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Team Dispatch

Wanna Go To Burma? Think Again!
June 17, 2000

See if you can match the fact with the country:

1. This country is run by the military and is among the world's worst human rights abusers. A. Burma

2. You can get 20 years in jail for openly opposing the government.

B. Burma

3. Political gatherings are banned and over 2000 political prisoners are in jail, including 39 who won elections in 1990 but weren't allowed to take their positions.

C. Burma

4. The country's constitution prohibits censorship, but in practice the media may not discuss national issues without praising the country's leaders.

D. Burma

Map
If you got these questions right (not too tough, eh?), then you have some idea of why we aren't able to go to Burma as part of the World Trek. We've been a lot of places that are not so friendly to outside visitors like us Trekkers, including Guatemala, Peru, South Africa, and Iran. But Burma is a case where the military has arrested foreigners in the past year for opposing them running the government. The foreigners were not allowed to have a lawyer or make any calls, and their own governments were denied the right to visit with them - pretty serious stuff!

Burma is a pretty amazing country. There are 67 different ethnic groups living there, and they speak over 100 languages. There is incredible beauty in Burma, and there is a rich tradition of arts. You can get a sense of these by checking out the pictures and sounds available on the Free Burma webpage.

"Myanmar"

Burma was renamed "Myanmar" by the military in 1989. However, because the military had no authority to change the name, the people of Burma who are protesting the military ask that people continue to call the country Burma.

The country was named Burma and controlled as a part of India by the British who took over the entire area in 1885. The Japanese took over during WWII after which the British returned. They granted the country independence in 1949. In 1962 the military took over the government, and by the late 1980s, governmental corruption and mismanagement had turned resource-rich Burma into one of the world's poorest countries.

There was a huge uprising against the military on August 8, 1988 (8-8-88) which the military brutally crushed. Millions of people participated, thousands were killed.

Auntie Suu

In 1991 a Burmese woman was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. The Nobel Peace Prize is perhaps the most important prize in the world, given to only one person each year who has been an amazing inspiration in the struggle to make the world a more peaceful place.

Aung San Suu Kyi was two years old when her father, a hero of Burmese independence against the British, was assassinated. She led a rather quiet life as a student, wife and mother until the 1988 slaughter of protestors. She spoke out against the government and became the leader of the democracy movement in Burma, heading the National League for Democracy (NLD). In 1990 elections the NLD won 82% of the seats in the government, but the military refused to recognize the results. Many of the NLD leaders were imprisoned.

From 1989 through 1995 "Auntie Suu," as she is known to the Burmese people, was placed under house arrest and almost nobody was allowed to visit her. Since then she has continued to be a key leader against the government, and is still very much feared and controlled by the government.

See pictures, hear speeches, read interviews and more at these two websites:

In order to acquire the foreign currency needed to maintain its hold on power, the military has sold huge logging, fishing and gem concessions to foreign companies. It has also sold rights to its major natural gas reserves to foreign companies, as well as rights to a massive overland pipeline. The gas pipeline will go through a variety of ecosystems including dense tropical forest, disrupting the habitat of rare animals such as tigers, rhinos and elephants. Thousands of the local people have been forced to move without any help or compensation and tens of thousands of them have been used as forced labor for the project. Many have been robbed, raped, and tortured by the military.

Related Links
For more information on the situation and what you can do, check out these great sites:
How do they get away with this? In part it's thanks to the support of foreign companies such as UNOCAL, Texaco and Total who pay the military government a lot of money. They even pay the military to provide soldiers who help keep reporters and others away from the area where the pipeline is being built. [ insert the picture kasmall.gif from http://www.worldtrek.org/odyssey/latinamerica/goldman/ka.html]

Ka Hsaw Wa
In 1999 a Burmese man, Ka Hsaw Wa, won the Goldman Environmental Prize for his work to document the human rights and environmental abuses of the Burmese government. He was 28 then, and has been an inspiration to people the world over for his commitment to revealing the truth of the situation in Burma. Check out the cool video of him here.

According to Ka Hsaw Wa, "By destroying our forests, our trees, our wild animals, and our rivers, the Burmese dictatorship and its partners in crime also destroy who we are. Even though they have the money, guns and power, we have truth and justice on our side to defend human rights and the environment."

You can help Ka Hsaw Wa by educating people about what's going on in Burma, by not buying anything at UNOCAL , Texaco, or Total, and by sending an e-mail right now to these companies:

On behalf of the people of the amazing country of Burma, THANK YOU!

Team


 

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