Wednesday, February 20, 2008



What started out as a vacation from my journalistic pursuits became a journey into a world many people never see. Their struggle, their stories and their plight, truly a walk through hell. I have become privy to the secrets from the jungles of Burma and Thailand. With the help of Burmese, Kachin and Karen friends plus refugee officials and missionaries I have become a welcome guest within the teaming refugee community here in America. And within this matrix I have become a trusted messenger for these voiceless humble human beings. This is an honor I don't hold lightly. The stories are most compelling. And this is just the beginning.

With the exotic smell of shrimp paste intermingled with other interesting fragrances I found myself deep within the Burmese culture. It was with great pleasure I embraced this kind and loving people. Hospitality rarely seen outside of my reservation greeted me as well as a plate of Burmese cuisine. Though I can't begin to pronounce the different dishes I enjoyed, I can attest it was a wonderful experience for my pallet indeed. But as I ate, these beautiful people began to tell their stories to me. While drinking my tea and enjoying some brown sugar candy I could not help but listen as they began to tell their tales of unseen hardship and horrors not mentioned in the main stream media.

Myanmar (Burma), wracked with violence, wholesale murder and ethnic cleansing from the military junta forced many people to flee for their lives or faced death and imprisonment. My beautiful Burmese hostess and interpreter, (Madam Butterfly), gained political asylum 11 years ago and has worked to help her people ever since. Her story alone would take volumes to tell since she had to flee into the jungle or be executed like so many other Burmese people have. Truly her life would compare to a James Bond thriller filled with intrigue, rape, survival and death. As I found out later she was not an isolated case fore all these people fled with nothing more than the cloths on their backs or face labor camps and extinction.

The stories I heard were horrific to say the least. Imagine going to school and having to step over human body parts with the stench of decomposing flesh in the air. Or watching as children die from poisoned candy laced with heroin distributed by the government intentionally. Ideological differences gave warrant for imprisonment and torture. In many cases people were simply murdered. As I wrote this piece I was cautioned not to make to many direct references or mention names. The totalitarian government monitors the Internet and would rain death on relations and tribal people still in Burma.

You'd think all is well whence these suffering people finally arrived at one of the refugee centers. But alas this was truly not the case for some refugees. Many have been living in exile from their homeland for 10 years or more. Ethnic tribal people have been classified as terrorists since the advent of 9-11. For example the Karen have taken up arms to resistance the military junta that has not recognized the vote of the people and imprisoned the elected president, Aung San Suu Kyi. The Karen have become untouchable in many cases and no countries would adopt them for fear of terrorism. It's a Catch 22 for people who've survived so much. Ironically, the fight for freedom has become a terrorist activity.

Further I learned that some people who've claimed to be political refugees were in fact pro government from the onset but bought their way to America through some corrupt refugee camp officials. Please note this is an isolated case and not all officials are corrupt but corruption is always present. But as an American this strikes at my core since we suffered greatly from the destruction of the Twin Towers. 5, 10 and 20 thousand dollars would secure political refugee status for those who could pay. They would pay their fee, stay in a refugee camp for a week or so then spend the remainder of the time in a Thai motel in Bangkok. In no time flat they would be whisked to America or other host nations. This was a deep dark secret until now.

Fact is, there are many deep dark secrets I've learned while investigating the plight of the Burmese people. Unscrupulous businessmen managed to come over to the USA and enslaved the ethnically diverse refugees na├»ve to our ways again. More on this issue later. Imagine, here we sit after 9-11, shoring up our borders and over in Thailand people can buy their way to America and other ports of call under the guise of humanitarian need. Then there are the truly displaced refugees who've been living in camps for many years in squaller. Their refugee status tainted with the word “terrorist” on their documents.

With the assassination of 65 year old Padoh Mahn Sha, secretary general of the Karen National Union, the fight for freedom has been thrust into yet more pandemonium. Though it is believed the killing was ordered by the military junta of Burma there are other possibilities. It is suspected the Democratic Karen Buddhist Army, (DKBA) and pro Junta, were involved but other splinter groups are suspect such as Brigade 7 or better known as the KNU/KNLA Peace Counsel.

Feudal differences between the Thais and Burmese have festered causing yet more turmoil for these struggling people. One Karen refugee told me what she observed while in detention in a Thai prison. Thai criminals would buy their way out of prison then Burmese refugees held in detention would simply be used to replace this thug and serve out a sentence for a crime they did not commit. Along the Thai border womens bodies would appear after the rains, obviously raped and beaten to death. Fact is, according to Burmese Junta officials, the value of life was a mean $6. Women in general have been under assault as it is. Rape has become common place and sexual slavery has become a booming business for the brothels in Bangkok. One school teacher and her husband living and working at a refugee center took it upon themselves to rescue women held in bondage at Thai brothels. From jumping from balconies to physically removing these sex slaves, this couple are truly heroes in their own right and I will tell of their adventures in another article.

