Fri, Dec 21, 2007 - Page 2 News List

INTERVIEW: Maung discusses the plight of political exiles

COMMITMENT Dr. Cynthia Maung said that a country is not the only thing that the Burmese in exile lack. They also require more food, healthcare services and education

By Shih Hsiu-chuan  /  STAFF REPORTER

To receive the 2007 Asia Democracy and Human Rights Award honoring her long-term commitment to human rights in Myanmar, Cynthia Maung came to Taiwan last week on a temporary travel visa granted by both the Thai government and Taiwan's representative office in Thailand.

Just like hundreds of thousands of refugees fleeing to the Thai-Burma border after the 1988 crackdown on the pro-democracy uprising, the physician, who still calls her country "Burma," has been stateless since the military government changed the nation's identity cards.

Maung, a member of the ethnic Karen minority, fled to Thailand that year and has not returned to Burma since, having lost contact with her family there.

In an interview with the Taipei Times last Friday, Maung compared statelessness among the Burmese in Thailand to Taiwanese striving for statehood, saying that "the main problem in Burma is the military dictatorship ruling the country."

"One interesting thing I saw in Taiwan is that Taiwan also faces the same challenge. Until now Taiwan is not recognized by the United Nations [UN] as one nation ... But because of freedom and democracy, Taiwan has made lots of improvement," she said.

"The difference between Burma and Taiwan is that you are on your own land and you have a democratic leadership ... But for the Burmese, they have to live in other countries as illegal and stateless people, and there are always constant threats of arrest and deportation," she added.

Statelessness is not the only thing the Burmese in exile lack, as they, just like "internally displaced people" inside Burma, are also short of food, healthcare and education, she said.

Maung said she joined the pro-democracy movement on the border during the 1988 uprising after seeing "more and more oppression and tension inside Burma under the military dictatorship and no opportunities for young people to study and for communities to access health care."


In Sunday's issue, we reported that South African national Grant Christopher Buchan was on the wanted list -- the equivalent of an arrest warrant being issued -- for allegedly using forged documents to obtain a teaching position at Hungkuang University in Taichung County ("South African `professor' placed on wanted list," page 2). Buchan was in fact being sought for questioning after failing to attend court. At that time he was not on the wanted list, which would require three no-shows at court. The Taipei Times regrets the error.

"I believed that on the border, there were opportunities to strengthen the network of international organizations to provide healthcare. That's why I came out from Burma and we set up an emergency medical center for the displaced population," she said.

The Mae Tao Clinic, in Mae Sot, Thailand, close to the Thai-Burma border, was established in December 1989 as a makeshift clinic in a dilapidated barn with few supplies and even less money.

Maung and her companions treated the increasing number of patients coming to the clinic with malaria, respiratory disease, diarrhea, gunshot wounds and landmine injuries, with malaria being one of the most common diseases treated by the clinic.

The 19-year-old clinic has grown to a 120-bed hospital with several departments, where five physicians, 140 health workers and 100 support staff provide comprehensive healthcare to some 200 patients a day.

It provides inpatient and outpatient medicine, basic surgical services, childcare, voluntary counseling and testing services integrated into the blood donation service, HIV/AIDS and STD (sexually transmitted disease) testing and treatment, as well as eye care and laboratory services, all free of charge.

With the number of people crossing the border rising significantly every year, the number of patients being treated increases 20 percent to 30 percent every year, Maung said.

"We haven't matched the need in improving the facilities. We need to increase the staff and add medical equipment, so every year this is a challenge for us," she said.

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