Running from the Elections

Nov 25, 2010
*Special to asia!
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As the international spotlight focuses on the country's botched polls and the release of pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi, one aspect of the Myanmar political problem should not be neglected.

“The release of political prisoners remains the most important thing for those who truly wish to bring about political change in Burma.” Aung San Suu Kyi.



Amnesty International estimates that there are some 2,200 political prisoners in Myanmar. They were jailed for opposing the military government that clung on to power after putting Aung San Suu Ki under house arrest when she won the elections in 1990.

The tragedy of the situation in Myanmar is that it is not simply those who dare to challenge the ruling junta that are victimised.

While the votes of the elections were still being counted, violent fighting in an eastern border town between government soldiers and ethnic rebels sent 20,000 fleeing for safety to neighbouring Thailand.

This was the largest influx of Myanmese refugees in five years to neighbouring Thailand.

The story of these Myanmese refugees began after the country obtained its independence from Britain in 1948. A civil war soon broke out between the majority Burmans and the ethnic minorities.

Of these minorities, the most significant are the Karens, who form more than 60 percent of the Myanmese refugees in Thailand.

To date, 206,000 Myanmese have been officially recognised as refugees, but the United Nations Refugee Agency estimates that there are closer to 400,000.

Those numbers look set to increase as the Myanmar military continues to torch Karen villages.

Japan recently became the first Asian country to accept resettled Myanmese refugees. It will take in 90 individuals over three years.

Since 2005, nearly 61,000 have been resettled from the refugee camps in Thailand, with most of them bound for the United States, Canada and Australia.

This is the largest refugee resettlement effort in the world.

This is the largest refugee resettlement effort in the world. While it gives a new lease of life to the refugees, the crux of the problem remains unresolved, as Myanmar's military regime continues to operate with the financial and political backing of its superpower ally, China.


95 Rights groups figures estimate that between 30 to 40 percent of Myanmese in refugee camps are children. Photo: Attila Hussejnow


It may be a tad unrealistic to expect China to criticise Myanmar, a country with human rights and political persecution records similar to its own. But what about the military regime's democratic neighbours?

As US President Barack Obama put it on his state visit to India earlier this month: “When peaceful democratic movements are suppressed, as they have been in Burma (Myanmar), then the democracies of the world cannot remain silent.”

Yet the world's largest democracy India may be doing just that. While it used to back Aung San Suu Kyi's call for democracy, New Delhi is now following in the footsteps of its East Asian rival, both to pursue its own energy interests and to counter China's balance there.

Myanmar’s neighbours are acting in favour of “engaging” the military regime, as opposed to the West's boycott of it. They believe this to be a more effective way of influencing the military government. Perhaps it is. But there are close to half a million Myanmese made refugees by their tyrannical regime. Another half a million are internally displaced and 2 million more living as illegal migrants elsewhere.

They have yet to see any change for the better.

dan-chyi chua

Dan-Chyi Chua was a broadcast journalist, before forsaking Goggle Box Glitz for the Open Road. A three-year foray led her through the Middle East, China, SE Asia, Latin America and Cuba, and she's now grounded herself as a writer for, content with spending her days in Jerusalem.

Contact Dan-Chyi