Exiles to Meet with Bush on Myanmar

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Win Min has spent the past 20 years trying to recover a moment of hope in Myanmar, when it seemed that the people had defeated their brutal military rulers and freedom lay ahead.

Friday is the anniversary of a huge popular uprising, on Aug. 8, 1988, that was crushed by soldiers at the cost of some 3,000 lives, leaving the country in the grip of a military junta and setting the course of Myanmar's history ever since - and very likely well into the future.

"We had a big hope that we would succeed," said Win Min, who was a student leader in what was then known as Burma. "It was the biggest struggle ever in Burmese history. Not just in one town but even in remote villages. The whole country was marching in the streets."

On Thursday, Win Min will be among a small group of activist exiles who are scheduled to meet in Bangkok with President George W. Bush, who has given his backing to what has so far been a fruitless struggle for democracy.

The junta that seized power in 1988 has only tightened its grip since then, locking up opponents and hunkering down in the face of criticisms and sanctions from the West. The pro-democracy leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, has been under house arrest for 12 of the past 18 years.

In the past few months the junta has bared its teeth, first with a violent suppression of a peaceful uprising led by monks last September, and more recently by restricting foreign aid to victims of Cyclone Nargis, which devastated much of Myanmar in May and left about 138,000 dead and missing.

"Twenty years afterward, well, you know we won't see that kind of demonstration happen again in the near future," said Win Min, who is now a lecturer at Payap University in Chiang Mai, Thailand. "And if it happens, we know that as long as this government is in power they will crack down."

Since the September crackdown on monks, Bush has intensified a longstanding American policy of ever-tightening economic restrictions. The restrictions, along with harsh criticism of the military government, has added to a wall of hostility between the two nations that limits Washington's influence.

This is the message that Aung Naing Oo, another former student leader, hopes to bring to Bush when they meet on Thursday...

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