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NZ-based Burmese students fearful of return to Myanmar as political unrest intensifies

New Zealand-based Burmese students who are due to go back to Myanmar this year are watching the conflict unfold in their homeland closely — fearful if it does not abate they will be arrested on their return.

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They’re concerned that when their visas expire, they’ll be subject to the violence that’s mired Myanmar since the February coup. Source: 1 NEWS

Tensions have been rising since the military overthrew the country's democratically-elected government in February this year.

So far, 564 people have been killed by security forces, according to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, and 2667 have been detained.

One former military man told 1 NEWS as the coup happened, he watched on, ashamed, at the actions of a force he was once a part of; one that had vowed to protect, not hurt the people.

“I have been feeling ashamed, because only brainless people would do this. I strongly condemn this military coup.”

The man, who is now doing his PhD in population health in Auckland, believes many of those in the current junta were either “brainwashed” into thinking they were doing what is right for the people.

“They are thinking that they are protecting the country, the protestors are those who don’t want the country to be stable.”

And those members of the junta who might want to do the right thing and leave the army, were likely afraid.

“When you do civil disobedience, he or she is not the only person who will be affected, but also their family will be punished.”

He himself fears for his family and friends if he speaks out and has decided to keep his identity secret to protect them.

Another Burmese student, who also wanted to protect her identity, knows some of those who have been killed and detained by the junta.

The academic, who is undertaking a PhD at Canterbury University, was an employee of the ousted government.

Her former colleagues and students among those who have been caught up in the violence.

“My old student, he had graduated, he got shot on the street during the protests,” she said.

“Three of my old students, they were arrested too.”

Anti-coup protestors in Myanmar raise decorated Easter eggs along with the three-fingered symbols of resistance during a protest against the military coup on Easter Sunday. Source: Associated Press

She said some of her colleagues who were just delivering food also got arrested.

“They suppress academic people a lot.”

Both the students have managed to get an extension on the due date for completing their PhD but fear if the conflict doesn’t resolve when it is time to return home, they will have to seek asylum.

Both would prefer to return home to help rebuild their nation’s democracy, but say their freedom and their lives could be at risk on their return.

“We are struggling, we are poor but we tried our best to build our country. We got democracy ... but how could they do that to us again, they have destroyed all our future.”

Tin Ma Ma Oo is a spokesperson for the Democracy for Myanmar Working Group here in New Zealand.

She said as a former refugee watching her country fall back into a military dictatorship after its recent democratic progress — has left her with a sense of feeling hopeless.

“We want to request our New Zealand Government, especially our department of foreign affairs and our New Zealand public, to join us in fighting for a cause that is very much an injustice in the Asia region.

“This is no longer just a fight for justice for Myanmar, it is actually a fight for justice, a fight for justice for humanity.”

In a statement, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said it has already suspended high-level political and military bilateral engagement, imposed a travel ban on military leaders and has ensured its aid programme does not benefit the military.

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It comes after a deadly weekend of protests. Source: 1 NEWS

It also said it would continue to monitor the situation closely.

The ex-military person turned public health specialist had this message for those still serving in the military today.

“Please don’t forget that you have all pledged to consecrate your life to our country and to the people of Myanmar, not for the dictators.

“So you have to be loyal to your country and citizens, so just think about that and protect the people and stand on the righteous side.”