Past is haunting - Present is daunting

06 July 2008

Burma is in fact country of many black historic days. Ceaseless massacres were happened all along under bloody wrong hand. Memorials and anniversaries have to hold year round as many as seasonal festive celebrations of Burma calender. Now on July, two prominent black days are awaiting to haunt recent regime of killer generation. These are 7 July massacre and 19 July Martyrs day.

Notionally, 7 July is a bit different from 19 July, in which, Burma national hero, general Aung San and his cabinet members were assassinated. But, deep in reality, hatred, jealous, shortsightedness, paranoid and inhumane natures were the main causes and rooted in every corner of Burma history. Another difference is that 19 July, Martyr day is official Public Holiday in Burma but 7 July mourning day has yet to be recognized and publicized.

On that July 7, back in 46 years ago, groups of unarmed University students were killed by machine gun on the very spot of historic Rangoon University Compound. And the next day , early in the morning, Burma Student Union Building was abruptly destroyed by the wicked hand of military coup d'etat. The reason was that students were annoying and appeared as destructive elements to them, aired on state owned radio by the then coup leader, General Ne Win. He stressed his speech with unforgettable phrase - " an sword for sword, an spear for spear, we have to fight back" . But this had just been bitterness for people all over the country, as all know who actually use sword and spear.

Coup leaders might think that they could possibly eliminate and conquer any of obstacles just by killing and torturing. 26 years after this incident, however, they had realized that past is still haunting and history is rewound itself. Burma' milestone, 1988 revolution was in fact born again spirits of 7 July students.

1988 revolution and stained blood were passed along 20 years now. But past is still haunting to those who committed massacre. So, what is the present situation in Burma now ? Burmese civilians did try their best whenever the circumstances favored. Then military regime has repeatedly tortured and killed whomever against them. Many families were broken and destroyed under this oppression. Mothers are crying. Sons are dying. Political prisoner are lying in the darkness. Political crisis makes ever-deepening social crisis and in turn it causing political unrest again. Moreover, Nagis cyclone pushes Burma to the edge of worst. Everything seems hopeless and unimaginable what would happen to worrisome and desperate 50 million souls. Will it be another revolution? Will it be another cyclone to make sufferer? Will it be another earthquake to punish dictator? Will it be any betterment? Will it be even worse? One thing for sure is present is daunting.

( 7 July memorial)


All of Burma Is a Prison

by Min Zin
Posted June 29, 2008

Much has been written about Cyclone Nargis and the failure of Burma’s military junta to respond adequately. But what of the hundreds of political prisoners held in Burma, many in areas devastated by the storm? When Cyclone Nargis ravaged Burma in the late night hours of May 2, it did not spare political prisoners. The notorious Insein prison, where hundreds of political prisoners (including my brother) are locked up, was one of the hardest hit places in Rangoon.

Why is my brother in Insein? On Feb. 15, the military raided the offices of the Myanmar Nation and took my brother, the weekly journal’s editor in chief, to jail. His crime? Possession of a U.N. report on the military’s brutal crackdown on last September’s demonstrations by monks and democracy activists—known around the world as the “Saffron Revolution.”

My brother’s name is Thet Zin, and he is one of hundreds of Burmese citizens who struggle to tell the truth about what is happening in their country—whether through traditional forms of journalism or through the Internet—under threat of arrest or worse by the military regime. Along with my brother, his office manager, Sein Win Maung, was also arrested.

When Cyclone Nargis hit, it uprooted trees; rain flooded the prison cells and the power was cut. A fire broke out in one of the prison wards, filling the prison with smoke. The flames triggered a riot. The guards started shooting.

Suffering from asthma, my brother was choking with smoke. His former office manager and fellow inmate, Sein Win Maung, passed out. Some sympathetic prison guards rushed to the cells and managed to push aside fallen trees and move the political prisoners to a prison hospital.

“Many political prisoners in the cells could have died from smoke if the rescue was delayed one more hour,” said Bo Kyi, a former political prisoner who now works with Thailand-based Assistant Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP-Burma).

It is still hard to know how many died or were injured during the havoc. But according to AAPP at least 36 prisoners at Insein were shot to death when the cylcone hit. Some prisoners, like many of their countrymen, lost their entire family to the cyclone. Thiha Thet Zin, a political prisoner in Insein, was informed that eight out of nine of his family members—including his son, his parents, his grandmother, and all his siblings—were swept away by the storm. His wife was the only survivor.

This is hell on earth. Still, Insein prison and the injustices that take place there are but a microcosm of what’s taking place throughout Burma. To paraphrase Shakespeare, all of Burma is a prison.

Cyclone Nargis claimed more than 138,000 lives and left millions homeless. Still, the junta denied millions of Burmese people the basic right to food by blocking foreign aid workers and supplies in the weeks immediately following the storm.

Indeed, the misuse of international aid is by now well documented. Aid supplies ended up in military warehouses, local markets and the homes of police officers and members of pro-government civilian groups instead of reaching starving and disease-stricken survivors. Soldiers even looted jewelries from dead bodies.

Moreover, the junta forced survivors to take part in the reconstruction of military sites and conscripted male orphans into the army, which before the storm was already notorious for its tens of thousands of child soldiers. All of these reports have been confirmed by sources both inside and outside Burma.

