Activists urge halt to Burma tourism

Nov 13, 2009 (DVB), The debate over whether tourists should travel to Burma or not has reignited in Britain as Burmese activists yesterday demonstrated at the World Travel Market Exhibition in London.

"We are staging this protest to oppose travelling to Burma," said Leim Nu of the Free Burma Federation, adding that the demonstrations were joined by various groups, such as Burma Campaign UK.

"About 40 people from different Burmese communities and ethnic groups, such as Kachin, Karen and Chin, are joining us," he said.

Advocates of a boycott of tourism to Burma say that there is evidence the Burmese government uses forced labour in the construction of tourist resorts. Moreover, tourists are heavily restricted in where they can go and who they can meet.

"The junta will only use the profits for further development of the army, while the people of Burma would not enjoy the fruits of it," said Leim Nu. "We believe the people in Burma would agree with us."

The boycott has received support from a number of British organisations, including the Trades Union Congress (TUC) and the New Internationalist magazine.

"Tourism profits rarely reach ordinary people," says the Burma Campaign UK. "The army itself is a partner in many tourist ventures, and some hotel projects are suspected to be fronts for laundering profits from Burma's burgeoning heroin trade."

The renowned guidebook, Lonely Planet, was last year forced to defend its publication of a Burma travel guide after facing criticism from the TUC. It said that the decision to publish the guide "does not of itself represent support or otherwise for the current regime".

The tourism boycott was however backed in 2002 by detained Burmese opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, who told the BBC that "we have not yet come to the point where we encourage people to come to Burma as tourists."

Her stance appears to have recently shifted somewhat in tandem with support for the United States' new policy of engagement with the Burmese junta.

Washington has admitted that its policy over the past decade of isolating the regime in the hope of forcing concessions has not worked.

Reporting by Yee May Aung

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