Norway Day 3: Bergen and Fleeing Burma’s Past

Last time we were in Norway it was minus 16. Thankfully today it’s a beautiful day with the sun shining and about 30 degrees warmer. Bergen is a beautiful city on the west coast of Norway, surrounded by mountains and the cold north sea and the hundreds of fjords that bisect the stunning coastline. With just one day in town the day we have to work quickly but we’re in good safe hands as always and the day has been put together by Ma Kaythi Aye, someone who has been instrumental for over a year in helping me with the trips to Norway and locating former political prisoners. So it’s off to Ma Kaythi’s house to meet Cho Cho Tun Nyein, Hero Clyde and Kyaw Maung Maung Thwin and of course no better way to start the day than with Ohn Nyot Khaut Swe (coconut noodle soup) – reminding me of our time with Ma Hla Hla Htwe and Cho Seint in Lillehammer. Ma Kaythi Aye this trip now would not have been possible without your help – thank you so much for your kindness… and your lighting skills!

Kaythi Aye

Kaythi Aye was heavily involved in the Rangoon University Students’ Union’s activities. She was arrested on 15th December 1991 after her participation in the 10D student movement that took place on 10th December 1991 in celebration of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s winning of the Nobel Peace Prize. She was arrested and interrogated for 3 days by military intelligence before being transferred to Insein prison. 4 months later she was sentenced to 12 years. She was released on May 4th, 1992 under General Amnesty Declaration 11/92.  She was detained again in June, 2003. She was suspected of collecting eyewitnesses to the Depayin massacre and sending them to an embassy in Rangoon. This was the final straw for her and she fled Burma in August 2003 for the Thai Burma border. She contacted former political prisoners on the border and worked with the AAPP until February 2005 when she resettled to Bergen.

Cho Cho Tun Nyein

Cho Cho Tun Nyein, a Zoology graduate from Rangoon University and lawyer joined the All Burma Federation of Student Unions (ABFSU) during the 1988 uprising. In September 1988, after the military coup, he joined the National Political front (NPF) and was a member of the party’s Central Executive Committee. The SLORC banned the NPF in August 1989, and Cho Cho Tun Nyein was immediately arrested and charged under Section 5(j) of the Emergency Provision Act and 10(a) of the State Protection Act. He was detained in Insein Prison for two-and-a- half years before being sentenced in January 1992 to three years imprisonment. Four months later on May 1, he was released from Insein Prison under a conditional amnesty 11/92 in which he had to guarantee that he would not become involved in politics. On the day he was released his mother died at 2am. He did not see his mother before she passed away. In 1992 he received a Masters Degree in Zoology from Rangoon University. In March 1995, Cho Cho Tun Nyein was again detained by the authorities, but this time just for 14 days, after attending the funeral of former Prime Minister U Nu. After the December 1996 student demonstrations in Rangoon he was once again sought by the authorities and so fled to Thailand in April 1997 where he worked with the Burma Lawyers’ Council in Bangkok. From 1998 – 2001 he worked in Bangkok before moving to Mae Sot where he worked until 2004. In 2004 he started working full time for AAPP before resettling to Bergen in February 2005.

Hero Clyde

Hero Clyde, a Karen student living in Hin Tha Da township in Irrawaddy Delta was arrested in December 1981 whilst staying with his Karen relatives and friends in Rangoon. They were all arrested along with many other Karen who were suspected of illegal association with the KNU and other outlawed organisations. He was detained by MI and interrogated for 3 months. before being sent to Insein prison where he was detained for 3 years before being sentenced in a military court. After 2 months he was transferred to Hlay Hlaw Inn Labour camp not far from Rangoon where he spent 8 and half months building the Rangoon to Mandalay highway. In a brave and daring move he escaped from the camp one night with a colleague and fled to safety making their way to the Three Pagodas Pass some 2 weeks later. But no sooner than they arrived Hero Clyde suffered severe Malaria that struck him down for 2 years. Upon his recovery he joined the KNU and moved up to Manerplaw where he soon became a Captain in Battalion 5 in the KNLA leading many highly dangerous missions. After the fall of Manerplaw he moved to Papun town whilst his family were in Mer Da Mu camp. In 2006 he left the KNLA and joined his family in the camp due to health problems and later that year he was resettled to Norway where he currently lives with his family in Bergen.

Kyaw Maung Maung Thwin

Kyaw Maung Maung Thwin was a student at Moulmein University from 1995 – 1998. When the universities were closed in 1997 after student demonstrations in Rangoon he went to Thailand to meet his brother and colleagues in the ABSDF and became a messenger. When he returned to Burma he was arrested in Myawaddy and accused of making contact with an illegal organisation. He was detained by Military Intelligence for one month and was brutally tortured, still today he suffers severe health repercussions due to the torture he endured. He was charged under 17/1 and sentenced to 2 years in prison where he was jailed in Moulmein prison until his release in October 2000. After his release he returned home to Mon State and joined the local NLD party but was unable to go anywhere or see anyone without having to inform the local authorities. He stayed for only 2 months before fleeing to Thailand. He stayed with ABSDF for 3 years working as volunteer teacher at ABSDF school before moving to Mae Sot  in 2003 where he joined the AAPP, working there for over 2 years. In 2005 he resettled to Bergen.

The sun shone all day and we enjoyed the scenic view from up on high overlooking this beautiful city after we had finished taking the portraits. The day flew past and before I knew it I was racing to the airport but not before finding time to take another portrait of Ma Kaythi as the sun had played a few tricks with the one we took at Bergen’s famous Bryggen wharf. This time it worked as we shot inside the wharf itself rather than showing the tourist side the world sees. And that is what this whole project is all about – getting inside to tell the real stories that the world just does not see.

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