Clearly, the junta’s inability and unwillingness to care for the Burmese people is tantamount to “crimes against humanity.” Cyclone Nargis has exposed the failures of the regime and brought forth a defining moment in Burmese history with inevitable, if yet unpredictable, political consequences.

“Things will not return to status quo ante,” says Priscilla Clapp, a U.S. diplomat who served as Chief of Mission in Burma from 1999-2002. Post-cyclone Burmese politics will be a humanitarian politics—pressuring and arguing about mobilizing aid and its delivery. Political goals will be set aside at least for the medium-term, and more consideration will be given to humanitarian works.

The junta continues to ensure that the cyclone will not have an effect on its “Road Map to discipline flourishing democracy.” But there are pressures within the junta itself that could eventually lead to change. “We have heard that there are considerable tensions within the military,” said David Steinberg, a Burma expert from Georgetown University. “But I don’t know whether the tension is strong enough to split the military and at what level it exists, and whether it is at a high enough level to threaten present leadership.”

The Association of Southeast Asian Nations has approved millions in aid for Burma and now has hundreds of aid workers from member countries in storm-stricken areas. This could serve to expose to the outside world the prison state that is Burma. Still, despite a visit last month by U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon and the demands of dozens of heads of state, Nobel Peace Prize winner and leader of Burma’s opposition Aung San Suu Kyi remains under house arrest—long after the May 24 deadline for her release.

What’s most important here is to assure the aid money is not used by the junta to retrench and tighten its grip on the Burmese people. Foreign aid runs the risk of being a “jackpot for the military junta, who will be the sole beneficiary of the international donation in the name of the cyclone victims” says Aung Din, a former political prisoner and director of the U.S. Campaign for Burma.

The outside world must demand more transparency and accountability when it comes to aid money and how it is distributed. So long as the world allows itself to be co-opted and outfoxed by the junta, political prisoners—including Aung San Suu Kyi and those in cyclone-ravaged Insein prison—will continue to languish in Burma’s gulags, and the Burmese people will remain shackled.

Min Zin is a Burmese journalist in exile.


Myanmar politics roiled, but junta's grip remains strong

Published: 07.03.2008
[Source -]

BANGKOK, Thailand - The cyclone that devastated Myanmar's heartland has also roiled a political landscape dominated by the military for more than four decades.

Buddhist monks are regrouping after the battering they took nine months ago, civil society groups are emerging and foreign aid workers — often agents of political change in the wake of humanitarian crises — are present in unprecedented numbers.

The junta's grip on power remains absolute. But anger against the regime has probably never run so high.
"Perhaps incremental change will emerge from engagement on humanitarian problems," said Joel Charny, vice president of U.S.-based Refugees International who visited Myanmar just before the cyclone struck.

People were already incensed by the brutal suppression last September of anti-government demonstrators, including the country's revered, saffron-robed Buddhist monks.

Then came Cyclone Nargis, exposing the junta as inept and heartless, initially blocking international aid efforts and even now still hampering them.

"The people are blaming the government. They are responsible for many deaths. They don't care about right or wrong and they let people die just to hold onto power," said Aung Myoe, a 32-year-old driver in a comment typical of the mood in Yangon, Myanmar's largest city.

"In the `Saffron Revolution' they lost their Buddhist legitimacy; with the cyclone they lost whatever concept of efficacy they had with the public," said David Steinberg, a Myanmar expert at Georgetown.

Steinberg said the junta constantly trumpet achievements in modernizing the isolated and impoverished Southeast Asian nation formerly named Burma.

Analysts say these passions and emerging trends may in the longer term loosen the junta's grip on power. But for now it's business as usual: dissidents are arrested, a brutal campaign against ethnic minorities rages on and the military strides toward elections guaranteed to perpetuate its control.

But the 500,000-strong Buddhist monkhood, the only viable national institution after the army, is regaining strength and cohesion by assuming a leading role in helping cyclone survivors.

Their work is seconded by quietly burgeoning civil society groups, which Steinberg said could foster pluralism and democracy in the future. These groups include professional guilds, including those of actors and singers, charity organizations and loose associations of like-minded citizens.

So could the influx of foreign aid workers and agencies in what may be the most intense interaction Myanmar has experienced with the outside world since gaining independence from Great Britain in 1948.

The operative word is "incremental." Analysts don't foresee meaningful political changes in the short run, discounting a dramatic turn of events, such as social upheaval in face of cyclone-induced rice shortages, or a split within the military.
The regime will be hard-pressed to provide enough rice to keep its 400,000 troops and their families loyal and ensure that shortages, which could last several years, don't trigger major popular unrest as they have in the past, said Donald Seekins, a Myanmar watcher at Japan's Meio University.

Meanwhile, the junta marches forward along its so-called "road map to democracy." Elections are scheduled in 2010, based on a referendum-approved Constitution which guarantees the military 25 percent of parliamentary seats and power to run the country in event of a national emergency.

The cyclone response, the referendum and the extension of pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi's detention for a sixth year all sparked international outcry, but the absence of U.N. or other foreign action reassured the junta it needn't fear outside intervention.

"The people of Myanmar would have been happy if the United States or France invaded," said Ye Htun, a 30-year-old English teacher. "In Myanmar, the government is too strong and people are too scared. We can't do it alone."

Denis Gray, AP bureau chief in Bangkok, has covered Myanmar since the mid-1970s.