By BELINDA SCOTT
COFFS Harbour's Burmese community are watching events in their homeland this week with their hearts in their mouths.
As thousands of Burmese monks, students and citizens take to the streets in protest against Burma's military dictatorship; their relatives on the Coffs Coast are losing contact with their families.
Sa Myint Swe, who escaped to Coffs Harbour from a refugee camp on the Thai-Burma border in 1996, said yesterday he could no longer contact his mother and sister in Burma. His sister, who had polio, is confined to a wheelchair.
He said telephone and internet access had been cut off as the regime tried to control information flowing out of Burma.
Sa Myint Swe and his wife Nan Khin Win now operate the popular Win's Thai Restaurant in Coffs Harbour and have been leading figures in establishing a Buddhist monastery at Upper Orara.
He has stated publicly his dream is for democracy in Burma.
The former conscripted Burmese soldier and student political activist said yesterday the only hope for regime change in his homeland was if rank and file soldiers defected from the army and sided with the monks and the large mass of very poor Burmese people who wanted a new and democratic government.
He said only the small number of very rich people and the top generals benefited from the current military junta regime and they were often from the same families, while most ordinary soldiers were Buddhists who did not want to kill and who did not favour the generals.
Swe said the latest demonstrations had begun after three peacefully-chanting Buddhist monks had been seized, tied to a street lamp and beaten with guns by soldiers six weeks ago.
He said the monks and Burmese citizens had demanded an apology and given yesterday as the deadline, but instead by yesterday the regime had killed three Buddhist monks and imposed curfews following widespread mass demonstrations.
As well as the apology, the demonstrators are asking for the release of democracy campaigner Aung San Suu Kyi; reduced prices for rice and petrol and for the generals to sit down to eat and talk with the opposition leaders. "We can do nothing from here," he said.
But he said world leaders could put pressure on the generals to sit down and talk.
Sa Myint Swe said he was constantly grateful for the beauty, safety and peace of Coffs Harbour.
There are about 40 Burmese families on the Coffs Coast, most of whom have come here as refugees.