Wednesday 19 June 2019

What in the World?

Paul Whitington

Paul Whitington

One hoped-for bi-product of the terrible suffering being endured by the Burmese people in the aftermath of the recent cyclone is that the disaster just might, indirectly, lead to the downfall of the detested and moronic military regime that has ruled the country so ineptly since seizing power in the coup d'etat of 1962.

The generals' paranoid attitude to western aid and seeming indifference to the plight of their own people has been galling, as has the attitude of some politically-correct analysts who dutifully refer to the country as 'Myanmar' and fret about upsetting the junta.

Though it's an ancient word, Myanmar was a name change imposed by the generals without consultation or plebiscite. And given their army's activities in the Karen region, it's the equivalent of the Khmer Rouge renaming Cambodia Kampuchea. Fancy anti-colonial names do not condone repression, torture and mass murder.

Of course, Western governments have been deeply hypocritical with regard to the country, making the odd official protest about the house imprisonment of Aung San Suu Kyi while the multinationals do deals with the regime to ensure the safety of their oil pipelines. Aung San Suu Kyi led her democratic party to a landslide victory in a 1990 election, but the result was annulled by the junta, which refused to stand down. Protests which erupted last year were brutally suppressed, but maybe, just maybe, that terrible cyclone may yet turn the tide.

In the first of a new series, the investigative documentary series What in the World? takes a timely look at the country, and the plight of its least fortunate citizens, the Karen people. Home to four million people, the Karen state is located in the extreme east of the country, on the border with Thailand. During the Second World War its people fought with the British against the Japanese, with the guarantee that at war's end they would be granted their own state. But when Burma gained independence from the British in 1948, the Karen people were abandoned to their fate.

In recent decades the Burmese army has practised what looks like an attempt at genocide in the area, burning Karen villages, raping, torturing and killing those they capture and destroying the people's only livelihood -- livestock and rice fields. Living in fear of the army, many of the Karen people have fled to the country's edge, beside the Moei river, where they eke out a precarious existence in temporary shelters. Most of them cross the river into Thailand at night, in order to avoid attacks.

This documentary also tells the tragic story of Mu Ko Lay (pictured, with her husband, Maung Mya). She explains how her two sons were killed in the jungle by the Burmese military and buried "like dogs", while she and the rest of the villagers fled for their lives. Her account, interrupted by uncontrollable sobs, is deeply moving, but sadly Mu Ko Lay's story is just one of many in a region where the army has killed with impunity for decades.

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