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Editorial & Opinion ; Junta wages w

Subject: Editorial & Opinion ; Junta wages war on history as crimes forgotten 

Editorial & Opinion 

      Junta wages war on
      history as crimes

      Burmese modern history has been forged
      by anti-fascist and anti-colonialist
      revolutions. However, the new junta is
      attempting to rewrite history, writes Moe

      BANGKOK -- On Nov 10, Lt Gen Khin
      Nyunt, head of the Burmese military
      intelligence unit, said something startling at
      the opening of the Burma-Japan Bilateral
      Conference on Information Technology
      Co-operation in Rangoon. ''We shall never
      forget the important role played by Japan in
      our struggle for independence,'' said Khin
      Nyunt, the State Peace and Development
      Council (SPDC) first secretary, and the
      most powerful general in the SPDC. 

      ''In the same vein, we will remember that
      our tatmadaw (military) was born in Japan.''

      Many Burmese were confused about the
      general's words. They didn't understand
      what the general wanted to mean directly,
      especially by using the words ''the
      important role played by Japan''. The word
      ''important'' is now controversial for
      Burmese people. 

      The term ''fascist'' and mention of the
      cruelty of Japanese troops were missing
      from the general's words. While Korean
      women have the right to claim
      compensation from the Japanese
      government, Burmese women who were
      used as concubines for the Japanese
      troops, and men who were used as forced
      labourers to construct the ''Death Railway''
      during the war, have no right to
      compensation for their sufferings. 

      It is not because of the Japanese
      government but because of the junta and
      the Burma Socialist Programme Party
      (BSPP). Although the Japanese
      government paid reparations after the war,
      none of this money went to Burmese
      victims of Japanese atrocities. Instead,
      Burmese authorities pocketed the money. 

      ''If such sorrowful incidents had occurred
      under the British rulers, the junta would at
      the moment push and help the victims to
      claim compensation from the British
      government,'' said an old politician who
      didn't want to be named. 

      ''The junta targets the British because of Dr
      Michael Aris, husband of Daw Aung San
      Suu Kyi. If Dr Aris was Japanese, their
      target would be changed and the junta
      would complain about Japanese fascism.'' 

      In Burma's history, there are two famous
      revolutions in the struggle for independence
      -- the anti-fascist and the anti-colonialist
      revolutions. Just before the 1988 military
      coup, Burmese students in primary and
      high schools had to learn about those two
      revolutions. Students who took history as
      their major subject had to learn about these
      two revolutions before they could get their

      However, under the BSPP, most of the
      historical movies which could be seen by
      Burmese people were anti-fascist. In
      particular, the movies showed the brutality
      and rudeness of the fascist Japanese
      during their occupation. Although the
      movies showed the fascist Japanese
      troops rape, torture and commit inhuman
      acts, there were no movies about such
      actions by the British troops. Every actor
      and actress who starred in the anti-fascist
      movies was awarded the Burmese
      Academy Prize for acting. But everything
      has changed since the 1988 military coup. 

      Since that coup the junta has ordered
      artists to ensure that historical films must
      show only the situation under the British
      government. The state-run newspapers
      report about the British colonialists'
      oppression very often. Worse, the junta has
      also slowly been changing the curriculum
      for its own students. 

      There may be only one famous revolution in
      the Burmese students' curriculum -- anti
      colonialism -- and no longer an anti-fascist
      revolution. Why? The answer is that
      Western countries strongly support the
      democracy movement and constantly
      criticise the junta over human rights abuses.

      In the state-run newspaper published in
      1990, the junta daily described a massacre
      by the British troops, which occurred in
      Taung Tha township, Mandalay Division.
      These serial articles are now being
      published in the state-run newspapers

      The so-called journalists who were
      recruited by the junta had many interviews
      with local witnesses who were still alive.
      The junta had many interviews with the
      villagers who were living in Mandalay and
      Magwe divisions, where the massacres by
      the British troops occurred during the
      Second World War. This doesn't mean that
      the junta is trying to explore the true history. 

      According to the local villagers, the
      massacres occurred not only under the
      British rulers but also under the Japanese
      troops. At first, they just wondered why the
      junta only tried to dig out history about
      crimes perpetrated by the British rulers. It
      was only after the villagers were forcibly
      sent to an infrastructure site as forced
      labourers that they realised that the
      methods the junta used were the same as
      those used by the Japanese troops used
      during the war. 

      If every elderly person who had lived under
      both the British rulers and Japanese troops
      were asked, they would exactly explain the
      true story, that they never saw or heard
      about rape cases committed by British
      troops, only by Japanese troops. 

