Letters: The Karen

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The Karen fought for our freedom. Now we should fight for them

Sir: The modern roots of the present horror that is Burma (reports, letter, 26 till 30 July) stem from the Second World War, the colonial administration at the independence negotiations and the 1947 government, led by Clement Attlee.

In the war, Aung San Suu Kyi's father, Aung San, and others, betrayed Britain and the Allies, left Burma to be trained by the Japanese and returned to train others to fight for the Japanese. But later, when it became clear the Allies would win, Aung San and companions changed sides again.

After the Japanese invaded Burma in 1942, and Britain and the Allies retreated, only a few ethnic groups remained loyal. These were mainly the Karen, Kachin, Karenni and Chin. The Karen volunteered, formed levies and held the Japanese back, saving countless lives as the soldiers of Britain and the Allies retreated.

The Karen, men, women and children, were hunted, tortured and slaughtered by the Japanese for their loyalty. But they held out, sending intelligence to the Allies that helped them retake Burma. And their levies continued to harry the Japan-ese to give the Allies valuable time to mount their operations. It is unlikely that we would have been as successful had it not been for the Karen levies.

After the war, the Karen asked for, and were promised, protection. They also asked for their homelands to be made into a State which other ethnic groups already had in Burma. This was betrayed by the colonial administration and Prime Minister Attlee in 1947. During the negotiations for independence the Karen were not even fully represented.

Those who had fought for the Japanese became the new independent government and shortly after opened fire on the Karen, their lands and their churches. The Karen had to defend themselves from this then, and more than 60 years later, are still having to defend themselves. The term "rebels" is incorrect. Resistance fighters would be a more accurate term.

The Karen fought for the freedom of the world, and now we should fight for them. Military protection and other aid is needed now.



No more errors with foot-and-mouth

Sir: In 2001, when we had the worst outbreak of foot-and-mouth in the UK's history, Downing Street flew in the world's leading authority on the disease from the US. He was Professor Fred Brown, who has since died.

Professor Brown immediately recommended to Tony Blair and Downing Street that they should immunise the British animal stock immediately. He returned home, and Mr Blair took no notice of the world's leading authority's recommendation.

After six months, the debacle of the foot-and-mouth epidemic became all too apparent, a clear case of negligence in not taking on board the best advice in the world at the time. Indeed, the beef industry and nation's international reputation suffered immensely.

Let us hope Gordon Brown has more sense and acts in a way which should have been the case in 2001, immunisation of our cattle. It is the only answer if history is not to be repeated.



Sir: The last outbreak of foot-and-mouth, with cattle piled in funeral pyres all over the country, cost Britain billions, including many millions lost in the tourist industry. Had the animals been vaccinated instead, the farmers would have lost money but the country would have been better off, because fewer tourists would have stayed away.

But it is difficult to stand up to farmers, in Britain as in France. Every decision has to be taken in their interests, whether it's subsidies or mass slaughter. Is there any chance that this time the national interest may prevail over that of the farmers?



Sir: During this foot-and-mouth outbreak, the Countryside Alliance is being quoted all over the media, as if it is the organisation that speaks for the countryside and those who live and work in it. The Countryside Alliance is an organisation that was formerly called the British Field Sports Society; it has one aim, to repeal the ban on chasing and killing wild animals for fun.

Its supposed interest in other issues began only when the barbaric "sport" of hunting with dogs was threatened, then made illegal. Any media outpourings from its PR machine on other matters, such as foot-and-mouth, are designed to try to create a veneer of respectability for what is a one-issue organisation dedicated to an agenda rejected by most decent-minded people, urban and rural.



Sir: The strain of foot-and-mouth virus identified on the Surrey farm is (we are told) not one previously detected in animals. But it is identical to one used for vaccines and testing at the Pirbright Laboratory, just three miles from the stricken farm, and at the nearby Institute of Animal Health.

Ministers insist that it is too early to draw any conclusions. We also hear that this strain was tested at about the same time as the outbreak occurred. Still, ministers feel it is too soon to make a connection.

I suspect ministers already have made the connection; that they now are considering how best to protect the reputations of "important" people and minimise the political damage; that they are, in short, playing for time.



The civilian toll of Operation Banner

Sir: Most reports on the British Army's Operation Banner (article, 31 July) give the exact number of British soldiers killed but don't include the number of Irish citizens killed by British forces either directly or as a result of collusion. In both cases, more than 80 per cent were unarmed civilians.

Similarly, the name of the first soldier killed in 1971 is given but not a mention of even one of the names of any of the five unarmed civilians killed by the British Army before then. Is the life of a British soldier still more important than that of an unarmed Irish civilian?

Incidentally, the first British soldier killed in the Troubles was Hugh McCabe, a 20-year-old from Divis Flats in Belfast who was home on leave when he was shot dead by the RUC who machine-gunned the Divis on 15 August 1969, one of the many killings by the RUC that led to Operation Banner.



Nuclear weapons block Russia talks

Sir: Colin Brown's excellent article ("MPs demand debate on 'Son of Star Wars' base in Yorkshire dales", 3 August) was marred by one omission from his overview of the US military presence in the UK. In addition to "key US combat air units including F-15 fighter jets", USAF Lakenheath in Suffolk also hosts 110 (estimated) US nuclear weapons.

While it remains Nato and UK policy to neither confirm nor deny the presence of nuclear weapons at a given location, this cloak of invisibility is wearing a bit thin 18 years after the end of the Cold War.

