On the back of my interpreter’s motorcycle, we turned up a narrow lane. Along the lane we passed two Burmese monks. Each carried a plastic bag.
Eventually we came to a driveway leading to a traditional house near a rice field. A large rust-colored satellite dish had been planted in the garden. The house itself was large, but otherwise plain. A young boy appeared at a gate, sticking his head between the bars. He was soon joined by yelping dogs. They were not vicious dogs, just noisy. The boy opened the gate. Tailed by the dogs, we followed him into the house.
We removed our shoes at the door. The building was made of wood – it could have been thirty years old. The inside was spotless. On one wall hung a tattered flag of the Burmese student army, the ABSDF. Some ordinances – mortar shells -- were positioned along a banister that stretched the length of the room. In the centre of this spacious room was a big table, around which were plastic chairs. There was a large drawing board at the end of the table, and in one corner, behind an orange sofa, a computer. Sure enough, next to the door we had come in, the obligatory Che poster.
Maung asked if I had a camera. When I answered “yes” he told me firmly “no pictures.”
The boy who had let us in appeared halfway down a staircase, pretend fired a plastic gun in my direction, and quickly disappeared.
“My son,” said Maung who then shouted something at the boy in Burmese.
Maung asked me to take a seat on the orange sofa. Straddling the back of a chair, arms folded, his gaze seemed penetrating. Maung would have know that I was the Jotman, though he did not bring it up. I set the voice recorder on the coffee table and turned it on.
“What do you want to know?”
“To start with, I want to hear your thoughts about Aung San Suu Kyi’s recent message – via Gambari -- about resuming negotiations with the junta.”
"We never trust SPDC. Because they are not the government for one thing. And then they never do they promise. They are not men.
I am not setting forth just an optimistic ideology. But as for Aung San Suu Kyi, she must always think of an optimistic approach to changing the country. Because she doesn’t want any more suffering and bloodshed. That’s the basis from which she’s working. And so she must say this: that she hopes that dialogue would happen.
But as for myself, I doubt how this dialogue would be fair. So there should be equality in dialogue. That is, everyone sitting around the table must have the same rights. How could it be possible to have a proper dialogue with military leaders, holding such excessive power. They have guns, money -- they have everything."
The front door suddenly opened and two monks appeared. They were the monks we had passed on the road. In their hands they held clear bags. Maung called out to us and they approached where we sat. I saw that their bags contained shirts and slacks -- civilian clothes. Maung got out of his seat and prostrated himself on the floor before the monks. After this, I shook their hands.
"They have come from Rangoon," said Maung. "Would you like to talk with them?"
"That can be arranged. But first they have some business to attend to," said Maung. "Where were we?"
"You were asking whether the dialogue with the junta could be fair," I said.
Maung took a deep breath and continued:
"Yes. This is just like a game (to them). You see, they are still arresting people. Even Aung San Suu is under house arrest. How can I believe dialogue could occur in Burma under such circumstances? It’s a joke to the opposition. We cannot see this. They are still arresting, imprisoning, and torturing people. They are still searching the town for the protesters.Maung glanced to his left towards the boarded window and continued:
They are funny. They just want to extend their time in power. Take the National Constitutional Convention that they did – or have been doing – whatever! It’s the longest national convention in the history of the world I think. Since 1990 until the past couple months. And they could probably do this again, with the dialogue. If people are preparing dialogue for the next 10-20 years, they have time to prepare themselves for an extension of their rule. To strengthen themselves, for further oppression, for tightening their grip. The next twenty years? We don’t know what will happen. Maybe the people will just pick up and leave the country.
These guys are bandits. They rob the peoples’ property, which they keep in their hands, and they never give it back. They think it is dangerous for them to distribute power to the people.
I think it is not too late for them to do so – to return power back to the people. People can still understand and forgive them. But if they keep stubbornly try to hold their power, it is dangerous.
Let’s compare Burma to Iran and North Korea. Those regimes know how to negotiate. They understand give and take. But not the Burma regime. These people, they have no concept of how to negotiate. They have no idea. They only know how to pull the trigger. That’s why the country is going backwards. They are bringing the country back to the stone age. Whoever thinks of future generations will fight against this system, because we don’t want to go back. We don’t want to be isolated from world society. This is also important."
Continued. In future interview segments, Maung talks to Jotman about the right of the Burmese people to armed struggle and some such options under consideration.__________________
Photo: By Jotman; it was taken at sunset on the Thai-Burma border (If you look closely you can see some Burmese paddling across the river on an inner tube).
Note: Certain details have been altered to protect Maung.