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Trip Reports

Trip Report 2018

Trip Report 2018

The second half of 2017 saw a dramatic fall in democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi’s international reputation. People were shocked by her inability to control the crisis in Rakhine State. Between August and October more than 660,000 Rohingya Muslims fled across the border to Bangladesh following the Army’s heavy-handed crackdown of what were fairly minor acts of insurgency. The refugees brought with them stories of murder, arson and rape committed by the military, which shocked the world. The US, EU and UN have labelled it “ethnic cleansing”, while the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights has additionally suggested genocide. While it is generally acknowledged that Suu Kyi has no executive authority over the military it is felt that she should have spoken out on the Rohingya’s behalf.

On our last trip in January 17, as trustees we were aware of people’s disappointment at the rate of reforms. Hopes had been unrealistically high following the landslide election, and Daw Suu’s appointment as State Counsellor in November 2015. On this last trip we found that ordinary people were defensive about the international criticism of their country and the stripping of honours awarded to “Aunty Suu” as she is commonly known. There was also a bewildering lack of sympathy for the cruelty meted out on the ‘Bengalis”. The name Rohingya is forbidden. These unfortunate people have no name, and no rights or ID papers, and have been pushed to and fro from Rakhine State to Bangladesh since the nineteen sixties. The right wing Buddhist nationalist movement led by the controversial monk Wirathu has stirred up a great deal of hatred of Muslims and this can be seen as a conservative backlash against the change that has come swiftly.

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Trip Report 2017

Trip Report 2017

On 30th March 2017, it was one year since Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy took power in Myanmar after more than half a century of military dictatorship. People had huge expectations about what could be achieved in a very short time. They now feel let down and disillusioned. On our recent trip to Moulmein (modern name Mawlamyine) an educated man in his seventies told us: “we admire ‘the lady’, but now we cannot follow her”. He believed democracy would come to the country but more slowly than people had hoped. He feared that there might be another military coup.

Over the last year the peace process and the hopes for a federal system for the ethnic nationalities who make up more than 40% of the population have made painfully slow progress. As the “2nd Panglong" conference began in October, so did the Army’s intensification of the brutal six years war in Kachin state. The original Panglong treaty signed just after independence guaranteed the ethnic minorities a right to secede from the union after several years if they were not satisfied. This was never implemented. A Chin writer, Za Uk, recently compared the relationship between minorities and the dominating military to an unhappy marriage in which one partner is abused and exploited but cannot escape.

Since October last year, 70,000 Rohinghas have fled to Bangledesh from Arakan State, following a crackdown by the Army whose brutality has provoked international outrage.

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trip report 2016 1

Trip Report 2016

In August we were hugely touched and pleased that 19 veterans were able to attend VJ commemorations in Yangon at the City Cemetery where many WW2 Burma Campaign soldiers are buried. The British Ambassador, Andrew Patrick, was present, and to everyone’s surprise the Burmese military (a first) were well represented. Among others attending were the UK Military Attache, Colonel Tony Stern and other dignitaries. Representing H4FA were myself and Duncan Gilmour. Andrew Curtis of Norwich School and Seagrim House, which the famous Major Seagrim attended as a boy, flew out from the UK. The 19 veterans arrived with some of our volunteers who distribute grant money in Yangon and Loikaw, Toungoo and the Delta area. We paid for one old veteran from Loikaw to fly to Yangon. It was a first for him and he thor- oughly enjoyed himself. For these now very ancient and impoverished warriors to be together and to be entertained afterwards at the British Ambassador’s residence was a joy to see. They have spent so many years of their lives marginalised in Burmese society for their service with the Allies, this was some sort of recognition of their ser- vice and sacrifice in the Burma Campaign.

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Trip Report 2015

My wife, Ning, and I visited Loikaw in place of Sally McLean, who sadly was unable to come this year. We were joined by local volunteers and by H4FA committee member Peter Mitchell for part of the trip. The following is an account of our meetings with some of the veterans and their widows in and around Loikaw.

Note: It isn’t always possible to determine the ages or verify the dates given by the veterans, who often give contradictory accounts themselves due to old age and/or poor record-keeping in colonial times. The veterans also tend to use ‘English’ and ‘British’ interchangeably. For historical accuracy, I have used British unless in direct quotes. The following report is based on the information we were given. Mark Fenn (H4FA supporter).

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