Magazine article New Internationalist

Truth in Action: Last September Two Young British Civil-Rights Activists Were Arrested in Rangoon

Magazine article New Internationalist

Truth in Action: Last September Two Young British Civil-Rights Activists Were Arrested in Rangoon

Article excerpt

James Mawdsley first went to Burma at the beginning of 1997 to teach in the Minthamee camp for displaced Karen people in the jungle of southeast Burma, 20 miles from the Thai border. The Karen are one of Burma's 100-plus ethnic groups, who since World War Two have been fighting for a degree of autonomy. 'They don't want independence,' said Mawdsley. 'They want to remain part of Burma but to be able to look after their people and land.'

Five weeks after his arrival at the Minthamee camp the Burmese army attacked it. 'Every dry season there's an offensive. There's thousands of villages in the area which don't support the Junta, so there's a very good jungle grapevine. . . We moved closer to the border and the day before the government troops arrived I slipped over the border, followed later by women and children.' Young Karen men and boys were turned back by the Thais, accused of being rebels, not refugees.

Mawdsley returned to Burma in September, via the Htan Hin refugee camp in Thailand. There he discovered that the Minthamee community 'had been blown to bits. There were people in Thai prisons, detention centres, living and working illegally in Bangkok. Some had gone missing. Some were still at the front line in Burma. Some were hiding from the Junta in Burma.' Of the young men turned back at the Thai border, 'five had been sunk in a boat, two had been shot on the river where I used to wash every day. Another stuck his head out of a bush and got it blown off.'

When Mawdsley got to Rangoon he sprayed graffiti, chanted slogans and distributed leaflets, all detailing Junta abuses. He chained himself to a school's gates and ripped up a copy of the state newspaper. After an hour he was arrested, interrogated for eight hours and deported. Thereafter he had to enter the country illegally, on foot.

In April 1998 he went to Moulmein, capital of Mon state. The journey - with the Karen National Union (KNU) -- took two weeks, passing through villages left derelict by the Burmese Army. They slept under the stars, eating food hunted by the guerrillas.

His protest in Moulmein followed the same lines, only this time the interrogation lasted eight days and included 19 hours of torture. …

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