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Is South-East Asia the globe's forgotten factor? Economically, it is one of the fastest expanding regions of the world. But in twenty years' time, will we regret that more was not done there to bring about freedom, justice and peace?

When I was fifteen I made a list of all the things I was unhappy about, ranging from having spots to not having a boyfriend. It's a hard life, isn't it?

Now meet Lin Lin from Burma. When she was thirteen her mother died. Shortly afterwards, her father took her to a job-placement agency on the Thai-Burma border. The agent gave him 1200 Baht (US$75) and the assurance of a job for Lin Lin in Thailand. Once in Bangkok, the agent took her to a brothel. She did not know what was going on until he started touching her. He told her to take off her clothes and forced her to have sex. From then on she was never allowed to refuse a client. During the week she had six or seven clients a day but at the weekend the number often rose to fifteen. She was warned, moreover, that if she came out of the room before her client, she would be beaten.

Such is the plight of many girls from Burma and elsewhere. Unaware of how the racket operates, their parents are innocently selling them into sex slavery. The extent of their world is more often than not a small concrete cubicle. Inevitably, the tragedy of their violation is their exposure to AIDS. Most come to Thailand as virgins (yielding a higher payment); most return HIV positive. Lin Lin said some of her clients refused to use condoms and although she was tested several times for AIDS, she was never told the results. The horror continues. Those who do make it back across the border into Burma are liable to be prosecuted as criminals for having illegally left the country in the first place.

The trafficking of women and girls into Thai brothels is just one of the many human rights abuses suffered by the people of Burma. Since 1962, they have been dominated by a military regime now known as the State Law and Order Restoration Council (SLORC). In the student led, non-violent uprising of 1988, thousands of demonstrators were killed including monks, women and children. Many students fled to the jungle region of the Thai-Burma border and joined the ethnic groups in their armed struggle against the military. From there some went to Bangkok to further their fight for freedom as political refugees.

One such student is Ma Aye Pwint. She and thirty-seven others were arrested by the Thai police and jailed for nine months. Now studying on scholarship in Australia, she says, "Even though we are in many different countries, we are still against the military government." She continues, "Some of our colleagues think the fall of the opposition headquarters (Manerplaw) is the end of our revolution. That is not true for me and for other democratic students. The centre of revolution is in our heart, until we achieve our goal. I believe the longer we stand up against militarism, the better the way of life we can create for our people. That is my great expectation for my country, Burma."

At the same time, Angelay, a student in Bangkok, says "Burma's problems will not be solved just by removing one government and installing another." He fled to the jungles in 1988 and fought there for three years. However, he is not convinced that this is the best way to bring about the changes needed. "We Burmese are so quick to take to guns as a means of solving the problems we face. We are not so ready to negotiate. I have decided to change to a non-violent approach. That is an even harder challenge than armed struggle but we need to take it on."

"If we are to establish democracy, we need to bring reconciliation between all the different groups which make up Burma. We need to cure corruption, as the Taiwanese are doing through their clean-election campaign. But first we must see the dishonesties and hatreds inour own lives which cause corruption and disunity. If we start to do these things ourselves, we will learn to do them for our country. The non-violent way challenges us to take responsibility and live a disciplined life. That is the moral training we need to create a just and democratic Burma."

The courage displayed by these young activists is admirable. Zaw Win, a friend of Angelay, recalls the motto which kept their spirit alive whilst in Bangkok:

We came here not to surrender

Hope for the best

Prepare for the worst

Strength of resistance is an ability

If this is an inspiration to those still in the detention centre, so too is the philosophy of their imprisoned leader, Aung San Suu Kyi. She relates to their resilience, because "even under the most crushing state machinery, courage rises up again and again, for fear is not the natural state of civilised people."

In her essay, Freedom from Fear, not only does she demonstrate an unfailing and compassionate love for her people, she also gets to the very cause of the students' revolt. "(They) were protesting not just against the death of their comrades but against the denial of their right to life by a totalitarian regime which deprived the present of meaningfulness and held out no hope for the future."

And what of the future? The vision of Suu Kyi, 1991's Nobel Peace Prize Winner, does not stop at the creation of a new Burma. It extends to the whole of humanity. She sees that, "as long as there are governments whose authority is founded on coercion and interest groups which place short-term profits above long-term peace and prosperity, (then) concerted international action to protect human rights will remain at best a partially realised struggle." Her belief therefore is not only that "victims of oppression (will) have to draw on their own inner resources", but that every individual should undergo a "revolution of the spirit". Why? Because "it is not enough merely to call for freedom, democracy and human rights", one has to "make sacrifices (and) resist the corrupting influences of desire, ill will, ignorance and fear".

Although she barely knew him, hers is the living voice of a father who stood for the principles of freedom, discipline and self-sacrifice. "Each and every one of you must make sacrifices to become a hero possessed of courage and intrepidity": so General Aung San inspired his people, leading them in 1947 to independence from the British. The same year saw his assassination. Nearly half a century later, his spirit lives on in a daughter who urges us not to be dictated by fear but to have the courage to carry the responsibilities needed to create societies free from want.

Burma's people continue to work for the restoration of human rights and democracy and call for international support for their struggle. July 20th, 1995 marks the beginning of Suu Kyi's seventh year of imprisonment in her own home. Under Burmese law she is due for release on that day. Time will tell.

Meanwhile, if she can bear the pain of separation from her husband and sons - and if a young Burmese man can lie semi-conscious on a prison floor and say, "I will not complain. In my heart I have the courage to continue", what small sacrifice can we make, where we are, today and tomorrow and tomorrow?

Laura Trevelyan, UK


Much of the global mass media is profit-driven. This inevitably distorts its news coverage and emphasis. If an international TV network dwells on a country's dark side, then that country's government may be reluctant to grant the network rights to broadcast. The casualties of a drive to maximize profits are often the victims of injustice in a country. Such is the case in Burma.

Even the SLORC, however, can not control the interactive grassroots communication made possible through the Internet, as information is smuggled into the country on computer disks. It is unfiltered and not bound by any regulations.

Social and political activists around the world subscribe to electronic mailing lists such as BurmaNet, to conduct wars of propaganda. The messages travel the globe instantly and cost little. Academics involved in Burmese studies and U.S. Government officials are among BurmaNet subscribers. The Burmese Embassy in Washington reacted to BurmaNet by putting SLORC-sanctioned news on the internet.

Much of the latest technology is not available in Burma, as with most closed countries. So supporters and exiles overseas make up the majority of BurmaNet's readers, who number in the thousands. But increasingly, locals are receiving this news. Some even give information to BurmaNet's facilitator, "Strider".

Institute for Global Communications (IGC) resources are used by Strider to distribute news. The IGC is a non-profit organisation that boasts "the most extensive global communication network in the world dedicated specifically to serving NGOs and citizen activists working for social change". It also supports environmental groups and those working for non-violent conflict resolution.

For more information send E-mail to BurmaNet on: and messages to the Institute for Global Communications to:

Erik Parsons, Australia

Last update: 2000-02-12 17:20:13 (EEST).
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