Wednesday, October 24, 2007

"I come from a 'black' area"


In a country split by civil war, there are three areas. The "white" areas are those held by the SPDC. "Grey" denotes areas held in contention. And "black" is for insurgent controlled territory.

Today, I met Htu Plway*. He is a stateless person, a person without citizenship. His parents fled Burma in the early 80's. While he was born in Karen State, he doesn't have any identification papers, which makes it all the more dangerous for him to do the kind of work that he does. He is especially at risk whenever he crosses the border going either way.

One of the first things he said to me was "I come from a black area." Coming from a "black" area makes it all the more difficult for one to freely travel, let alone crossing the border.

He told me later in the day that without identification papers and a country to call his own, he's not sure about his future. When I asked him what country he would like to call home. He said "Any".

He was in Mawlamyine, the capital of Mon State, at the height of the protests in late September. He took part for 3 days before the officials there closed the monastery and sent the monks home.

There was no violence, but had he been arrested, he would have been in a precarious situation. Without any papers, he could've languished in jail for a long time. He knows how lucky he is.

I was surprised to see that for someone who works in a constant state of physical insecurity, how well-informed he was about the varying responses to Burma from the international community.

Through our conversation, I could also sense his frustration and disappointment of not only the weakness of the UN's response, but also the failure of the different opposition groups in uniting together and their recent inaction in the recent protests. He told me that when he approached one of the ceasefire groups, they told him, "If you get into trouble, don't come to us for help."

(Many of the ceasefire groups choose a tentative peace over bloodshed, as they know they are no match for the Burma Army's artillery. Some benefit from trade concessions granted under the ceasefires, and would rather stick to the status quo than restart their civil war. The truth is that ceasefires help the junta future entrench themselves in insurgent held areas. It never ceases to amaze me that the junta will only respond to the power of the gun. While it is willing to negotiate with armed insurgents, it fails to seek dialogue with the democratically-elected government.)

I didn't want to probe too much, as I just met him. But I'm sure I'll have a lot to learn from his experiences. Perhaps a bit is lost in translation, as my Thai is not that good. But one thing is for sure, that I am constantly humbled by working with and for these human rights and environmental activists. It just amazes me that they keep fighting even though they are fighting against almost impossible odds. Hope keeps them afloat.

* I changed his name to protect his identity