Thursday, August 27, 2009

China Accused of Ignoring Burmese Junta's Graft

The Irrawaddy News

MANILA — China and other governments with lucrative business deals in Burma are ignoring massive corruption by its ruling military junta, a pro-democracy activist said Thursday.

Ka Hsaw Wa said corruption has become the second worst problem in Burma after widespread human rights violations and afflicts all levels of its government.

Ka Hsaw Wa gestures during a press presentation August 27 in Manila, Philippines. Ka Hsaw Wa, one of six 2009 Ramon Magsaysay awardees, is honored for Emergent Leadership and cited for his "dauntlessly pursuing nonviolent yet effective channels of redress, exposure, and education for the defense of human rights, the environment and democracy in Burma." (Photo: AP)

He spoke to The Associated Press in Manila, where he was named one of six recipients of the prestigious Ramon Magsaysay award, considered Asia's version of the Nobel Prize, for documenting human rights and environmental abuses in his country.

Corruption in Burma should be dealt with urgently, since most people struggle to afford three meals a day, Ka Hsaw Wa said. But obtaining evidence is almost impossible, he said.

"It's simply economic plunder," Ka Hsaw Wa said, adding that "99.9 percent of the ruling junta, from a normal soldier to the top generals, are completely corrupt."

He said corruption within the military should be apparent to friendly foreign governments like China, but they look the other way.

"We won't turn a blind eye to that (corruption), of course," said Ethan Sun, a spokesman at the Chinese Embassy in Manila. He added, however, that trade and economic cooperation "benefit the peoples of both countries."

China has often supported the junta against international pressure in the past.

Most ruling Burmese generals live in sprawling, heavily guarded compounds which are off-limits to the public, he said. When a secret video of the lavish 2006 wedding of Snr-Gen Than Shwe's daughter surfaced on YouTube, it caused outrage in his country.

International watchdogs have consistently ranked Burma among the world's most corrupt nations. Transparency International's 2008 list put it next to last, ahead of only Somalia.

The junta does not publicly respond to accusations of corruption, but it has launched anti-corruption drives mostly targeting low-level offenses. A call to the embassy in Manila was not answered Thursday.

"A lot of countries want to swallow Burma alive, it's so rich in natural resources," Ka Hsaw Wa said. "But they try not to see (corruption) in a way that they can do business there."

While the Burmese government officially restricts logging, middle-level military officers have cut down huge swaths of rain forests for personal profit, he said.

Ka Hsaw Wa, a member of Burma's ethnic Karen minority, was a 17-year-old student activist when the government violently suppressed 1988 pro-democracy demonstrations. After his arrest, he fled to the jungle where he witnessed atrocities committed against villagers, the Ramon Magsaysay Award Foundation said.

EarthRights, the nonprofit group he co-founded, filed a case in the United States in 1996 against the US-based oil company Unocal for alleged complicity in human rights and environmental abuses committed by Burma's military in the building of the Yadana gas pipeline. After 10 years of litigation, Unocal agreed to compensate the 11 petitioners.

EarthRights also runs a school in Thailand that trains young people from Burma and other countries in nonviolent social change.

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