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Burma News (r)
1. India broadcast
2. feature story on human rights worker
Copyright 1994 The British
BBC Summary of World Broadcasts
October 18, 1994,
SECTION: Part 3 Asia - Pacific; SOUTH ASIA; INDIA;
LENGTH: 506 words
HEADLINE: FOREIGN RELATIONS; Relations with Burma
"back on right track"
SOURCE: All-India Radio external service, New
Delhi, in English 1010 gmt 16 Oct 94
BODY: Excerpts from commentary
After a brief so-called bad patch in bilateral
ties, relations between India and Myanmar [Burma]
seem to be back on the right track now. The recent
Memorandum of Understanding, MOU, signed by the
Confederation of Indian Industries with Myanmar
Industries Association, speaks a volume for
changing trend in the bilateral relations. The MOU
is expected to pave the way for expanding Indian
commercial and economic activities in Myanmar.
Starting from the days of pro-democracy
agitations in Myanmar till about a couple of years
ago, the relations between the two countries were
anything but cordial. Prolonged house arrest of
pro-democracy leader, Ms Aung San Suu Kyi, could
cause concern in India as in other democratic
countries and along with them, India did raise her
voice for her freedom and negotiations with her.
India has realized now after her own sorry
experience on the issue of alleged violations of
human rights in Kashmir that expression of views
on human rights violations would amount to
interference in the internal affairs of the
country. In fact, it is being acknowledged
worldwide that in democratic societies like India
there is bound to be (?talk) on the issues such as
human rights and democracy, and in the case of
Myanmar, the continued detention of Ms Suu Kyi.
But the important thing is the government to
government contact and the pursuing a foreign
policy that is based on national interests. While
India has made it clear that it remained
sympathetic to the democratic aspirations of the
people of Myanmar, this is also firm commitment to
the principle of strict non-interference in the
internal affairs of Myanmar...
Stability on the borders in Indian's northeast
would seem quite imperative and vital. It is not
merely on the question of border smuggling but on
the problem of narcotics transborder (?intrusions)
and insurgencies. The period of no contact for
about three years from 1988 proved
counterproductive. But, since then there has been
an improvement in the political and economic level
culminating among other things in the signing of
the border trade agreement in January 1994 and an
MOU in civilian border contacts...
There is hope that there would not be only an
enhancement in quantum of trade but also in its
diversification in times to come. Many major
Indian automotive companies have shown their
interest in exporting their vehicles to Myanmar.
Future seems to be bright for joint ventures also
now considering improving relations between the
two countries. One promising area for cooperation
between the two sides is exploration of oil. India
has been looking for oil in the Andaman offshore
region of the prospects along the Myanmar coast
are regarded as promising. [sentence as heard] It
will be, therefore, worthwhile for the two
countries to consider the setting up of the joint
ventures for petroleum exploration and refining on
mutually advantageous terms. Agriculture is
another area where both can exploit each other's
Copyright 1994 Toronto Star
The Toronto Star
October 17, 1994, Monday,
SECTION: NEWS; Pg. A2
LENGTH: 1100 words
HEADLINE: Metro man documents atrocities in Burma
He uses the voices of victims to tell the world
about a nation's horror
BYLINE: BY ALLAN THOMPSON TORONTO STAR
BODY: Kevin Heppner is a soft-spoken former
computer programmer from Metro who carries on his
back a tattered knapsack full of other people's
The knapsack is jammed with horrific
photographs and written testimony telling of
people who have been tortured, enslaved, raped and
murdered by soldiers of the so-called State Law
and Order Restoration Council (SLORC) now ruling
Heppner has lived since 1991 in Burma - renamed
Myanmar by the ruling junta - and has made it his
mission to document and publicize the suffering
inflicted upon ordinary people in the southeast
Asian country by the SLORC regime.
"I'm a foreigner, so I just want to let the
people there tell their own story," Heppner said
in an interview last week. He's in Canada for his
first visit in five years, to meet family members
and seek financial support for his work. He will
return to Burma in a month.
"Whole villages are wiped out, or they force
villagers to do labor in shifts, digging trenches,
washing clothes, cooking and cleaning for the
officers. Then they rape the women," Heppner said.
