Cablegate: Renowned Mandalay Writer Frail but Still Vocal

Published: Mon 3 Jul 2006 10:31 AM
This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.
E.O. 12958: N/A
1. (SBU) SUMMARY: Despite her age of 90, well known Mandalay
author and political critic "Ludu" (People's) Daw Ahma
remains outspoken, respected widely among the Burmese, and an
irritant to the regime, as shown by a recent interview with
the Democratic Voice of Burma (DVB). She points to thousands
of younger writers and artists who attended her 90th birthday
ceremony as evidence that a new generation of politically
conscious writers may emerge. Daw Ahma is thus far the
exception, rather than the norm, in testing the regime. The
regime reacted with press attacks, reflecting its intolerance
of free expression or opposing views. END SUMMARY
2.(SBU) In 1946, Daw Ahma and her husband founded the "Ludu"
(People's) Press in Mandalay, which printed books and a
popular newspaper. Government censors shut down the Ludu
press in 1967 and in 1978, police jailed both Daw Ahma and
her husband (now deceased) for their political writings. Daw
Ahma is not closely affiliated with the NLD, though she too
speaks out on the need for greater freedoms in Burma. One of
her sons, now in hiding, was a member of the Burmese
Communist Party (BCP), which is a political factor now only
for the regime.
3.(SBU) In late April, Daw Ahma granted an interview to
Norway-based Democratic Voice of Burma that the DVB later
broadcast into Burma. In the interview, she called for
"People's Power," public movements to break the current
political stalemate, noting that repeated NLD overtures to
the SPDC have yielded no response and the regime will not
move unless pushed by a public uprising. "You can't despair,
my children. You have to do something," she exhorted younger
generations in the interview.
4.(SBU) According to NLD sources and Daw Ahma's family, the
GOB responded to the DVB interview by leaving anonymous notes
in front of Daw Ahma's Mandalay home that condemned her for
contact with outside press and for advocating political
reforms. In mid-June the GOB's media organs ran articles
attacking her son for his BCP ties and alleged collaboration
with foreign media organizations with the goal of "removal of
the government." These articles referred to him as the "son
of writer Ludu Daw Ahma."
5.(SBU) A June 22 call by Emboffs on Ludu Daw Ahma at her
summer Pyin-Oo-Lwin (Maymyo) home found the elder writer in
good spirits, though in frail physical condition. She noted
that speaking out through DVB was not brave, but rather
"reality" and that she reflected the voices of the Burmese
people. She added that she feels well connected to the
sufferings of people around the country through letters she
receives and news from BBC, VOA, RFA and DVB. She indicated
her awareness of the GOB media attacks on her and her son and
disclosed that DVB and other foreign media had called her
seeking a reaction to the GOB attacks. She stated that she
had declined to comment publicly on these. She noted that
there are many new writers following in her footsteps and
pointed to the attendance at her 90th birthday commemoration
in Amarapura (20 miles south of Mandalay) in November 2005
when thousands of writers and artists came from across Burma.
She vowed to continue speaking out in the name of the
Burmese people and their plight.
6.(SBU) One of Burma's most respected contemporary writers,
Ludu Daw Ahma has over the years occasionally criticized the
GOB's political "roadmaps" and called for greater public
expression of political grievances. Her voice is independent
of the NLD's, although lately her statements credit Aung San
Suu Kyi's efforts to engage the SPDC and lend support to the
NLD's objectives.
7.(SBU) COMMENT: Daw Ahma's high profile limits GOB attacks
to using the press, protecting her from the harsher treatment
the GOB metes out to others who voice opposition. The
likelihood of arrest or other harassment keeps most Burmese
quiet, although they are willing to voice criticism and
discontent privately. Most writers brave enough to speak out
carefully use euphemisms to deflect regime scrutiny. End
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