Mya Aye, a leader of 88 Generation Students group, landed in Thailand on Saturday for his first trip to a foreign country since being released from prison earlier this year.
Mya Aye, who was incarcerated for a total of 12 years in two spells after the 1988 and 2007 democracy uprisings, plans to meet Burmese civil society organizations and ethnic armed groups to discuss how to cement a permanent peace in the country.
The 50-year-old told The Irrawaddy during an interview at his hotel in Chiang Mai how different he found northern Thailand and that he hoped Burma would one day emulate the prosperity of its eastern neighbor.
Mya Aye accompanied fellow members of the 88 Generation Students to meet Burmese students who were studying in Bangkok and remarked that he was impressed by the intelligence of the questions asked during their discussion.
“The students asked good questions and they are smart,” said the recently published novelist. “We need educated students to run our country. I do not know how to run the country so we need educated students.”
Mya Aye met members of the Women’s League of Burma on Monday and was pleasantly surprised that they had sharp political views and were equally confident as their male counterparts at expressing themselves.
“There are women of a similar age in Burma who do not have the confidence of women in Thailand,” he said. “There is better education and a more open society here than in Burma, so this may be one reason.”
The delegation drove up from Bangkok to Chiang Mai during the night and Mya Aye found that the people did not use their high beam headlights and had more respect for one another on the road compared to his homeland.
“If you only stay proud of what you know in Burma then you do not learn about other countries, and so you will remain behind the rest of the world,” he said.
During our one-hour interview, Mya Aye smoked two cigarettes and confessed that he did not dare to smoke outside his room as people in Thailand only used designated smoking zones where they would not offend other people.
He added that smokers could light up anywhere in Burma as people did not understand that cigarettes caused health problems for others.
Mya Aye said that the Burmese military constantly lied to the people, including in textbooks and the curriculum of school lessons, and even his studies at university did not match what he was currently finding in Thailand.
He added that Thailand has good infrastructure and that he hoped Burma would soon develop in a similar vein.
“In Burma, some people eat meat and just abandon the bones in the street where pedestrians walk. It is very careless and not clean. Thailand is clean and even has good services,” he said.
Although Burma has undergone a series of political reforms under President Thein Sein’s quasi-civilian administration, Mya Aye said that he still does not completely trust that the current democratization process is genuine.
The Napyidaw government recently issued passports to leaders of the 88 Generation Students group, but there are many other former political prisoners who have not yet received travel documents despite submitting applications.
“All citizens have the right to own passports and travel to other countries,” said Mya Aye. “We should not say that there is political change just because we received a passport.”
He also emphasized the need to amend undemocratic articles in the 2008 Constitution if Burma was to finally achieve peace and prosperity, as otherwise ethnic people will continue to fight for greater autonomy.
“The Burmese government knows what to change in order to have peace, but they do not want to do it,” said Mya Aye. “The government just does a little to look good to the international community.”
The visiting delegation of 88 Generation Students will hear the concerns of Burmese civil society and ethnic organizations along the border and then later present these to a wider meeting of group members back in Rangoon.
“It is good to cooperate in order to work for peace,” said Mya Aye. “To have peace, we need to hear different voices and ideas from each other.”