Monday, April 09, 2007
Reporting in Myanmar
I drew back the dusty, net curtain of a empty suburban café in Yangon where we were waiting. There was an old white salon car parked across the street, with a man trying to look nonchalant, reading a newspaper. Our fixer smiled, as he told me we were being watched by “MI” - or military intelligence, that oxymoron for the network of secret police that pervades so much of Myanmar’s society. They knew we were here, we knew they were here.
We were meeting some leading dissidents, who’d bravely decided to speak out, after being jailed for 16 years, simply for demanding the military dictatorship restore democracy. The three activists arrived quietly, trying to draw as little attention to themselves as possible. We moved into a back-room for extra privacy, but they too knew we were being monitored. We started our interview and they spoke about their horrendous time in prison, much of it spent in solitary confinement. We spoke about the icon of the pro-democracy movement Aung San Suu Kyi, whose party won a landslide victory in an election in 1990. The Junta refused to hand-over power to her and continues to keep Myanmar under an iron rule, as it has since 1962. Aung San Suu Kyi has been under house arrest in her lakeside residence on and off for almost twelve years. The three men are contemporaries of hers; they lead the student uprisings in 1988 that paved the way for the 1990 election. But since then, their youth has been stolen. They have watched the years slowly slide by from their prison cells, with Myanmar still in a political deep-freeze. I heard their story and thought of parallels with Nelson Mandela in South Africa: the same stoic resolution to beat injustice by non-violent protest and intellectual argument.
We finished our interview and our fixer checked the coast was clear outside. He came back, looking surprised. “MI” was sitting right outside our room, actually inside the café, nursing two cappuccinos. The dissidents left, smiling at their secret police tails, as they walked past. We followed a few minutes later. The spooks looked miserable and tense. They must get fed up with trailing the activists day after day, watching their movements, trying to suppress their views, attempting to crush democracy.
One day this country will be free. It make take many more years, but the men we spoke to will be hailed as the fathers of democracy, who risked their lives, so others could be free.
-- From Dan Rivers, CNN International Correspondent
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