Saturday, August 09, 2008

Remembering the 1988 Burmese Uprising

August 9th, 2008 by King Kong Janoi Print This Post/Page

20 years ago this week, Burmese Women and men, old and young, rich and poor, were flooding the streets – in a tide of anger against the repressive military government.

Revolution was in the air on August 8 back in 1988.

Ma Myait Myait San was a final year student at Rangoon University at the time.

“In 1988 I would say that was the birth of the human rights movement. I had never heard the word human rights. I took part with the other students because I was hoping for a life change.”

Six weeks of rallies - which became known as the 88 protests - were eventually brutally suppressed by the military.

At least 3,000 civilians were killed as the military tightened its grip on power.

On the anniversary, King Kong Janoi speaks with Aung Zaw, a student leaders who was forced to flee after their uprising failed.

“I still remember my departure when I prayed and worshipped my mom. I told her I will be back in a few months and she cried and I cried. I thought naively that I would see her again but I have not.”

He is now the editor of Irrawaddy Magazine that covers Burma from Thailand.

His greatest wish is to return home.

“I thought of if I buy air ticket here to Burma, it would only take 55 minutes to fly but I can not go home. So that is really give us a hard feeling. But the spirit of 88 continues. We have determination.”

But the military regime that has ruled the country for 46 years shows no signs of collapse, despite international condemnation and economic sanctions.

This week President Bush both delivered speeches criticising the Burmese junta.

In an exclusive Interview with Asia Calling’s partner station the Democratic Voice of Burma President Bush says the international community needs more.

“What we have to do is continue to work with members of the Security Council and explain to them that what matters most in life is the human condition. We have a lot of work to do to convince people that life can be better in Burma and it’s in their interest to make it better. China is a very important country. It’s in our common interest that Burma be peaceful but I don’t know if China will agree that Aung San Suu Kyi should be free and at the centre of the country like we do. We just have to work that much harder.”

Political analysis U Aung Naing Oo who met with President Bush argues America should take a more diplomatic approach.

“The US government should engage with Burmese military and US government should come out with pragmatic program to help the transition and to build democratic institution in Burma and to bring the military out of isolation.”

He argues that the Burmese people not the military are suffering because of the economic sanctions.

“I don’t think sanctions are effective. Sanctions have unwittingly punished the people because the military has a lot of money from the sale of oil and gas. They don’t care sanction.”

He says while fellow Asian nations like Thailand and China still trade with the military US and EU sanctions are meaningless.

Southeast Asian nations maintain a non-intervention policy with Burma.

But there have been recent moves by ASEAN to put more pressure on the military to make democratic reforms.

Many of the protests to mark the 88 revolution have focus on China.

Activists say Beijing could be the key to making the military respect human rights.

Dissidents in Rangoon though, say it is very difficult to organize mass protest now because most their leaders are in jail or hiding.

But U Aung Moe Zaw, the chairperson of the Opposition Democratic Party for a New Society remains optimistic.

“Change in our country will come from the inside. The people and our political activists are working together to achieve our goal.”

On the eve of the anniversary One of Burma’s most popular comedians was charged with several offences, after he defied the military by giving aid to the victims of Cyclone Nargis.

His relatives say Zarganar faces charges including creating public unrest and unlawful association for his aid activities during the disaster.

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