Luke Simpkins, a member of Australia’s incumbent Liberal-National Coalition government based in the Western Australian city of Perth, recently made an unauthorized crossing into Burma to attend Karen Resistance Day at the invitation of the Karen National Defense Organization.
Prior to his election, Mr. Simpkins was an officer in the Australian Army, retiring with the rank of Major. In recent years he has raised concerns about Burma’s human rights situation in parliament on more than a dozen occasions, most recently to question the Burmese government’s commitment to political reforms.
The Irrawaddy’s Saw Yan Naing spoke to Mr. Simpkins via email on Thursday to ask about his observations in Karen State and his intentions of raising ongoing human rights abuses in Burma with his government.
Question: What was the purpose of your trip to Burma on Karen Resistance Day?
Answer: I have many Karen in my electorate of Cowan and I have been hearing of this ongoing conflict for many years. It is important to go beyond the usual places that Members of Parliament visit. This visit added to my understanding of the history of the conflict and the causes of it.
Q: What did you learn about the KNU armed struggle?
A: I saw that the Karen people were not weary of their fight for self-determination and a democratic federal system of government.
Q: What made you to travel to the Karen rebel area to show your support?
A: I was invited to go there and I had met Maj-Gen Ner Dah Mya in Canberra before, so I was interested to see how they operated.
Q: After observing the conditions facing the Karen rebels, are there any initiatives that you intend to work on when you are back in Australia?
A: I want to raise the issues of concern to the Karen and ethnic nationalities in order to demonstrate that Burma has a long way to go before it is a really democratic nation. Their military’s use of land mines, rape, murder and brutality cannot be ignored and they should be accountable for their actions.
Q: The Australian government’s position is that Burma is in democratic transition and the Burmese government is endeavoring to make peace with ethnic armed groups, including those associated with the Karen National Union. What is your opinion after observing the situation on the ground?
A: I understand, from those I spoke to, that using “ceasefire” arrangements allows the Burmese Army to advance further into the ethnic states, reinforce their military bases and I even heard the allegation that foreign aid is being used to build roads that facilitate the conduct of military operations.
Q: What issues will you raise with the Australian government now that you have returned to your country?
A: I will raise specific cases of abuse and brutality that have been reported to me and ask the Government to link development assistance to outcomes for a true federal democracy in Burma.