Yukoners lobby to end Burmese repression

‘Stop killing monks!” three children yelled as they marched down Main Street, Whitehorse. Starting in front of the Elijah Smith federal…

‘Stop killing monks!” three children yelled as they marched down Main Street, Whitehorse.

Starting in front of the Elijah Smith federal building last Friday, the protest wound through the streets of Whitehorse.

The protesters cheered as they waved signs reading “Free Burma,” “Peace for Burma” and “The World is Watching.”

One of the demonstrators was a man who has seen the atrocities with his own eyes.

“There is no peace for these people,” said Hal Ferris, an activist who has spent more than 10 years in the ravaged country.

“It’s unfortunate that we only hear about it when it blows up in Rangoon.”

Ferris first went to Burma in 1984.

He had been travelling in Thailand and heard about volunteers entering the country illegally through the Thai border.

Ferris decided to see for himself and went into Burmese rebel territory to collect information and take photographs.

“They’re such an amazing, nice people,” he said.

“But even when they leave their country and go to refugee camps, the Burmese army follows.”

When the Burmese army fired into a refugee camp of around 6,000 one night, Ferris was staying in a village one stop down the road.

The video he made of the aftermath is extremely difficult to watch.

The bloody bodies are barely recognizable at times, riddled with the shrapnel of anti-personnel shells and bullet wounds.

In one scene, Ferris notes the crater left by a shell and then follows the trail of blood left by a small boy.

The trail staggers between two thatched homes, becoming thicker and thicker on the dusty ground.

In the red pools, still wet, two tiny sandals are left behind and forgotten.

“It was the absolute worst moment in my life,” said Ferris.

“Here in Canada we’re so desensitized to violence, but when I showed these videos to students at the college some people looked away, they couldn’t watch.”

The ruling military has strict controls over the country’s media so it’s difficult to know the full extent of the atrocities.

However, horrible stories always manage to get smuggled out.

There are reports of 400 monks being confined in a single room for days with neither beds nor toilets.

The government claims to have released half of the 2,171 people it arrested after the pro-democracy demonstration.

However, exile groups estimate the number of detentions to be somewhere between 6,000 and 10,000 people.

Men and women have been beaten and detained just for being bystanders at the demonstration.

Yukon MP Larry Bagnell marched alongside Ferris at the Whitehorse demonstration.

Bagnell has been conscious of the human rights violations in the Southeast Asian country for some time now.

In June, he created an all-party parliamentary committee Friends of Burma.

It consists of around 30 members.

“We’re trying to do anything we can to help the people of Burma,” said Bagnell.

“Even though the monks’ protest has ended, the atrocities are going on as before.”

“There is child labour, torture, rape, child soldiers, the pushing out of ethnic groups…”

In 1988, 3,000 people were murdered after a similar protest.

“It makes Tiananmen Square look like a picnic,” said Bagnell.

Bagnell has created a 10-point plan to stop the atrocities.

A main element is convincing China, India and Russia to apply more pressure to the Burmese military junta.

“We do very little trade with Burma so further sanctions from us would do very little good,” he said.

He also wants the implementation of international monitoring of the detainees.

Bagnell hopes that the monk’s protest and the government’s brutal repression of that protest will help generate more attention to the atrocities happening there.

“It’s disgusting that the west has allowed this to go on for so long,” said Ferris.

Ferris hoped that the protest would get the attention of politicians in Ottawa, and show them the amount of public concern over Burma.

Apparently the politicians were listening.

On Wednesday MPs unanimously voted to grant detained democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi honourary Canadian citizenship.

Suu Kyi has been under house arrest ever since her party swept Burma’s 1990 election.

Part of Bagnell’s plan is to initiate discussions with Suu Kyi and her opposition party.

“To come up for a quick transition to a democratically elected government.”

However, whether the military rulers of Burma will allow this to happen is doubtful.

“But we cannot become complacent,” said Bagnell.

“We can’t let this blow over like it’s some simple incident.

“For the people of Burma we have to keep trying.”