The Frontierslady
covering burma and southeast asia
Saturday, August 13, 2022


The Frontierslady

By Bertil Lintner APRIL, 2005 - VOLUME 13 NO.4

(Page 2 of 2)

She sneaked into Kachin State from China with her hair dyed black and disguised as a Muslim woman. She traveled to Manipur, a restricted area in India’s northeast, as member of a “bona fide tour group”—but that was only an excuse to get into an area riddled with ethnic strife, drug abuse, and AIDS. She crossed the Mekong river into Burma’s Shan State from Laos, and everywhere documented forced labor, rape and torture.


But Down the Rat Hole also reflects her disappointment with some of the rebel groups she once had felt so close to. When she first trekked into Kachin State in 1991, she met rebels who wanted to change the politics of Burma, students who had taken part in the 1988 urban uprising, and then fled to the border areas where they had teamed up with various ethnic rebel groups to fight against Burma’s military government. When she returned to Kachin State 11 years later, the rebels had signed a ceasefire agreement with the same government. Now, they were fighting among themselves over lucrative logging concessions.


Nothing she had heard about Pianma, a small town on the Kachin border, she wrote, “really prepared me for the shock of it. I’d expected something like a Pacific Northwest logging town—one of two lumberyards—but Pianma had at least 40. It was a horizontal forest, piled high to the sky. This was Kachin wood. Logging had been banned on the Chinese side of the border, in Yunnan province, so each log bore a red stamp certifying that it came from Burma. Pianma was the graphic evidence of the demise of the Kachin forests.” It was also clear evidence of the collapse of the Kachin Independence Organization, or KIO, as a political organization and resistance force. Corruption was widespread and no one was any longer interested in documenting human-rights abuses. She was told of forced labor and rape by government troops, but the KIO had publicized none of it—“silent, complicit in their new role as timber warlords,” as Mirante puts it.


But it is not all doom and gloom, she notes. Opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi may be back under house arrest, but she remains a symbol of freedom. The Kachin forests may be gone, but the American oil giant Unocal is to be tried in court for its Tenasserim pipeline security campaign. The little girl who once ventured out in her deerskin moccasins has become older, wiser, and perhaps a bit despondent. But she has not lost her ability to write, and to continue documenting what she perceives as gross violations of human dignity. Read this book. It’s worth it.

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