An Exile Returns
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Interview

INTERVIEW

An Exile Returns


By THE IRRAWADDY Thursday, November 10, 2011


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Harn Yawnghwe, the executive director of the Brussels-based Euro-Burma Office (EBO) and one of Burma's most prominent exiles, recently ended his first visit to his native country in nearly half a century. The experience was, he said, eye-opening: Contrary to the misgivings that many exiles still have about recent moves toward political reform in Burma, most people he spoke to in the country said they were overwhelmingly positive about the situation developing under President Thein Sein's administration.

In this extensive interview, Harn Yawnghwe describes some of his encounters with government officials, political leaders and others he met during his stay in Burma and explains his own positions on  a range of issues. He also discusses the role of the EBO in last year's election, and his relationship with Myanmar Egress, a “civil society group” with close ties to the Burmese government.
 

Harn Yawnghwe. (Photo: Shan Herald Agency for News)
Question: Although your recent trip to Burma was your first to the country in nearly 50 years, you have spent most of your life closely observing developments there. Were you surprised at all by anything that you saw during your visit, or were conditions more or less what you expected them to be?

Answer: I found the political atmosphere more optimistic and open than I had expected. People—politicians and the man on the street—seem to be less fearful. In one instance, a hotel receptionist even refused to disclose my room number to a Special Branch operative, saying she did not have the right to disclose such information. This would have been unimaginable in the old days. I was also surprised that although Special Branch followed me around in Rangoon, they were nowhere to be seen in Shan State. I had expected the opposite.

Q: Shortly after your trip, you told the Shan Herald Agency for News (SHAN) that your only plans were to visit your hometown in Shan State and Rangoon, but you ended up meeting a number of high-ranking government officials and representatives of a dozen political parties. Did you organize any of these meetings in advance, or did people seek you out after they learned you were in the country?

A: As I said in the statement about my visit, I was willing to meet with anybody who wanted to meet me. But I did not organize anything in advance because I did not know what to expect. I had no idea if people would be afraid to meet me or if I would be able to move around freely. People sought me out after they learned that I was in the country, despite the fact that I was openly followed by Special Branch operatives.

Q: Before you traveled to Rangoon, you met with senior Burmese government officials and members of Myanmar Egress, an NGO with close ties to the government, in Bangkok. What did you discuss there? Did Myanmar Egress arrange your trip?

A: Myanmar Egress members introduced me to the senior government officials. The officials wanted to verify who I was. In the past, there had been much confusion as to who and what role was played by myself and my two older brothers—Tiger Yawnghwe, who declared independence for Shan State in 2005, and Chao Tzang Yawnghwe, who served in the Shan State Army and died in 2004. They also wanted to know my opinion about the government’s peace talk offer with the ethnic armed groups. I said that the problem is longstanding and that it would take a lot of effort to resolve. Confidence-building measures are needed to build up trust and understanding on both sides. However, it could be done if the government has the political will to solve the problem in a just and equitable way.

No, Myanmar Egress did not arrange my trip. Neither did the government. Since it was a private trip, I made my own arrangements via the Internet, a travel agent and personal friends. It may have seemed that everything was prearranged by Myanmar Egress because they broke the story of my visit. What actually happened was that my flight landed just before the Thai Airways flight. Journalists were waiting at the airport for Korean film stars arriving by Thai for the Korean Film Festival in Rangoon.



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COMMENTS (29)
 
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Maung Kyaw Nu.a former politic Wrote:
18/11/2011
If you still dividing ethnics and Bama, the change is a far journey to go.

Myanmar Patriots Wrote:
18/11/2011
Dear KML,

You said:"President Thein Sein and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs should rectify this issue and come with Standard Operation Procedure (SOP) as mentioned by Mr Harn Nyaungshwe. Eventually, the country will benefit from good people towards nation building."

TOTALLY AGREE.

I hope government agents will read this message. I must thank IRRAWADDY for facilitating my communication with the govt.

Andrew Aung Khaing Wrote:
17/11/2011
Interviewer should have asked him about his relationship with so-called Rohingyas.

KML Wrote:
16/11/2011
Dear Myanmar Patriots,

Thank you very much for the reply. My opinion is exactly same as yours on Ko Khin Oo and Ko Kyaw Wai. However, the current practices in Myanmar embassies go other way round. The Amnesty is meaningless for Ko Khin Oo, While Ko Kyaw Wai is in and out several times in a year.

