Tourist should ‘just say no’ to visiting Burma


Myo Thein is campaigns officer for the Burma Campaign UK (020 7324 4710, http://www.burmacampaign.org.uk)
below Myo sets out why tourists should not visit Burma at this time.

MH

Recent protests have reignited the debate on whether tourists should visit Burma
How lucky we Burmese are to have foreign travel companies who know what is best for us. In fact, I used to be a tourist guide in Burma, but I’ve always supported the tourism boycott because I know how tourism is funding the military dictatorship. I used to tell tourists not to come back until democracy is restored in Burma. It is the official policy of Aung San Suu Kyi, the imprisoned leader of the non-violent movement for human rights and democracy in Burma, to ask tourists to stay away.

Travel companies and tourists never get to see the real Burma. They do not see the prisoners tortured in jail, the slave labour, or the intelligence officers interrogating or arresting people who have spoken to tourists, demanding to know what was discussed.

I was questioned many times and interrogated, simply because I had spoken to Westerners. The special police accused me of spying for the CIA. The junta often threatened to charge me with treason, which can result in life imprisonment. Contact with Westerners is seriously discouraged in Burma and most people are too scared to speak to foreigners because of the heavy punishment they will receive.

Yes, a few people make a living from tourism, but everyone suffers because the foreign-exchange earnings from tourism, trade and investment help fund the regime that keeps us all in poverty. I have been arrested and tortured for organising peaceful protests for democracy, and now so many more of my people are dead or in jail because of another brutal crackdown.

No one denies that it is impossible to visit Burma on holiday without money going to the regime. It is also generally accepted that the regime spends at least 40 per cent of its budget on the military. So it comes down to this: if you ignore our requests and go to Burma on holiday, you will be helping to pay for the soldiers on the streets, and the bullets they fire at monks and other peaceful protesters. Surely you can find somewhere else to go on holiday for now, and please visit us later when you will genuinely be helping us by visiting, not helping our oppressors.

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