Burma election: 'Not going to vote'

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As Burma holds its first elections in 20 years, representatives of three Burmese ethnic groups talk to the BBC about life under military rule and their hopes for the future.

Salai Moses (not his real name), Chin, Mandalay, Burma

I belong to the Chin ethnic group, who live in the western corner of Burma, known as eastern Chinland.

More than 95% of the Chin population are Christian, which means that Chins are entirely different from the Burmans, the majority group in the country.

My country, Burma, has been under military rule for nearly five decades since 1962. During that time we, Chin people, have suffered political oppression, religious persecution, economic exploitation and even ethnic genocide at different stages in our long history.

We are treated as second-class citizen. Our history is a history of suffering, while the Burman history is a history of victory.

As a result, more than 200,000 Chins have fled our homeland to seek refuge and safety in other parts of the world.

I can give you many examples of religious persecution. The church I grew up in has a fine building for worship, but the government does not allow us to worship there. So, we've been holding worship service at the seminary chapel for decades.

Indeed, most churches, especially the churches founded after the Bloody 8888 (the crushing of pro-democracy demonstrations on 8 August 1988), are under supervision, and the restrictions on Christian literature is beyond expression.

If you are Christian in Burma, you are automatically deprived of equality. Opportunities like a job in a government office, or a university place for most sought after fields or a university lecturing position are not easily available to us.

All the crosses planted on the mountains of Chinland as symbols of our faith have been destroyed and replaced with Buddhist pagodas built with the forced labour of local Christians.

I've never felt safe in Burma, but I decided to come back after my studies in the US because I wanted to be with my people in the midst of their suffering.

Of course I am not going to vote. I don't recognise the military regime - it doesn't represent the people of Burma. I don't believe in the theory that "something is better than nothing".

Until they start respecting the innate rights, dignity and freedom of the people in Burma, they would never win. The military regime needs to transfer the political authority to Aung San Suu Kyi, if they really love the country and its people.

Dr Saw Simon, Karen, Mae La camp, Thailand

Image caption,
Dr Saw Simon has spent the last 20 years living in a camp for displaced people

I was born in 1949 - the year the Karen People were forced to take up arms and start their struggle for justice, rights and freedom under the leadership of the Karen National Union (KNU). So the civil war is as old as me and every time I celebrate my birthday, I am reminded of the number of years the civil war has been going on.

The Burmese Army's military offensive operation which has been using the tactic of genocide is intensifying in nature and scope. Many of our Karen people have crossed the border and have been living in camps for displaced people for more than 30 years.

I came to Mae La camp in 1990. I work as the principal of the Kawthoolei Karen Baptist Bible School.

For the Karens in Burma, there are three political parties that are preparing to run in this election, the reason being that doing something is better than doing nothing. But most of the Karen people in Burma feel it's better not to vote.

In Burma, religious leaders, lecturers and teachers at bible schools and seminaries are not allowed to vote.

We, Karen people see this election as a fixed political game. It's not going to be just, fair, clean or free and it will not lead the country to the road of democracy. It will give the military regime legitimacy, it will prolong military rule and lead the country to political instability.

Image caption,
The KNU has fought with the government for six decades

Right now there is fighting going on between SPDC troops and ethnic groups. There will be more fighting after the election.

Last year, teams from the EU and the UN visited our camp and we had the opportunity to host them with lunch.

We sang a song about the life and plight of our Karen people. We called our land, Kawthoolei, which literally means 'land without evil'. But today this land is full of evil things, human rights abuses, killings, fighting, landmines.

Sixty-one years is long enough. Twenty years living in camps as displaced people is long enough.

All we want is peace, justice and freedom. We want to go home. This is the desire of our hearts and the cry of our Karen people to God in prayers.

Nel Adams, Shan, US

I was born in the Shan State, the daughter of one of the princes who ruled over one of the 33 principalities of the Federated Shan States until the military intervention in 1958 - 1959 followed by the coup in 1962.

I was educated in two convents and got my Bachelors and Masters degrees at the University of Rangoon, when all subjects were still taught in English and the standard was thought to be one of the best in Asia.

I left Burma as a state scholar in 1960 and fortunately I missed the persecution that my father and his colleagues had to endure. They were all imprisoned and later put under house arrest and were not allowed to return to their own state. Some of them died while in prison. Many of them died heart-broken, leaving young children to care for themselves.

I worked as a school teacher in the UK. Then I changed my career and became an owner of a bakery. Now I am retired, I write books and articles.

For years I was out of touch with my people. During the first military regime, the Shan state was like a prison, unknown to the outside world.

Only after the explosion of the internet was I able to know what was going on in Burma and to what extent the people are suffering.

The Shan state is said to have become a country where poppy plants are encouraged and grown liberally, where drug refineries are set up along the border by the junta's militia and where the soldiers of the junta are at liberty to traffic all kinds of drugs.

It is sad and heart-wrenching for ordinary Shan people to see their once beautiful and peaceful homeland turned into a country of crime taken over by dictatorial empire builders and drug traffickers.

In Burma, especially in the Shan State, people are living in fear and most of them dare not utter a word, especially about the election and party politics. The citizens of Burma, especially the non-Burman ethnic nationalities have been suffering from gross human rights violations.

They have been indoctrinated to believe and do what the junta tells them. Shan State is the largest ethnic state, and some parts are still hidden from the outside world, while the soldiers occupy every nook and corner of the villages.

It would be sensible and justifiable if the people of the Shan State were to boycott the election and work with Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and other ethnic groups for the release of all political prisoners, equal rights for ethnic groups and freedom of expression.

It is a sham election which the generals and their supporters have been cunningly planning for years. They badly want this election to be a success so that they can legalise their regime and hold on to absolute power like their ancient kings.