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IdentifierCreatedClassificationOrigin
08RANGOON25 2008-01-15 07:57:00 CONFIDENTIAL Embassy Rangoon
Cable title:  

BURMESE EVERYWHERE DESIRE CHANGE

Tags:   PGOV PREL BM 
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RR RUEHCHI RUEHDT RUEHHM RUEHNH
DE RUEHGO #0025/01 0150757
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
R 150757Z JAN 08
FM AMEMBASSY RANGOON
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 7010
INFO RUCNASE/ASEAN MEMBER COLLECTIVE
RUEHGG/UN SECURITY COUNCIL COLLECTIVE
RUEHBY/AMEMBASSY CANBERRA 0814
RUEHNE/AMEMBASSY NEW DELHI 4360
RUEHUL/AMEMBASSY SEOUL 7905
RUEHKO/AMEMBASSY TOKYO 5466
RUEHCHI/AMCONSUL CHIANG MAI 1314
RHEHNSC/NSC WASHDC
RHHMUNA/CDR USPACOM HONOLULU HI
RUCNDT/USMISSION USUN NEW YORK 1254
RUEKJCS/SECDEF WASHDC
RUEKJCS/JOINT STAFF WASHDC
					  C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 RANGOON 000025 

SIPDIS

SIPDIS

DEPT. FOR P,EAP/MLS, DRL, AND IO
PACOM FOR FPA

E.O. 12958: DECL: 01/06/2018
TAGS: PGOV PREL BM
SUBJECT: BURMESE EVERYWHERE DESIRE CHANGE


RANGOON 00000025 001.2 OF 002


Classified By: CDA Shari Villarosa for Reasons 1.4 (b) & (d)



1. (C) Summary: Charge met with six NLD activists in the
town of Thaungdwingyi in Magwe Division on January 7. Living
very simply and subject to constant harassment by the police,
years of repression have not extinguished the spirit of these
activists. They meet regularly to talk about their desire to
live in a democratic and free society; and they wait for
change. These individuals living in a remote, rural town
show that the desire for change in Burma is not just an urban
phenonmenom, but is widespread, since everyone everywhere
lives under virtual military occupation.

Who is NLD in Thaungdwingyi?


--------------------------





2. (C) The NLD members Charge met appeared to be a
representative mix for a town that of 200,000, primarily
agricultural-based with a small merchant sector. The leader
is retired high school English teacher, partially paralyzed
after a three-year stint in prison. The others were a
farmer, a teashop owner, a businesswoman, another woman who
has studied at the American Center in Rangoon, and the son of
the retired teacher. They gather together regularly talk
about current issues and books, and meet once a month as a
party. Their tastes appear quite cosmopolitan according to
the topics and authors they cited to Charge. They discussed
corruption in Nigeria, Darfur, Zimbabwe, the Killing Fields
of Cambodia. One cited Steinbeck, Twain, Sartre, Camus and
Kishore (Mahbubani) as his favorite authors. Much of their
knowledge of these topics and authors might have come from
listening to the four shortwave radio broadcasters, which
they said was their main source of news. Asked if they saw
any of DVB's television broadcasts, one pointed to the unlit
bulb on the ceiling and asked how could they without
electricity. Closer to home they worry about the
deteriorating state of education, saying most people cannot
afford the 200 kyat per day (roughly 15 cents) to send their
children to school. They said the hospitals lack doctors and
nurses.

Military Not Popular Around Town


--------------------------





3. (C) During the 1990 election, NLD won one of the two
seats contested in Thaungdwingyi. The activists expected to
do better if free elections are scheduled in the future
because of growing popular resentment of the military. The
military had electricity around the clock, while most of the
citizens of the town only receive a couple of hours a day.
One activist described it literally as "keeping people in the
dark ages." The military had confiscated 13 plots of land
circling the city from local farmers to pass to a private
company linked to Vice Senior General Maung Aye. The
activists described the local economy as "going down into
hell." Transportation is primarily by bicycle, along with
numerous horse buggies.



4. (C) We noted many more military camps than normal in
other parts of the country as we drove west from Nay Pyi Taw
and then south. Magwe Division in the middle of Central
Burma's dry zone is the poorest of the ethnic Burman areas
and has traditionally been a hotbed of resistance against
authorities. In the past the Burmese Communist Party was
very active in this region, hence the many military camps.
Given the absence of any current insurgencies in the region,
the heavy military presence appears now to serve more as a
permanent occupying force.

September Demonstrations


--------------------------





5. (C) The monks marched in Thaungdwingyi, as they did
throughout Burma, for three days, joined by many citizens of
the town. Unlike Rangoon, the authorities did not use
violence to stop the demonstrations. According to the
activists, after three days the Chief Abbot ordered the monks
to stop marching. Around ten private citizens were arrested,

RANGOON 00000025 002.2 OF 002


including two of the activists Charge met, and four remain in
prison.

Special Branch is Watching


--------------------------





6. (C) Shortly after the activists described their regular
questioning by the Special Branch of the Police, a Special
Branch officer accompanied by a Police Lieutenant showed up
to question Charge briefly while she was meeting with the
activists. They arrived on one of the few motorscooters we
observed in the town. Charge asked for the same information
the police requested from her (father's name, permanent
residence, and local address), which took them aback, but
which they provided. They then questioned Charge's driver,
who drives Charge full-time in Rangoon. The driver told the
police that he did not know who the Charge was, and that he
was just told to take her wherever she wanted to go. After
10 minutes the two police left, prompting the activists to
call the Special Branch officer "very dirty." They expected
they would be questioned again about their conversation with
Charge, which continued for another hour.



7. (C) Comment: The Special Branch officer clearly intended
to intimidate us, although he failed to do so. The Burmese
have become used to the harassment, so they will not forego
opportunities to get their stories out. The incident
revealed how closely people are watched, even in small towns
off the main roads. On a more hopeful note, these six
activists demonstrated how unsuccessful the military has been
at subduing the spirit of the people. Even thought they have
nothing, they remain defiant in the face of petty harassment.
This does not mean that a mass revolt is about to break out,
but does indicate the seething discontent in Burma everywhere
just below the placid surface.
VILLAROSA