Mae Sot – Activists launch second round of protests outside UNHCR Building

27 05 2009

Seventy Burmese activists held a rally outside the UNHCR office on Wednesday 27 May, to protest against the continued detention of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi.

Led by U Aung khine, the demonstrators came together outside a local tea shop and then marched 100 metres to the UNHCR office. There, they congregated at the gate, holding banners and chanting in Burmese for the release of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi.

Twenty foreigners came to support the protesters, taking photos and occasionally joining in with the chanting.

The protesters handed over an open letter for Ban Ki-Moon showing support for his next visit to Burma, urging him to take a tougher stance on the Generals. Their letter suggested that he should give the Generals an ultimatum – after a set time period if they have not released Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, the United National Security Council must organise a binding solution for an international arms embargo.

Around fifteen Thai police officers arrived at the demonstration taking photos of all those involved. At the end of the Protest, the Chief of Police made a statement explaining that it is illegal for Burmese to protest in Thailand. However, no arrests were made.

This protest was the second action organised by the Join Action Committee.






















Burmese Activists Launch Suu Kyi Protest on Border by Alex Ellgee

27 05 2009

Originally published in the Irrawaddy Magazine;

MAE SOT — Forty Burmese activists staged a peaceful protest next to the Myanmar [Burma] Friendship Bridge here on Sunday, in support of pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

They were joined by about 30 foreign volunteers, sporting Aung San Suu Kyi badges, and banners and chanting “Free Free Daw Aung San Suu Kyi.”

“Now we are so worried for our country. Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s release is so important for the national reconciliation of my country,” said Aung Khine, a protest organizer of the Joint Action Committee.

“We are protesting against the unjustified trial by the State Peace and Development Council and showing our solidarity with Daw Aung San Suu Kyi. Mae Sot is a very important place for Burma and by protesting here, we are sending a powerful message to everyone inside.”

The demonstrators began at the bridge gate and moved down to the Moei river bank, marking the border between the two countries.

After a couple of minutes, Thai Border guards directed the protesters away from the river and back to the bridge’s gate. Some protestors believed this was to avoid potential disputes between Burmese and Thai authorities.

“If we protest by the river, the Burmese officials working on the bridge can hear our chants. Also all the people from Myawaddy, on the other side can see us,” said one young protestor. “If the Burmese government sees the Thai Authorities allowing the protest to take place, they will make a problem.”

Burmese authorities, dressed in civilian clothes, observed the protest from the bridge.

When the demonstration returned to the bridge gate, Thai police had arrived with video cameras. They allowed the protest to take place for ten minutes more before informing the organizers that it was time to go home.

Volunteers said that the “soft” approach taken by the police was due to the presence of foreigners.

“We made sure that there were as many foreigners here as possible with the hope that the police wouldn’t crack down hard,” said a volunteer from England. “The police could quite easily have rounded up all the Burmese protestors, arrested them and deported them all back to Burma. For most of these guys, going back to Burma would mean time in prison.”

Protesting in and around Mae Sot is heavily disputed amongst the Burmese activist communities. Organizations which have been here for a long time worry that demonstrations will have negative consequences on their work.

“Mae Sot isn’t the right place for protests. We’re too close to Burma here. Things are very fragile. We have all worked really hard over the last 20 years to build an environment which we can work in,” said the manager of a major human rights organization, who works in Mae Sot. “When people make protests it upsets the police and local authorities, and this can disrupt our work and make things very tense.”

This view is heavily criticized by others who feel that some organizations are more concerned with stability than bringing change to Burma.

“A lot of the political organizations worry about security and stability,” said Aung Khine. “Our leader Daw Aung San Suu Kyi is currently under trial which may result in her being imprisoned for five years. Now is not the time to think about security. Now is the time to step up and put serious pressure on the Burmese government.”