President Thein Sein and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs should rectify this issue and come with Standard Operation Procedure (SOP) as mentioned by Mr Harn Nyaungshwe. Eventually, the country will benefit from good people towards nation building.

Myanmar Patriots Wrote:
16/11/2011
Dear KML,
Thanks for your message.
1.Ko Khin-Oo,being Burmese, must be allowed back in.No harm must be done to him.He speaks Burmese fluently and he was born and brought up in Burma.He is not an alien trying to enter Burma illegally. Circumstantial evidence proves beyond doubt he is Burmese. Burmese embassy must not be pedantic.

2. We know the likes of Kyaw Wai.One Burmese man even resorted to being gay to get asylum in UK. Pitiful fellow;all he wanted was to stay in England.Can't blame him, though.Part of our great tragedy.

IN KYAW-WAI'S CASE, he must be treated just like an alien. He had been dishonourable. Burmese embassy can refuse him visa.Nothing wrong. Depending on the degree of selfishness and deception, visa applicants like him must be dealt with case by case.

HkunSam Wrote:
16/11/2011
tocharian: are you crazy? who the hell is going to favor to children of former officials or feudal chiefs in this century? I am not saying that we should give favor to descendants of feudals. My point is Dr.Sein Win and Yarn are colleagues with same level leadership role. So we should treat equally when labeling these figures. We shouldn't discriminate or level him as inferior one just because he is ethnic. Do you get my point:tocharian? Don't simply argue when we talk about ethnic issue. Don't simply try to distort my point with irrelevant issues.

Norman Hla Wrote:
16/11/2011
I am sure Harn Y is holding the foreign passport with Burmese visa in which he would promise than shwe that Harn will convince all ethnic to be BGF , totally controlled by bama military officers. In addition, Harn Y will say he will make social visit only to DASSK who refuses to meet Harn because of his dementia with selling to his own ethnics' daughters to than shwe for his visa and flight cost. I am sure Harn will come back again to Burma in than shwe's private jet without any bama visa.

mark4burma Wrote:
16/11/2011
Sao Harn visit to his homeland has definitely been a positive sign that the regime has changed its policy in the right direction. Just back from Burma myself, i saw a small light of hope in the eyes of some people that change although small, has finally come to this patient people ! Of course this is far too early to be over-optimistic. Only when ALL political prisoners are released and the ethnic conflict has been resolved, only then can one speak of genuine change,

Myanmar Patriots Wrote:
15/11/2011
Hello Ohn,

Remember Bogyoke AungSan's remark: Far Naingngan.?

In the capitalist West bankers screw the middle class and lower class. 1 % owning 90% wealth.

Who jumped on the democracy bandwagon in 1988? If AungSanOo did not arrive 3 days late the usurpation would not have been possible.
Pity.

Burma had been a country of usurpers since the days of bastard Thibaw. His mother, daughter of Thibaw Sawbwa (Hsipaw Saopha) had an affair with a monk and Thibaw was the product.

Pity the overwhelming majority of our people.
Still, there is hope.

KML Wrote:
15/11/2011
@Myanmar Patriot,
Thanks and pl view two real scenarios
Khin Oo was resettled to Canada from Thai Burma border 10 years ago. He currently holds Canadian passport, in which his birth place written as Mandalay. He may be a traitor for some, but he thinks that staying away is better than fighting each other. Does he still need to fill a form “former Myanmar Citizens” to apply a visit visa in Myanmar embassy? As he did not hold any Myanmar passport before he could not provide the evidence of legal departure from homeland or Myanmar passport number. What would be the procedure for him?
In other form of scenario, Kyaw Wai, effluent city dweller, visited New Zealand with Myanmar passport on student pass. Then he made up some stories and shed crocodile tears to get asylum. He even mentioned that he is 345th cousin of DASSK and shouted “Do Ahye” from his kitchen in 1988. He eventually got NZ PR & subsequent citizenship. No trouble for those “patriots” turns “crooks/opportunists”

Hans Schumann Wrote:
14/11/2011
One swallow doesn't make a summer.

ohn Wrote:
13/11/2011
Two things happen.

The military and large section of so-called opposition come to a common interest.

Aung San Suu Kyi has given up real democracy and championing the masses for a much easier fake one ending her unparalleled and illustrious sacrifice to go off with a “Phew”.

