BBC World Service, The World Today
16 July 2007
0300 GMT

BBC World Service:

Proposed transfer of Indian military helicopters to Burma has upset
the human rights organization Amnesty International which says the
deal threatens the European Union's arm embargo on Burma.  According
to a report by a group of NGOs including Amnesty the Advanced Light
Helicopter (ALH) is manufactured in India, but couldn't be operational
without vital components from EU states.  European Union of course
have an arms embargo in place on Burma.  Amnesty International's Helen
Hughs said the proposed sale/sell is worrying.

Amnesty International's Helen Hughs:

We're particularly concerned because of the human rights record of
Myanmar, and particularly the violations are committed by the army
there in areas of conflict in counterinsurgency operations.  A lot of
those violations relate to you know sort of forced displacement and
forced disappearance, rape and torture.  Based on that kind of
calculation of risk, this transfer shouldn't be going ahead because
there is a real danger that these could be used by the Army to support
committing serious violations.

BBC World Service:

Dr. Zarni is a Burma specialist at Queen's College (transcriber's
remark should be "Queen Elizabeth House"), Oxford. And he has been
giving us his views on Amnesty's concerns.

Zarni:

I agree with the moral sentiment behind Amnesty's objection.  But this
is not just simply a human rights issue although it is a legitimately
human rights issue.   India as you know is in competition with China
over influence over the Burmese regime.  So, it is very, very
difficult for a country like India to forego its national security and
economic interests when it comes to a neighboring country Burma.
And the other point is India itself has an armed insurgency in its
North East provinces.  It shares over 1,000 miles long border with
Burma.  There is a growing tighter military and security cooperation
between Burma and India.  So that needs to be taken into account when
we try to address the issue of India's latest proposal for arms sale
to Burma.

BBC World Service:

So, you are saying really there is not much that can be done.

Zarni:

Well, I think EU countries should go back and look at how tightly the
arms embargo language is. As far as the Burmese military, I don't
really think they need more arms for their survival.  Maybe India in a
way is outsourcing their security operations to Burma because Notheast
armed resistance groups easily slip away into Burmese territories.

BBC World Service:

You are in favor of trying to maintain an arms embargo against Burma,
but as I understand it you are against other kinds of economic
embargoes. Why is that?

Zarni:

The thing is this is one of the poorest countries in the world.  And
the West has maintained over a decade of economic embargo.  There is
no such thing as hungry generals, but only hungry people.  If you are
trying to cripple the economy that is already ailing over the past 45
years because of the military rule and economic mismanagement you end
up punishing the people who are supposed to benefit politically from
the well-meaning, but misguided economic sanctions.

BBC World Service:

So, you are saying ordinary people in Burma are suffering directly as
a result of Western sanctions directed against the Burmese government.

Zarni:

Oh, absolutely.  I wouldn't say Western sanctions alone accounts for
the growing poverty, malnutrition and all that that the Burmese people
are facing.  But definitely when you look at the international media
climate that has been created as a result of exceptionalizing a
country like Burma There are other countries with similar
situations.  Natural resource rich.  Post-Colonial. Multi-ethnic
internal armed conflict and also repression.  While the aim and
objective of the sanctions is legitimate you have to look at the
impact on the ground.  If you are trying to discourage trade and
investment, as well as tourism then people are the ones who will
suffer.  They need jobs.  They have to feed their families. They have
to send their aging parents to hospitals.   You just cripple their
ability to feed themselves.  The generals are smiling.  They are even
buying arms from India.  China.

BBC World Service:

You mentioned China.  Of course, these two Asian giants are engaged in
competitive wooing of Burma mainly because of its very rich gas
reserves.  Doesn't that help prop the regime up there though?   It
goes against what you are saying about trying to impose economic
sanctions.

Zarni:

Both India and China share long, long borders with Burma.  They are
also consuming (Burma's) natural resources natural gas, oil, forest
products, agricultural products,  And they are not going to back away
simply because some of us who are living in the West tell them to on
grounds of moral disagreement.

BBC World Service:

Would you say sanctions regime has been counterproductive.  If Burma
were to be flooded with investment and Western tourism do you think
that might loosen the grip the generals keep on the country?

Zarni:

Absolutely.  You have gotta look at this issue as a way to empower
people economically. If you are hungry even if you want the people to
fight back politically and otherwise against this regime they'd be too
busy struggling for their own survival economic survival.  Poor
people don't necessarily make good revolutionaries.

BBC World Service:

That was Zarni, former (Burmese) activist and now an academic at Queen
(Elizabeth House), Oxford.

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