- The Washington Times - Friday, August 16, 2002

BANGKOK Burma's military regime will embed a microchip containing personal data into its passports this week in a deal that will profit the U.N. envoy to Burma, despite concern over a possible conflict of interest, according to reports reaching Bangkok, the capital of Thailand, Burma's neighbor.
Burma's electronic passports, known as "e-passports," use computer technology developed by a Malaysia-based company partly owned by Razali Ismail, the U.N. envoy to Burma.
Mr. Razali has visited Burma, also known as Myanmar, several times to help in negotiations between the military regime and opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi. His mediation in April led to the release of Mrs. Suu Kyi from her latest stint of house arrest in May.
Mr. Razali, a Malaysian citizen, insists his U.N. mediation did not conflict with the e-passport deal and has offered to resign both his U.N. position and from the company if the United Nations found him guilty.
"There is no conflict of interest," he told the British Broadcasting Corp. (BBC) on Tuesday. "I've never spoken about this to leaders in [Burmas] government."
Mr. Razali said the e-passport technology was developed and licensed to Burma before he became the U.N. special envoy to the country.
"The fact that my company is involved in discussions with the Myanmar government is not a conflict of interest because I have not negotiated it myself," he told the International Herald Tribune in May.
The e-passports, developed by Iris Corp., include a microchip that displays the document holder's photograph, fingerprints and other unspecified information.
Burmese can flash the passports at a device built into the departure or arrival gates in Rangoon's international airport.
To start the new program, about 5,000 e-passports were to be issued this week to Burmese diplomats, government officials, business leaders and others, the BBC said.
The introduction of the e-passport is a surprise technological advance for the reclusive nation that forbids open public access to Internet, computers, fax machines and similar technology amid fears that uncensored information could destabilize the regime.
Illegal possession of a modem could result in a prison sentence.
Mr. Razali played down fears that the e-passports could be an Orwellian "Big Brother" system linked to larger databases designed to keep Burmese under the watchful eye of the regime.
"Must you think of things in such sinister terms?" he told the BBC. "Anyway, it's only for those people who want to travel outside. In most cases, those will be government people."
Mrs. Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy won national elections in 1990, but the military regime refused to hand over power and instead placed her under house arrest.
The United States and other Western nations, which demand that the military regime step down and restore democracy, have imposed economic sanctions and a boycott of Burma.
Malaysia is the sixth-biggest investor in Burma. In January 2001, Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad visited Burma, where he is perceived as a close friend of the military government.

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