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Saturday, June 3, 2006

EXHIBIT OF LIFE UNDER JUNTA

Photog snaps Myanmar images of hope


Staff writer

Photographer Yuzo Uda wants to spread understanding of how people in Myanmar live — with hope for the future and for freedom.

News photo
MEMBERS OF the National League of Democracy keep a vigil outside a hospital in 2003 while democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi was inside. PHOTO COURTESY OF YUZO UDA

Uda will show photographs he took in the country at the exhibition "Burmese People Living under Military Rule and Human Rights Abuses," which runs from Monday to June 10 at Gallery Sengawa in Chofu, western Tokyo.

Uda, who has received awards from the Japan Congress of Journalists and Peace & Cooperative Journalist Fund of Japan, shows rural life in Myanmar, including water buffaloes being worked and street vendors.

"The media focuses too much on the political side of the story," Uda said. "The lives of ordinary people are overlooked too often."

Uda has snapped pictures in other countries during times when they were under military rule, including El Salvador and Guatemala.

The former junior high school teacher said he has been inspired by people's strong desire for freedom under harsh conditions.

Uda has experienced his share of danger, especially in Myanmar. A soldier once acted menacingly when he tried to secretly photograph a dam construction site.

"I was asked to show my identification, but I refused," he said. "The soldier then threatened me with his gun."

Uda said he has also walked through jungles full of land mines.

The junta that seized power in Myanmar in 1988 has severely restricted individual freedoms and has reacted harshly — often with deadly force — to anyone who opposes them.

The junta, headed by Senior Gen. Than Shwe, has been criticized even more recently for extending the years-long house arrest of democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi on May 27.

Uda said the situation in Myanmar has not improved over the last 13 years he has followed events in the country and noted it was essential for the Japanese public to understand this so they can help push for change.

"Than Shwe remains unnoticed from the world. His name should be acknowledged the same way Kim Jong Il and Saddam Hussein are," he said.

However, he said, the Myanmarese are hopeful.

"The extension of house arrest proves that Aung San Suu Kyi is still very influential," Uda said. "She has strong support even in the countryside."

Uda believes his camera is a tool to give strength to the democracy movement.

"Sad photos are easy to take, but that's not enough. I want to add more to that." he said. "I believe in the power of photography."



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