Aung Moe and Amy

When I first met Amy in 1995 she was a 14 years old pretty Anglo-Burmese girl working as a young seamstress in my friend’s garment factory in Thin-gann-gyun, a poor satellite township on the outskirt of Rangoon. 

Tall, slim, waist-length brown haired, and very fair with big blue eyes she stood out among the dark-skinned brown-faced Burmese girls and young women around her on the crowded concrete floor of the garment factory.

According to my friend’s wife who managed the factory Amy was an orphan. Amy’s father was an engineer-seafarer who was killed when the oil tanker he worked for caught fire on the high sea when Amy was only 2 or 3. She lost her mother to a hepatitis epidemic in the late 80s and when I met her she was living with her old Anglo grandma in their big old dilapidated colonial house on a small block of ancestral land not far from the garment factory.

Before she joined the garment factory two of them had to survive on a small income from their little makeshift grocery shop at the gate of their block. But now she had a relatively well-paying decent job and she seemed to be happy working hard at her industrial sewing machine 10 hours a day Monday to Saturday every week.

New Beginning for Poor Burma

By then in mid 1990s Burma was already in full swing into market economy from the age-old socialist system. The military government had completely abandoned Ne Win’s fake Socialism and opened the country wide to Foreign Direct Investment and as a result the richest man of the land then was the licensee and operator of the Pepsi-Cola Bottlers from America.

People were full of hope and my friend a fourth generation Burmese-Chinese was no exception. His well-known family was one of the wealthiest families in Burma even during Ne Win’s despotic Socialist rule. They had many businesses and the main one was tobacco and cheroot business and they employed hundreds all over the country.

Once the country was opened to the outside world they grabbed the opportunity and started a garment factory in Rangoon with the help of a South Korean businessman who already had access to the US market. He brought in raw materials like rolls of fabric, threads, buttons, etc. and took back the finished garments as the exports from Burma to USA.

What my friend’s family had to do was just buy a suitable block of land, build a large-enough factory, import the machinery, hire the labors, and simply start the factory. At less than US 50 cents a day Burmese labor is the cheapest even in the poor SE Asia.

At that time Burma as a poor LDC had unfilled textile quota to US so their business had almost unlimited potential to grow. By mid 1990s they had already employed close to 500 workers almost all females aged under 30 and Amy was one of them.

Back in mid 1990s they could never have foreseen, even in their wildest dreams, the imposing of horrible economic sanctions against Burma by the US led West Bloc within few years time.

I was then working as the middle man between Burmese exporters of prawn meat and Australian importers here in Sydney. Business was good and I was even thinking of involving in other industries. So I ended up frequently in my friend’s factory whenever I had free time from my business while I was in Rangoon. That’s how I met and knew about the tragic story of Amy and her Little Buffalo.

Little Buffalo

My friend and his family teasingly called him Kywe-lay meaning a little water-buffalo. His name was Aung Moe and he was also an orphan like Amy but with a sadder background, my friend told me. 15 years old Aung Moe was a Karen-Burmese from a very poor Burmese village in Nyaung-lay-bin Township a majority Karen region in Pegu Division. 

In that rural region most villages were Karen but dotted here and there were Burmese villages. At the height of Karen-Burmese war Aung Moe’s Burmese father was the leader of their village militia, but he fell in love with a young Karen girl from the neighboring Karen village which was also the mortal-enemy of his village.

They eloped and finally came back and lived among the Burmese who were reluctant to accept a Karen woman among them. The relentless pressure became too much for Aung Moe’s father and he eventually killed himself by swallowing a massive dose of pesticides leaving his heavily pregnant wife in destitute.

The young woman died during the child birth and Aung Moe had to grow up as an orphan at his paternal grand parents’ house. After a traditional four years of Burmese primary education at the village monastery he was given out to my friend’s family through an agent as an indentured child-labor which was and probably still is very common in primitive Burma.

By 1995 he was dark, stout, strong, and stubborn like a water buffalo, my friend said to me and I agreed after observing him working in the garment factory. But he worked extremely hard for long hours seven days every week for a pittance with free lodging and food and minimal cloths. He worked the heavy jobs like carrying large rolls of fabrics at the garment factory and slept in a tiny shed at the back together with some other male workers.

