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Human zoo
Neck-ringing refugees

Ma Nang wearing her neck-rings. The rings can be removed but weakened neck muscles are unable to support the weight of the head.

A new and disturbing tourist attraction has appeared on the troubled border between Burma and Thailand. Ma Nang has been winding brass rings onto the necks of young Padaung women for 34 years. Mostly she has worked in Burma, but for the last five years she has lived in one of two 'tourist villages' in Mae Hong Son province, Thailand.

There are many refugee camps along the Thai-Burmese border. Since 1962 an estimated 1.5 million people have fled the oppression of Burma's military dictatorship. The Thai Government has been a reluctant host to many of them.

But the Padaung were actively encouraged to cross the border. The Thais benefit from the extra income generated by the influx of tourists to the region. At the 'tourist villages' there is an entrance fee. The Padaung women receive some of the revenue but most is taken by Karens, of whom the Padaung are a sub-group. The money helps pay for the struggle against the Burmese Government.

Traditionally the Padaung women wear brass neck-rings which give the appearance of elongating the wearer's neck (in fact they depress the collarbone). The neck-rings can be removed, but the weakened neck muscles are unable to support the weight of the head - to do so without help would result in the windpipe being crushed.

Inside Burma the tradition has been dying. Women would even cross into Thailand to have the rings removed in hospital, where they would need to wait months for their necks to recover. Now, due to the 'tourist villages', the practice has been given an extended lease of life.

Ma Nang explained a significant change in the application of the rings since her arrival in Thailand. In Burma a girl child wears her first rings, weighing one kilo, at the age of five. Two more rings are added at 10 and 15 and another two before the age of 20, to make a total of five.

This process takes too long to sustain the main attraction to the 'tourist villages'. So the process has been speeded up - the first ring worn at the age of five, the second at eight, the third at 13 and the final two by the time the girl is 15.

Inside the camps the women sit at the front of their wooden huts making bracelets, woven bags and dolls to sell to tourists, stopping to pose for the cameras. When asked about the tedium of her life Ma Nang says: 'What do you do? I'm sure your work too must be boring sometimes. This is just the same - a job to earn money.'

Even so, other Padaung women have opted to live in the harsher conditions of the regular Karen refugee camps rather than submit to this practice.

Marcus Rose

Honest emblem: tobacco company's promise. Death direct
A company that sells cigarettes and 'shag' rolling tobacco under the - at least - honest brand name of 'Death' has found a European Union loophole that enables it to circumvent tax duties imposed by the British Government. Captain Black Ltd promises to deliver Death to British consumers at half cost by supplying the tobacco from Luxembourg at duty-free European prices. It may be difficult for a government that derives large tax revenues from duties on tobacco and refuses to restrict cigarette advertising targeted at children, to take a high moral stance on this one.

Captain Black Ltd press release

Eternalizing Kim: body politic or body economic?

Bargain embalming
When Russian morticians were selected for the task of preserving the mortal remains of North Korea's Great Leader Kim II Sung, international soothsayers carefully studied the geopolitical entrails to try and find out what this might mean. Why turn to Moscow for expertise and not to Beijing or Hanoi?

All three capitals have a reputation for state-of-the-art embalming with an impressive backlist of modern mummies including Lenin, Stalin, 'Uncle' Ho Chi Minh and Mao Zedong. But the main clue may lie in the price tag. At $300,000 the Russians came in with a low-ball bid.

World Press Review Vol 41, no 12

The sneakier sex?
'Do women make better spies than men?' asks New Delhi's Times of India. They certainly seem to be on the increase. Britain, for example, now has more female than male agents in its security service, MI5, which is headed by a woman, Stella Rimington. During perestroika Katya Mayorava held a highly visible position in the KGB. And in the US female agents have recently been challenging institutional sexual discrimination within the CIA.

World Press Review Vol 41, no 12.


The fall of poets
Poets used to be as popular as rock stars in Russia. Fans used to fill sports arenas to attend emotional poetry recitals by bards such as Yevgeny Yevtushenko. Others - who struggled with the censors - commanded underground audiences. Not now. Ironically, poetry has come under a kind of capitalist repression from publishers who don't want to bother with it, according to Moscow's liberal Izvestia. Konstantin Kedrov writes: 'If Yevtushenko has to run around the bookstores to distribute his books, then what hope is there for anyone else?'

Steven Shabad,
World Press Review Vol 41, no 12.


All for a strawberry yoghurt
A German study has found that to produce a 150-gram pot of yoghurt and get it to a distribution outlet in south Germany, ingredients were transported from Poland, from the Netherlands, and from north, west and east Germany. The manufacturer of the aluminium cover for the jar, for example, was 300 kilometres away. Not surprisingly, the truck emerged as the main polluter. Driving one truckload of 150-gram strawberry yoghurts to a distribution outlet in southern Germany would result in more than 10,000 litres of diesel being burned, emitting nitrogen oxides, sulphur dioxide and other toxic contaminants into the air.

Safe Alliance Newsletter
38 Ebury Street, London SW1W OLU, England


Suspect case against jailed activist
Native American Leonard Peltier fighting against FBI 'false evidence'.

The two-decade-long fight by Native American Indian activist Leonard Peltier to clear his name may be about to enter a new phase. Peltier, a feisty 50-year-old Lakota-Chippewa, is serving two consecutive life sentences (50 years) in Leavenworth Prison, Kansas for the alleged murder in 1975 of two FBI agents in the United States.

