They were joined by about 30 foreign volunteers, sporting Aung San Suu Kyi badges, and banners and chanting “Free Free Daw Aung San Suu Kyi.”
“Now we are so worried for our country. Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s release is so important for the national reconciliation of my country,” said Aung Khine, a protest organizer of the Joint Action Committee.
“We are protesting against the unjustified trial by the State Peace and Development Council and showing our solidarity with Daw Aung San Suu Kyi. Mae Sot is a very important place for Burma and by protesting here, we are sending a powerful message to everyone inside.”
The demonstrators began at the bridge gate and moved down to the Moei river bank, marking the border between the two countries.
After a couple of minutes, Thai Border guards directed the protesters away from the river and back to the bridge's gate. Some protestors believed this was to avoid potential disputes between Burmese and Thai authorities.
“If we protest by the river, the Burmese officials working on the bridge can hear our chants. Also all the people from Myawaddy, on the other side can see us,” said one young protestor. “If the Burmese government sees the Thai Authorities allowing the protest to take place, they will make a problem.”
Burmese authorities, dressed in civilian clothes, observed the protest from the bridge.
When the demonstration returned to the bridge gate, Thai police had arrived with video cameras. They allowed the protest to take place for ten minutes more before informing the organizers that it was time to go home.
Volunteers said that the “soft” approach taken by the police was due to the presence of foreigners.
“We made sure that there were as many foreigners here as possible with the hope that the police wouldn’t crack down hard,” said a volunteer from England. “The police could quite easily have rounded up all the Burmese protestors, arrested them and deported them all back to Burma. For most of these guys, going back to Burma would mean time in prison.”
Protesting in and around Mae Sot is heavily disputed amongst the Burmese activist communities. Organizations which have been here for a long time worry that demonstrations will have negative consequences on their work.
“Mae Sot isn’t the right place for protests. We’re too close to Burma here. Things are very fragile. We have all worked really hard over the last 20 years to build an environment which we can work in,” said the manager of a major human rights organization, who works in Mae Sot. “When people make protests it upsets the police and local authorities, and this can disrupt our work and make things very tense.”
This view is heavily criticized by others who feel that some organizations are more concerned with stability than bringing change to Burma.
“A lot of the political organizations worry about security and stability,” said Aung Khine. “Our leader Daw Aung San Suu Kyi is currently under trial which may result in her being imprisoned for five years. Now is not the time to think about security. Now is the time to step up and put serious pressure on the Burmese government.”