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Burma Has Two Faces, One for the International Community and One for the Ethnic People

By Burma Partnership  •  June 4, 2012

“Suu Kyi represents hope for so many people. There’s going to be huge crowd of people who will come to see her. It’s going to be an exciting day for us,” said Saw Tun Tun, chairman of Mae La Refugee Camp Committee, ahead of Daw Aung Sang Suu Kyi’s visit. And it was an exciting day. On Saturday thousands of people gathered in Mae La camp on the Thai-Burma border to welcome “The Lady.” In Mae Sot, the city of activists and exiles from Burma, her pictures are usually everywhere in restaurants, teashops, houses. Saturday, her pictures were on the streets as people gathered along the roads to welcome her and get a chance to get a glimpse at “Mother Suu.”

Daw Suu’s visit is hugely symbolic and was a rare occasion to put Burma migrant workers and refugees in the spotlight. Her visit conveyed lots of hope as Win Aung, a migrant worker who lost his hand in an accident at a Thai-run shoe factory said, “She can’t force the Thai government to do anything, but she can speak on our behalf better than anybody else.”

Daw Suu’s first trip abroad in 24 years was also an occasion for her to address the international community at the World Economic Forum in Bangkok and to remind the leaders of the world that Burma’s so-called transition is still very fragile. “These days I am coming across what I call reckless optimism. A little bit of healthy skepticism I think is in order,” said Daw Suu at the forum.

And one can only agree with her. Her trip itself must be welcomed but cannot be interpreted as a sign for substantial changes. The international community, desperate to legitimize its investments and decision to lift sanctions against Burma, will probably willingly interpret it as a huge step.

As Moon Nay Li, Coordinator of the Kachin Women’s Association – Thailand, expressed to the Bangkok Post, “They’d rather look at the surface changes taking place (…) the international community is talking up the reforms and conveniently ignoring the abuses while pushing to take advantage of investment opportunities.”

She further explains “while the world is besotted with analyzing Aung San Suu Kyi’s every move and holding it up as proof that Myanmar’s authoritarian government is finally embracing democracy,” it is hard to get international attention focused on the atrocities and the humanitarian crisis in Kachin State.

And the abuses in Kachin State against civilians are common. On 9 June, it will have been a full year since the fighting broke out in Kachin State after a 17-year long ceasefire. Human rights violations committed by Burma Army soldiers have shown no signs of abating. Villages are burnt, women raped, civilians tortured and killed. Fighting occurs every day and has recently intensified. There are currently around 75,000 internally displaced persons (IDPs), most of whom have received no humanitarian assistance from local or international aid organizations.

This situation on the ground lead Moon Nay Li to conclude, “Burma has two faces, one for the international community and one for the ethnic people.”

Therefore, to ensure that the international attention given to recent changes in Burma doesn’t overshadow and marginalize the urgent need to support and help the Kachin people, Kachin groups and communities around the world are organizing a Global Week of Action to End the Humanitarian Crisis in Kachin State. Kachin communities, civil society and supporters all around the world will send a letter calling on President Thein Sein to immediately put an end to the humanitarian crisis. Civilians are in urgent need of help; Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and the international community have a key role to play to maintain the pressure on Burma’s regime and push for humanitarian assistance to be delivered to the victims of war who are currently being forgotten.

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