Thu, Jun 07, 2007 - Page 8 News List

Taiwan can do more to help out in Myanmar

By Sam Lai

Democracy activist Aung San Suu Kyi's house arrest in Myanmar was supposed to end last month, but the country's military junta decided to extend it for another year anyway.

This was yet another outrage for people around the world concerned about Myanmar. Aung San Suu Kyi has spent more than 11 of the last 17 years in detention despite tireless expressions of support for her from the rest of the world.

For a long time, I have worked to help refugees from Myanmar at the Thai border. I have always shared these people's hope that Aung San Suu Kyi will lead Myanmar toward democracy and peace, and the longing to return to their land and rebuild their homes.

For more than 20 years, these refugees have lived a life without legal status, without homes and without freedom of movement or a certain future. Aung San Suu Kyi not only symbolizes Myanmar's democratic movement, she also represents hope for displaced Burmese both within the country and abroad. She isn't willing to abandon her countrymen, choosing instead to face oppression by the military government.

Her non-violent resistance movement encourages countless Burmese and people from around the world to persist in their pursuit of democracy and peace.

The international community -- including the UN Commission on Human Rights, the EU and ASEAN -- has condemned Myanmar's military government for its brutishness in extending Aung San Suu Kyi's detention. It has urged the military to be responsive to the public desire for domestic unity by lifting tight controls on political activities, respect human rights and restore civil liberties.

Unfortunately, as with its handling of the Darfur conflict in Sudan, the Chinese government rejected a UN proposal for humanitarian intervention, saying it should not violate Myanmar's sovereignty by interfering with internal affairs.

I received a letter from a Burmese youth studying in Taiwan who wanted to spend his summer vacation helping Burmese refugees on the border with Thailand. We chatted on the Internet about the predicament of refugees and the difficulty of fleeing one's homeland for a foreign country to seek safety. Despite such hardship, Burmese troops often mercilessly crack down on minorities and dissidents in border regions.

When the student and I talked about whether or not Aung San Suu Kyi would be released, he said: "Under the Burmese military regime that I know, this would be impossible."

Whether she is released or not doesn't seem to be a pressing matter for many Taiwanese as it does not affect diplomatic or popular agendas. Because of its international status, Taiwan has limited options in offering protection to refugees and promoting Myanmar's democratization. But there is still a group of Taiwanese who care about Burmese refugees and who are continuing to do their best to help.

As members of the global village, it is an unshirkable responsibility of the Taiwanese government and public to express support for Aung San Suu Kyi and assist in Myanmar's democratic development.

Taiwan is striving to be a country built on a framework of human rights and which pushes for democratization across Southeast Asia. If it really wants to play a bigger role in the world community, shouldn't it spend less time arguing over whether it should have a Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall or a National Taiwan Democracy Memorial Hall and concern itself instead with human rights around the world? Couldn't it provide practical support to Aung San Suu Kyi and Myanmar's peace movement?

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