Beauty Queen-Turned-Activist Fights For Karen People

Louisa Benson. Photo: Karen Museum

Louisa Benson , formerly a famous actress as well as Miss Burma, has used her time since arriving in the United States in 1967 to work on behalf of Burma and its people. Born in Rangoon to a Jewish father and an ethnic Karen mother, Benson has been a vigorous campaigner against the current military junta, the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC), especially after it overturned a 1988 election victory by Aung San Suu Kyi's opposition National League for Democracy (NLD). She spoke to San San Tin, of RFA's Burmese service, about her Karen identity following recent government attacks in her homeland:

"Currently Karen people are suffering a lot. They are ordinary villagers who have nothing to do with the war. When I heard about the increased military offensive by the SPDC in the Nyaung Lay Bin, Tat Hmoo, and Hpa Pun areas, it was extremely sad for me. I'd like the U.S. government, or the U.N. ... or the NLD or all of them to solve this problem. As a Karen, I feel really sorry for them. They have to live in the jungle. It's important to solve this problem."

"Many times the Karen National Union (KNU) has had three-way meetings to solve the problem peacefully through political means. That's the only way so that villagers can go back to their lives in their villages and return to their houses and live there...I do know that it cannot be solved through military means...The SPDC doesn't look like it wants us to solve the problem. Previously, the Assocation of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) thought that if they allowed Burma to become an ASEAN nation, they could control it from outside. Now they've given up."

The only way I see is that we need to find a way to make the SPDC leaders interested. One way is if we can guarantee that we will not take revenge on them when there is a change of government and when we are on the way to democracy. Will they become interested then?

Military junta not interested

"The only way I see is that we need to find a way to make the SPDC leaders interested. One way is if we can guarantee that we will not take revenge on them when there is a change of government and when we are on the way to democracy. Will they become interested then? That's one thing, OK? The second one is if their business is really affected. Previously, they were partners with UNOCAL and built the gas pipeline. And currently they have a project to build a dam on the Salween River."

"The SPDC is getting a lot of revenue from these things. The problem is that these revenues are not benefiting the people. They are only increasing the wars, helping the leaders become wealthy so that they can send their children to schools abroad. I think that if the projects are unsuccessful, they'd become a bit more interested in peace."

"Human rights activists from many countries object to [the Salween dam]. They write letters in order to teach the partnering companies to understand the situation. Also we need to find many ways so that the UN would put pressure...The main thing is inform the leaders in the United States about the things happening in Burma. I have this responsibility."

"Another thing is, currently, Thailand is planning to shut down one of the refugee camps. I am finding ways to help the refugees who will be arriving from there as a volunteer. Starting from the 1988 uprising, other Americans as well as people from Burma who are interested have formed an organization called that is called Burma Forum, in Los Angeles. The objective of this organization is to teach people here more about Burma. As you know, there are all kinds of problems around the world, and also Burma is far away and small. And so sometimes they don't hear about the problems in Burma. And so we work so that they don't forget Burma's problems, Daw Suu, and the ethnic minority peoples."

Call for expat help

"As long as I'm alive, I'll be finding a way for the welfare of all the people in the country. But the SPDC is always inventing ways to cause suspicion between and among ethnic groups. Our only objective is for the people to have good will toward each other and live peacefully when there's democracy. That's all.

"There are those who have come out of the country and, due to all kinds of qualities, become highly educated. That is also valuable. Don't forget to go back and help your country one day. I just want to urge you to please help so that the country can rebuild. What I want the people from inside the country to know, is that people from outside the country have not forgotten them. We are reading about them every day. We discuss them. And as much as we can, we are trying to find a way."

"A long time ago, before World War II, or right after Burma got its independence, all kinds of people lived together peacefully. There were Burmese in Karen villages. There were Shans in Burmese villages. There were Karens in Kachin villages. All kinds. Help our neighbors with good will so that we can go back to this situation."

Original reporting in Burmese by San San Tin. Produced for the Web in English by Luisetta Mudie. Edited by Sarah Jackson-Han.


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Apr 28, 2014 04:51 PM

I'm so happy to see her story. Thanks