"The whole place is becoming a slave camp. In
the central Burma plains, they're now using slave
labor for virtually everything. In ethnic minority
areas, it's horrific and getting worse." And
yet, "nobody seems to know where Burma is," he
lamented, admitting he finds it frustrating to
watch the flurry of international attention to
such countries as Haiti and Iraq while Burma
Since 1962, the country has been ruled by
military governments. In 1988, the government
slaughtered thousands of pro-democracy
demonstrators but finally relented in 1990 and
allowed free elections. Then the SLORC refused to
relinquish power, having placed Nobel Peace Prize
winner Aung San Suu Kyi under house arrest, where
Myanmar's ruling generals, led by Lt. Gen. Khin
Nyunt and by the former dictator Gen. U Ne Win,
are blamed for a reign of terror by SLORC troops
in the Burmese countryside that has since claimed
thousands of lives.
Since early 1992, Heppner has taken it upon
himself to put a human face on those rights
"As much as possible, my reports are in the
voices of the victims," Heppner said.
He hadn't planned on becoming a human rights
The 33-year-old Oakville native worked with a
small computer software company in Toronto after
graduating from the University of Waterloo.
But in 1988 he needed a change and, with little
more than a knapsack and a few belongings, left
his job to roam the world, travelling to
Australia, New Zealand, and southeast Asia.
By 1991, he had settled down for a while in
Karen state, in southern Burma near the border
with Thailand. He learned the language of the
Karen, a minority group in Burma, and started
teaching English and math.
In early 1992, his life took another turn when
the SLORC junta, on an offensive against Karen
rebels and pro-democracy forces, shelled
Maelethta, the village where Heppner was living.
"They were shelling and we all had to be
evacuated. They were shelling from Swiss bomber
planes with Canadian-made Pratt & Whitney engines
in them," Heppner said.
White phosphorus artillery shells razed the
Heppner moved to Manerplaw, a larger regional
centre, where he met hundreds of others who had
fled the SLORC onslaught or escaped forced labor
as munitions porters for the army.
"I started talking to them, getting their
That was the beginning of the Karen Human
Rights Group, headed by Heppner, which now
operates from a base in Karen state. Heppner
gathers most of his information from about 20
locally recruited human rights monitors, whom he
trains in using tape recorders and cameras. He is
often wary of going himself into so-called "gray"
areas where SLORC troops sometimes operate.
"If SLORC gets word a foreigner has been there,
they'll start torturing village heads to get
information," he said.
Heppner and his monitors interview and
photograph the victims or witnesses of rights
abuse, then catalogue their stories in exhaustive,
verbatim transcripts that tell a horrific tale of
slavery, rape and mayhem.
In a June 24, 1994, report, 21- year-old Naw
Ler Wah tells how she was abducted by a SLORC
soldier who insisted on making her his wife. He
raped her repeatedly, stole and sold her
belongings and forced her to move with him to
Rangoon, the capital.
When Naw Ler Wah escaped, the man tracked her
down, again terrorizing her and threatening her
life. "Tonight you will be killed and I'll drink
the man said, as recounted in the report.
Another document, published Sept. 30, describes
an attack by the junta on a village in Thaton
district of Burma. Three men were captured by
SLORC soldiers and executed through the night.
Heppner's report, based on oral testimony by
surviving villagers, includes pictures of the
bruised and blackened bodies of the dead, throats
slashed, bones broken.
His reports also include copies of SLORC army
documents ordering villagers out for forced labor
or, in another case, to produce a rifle and
walkie-talkies in return for the lives of
Heppner's reports are sent to such
organizations as Amnesty International, Asia
Watch, the United Nations, foreign governments and
journalists. He operates on a shoestring budget,
cobbled together with funding from some European
human rights groups and such organizations as the
Canadian Friends of Burma.
Canadian Friends of Burma, which operates
jointly with the Ottawa-based Peacefund Canada,
1recently raised enough money to buy Heppner a
computer on which to compile his reports.
For Heppner, the sheltered life of Metro has
been replaced by a tenuous existence in the
jungles of Burma. He sees his family only rarely
now and is reluctant to say, even in a Canadian
newspaper, where they live, for fear of reprisal.
For the same reason, Heppner asked not to be
But he admits his work is now his passion.
"Burma tends to be a bit of an addiction," he
said, joking his private life has been put on
hold. "I don't know who would put up with me right
now, living over there eating rice and fish
And some days there's not much job
satisfaction, days when he's unsure what happens
to the meticulously documented reports he mails
"A lot of times I do wonder if I'm
accomplishing anything, but it's a story that
needs to be told and these people often don't have
He added, "I know I'm not going to bring about
any changes in Burma single-handed, but someone
(sorry i cut these last three words).