Thailand Day 16: Mae Sot… and lunch with U Hla Oo

Many former prisoners live in Mae Sot quite literally under-cover of darkness, often barely able to venture outside of their friends’ houses in which they are currently being kept – often new arrivals from across the border; often more simply just because they have no paperwork and of course are not recognised as refugees by the Thai authorities. Without the help of my friends and contacts here in Mae Sot, of course getting to meet and photograph these former prisoners would be impossible. The biggest thanks of course once again goes to my guide for the past week and good friend, Ko Thiha, plus the motorbike which has covered virtually every Ko Thihasquare inch of Mae Sot in tracking down everyone. Ko Thiha spent 17 years, 6 months and 16 days in 5 different prisons. he was released in September 2008 at the same time as U Win Tin – one of only 7 political prisoners to be released at that time.

A busy day, 8 former prisoners photographed, but the most remarkable aspect of this project and Mae Sot in general is the people you are likely to meet at any point either in passing or just suddenly planned. No sooner had we just raced past U Chit Tin (NLD MP) who was cycling home on his bike, than Ko Thiha made a call and a quick diversion to stop for lunch with U Hla Oo who was in town visiting from Australia where he currently lives. A wonderful man who welcomed me into his house, gave me lunch and ended up chatting for ages as though I was an old friend. Words can’t begin to express this at all. It’s not every day you get these kind of opportunities, and also are welcomed in such fashion everywhere you go. I guess these things happen for a reason, so its nice to feel this project is growing stronger by the day. An open invitation to visit him in Australia next year where he will help me with the project says it all.

U Hla Oo fled to the Thai-Burma border and co-founded the NCGUB in December 1990. He was appointed Minister for Labor. The SLORC declared Hla Oo a fugitive for joining the NCGUB and charged him under Penal Code Article 512 and the 1950 Emergency Provision Act, Articles 5 (a), (b) and (j). The Election Commission subsequently dismissed him from Parliament on 30 April 1991. He left Burma and joined the NCGUB on the Thai-Burma border. He was appointed Labor Minister in 1991. U Hla Oo is also the Chairman of the Federation of Trade Unions-Burma (FTUB).

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