He wasn’t smart and he wasn’t talkative at all but his weakness was Amy the prettiest girl in his small world. Whenever he had a rare free time he tried to hang around her and attempted to please her like bringing the stuff she needed. While other girls and women working at their industrial sewing machines had to regularly go fetch already-cut fabric and threads and buttons from the stores for their jobs Amy didn’t even need to stand up from her machine as Aung Moe appeared to know exactly when and what Amy needed.

He came running all the time for Amy and every body was aware of it and teased two of them like hell. But Amy was quite strict in dealing with Aung Moe as if she had kept him at an arm length. We could see the one-sided love affair developing with our deep sympathy on the young man. But no one had foreseen the tragedy they both ended up in a few years later because of American sanctions.

Unlikely Public Enemy No.1 of US Congress

Under the immense pressure from the loosely formed coalition of Burmese exiles and human rights organizations the US Congress passed the Customs and Trade Act in 1990 with bipartisan support to isolate the military regime and Burma. The Act allows the President to impose sanctions against Burma but then the President Bush simply refused to do.

In 1995 the 104th Congress passed The Free Burma Act calling for imposition of economic and trade sanctions on Burma. Similar act named The Burma Freedom and Democracy Act was introduced also a year later in 1996. 

Championed by the Secretary of State Madeleine Albright who has had closed personal ties with Burma’s first and only Nobel laureate ASSK the President Clinton issued the Executive Order 13047 banning US investment in Burma on May 20, 1997. Horrible sanctions have begun and soon would be tightened more and more to strangle the destitute people of dirt-poor Burma. (Sometimes I wonder if there were any other Nobel laureate who either naively or ruthlessly called for harsh economic sanctions against his or her own people.)

During almost twenty years the economic and financial sanctions would push the long-suffering people of Burma deeper into abject poverty and starve and kill thousands and thousands of them.

By 1996 I could sense the looming economic and financial catastrophe realizing soon in Burma as I shuttled frequently between Rangoon and Sydney for my business. I didn’t know much about US but here in Sydney I didn’t really like the happenings. Especially the Burmese exiles groups calling and pressuring the politicians and the Australian Government for the sanctions.


Back then in Sydney the relatively small (compared to other ethnic groups like Vietnamese and Filipinos) but considerable Burmese community had two distinctive groups. The first group was well established Anglo-Burmese or Burmese legal residents and the second many young illegal residents who had recently overstayed their tourist visa and student visas and other class of temporary visas.

The majority of the first group stayed well away from the politics and troubles back home while the minority with a grudge to settle with the military Government in Burma started an active campaign. My uncle living in Canberra was one of them rebels. And they attracted the young Burmese Overstayers who saw the rare opportunity to convert their illegal status to a legal one.

Their hope was the welcoming precedence of Australian Government reluctantly granting Permanent Resident Visas to 20,000 passport-burning overstaying young Chinese students after the June 1989 Tiananmen Square Protests and subsequent massacre back in China. So the Burmese here in Australia formed many political groupings and started protesting all over the place mainly in front of the Burmese Embassy in Yarralumla, Canberra.

Like the photos of Chinese students burning their Chinese passports in front of Chinese Consulate in Surry Hill, Sydney were the best convincing evidence to grant them the PR status many young Burmese soon participated in the embassy protests and took photos of themselves with embassy background as part of their applications for political asylum in Australia.


By 1990 Australian Immigration started issuing the PR Visas to the so-called Burmese dissidents and as soon as the news reached back Rangoon the lines for Tourist Visa at Australian Embassy on the Strand Road were getting longer and longer every day. The Visa racket was on and it was quite simple.

Get the Tourist Visa, buy the return ticket to Sydney, join one of the many so-called dissident groups, go shout anti-Government slogans at the Burmese Embassy in Canberra, take some photos there, and immediately apply political asylum well before the three months stay expired. The icing on the cake was reclaiming the unused leg of the return ticket within one year of arrival as the PR was granted.

