myanmar, said after last year’s uprising that companies got “a political message without teeth” and that “so far as we are concerned... there's been no approach to timber importers to say the government doesn't support trade with Burma”. New Labour is, according to the Burma Campaign UK, the only party that does not support a unilateral investment ban.

And finally, step forward the global corporations, which over three decades of unrestrained growth in capitalist production, have brought the planet to the verge of climate disaster. The director of New Delhi's Centre for Science and Environment is in no doubt that the unprecedented force of Cyclone Nargis is due to the impact of climate change. She cites the report of the Inter-Governmental Panel on Climate Change which predicts that "based on a range of models, it is likely that future tropical cyclones (typhoons and hurricanes) will become more intense, with larger peak wind speeds and more heavy precipitation associated with ongoing increases of tropical sea surface temperatures".

CSE director Sunita Narain says: "Nargis is a sign of things to come. In 2007, Bangladesh was devastated by the tropical cyclone Sidr. The victims of these cyclones are climate change victims and their plight should remind the rich world that it is doing too little to contain its greenhouse gas emissions.”

Meanwhile, the junta went ahead with a sham constitutional referendum and continued loading rice on to ships for export to Indonesia, secure in the knowledge that from China to Russia, from Paris to London, behind all the crocodile tears shed in official circles about the suffering of Burmese people, it would be business as usual.

Penny Cole
Environment editor
12 May 2008

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