The SHWE Gas Movement is concerned with a natural gas pipeline project presently unfolding in Western Burma.
In cooperation with Burma's military junta, a consortium of Indian and Korean corporations are currently exploring gas fields off the coast of Arakan State in Western Burma. Discovered in December 2003, these fields--labeled A-1, or "Shwe" (the Burmese word for gold)--are expected to hold one of the largest gas yields in Southeast Asia. These Shwe fields are destined to become the Burmese military government's largest single source of foreign income.
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However, for the people of Burma this project will likely bring more suffering than benefits. It is the opinion of the SHWE Gas Movement that the following issues are very likely outcomes if the pipeline project goes ahead unchecked:
In order to transport the gas to India, a pipeline corridor is already being cleared in the minority Burmese states of Arakan and Chin. Moreover, the area is becoming increasingly militarised and forced labour is occurring in the context of infrastructure development.
As experience with two previous international Burmese gas pipeline projects -- the Yadana and the Yetagun -- suggest, forced relocation of villagers, forced labour, torture, rape and extrajudicial killings will result from the Shwe project.
Because proper social and environmental impact assessments have not been carried out, the extent of the project's impact on the local population and environment can hardly be determined, but the Burmese military has a long history of environmental and cultural degradation.
Just as the Yadana and Yetagun projects provided a context for the Burmese military regime to extend its reach into minority and opposition areas, so too is the Shwe project providing an excuse to further militarize and exploit the frontier areas of Arakan and Chin state. Meanwhile, when the money from this project begins flowing into the junta's coffers, this will only increase the military's grip over the rest of Burma.
Burma's current state of affairs is well known. The regime's poor human rights record has led most governments and many international organisations and institutions to condemn Burma's state terror and pass sanctions and investment bans against the country. This approach, also supported by the majority of Burma's opposition movement and Nobel Peace Laureate Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, is meant to apply economic and political pressure on the regime and kick-start a process of democratisation.
At the same time, several countries, such as the regional neighbours Thailand, India, China and Malaysia, promote constructive engagement with the regime as opposed to international isolation. According to their arguments, constructive engagement will promote economic development, integrate the country into the international community, and eventually instigate a full transfer to democracy.
To date, however, progress in democratisation and human rights is yet to show, which seriously questions the viability of constructive engagement. Indeed, most foreign investment and development projects have caused more suffering than good because of the direct involvement of Burma's military. Thus, as argued by the Nobel Laureate and winner of the 1990 elections in Burma, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, "until we have a system that guarantees rules of law and basic democratic institutions, no amount of aid or investment will benefit our people."
We, the SHWE Gas Movement, ask the governments and corporations involved to halt the project until there is assurance that the people of the whole of Burma and Western Burma in particular can participate in the decision-making process and benefit from this project and not suffer the same fate as the people affected by the Yadana and the Yetagun pipelines. We ask you for your support in achieving this goal.
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