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Princess with a Cause, Part II
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Sao gave away his rice paddies to the families that had been farming them
and bought tractors and other modern farm equipment for them to use. He
planned the exploration and development of Hsipaw's mineral wealth.
The princess quickly learned to speak Shan and Burmese. She founded a
maternity clinic and traveled to villages to teach Shan mothers about
nutrition. She and the prince ended the custom of palace employees
kowtowing before members of the royal family.
"Inge and her husband became one of the most popular princely couples in
the Shan states because of all their development schemes and their
popular, informal style," Thailand-based journalist and Myanmar expert
Bertil Lintner said in an interview via the Internet. "Many Shan princes
were old-fashioned and very feudal in their approach to their subjects.
Inge and Sao Kya Seng were not."
There is still "strong sentiment" for Inge and Sao in Hsipaw, Lintner
added. "Given what's happened in the Shan states since the 1960s -- civil
war, military rule and rampant drug production -- the time before the
military takeover in 1962 is seen as a Golden Era, almost a dream when
there was rice in the fields and people were looking forward to the next
The prince and princess were so beloved, Lintner said, that Lintner's
wife, who grew up in Hsipaw, remembers seeing the couple's official
wedding photograph next to the Buddha images on family altars.
Sargent said she has heard that some families still display the royal
photo, more than three decades after Sao was imprisoned.
"When the army comes," she said, "they hide it."
The Burmese military regime is the second that Inge Sargent has lived
through. The first was Nazi Germany.
She was 6 years old in 1938, the year the Nazis annexed Austria. Hitler's
soldiers set up a slave labor camp near her family's home. Children were
interrogated at school about their parents' visitors and radio-listening
habits. One 8-year-old classmate never saw his parents again after
teachers questioned the boy and discovered the family had taken in a
downed British flier.
Perhaps it was such a childhood that gave Sargent a distaste for despots.
Or perhaps it's in her blood; she remembers with horror how her mother was
promptly arrested and briefly detained for refusing to substitute the
greeting "Heil Hitler" for "Guten Tag."
When the generals kidnapped her prince, Sargent was equally defiant.
Between 1962 and 1964, she repeatedly risked her life to confront coup
leader Gen. Ne Win and his soldiers about Sao's fate. She never was
jailed, but she never received a satisfactory answer.
Today, Myanmar's population is estimated at 45 million, and the army has
grown to more than 300,000 soldiers. The country has become one of the
world's largest producers of opium; the U.S. government estimates that
Myanmar supplies more than 60 percent of the heroin used in the United
The army recently purchased nearly $2 billion in new weapons from China,
Singapore and Poland, said Myanmar scholar Josef Silverstein, professor
emeritus at Rutgers University.
"The military maintains control through brute force," said Silverstein, a
frequent visitor to the country over the past 40 years.
"They have very ugly practices toward civilians, toward women, toward
children, toward older people."
The country has been cited for its human-rights abuses by the U.S.
government, Amnesty International and, recently, the International Labor
Organization, among other groups.
The most shocking known abuses occurred in 1988, the year Burmese soldiers
massacred as many as 10,000 democracy protesters.
Until then, Inge Sargent -- long away from the country -- kept her queries
about Sao and protests about the military government between herself and
the generals. Her nightmare stayed between herself and her second
But the crush of events made her nightmare more frequent.
At Tad's urging, she took early retirement from her career as a German
teacher at Boulder's Fairview High School and wrote "Twilight over Burma."
The book has thrust her headlong into the nation's democracy campaign.
(Continued in Part III)