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NYT: Internet Guerrilla War: Politi

Subject: NYT: Internet Guerrilla War: Political Exile Fights Burma

          April 8, 1997

          Internet Guerrilla War: Political Exile
          Fights Burma


             THACA, N.Y. -- In a small apartment on a peaceful street here,
             on most nights a father tucks his two children into bed. Then,
          he describes it, he goes to war in the next room: he switches his
          computer on.

          Htun Aung Gyaw, a former Burmese jungle fighter and student
          leader, dials up the Internet. There, he joins other opponents of
          country's military government in electronic debates, plans, and
          For many pro-democracy activists from Burma and for political
          dissidents from many other countries, the Internet has become a
          headquarters for every type of political action from plans for
          corporate boycotts to tactical deliberations.

          "I came out of the jungle to get training and arms and go back
          join with the people and win the struggle," Htun said, sitting in
          modest living room near the Cornell University campus here. "But
          when our dreams did not come true, we had to change our
          We are weak. That's why we need high tech: they have an army;
          have power; they have money. This is a new kind of warfare we are
          fighting, Internet warfare."

          If it is a new kind of warfare, Htun Aung Gyaw (pronounced ton
          jaw) is an example of a new kind of foot soldier who can be found
          American cities and towns. At night, in the glow of their
          screens, they are part of electronic communities that are
          with faraway events in places like East Timor, Tibet, and Taiwan.

          But by day, they lead the difficult lives of political exiles.
And to judge
          from Htun's story, they may be subject to greater stresses than
          expatriate activists who came before because the computer
          transports their cause into their living rooms. Htun, 44, said he
          sometimes so convinced that he is at home in Rangoon, after a
          on the computer, that he wakes up the next morning unaware that
          is in Ithaca.

          Then, during the day, he said, it is sometimes hard to
concentrate on
          his job reshelving books at Cornell's Olin Library or trying to
          complete his thesis for a Cornell master's degree in Southeast

          He finds himself thinking, he said, about how much work he and
          people who remained behind in Burma have to do. "I really feel
          to them all the time when I read on the Net," he said.

          Or he will reflect on the news reports he read on the Internet
          electronic information services designed to keep activists up to
          about events back home.

          He will think about the e-mail from other pro-democracy
          he has to answer. His mind will wander from the eight-hour-a-day
          job he took to support his family in America. "Sometimes, I hate
          myself because I am doing what I don't want to do," he said.
"What I
          want to do is do things for my country full time."

          Some leaders of the pro-democracy movement say the Internet has
          become a powerful tool because it binds together distant allies.

          "Many of us are like orphans, we're away from home, we're away
          from our family, and yet we have grown close to each other over
          Internet," said Zarni, founder of the Free Burma Coalition, which
          Internet sites for the Burmese pro-democracy movement from the
          University of Wisconsin at Madison.

          Zarni, who, like some other Burmese has a single name, said that
          people across the country like Htun, including many American
          students, play a vital part in the pro-democracy fight through
          electronic participation.

          Online, Htun and other supporters of the pro-democracy movement
          plot. They talk. They gossip. They distribute information about
          military's maneuvers and they circulate news about their Nobel
          Prize-winning leader, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, who insists upon
          nonviolent methods. They plan lobbying efforts. They discuss
          public-relations campaigns that are drawing increasing American
          attention to their cause, like one push that led to a March 3
hearing of
          the New York City Council on a proposed bill that would bar the
          from dealing with companies that do business with the junta. The
          online fighters have also worked to keep up pressure on President
          Clinton to impose U.S. government sanctions on Burma.

          But in his off-line life here in Ithaca, Htun's blinking computer
          can be an unwanted rival. Htun's wife, Swe Swe Myint, and their
          and daughter, who are 11 and 10 now, were separated from Htun for
          six years until they joined him here in 1995. He arrived here in
          as a political refugee after three years in Thailand.

          His wife said she supports his political work but sometimes, when
          turns on the computer, she finds herself growing outraged. "He
          do that," she said, "I agree with that. But I and my children
          away from him for six years. And when we arrived, he had no time
          for us."

          At the library and in the master's program at Cornell, some
          say they admire Htun for his role in the pro-democracy movement.
          the 1970s, he was imprisoned for five years in Burma for fighting
          government. Then, in 1989, he was sentenced to death in absentia
          treason because he was the first chairman of an influential armed
          students' group, the All Burma Students' Democratic Front, which
          took to the jungle to fight the military.

          Still, even some of those who say they are admirers say that Htun
          sometimes so distracted by his involvement in the movement as it
          passes through his computer screen that he is unable to do what
          expected of him. "It goes in cycles," said Joel Copenhagen,
          supervisor at the library. "Sometimes he gets enough sleep and
          go well. Sometimes things don't."

          Htun, a youthful man with a quick laugh, said Copenhagen recently
          told him that he should find a grant or a sponsor so that he
          dedicate himself full time to the pro-democracy movement. Some of
          Htun's friends say that time has passed him by for any leadership
          Some say he was once such a skilled politician among the students
          that he could be a government minister if the pro-democracy
          movement ever took power.

          Htun said he would be ready to go home at a moment's notice if
          military government collapsed. He would not speculate about any
          position that might interest him. But he said that he was anxious
          the day he could return to his homeland.

          "Even under the regime in Rangoon, when I was in hiding, I was
          comfortable with my friends," he said. "Here it is always
          stress, stress."

          In Ithaca, he said, he is always worried about debt. Most of the
          $2,000 he and his wife take home every month from full-time jobs
          immediately spent. There is the rent bill, the car-loan payment,
          phone bill, and the heat bill.

          And then, he said, there is the bill for that necessity of any
          pro-democracy fighter in the 1990s. Htun must pay $200 every
          month on the loan he took out to buy his computer.

          Other Places of Interest on the Web
          FreeBurma.org a departure point to resources promoting the
          establishment of democracy in Burma.

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