Australian citizenship is one of the most desirables for mere mortals of this world. Collectively the Aussies are the biggest landowner on the earth with limited land supply. And the land in Australia girthed by sea is rich and bountiful. Just by simply scooping the earth and selling the raw dirt to China Aussies need not even work.

Australia is the only country with the so-called Baby Bonus in the whole wide world. Any Aussie woman or girl can get about ten thousand dollars for simply having a baby. One can’t be blame for wanting to become Australian citizen. But there is a long and hard process to become one. Even the English from the old motherland are now having trouble being granted the coveted PR status.

Thus, so many Burmese happily stuck in while the pot of gold was open and the Visa Mills were working overtime. I still remember one particular case of Burmese Visa Mill in Sydney. A young Burmese illegal had established a dissident organization called All Burmese Democratic League or something like that just to gain PR for himself and his whole clan back in Burma.

With two or three well-established Burmese doctors as the patrons he legally established his short-lived ABDL as a non-profit organization and actively organized rowdy protests in front of prominent Sydney Town Hall and violent demonstrations in front of Burmese Embassy in canberra. Within two years he not only gained his PR the forty odd members of his clan brought in as tourists from Burma also gained the much coveted PR status.

The rumor among the Burmese then was that the massive expense of airfares and other travelling costs in bringing his whole clan were appropriated out of the thousands and thousands of dollars the Australian Government had granted his organization for political purposes.

That so-called All Burma Democratic League finally collapsed and completely disappeared  after they started running a criminal Visa racket selling their sponsorships to any Burmese with A$10,000 to pay for their service, and as a  result they were investigated by the Australian authorities.


I myself had taken the advantage of that shot-lived window of opportunity. I managed to bring my kid brother to Sydney in 1992. But, by then the Australian Immigration has almost closed off the free ride taken by the Burmese and the Rangoon Embassy has just stopped issuing the tourist visa to Burmese passport holders.

To get the Australian Tourist Visa for my kid brother I had to spend thousands of dollars going back to Rangoon and persuading the Australian Visa Councilor to issue one for him. As soon as he arrived in Sydney he followed the well-established process of the Visa Mills for applying the political asylum and was granted a refugee visa within three months of his arrival.

But now at 20,000 A$ deposit as a bond the Australian tourist visa for Burmese nationals is the most expensive tourist visa in the world. Australian government has learnt the lesson very well after reluctantly granting thousands and thousands of so-called Burmese refugees the coveted Australian Citizenship.

And the same Australian Government, under the immense pressure from the coalition of Trade Unions and Burmese Exiles and so-called Burmese dissident groups, also followed their Sheriff USA and imposed strict financial and economic sanctions against Burma.

The writing on the wall is very clear and most foreign business relying on the exports to the biggest market in the world USA were preparing for the worst and ready to get out of Burma.

And the exodus of foreign companies especially of the West Bloc from Burma was started by the sudden withdrawal of Pepsi-Cola in May 1997.

Burma Boycott & Shocking Pressure on Pepsi-Cola

It would be hard to explain the beginning of the economic sanctions against Burma without the particularly shocking case of Pepsi-Cola’s withdrawal from Burma in 1997. This edited extracts from Burma Boycott Quarterly; Summer 1997 by Reid Cooper is self explanatory about the enormous pressure being applied on the Pepsi back then to abandon its much profitable operation in Burma.

“On November 22, 1991, a Pepsi bottling plant in Rangoon formally opened. The plant was joint venture between Pepsi Co. and Thein Htun’s Pepsi-Cola Products Myanmar. Thein Htun had built his business carrier on being a representative for foreign firms in Burma, developing a reputation as a SLORC (military junta) businessman.  

In the West, however, Burma activists were concentrating their efforts on oil companies like Texaco, Amoco, and Petro-Canada. Their attention elsewhere, these activists outside Asia left the PepsiCo issue on the backburner if they were aware at all. But Petrol-Canada pulled out of Burma in late 1992, Burma activists in Canada, working in consultation with handful of US based activists, turns their attention to PepsiCo.