Soon after the shootings Peltier fled to Canada and immediately sought political asylum. Washington asked for a quick extradition and it wasn't long before Peltier was back in a US courtroom. Now, after years of pressure from human-rights campaigners, the Canadian Government has finally agreed to review its decision to extradite.

Was Peltier framed? It seems likely. When it became clear that there was insufficient evidence to charge him and thus no basis for his extradition, the FBI set about concocting it.

The case was based on two affidavits sworn by Myrtle Poor Bear, an Indian woman with a history of mental illness. She signed conflicting affidavits saying she saw Peltier shoot two FBI agents on the Pine Ridge reservation. The affidavits were obtained only after the Canadian prosecutor told the FBI there was insufficient evidence to extradite Peltier. Poor Bear recanted her testimony and the US prosecutors subsequently admitted it was unreliable. According to Peltier supporters all the remaining evidence is circumstantial, simply proving he was in the region where the crime was committed.

There is also reason to believe the FBI and the US Justice Department knew they were presenting false evidence to the Canadian court. In 1978 the US Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals said the submission of evidence was 'to say the least a clear abuse of the investigative process of the FBI'.

Peltier supporters are hoping the recent Canadian decision to allow the Parliamentary Justice Committee to review the case will finally force the US Government to face up to FBI 'dirty tricks' and at last release one of America's most celebrated political prisoners.

Alan Hughes

For more information contact:
The Leonard Peltier Defense Committee,
43 Chandler Drive, Scarborough, Ontario, Canada M1G 1Z1


Aid for arms scandal
Landmark victory for campaigners

A campaign group has taken the British Government to court for misusing overseas-aid money - and won. The High Court declared illegal the Foreign Secretary Douglas Hurd's grant of $351 million aid to the Pergau Dam in Malaysia. The action, brought by the London-based World Development Movement, was the first ever legal challenge to the Government's spending on overseas aid.

Throughout 1994 the Pergau Dam was at the centre of a political storm as the financing of it several years earlier had been linked to an arms sale to Malaysia. The then Secretary of State for Defence, George Younger, had signed a document promising aid worth 20 per cent of a 1.5 billion-dollar arms order. As a result, $351 million of scarce aid was being squandered on a hydroelectric dam in relatively wealthy Malaysia - as much as was given in 1991-92 to all the world's 47 least developed countries.

The World Development Movement argued that Douglas Hurd had not granted aid according to the criteria set out by 1980 Overseas Development and Co-operation Act. This states that aid should be given for 'the purpose of promoting the development or maintaining the economy of a country or territory outside the UK, or the welfare of its people.'

Tim Lankester, a top aid official at the time, had advised that the dam was 'uneconomic' and 'not... a sound development project'. It was given the go-ahead by Hurd because of 'wider considerations' such as the 'interests of British industry'. Hurd stated that this was his right as Foreign Secretary.

But as Lord Justice Ross remarked: 'If Parliament intended to confer payments for unsound development purposes it could have been expected to say so expressly.'

It isn't clear how the Government will sort out the financial mess. The judges ordered the Government to 'unravel' the illegally-spent aid and gave the World Development Movement the power to return to court if not satisfied with the formula proposed. The victory was a landmark legal decision for British citizens' groups.

The Government is now under renewed pressure to explain why eight major buyers of British arms have enjoyed boosted aid over the past decade - at a time when some of the world's poorest countries have seen their aid fall under the knife. For example, Oman, the third largest buyer of British arms, receives more aid per head than Ethiopia - despite being richer than an aid donor like Portugal. Similarly, British aid to Indonesia - a major arms buyer - has tripled, despite its well-documented human-rights abuses. Pergau may be only the tip of the iceberg.

Harriet Lamb

World Development Movement can be contacted at:
25 Beehive Place, London SW9 7QR, England. Tel: 071 274 7630.

Bean bandits
Activists are opposing a biotechnology company that is seeking patent control over the soybean. The company Agrecetus Inc - owned by US agro-giant WR Grace and Co - was awarded a European patent in March 1994 to cover all forms of genetically-engineered soybean plants and seeds, irrespective of the genes used or the transformation technique employed. The company has also applied for a sweeping patent in Canada and the US.

'A patent granting a single corporation monopoly control over genetic research on one of the world's most important food crops - soybeans - is a threat to world food security and demonstrates that the patent system is recklessly out of control. The soybean patent is technically flawed and morally unacceptable - and it must be revoked,' said Patrick Mooney, director of Rural Advancement Foundation International which has filed its opposition to the patent at the European Patent Office.

RAFI, Suite 504-71 Bank St, Ottawa,
Ont. KIP 5N2, Canada.

Breastmilk bank
Bombay city authorities have created a pioneering breastmilk bank in a hospital close to the huge shanty town of Dharavi. Because of its unique nutritional and immunological qualities, breastmilk is extremely important for babies in the first months of their lives. Health officials estimate that more than 1,000 babies die in India each year because they don't get enough of it.

In the first year of the new Bombay scheme 500 babies will be provided with donated milk. The hospital will be drawing primarily on supplies from nursing mothers in its own wards, then from other donors. But this increases the danger that poverty-stricken women may be tempted to sell their breastmilk in order to feed the rest of their families.

Sudhirendar Sharma, Panos


"I don't want to see a new personality cult develop. When we set up democracy here we need to base it on solid principles, not on individual persons. What is needed at the base is a spirit and will for reconciliation..."

Aung San Suu Kyi, leader of Burma's democracy movement and Nobel Peace Prize winner.
Since 1989 she has been held under house arrest by the Burmese Military Junta,
in spite of her landslide victory in the 1990 elections.

©Copyright: New Internationalist 1995

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