Q: I was sent to prison by the [Burmese] government, but am now in the United States. I will soon be 84 years old. Before I came here, I was working to help a rural development program in the hill region of Naphal township, which is about 4,000 feet above sea level. At present, the hill-region farmers are facing a lot of problems, so projects like that one could help them. Are you planning to implement similar projects? If so, I would like to offer my help.
A: We have plans to help the hill-region farmers and the rural people as much as we can. We would appreciate it very much if someone like you, who has acquired so much knowledge over many years, would share his knowledge by helping with our work. We will contact you regarding the help that we would need from you.
Q: The present military government is suppressing its own citizens. It has even go so far as to beat, torture, and kill the Buddhist monks to whom they have paid respect. I would like to know how the ethnic people of Burma can achieve democracy and human rights. [The questioner is calling from the ethnic Karen state, where he holds a military rank, presumably in an ethnic army.]
A: We have pledged to use nonviolent methods in our efforts to achieve democracy and human rights. This is not because nonviolent methods are easy. It is because we would like to dispel the view that change in Burma can only be achieved through the use of arms and violence. It is also because we would like to establish the precedent that negotiations are the only way to resolve political issues. Once this practice has become established, problems arising from dissatisfaction among the rulers or the people can be resolved without bloodshed.
Q: The present government is committed to crushing the [ethnic] Karen National Union [KNU]. However, since the KNU still cannot be eliminated, it seems that the civil war in our country will continue. We think that a political solution can be found. How do you view this situation? [The caller is a leader of the KNU.]
A: As I said before, political change must be achieved through negotiations. We would rather use different ways of fighting with our hearts to foster understanding, amity, trust, and lasting unity among the ethnic nationalities instead of letting them think about annihilating each other. I hope and pray that a lasting and genuine spirit of Union may be established as soon as possible among all of our ethnic nationalities.
Q: I am an [ethnic] Kachin national from Myitkyinna. I am not really interested in politics, but I would like to know how you would view the idea of making the Kachin language the official language of the Kachin state?
A: It is natural for the ethnic nationalities to want to preserve their language. But before you get to the stage where you can use it as an officlal language, you must first make an effort to teach it in your schools. You said that you are not interested in politics. But thinking about the freedom to use an ethnic language is a matter of the rights of the ethnic nationalities—and that itself is politics. This is why I would like to say that no citizen can be entirely removed from politics.
Q: I am an [ethnic] Wa national. If an NLD [National League for Democracy] member had been elected president, what would an ethnic nationality group have to have in order to establish its own self-administered area?
A: We absolutely would not want the president alone to make decisions on issues that are important to the Union. Issues such as self-government are matters that must be discussed and agreed upon by all the ethnic nationalities. We will be able to build a country that is acceptable to everyone only through the kind of trust that is acquired through such discussions. This is why we are promoting a 21st century Panglong so that we can work toward a genuine and lasting Union spirit.
Q: I am “Godzilla” from Ko Zargana’s comedy group, the Ponama. I would like to ask two questions. First, why are the people of Burma so overwhelmed by a sense of fear? I would like to have discussions with leaders like you, with intellectuals, and with other laymen like myself so that we can find ways to remove these fears that our people have. Second, I have seen that the majority of the Burmese people lack a sense of unity, or only want to take the role of leader. I don’t know if this is because they are unfamiliar with the concept of an organization. How can we artists, working together with leaders like you, promote an understanding of these concepts?
A: Perhaps the people are afraid because they are not as big and strong as a Godzilla like you! In fact, the two questions that you have asked are connected. Fear is born from a lack of security. Lack of unity is also due to having a lot of doubts about each other. I think that if there are more doubts than is normal, this leads to a lack of security. We have to nurture our people in order to make them more secure. People who are afraid and have doubts must learn to use their own abilities to remove these things from their mind.
Q: I am one of about 2 million immigrant workers from Burma who now live in Thailand. I was very happy to hear after your release that all the Burmese workers in Thailand will soon be able to return to Burma. I have lived here for over 10 years and have never heard anything like this before. How do you intend to arrange for this to happen?
A: I think that you have misunderstood some of the things that I have said. I really don’t have the ability as yet to bring back all of the refugees living abroad. I cannot give you hope for something that I cannot really accomplish. But I have often said that I would like to create the conditions necessary for people who have fled our country as refugees to return as soon as possible. For this to happen, we need a system of government that will guarantee human rights.
We are constantly working hard to achieve that goal. In the meantime, we are getting in touch with various organizations and are trying our best to make the lives of our refugees abroad bearable. Please don’t be discouraged. Please bear in mind that there are a lot of people who have not forgotten your difficulties and are constantly looking for ways to help all of you.