Meanwhile, socially responsible investors at such organizations as Franklin Research Development were pressuring PepsiCo to leave Burma. Dialogue between shareholders and management started in 1992, with PepsiCo producing its first report on its Burma operation in 1993. Political pressure on companies like PepsiCo to leave Burma grew with Burma Boycott.

But the real explosion in PepsiCo/Burma Boycott came with the creation in 1995 of the Free Burma Coalition (FBC) founded by the University of Wisconsin based Zar Ni. Making more effective use of the Internet as an organizing tool, the FBC began to coordinate national and international actions to raise awareness of various Burma Boycotts.

In particular, FBC groups across USA and Canada began a concerted effort to stop PepsiCo from getting exclusive marketing deals on their campuses. One key victory for FBC was Harvard. On April 8, 1996, students there succeeded in blocking a $1 million contract when they raised ethical concerns about PepsiCo’s dealings in Burma.

(Of course there were no representation for the poor people of Burma and their hopes on the economic reforms while the exile industry led by the likes of Zar Ni had twisted the actual facts and dishonestly presented to the North American Universities.)

The students’ campaign generated headlines in such places as the Washington Post, which increased PepsiCo shareholders’ concerns. Shaken, the PepsiCo responded with a paper-shuffle by announcing on April 24, 1996, that it was selling its interest in its Burmese operations to its partner, turning them into a franchise.

Aung San Su Kyi, Burma’s opposition leader, responded by saying ‘As far as we are concerned, Pepsi has not divested from Burma.’

In late 1996, the PepsiCo/Burma Boycott picked up momentum in the UK when Third World First, an organization with chapters at 40% of British universities, made the Pepsi Boycott a major campaign. Now PepsiCo would soon be facing in Europe a repeat of its disasters at North American campuses.

PepsiCo then made the decision to cut all ties to Burma by May 31, 1997. It is a significant achievement for Burma’s democracy movement. A major Western corporation has promised, after much resistance, to leave Burma.

The PepsiCo cited ‘the spirit of current US Government policy’ for its departure, rather than follow the example of Levi Strauss and Liz Claiborne and admit that it had erred in entering Burma in the first place.” 

Once Pepsi has left Burma for good in late 1997 the exit door for Direct Foreign Investors’ was wide opened and the textile industry in Rangoon was basically shut down within a year as all the South Korean and Taiwanese investors slowly went back home.

Closure of Garment Factory

According to the official presentation by Myanmar Garments Manufacturers Association to the Regional Textile and Clothing Trade Conference in Shanghai in April 2007, the number of garment factories in Burma declined from 291 in their peak year 1999 to just 142 in 2004. Sanctions have almost killed off the textile industry overnight and my friend’s garment factory was one of the casualties.

First they were forced to lay off most of the young and relatively inexperienced workers like Amy in 1999 and later they had to shut the whole factory down as they couldn’t find an export market for their finished garments. And also the domestic construction was booming and his family basically switched their considerable resources to forming a building construction company. They even sold the garment machineries and later subdivided the factory land and sold them off as individual housing blocks.

Aung Moe as an indentured-labor didn’t really lose the job but he was shifted to their construction company and became a builder-laborer in one of their worksites. I’d lost contact with my friend after my business also was suddenly stopped due to my unfortunate involvement with the Burmese Military Intelligent Service and their arms and heroin trafficking in late 1990s. (The Scourge of Burma – Part 6 & Final)

Then in 2002 I read about Aung Moe in a popular Burmese crime magazine in a Burmese restaurant in Sydney’s inner west suburb of Strathfield. The short story described Aung Moe’s stabbing murder case as a crime of passion. He basically killed a foreign businessman from South Korea or Taiwan, I couldn’t recall now, in the fight following an altercation outside a karaoke bar in Rangoon’s notorious entertainment strip at the Theingyi Bazzar on the Signal Pagoda Road.

The story shockingly added that a young Anglo-Burmese escort named Amy who was with the murdered businessman was also injured in the fight. As soon as I got back home from the restaurant I called my friend’s house in Rangoon’s Golden Valley. This was roughly what happened to Aung Moe and Amy, according to my friend.

