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World must not ignore brutality in Myanmar

She has doleful eyes, not quite what one would expect in a 7-year-old. But there is reason aplenty for this. "L" is my patient, a refugee from Myanmar and scarcely aware, or so I thought, of the catastrophe occurring there.

She is one of the Karen people, an ethnic minority whose brothers and sisters are among the monks and students currently protesting and -- from all reports -- suffering the worst mistreatment under a brutal military regime in the nation formerly known as Burma.

They have arrived in Buffalo afraid but still hopeful, waging new battles against barriers to health care and good education, which are part of many new immigrants' experiences in this country. My task is to communicate, to provide them the best care I can and to listen to their concerns, something they desperately need in every aspect of their journey here.

Through telephonic translation we communicate, at first in a bit of a garble -- phones are only so good at getting a subtle point across -- but then with relative ease, so much so that I feel I can ask about the circumstances at home.

"Tell me how you feel about these protests in Burma," I gently inquire. They look downcast, L is actually starting to cry. Contrary to what I first believed, they all know very well what is transpiring, even my 7-year-old patient.

She says through my translator, "The government is bad and they are hurting people." She is 7, mind you.

I kneel down and give her a big hug. "It's OK, honey. I know."

L's mom is crying, too. She tells me her brother is among those protesting.

"I hope everything turns out all right," I awkwardly offer. She agrees but now wants to leave and I cannot help myself but apologize.

"Thank you for asking," mom says, and I am immediately disarmed.

Whatever else is happening in the world, something absolutely awful is happening in Myanmar right now. A brutal military junta is suppressing a peaceful, gentle, loving people whose only goal is to bring real democracy and freedom to a country that has been deprived of it for far too long.

The Nobel Peace Prize winner and pro-democracy leader, Aung Sung Suu Kyi, has been a virtual hostage in her own land, her life in jeopardy daily and her effort to improve the lot of her people largely unsupported in any material way by Western governments, including our own.

In essence, a new kind of genocide is taking shape in her country, a policy of extermination and repression so severe that there is probably no escape for most of those who will suffer. It is way past time for the West and regional powers like China and India to act to end this situation.

Granted, our resources are stretched thin and certainly there are contrarians, even neo-isolationists, who will argue that we have no business involving ourselves there. But they only need meet the Karen people, my patients, whose lives and whose families' lives have been turned upside down by the generals running Myanmar.

We must make a stand, even if it is difficult, even it it taxes our own capabilities. As in World War II Europe, or Rwanda or Bosnia or now, too, in Darfur, it is exactly the right thing to do. Just ask my patients, even 7-year-old L.

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