Burmese Exiled Media Tests Govt's Reform Promises
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Burmese Exiled Media Tests Govt's Reform Promises

By TODD PITMAN / AP WRITER Monday, March 26, 2012

DVB chief Aye Chan Naing seen upon his arrival at Rangoon airport last month. (Photo: DVB)

BANGKOK—For years, Burma's former military regime regarded Aye Chan Naing as an enemy of the state, jailing 17 of his reporters and denouncing the exiled news organization he leads as a producer of “killer broadcasts” and a threat to national security.

But when he arrived back home for the first time in nearly a quarter of a century, he was neither arrested nor harassed. Immigration police simply asked who he worked for, then smiled and waved him through.

The director of the Norway-based Democratic Voice of Burma (DVB), which has broadcast independent news for two decades into one of the world's most oppressed nations, is part of a trickle of exiles spanning the globe who have begun to see for themselves if Burma's campaign of reforms is real.

The answer to that question is mixed, and the vast majority of those abroad, including more than half-a-million refugees camped along the border with Thailand and elsewhere, are staying put for now. But Aye Chan's visit—he ended a five-day trip earlier this month after the government issued him a brief visa—revealed something he found surprising among friends, family, even government officials—a sliver of hope.

“It's something I haven't really seen in the last 20 years,” Aye Chan told The Associated Press in an interview from Oslo, where he has lived for two decades. “Of course there's still a lot of skepticism. People cannot forget the past.”

But “there's been a clear change. People are speaking out freely, going to meet whoever they want without getting followed or arrested or punished for it,” he said.

To be sure, Myanmar needs its exiles back. Decades of harsh military dictatorship in the country also known as Burma transformed one of Asia's most prosperous nations into one of its poorest. Many of the country's best and brightest fled, part of a so-called brain drain that included an army of doctors, engineers, politicians and journalists. Several million economic migrants are also working in Thailand, Malaysia and other nearby countries.

A nominally civilian government took office a year ago, and since then it has freed hundreds of political prisoners, lifted restrictions on opposition parties, signed truces with rebel groups and enacted other major reforms.

Last August, President Thein Sein issued a call for the diaspora to return. One of his top advisers later clarified that political dissidents could also come back, and would not be arrested if they did so.

But half a year later, “there is still no official policy, no government strategy to bring us home,” said The Irrawaddy founder Aung Zaw. “They have no idea how to welcome exiles back.”

Although international investors and foreign businessmen have begun rushing into Burma to take advantage of the rapidly changing climate there, and tourism numbers are on the rise, Aung Zaw estimated the number of exiles who've gone back so far at only “a few dozen”—and most of those are only visiting.

“They need our skills and knowledge to rebuild, but they are giving no incentives or assurances,” he added. “People aren't sure whether the doors are really open to them, and so nobody is comfortable enough to return home.”

Aung Zaw fled Burma at the height of a mass student uprising that was brutally crushed by security forces in 1988. He returned home for the first time since then in February, and was on his second visit back last week.

He said the official reception he has received has been “very warm, which was quite a surprise.”

For the last two decades, he said, regime officials “rarely spoke to the public. There was silence all the time. But they have begun demonstrating they have the ability to listen, and that's refreshing.”

Still, he said, “everyone remains very cautious, and skeptical of government. They've seen a lot of ups and downs over the last 20 or 30 years, and they know” the wave of recent, positive change can easily be reversed.

One thing the reforms have already given exiles is a look at the country they were compelled to leave long ago.

Aye Chan, the DVB director, said former capital Rangoon has not changed much since he left, despite some new hotels and roads. His high school is now closed and abandoned, swamped by weeds. Paint is peeling from dilapidated buildings all over the downtrodden city. And his old friends, he said, seemed poorer than ever. Even dentists—like the one he wanted to be—are struggling to survive.

“There are lots of places that look exactly like they did 23 years ago or more,” Aye Chan said. “It's like time almost stopped in 1988.”

Aye Chan went on to help found DVB, which began broadcasting news on shortwave radio into Burma in 1992. Since then, the news group has expanded online and into television.

