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Some Voices of 1988

Burmese Relief Center--Japan
DATE:June 9, 1995

VOICES of 1988
Interviews with Activists
>From BURMA DEBATE April/May 1995


The following letter was written by a student arrested during
the democracy demonstrations in 1988. 
Seven years later, he writes from Thayawaddy prison where he
has remained since his arrest.  The
letter was written to a close friend and fellow participant in the
demonstrations who is now a refugee in
the United States.  It was clandestinely brought out of Burma
by a visitor.

December 23, 1994

Thayawaddy Prison

My Dear Friend,

I have been staying here in Thayawaddy prison in such a
monotonous cell.  But I heard the glad news
about you in the United States.  I am so happy.  Repeat, so
happy.  It is one of our day dreams come
true in many nightmarish nights.

I know that you are studying.  Engineering?  It's good.  For
now in my situation, I can do nothing.  But
you have the opportunity and you should take it very seriously. 
It is our hope for success and we must
not forget it.

As you know our country is in deadlock with a future
dominated by the military.  The international
community embraces "constructive engagement." Rather than
campaign for democracy, human rights,
the dignity of human beings, they choose their own interests.

When I was reading about the invasion of Haiti I read:
"Democracy cannot be restored or imposed on
or given to a country that is not mature enough for such a
system."  Burma does not need an invasion,
but our country is worthy of democracy for its millions of
citizens.  Why won't the world stand
actively on the side of the democrats and the movement?  In
such a decisive moment how stupid the
"constructive" approach!

The myth of the National Convention is that it's held to write a
military-dominated constitution.  The
international community has the wrong image of the junta. 
They want to believe that the junta has
"approachable" elements within it.  They do not.  They are

They rejected the '90 election results.  The world must not
forget this.  Sanctions, embargoes - these
words I do not hear from the U.N. or its members.

Burma is a low priority for most of the world.  We must try to
elevate it.  You, my friend, must
educate the media and others.

In spite of this I am ambitious, vigorous and enthusiastic.  I
cannot live if I hold only a slim hope for
the future.  So we must continue to try, try hard.

It is our generation that must work for change against the
powerful.  Those people cannot influence
our circles.  They are morally corrupt.

We, the youth, students citizens of Burma, eagerly want true
National Reconciliation, not the slogan
that has been adopted by the junta.  The ethnic course, the
democratic course, they can be one.  We
can only sort out our problems by talking to one another.  My
dear friend, I am not a political being,
but I have no choice.  We are all needed now in this episode of
our national struggle.

For just now, we are apart - some in Australia, the U.S. and
Thailand, others of us here at home.  But
in one of our tomorrows we will meet again and we will join
together in our struggle.

I hear the sound of highway trucks and the ironstrike of time. 
In Burma, in Thayawaddy jail, in one
of its cells, on a winter night the wind makes me shiver.  But I
warm at the thought of my partners and
our shared beliefs.


3:00 a.m. - 23/12/94

(The passage below is taken from a letter written by the sister
of a Burmese student who is now a
refugee in the United States.  She talks of the situation for the
family that remains in Burma.

March 8, 1995

Dear younger sister,

 ... This coming May, SLORC will relocate the houses in our
neighborhood.  Where will we go?  It is
said that hotels or new buildings will replace our home.  It is
also said that we will get a room to live
somewhere when the construction is done.  But how can we be

What is certain is that our family's financial situation will be
more desperate than today.  You know,
my dear sister..., our country's economy is very desperate. 
Prices of basic commodities are sky
rocketing.  A monthly rental for our room (9 feet x 35 feet) is
3,000 kyats [$500] and electricity and
water comes close to 1,000 kyats [$160] so together 4,000
kyats.  With two children, both your
brother-in-law and I have to work very hard. Even then, we
can only earn enough for our day-to-day
living. We have no preparation for the future of our kids or
even ourselves...

I only pray to God to bless our family in this desperate

Your sister


(The following interview was conducted with a 34 year old
man in a coffee shop in Bangkok. With
him throughout the interview was his 18- month old child. The
young man and his daughter were
neatly dressed in old but laundered clothes, despite the fact that
they were homeless and he had less
than 25 baht ($1 USD) to his name. He asked that he not be
Q  + Why did you want to meet with me today?
A  + I needed to talk with someone about our situation.  My
wife and I are in a desperate and
dangerous way. We are refugees but we must live like
criminals. We live day to day, on the move, not
knowing where we might sleep or if we might eat. Not
knowing what we might have for our child. I
am sorry but my wife could not come to talk today, she is
working at the factory and cannot take the
time to come. She works six or seven days a week, more than
12 hours a day.

Q  + Are you working too?

A  + No, not now. Only one of us can work. The other must
take care of the baby. We take turns.  If
my wife works she can stay at the dormitory of the factory and
will have a place to sleep.  Where she is
working now we can sneak the baby in there at night. The
owner is quite kind and for now is letting us
do this. But the owner is also afraid. If the police know, there
is a big fine for anyone providing space
to Burmese who are considered "illegal immigrants!' Even
though my wife is registered as a person of
concern with the UNHCR we have little protection from the

Q + When did you and your wife come to Bangkok? 

A + We came in May of 1992.  My wife registered with
UNHCR and was recognized as a person of
concern.  My wife and I were married to 1990 at the border. 
We both had fled Burma after 1088. 

Q + Why did you and your wife leave Burma? 

A + At the time of the uprising in 1988, my wife was a high
school teacher in Pa-an Township.  She
was dismissed from her post by the Burmese authorities and
accused of "agitating " the students and
encouraging them to participate in demonstrations.  After that
she earned a living as a trader, going
from town to the Thai-Burma border.  Her father was a
prominent politician in Karen State.  While
she was doing the trading she also passed communications
from inside Karen State to the KNU [Karen
National Union].

During this time she became familiar with a KNU officer who
later surrendered to SLORC and
accused her of working for the KNU.  She was called in for
questioning by Military Intelligence and
then, afraid that she would soon be arrested, fled to the border.

But even at the border she had difficulties because she had
known the KNU officer who surrendered to
SLORC.  Some people were suspicious of her and made life
very hard. 

Q + Why did you go the border? 

A  +  I was also a teacher in Burma and involved in the
demonstrations in 1988.  At the border I was
sent back inside Burma on reconnaissance missions.  Some of
the missions were quite dangerous.  My
face was becoming more familiar inside and I felt that it was
only a matter of time until I was arrested
by SLORC.  That also contributed to our decision to move
from the border to Bangkok.

Q  +  What is your hope now?

A  + We have little hope.  We have few options.  We cannot
return to Burma.  We cannot go back to
the border.  Life in Bangkok becomes more and more difficult. 
We do not get assistance from
UNHCR because we have not gone to the "Safe Area" [the
camp designated for Burmese students]. 

Q  +  If life is so difficult, why don't you go to the Safe-Camp?
A  + We are very afraid to go there.  At some point we are sure
we will be returned to Burma.