By Rich Greene / South Idaho Press
With their destination set for the United Nations offices and their goals set even higher, a pair of protesters departed from Portland more than three weeks ago on a voyage they hope will raise awareness about the plight of their home country, Myanmar.
Athein and Zaw are taking turns walking the 2,896 miles it will take to reach New York City. The duo departed March 1, and on Thursday they reached Burley, almost 600 miles from where they started.
Athein said such a protest done in his native country would have landed him in jail for 20 years. He said that is just one of the many reasons behind the protest march.
“Innocent people, our people, want freedom and democracy,” he said. Athein described his homeland as a terrorist country, controlled by the military. “It’s a threat to the nation of people and a threat to freedom and liberty.”
The pair has alternated walking the journey. When one walks, the other drives ahead and waits for the other by the side of the road. Athein said they needed to bring a vehicle, so they could take turns staying warm.
When walking, Athein and Zaw carry both an American flag and the fighting peacock flag of the Free Burma Coalition.
The two protesters said they get noticed a lot with frequent horn honks and waves. And while there have been an occasional close encounter with a vehicle, most people have been extremely supportive. Sometimes someone will pull over thinking their vehicle broke down.
Rupert Councilman James Bowers was one of those good Samaritans when, earlier this week on a return trip from Parma, he noticed the duo. Bowers said instead of helping change a tire he learned about the pair’s cause.
Athein and Zaw’s Ford Explorer is filled not just with the usual road trip supplies of food and maps, but with posters and information about their fellow countrymen back home.
The country of Myanmar, formerly known as Burma, has been under military rule since 1962. In August 2007 protests, joined by the country’s Buddhist monks, began to flare again after a government decision to raise fuel prices.
Athein and Zaw hope the attention they draw from their cross-country trek will lead people to sign a petition they will deliver to the U.N.
The petition asks the U.N. to impose a universal arms embargo on the Burmese military junta, impose sanctions on the financial transactions of Burma’s ruling military elite, recognize the genocide being committed against ethnic minorities within Myanmar and hold the ruling military generals accountable for their crimes against humanity.
The petition can be signed electronically by visiting a Web site setup to chronicle the pair’s journey: www.88portland.wordpress.com. Donations, which help the duo pay for their trip, can also be made on the Web site.