Wish You Weren’t There
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Interview

Wish You Weren’t There


By Yvette Mahon and Joe Cummings Friday, February 25, 2005


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British campaign adds fuel to Burma tourism debate

 

When Burma hosts the next Asean tourism fair, in January 2006, some notable names will be missing from the guest list. There will be no official British participation, for a start, following a strong statement this month by Prime Minister Tony Blair and the two other British parliamentary party leaders opposing tourism to Burma. They added their names to a list of more than 70 public figures supporting an anti-tourism campaign mounted by the Burma Campaign-UK.

 

The campaign and the high profile support it has won within Britain have reignited the Burma toursim debate. Is a tourism boycott an effective way to force the Burmese generals to give up power, or does it hit the wrong people? Is it morally wrong to enjoy a holiday in Burma, or do tourists throw a lifeline to oppressed Burmese? The Irrawaddy asked two representatives of the contrary arguments to participate in a debate on the central issues.

 

 

 

Question: Yvette, how effective do you think this initiative by Burma Campaign-UK will be?

 

Answer: I think it will have a tremendous effect. It’s not just that it’s Prime Minister Tony Blair (who is supporting the campaign), but we have cross-party support here from the Conservative leader Michael Howard and Liberal Democrat leader Charles Kennedy. The media has picked up on it, it has gone out internationally and appeared in newspapers across the world. It sends a huge message to the regime in particular: the British public are not going to be holidaying in Burma until there’s improvement in the human rights situation there.

 

Q: But won’t the boycott hurt the people who stand to suffer most, those who depend on tourism for their livelihood?

 

A: I’ve never been black and white about this. The Burma Campaign has never said it’s a clear-cut black and white, comfortable issue. Of course some ordinary Burmese live from tourism. We don’t deny that. We’re not suggesting for a moment that those people aren’t as important as everybody else. But this is a political struggle, and you have to look at the big picture. You also have to look at the fact that it’s a tiny percentage of ordinary Burmese who make their living from tourism. Around 80 percent of Burmese people make their living from agriculture and they never even see a tourist. It’s not a comfortable issue, however. I hate the fact that some ordinary people will be affected by the tourism boycott. It’s not something I feel happy about. But I think the responsibility for that has to rest with the regime.



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