Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Another Chance For Burma

During 1943 to 1945, my father had the honour to serve alongside the Burmese Rifles as they strove to remove the Japanese from Burma. In difficult terrain and conditions, these brave men and women, along with the 13th Liverpool Regiment, fought long and hard to remove a murderous and oppressive regime.

Eventually, the Japanese were defeated in the South-East Asia theatre of World War Two, and in 1948, Burma won its independence from the UK and had the opportunity to forge its own destiny. The Burmese Republic, called the ‘Union of Burma’ was born and its progress into the 20th Century was rapid and significant. In 1961, its UN representative, U Thant was elected as the United Nations Secretary General

This fledgling democracy was strangled in 1962 when the oppressive military junta of General Ne Win took control through a bloody coup d’etat. Since then, under a procession of cruel and oppressive military leaders, Burma or as it now wants to be known, Myanmar, the population has been held in check.

Throughout that time, pockets of opposition have grown up, only to be brutally wiped out when it became too much for the leadership. In 1990, elections were held and, of the 489 seats available, the democratic opposition won 392. This election, of course, was ruled null and void by the ruling junta. At that point, the opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi has been held under house arrest – though that did not stop her from being awarded the Sakharov Peace Prize in 1990 and the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991. Released from house arrest in 1995, she was told that if she left the country, she would not be allowed back in. Her British husband was in the UK with their children and was dieing of cancer. She never got to see her husband, and has not seen her children from 1990.

The junta is widely believed to be at the centre of human trafficking, enforced labour and slavery, and commonly uses to torture and execution to maintain control. That situation remains.

The recent demonstrations by monks and the population are yet another effort by those who see a democratic future for the country to persuade their ‘Government’ to abdicate and allow genuine free elections. It is a window of opportunity for the rest of the world. Already, George Bush has announced sanctions to be imposed against Burma. Anyone who has read my posts knows I’m no admirer of Bush, but in this act, as far as it goes, has to be applauded. This time, there is no reason for the rest of the free world not to follow suit. As I write this, reports are coming in of 3 monks shot to death by the military. There is no time to waste. We must act now.

My father always said that the Burmese people were some of the gentlest, yet bravest and compassionate people he had ever met and it tears him apart to this day. From his descriptions, it is definitely a country I would want to visit, but not until a true democracy exists.

Aung San Suu Kyi once said: ‘It is not power that corrupts but fear. Fear of losing power corrupts those who wield it and fear of the scourge of power corrupts those who are subject to it.’


Eddie said...

Hi Mark,
I believe that Burmese civilians, at great risk to themselves, helped Allied prisoners of the Japanese during WW2.
We must do everything in our power to repay that bravery during this critical time.

Jay said...

If only they had some oil.

sandegaye said...

Unfortunately Jay, I think you're right.