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Testimony submitted by Khin Ohmar a
- Subject: Testimony submitted by Khin Ohmar a
- From: FreeBurma@xxxxxxx
- Date: Mon, 24 Jul 1995 13:30:00
Subject: Testimony submitted by Khin Ohmar at Senate Hearing
Attn: Burma Newsreaders
Re: Testimony submitted by Khin Ohmar at Senate Hearing
Statement of Khin Ohmar, Burmese Student Activist
before the Subcommittee on Foreign Operations
Senate Appropriations Committee
July 24, 1995
Mr. Chairman, members of the Committee:
My name is Ohmar Khin. I am a Burmese student in exile who participated in
the 1988 nationwide pro-democracy movement in Burma and experienced
first-hand, the brutality of the current military regime. The memories of the
events of 1988 are still vivid.
At that time, I was a senior student at Rangoon Arts and Science University
(RASU) majoring in Chemistry. On March 16, while walking to class with my
friends, I saw students banging drums and calling others to gather nearby the
Convocation Hall. They were protesting the death of Phone Maw, a student who
was shot by soldiers dispersing a demonstration three days earlier. My
friends and I joined the protesters. As we marched past Inya Lake we saw
troops stationed on the road, blocking our way, and riot police trucks
rolling toward us.
Many students ran into nearby streets and some jumped into the lake. Others
were beaten and kicked by police then dragged into the trucks. I was
separated from my friends and ran into one of the houses in front of the
lake. The residents let me and a few others in, locking their gate. From
there, I watched the terrifying scene. My heart was pounding with fear. My
sarong was torn apart. I was holding a pencil sharpener to defend myself if I
were caught. Some troops tried to climb over the gate to catch us but a
Japanese diplomat next door let us climb down into his compound and hid us in
his house. It was night before I could finally get back home.
The following day, a demonstration broke out on the university campus and
was crushed by riot police. On March 18, universities and colleges were
closed for the first time.
For me, the most painful memory, and one that I try not to recall, occurred
in the days following March 13. Some of the students who were wounded at
that demonstration were held at the General Hospital detention center. With
the help of one of the doctors, I was able to sneak in to see them. Dressed
like a hospital trainee, I walked the halls of the center. There I found a
lifeless body lying alone on a bed. His legs were cuffed together. The
boy's name was Soe Naing. He was shot on March 13 and a bullet remained
lodged in his chest despite surgery to remove it. No one, including his
family, was allowed to see him. When he had first arrived, both his hands
and legs had been put in restraints. The handcuffs were removed only after
doctors protested that they would not treat his
wound while his arms were bound.
I was able to visit Soe Naing three times, bringing him food and drinks, but
he could eat little. It was on April 6 that Soe Naing died. His legs were
still cuffed. My heart was broken. It was the first time that I had ever
witnessed the senseless loss of an innocent life. Authorities ordered the
doctors to destroy all of Soe Naing's medical records and to deny any
knowledge of his case. From this time, my determination to fight for justice
in our country deepened.
In the months that followed, students organized quietly. More and more
people recognized the need for change in the country and joined this movement
which led to the nationwide pro-democracy uprising of August 8, 1988, known
The next few weeks saw tens of thousands of people -- including workers,
monks and children -- taking to the streets, calling for democracy and human
rights. On September 18, I marched along with my colleagues and watched with
horror as our military opened fire on its own people. One of the students
marching next to me was shot to death. This was the day martial law was
imposed and the military regime assumed the name, the State Law and Order
Restoration Council (SLORC).
During those months of struggle in 1988, hundreds of students were arrested.
Thousands of students, like myself, were forced to flee the country. I told
my mother that I had to leave for the border. She wept and begged me not to
go. I asked her. "Do you want to see me put in jail, or should I leave?"
She realized that there was no choice. Taking a few clothes, I left
together with friends by boat for the Thai-Burma border. Hiding and moving
from one place to another, we finally reached the southern border of Mon
ethnic territory known as Three Pagodas Pass. There I joined the regiment
102, All Burma Student Democratic Front (ABSDF).
When I came in contact with the ethnic peoples who are branded "rebels" by
government, my concept of a "rebel" changed. It dawned on me that there is a
huge difference between the real-life "rebels" and the image of them
projected in the state-controlled media. The Mon welcomed us. They fed us.
Living amongst them I came to understand the truth about the repression and
discrimination to which they had been subjected and why they had been forced
into armed struggle.
