MAMBO IN MYANMAR
For those of you who are not familiar with the Cuban dance of Mambo, it is notable for the dancer’s directional change on a given note. What is happening along the border of Thailand and Myanmar is a series of directional changes in traffic flows much like that of the Mambo. During the Southeast Asia troubles of the Sixties, the directional flow was somewhat equal in that opium flowed into Thailand while guns found their way to what was formerly Burma. The opium bales supported the Hmong forces in their war efforts in Laos and the guns helped build individual armies among the different ethnic groups in Burma. Some years back, Joey is shown in front of a Thai open border crossing which was particularly porous in those days. If you cannot read Thai, the flag would give you a sense of which direction you want to be dancing on a given day.
Most people are aware of the actions of the despicable Myanmar military to overthrow the duly elected government of Dow Aung San Suu Kyi as she remains in a miserable prison for the foreseeable future. There has been a careful condemnation of the military coup by ASEAN and most western entities have fled Myanmar. On the other hand, Thailand is in very difficult situation as the country is highly dependent upon natural gas exports from Myanmar to keep the lights and air conditioners running. Accordingly, PTTEP, the Thai state oil company, has been sweeping up those departing foreign interests along the way. Joey and I once saw Dow Aung San Suu Kyi speaking over the fence in her garden during one of her periods of release from prison. She is a commanding personality who has suffered greatly.
For some time, the Thai northern border town of Mae Sot has had a busy exchange of Burmese moving back and forth as laborers in Thailand, merchants selling Burmese goods in the market and foreign tourists entering Myanmar to buy gemstones and have their pictures taken in the magical former Union of Burma. Historically, when Aung San, the father of Aung San Suu Kyi, solidified the independence of the country after World War II, he named it the Union of Burma to recognize the vast number of different ethnicities in the country. My first flight to Rangoon in the late sixties was on a Union of Burma vintage aircraft. A significant ethnic group is the Karen people on the northern border of Thailand. The Karen people have their own language, clothing, practices and even a substantial army. Many years ago, I used to stay in a Karen village on the Thai side which was an interesting period. At the time, I was dumbfounded that the Karen villagers urged me to shoot a gibbon out of a tall teak tree as it was a Karen delicacy.
The image below shows the Mae Sot Border crossing on the Thai side with a truck load of Karen workers returning to Myanmar. There are a lot of interesting shops on the left side of the road selling Hill Tribe products, particularly their hand-sewn colorful clothes actually sell when the smell becomes very pungent, as they do not wash them. Nonetheless, they bathe every evening in the river, wearing a sarong, which is used to cover up and then serve as a towel to dry. Men, women and children will be in close proximity, but it all works with no embarrassment whatsoever. On the right side of the border crossing entrance is a hotel where you can get a cold Singha beer before stepping into Myanmar.
The crossing at Mae Sot has become an active hotspot in the attempts of the illegal Military Myanmar Junta to subdue the growing unrest and combat from different rebel groups within Myanmar, most notably the Karen National Union of some 20,000 fighters shown below in an engagement with Junta forces.
The Junta forces retaliate by entering villages and interrogating villagers while executing those they suspect of aiding the rebel forces. The images below are irrefutable in their presentation of the wanton disrespect for the rule of law and basic human dignity by the Junta. Apparently, the Junta forces worked up a sweat rounding up the villagers, as they were forced to remove their helmets and backpacks shown in the foreground. The actions of the Junta forces easily fall into the category of crimes against humanity.
Vast numbers of villagers have fled Myanmar to Thailand seeking shelter and safety forcing the Thai military to close the Mae Sot border crossing. Thai nationals were allowed to return home but otherwise the border was closed to prevent all Peoples Defense Forces such as the Karen National Army from moving weapons and munitions into Mae Sot which have been discovered. Numerous Burmese were detained and interrogated by the Thai military though Amnesty International has pleaded with the Thai government not to send them back to Myanmar and their certain execution.
In a recent article in the Bangkok Post, Thousands Flee to Thailand as Clashes Resume, reflected the Thai border patrol and military discussing their responses to the situation. Whereas the economy of Thailand benefits from the cheap labor from Myanmar and the natural gas imported from Myanmar is pivotal to the quality of Thai life, there is an election coming up in Thailand where the existing unpopular government with military roots will face a charismatic group of civilian candidates. To the say the least, the Thai military faces a tricky situation as the inhuman Junta behavior in Myanmar becomes daily news in Thailand.
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