Yangon draws investors despite criticism by West

WESTERN criticism of Myanmar’s human-rights record has not hindered economic development of the country, which continues to count Western countries among its list of leading investors.

Myanmar’s National Planning and Economic Development Minister, Brigadier-General David Abel, said yesterday that Yangonhad been able to attract large amounts of foreign investment in its transition to a market economy over the past five years despite attacks by the Western media and governments.

“They use these tools but it has not been effective,” he told a press conference when asked whether negative media publicity about Yangon’s human-rights record had driven away potential investors.

He said foreign investors now in Myanmar were not “scared” and were prepared to invest more because they had seen what economic opportunities the country offered.

BG Abel is in Singapore as part of a 44-member delegation accompanying the chairman of Myanmar’s State Law and Order Restoration Council (Slorc) Senior General Than Shwe. They arrived on Thursday for a four-day visit to improve trade ties.

BG Abel pointed out that Western countries such as Britain and the United States were among the top five investors in Myanmar. As such, it was “just meaningless when they talk about human rights and democracy”.

Western nations have charged Myanmar’s military junta with human-rights abuses, including its continued detention of opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi. The junta refused to turn over power to her party, the National League for Democracy, which won the general election in 1990.

Myanmar’s Foreign Minister U Ohn Gyaw, who co-chaired the press conference with BG Abel, declined to say whether the 1991 Nobel Peace Prize winner would be released on July 19, the date her sentence ends.

He said that Myanmar leaders had met her twice and so had US Democrat Congressman Bill Richardson. “At an appropriate time there will be continued meetings,” said U Ohn Gyaw. “The process is going on.”

He said that it was unfair of some Western countries to impose its yardstick of human rights as Myanmar’s ethos, culture and history were different.

Both ministers said the main concern of the government now was to build up the country’s economy, which was one of the region’s most prosperous in the 50s.

U Ohn Gyaw said Yangon hoped to achieve this by reforming the economic system, building a multi-party democratic system, integrating the country’s various ethnic groups and forging stronger links with neighbouring countries such as Singapore.

Myanmar and Singapore signed an agreement on Thursday aimed at stepping up economic links.

Among other things, the pact calls for a high-level committee to be set up to co-ordinate projects and trade activities.

Describing the delegation’s visit to Singapore as “very successful”, U Ohn Gyaw said closer ties offered prospects for greater co-operation.

He added that his government had extended an invitation to President Ong Teng Cheong to visit Myanmar.

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