2/14/08

Burma Democracy Leader Assassinated

"Dear friends,

We [US Campaign for Burma] write with great sadness to tell you of the assassinaton of one of Burma's most prominent leaders. Phado Mahn Sha, a leader of the Karen people, was killed last night while resting at his home. He was 64 years old.


While details are still unclear, it is likely that the assassination was organized by Burma's military regime and/or its cronies.

Many of our [US Campaign for Burma] staff members had met and worked with Mahn Sha in recent years. Aung Din and Jennifer saw him for the last time in January. Jeremy helped arrange for Mahn Sha to brief members of Congress when he traveled to the United States in 2003. He was one of the most principled and courageous people we have ever met, and now he has made the ultimate sacrifice for human rights, democracy, and self-determination.

Mahn Sha was the General Secretary of the Karen National Union, the leaders of the Karen ethnic nationality in Burma. The Karen are one of Burma's largest ethnic nationalities in Burma. In some ways politically similar to the Native Americans in the 18th and 19th centuries in the United States, Mahn Sha and the Karen people struggled to hold onto their ancestral homelands under the rule of Burma's brutal military regime.

Seeking to destroy the Karen and other ethnic nationalities' desire for self-determination, Burma's military regime has carried out a war on civilians in eastern Burma, destroying or forcing the abandonment of 3,200 villages in the last ten years. At least 1.5 million people have fled their homes. To put this in the context of a more well-known world crisis, it is estimated that this is twice as many villages as have been destroyed in Darfur.

The attacks on Karen and other ethnic minority civilians in eastern Burma are one of the most under-reported stories in the world. The attacks have been aimed at civilians -- destroying food supplies, rice fields and barns, homes, medical clinics, and schools.

Several consecutive United Nations General Assembly and Human Rights Council (previously Human Rights Commission) resolutions have called on Burma's military regime to enter into peaceful dialog with the Karen people and Burma's other ethnic minorities, along with the democracy movement led by Nobel Peace Prize recipient Aung San Suu Kyi. Mahn Sha and the KNU have been strong supporters of Aung San Suu Kyi and her political party the National League for Democracy. Like Suu Kyi, the KNU believe that peace, human rights, and equality among all ethnic nationalities will come to Burma through negotations under the auspices of the United Nations.

However, the regime has defied these UN requests, refusing to enter into talks while continuing its attacks on civilians. The regime is able to continue these attacks mainly because of China's protective cloak at the UN Security Council. The Security Council is the only body at the UN that has the authority to force countries to make changes, but because China holds veto power over all Council decisions, it has effectively paralyzed the entire United Nations. As a result of China's veto, the UN is making the same mistakes it made on Rwanda, Bosnia, and Darfur -- yet again.

We especially respected Mahn Sha because of his compassion toward child soldiers and other Burmese army deserters. Burma's military regime has conscripted more child soldiers than any other country in the world, up to 70,000. Child soldiers and other Burmese army deserters fleeing Burma's regime often sought refuge with the KNU and Mahn Sha provided homes and protection for many of former child soldiers and Burmese army deserters. His political integrity was clearly matched by the size of his heart.

Burma's regime has targeted numerous leaders of Burma's ethnic minorities. Instead of entering negotiations as called for by the UN, Burma's regime is violently attacking ethnic minorities. Three years ago, a leader of the Shan ethnic nationality, Khun Htun Oo, was sentenced to 93 years in prison along with several other Shan leaders. Khun Htun Oo is an elected member of parliament from the Shan Nationalities League for Democracy, a party aligned with Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy.

We take some solace in the fortitude displayed by Mahn Sha. He was unwavering in his commitment to democracy and self-determination, and inspiring to thousands of people who were lucky enough to have worked with him.

All of us need to do more to bring an end to horrific human rights violations in Burma. Thank you so much for your strong support for our work. Keep an eye on this list in the coming couple of weeks as we launch a new effort aimed at focusing attention on China's propping up of Burma's military regime in the run-up to the Olympics. We will need your help.

Aung Din, Jeremy Woodrum, Jennifer Quigley, and Thelma Young"
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from US Campaign for Burma

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