Burmese academics who fled a brutal crackdown on student protests more than two decades ago returned to their homeland for the first time yesterday in a gesture of support for the country’s reforms.
The exiles, who escaped through the jungle into Thailand after the bloody army assault on a failed uprising in 1988, were greeted by family and a small crowd of local journalists as they arrived in Yangon airport.
Aung Naing Oo said he was “overwhelmed” setting foot on home soil after almost half a lifetime away and fellow exile Aung Thu Nyein was visibly moved.
The two men, senior staff of the Vahu Development Institute, an organization working on development, economic reform and governance issues in the country, are in Myanmar for a short visit.
Their colleagues Zaw Oo and Tin Maung Than returned for good yesterday.
The academics cite the country’s dramatic changes in the past year as a reason for their decision to open an office in Yangon, Myanmar’s commercial hub.
A controversial 2010 election heralded the end of nearly half a century of outright military rule and a new regime has surprised skeptical observers with reforms, including accepting democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi as a political force.
The government, which remains dominated by former generals, has also initiated a major release of jailed dissidents — including key 1988 student leaders.
Aung Naing Oo said the speed of developments in the country over the past year had been astonishing, given that they were initiated by an army that has been blamed for the country’s decades of economic decline.
“I think in some ways it is a kind of miracle and I think the former military officers in government will suddenly wake up and realize that they have to catch up with the rest of the world,” he said ahead of the visit. “We don’t know how much we can do, we will go back with an open mind.”
The academics, who plan to visit the capital Naypyidaw, will hold meetings with government officials, the private sector and other groups.