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24 Jul 2007 07:19
Star Trek actor Walter Koenig urged fans of the iconic sci-fi series on Tuesday to turn their wrath on Burma’s military junta, an earthly “outpost of tyranny”.
Koenig, who played Chekov and battled Klingons and Romulans as an original member of the Starship Enterprise crew, said he hoped to mobilise Trekkies to join a campaign against the ruling generals blamed for human rights abuses in Burma.
“I can tell people what I experienced, meeting people without limbs, the ex-political prisoners, the squalor, all that I have seen in these brief days,” Koenig (70) told Reuters after visiting a refugee camp on the Thai-Burmese border last week.
Thailand is home to around 140 000 long-term Burmese refugees, the United Nations refugee agency says, but a half million more have been internally displaced by attacks on villages in eastern Burma, home to one of the world’s longest-running civil wars.
The United States has labelled Burma, an outpost of tyranny and imposed economic sanctions, but the junta has avoided total isolation by using its vast natural gas reserves to befriend energy-hungry China and India.
In 1989, the military junta officially changed the English version of its name from Burma to Myanmar. Opposition groups continue to use the name Burma since they do not recognise the legitimacy of the junta.
Koenig, the son of persecuted Russian Jews who fled to the United States at the turn of the century, said the campaign against injustice in Burma would resonate with Star Trek fans.
The original television series was cancelled in the late 1960s after only three seasons, but it developed a strong cult following due partly to themes dealing with social justice, race relations and even Cold War tensions.
“Star Trek fans are very receptive to humanitarian causes.
The stereotype is somebody who is into computers or sits at home and does nothing else,” Koenig said.
“But there is an extraordinary sense of philanthropy and benevolence among people who watch a show in which there is a company of characters who embrace all ethnicities and all races.
“I think they would respond to real world circumstances as well and spread the word,” said Koenig, who plans to write a blog about the trip on his website.
The trip was organised by the US Campaign for Burma, which is taking a page from other human rights campaigns by raising awareness through celebrities.
But the campaign is struggling to attract the same attention as similar efforts for the Darfur region of Sudan, which has drawn the likes of Hollywood big guns George Clooney, Brad Pitt and Matt Damon.
“We feel the world has not woken up to how severe things are in eastern Burma,” said Burma Campaign spokesperson Jeremy Woodrum, whose group accuses the regime of destroying more than 3 000 ethnic Karen villages in eastern Burma, “twice that in Darfur”.
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