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Rally in Chiang Mai draws several prominent ethnic activists, international media

By The Best Friend  •  December 1, 2011

The rally at the U.S. Consulate in Chiang Mai this morning attracted a large crowd, including international media and several prominent ethnic activists.

Organized by The Best Friend and We Are Burma to coincide with U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s visit to Burma, the highest-level diplomatic exchange between the U.S. and Burma in 55 years, the purpose of the rally was to propel ethnic and political prisoner issues to the top of the agenda for all nations increasing engagement with the new regime in Burma.

More than 80 participants rallied to demand to an end to Burma’s decades-long ethnic conflicts, as well as the immediate release of the nearly 1,700 political prisoners still behind bars.

We were very pleased to have a wide range of speakers representing various ethnic groups speak during the rally. The event statement was read in Shan by an activist from northern Shan State, while speakers from Kachin, Chin, and Arakan State also spoke about the current situation in their homelands, and what reforms are still required before they will be able to go home. Ko Aung Latt, a Burman and a former political prisoner now working with the Foreign Affairs Committee of the All-Burma Federation of Student Unions (ABFSU-FAC), also took a turn to address the assembled crowd.

In addition, Ali Fowle from the Democratic Voice of Burma spoke about Burma’s political prisoner situation, passionately urging the release of her 14 colleagues from DVB who are currently behind bars simply for reporting on news that the Burmese regime does not want people to know about. Paul Donowitz from EarthRights International highlighted the declining state of Burma’s environment since the nominally-civilian government took power in Burma earlier this year.

Activist and author Bernice Johnson spoke about the substantial increase in the number of internally-displaced people in ethnic areas in 2011, as well as the large influx of Shan people from Shan State to areas along the Thai-Shan border.

Other speakers included Khun Yuun from Thai Friends of Burma, Garrett Kostin representing The Best Friend, and Ben Bowler of We Are Burma. Many participants donned makes of Hillary Clinton, while others raised placards calling for the release of imprisoned Shan leader Hkun Tun Oo, female political prisoners in Burma, and all imprisoned journalists.

In stark contrast to demonstrations in Burma, the Thai police were very accommodating, quickly maneuvering to re-direct traffic around the spill-over crowd outside of the U.S. Consulate, and offering assistance with other logistics. In addition, security and other staff of the consulate were also helpful, with one consulate official coming out to meet with demonstrators and accept letters and recent human rights reports on behalf of Secretary Clinton.

The rally lasted for just over one hour, with many Thai, western, and Burmese journalists conducting one-on-one interviews with rally participants following the rally.

See more photos here.

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