“I am not that happy at all in [the name of his new country has been deleted for anonymity purposes] but Freedom I love this, and I want all Burmese people, anyone who is living in Burma, any ethnic, I want them to see and feel freedom like here.”
–“Kyaw”, an exiled Burmese resistance fighter.
His wife is dead. His parents and siblings are missing. His country is gone. Kyaw (not his real name) is stranded forever, in the purgatory of a foreign culture, where he struggles to raise his daughters, learn a new language, and come to terms with his heart-wrenching past.
Driven from their homes, murdered, raped, and tortured at the hands of their own government, the ethnic minorities of Burma: Shan, Karen, Karenni, Pa-O, Lahu, Lisu, Rohinga, and others have been suffering for sixty years. In the face of genocide it is easy to forget the suffering of the country’s majority, the ethnic Burmans.
In 1988, after the government slaughtered pro-democracy protestors in the streets, a group of ethnic Burman students, including young Kyaw, formed an organization called the All Burman Student Democratic Front (ABSDF). They took up weapons and fled to the jungle. Many were welcomed into the ethnic armies, particularly the Karen. The government reaction was so violent that within a few years the Karen would lose their headquarters. The Shan State Army would be reduced by 90%, and all of the ABSDF fighters would be either killed, captured, or driven over the border into Thailand, where many still live, working illegally. The lucky ones became refugees and were resettled in a third country.
Lucky to be alive, they suffer the complete loss of everything they ever knew or called home.
Because of the videos I published on YouTube about my time in Shan State, and the articles I have published, I receive a lot of email from Shan and Burmese exiles all over the world. This most recent one was particularly moving. I wanted to share it with the world. Let the world be reminded of how bad things are inside of Burma. And let those of us who work on the conflict, with the various ethnic groups, remember that ethnic Burmans are also victims.
Here is the letter from Kyaw, with some editing of his English, for readability, and some author’s notes I interjected, for those unfamiliar with the details of Burma’s civil war, the longest running armed conflict on the planet.
Hi, Mr. Antonio,
I left my family when I was 14, studying at year Eight in 1988. So, I hadn’t finished school yet. Even if I finished, and if I stayed in Burma, I have no idea what kind of job I would get. I lived in Shan State capital city, called Taunggyi. It is the third biggest city in Burma, second is Mandaly, and the capital was Rangoon.
[Author’s note: The SPDC, Burmese government, moved the capital to a secret, undisclosed mountain location in 2007. Rangoon was changed to Yangon, but it is still considered to be the real capital by all but the junta themselves. The junta also changed the country name from Burma to Myanmar. But no one outside recognizes this change.]
After I left home I never saw my brothers or my parents anymore, and still haven’t had contact with them. So, I left it, as this is life, and I am lucky that I am still alive. After I left home I was in ABSDF (All Burmese Students Democratic Front) for 14 years. In those years, we fought with the Burma army often and a lots of my friends died in the war. We didn’t stay close to the Shan State Army, but we often crossed Shan State armed areas. We lived in the Pa-O area, which is part of Shan state, Karanni state, and Karan state.
[Author’s note: The Pa-O are one of the smallest ethnic groups in Burma. They live primarily in Shan State and had their own resistance army, until the major onslaught from the SPDC nearly crushed the resistance. Since then, the armed Pa-O have been absorbed into Shan State Army. The SSA commander, Col. Yawd Serk has a policy of ethnic equality and welcomes all ethnicities who live in Shan State. When I was with the SSA I met soldiers who were Pa-O, Lahu, Karen, and even Chinese speaking soldiers who I had to translate for.]
After the Karen (KNLA) fell in 1995-96 our ABSDF organization also collapsed and our base fell in to Burmese government hands, because we are dependent on living with the Karen.
[Author’s note: One of the biggest blows to the rebellion was when the Karen lost their headquarters. It was overrun by government forces and the army took years to regroup. The ABSDF were primarily college students from the big cities. They often didn’t know how to survive in the jungle and were very dependent on the help given them by the tribal people.]
Karan and Kachin State where the biggest and strongest organizations in Burma. Also Shan was powerful in around 1970 and 1980 but the Burmese military crossed the whole Shan State with powerful regiments, burning and killing whatever they saw. After that, the Shan army was not strong enough anymore.
The last, biggest Karan State fell in 1995. Our revolution groups were no more strong enough, but just small groups, still fighting for their homeland, and also ABSDF.
[Author’s note: The ethnic soldiers were and are still fighting in the very place where they were born, where their parents, their children and their ancestors grew up. There is that feeling of defending the homeland. Among the ethnic soldiers, there is a feeling that the ABSDF were outsiders. Yes, they also opposed the Burmese government, and they were willing to pick up a gun. But there was still a distrust of outsiders.]
The small groups continued to fight along the Thai -Burma border, but just small groups.
I still support AB and still work for it. I am Burmese and I can speak a little Shan, Karen, and Pa-O language. I can also speak and read Thai well. But now I am trying to learn the English language. It’s very hard for me.
I am not that happy at all in [The name of his new country has been deleted for anonymity purposes] but Freedom I love this, and I want all Burmese people, anyone who is living in Burma, any ethnic, I want them to see and feel freedom like here.
I feel sad about Burma.
I have two daughters and my wife died after we arrived here with stomach cancer. So, I live with my 2 daughters 11 and 9 years old. However far apart from Burma, I am always looking back and helping when I can.
I am so proud of you had helped Burma land. I wish you always remember Burma land. I always know Burma is very beautiful country and Burma has everything more than Thailand.
Just because of the government, all Burmese people have been sick, and a sick life is hell.
Please say a prayer for the people of Shan State and for all of the people of Burma.