I stayed in the camp for several months. I got very sick and was brought to
Bangkok where I was hospitalized. In Bangkok, like other students and
dissidents, I had to hide from the arrest and harassment of Thai police
because the Burmese are not recognized by the Thai government as refugees but
are considered to be"illegal immigrants". UNHCR can offer us little
protection. Terrified at the thought of being caught by Thai police, I
applied to the US Embassy in Bangkok for resettlement and was accepted as a
political refugee. When I arrived in Washington D.C. in 1990, Voice of
America (VOA) interviewed me and broadcast my account of what took place in
1988. After that interview the SLORC-run newspaper, The Working People's
Daily, accused me of lying when I reported the bloody events.
My friends and colleagues who participated in 1988 movement are still in
great danger. Students and dissidents who are presently staying in Bangkok
continue to face serious threat from the Thai authorities. Students and
democratic forces who are currently staying in the ethnic territories along
the Thai-Burmese border are under severe pressure from both Burmese troops
and from the Thai authorities. Only a few months ago SLORC launched a major
offensive against Mannerplaw, the headquarters of the Karen National Union
and seat of the democratic opposition which displaced hundreds of Karen
refugees. A few days later SLORC troops surrounded and captured Dawn Gwin,
the ABSDF headquarters. The conflict continues today.
Mr. Chairman. I have been in the United States for 5 years. I should feel
safe and free under the protection of your government. But my soul is not
free as long as the injustice practiced by the military regime in my country
continues. As you know, on July 10, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi was released, and I
was very happy. But I rejoiced with caution. In a recent interview, Daw Suu
said, "Nothing has changed yet, apart from my release," and that we still
have a long way to go. She also urged international aid, assistance and
businesses not to rush in to Burma.
Please let me assure you that the release of our leader is only the first
step of our struggle toward democracy and human rights in Burma. There are
still hundreds of political prisoners. These include students who could be
leaders in democratic Burma. We do not know what is happening to them. SLORC
will not allow the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) to monitor
Mr. Chairman, I know that the issue of narcotics is one of grave concern to
the members of this committee and to the people of the United States.
Therefore I would like to make one comment regarding the military regime's
"unofficial" drug policy. Because many of us have been victimized by or
witnesses to this policy, we believe it is our responsibility to let the
outside world know what is actually happening inside Burma.
SLORC has officially pronounced a tough anti-drug policy in Burma, exhibited
by reported arrests of drug traffickers and the death penalty for those
convicted. In reality, however, drugs such as marijuana, opium, cocaine, and
heroin are widely available on the university and college campuses. Heroin
is cheaper and purer than ever before and is more readily available than any
other drug. In most campus tea shops you can easily buy a vial of heroin for
the equivalent of only $6 USD. Many believe that the government is
intentionally supplying drugs to its young people in order to divert their
attention from political activities. The military is willing to pay the
price of feeding opium to its youth in order to maintain power. This may be
difficult for those on the outside to accept, but for those in Burma who fall
victim to this scheme, it is most plausible.
Even if you choose not to believe that this is happening, the question
remains: In a country where the infamous Military Intelligence (MI) is
present on every corner of the street and is aware of the most discrete
activities of its citizens, how can heroin be flooding the state-run
university campuses without the knowledge and/or complicity of the
government? The reality that exists on the streets of Rangoon today brings
into serious doubt the genuineness of SLORC's stated intention to stem the
flow of narcotics.
I, of course, am not an expert on narcotics, but it seems to me that in order
to address this problem, or the many other problems facing Burma, there needs
to be a government in power that cares about the welfare of its people. From
my personal experience, and that of thousands of my fellow students, this is
not the SLORC.
In 1990, people of Burma proved their desire to live under a just and
democratic government by bravely voting for the National League for
Democracy. Further proof is seen today. Since the release of Daw Aung San
Suu Kyi on July 10, people have come daily to see and hear their trusted
leader despite the fact that there was a news black-out in the Burmese media.
Mr. Chairman, in closing I want to thank you and the members of the committee
for allowing me to testify today. You should know, however, that I do so
with trepidation. I fear for the safety of my family and colleagues in
Burma. For there is no doubt that sitting here among us now are those who
will report my words back to the authorities in Rangoon.
So please remember when considering US policy toward Burma that, in spite of
the new hotels; the shops lined with consumer goods; the opening of the
country to trade and tourism, Burma remains a police state. SLORC now boasts
a military force of an estimated 400,000 troops, more than double the size it
was in 1988. Much of that growth has been financed by currency brought in
through foreign investment.
I believe that democracy and human rights will truly come to Burma one day,
but the help of the international community is critical in bringing about
that change. Pressure brought to bear by the international community was
instrumental in freeing Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and such pressure must continue
until democracy is restored. And America has a special influence. SLORC
wants what its neighbors have: access to Western markets and Western capital,
and America is key to that.
The struggle of 1988 should not be forgotten. Nor should the brutality of
that time be repeated. We must all work toward advancing a dialogue that
will bring peace and reconciliation. I sincerely feel that this will not
happen without the support of the international community.