Monday, January 14, 2008

'88 Burmese Resisters Aid Countrymen From Abroad

Nora Boustany
December 8, 2007

Student leaders who fled Burma after the 1988 pro-democracy uprising are raising money to help boost a resistance movement that is demanding political rights and lower prices on commodities in the country, according to a board member of Refugees International, a Washington-based organization.

Eileen Shields-West, who recently spent several days in the Thai town of Mae Sot, just three miles from the Burmese border, said relief workers shared stories about the Buddhist monks who escaped the military crackdown this fall.

Many of the monks reached safety by floating down the Moei River at night on inner tubes.

To evade government troops, one monk bleached his new crop of hair blond, shed his saffron robes and started wearing a crucifix after pictures of him were distributed and his mother was kidnapped, Shields-West said.

The monk is now seeking political asylum, said Dawn Calabia, a senior adviser to Refugees International who accompanied Shields-West to the Burmese border area last month.

But the number of dissidents streaming out of the country has been much smaller than it was in 1988, according to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, based in Thailand.

The reason, Shields-West said, "is that people are waiting, staying in Burma and eager to try again. The protests lasted longer this time; they were more powerful and closer to turning the tide."

"People will never forgive or forget what happened this time, because they saw monks being mistreated," Shields-West said.

"In the eyes of civilians, none of this will be forgotten, so they believe there will be another uprising," she added.

Life is so harsh in Burma that citizens and even military personnel travel to settlement camps in border areas and Thailand for medical treatment, Shields-West said.

Burma's military killed far more than the 10 victims it says died in its September crackdown on pro-democracy demonstrators, a Human Rights Watch report said Friday; a U.N. investigator documented at least 31 dead.

Paulo Sergio Pinheiro, the U.N. investigator, said that "credible sources" reported that a large number of bodies were burned in the last days of September.

Based on hundreds of interviews with witnesses in Burma and Thailand, Human Rights Watch determined that security forces had "shot into the crowds using live ammunition and rubber bullets, beat marchers and monks before dragging them onto trucks and arbitrarily detained thousands of people."

"The crackdown in Burma is far from over," said Brad Adams, the group's Asia director.

Source: Washington Post

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