I listened in horror as a Karen woman told my interpreter a grizzly story about how some Thai restaurateurs used Burmese children to feed leaches. After the leaches were fattened up by the human blood of Burmese babies they would be served up at various restaurants in Thailand as a delicacy. Sadly as both Thai and western dinners ate this treat they would not be aware for the fact these leaches were filled with human blood. If a child got ill during the leaches feeding frenzy they would be nursed back to health then dumped back in a vat filled with hungry leaches. If they died, they simply were thrown away deep in th jungle. With little to no accountability the Thai governments efforts have been thwarted while investigating these human rights issues. The plush green mat of the jungle keeps many dark secrets from the western world.

The stories of human suffering are beyond imagination. Another Karen woman told me of how unscrupulous men would come to villagers promising a new and wonderful life, marry a Burmese woman, impregnate her, take her to Thailand then sell her into prostitution. The new born child would then be sold into slavery. Sadly this is not an isolated case fore many young and desperate women have been literally taken from their villages and refugee camps and sold into prostitution. Lawlessness has become the order of the day for survivors of ethnic cleansing. Their pleads for help have not been heard or ignored, until now eh.

It should be know that it is not the Thai government per se' who are perpetrating these acts on the refugees. It is ruthless individuals who've taken full advantage of the plight of these suffering people. With a dense jungle to mask any improprieties, criminal behavior is rampant. Burmese forces continually bomb and mortar refugee camps along the border regardless of international boundaries. And it is believed they also send troops within the Thai borders to rape and murder the defenseless less refugees. The innocent and the meek are under siege as their lives and dignity are extinguished and erased from memory.

I was informed the BBC, the UN and the United States have continually given humanitarian aid to these refugee camps. Of course the Thai government as a whole has offered much humanitarian assistance over the years. It was a wonderful surprise to learn that an entity such as the British Broadcasting Corporation has been involved in this epic humanitarian effort. And it's nice to know that good ole Uncle Sam has been in the trenches as well. And if it were not for Thailand the refugees would not have a place to go in the first place. Currently Japan has offered to open their doors to refugees and this is most commendable. I salute you Japan.

The latest news from Burma is that tycoon, Tay Za personal friend of junta chief Snr-Gen Than Shwe, has simply confiscated a complete village, Tayor Gone, near Phakant, Kachin State. Htoo Trading Co Ltd, his company, plans to open a jade mine to further his riches at the expense of over 300 Kachin villagers with no compensation. He claims the land is his. Other exploits by the Burmese government are to allow a Russian mining company to explore for gold in Kachin land at the expense ofthe Kachin people. Sources say it's a thinly veiled attempt to find uranium in this region. In any event it's the humble and the innocent people who will suffer and most likely be booted from their tribal land whence gold or uranium are discovered. Of course there would be no compensation what so ever.

With all this human suffering perpetrated by the Burmese military junta you'd think it was a no brainer for free world enterprises to boycott this place place filled with human rights violations. Ah but such is life and it was learned that Chevron, a multi-national oil company, is invested in the Yadana gas pipeline to the tune of 28% interest but they are not alone. Total of France is also invested at 31%, Thailand's PTTP has a 25% interest while the Burmese junta has only vested 15% in their own pipeline. So here we go again since now it boils down to this. As we all know, when it comes to indigenous people, their sacred land and natural resources, humans always get the short end of the stick. It's all about the money Paisan.

The Burmese refugee community are sending out petitions urging Congress to get Chevron to end it's partnership with the military junta. Both the House of Representatives and Congress have bills before them that are related directly to investments in Burma. And you the voting public can make a difference if you try.

The plight of the Burmese people has taken center stage with me and I'm going to tell you why. As I talked to Karen refugees I was taken back by the commonalities both my people and their people share. The stories, though grim and horrific are a reflection of the human suffering my people endured from the conquering people. They are the stories historians managed to keep out of the books but our oral tradition has kept them alive, like the Karen and other Burmese people. When listening to these wonderfully humble and kind people I was taken aback by their innocence and it reminded me of my elders as they told of similar horrors in years past.

Government sponsored ethnic cleansing by the US Cavalry, the raising of villages, the rape and murder of innocent people as the whole world looked on has struck at my core. Sand Creek and Washita come to mind from as I hear their stories. If only our people had access to the media back then. Maybe we would have had a chance to retain our homeland and more of our culture. If only more people of the world knew the true reality of out plight maybe we would not be relegated to reservations and forced to live in third world conditions to this day.

Our people of the First Nation were innocent and trusting. And for this we were betrayed, raped and murdered for our land and natural resources. The funny yellow metal that makes the white man crazy was at the core of much of this. Living by water was another reason our tribes were decimated and or completely killed off with such religions terms like “Manifest Destiny”. The struggle to find sanctuary by Chief Joseph was an epic drama similar to the Karen people as they made their way towards Canada. The only difference was they never found sanctuary or ever found refuge and were thrust into bondage in a land that once had no owners. The refugees from Burma are my brothers and sisters and now their struggle is mine as well. After all, I am the voice of the voiceless and this is only the beginning eh. According to Kachin oral tradition I am Shan Htoi Gam

Your Devil's Advocate
Creativity is the byproduct of a fertile mind

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