By Sean Healy
Actions all around the world are planned in solidarity with the Burmese freedom struggle on September 9 this year (9-9-99). The global day of action will include protests and activities in at least 14 countries, including Britain, Canada, the Philippines, India, Norway, Indonesia, Thailand, Australia and Burma itself.
In Australia, 9-9-99 actions are planned for all state capitals and for Canberra, where the embassy of the ruling (and grotesquely misnamed) State Peace and Development Council (SPDC) is located. There are build-up actions planned in before that date in many cities, particularly targeting Australian firms that trade with or invest in Burma.
The 9-9-99 actions are in part a commemoration of the people's uprising that broke out in the Burmese capital, Rangoon, on August 8, 1988 (8-8-88), an uprising which was bloodily suppressed by the military regime at the cost of thousands of lives.
Since that time, the regime has gone to enormous lengths to silence and crush dissent. The 1990 election, which resulted in a landslide victory for the opposition National League for Democracy (NLD) led by Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, was annulled and the parliament disbanded. Daw Aung San Suu Kyi herself was placed under house arrest and even prevented from attending the funeral of her husband in England in March 1999.
NLD and other opposition figures have been jailed for speaking out against the SPDC. For example, in 1998, NLD MP San San was sentenced to 25 years in prison for being interviewed by the BBC, and student leader Aung Tun was sentenced to 15 years for writing a book on the history of the student movement.
There are currently more than 3000 political prisoners in the regime's prisons.
Ethnic groups opposed to the regime have been subjected to full-scale military assault, their villages destroyed and populations moved into concentration camps. Such treatment has been meted out to millions of other Burmese people forced at gunpoint to labour on government projects, particularly infrastructure designed to promote tourism, such as roads and railways.
In spite of all this, Western governments and international agencies do nothing; many are in fact moving towards strengthening relations with the regime. Burma was admitted into the ASEAN bloc of south-east Asian countries in 1998 as a step towards "normalisation" of relations, and increasing numbers of companies have begun trade and investment projects.
Australian corporations such as Pacrim Energy, Pacific Arc Exploration, Transfield, Multiplex and Ericsson Australia all have large sums of money invested. The Australian government's position is to "neither encourage nor discourage" trade or investment — washing its hands of the problem.
The 9-9-99 actions in Australia are also aimed at promoting the newly formed Committee to Represent the People's Parliament, established by 251 NLD MPs to lobby internationally for trade sanctions against Burma and for Western support for the people's struggle.
In Australia, the actions are being organised by the All-Burma Students' Democratic Organisation, made up of student activists many of whom took part in the 8-8-88 uprising. ABSDO coordinator Maung Maung Than said, "The international actions on 9-9-99 are very important for our people, both as a show of solidarity and hope and also as a practical way of seeking a new policy from governments, such as Australia's, which have turned their backs on the Burmese people".
To help with preparations for the 9-9-99 actions in your city, contact Maung Maung Than on 0411 337816 or your local Resistance branch.