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US Campaign Hopes Celebrities Can Help Burma


A new campaign to highlight human rights abuses in Burma has been launched as the detained opposition leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, marks her 62nd birthday. The campaign hopes to use celebrity power to press for political reform. Ron Corben reports from Bangkok.

The new campaign to bring global attention to Burma's human rights record - especially in the east of the country - is launched by the United States Campaign for Burma.

It aims to copy the success of agencies such as the United Nations in using the pulling power of celebrities, says Jeremy Woodrum, director of the Washington-based campaign.

"The most important thing that we can do is to wake up the world to what's going on. There's a lot of power in this world, not only in Hollywood - elsewhere too - in New York City, all across Europe, across Africa, Latin America," said Woodrum. "We have to tell the story about what's going on in Burma and in eastern Burma in a way that people can understand."

The campaign took Eric Szmanda, an actor from the award- winning CBS TV series Crime Scene Investigation, to the border between Burma and Thailand to see the camps and clinics that house and assist more than 120,000 refugees. He says that more needs to be done to address the problems.

"There's an obligation on behalf of the artistic community to use their power and position to convey how serious the crisis in Burma is," he said. "Sometimes it takes celebrity to initiate change in government and to appeal to the compassion of people around the world to not give up on fellow man."

Szmanda said he had seen pictures of the Burmese opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi in many places he visited.

"Her image is so present everywhere you go, everywhere I've been along the border and in the camps," he said. "She is a symbol of hope and strength, not just to the people of Burma, but to anybody who knows what it's like to suffer any type of human rights violation or oppression."

People around the world are gathering to mark Aung San Suu Kyi's birthday on June 19. More than 300 events are scheduled in the United States alone.

Aung San Suu Kyi, daughter of Burma's independence hero Aung San, was just two years old when her father was assassinated. Her National League for Democracy won a landslide victory in elections in 1990. But she was under house arrest from July 1989, and has been detained for more than 11 of the past 18 years.

The current military government has been in power in Burma since 1988. It has promised to hold general elections once a national constitution is complete. But it continues to ignore domestic and international pressure to release Aung San Suu Kyi.