Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Gunning for democracy

Jane Bao
January 7, 2008

Exiled dissident pulls over in Toronto
When Si Thu hits the road, everybody pays attention. For the past month, his BMW 318 has been a moving billboard, championing Burmese democracy across North America. Five provinces, 13 states, and over 15,000 kilometres later, the car is still emblazoned with the words “Free Burma,” the country’s flag, and photos of Aung San Suu Kyi, leader of the National League for Democracy.

When he reached his first stop in the Drive for Burma campaign, Washington D.C., a friend helped contact someone in the next city. What started out as a self-financed solo project quickly gathered supporters among the Burmese community, who housed Si Thu in their homes or in Buddhist temples, and planned protests in front of Chinese consulates and Burmese embassies.

“We are working together, everybody, to finish this trip,” said Si Thu.

A military junta has ruled Burma since 1962, when General Ne Win took control of the country in a coup. Opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, a rallying figure for the democratic movement, has been under house arrest for 12 of the past 18 years.

Si Thu was spurred to action when the military reportedly rounded up thousands of Burmese monks in October 2007, snuffing out their peaceful anti-government protests.

The Burmese-Canadian, who marched and saw combat in 1988’s bloody demonstrations, regained his conviction that peaceful protest would not suffice.

“Before I had in my mind, soldiers are like people, our own people, why do we have to kill each other? Now I saw on the television […] They are soldiers, they don’t care. They hit the people, they’re killing monks, and so they are not human anymore. They are not people anymore.”

On August 8, 1988, the whole country took to the streets in a general strike for democracy. The government planted agitators to incite violence and the army opened fire on protesters on Sept. 18, killing thousands.

Si Thu, then freshly out of high school, marched with other students in Moulmein, the third-largest city in Burma. After the shooting began, he and a group of 30 others took a four-day, three-night boat trip to the Thai border, where ethnic militia were supposed to provide them with weapons.

“We were going to come back and fight. We were going to take down this military regime.

“But when we got there, situation is totally different. There’s no arms, there’s no place to live, nothing to eat, nothing.”

Expecting to return home immediately, Si Thu had brought nothing. “Not even an ID card,” he said.

“Then we formed the ABSDF—the All Burma Students’ Democratic Front. It’s an army. A student army.”

After seeing battle, once as a combatant and once as a paramedic, Si Thu decided to pursue other means of resistance. “The regime is at the top,” he said. “At the battle, it’s just regular people like us. So we are killing each other for nothing.”

But the recent brutal crackdown on Burmese monks has brought another change of heart.

Si Thu still considers himself part of the ABSDF and helps the group financially. He said he would take up arms again when the time comes. “If you want to go to war, nobody supports it. But for us, we need to fight it, our own way.”

Though defiant, he expressed concern about fallout from his declaration.

“If you put this thing in the newspaper, and people read it, they’re going to think I am a terrorist.”


Source: The Varsity


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