Monthly Archives: September 2008

Child soldiers

That the Burma army (Tatmadaw) forces children to become soldiers is despicable. For those of us who support their opponents it is troubling that the resistance groups also arm children, for the Karen, Chin and others train and allow kids as young as 13 to join the fighting. The fact that these children are volunteers is not on its own sufficient excuse to distinguish these child soldiers. Steve Gumaer, on the Partners Relief & Development Facebook Page (who now have nearly 800 members, it was only days ago we were celebrating 500) gives a helpful reflection:

As I have struggled with this and asked God how we are to respond, I have realized one thing: These people are desperate. Their villages are burned down, their fathers are forced to serve as porter slaves, and their livelihood is destroyed by one of the most abusive and brutal regimes in the world today.

The war in Burma has stripped away the support and protective mechanisms that would keep this boy off the battlefield. In desperation the leaders of his community encourage boys like Geniro to join the adults in a life or death struggle against a merciless dictatorship.

Not only are Burma’s children serving as combatants, they are being robbed of their childhood by a regime that denies them access to basic education, healthcare, and security. Further compounding their misery is a famine currently underway in Chin State where Geniro lives. This famine has claimed the lives of 44 children so far and leaves more than 50,000 vulnerable to starvation in 120 villages.

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Letter to my MP: part 3: we could erode the stone

I said I would post the reply to my letter to Phil Goff (my constituency MP), prompted by the heartbreaking story of the gang rape of a teenager by soldiers of the Myanmar Army (I’ll refer to the army as the Myanmar Army because they do not serve the interests of the Burmese people, merely the gang of general who appointed themselves to rule Burma) and the generals’ response. When, two weeks later that letter had not even received a token acknowledgement, and because I came across a neat and easy way in which anyone can send an e-card about Burma to their representative, I wrote again. Persistence party off. That second message got a mechanical reply, but the two have elicited a human response (reproduced below), and the prime minister’s office (Helen Clark is acting foreign minister) has been asked to respond.

Photo by by Sara.Katrina


I know that such administrative responses mean little. But, if you were also to write to your representative (you could base your note on mine if you liked – or just send an e-card which will take all of 15 seconds plus the time needed to get your representative’s address) and if more than that you were to blog, facebook, twitter or whatever your action so that one or three of your friends did the same, little by little we can help wear away the stone hearted indifference with which the rich and comfortable (like most of us – since to read this you have Internet access and good command of English) respond to the suffering of others.

Here’s the reply:

Dear Mr Bulkeley,

I am writing on behalf of Hon Phil Goff to acknowledge receipt of your letters dated 1 September 2008 and 18 September 2008 about the situation in Burma.

Mr Goff has sought advice from Rt. Hon Helen Clark, the Acting Minister of Foreign Affairs, about the issues you have raised and the Prime Minister will be replying to you directly on behalf of the government.

It is not uncommon for Ministerial replies to take some weeks to conclude. Mr Goff has been in contact with the Prime Minister’s office, and has been advised that you can expect a reply in the near future.

Please contact us again if you have not received a reply to your correspondence within the next 10 business days.

Regards

Shannon Steven
Ministerial Assistant

How about you do your bit, find out your representative’s email address, or your foreign minister’s, and send an e-card, tell your friends, and help erode the stone hearted indifference!

Insight on Burma/”Myanmar”

Radio NZ had a short feature on Burma, focusing mainly on ongoing relief efforts after Cyclone Nargis. It was good they mainly interviewed Burmese and Karen people (Stu Corlett was among the Kiwis interviewed). Apart from a (natural) media tendency to dramatise it was a good brief introduction. You can listen from this link:

Insight for 21 September: Myanmar Refugees
Insight goes to the Thai/Myanmar border to find out how people are recovering post Cyclone Nargis
File Size:9.7MB

Prayer for Burma: Another anniversary

On Sept 18th just last year, the dictators of Burma were stunned by massed protest but the country’s monks. The Telegraph describes it in a memorial article:

U Gawsita, 28, and Abbot Pyinnya Jota, 48, played key roles in the Saffron Revolution when thousands of monks led mass peaceful demonstrations against the brutal junta that rules their homeland a year ago this week. But they were forced to flee into exile after the bloody suppression of the protests.

