Monday, 19 May 2008

Children of Burma junta studying here

By Harriet Alexander Higher Education Reporter

CHILDREN of some of the most senior members of the Burmese regime are studying at Australian universities, local Burmese say.

They include the son and daughter-in-law of a minister, whose names are on a list of banned figures, and the son of a colonel in the Burmese military.

The former foreign affairs minister, Alexander Downer, said it was "likely that some elements of the regime would have children studying here".

The junta has aroused international disgust by blocking foreign aid after the devastation of Cyclone Nargis this month.

Last October, the federal government and the Reserve Bank placed financial sanctions on 418 members and supporters of the regime, including military officers, MPs, former commanders and their families.

A former University of NSW student - who did not want to be named for fear of reprisals against his family in Burma - said one woman on the list, Wei Wei Lay, graduated in engineering in the early 2000s and had since become a permanent resident in Australia.

Her husband, Aung Myat Soe, who is also known as Kyaw Myat Soe and is the son of Burma's minister for national planning and economic development, was doing a masters of engineering at the university, the former student said.

Universities are prevented under privacy laws from commenting on their students and the University of NSW declined to confirm or deny whether it had a record of the students.

It said: "A person's suitability to be granted entry to, or residency in, Australia is a matter for the Government and the Department of Immigration. The university's responsibility is to comply with all relevant government legislation and regulations. The university has a totally objective system for accepting students, which is based on the student's academic merit."

A spokesman for the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade said the Government was aware that two people on the financial sanctions list were living in Australia and had been since before the sanctions were imposed.

Neither of the students could be located by the Herald and it is not known if they have changed or anglicised their names. But the name "Kyaw Soe" is listed on an online database as a candidate in the university's telecommunications masters course and due to graduate at the end of this year.

The son of a Burmese colonel is also studying in Sydney. His uncle, a psychiatrist living in Carlingford, confirmed that his brother's son was studying at Central Queensland University's Sydney campus.

But the colonel's brother, Raymond Tint Way - who is a pro-democracy advocate and organiser of Concerned Burmese Physicians and Professionals - said there were many children in Australian universities whose parents were more senior than his brother, who was only a soldier and not a member of the elite group.

Kyaw Myint Malia of the Burmese Friendship Association said local Burmese were aware that the children of several junta members were studying at universities, but many of them changed their names and background details before applying for their student visas.

The website Burma Dictator Watch says the youngest daughter of one of the regime's most senior military commanders is also studying at a Sydney university.

Thomas Tunra, a democracy activist, said local Burmese believed Major-General Tin Hla had been in Sydney about six months ago, but he did not know whether his daughter had been enrolled at a university at that time.

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