Activists press for more attention on Burmese government at St. Paul conference


The Karen community of Minnesota hosted the North American Ethnic Nationalities Seminar from Aug. 12-15 at the First Baptist Church in Saint Paul. More than 26 delegates representing 11 indigenous groups of Burma attended the first gathering of its kind with the purpose to empower the ethnic minorities of Burma residing in North America.

The event convened just days after President George W. Bush signed the Burmese Freedom and Democracy Act of 2003 (H.J.Res. 86) into law on August 1, 2006. The President also signed H.J.Res. 86, which approved the renewal of import restrictions contained in the Act.

The Burma freedom fighters are frustrated the rogue military junta of Myanmar is not given the attention it merits. Following years of peaceful protests from supporters worldwide, their efforts seem fruitless. Burma’s democracy champion, Aung San Suu Kyi, remains under house arrest and the remainder of the National League for Democracy Party are jailed, dead, or hiding.

The Myanmar regime has turned the country into a narcotic-producing machine that profits as its population suffers from malnutrition, disease and lack of healthcare, education, or opportunity.

The Burmese diaspora worldwide work tirelessly to support the ethnic peoples of Burma who cross the border in Thailand daily, as growing intolerance for refugees continues. With camps being closed, there are still more than one million people living nomadically along the border region, moving whenever their safety is threatened. They live at risk of exploitation and without opportunities for their children.

In the interest of solidarity among the ethnic groups of Burma, the delegates seek to regain a birthright of self-determination and equal opportunity in their own homeland. They worked to coordinate efforts to better inform the public of the plight of the indigenous minority groups under an oppressive MaHaBaMah military dictatorship of Myanmar. Their ultimate goal is to bring to an end to the brutal military dictatorship there and for the restoration of democracy in Burma.

The event opened with a Martyr’s Day Ceremony on August 12, to pay respect to the countless national heroes who sacrificed their lives for freedom. A representative from the Arakan, Chin, Karen, Mon, Shan, Kachin, Mon, Karreni, Pa’o ethnic groups spoke about the national martyrs of their communities.

Wilfred Shwe, Karen Community of Minnesota, chaired the event that required the support of many of the local community’s families to host the guests. Though the local community is primarily of the ethnic Karen people of Burma, there are representatives of many ethnic groups here. The conference was a way for expatriate peoples of Burma to work on the issues of freedom that impact more than a million displaced peoples on the Burma and Thailand border.

Local community leaders Mahn Robert Zan and Tiger Yawnghwe led forums including “Problems and Prospects of Democratic Development in Burma from ethnic perspective. Other forums dealt with the conditions required for ethnic cease-fire opportunities.

The event included briefings on one of the larger expatriate freedom and political groups, the National Democratic Front, and it supporting role to achieve the goal of uniting oppressed groups in establishing a Federal Democratic Union of Burma.

There were also updates on the condition of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, who turned 61 on June 19, 2006, while still under house arrest, as she has been for 10 of the last 17 years. The Nobel Peace Laureate successfully unified the many ethnic people of Burma in a pro-democracy movement with the National League for Democracy (NLD) party that won the free 1990 elections in a landslide.

The military government refused to accept the results and detained Suu Kyi, along with other NLD leaders.