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TOC Report: Myanmar Peace Awareness Day in university campuses

By Ng Sook Zhen

Chaos may be an abstract concept for youths in Singapore, but this has not stopped students from taking material action against the current chaotic situation in Myanmar.

Yesterday, at Myanmar Peace Awareness Day(MPAD) held at three local universities – National University of Singapore (NUS), Nanyang Technological University and Singapore Manangement University - crowds were drawn to tables splashed in red, set up to raise awareness for the oppression the Burmese people face.

“Our concern now is, now that there is attention, we are going to regress to the second page, the third page and then to the column,” said Mr Choo Zheng Xi, the main organizer of the event.

“We want to see governments and the media keep the pressure and spotlight on Burma,” he added.

Mr Choo had come together with four other varsity students from different universities to organize MPAD.

Two petitions addressed to the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) and the Myanmar embassy in Singapore were drawn. The first urged the international community to keep pressure on the junta, while the second called for the military junta to reopen direct negotiations with key players of the process of peace and reconciliation.

Within a day, over 900 signatures were collected, a positive response, according to the organizers. Both petitions will be presented to the relevant authorities next week.

Red ribbons were also distributed in “peace packets” and the students were encouraged to wear them to show their support for the people of Burma.

The day’s activities also included a discussion forum held at the NUS Bukit Timah Campus, and culminated with candle light vigils held in the evening at all three campuses.

Night vigil

The night vigil at the university's Bukit Timah campus commenced slightly after 7.30pm. Some 70 Burmese students arrived at the campus’ lecture theatre to join their Singaporean counterparts in the observance.

In what turned out to be an emotional vigil, students from both countries shared their experiences and thoughts about the events in Burma.

Student organizer Choo Zheng Xi told the gathering that across all 3 campuses (NUS, NTU and SMU) they received wide support from the students and staff. Indeed, the dean of the law school personally wished Mr Choo all the best for the day's events.

Mr Choo also revealed that the organizers had to go through “quite a lot of red tape” to get the approval for the “Peace Awareness Day” in the campuses.

He reiterated the organisers’ commitment to “take up and carry on the expression of the Burmese people by doing so in Singapore”.

Co-organiser of the events, Burmese student Soe, who shaved his head as a sign of solidarity with the monks in his home country, called on the world to take concrete action against the Burmese government. “One violent side against a non-violent side. We need to get international attention. Otherwise, what? Just stand there and be shot?”

It was a sentiment echoed by another member of the audience. “Please stop watching us anymore. Do something. Why is the world waiting? Does the world want Burma to be the next Sudan or East Timor before they do something?”, he asked.

Another student who said that he had lived through the uprising in 1988 and 1996 explained that the reason why the students in Burma have not been able to participate in the latest protests is because the government has scattered and suppressed them – through the re-location of schools to the outskirts of the cities.

He was especially upset with some governments’ views that the events in Burma was “an internal affair”. “Violence has again been the winner over the non-violent people. What are we going to do?”, he asked, breaking into tears.

While the call for the international community to do something was a running theme during the vigil, there were also words of hope and encouragement from the students themselves. “Improve yourself. Educate yourself. We’re very lucky to be in Singapore”, a Burmese studying here advised. “One day we will save Burma. The government has the bullets, we have the brains. Lets use our brains.”

His sentiment was supported by a female Singaporean student who said, “The international community is watching. It’s also a regional problem. Take heart. It is happening. Don’t worry.”

Another Singaporean directed his address at the Singapore media. “The local media should keep its focus on Burma. Journalists should ask the hard questions of the government”, referring to media reports about the Singapore government’s business dealings with the Burmese junta.

A brief 2 minutes of silence was then observed, with the lights in the auditorium turned off and participants holding aloft their red cyalume sticks. (The organizers’ plans to hold an outdoor candlelight vigil had earlier been denied by the authorities.)

As the vigil came to an end, some students hugged each other, while others could be seen wiping away tears from their eyes.

*Read also: Two NUS campuses, two different responses by The Ridge