In scenes that captivated the world, ranks of shaven-headed barefoot young men turned their alms bowls upside down in a symbol of defiance then marched through the streets at the head of crowds that grew from hundreds into hundreds of thousands.

The generals who have run the country since 1962 originally appeared stunned by the remarkable displays of civil disobedience that began on September 18. But after eight days, they retaliated with characteristic viciousness, quashing the dreams of democratic change.

There is also a video on that page

A New Day for Burma

Ruth posted a link on the Partners site to a post and a song by Holly Brown. I’ll copy part of Holly’s post below, because her response to a visit to Mae La is so similar to mine (see Leaving with more than photos) but first I’d like to appeal to you since this is the twentieth anniversary of the seizure of power of the gang of generals who so brutally rule Burma to send an e-card to your representative. It is so easy to do, a few minutes at most! And then email this link http://www.newdayforburma.org.au/#ecard around any friends you think would be willing to send a card too. If we could get thousands of these cards (or other messages) sent to politicians perhaps our governments pragmatism would lead them to do the right thing!

Holly wrote:

Another image I have is that of a father explaining his anguish that he had to leave one of his children behind. He will never know if the child is alive, dead, or captured by the army. And he will have to live with the guilt of making that decision. But the image that shouts the loudest in my mind is the hope. When asked what will change the Burma army a man once answered, “They need the love of Jesus.” In the midst of so much pain and suffering, the Karen cling to forgiveness and hope. And this hope is from God. A new day is dawning in Burma. A day where fear is not their consuming thought. Where running will be done for the pleasure it brings. A day where people are free. And it is through the power of the love of Jesus that this day is coming. And I ask you…. How can you show the love of Jesus?

This is her song:

Always running, never ceasing, under darkened skies
Heading eastward through the mountains and cross the river wide
Lost my mother and my father on the day the soldiers came
Burning houses, hurting people, its never been the same
How long will this last, when will this war end?
How long till it’s past and there’s justice in the end?
Always hungry, ever thirsty, never satisfied
Seeking shelter in the jungle and running to survive
How long will this last, when will this war end?
How long till its past and there’s justice in the end?
And I will wait on my feet again
For the skies to clear and sun to shine again
And I will pray on my knees again
For this hate to pass and love to rule again
And I will stay in this place again
A place where hate and fear cannot steal my heart
And I will pray on my knees again
For you love to warm and melt this heart of stone.

You can download the MP3 here.

Pray for Burma

Radio Australia reports Special Minister of State Senator John Faulkner as saying:

From time to time it may be drawn to our attention that someone close to the Burmese regime is in Australia and should this occur of course the government looks closely at such a case carefully and responds appropriately.

Since this was in the context of:

Expressing concern over the lack of political, economic and
humanitarian reform in Burma, Senator Faulkner says Australia could take action against a list of people with links to the regime who are already here or who may want to come here.

So, the Aussies are doing something, here I have not yet received a reply from Phil Goff, and I doubt we can make Burma an election issue, now there’s a cause for prayer, that Burma rise higher up the “agenda” in the media wherever you live.

Prayer for Burma: Ibrahim Gambari again

Ibrahim Gambari, UN Special Envoy to Burma

Ibrahim Gambari, UN Special Envoy to Burma

Ibrahim Gambari, the United Nations special envoy to Burma,has one of the most difficult jobs in the world. In the face f his repeated failures to get any concessions from Burma’s rulers either on releasing political prisoners or a process for returning the country to civilian rule the opposition are becoming more and more vocal in criticising him. Yet, as the Financial Times reports it might be more accurate to blame the regime than the envoy:

Some diplomats defended Mr Gambari and said he had a tough job in the face of the regime’s intransigence. Jean-Maurice Ripert, French envoy to the UN, said criticism should not be directed at Mr Gambari, but rather at the ruling junta for failing to engage in a political dialogue with the opposition.

At least the envoy seems determined to keep on trying:

Mr Gambari said he had no plans for an early return to Burma until there was a prospect of progress. Western diplomats say some members of the UN Security Council, including China and Russia, who are opposed to sanctions, would like the Gambari mission to maintain business as usual. The existence of the UN-sponsored process is seen as easing pressure to impose tougher measures on Burma.

But Mr Gambari appeared to favour firmer demands on the regime on the key issues of freedom for political prisoners and a return to political dialogue. “We always said the process is not an end in itself. It should deliver tangible results.”