UK travel companies urged to sever links with Burma

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The Independent Online

British travel companies that operate in Burma are the next in line to be targeted by the Foreign Office, which has already forced British American Tobacco to consider pulling its £10m investment in the country that is rife with human rights abuses.

The Foreign Office minister Mike O'Brien yesterday began drawing up a list of travel companies that operate tours to Burma. He said he would write to, "all travel organisations with any links with tourism in Burma. If any are involved, we will target them."

There are about 30 travel companies that operate tours and holiday packages to Burma, including the cruise company Carnival. The threat of renewed Government pressure has already begun to take effect as Travelsphere Holidays said it would end tours to Burma from 2004 for "commercial and moral" reasons.

Abercrombie & Kent said, in light of Government calls: "We will review our position [on Burma] once we receive the letter from the Government," and Kuoni has already pulled its Burmese holiday packages, citing a falling off in demand. Orient Express, however, one of the largest tour operators in Burma, yesterday refused to comment on whether it would bow to Government demands.

Mr O'Brien's decision to target travel companies came after BAT said it would consider withdrawing from Burma where it has a cigarette factory. "In light of the formal request by the Government, we are now considering what we are going to do, and we will be looking at all the options available to us," a spokeswoman for BAT said but Burma Campaign UK said: "We believe there is no way BAT can not pull out of Burma. They are under so much pressure, they can not continue to try to justify their actions there."

The pressure on BAT to withdraw has increased following the decision of Premier Oil to exit the country this week. The Conservative Party said that it would support moves to sanction companies that trade or invest in the regime.