Rather than there has been change or anything, the course Burma is on is exactly the way Than Shwe would want. Only better as NLD has been over the moon about supporting the truly crap so-called constitution which is so horrible even the writer may have vomited several time penning it and would have a shock how the great stubborn NLD is desperate to buy it whole. It may be unfair accusing NLD of liking it or supporting it but there definitely is no sound of objection any more all of a sudden. May be the constitution needs to be seen in different light. In the dark.

Ohn Wrote:
13/11/2011
Burma will progress alright. There is no denying the military has been effective and efficient in carrying out anything they wanted to do. But the only “vision” they have is like children at a festival. That is where the military has in common with a large section of the “opposition”.

Ohn Wrote:
13/11/2011
This “Vision” is to think low and grasp mirage for the real value.

To subscribe this vision one has to accept that big straight roads, fast supersonic trains, rockets, high rise buildings and hotels, international golf tournaments, great wine, fancy restaurants and cabaret and iPads with broadband almost free are what one should live for. It is more than likely that with the proven intelligence and industriousness of the people in Burma, that can happen in the next ten years. What price?

Ohn Wrote:
13/11/2011
Total loss of nature, culture and Burmese civilization as we know it now. By trying to be like others, you become “Other”. So in ten years, half of the land including all of the strategic places in Burma will be owned by the foreigners directly or indirectly. The new “free” people will be, for money,too delighted to do the biddings of a few wealthy Burmese and mostly foreigners. Some will be finding that no amount of nice wine and world class entertainment on the 60th floor is enough to ease the pain of the last loss of the business deal. Nobody would dare walk at night in the concrete parks even though well lit. The monks will charge by the hour for the rare novitiation ceremonies. Of course people will not come to Burma for meditation, it will be on line. Apple TV will have up-to-the-minute update of all the killings in the wars around the country which are simple entertainment and all the murders and kidnappings in the last 24 hours.

Ohn Wrote:
13/11/2011
Then people will start to look for calm easier life and think that life they used to have was “Golden”. It was when the rivers flow freely. Fish are not full of mercury. Birds still sing. Kids walk to school without “Kid Traders” praying on them. People lough heartily at family dinners of simple rice and salad. Overall simple and easy life, happy life.

So what has happened now is military has without a shot effectively recruited the same opinion people to put the country and majority population at the service of international conglomerates, Asian or otherwise, for permanent loss of nature, culture and innocence. For there is no knowledge or technology to put back the nature again. Please go and see “Avatar”. Apart from the fancy props, it is REAL.

tocharian Wrote:
13/11/2011
@HkunSam
Correction: Sein Win is Suu Kyi's cousin, not her brother. If you want to indulge in "name-dropping" please do it correctly. Incidentally, I think one of Burma's problem is this kind of feudal-oligarchical social structure. In a true democratic society all citizens are equal, irrespective of their ethnicity and also their background. People shouldn't be treated differently depending on who their fathers and brothers are. That's medieval. The word exile has no negative connotation and all "exiles are created equal". No discrimination based on the fame of your fathers or brothers or cousins or friends please. Be fair to everyone!

Norman Hla Wrote:
12/11/2011
Harn Yawnghwe said:"The ethnic armed forces could also become a force under the control of the states like the National Guards in the USA". My questions are(1)Do you know the detail administration after becoming BGF? My understanding is after BGF, leaders of ethnics' armies are replaced with Bama officers? Mr Harn build your own family as a father for protection. Can I be your family's father after putting you as a second father for whatever reasons? (2)Before changing BGF, what is wrong with the ethnics armies (threatening Burmese citizens or opium plantation)? (3)How can you be able to compare with Obama and than shwe?(killing your ethnic children as reward for bama “than shwe” solider is ethical for you?).Do not tell me your comparison is generalization. If so, you are nut(dementia) to waste this space, my brain and time. Irrawaddy should ask “Harn” more about this BGF issue in detail as your professionalism. Shame Harm who will let your daughter to be raped and killed by than shwe.

Myanmar Patriots Wrote:
12/11/2011
"Technically, if you were born in Burma and holding citizenship of other country, you need to surrender your passport to get a visa to visit Burma."

'SURRENDER' the passport where? Anyone visiting a country, in need of a visa to enter that country, has to bring the passport to the embassy or consulate of that country. Standard practice everywhere. WHAT'S THE PROBLEM?

Or does 'surrender' mean surrendering the passport with the immigration authorities of Burma at the airport? PLEASE CLARIFY.

Other Myanmars, forced to take up alien citizenship, will in due course be able to visit as they wish. JUST WAIT. Don't lose heart. Govt is on the right track.

