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Burmese Official Tells of Country's Conflict

Bo Hla-Tint, chairman of the finance committee of the National Coalition Government of the Union of Burma, said his main goal is to seek international support for the exiled democratic government.

"The NCGUB is seeking global awareness on what is going on in Burma," Hla-Tint said.

Hla-Tint traced the history of Burma back to 1948, when it won its independence from Great Britain. A parliamentary democracy was in place until a military coup in 1962, he said.

The military government took away all basic freedoms from the people, including the freedoms of speech, press and assembly. It also cost Burma most of its wealth, as it fell from one of the richest countries in Asia to the poorest by 1987.

Students, who composed the army that gained Burmese independence from the British, made several futile attempts to rebel against the military. "All student leaders who believed in democracy were put in jail," Hla-Tint said.

In 1988, the students led a nationwide uprising to end military rule. More than 10,000 students, most between the ages of 12 and 20, were killed by the government.

This prompted international governments to impose sanctions on Burma, which led the government to approve a national election.

After the National League for Democracy won a landslide victory, the military government refused to honor the results -- including Hla-Tint's elected representative seat -- and sent the NCGUB into exile.

"I am an elected member of Parliament, but I have never been in Parliament in Burma," he said with anger in his voice.

Hla-Tint said the NCGUB was based in Thailand until 1993, when a delegation from the NCGUB approached the United Nations and gained recognition for their government. Under pressure from the Burmese military government, Thailand would not give NCGUB officials re-entry visas, leaving them stranded in the U.S.

The NCGUB is using nonviolent means, such as international pressure and negotiations, to attempt to attain its goal of democracy in Burma.

"Even though we have been declared enemies of the state, we don't believe in revenge," Hla-Tint said. "Our goal is to find a political solution through dialogue and reconciliation."

Hla-Tint emphasized that there are important steps that U.S. citizens can take to help the Burmese, noting that more than 100 colleges already have organizations working toward their goal. "The first thing I want you to do is write a letter to your senator about Burma," he said.

Audrey Williams, a graduate student at N.C. State University, said she cares deeply about the issue because her mother is from Burma.

"I had no idea how corrupt the military regime is," she said. "I had no idea there was such student support."

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