Enote 74 – Burma ChangingDecember 12, 2011
Surprise! A new look for the enotes and the webpage. The web site is still under construction so please be patient not all of the links are working. The basic format is the same explaining who we are, what we do, how you can help, but we have an improved section with compelling videos, and other new features. I hope you will give it a look, and tell me what you think.
A coming thaw?
Recently we have been hearing a lot about the new government of Burma. In November of last year a new president, Thein Sein was selected in what many saw was a rigged election. Now we learn that he has released hundreds of prisoners, has suspended building of the Myitsone Dam a joint project with China, which has been highly criticized because of its ecological and social effect, and has met with Aung San Suu Kyi, the leader of the forces of democracy in Burma. President Thein Sein is shown here with Aung San Suu Kyi. Persuaded of his sincerity, she has agreed to have the NLD, her party, rejoin the country's political system.
A few days ago our President Obama has said, “If Burma continues to travel down the road of democratic reform, it can forge a new relationship with the United States of America.” Now we learn that he has sent our Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to visit the new president. All of this has happened in just a few weeks. It is an extraordinarily rapid change after almost fifty years of dictatorial rule.
Is it true? Is there really a chance that peace, and stability, and freedom will soon come to this country that has suffered so long in civil war? Will the refugees soon be able to return to rebuild their lives?
Prompted by these questions, I wrote to several refugee friends to learn of their reaction to this possibility. Here are three responses:
I. Hello Tom, sorry for being late for writing to you as I was traveling and could not access the internet. Thanks for emailing me. This is sent to you so you can have a clearer picture of what the new government is doing after the election.
Since the new government stepped in there are no changes, nothing is better for the people inside and in IDP areas. The human abuses still continue worse and worse. Myanmar TV shows a changing and better situation and the new government has planned for a better future for the country. But in reality, even in Yangon area near Shwe Ta Gone Pagoda area, about 26 families were forced to move to another area which means the military is taking land from the people. The people plead with the government to consider these issues. But until now the president does not reply. In the Mutraw area below Papun town, the Burmese army has taken the villager's water paddy in many places. They use the land as their military bases. They also do it in Karenni areas. So they continue to take land everywhere.
II. It is my pleasure to have a chance to write to you again. I am so sorry for my late response. I was inside Karen State for two months so I have no connection with outside world. I just came back to Thailand and now am able to answer your question. ... I did not see any change at all under this new government. During my field survey period the Tatmadaw shelled the paddy field and village close to Paw Law Pu Middle School area which I think the government will use to call the ethnics for peace talks so they will be able to send their ammunitions and rations to the frontline freely to start the unfinished business of completely wiping out the IDPs. Now they use a lot of landmines which is more dangerous than before. We are the IDPs who suffer a lot under this situation but we are weak enough to persuade the international NGOs to stay with us, so our situation may get worse after other people belief in a new government.
III. Let me share with you my ideas about the current situation in Burma. If we look in the new we can see many things changes inside Burma with the government. But I think it is very hard to say now that it really changes.
I believe that until the Burmese government stops fighting with the ethnic people such as Shan, Kachin, and Karen, I do not think there will be 100% change. Fighting continues in Kler Lwee Htoo, Pa Pun and Karenni State. The Burmese government released the prisoners but did not include Min Ko Naing (who was the student leader in 1988). How can we say that the situation is improving? I think it will be a long time to reach to Democracy.
Clearly it is very hard to forget or forgive memories like the picture above showing ones completely destroyed village home. On the other hand, I am very sensitive to the concern that remembrances of past abuse and search for (justice/revenge?) may very well stand in the way of healthy reform. The jury is still out, and we at BREF must continue our work with the refugees and IDPs until the signs of peace and prosperity return to the people of Burma.
- Held Board of Trustees meeting October 1, 2011.
- Elected Mark Sommer as Board Member.
- Writing appeals, and grant applications.
- Rewriting our website.
- Preparing for our next trip starting on January 8, 2012.
As I have told you before, this year has been very tough for everyone, but you should it is no less tough for the refugees. The fighting continues, and others are withdrawing their support. If you have not yet contributed this year, please make your contribution generous.
Thank you and best wishes,