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Documentary details city man's torturous past in Burma

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NYC premiere

The premiere of HBO2's “Burma Soldier” is Thursday night in New York City, and Fort Wayne's Myo Myint Cho will be there. The documentary will air 8-9:15 p.m. May 18 on HBO2.
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Myo Myint Cho's story spanning 30 years to air May 18 on HBO2

Wednesday, May 11, 2011 10:10 am
Seated on a woven floor mat in Myo Myint Cho's Fort Wayne living room, a civil war in a small Asian country seems very far away. But the crutch lying next to Myo Myint, his missing arm, fingers and leg, bring it home.There are nights when Myo Myint doesn't sleep, when the memories from his years of torture and solitary confinement leave him wide-eyed in the dark. Burma, renamed Myanmar, is a country that has been in a state of civil war since 1948. Myo Myint has been involved since 1979. The former soldier-turned-political activist will soon be in the public spotlight when HBO2 broadcasts “Burma Soldier,” a documentary of his life. The film is directed by first-time filmmaker Nic Dunlop and documentarians Annie Sundberg and Ricki Stern..

Myo Myint first met documentary photographer Dunlop in 2005, while living in a refugee camp on the Burma/Thailand border and working for the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (Burma). Dunlop wandered into the AAPP office one day and heard Myo Myint's story.

They met again in 2007 when Dunlop proposed doing a documentary film on Myo Myint, but first had to find a producer. Eventually the details were ironed out and three months before Myo Myint left for the U.S. in 2008, they started filming.

When he flew to the U.S., the film crew went with him and showed Myo Myint and his brother being reunited at Fort Wayne International Airport after 19 years. Neither brother was sure he would see the other alive again. His brother had gone into the jungles after the student uprising in 1988 and joined the student army, fighting against the government before eventually making his way to the U.S. The reunion was a happy ending to a story that started nearly 30 years ago.

In 1979 Myo Myint joined the Burmese army. He was put to work as an engineer, mapping where the army placed its landmines. He saw many things that made him question the wisdom of a government bent on enslaving its own people. His career in the army ended on the front lines when a shell landed next to him. His injuries were so severe that he lost half an arm and leg and several fingers on his remaining hand.

Eventually he was discharged from the army and given a small pension. He went to live with his mother and struggled to adjust to his injuries but realized he wanted to help the insurgents. He began collecting books and documents about the history of Burma from before the totalitarian regime took over. This was something strictly forbidden by the government, but he continued and started a lending library to educate others.

He reached out to other political activists and was caught up in the 1988 student demonstrations. He supported Aung San Suu Kyi and her National League for Democracy party.

His connections and outspokenness landed him in prison three times for a total of 15 years. He was first detained for a month in July 7, 1989. He was arrested again Aug. 8, 1989, and sentenced to 10 years with hard labor before being released Jan. 21, 1997. But he was rearrested Feb. 23, 1997. He was then sentenced to another seven years of hard labor.

The government tried three times to get him to sign a statement saying he would stop his political activities. They offered him money to start his own small business. But he wouldn't do it.

Conditions in the prison were horrible. For the first 10 years prisoners were not allowed to read or write; if they were caught with reading material they were punished. Myo Myint lived with four men in a 5-by-12-foot cell. After 9 p.m. they had to go to sleep or would be punished, which meant solitary confinement in a pitch-black cell. Every day in solitary, prisoners would be beaten and tortured.

“I got the prison punishment many times, sometimes for one month, sometimes for 20 days, sometimes two months, and sometime three months,” Myo Myint said.

He had a total of 4 1/2 years in solitary confinement. To survive he would meditate, sometimes six hours a day. He told himself if he lost his mind his torturers would win. When he was released from prison May 6, 2004, he left Burma for Thailand. By using his old army ID and wearing part of his old army uniform, he got through the military checkpoints and over the Thai/Burma border. It was shortly after his arrival there that he met Dunlop.

The documentary is narrated by actor Colin Farrell, and contains footage that Dunlop shot while going over the border into Burma with rebel forces. The film shows the devastation and inhumanity of civilians caught between the armies on the front lines. There is footage from Fort Wayne of Myo Myint's new home in America, and his family. It gives a historical explanation of what has occurred in Burma since 1948, partly told through the eyes of this one Burma soldier. The movie has already been released via the Internet in 120 nations.

Myo Myint said he continues to fight for the people of Burma, for the 2,073 political prisoners still imprisoned there. He is a voice on Radio Free Asia. He edits three magazines that are read in Asia and one that is sold in Fort Wayne. He also is co-producer of Golden Moon TV, which is designed for the refugees in Fort Wayne and broadcast on the public-access channel, Comcast Channel 55 and Frontier FiOS Channel 25.

Every month, from his meager $600 budget he sends $50 back to help the families of the political prisoners.

“Indiana is my home, but Burma is my native land,” he said.

More Information

NYC premiere

The premiere of HBO2's “Burma Soldier” is Thursday night in New York City, and Fort Wayne's Myo Myint Cho will be there. The documentary will air 8-9:15 p.m. May 18 on HBO2.


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