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Burmese refugee taking holiday trip home

Tun Oo

Tun Oo will be home for the holidays – home being Myanmar and its next national holiday being Independence Day on Jan. 4.

The Fort Wayne resident is scheduled to fly today to his homeland, where a new wave of independence is taking root.

“My intention is to meet my colleagues, my friends and my relatives, especially relatives who fight for democracy together inside Burma, to discuss the future,” Tun Oo said in a telephone interview before departing on his three-week trip.

Tun Oo is among a number of Burmese refugees living in Fort Wayne who have visited Myanmar recently or plan to, said Minn Myint Nan Tin, executive director of the local Burmese Advocacy Center.

“Some are for business, some are for family,” Minn Myint Nan Tin said Monday.

She did not have a count but said she, too, wants to obtain a visa to travel to her home country, which she has not seen in 24 years.

“Now is a good political season in Burma,” she said.

In recent years, Myanmar President Thein Sein has replaced military rule with a civilian government. As a result, the U.S. and other nations have relaxed economic sanctions against the Southeast Asian country.

Tun Oo, 55, is a native of Kyaukkyi Township in the south of what was called Burma until 1989. A civil engineer, he won election to the nation’s parliament in 1990 as a candidate of the National League for Democracy party. He fled the same year after the military disavowed the party’s victories and detained its leaders, including Aung San Suu Kyi.

With Aung San Suu Kyi’s first cousin and others, Tun Oo helped set up a paragovernment group, first in Myanmar and then in Thailand. Tun Oo came to Fort Wayne in 1999 as part of an exodus of thousands of political refugees resettled here by Catholic Charities of the Fort Wayne-South Bend Diocese.

Tun Oo, a machinist at metal fabricator Ottenweller Co., was among local Burmese leaders who arranged for Aung San Suu Kyi to speak at Memorial Coliseum on Sept. 25. He plans to meet with the Nobel Peace Prize winner and visit the National League for Democracy headquarters in Yangon during his trip.

Tun Oo said he also will talk with government authorities about prospects for advances in education, health and the economy, particularly in his home township.

Thanks to amnesty that Thein Sein has extended to hundreds of political prisoners, “we can build Burma’s democratic transition easier and faster,” Tun Oo said. “I want to help that transition. … I want to see change over there.”

He is traveling with his wife, a daughter and grandchildren.

Their itinerary includes the wedding of a niece in Mandalay, a former capital.

“This is a pilot trip for my future plan,” Tun Oo said.

Will he return for good someday?

“I hope so.”