erred to as "a Chinese city." Leading the "tiger" investors is Singapore, whose state arms company came to SLORC's rescue in 1988 at the height of the pro-democracy demonstrations when troops were running out of ammunition.
The collaboration of Thailand has been critical to SLORC's survival.
Part of the unstated deal is that the Thai military sends back Burmese refugees who manage to cross the border. In April 1993, Thai troops burned down two refugee camps in an operation, reported the Bangkok Nation, "probably related to the gas pipeline." Thousands of ethnic Mon refugees have since been forced back into Burma,
straight into the hands of the SLORC military. On the
border, where the pipeline will enter Thailand, SLORC
troops display pens distributed by the French oil company,
Total, in their uniform pockets. "Total is coming," said one of
them with a broad smile.
Burma's most profitable export is illegal. More than half the heroin reaching the streets of US and Australian cities originates in the "golden triangle" where the borders of Burma, Laos, and Thailand meet. Under SLORC, heroin production has doubled. In a study, Out of Control, two researchers, Dr. Chris Beyrer and Faith Doherty, conclude
from a long investigation for the South-East Asian
Information Network that SLORC has allowed heroin to
circulate freely and cheaply in Burma in the hope that it
"pacifies" the rebellious young. *10 According to his son, the
infamous drug lord Kuhn Sa is living comfortably on Inya
Lake in the center of Rangoon with the support of military
While drugs bring in quick cash, it is tourism on which SLORC pins its hopes for foreign exchange and, above all, international respectability. "At last the doors to Myanmar, the magic golden land, are open," waxes Dr. Naw Angelene, the director of tourism, in an official handout. "Roads will
be wider, lights will be brighter, tours will be cleaner, grass will
be greener, and with more job opportunities, people will be
happier."11 One of the biggest foreign tour operators in
Burma is the Orient Express Group, which operates "The
Road To Mandalay," a "champagne-style cruise" between
Mandalay and Pagan in a converted Rhine cruiser. The
cabins, says the brochure, "are not simply luxurious"; there
is a Kipling Bar and a swimming pool.
When I found it at anchor in the heat and mosquitoes, The Road To Mandalay looked squat and sturdy rather than luxurious. Once on board, however, it seemed the perfect vehicle for pampering tourists in one of the world's 10 poorest countries.
|Like an air-conditioned bubble, it is constantly cleansed of the smells and noise and dust of the land through which it glides. In the "staterooms" the television rises at the foot of the bed and, presto, there is Rupert Murdoch's satellite TV. In February, the captain of The Road To Mandalay welcomed his inaugural guests. "They might have been, the cast from an Edwardian novel" wrote London Times travel writer Peter Hughes,"a prince and two princesses from the Endsleigh League of European Royalty, our own Princess Michael of Kent among them; a duke; a marche and marchese; a film star, Helena Bonham-Carter; and assorted lords and ladies whose names tended to be the same as their addresses. Those without titles merely||
had money." The actual road to Mandalay has
recently been converted into an expressway for tourists. For
the local people forced to work on it, it is known as "the road
of no return." According to Amnesty International, two
workers who tried to escape were executed on the spot by
soldiers. Another eight were beaten until they were severely
injured; one was hacked to death with a hoe.
When I interviewed James Sherwood, the American chair of Sea Containers, which runs the Road to Mandalay tours, he described the Burmese generals as "rather bright, well educated, dedicated men who are trying to
improve the country." He said he had contacted the CIA about the
"allegations" of human rights violations and it was
"confirmed to me these allegations were untrue."
Aung San Suu Kyi was two years old when her father was murdered. What distinguished the movement he founded was its complex attempt to apply a blend of Buddhism, socialism, and democracy to the freely elected governments that followed. The ideas of Nehru, Sun Yat Sen, Manzini, and Voltaire were adapted. Marx was virtually re-invented as a disciple of Buddha. But this flowering coincided with a period of turmoil as the ethnic peoples demanded autonomy.
|In March 1962, the army stepped in and seized power. Its leader, Ne Win, became Burma's Stalin. He displaced whole populations, built labor camps, and filled the prisons with his enemies, real and imagined. His wars against the ethnic peoples were unrelenting and vengeful. He abolished Burma's lively free press; and along the way he made himself extremely rich. In 1984, the Far Eastern Economic Review reported that the privately chartered jet taking him to a Swiss health clinic "was delayed because chests of jade and precious stones carried on board had been stacked incorrectly and had to be reloaded." Three years later Burma ignominiously applied for Least Developed Country status so that it could qualify for relief on its massive foreign debt.||
In 1987, the leader who dubbed himself "Brilliant as the
Sun" produced his coup de grace. Without warning, he
withdrew most of the country's banknotes, replacing them
with new denominations that included or added up to the
number nine. According to his chief astrologer, nine was Ne
Win's lucky number. The people of Burma did not share his
luck. As most of them kept their savings in cash, most were
In a nation now so impoverished, the fuse was lit. By March 1988, the regime was at war with the students at Rangoon University. The moment of uprising came
precisely at eight minutes past eight on the morning of the eighth month of
1988. This was the auspicious time the dock workers, the
"first wave," chose to strike. Other workers followed in
succession; and in subsequent days and weeks almost
everyone in the cities and towns, it seemed, showed a
courage equal to those who stormed the Berlin Wall the
following year. Without guns, ordinary people began to
reclaim their country.
Then the slaughter began. The army fired point blank at the crowds and bayoneted those who fell. In Thailand and Norway,I have interviewed the exiled witnesses to these epic events,
most of them speaking publicly for the first time.
"One of my friends was shot in the head right there, in front
of me," said Ko Htun Oo, a former student. "Two girls and a
monk were shot next to him." Another student, Aye Chan,
said, "A lot of flame was coming out of the crematorium
which was surrounded by troops. They weren't even
identifying bodies, so the parents would never know. The
dead and wounded were all mixed up. They just burned them
alive." Another spoke of hearing a wounded schoolboy cry out
for his mother as he was buried alive in the cemetery: "The
caretaker didn't want to do it," he said, "but the soldiers had
guns pointed at him."
Now well into his 80s, Ne Win
|remains the center of SLORC's power. His former aide, the secret police chief, Lt. Gen. Khin Nyunt, is "Secretary One." Behind sunglasses, Khin Nyunt's pudgy face appears at least five times in every copy of the official daily. His seminal work goes under the catchy title, "The Conspiracy Of Treasonous Minions Within The Myanmar Naing-Ngan And Traitorous Cohorts Abroad." One wonders how many of the gallery of faces in its pages are dead. Pol Pot and his gang turned out similar tracts. "Secretary One" is the man whose job is silencing "heretics": those like the lawyer Nay Min serving 14 years for "spreading rumors" to the BBC, and the UNICEF researcher Khin Zaw Win serving 15 years for sending "fabricated news" to the UN,||
and the writer San San Nwe sentenced to 10
years for "spreading false information injurious to the state."
Last year the general subjected a US senator, John McCain
(R-Ariz.), to an hour-long harangue about how SLORC was
holding back the "red tide," then played him a videotape
showing "communists" beheading villagers with machetes:
footage so sickening that McCain's wife had to leave the
room. The aim was to convince the senator that Aung San
Suu Kyi was a front for "red subversives."
|watch us. We peered through a hole in the corrugated iron gate and a face asked our names. Inside, another sunglasses told us to write down our names and occupations. We then crossed an imaginary line into friendly territory and were greeted warmly by Suu Ky|