Bagnell blindfolded during Burma visit

The once-common images of orange waves of Burmese monks parading down the streets of Yangon have all but disappeared from our television sets.

The once-common images of orange waves of Burmese monks parading down the streets of Yangon have all but disappeared from our television sets.

After a few months of outrage at Burma’s military crackdown against the peaceful protest, the world seems to have moved on.

However, Yukon MP Larry Bagnell hasn’t forgotten.

On Thursday, Bagnell’s Whitehorse office was filled with pamphlets and information about the struggle of the Burmese people.

On his computer, a video played showing those familiar images of the protest and subsequent military retaliation.

The video is completely in Burmese.

Bagnell brought it back from his recent weeklong trip to the Burmese-Thai border to learn more about the plight of the Burmese people.

“The aim of my trip was to help support the people of Burma in their struggle for democracy,” he said.

“And to find out what else Canada could do to support this struggle.”

In early January, Bagnell met with opposition groups and alliances, student groups, women’s rights activists, ex-political prisoners, military deserters and NGOs.

The meetings were often clandestine, held in hotel rooms and discreet backrooms.

He visited refugee camps where the ominous sound of motor shells and gunfire could often be heard.

Once, Bagnell had to be blindfolded before he could be taken to a school hidden in the middle of a tea plantation.

“A lot of things that I was told, I can’t confirm because it’s hard to get exact information out of the country,” said Bagnell.

He learned that just because the public protests have ended, doesn’t mean the problems have disappeared.

In certain ethnic areas, thousands of villages have been burned to the ground, said Bagnell.

The people are forced to hide in the jungle and to farm their fields at night.

This is a dangerous task, because that’s when the poisonous snakes and malarial mosquitoes come out.

The military have also been known to hide landmines in the fields.

There are currently 1,800 political prisoners, and those found hiding in the country’s jungle are generally shot on sight.

Bagnell also learned of plans to build pipelines and dams in Burma, mostly through foreign investment.

“Over 75,000 people have been displaced for these projects,” said Bagnell.

“What’s worse is that this will create more revenue for the junta and allow them to continue to oppress the people.”

Bagnell created a parliamentary committee, called Friends of Burma, which is trying to promote democracy in the repressed country.

There are currently 38 members.

“Canada is one of the most active countries over there,” said Bagnell.

“The people are really happy with Canadian sanctions and aid — it is having some effect.”

But much needs to be done.

More sanctions and humanitarian aid are needed, said Bagnell

“We need to lobby for an arms embargo and not allow the resale of arms into the country,” he said.

“But it’s the countries around Burma that can have the most effect.”

Bagnell is trying to get Canada to put pressure on countries such as China, India, Thailand and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations to take a more active role.

Amidst all of the hardship and bloodshed, there is still a strong spirit of hope and resistance among Burmese opposition groups.

During the trip, Bagnell was presented with a first draft of a future constitution for a federal union of Burma.

“The country is more like Europe — it’s made up of different ethnic states,” said Bagnell, motioning to a multicoloured map taped to the window of his office.

Next to it was a large red flag given to him by a Burmese student group.

“It’s really amazing that all the different groups were able to come together to create this constitution,” he said.

“If the government is brought down, we don’t want another situation like Iraq.”

Burma, also known as Myanmar, is a country of about 50 million people and has been under military rule since 1962.

The current military junta was formed in 1988.

In 1990, the country held democratic parliamentary elections, with a landslide victory for the party led by Daw Aung San Suu Kyi.

The junta refused to acknowledge the results of the election and placed Suu Kyi under house arrest, where she still remains.

In 1991, Suu Kyi was awarded the Nobel Peace Price for her continued struggle for democracy.

Following a sharp fuel-price hike in August, students and then the nation’s revered Buddhist monks took to the streets in peaceful protest.

The pro-democracy demonstrations were ended with a brutal military crackdown when civilians and monks were beaten and arrested.

The Burmese government has said that only 10 people were killed, but diplomats and human rights groups place the toll much higher.

“There are over 5,000 monks still missing,” said Bagnell.

“Where are they?”

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