      ''To be frank with you, there was nothing
      good about living under either invader.
      However, the Japanese troops were more
      brutal and ruder than the British. As far as I
      know, the British seemed to follow and
      respect the laws and regulations,'' said one
      elderly man who had to live under both

      ''The Japanese troops seemed to
      understand only killing, torture and rape. I
      am not confused about why the junta tries to
      hide the history of Japanese occupation. It
      is now holding the same attitude to its
      ethnic minority people on the borders. Mind
      you, just after Daw Aung San Suu Kyi
      criticised the junta as fascist, the generals
      were so angry that they finally put her under
      house arrest for six years.'' 

      Another person with memories of
      occupation said: ''It is right that our army
      was born in Japan. It's also right that Saya
      San, a famous farmer revolution leader
      under the British rulers, was hanged in
      Tharrawaddy prison in central Burma. It's
      true that Bo Aung Gyaw, a famous student
      leader, was killed during the 1938

      ''We can try to understand those sorrowful
      happenings because we had to live under
      invaders. But I don't understand why under
      our Burmese rulers we are now treated
      even worse. If Bo Aung Gyaw was killed
      during the 1988 uprising, we could not even
      see his corpse. If Saya San was arrested
      under this junta, he would be tortured before
      his death sentence. We are now under our
      own neo-fascist rulers.'' 

      His explanation is very clear about the
      Burmese ruling junta. Although there were
      many innocent people and students who
      were killed during the 1988 uprising, the
      junta claimed that just 15 were killed. So
      far, nobody knows where other corpses
      were secretly buried. 

      Many NLD members and activists have
      been sent to prison without trial. Many
      political prisoners died in custody because
      of harassment and the prison conditions. In
      the military intelligence centre, all political
      detainees have been tortured, not by the
      Japanese and British, but by the Burmese
      military intelligence officers. 

      Although the junta claims that the civil war
      occurred because of the ''divide and rule''
      policy of the British, it also uses this policy
      towards the minority ethnic groups, the
      NLD, students and people. 

      ''The junta complains about the worst things
      of colonialism on the surface. However, I
      believe that in their minds they thank the
      British too much for how to divide the
      opposition groups,'' said a retired history
      lecturer. ''In reality, the junta chose to
      practise even worse things than former
      fascist Japan and the British colonialists.
      The junta has been using many laws and
      rules which were adopted by the British to
      oppress our Burmese people, especially
      the revolutionaries.'' 

      Under British colonial rule, the laws
      regulating prisons and courts were created.
      The junta uses the same laws, but has
      taken away the rights that prisoners once
      had under the British. Now political
      prisoners have no right to a lawyer for their
      trial. Once imprisoned, they are not allowed
      to read or study. 

      Ye Teiza, a prominent student activist and
      former political prisoner, said: ''I had a
      chance to meet with many old politicians in
      prison who have lived in prison under the
      British and the BSPP. When I ask which
      prison situation they suffered under most,
      they all answer that the situation under the
      junta is the worst.'' 

      The junta always complains very loudly that
      Gen Aung San was assassinated by a
      British government conspiracy. However,
      from the time of the BSPP to the ruling
      military junta, no top military leader has
      paid respect to Martyrs' Day on July 19,
      when Aung San and other national leaders
      were assassinated. 

      They are never interested in attending the
      Martyrs' Day ceremony. In the past,
      Burmese people anxiously awaited the
      sound of sirens, which would sound on
      Martyrs' Day at the time that Aung San was
      assassinated. This allowed them to pay
      their respects to their national heroes, and
      they would observe a minute's silence.
      Under the junta there are no more sirens as
      the national sign of sorrow. This clearly
      means that the junta has been trying to
      tarnish the image of Aung San. 

      Why? The answer may be that Aung San is
      the father of Aung San Suu Kyi who is
      supported by the majority of Burmese
      people. If Aung San had been
      assassinated by Japanese troops, the junta
      would try to hide the whole history of
      Martyrs' Day, and not only tarnish the image
      of Aung San. 

      As long as British and western countries
      strongly criticise the junta's human rights
      abuses and ignorance of the May 1990
      election result, and Dr Michael Aris is still
      British, the words that loudly come from the
      junta will be ''anti-colonialism''. 

      As long as the junta, which has been
      accused of being neo-fascist by its own
      people, holds power, and the Japanese
      government healthily supports so-called
      humanitarian aid to the junta, the
      anti-fascist revolution will no lot appear on
      the pages of Burmese history. However, it
      is the Burmese people who will need to
      prove that ''history is not in the hands of the


      Moe Aye is a former political prisoner and
      now working with the All Burma Students'
      Democratic Front (ABSDF).