Amy’s fall into Darkness

After losing her job from the garment factory Amy became a dancing girl in one of the new tourist hotels. Many hotels large and small catering for the rapidly increasing number of tourists are sprouting like mushrooms all over Rangoon and the industry employs attractions of female kind like Amy for mainly male tourists and visiting foreign businessmen.

Traditionally Burmese women are not the type visiting clubs and pubs and hotels looking for one night stands so these hotels had to employ many attractive women and girls as the dancing partners for the visitors. So Amy became one of the dancing girls and from there it didn’t take long to fall into the next level of darkness in the sex chain given the amount of money involved in the sex trade.

Within two years she became an expensive escort providing services to the visitors either tourists or businessmen. Had she still been employed in the garment factory she would not have gone down that way, my friend reckoned.

Aung Moe’s Agony

Even though Amy didn’t care about him no more our stubborn Aung Moe couldn’t let go   her from his dream which was slowly turning into a nightmare. Whenever he had a rare free time he would try to steal a glimpse of Amy at whatever hotel or club she was working. And according to my friend the young man had been behaving as if he was permanently depressed.

And finally the ticking time bomb inside Aung Moe’s young head just exploded in one night in early 2002. Late at that night he saw Amy with a foreigner coming out of the karaoke bar and he snapped and tried to kill her as if he was going to save Amy from her sinking life. He had a knife on him. The foreigner intervened and Aung Moe stabbed him in the chest and killed him on the spot. He then tried to harm Amy but managed to only injure her.

Aung Moe and Amy in Hell

Aung Moe's Crime Scene in Rangoon?
Aung Moe was arrested at the scene and charged with first degree murder. Had he killed a Burmese national in his rage he would have been charged with lesser manslaughter. But in new Capitalist Burma harming a foreign businessman from a friendly Asian country was a serious crime and accordingly Aung Moe was treated harshly by the law. He was quickly prosecuted and sentenced to death by hanging.

Almost at the same time Amy knew of her death sentence while she was being treated for the knife wounds from Aung Moe’s desperate attempt to kill her. She was HIV positive. The AIDS epidemic rapidly spreading and killing thousands and thousands of men, women, and children in Burma had got her eventually. According to WHO statistics, one in every three sex workers in sanctions-wrecked Burma is now infected with HIV virus.

Shift to the Right: From Socialism to Crony Capitalism

As a legacy of late General Aung San (ironically the founding father of modern Burmese Army and the biological father of that Army’s nemesis ASSK) and under the thumbs of his left-wing extreme-nationalist comrades Burma had been on the 40 years long Socialist Road to Ruin since the British left Burma and her people to their own devices in 1948.

To save Burma and her people the Socialism and the left-wingers from the society are to be totally routed from Burma and that’s what the ruling military junta has been doing since 1989.

The Section 35 of the 2008 Constitution of Burma enshrined Capitalism by rigidly stating that “The economic system of the Union is market economy system.” The Section 36-C even stated that “The Union shall not nationalize economic enterprises.” and the 36-D guarantee that “The Union shall not demonetize the currency legally in circulation.”

No other constitution has such a watertight guarantee of Capitalism and free markets, except the new Burmese Constitution.

People of Burma especially the military had learnt their bitter lessons dearly from the economic collapses brought upon by the rampant nationalizations and wanton demonetizations during both U Nu and Ne Win eras. And they will never go back to the left whether it is Socialist or Communist or even a popular Social Democratic one.

But thanks to the selfish or naive Burmese Exiles and their so-called dissident media or Donor Stooges like Irrawaddy and DVB funded by the likes of Soros and NED the rest of the world especially the Western Bloc did not see the significant about-turn in Burma and ruthlessly imposed devastating financial and economic sanctions against the long-suffering destitute people of Burma.

Even Zar Ni and his FBC have already abandoned their pro-sanctions stance and now they have this comment by Dr. Khin Zaw Win, a former political prisoner, displayed prominently on their website, “For 26 years Myanmar experienced impoverishment in the name of Socialism; it now appears there is to be impoverishment in the name of democracy, (thanks in part to the misguided Western sanctions against our country).”

