By Lee Yu Kyung
Reminded all day long yesterday (June 19) that it was Aung San Suu Kyi’s birthday. Here are a few shots of Su Kyi’s birthday ‘Party turned to be a Protest’ in NLD Head Quarter on 2008 June 16, which was rare those days and totally unexpected. Accidently come across these pictures while I was sorting out foto files of refugees and IDPs. I have ‘shameful’ memory myself out of this ‘Party Affair’.
On that morning, I went to NLD HQ to cover the party and to interview leadership of course in disguise or secretly. Inside, full of NDL members and well wishers. Outside (opposite to the HQ), line of Special Branch – the spy unit of the military government – keeping an eye on HQ, but not in action. As usual, I was confident that I wasn’t detected as a foreigner but seen one of Burmese girls. Situation was unexpectedly shifted when thugs of USDA or Swarn Ashin were brought onto the area to spoil the party and to arrest well wishers who were standing around entrance of HQ. Protest erupted. After minutes hesitation, I decided to get out to take picture what’s happening outside still in cautious move though. I thought I shouldn’t miss it and being ready to face whatever might happen to me.
Well, what happened to me was..I must have been detected or at least ‘highly suspected’ during the turmoil. After leaving HQ I got a strong gut feeling that I was followed by one or two (police) cars which made me circling the city around by taxi for long hours to chase them out if my gut feeling was the case. Back to my guest house, a bit confused.
Should I immediately leave the country or should I remain..? Should I see no one as I could be followed..or may try while keeping even more low profile? I got a visa after long and quite harsh procedure then. I’ve wanted to achieve as much as possible once there. It’s a bit greedy desire as a journalist in a sense. I decided not to leave but cautiously was hanging around for next 1-2 days. Hmm..Nothing happnend. Then I kinda ‘normalized’ my mission to see whom I plan to. Extreme caution never faded away. It was a time when the country was devastated by Cyclone Nargis, which was a primary issue to me also. The disaster has claimed about 130,000 deaths and missing just over a night. I was truly appalled the regime’s blockade of humanitarian aid to those desperately in need, those stuck with such a large scale disaster. The current president Thein Sein was a boss of National Disaster Preparedness Central Committee at that time.
About a week passed. It was Sunday morning around 7am. I was visited by three police men at my guest house. They started to interrogate me as to why I was at the NLD HQ. They confiscated my CDs particularly having disaster zone scene. But surprisingly poor search doesn’t reach my laptop and camera. A Korean embassy staff who immediately came to the scene to support me as I requested said police suspected I was trying to interview Aung San Suu Kyi. Amazing idea those days, but I didn’t try it. I went to the NLD HQ to happily celebrate the party doing my work. I was far more keen on disaster zone and dissents’ movement inside the country. I was taken to the airport and being taken pictures from every direction as like I was a criminal. And then, deportation stamped.
A feeling of guilt has haunted me for a while despite confirmation that no one was harassed or jailed because they saw me. Some of friends gone hiding after my deportation for a week or so. I probably have almost risked someone’s fate with my poor judgment or misdeed. I still sorry to them. Every year ever since, this is how I remember the Lady’s birthday with the tainted episode and my shame.