Who Can Rescue Nilar Thein? [Commentary]

25 January 2008

By Kyaw Zwa Moe
January 22, 2008
[Original Source]

Who remembers her now? Actually, she was well-known about four months ago. But today few seem to remember her. Four months is a long time in today’s fast-moving world.

Nilar Thein is a fugitive with a price on her head. She has been hiding in different locations in Rangoon since September when Burma’s military authorities began hunting down activists who led demonstrations in August and September.

If that’s not reason enough to feel sorry for the 35-year-old activist, her whole family is also suffering along with her.

Her husband Kyaw Min Yu, known as Jimmy, is in the notorious Insein Prison. A prominent activist since 1988 and a leading member of the 88 Generation Students group, he played a prominent role in the first street demonstrations in Rangoon in August.

Nilar Thein’s 9-month-old daughter, Nay Kyi Min Yu, has been living with her grandparents. Her grandparents say she is doing well, but she doesn’t experience the protective, loving kindness of her parents.

The daughter is taken to the prison occasionally to visit her father. But she hasn’t touched her mother in the past months.

If that’s not enough, Nilar Thein spent eight years in jail from 1996 to 2003 for her political activity. Her husband spent 16 years in prison after the 1988 pro-democracy uprising.

Nilar Thein told The Irrawaddy in a conversation from where her hiding place, “I love my daughter like any mother. I had to leave her, but I believe she will later understand why.”

Her husband is likely to receive another long prison sentence, as Nilar Thein continues to try to evade the security forces.

Can you imagine a beautiful end to this sad story?

Do you believe the ruling generals will stop their oppression? Do you believe the United Nations can achieve change in Burma? Do you believe Burma’s neighbors will truly seek change in Burma?

The UN Special Envoy to Burma, Ibrahim Gambari, said in a recent interview with Newsweek magazine, “I don’t have the instruments to change the regime.”

Yes, true regime change is hard to imagine. “The UN is not in the business of changing regimes,” Gambari said. Yes that’s true.

So what about one, single issue: the release of political prisoners, including Aung San Suu Kyi?

Gambari attempted that, but again, with no success.

“The release of Aung San Suu Kyi and the other political prisoners is long overdue,” the envoy said in the interview.

But the junta hasn’t budged, sticking closely to its “seven-step road map,” which is intended to install the military institution legally as the legitimate government of Burma.

Can you imagine political reconciliation? “It’s long overdue,” said Gambari. Opposition groups and the international community have called for reconciliation since the junta took power 20 years ago, especially after Suu Kyi’s party, the National League for Democracy, won the 1990 election by a landslide.

Can you imagine a true dialogue between the junta and the opposition?

Gambari said, “If they [talks] were combined with real engagement and with some incentives at the appropriate time, they could work.” To try to achieve dialogue, sanctions have been imposed by the United States and the European Union since the mid-1990s. Still, it’s hard to imagine sanctions working because Burma’s two biggest neighbors, China and India, and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations remain opposed.

How about the world’s super power, the US? In a recent trip to Hanoi, US Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Scott Marciel said Burma is going “downhill on all fronts.”

“The economy is going downhill, the education system is getting ruined,” he said. “The health care system isn’t functioning…you’re getting more and more cases of resistant strains of tuberculosis and malaria out of Burma. You’ve got refugee flows out of Burma. It’s just a whole series of problems.”

The US is the strongest critic of the Burmese regime and recently it imposed new sanctions targeted at the generals, their family and business cronies. But it doesn’t have any real means to change the regime or open its prisons or get the generals to sit down and talk to opposition and ethnic leaders. It might be another story if Burma were in Middle East, perhaps.

So, how can Nilar Thein, and the Burmese people be saved?

You can imagine only one person who could save Nilar Thein—Rambo.

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