Government work in Myanmar ‘immoral’
10:10AM Monday February 04, 2008
Burma campaigner Naing Ko Ko has slammed work done by a New Zealand state owned enterprise in Myanmar as “immoral”, saying it was not the right time to be doing business with Myanmar.
Prime Minister Helen Clark says the work by Government broadcast and telecommunications business Kordia will probably help democracy in the country.
But National has criticised the State Owned Enterprise doing business in military ruled Myanmar.
Mr Ko Ko says the argument the cell phone towers would help democracy did not stand up, and instead supported the regime.
“The regime is immoral the regime is killing a lot of people even the respected Buddhist monks,” Mr Ko Ko said.
“In reality they are shaking hands with the dirty hands of the regime.”
The regime controlled all aspects of life so Amnesty International spokeswoman Margaret Taylor said the organisation did not support trade sanctions but wanted a total arms embargo.
However she said the military government cut internet communications during protests.
“Communications is a positive for the people of Burma but if the New Zealand Government is going to work alongside this regime then it does at the very least need to raise the human rights concerns that they are very aware of.”
She said the company had a moral obligation to raise concerns with the regime directly.
National foreign affairs spokesman Murray McCully said yesterday the Government had “tantrums” over Air New Zealand carrying Australian troops to the Iraq war and imposed sanctions on Fiji after it was taken over by a military regime.
“It is hard to reconcile these actions with the decision to allow a wholly taxpayer-owned company to carry out engineering work for the Butchers of Burma, especially when it is likely that the communications facilities they are constructing will be used as a tool for the continued suppression of the Burmese people,” Mr McCully said.
Miss Clark told Breakfast on TV One that the contract was small – worth about $80,000 – and related to putting up cellphone towers.
“Quite frankly I think that’s probably an aid to democracy in Myanmar, not a step backwards, because one of the ways of getting news out to the world and photos and images out to the world is precisely through that technology.”
Kordia had not run the contract by the government, she said.
“But if it had they would probably have had the response that there are no economic sanctions on Myanmar.”
Miss Clark said there was no comparison between Kordia working in Myanmar and the Government opposing its national airline being used to get troops to Iraq.
“It’s well known that New Zealand is not part of the war, not part of the invasion, not part of an occupying force, and really didn’t want to have any part in that.”
Miss Clark said she could not see how the contract was detrimental to democracy and there was “no way” that the company would be allowed to export military parts for example.
Miss Clark has regularly raised Myanmar’s poor human rights record with leaders.
At last November’s East Asia Summit, Miss Clark, Japan’s prime minister and former Australian foreign minister Alexander Downer raised the issue in front of summit leaders, including Myanmar’s prime minister Thein Sein.
Miss Clark said at the time that Mr Sein had said things were now “back to normal” in Myanmar.
“Of course back to normal isn’t a satisfactory situation when you’ve had a lot of deaths and detentions and a huge amount of international interest,” she said at the time.