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Burma repression continues despite signs of c -

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Burma repression continues despite signs of change

Zoe Daniel reported this story on Saturday, December 10, 2011 08:21:00

ELIZABETH JACKSON: Despite signs of change in Burma, humanitarian organisations say they're still
battling government restrictions that prevent them from freely helping those who need it.

Here's our South East Asia correspondent Zoe Daniel.

ZOE DANIEL: It's perhaps the most basic symbol of human dignity, to be able to give and receive a
proper send off from the world in the form of a funeral. But here in Burma, it's one of the many
things that's been lost in repression and economic hardship - until now.

"We cremate 45 to 50 bodies every single day" says Kyaw Thu, who was once Burma's most famous movie
star and director. He's won two local academy awards.

Now he's banned from acting by the government because of his humanitarian work. His group's
delivered more than a million free funerals to the poor.

"Our group's not an opposition party or political group but set up to help people" he says.

"Even this kind of group like is not allowed, this is not democracy."

ZOE DANIEL: Opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi says access to the most basic rights and services
for the country's people is a key motivation for bringing democracy to Burma.

AUNG SAN SUU KYI: To help our country to develop its educational and health facilities, which are
the basic needs of all our peoples.

ZOE DANIEL: She discussed it with US secretary of state Hillary Clinton, who made an historic visit
to the country earlier this month.

HILLARY CLINTON: We want to see every child here given the chance for a good education, for the
healthcare that he or she needs.

ZOE DANIEL: Already nongovernment organisations have stepped in. Kyaw Thu's funeral service has now
expanded to include adult education and a library. A free clinic serves hundreds each day; they
line up from dawn to access healthcare.

Yet in common with other NGOs here, the government still restricts the organisation's activities,
refusing to grant official operating permits so staff risk arrest by defying the authorities.

"Under the new government, people think there are many developments and changes," Kyaw Thu tells
me. "But for social workers like us, there is no change at all."

He says he won't act again, even if the ban is lifted. His role now is to give dignity to people -
alive and dead.

In Rangoon this is Zoe Daniel for Saturday AM.