Sanctions have definitely impoverished the people of Burma and indirectly been killing many thousands of them since 1997.

Aung Moe’s Ending 

Justice is swift and brutal in a primitive place like Burma where humans have very few rights and criminals have no rights at all. Aung Moe thought he would be hanged soon without realizing that no one has ever been hanged in Burma since late 1988 when the army staged a coup and started more than 20 years long right-wing military dictatorship.

Enormous Insein Gaol in Rangoon.
Although the courts in Burma are still regularly sentencing the criminals committing heinous crimes to death by hanging no one has ever been hanged for decades now. The junta had considered themselves a temporary caretaker Government so not an actual hanging has been allowed during their rule from 1988 till recent transfer of power to the present military-backed civilian Government in April 2011.

But young Aung Moe didn’t know that and he was mad enough not to wait till he is horribly hanged till death. Maybe he had read too many of Yan-aung Maung Maung’s articles about judicial hangings in popular crime magazines. So one night he decided to end his own life. And the stupid boy chose to hang himself.

The rear wall of his tiny cell for the condemned had a small high window almost by the concrete ceiling. It has iron bars and he tied one end of his prison issued thin blanket to a bar and made a crude noose at the other end. He then climbed up to the window, hung on the bars with one hand, then put noose around his neck with other hand, and let himself go.

It might have taken him hours to die as the strangling in the darkness might be horribly slow as his feet nearly touched the cold concrete floor. Anyway they found him dead in the morning. After a post-mortem Aung Moe was buried among the unmarked graves of others hanged and not collected by their next of kin somewhere in the enormous compound of notorious Insein Gaol.

Startling Crows

According to my friend the wardens told him that a rather scary thing did happen during the night Aung Moe took his own life. The resident flock of black crows on the huge banyan tree by the condemned cells and the gallows were strangely restless the whole night. The bloody crows kept on startling off and the condemned were kept awake most of the night.

The crows had confirmed the superstitious belief among the prisoners of notorious Insein Prison. They believed that the crows on the Banyan trees were the reincarnation of the souls of the hanged. In every hanging in the past when the trap drop opened it made a horribly loud noise as the doors hit the concrete walls of the gallows base.

The loud noise always startled the crows on the nearby Banyan tree just outside the 20 foot-high wall squaring the prison as the prisoner dropped and the rope broke his neck clean. And the black crows flew away at once. In that night when Aung Moe was dying the crows somehow seemed to know it without the usual trapdoors noise.

Amy’s Ending 

Amy had no chance to know that Aung Moe had killed himself inside the notorious Insein Gaol in July 2003 the same month and the same year President Bush (Junior) signed the Executive Order 13310 to tighten the existing economic and financial sanctions against Burma. Her old Anglo Grandma didn’t have the heart to tell her Aung Moe’s suicide.

Young Amy also didn’t know the prison myth about the flock of black crows on the Banyan tree in the Insein Prison.

But in the early morning Aung Moe died in Insein, for some strange reason or it was just a rare coincidence, about 10 miles away in Thangangyun the large flock of resident crows living in the lone Banyan tree by Amy’s old dilapidated colonial house also loudly flew away at once as if something or someone had startled them.

Now seriously sick Amy looked up from her bed-side window at the startled black crows and somehow sensed that Aung Moe was gone forever and for the very first time she wept for him, according to her old Anglo grandma.

From that day onward she refused to take her regular pills provided free by a private AIDS charity as if she didn’t want to live no more.

Amy died of severe lung complications due to the AIDS related pulmonary infections six months later. Her body was cheaply cremated at Ye Way Cemetery and her ashes were simply abandoned. Her old Anglo grandma was too poor to pay for sorting out her remains from others before her in the oven.

The successive US Presidents from Clinton to Obama had signed the death warrants of many Aung Moes and Amys of destitute Burma since 1997 by signing various Sanction Acts. Without their devastating sanctions Aung Moe and Amy could have been still alive today.

May the souls of Aung Moe and Amy and other sanctions’ victims rest in peace!