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8th July, 2004
Ka Hsaw Wa has seen many of his friends killed and has suffered torture at the hands of the Burmese military. Now he is taking Unocal, one of the US companies that trades with the murderous regime, to court. One of the most wanted men in Burma, talks to The Ecologist.He goes to great lengths to conceal his identity. He does not give his real name, but an alias he adopts to protect his family. A few years ago he took a knife and skinned a distinctive tattoo from his right forearm. Only a rough scar remains.
The 33-year-old sitting opposite me in the lobby of a London hotel is one of the most wanted men in Burma. Thanks to his courage the most profitable enterprise ever undertaken by the ruling military junta is under threat. The junta – the murderous Tatmadaw – wants him dead. But the many ordinary Burmese who have been abused and seen relatives killed while working on the Tatmadaw’s £1.2 billion Yadana pipeline project see him as a hero. They call him ‘Ka Hsaw Wa’, which in the language of the Karen means ‘white elephant’. For the indigenous Karen, the white elephant is a sign of hope.
Ka did not intend to be a hero. And but for a single, dreadful event 16 years ago, he might never have become one. Back then he wanted to work in a bank. ‘I was just another obnoxious teenager,’ he tells me. ‘I loved US clothes. I loved Western music. I wore clothing like AC/DC. Chains. Earrings. Long hair. All I...
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