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Wired News on September 18 & 19, 19

Subject: Wired News on September 18 & 19, 1995

Attn: Burma Newsreaders
Re: Wired News on September 18 & 19, 1995

Burmese AIDS problem due in part to politics

      By Deborah Charles 

    CHIANG MAI, Sept 19 (Reuter) - AIDS in Burma is bordering on epidemic
proportions partly because the country's political isolation has limited
resources with which to fight the disease, economists and health experts said
on Tuesday. 

    Burma ranks third in Asia after India and Thailand, respectively, for the
number of people who have the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) which can
cause AIDS. 

    Health experts told the Third International Conference on AIDS in Asia
and the Pacific there were between 200,000 and 400,000 people in Burma who
were HIV positive, and the numbers were rising. 

    ``HIV/AIDS is a significant problem in Myanmar (Burma),'' Myo Thant,
senior economist with the Asian Development Bank, told Reuters. ``It's
conceivable that there will be 600,000 (carriers) next year, given the rate
at which it's been spreading. To be quite honest, the epidemic will only peak
in a few more years.'' 

    Dr Bo Kywe, deputy director of Burma's AIDS/Sexually Transmitted Disease
programme, said the country was trying to deal with the problem but any
large-scale educational preventive programme would be difficult to launch
without additional funds. 

    ``It is a national concern. But to be frank, we have very limited
resources,'' he told Reuters, noting total aid by United Nations
organisations to help Burma fight AIDS and HIV amounts to about US$1.5
million a year. 

    Experts said one of the main reasons for the small amount of aid received
to fight the disease compared to many other countries was Burma's political
situation. Virtually all international aid was cut off in 1988 after the
military-led State Law and Order Restoration Council (SLORC) took control of
the country and brutally supressed pro-democracy uprisings. 

    But experts say vital health issues such as AIDS should be divorced from

    ``My belief is that the HIV/AIDS issue should not be politicised,'' Bo
Kywe said. ``It is different. Neither (democracy leader) Aung San Suu Kyi nor
the SLORC generals are going to suffer. It's the people who are going to
suffer. (AIDS) has nothing to do with who is governing.'' 

    John Dwyer, president of the AIDS Society of Asia, agreed and called on
foreign governments to look beyond politics if lives were to be saved. 

    ``There have been far too few cooperative, international programmes to
help Burma,'' Dwyer told reporters. ``There is no reason for complacency. We
must work with Burma to try and stop the spread of the disease. It's out of
control. If we're not mature enough to divorce (AIDS) from the political
regime then we are not very mature.'' 

    Dwyer said that although Burma ranks third in Asia in terms of the number
of projected HIV cases, on a percentage basis it was the worst because of its
small population. 

    Most HIV cases in Burma were intravenous drug users, prostitutes and
migrant labourers. The latter moved freely across borders into countries such
as China, India and Thailand, thereby raising the need for intra-regional

    ``We are losing the fight,'' said Dwyer. ``Things are going to get worse
unless we do things a lot smarter. We have to have cooperation.'' 

Reut02:47 09-19-95

Burmese exiles await change before going home

      By Robert Birsel 

    BANGKOK, Sept 18 (Reuter) - Exiled Burmese democracy activists marked the
seventh anniversary on Monday of the day they became outcasts but many said
it was still too dangerous to go home despite the release of their leader
Aung San Suu Kyi. 

    The exiles say that as long as the military holds absolute power no one
can guarantee their safety if they return to Burma. 

    Seven months of unprecedented democracy protests across the country were
finally crushed on September 18, 1988 as the military set up a new ruling
body, the State Law and Order Restoration Council (SLORC), and silenced the
cries for change with repeated volleys of rifle fire. 

    Hundreds died in the crackdown. 

    Thousands of people, most of them students, fled their homes in Rangoon,
Mandalay and other towns and linked up with anti-government insurgents in the
hills to continue their fight against military rule. 

    ``It's been seven years but we in the democracy movement think like it
was only yesterday,'' said Zaw Min, a senior member of a student guerrilla
army set up after they arrived in the jungle. 

    Within weeks an estimated 10,000 students had arrived in insurgent areas
in Burma's remote frontier areas, most in the Karen guerrilla zone in the
southeast, near the Thai border. 

    Malaria exacted a shocking toll of young exiles in the first year and
many others gave up the struggle and went home. Hundreds drifted across the
border into Thailand where, without passports or papers, they played a
continuous game of cat and mouse with Thai authorities. 

    Today, about 1,500 diehard members of the All Burma Students Democratic
Front (ABSDF) guerrilla army are holding out in the jungles along the
Thai-Burmese border. Hundreds more are living in Thailand, mounting
occassional lightning demonstrations outside the Burmese embassy, and

    The release in July of pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi raised some
hopes, but the exiles say they have no guarantees of security if they go

    ``After her release people were very hopeful, very encouraged but Suu Kyi
herself says the only thing that has changed has been her release,'' said
another student who fled in September 1988. 

    Since her July 10 release Suu Kyi has repeatedly called for dialogue on
national reconciliation between the military, the democracy movement and
autonomy-seeking ethnic minority groups. 

    For weeks the SLORC ignored her but earlier this month senior generals
told Madeleine Albright, the visiting U.S. representative to the United
Nations, that they were considering talks with the 1991 Nobel Peace Prize

    ``Suu Kyi herself has said we shouldn't come back yet,'' said Zaw Min.
``She can't guarantee our safe return. Nobody can say if we will be safe or

    There have been cases of returning students being rearrested and
imprisoned, students and human rights groups say. No one is willing to trust
their safety to the ruling military. 

    ``Are you kidding?'' said one student when asked if he was considering
going back. ``There have to be some genuine changes, some kind of
power-sharing before we can even think of going back,'' said the student who
requested anonymity. 

    ``It's been a long struggle. I'm really homesick, I want to see my family
but my younger brother is still in prison,'' added the 28-year-old whose
brother was sentenced to 10 years in prison in 1991 for distributing
pro-democracy leaflets. ``I don't know when I'll be able to go back but I
don't think it will be in the near future. Maybe another five or 10 years.'' 

Reut02:44 09-18-95
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