“The monks tried to build a pagoda on some land that they owned, but in January 2000, the head of authorities in Myawadi had previously sold the land to a rich Thai businessman known as Chonbon without consulting any monks or civilians.”
The land, U Tay Zaw says, was illegally obtained by the military junta. The authorities made a deal with Chonbon. He would receive half of the land and the other half would be designated for a water and dam project. The land sold to Chonbon would be used to build new municipal offices.
Myawadi is separated from the Thai border by Mount Wartaw. Residents live at the mountain’s base on the Burmese side of the border. The authorities required land at the top of the mountain, where the monks were building their pagoda. The land owned by the monks was taken by the authorities because it formed part of a vital supply route where the water from the Thoungyin River, or the River Kwai, would be lifted over the mountain using a generator and sent flowing downstream to the town’s residents to the dam constructed to the mountain base.
U Tay Zaw alleges that Chonbon used the identity of Htun Lwin, a local merchant, to purchase the land for more than 200 million Burmese Kyat. Lwin, according to U Tay Zaw, ensured that each junta member received their share of the land sale price. The military authorities profited the proceeds. Monks and civilians did not receive any financial compensation for the illegal sale of their land.
Civilians regularly came to him confessing that they were forced to spy on monks in Myawadi. However, one spy tipped him off.
An anonymous police intelligence officer passed on a letter to U Tay Zaw which read, “If you receive this message, run away.”
With the help of other paramilitary officers who intentionally created a diversion by deliberately heading in the opposite direction in which U Tay Zaw intended to flee, only one obstacle separated him from safety.
“I crossed the Thoungyin River with only one thought on my mind; get to Thailand alive. Although the water levels reached the neck, these were the longest seven minutes of my life. I did not look back once.”
Having safely reached the border, news filtered through that several people who had contacted him in Myawadi had been arrested. They were repeatedly beaten by military officers, furious at news of U Tay Zaw’s escape and anxious to know his whereabouts. U Tay Zaw continues to receive news about how the people of Burma feel regarding the 2010 election. “People are dissatisfied. They know the military junta will win and they plead for intervention from the international community before the elections take place.”
The Burmese population are also less than flattering in their thoughts of Ibrahim Gambari, the Special Envoy for Burma appointed by the United Nations, U Tay Zaw says.
“He is a puppet sent to please the military junta. If he was allowed to meet ordinary people in Burma, they would punch him.”
“He has two nicknames in Burma; Nanbathe [“smelly” in Burmese] and Gambari Kyanbathi [meaning “plan to mislead”].”
U Tay Zaw does not need any convincing of Aung San Suu Kyi’s innocence over reports that she breached the terms of her house arrest after the recent capture of American John William Yettaw. “I think he wanted to know more about Aung San Suu Kyi’s situation, especially how she managed to live under house arrest. U Tay Zaw feels that the junta are paranoid that he was bringing in strategies for a western-style democracy to be instilled in Burma, directly contravening the junta’s Roadmap to Democracy.
“If he [Yettaw] was sitting in front of me right now, I would ask him, ‘For what reason did you go and how do you think you can help?’ The Burmese people at home and in Australia dislike him. They feel that his actions were too close to the 2010 election and Aung San Suu Kyi’s release date.”
Having spoken with a revered member of Buddhist society, I became intent on finding out whether he felt that the military junta was capable of forgiveness. “Aung San Suu Kyi: The Voice Of Hope speaks of the concept of metta (loving kindness), and whether it exists within members of the SPDC,” I began. “Do you feel that they possess this quality and are capable of ever showing it to the people of Burma? How do you personally feel about the junta, considering that a member of military intelligence helped you escape Burma?”
“I do not discriminate against anybody based on race, colour and faith. I want everyone to be rich, happy and healthy. But at the same time, we also support civilians to help introduce positive political change,” he answers. As if sensing my curiosity had not been fulfilled, U Tay Zaw continues his response by issuing a prediction.
“The military believe they can live to rule with the privilege of power forever and ensure only they are wealthy. But they should also remember what happened to General Ne Win, the dictator who led the military coup in 1962. He believed that he was entitled to lead a bright life. Ne Win named himself President, Prime Minister and Military Chief, but died a lonely man. Only 17 people turned up to his funeral. If today’s leaders of the junta continue down their current path, not even seven people will watch them get buried. Nobody will miss them.”