The refusal of the Bush administration to discuss the removal of several hundred nuclear warheads from Europe (or for the British and five other European governments affected, to assert their national sovereignty and politely ask for them to be removed) is both an impediment to redefining Nato's role in the 21st century and a block to engaging Russia in talks to eliminate its much larger stockpile of nuclear warheads.



Don't send arms, send aid

Sir: Living out at the end of the galaxy, in Seattle, it is just today (3 August) that Mark Steel was able to reach us with his outstanding column (Comment, 1 August), reheadlined "More Weapons the Answer to Everything", here in the Seattle Post- Intelligencer.

I am going to keep this column, and read it to get my blood boiling when I get a chance to talk to people in our government who like to use as an excuse to avoid funding humanitarian aid (as Bono says, this is not about charity, this is about justice).

If we can afford $50bn for more arms for the Middle East, I simply cannot understand why we cannot afford to fund our share of the Global Fund to fight Aids, TB, and malaria.

It could be that the poorest citizens in the world will not provide cash to members of the US Congress. But the merchants of death will shower them with it.



Police must answer for Menezes killing

Sir: You make a strenuous defence of Andy Hayman in your leading article "Police: unanswered questions", (3 August). In my view, this is misplaced; both Andy Hayman and Sir Ian Blair should go. But let that pass.

My concern is that we have heard nothing further about those police officers who actually killed Jean Charles de Menezes. As I remember, armed officers of the Metropolitan Police made clear shortly after the incident that they would lay down arms and refuse to go on duty if their colleagues were prosecuted, as clear a case of any that I have heard of blackmail of the judiciary, a situation quite unacceptable in a democracy.

Since the killing itself, it has become ever clearer that there are only three ways that such a dreadful situation could have occurred: either the armed police panicked for their own lives and/or those of the passengers in the tube train; or, they were imbued with a "gung-ho" spirit that told them they could do anything they liked, including the killing of a possibly innocent man; or, a shoot-to-kill policy had already been set by the upper echelons of the Met.

In the first two possible reasons, the officers involved should have been charged with unlawful killing. They do have a difficult and dangerous job, and there would certainly have been mitigating circumstances. In the third case, Sir Ian Blair and Andy Hayman (and, possibly, Commander Cressida Dick) should sit in the dock with them.

Whatever the final outcome of the "blame-game", you are absolutely right in your conclusion that many questions remain to be answered.



Nothing was naff about the Sixties

Sir: You must have been talking to the wrong people: your article ("1967 The summer of naff", 3 August) sounds more like 1957. My crowd in the 1960s hated The Seekers, Englebert Humper-dinck, Tom Jones etc. The best double A-side of the time was "Let's Spend the Night together"/"Ruby Tuesday", and the Stones were much cooler than the Beatles. The Animals were hot favourites, too.

Yes, we wore mini-skirts, kinky boots, false eyelashes and pancake make-up, but we had all discovered the pill, and every weekend there were parties. The breathalyser was just coming in, but I can't remember it slowing our awesome beer consumption.

The films I remember most were Alfie and Blow-Up, and The Man from Uncle and Rowan and Martin's Laugh-in were our favourite TV programmes.

It was a great time to be young.



Briefly... Primed for birthday

Sir: On the day I am 47, I am interested to read that Irvine Welsh prefers the even birthdays to the odd ("The 5-Minute Interview", 2 August). It's the prime numbers I don't like, so roll on 48.



Signal failure

Sir: May I add a further detail to Andrew Roberts' description of trafficator tribulations (Motoring, 31 July)? A driver or passenger would occasionally alight from a vehicle before the indicator had been cancelled. The resulting bodily impact with the extended trafficator arm was rarely sufficient to snap it off completely, but generally enough to leave it cracked, bent and inoperable. That meant hand signals. Sadly, it seems some of today's motorists resort to hand signals with far less provocation.



Green Goddesses gone

Sir: It is impossible to master the kind of weather which we have suffered in recent weeks, but if the Ministry of Defence had not sold 350 Army "Green Goddess" fire appliances a year ago for less than £1m, the engines would have been brought out of mothball to help. They have a high-capacity pump which can move up to 1,000 gallons of water per minute.



Another polar challenge

Sir: One good side-effect of President Vladimir Putin's polar land grab (report, 2 August) is that it is in Washington's interest to acknowledge the International Court of Justice, which it has refused to acknowledge so far, because that is the only forum to resolve this dispute.



Withering response

Sir: I'm pleased that your contributor, Paul Crichton (Reader Review, 25 July), enjoyed Naruse's Late Chrysanthemums at the BFI, where this month's Naruse season has been regularly selling out to a devoted audience. But the still photo shown could not be from this film. The backstage kabuki scene places the picture in Mizoguchi's Story of Late Chrysanthemums (1939).



A rum do

Sir: Rob Dakin talks of strong drinks (letter, 3 August). In Trinidad, some puncheon rums are 150 proof, 75 per cent alcohol. The rum has interesting effects. It starts evaporating in the mouth, it lowers the voice by octaves, and ignites easily on a Christmas pudding, producing a tall cone of blue flame that merely leans when attempts are made to blow it out



Medical short cut

Sir: All doctors and nurses, whatever their linguistic shortcomings, have no difficulties pronouncing Clostridium Difficile, (letter, 3 August) because it is always referred to as C Diff, which is universally understood.