Jinghpaw Wrote:
12/11/2011
I am thankful to get some insightful thoughts regards to democratic themes that are mentioned. However ethnics and the lives of ordinary ones issues were not so much of truth. Just like Thin Thin comment, I would ask him to go around anonymous and speak to ordinary citizens around the country, even in Yangon.

I don't think people were fearful walking around on the street in ordinary days. The problem is that they are hopeless and despaired. Seeing the man on the street without fearfulness is not a change in our country. We need to talk to them to know if something really is changing for them. All I am saying is current political climate change does not benefit ordinary people. Change is not that easy.

The four steps offer by the government to ethnics arm strugglers can not be assume genuine. The past agreements are to be learnt. It would be too costly to fall into another misstep. Just like interviewer said it only depends on regime to stop conflicts and real change in the country.

Moe Aung Wrote:
12/11/2011
Thin Thin hit it on the nail. Towers and expensive housing estates, hotels and tourist beaches, shopping malls and karaoke bars, massage parlors and casinos are NOT progress and development. Nor are glamour magazines and a free tabloid press full of celebrity gossips and consumer adverts.

It's the basic needs of health and education, public transport and utilities like power, running water and sanitation, improvements in agriculture and industrial infrastructure, conservation of the country's rich and diverse environment, above all the ending of the civil war.

PEACE,LAND and RICE!

HkunSam Wrote:
11/11/2011
One straight question to the Irrawaddy editors; why you name this interview “an exile return.” Because when I see this title my first impression was very inferior and I did not expect it would be Harn Yawnghwe. Knowing Harn Yawnghwe’s influential role, he is definitely Not an average exile activist. He is definitely Not an average exile opposition leader. Daw Suu's brother Dr. Sein Win is one of his colleagues. Needless to say he is a top exile ethnic leader. I am just curious how would you name it when Dr. Sein Win return Burma? “Another exile returns” I bet you wouldn’t do that. So my question is Do we hold inferior or biased views on ethnic? From sociological and journalism point of views, It seems “yes, you do.” Anyway the body part of this interview is worthwhile to read. Harn’s view is no ordinary should be taken on one’s understanding on current political development in Burma. I just wish my comment contributes to more fair discussion.

Thin Thin Wrote:
11/11/2011
I think that this current government is the same kind as the military government - the kind who only looks after their personal gain and nothing for the people.

Money is so tight for the people, corruption is still rampant, retirees are begging on the streets, many children can't even attend primary schools, which are supposedly "free", because their parents can't afford the miscellaneous administration fees such as having to pay for exam papers, the government has not made any announcement on how they will improve health and education - the most important aspects for the people.

To me, if a government is not sensible enough to improve the basic and the most important needs of people, I will still remain skeptical of their ability to bring change for Myanmar.

I hope these people will really go to different areas of Myanmar, meet with ordinary people and talk to them to get to know what is really happening on the ground and NOT just meet the people from Egress!

Moe Aung Wrote:
11/11/2011
For the sake of the people of Burma, I hope Harn Yawnghwe's optimism is not misplaced.

KML Wrote:
11/11/2011
Dear Mr Harn Yawnghwe,

I would like to ask a naïve question; probably our greater audience are also willing to know. What type of Burmese visa you have obtained and how did you apply for that visa.

Technically, if you were born in Burma and holding citizenship of other country, you need to surrender your passport to get a visa to visit Burma. There are thousands of ethnic ( Karen, Chin etc..) Burmese citizens took asylum to other countries and eventually became foreign citizens (like you). Majority of them were not lucky enough and never hold any Burmese passport (as run away from the border) but now willing to visit their birth places. What would be the procedure?

Richard Aung Myint Wrote:
11/11/2011
Very comprehensive and enlightening. Slow but sure, change will come. For the near term, I would like to see the Government stop using political prisoners as pawns in a game. The ethnic issue must become the central issue for equal rights under the constitution.

Lungpa Wrote:
11/11/2011
I share the sentiment of Mr. Harn on the recent but most likely already on track political reforms in Myanmar. Now is not the time for hostility but the right time for constructive engagement in the form of direct talks, humanitarian contribution beneficial to the ordinary people, and exiles to return and observe the situation in person. 

kyaw Wrote:
11/11/2011
hi

why not face book link for that article

plsssssssss

Adam Selene Wrote:
11/11/2011
Great article with some very thoughtful analysis by Harn Yawnghwe, especially with regards to his thoughts about a way out of the ethnic conflict.

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