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Burmese MJ Story of Return to Myanmar Published in New York Times

A Burmese Master of Journalism graduate has recently returned to his native country, and the New York Times website has published his story describing how it felt to return home after years of exile.

Swe Win on far left

While happy to be home, Swe Win said he remains cautious about the recent and much-noted reforms by the former military regime in the country also known as Myanmar.

“It is symbolically powerful that Aung San Suu Kyi is being allowed to campaign nationwide,” he wrote about the long-imprisoned democracy campaigner. “But as a friend of mine quipped recently, while freedom may have come for her, it has not for the rest of us yet”.

Nobel Peace Prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi is the daughter of the founder of modern-day Burma, General Aung San. As the leader of the opposition National League of Democracy, she is a candidate in parliamentary by-elections this Sunday. The University of Hong Kong awarded her an honorary doctorate earlier this month for her struggle for democracy and human rights in Burma.

Yet, as fighting continues in the country’s troubled northeastern border areas, repressive security laws and reports of murky business deals are reminiscent of a very recent past.

“The fighting peacocks (the symbol of freedom from military rule in Burma) may be on view, but our freedoms are still fragile,” Swe Win concluded.

Swe Win’s participation in a student movement in 1998 led to his arrest for anti-government activities. He went on to spend seven long years in Burma’s notorious Insein and Myingyan prisons.

With a scholarship from the Open Society Foundations, Swe Win enrolled in the JMSC in 2008 under the pseudonym Kyaw Kyaw Thein.

Upon graduation the following year, he first freelanced for the Hong Kong-based online magazine Asia Times, and then started working for the Burmese exile journal The Irrawaddy in Chiangmai, Northern Thailand.

The Irrawaddy is a magazine and news website run by Burmese exile journalists. Through a network of informants inside Burma, it has been informing the world since 1993 about the secretive military junta that has ruled the country since 1962.

The magazine has been combatively upholding its journalistic independence despite pressure by the former military regime, foreign investors and donors.

Last month, Swe Win returned to Rangoon (Yangon), the former Burmese capital, to work for The Irrawaddy as the magazine’s first correspondent there.

He looks back nostalgically on his studies in Hong Kong. “The experience from intensive courses at the JMSC under the guidance of well-experienced teachers and journalists has always served me as an essential tool in my reporting career,” he said.

In addition, the JMSC “gave me an understanding of how to write stories for a global audience.”