Wednesday, November 27, 2013

What Burma change after 25 years: View of an exile

Htet Aung Kyaw

Part One

( It printed already in Burmese recently and now I just try for non-Burmese readers)

1-th November is 25 anniversary of the birthday for ABSDF (All Burma Students' Democratic Front), the organization I served for over a decade. I leave from home to jungle with dozens of university students in 19-th September 1988, just a day after military coup. We formed the ABSDF or ''Student Army'' to fight back Burmese military, for liberates the peoples of Burma from the oppression of military dictatorship.

During 25 years of armed struggle, 670 students were killed in action and disease of malaria while 417 were wounded. Thousand are now in exile; hundreds are still in jungle while some return to Burma. Their aims, to liberate the people from the oppression of military dictatorship, to achieve democracy and human rights, to attain internal peace and to bring about the emergence of a federal union are not yet reach.

But the ABSDF current leaderships signed cease-fire agreement with new semi-civilians government in last August. Why? This is because many ethnic armed groups where their camps located were signed cease-fire before they did. After 2012 by-election which opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi win a seat in Parliament and then many observers say this is the initial sign of changing in Burma politic, then so almost armed ethnic groups signed cease-fire. But the Kachin Independent Army (KIA), the main alliance of the ABSDF is still fighting back the new government.

However, the ABSDF leaderships now are travelling to Burma to meet their former comrades, families, and political organizations. Many exile who former member of the ABSDF also travel to Burma. Is this a sign of changing Burma's politic? Should they proud as they can back home after 25 years in exile?

Is this a sign of progress or just return to ''Status Quo''?

Let me tell you what I see in Burma during 28 days of Social visit in the first time in 25 years. As I an exile who holding foreign passport, need to apply Social Visa at Burmese Embassy in the country I resident. In Europe, there is no Burmese embassy in Scandinavians region and so I must go to Brussels where just opened new Myanmar embassy or Berlin, Paris and London where the embassy have since 1950s.

But the exile doesn't want to go those embassies as the officials ask to every exile to sign a latter which we called ''Thein-kha-cha-sa'' or a letter killing our political identity, asking long lists of our political activity last 25 years and also no more political activism during the visit to Burma. Some exile in North America and Australia told me that they also face similar situation. In fact, this is broken promise because the President Thein Sein invited all exile to return Burma when he met the Burmese exile community in Norway, during his first trip to Europe last February.

Therefore, I did not go those embassies but to embassy in Bangkok where I face no question, just wait hours then get 28 days social visa. If I don't want to go myself to embassy, there are many Burmese agents who can help me for visa, accommodation and so on in Burma. I also saw hundreds tourists were roll for visa in the embassy. In the past, only a few tourists were there. So I should say this is a sign of change?

When I wait for a plane to Rangoon in Bangkok's Suvarnabhumi airport, I'm very excited. This is very different feeling the time I hold fake Burmese passport in 1990s. That time I was very worry to deport me to Rangoon. But now, I'm very happy to go there. Why? Is there any change political situation or I was just brainwashed by new government?

When I arrived Rangoon airport, no police check me, no one follow me. But I feel I back homeland without a victory which we vow to take in 1988. Then I told my comrades who wait me at airport, ''I return without a victory''. This is because I was dream to return like ''30 Comrades'' in Second World War as occupying the whole country by revolutionary forces. But this dream is never come to a real.

As I living in Thailand and Norway for 2 decades, I feel that Rangoon is very old city. Old building, narrow and crap streets, old but speeded cars and buses, people are not respect road regulation, betel nut spittle in everywhere. The food in roadside is uneatable, unclean dish make me hard live in the first week in Rangoon city.

Firstly, I went to Shwedagon Pagoda to pray for 670 of my comrades who died in jungle, then to Rangoon University which closed since 88 uprising but just reopened gates after US president Obama visited last year November. I pose for picture in front of the convocation which I never chance to attend. Then I walked to red-bridge on Inya-lake where dozen of students were killed in 88 uprising. But I feel all young people who walk around the lake are not interest the past, perhaps even they have no knowledge the red-bridge is beside their walking path.

The changing is not only in young people's ideology but also in the ground. There are many restaurants around the lake where were only Bu-thi-kyaw, or gourd fry shops in 1988. Most young guys drink beer, whisky which in 1988 only available for tea. Most of young lady wear Korea style, very rare to see Burmese traditional dress.

In late evening, I went to 19-Th Street in downtown area to meet media, NGO, and Pyi-taw-pyan or returning exile guys. There are lot restaurants in roadside but unclean, seeing rats running around and a bit bad smell. But after a glass of whisky, we are used to it atmosphere. Then we debate about is the right time for exile to return home, the right time for exile media to return, and the country heading to progress or just return to ''Status Quo''.

Htet Aung Kyaw is a former member of the ABSDF and former reporter for the DVB. He visited Burma recently as the first trip in 25 years.


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