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Myanmar Patriots Wrote:
Mg Bama Wrote: 26/03/2012

"It is what he saw. Did he go anywhere else??? Has he ever been to the countryside, war zone and other ethnic village??? I don't think so. The Bama Government is just giving a relax. Don't think it is true man!!!!You need to bribe if you want to stay a little long." SO WRITES THIS HOLIER-THAN-THOU ignorant Bamar, without any understanding of history. English imperialism and divide-and-rule OK for you?
Clement Attlee must be laughing in the grave.
Such is the stupidity of ignorant Bamars, knowing nothing about how political parties are born.
What are the origins of political parties of Western democracies? Just to train your two-cell brain, think about it.

Oo Maung Gyi Wrote:
The exile dissident should rerun honourably, not like a beggar. Thei Seun call to return is not proper, no security, the goernbment should make a law passed by parliament fro the dissidents to return otherwaise where is the safety.

Than Lwin Wrote:
You guys are highly capable Burmese guys, who we are proud of having as a product of our great 8888 Uprising. You guys are priceless assets for Burma and Burmese people by being remaining as exiles and continue doing what you are doing right now. We don’t what to lose you. Just wait & see at least until 2015, when Daw Suu takes over the reign of Burma. Don’t go back yet. (My Comment 6 of 6)

Than Lwin Wrote:
They will become the leaders of this same army in future and vicious circle continues. We see no end in sight unless someone can break that circle. (I hope Daw Suu can do it this time around for our people before she leaves the world)
We hear time and again the news of military coups and military juntas formed in neighbouring countries like, Pakistan, Bangladesh, most frequently in our next-door neighbour, Thailand and most recently in Maldives. But the situations there are totally different from us. Many of military leaders there are graduates of West Point and Sandhurst. They were trained in democratic system and they know exactly how international relations and democratic institutions work. Not big deal for the people whether these is military coup of not. (My Comment 5 of 6)

Than Lwin Wrote:
What is unique to our problems is having a reclusive fascist army, which is so paranoid that it has refused and still keeps on refusing to have dealings of any kind with any foreign country (not even communist countries like China and former USSR, let alone democracies) apart from buying arms to repress its own people. They have totally no outside exposure at all. They are in their own world. Young Burmese boys, who graduated from DSA after merely 3 years of training, a few hours of Spartan education, most of the time enduring cruelty, torture, hunger and isolation in their daily training regimen and going through severe fascist military doctrines, are no better than graduates of Osama’s Al Qaeda terrorist training camps. The education and knowledge they acquired there are not much better than that of suicide bombers of Osama’s organization. (My Comment 4 of 6)

Than Lwin Wrote:
We also have to understand that recent changes are also clearly not active changes from their part but passive changes. They are forced to change. The advance of internet media, relentless scrutiny and exposure of their crimes and atrocities they committed by dedicated, brave and selfless exile media organizations (which you two guys are very part of it), sheer resilience and determination shown by NLD inside Burma under the leadership of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and other dissidents in the face of decades of extreme cruelty and persecution and the fear that they are nearing the point of no return in their mission digging of the hole, their own graveyard, leave them with no choice but to change. Even then, they want to do it in in their own terms. Recent development clearly showed that. (My Comment 3 of 5)

Than Lwin Wrote:
There is a clear and present danger there. It is the very Burmese Army, the fascist army, the only functional (functional in the sense of ability to bring about further destruction and misery to its people) institution left in Burma after decades of systematically destroying civilian institutions of any kind. This institution does not understand the term “civilised or negotiated settlement” to problems. They do not know the best solutions to problems are achieved through debates and deliberations. (I wish U Thein Sein & U Shwe Mann can prove me wrong). (My Comment 2 of 5)

Than Lwin Wrote:
Not yet, Ko Aung Zaw & Ko Aye Chan Naing, not yet. Almost all wise men of the world have already analysed the developments and made remarks that whatever good signs that has appeared in our land during the past a few months could easily be reversed. The moment that happens (the moment another mad man takes charge again and builds another capital city yet again) and you guys happen to be there, I do not want to see you guys become another U-Win-Tins and breaking his record “the world’s longest-serving prisoner journalist”. (My Comment 1 of 5)

Mg Bama Wrote:
It is what he saw. Did he go anywhere else??? Has he ever been to the countryside, war zone and other ethnic village??? I don't think so. The Bama Government is just giving a relax. Don't think it is true man!!!!You need to bribe if you want to stay a little long.

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