Bath Amnesty rocks Widcombe!

On the night of Saturday 21st March, Bath Amnesty held a fundraising gig at Widcombe School that went down an absolute storm with our local community.

Dancefloor action!

Dancefloor action!

We had an extraordinary number of keen attendees (so much so that we were at risk of running out of seating!) and raised a phenomenal £588.36 to continue our fight for Human Rights.

The night saw performances from the Widcome Choir, Walcot State Choir (both led by the wonderful Su Hart), comedy from Fitz, Joey Cannon and Philip Cooper and a dancefloor-filling set from local rhythm & blues band Big Ten Inch.

Widcombe Choir

Widcombe Choir

Walcot State Choir

Walcot State Choir

Comedian Joey Cannon

Comedian Joey Cannon

Comedian Fitz

Comedian ‘Fitz’

Comedian Philip Cooper

Comedian Philip Cooper

There was a fantastic atmosphere and spirit of generosity throughout the night, with hundreds of raffle tickets and refreshments being sold, plenty of social media engagement on our Facebook, Twitter and Instagram pages, and a whole lot of dancing and fun!

We were excited to be able to show off all this local talent to several of Bath’s prospective parliamentary candidates as well, so thanks go to Steve Bradley, Dominic Tristram, Loraine Morgan-Brinkhurst and Ben Howlett for their support too.

Big Ten Inch

Big Ten Inch

Big Ten Inch

Big Ten Inch

Big Ten Inch

Big Ten Inch

Similarly, thanks must go to the generous local donors who provided our brilliant raffle prizes, which proved incredibly popular on the night! The Theatre Royal Bath, Mr B’s Emporium of Reading Delights, Prior Park Garden Centre, Duchess Beauty, The White Company, Komedia Bath, Topping & Company Booksellers, The Little Theatre Cinema, the Fudge Kitchen, Colonna & Hunter, Nando’s Bath and the lovely Bath Short Story Award Team.

The gig was a roaring success and we look forward to putting on our next one, but in the meantime thank you Bath for coming together to stand for human rights and to support the work of Amnesty International!

Amnesty volunteers Wendy, Sally and Annie

Amnesty volunteers Wendy, Sally and Annie

(Photos kindly taken and provided by Kerrianne Gauld)

Posted in AIUK, Amnesty International, Bath Amnesty, Entertainment, Events, Fundraising Gig, General Amnesty info, Human Rights, Local Talent, Music | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

March 2015 Report

Letterwriting:  We signed 24 letters (there was a typo in the last report) last month and will be signing 26 letters at our AGM on March 10th.  While I was away on the Thai/Burma border, a packet addressed to Amnesty Bath could not be delivered (even though I have a large letterflap) and was eventually sent back and the PO tells me that it was to Russia so the mind boggles wondering what they were sending us!

Burma:  There is little I can add following my report and timelines from the Border.  Further to my mentioning the drug problem please see the full article on www.burmlink.org/systematic-widespread-drug-epidemic-destroying-ethnic-communities-northern-burma and also further to my mentioning the draft laws on religion and marriage there has been a joint statement by Amnesty International and the International Commission of Jurists calling upon the Burmese Government to reject or revise these draft laws.

North KoreaA 60-year-old Reverend of the Light Korean Presbyterian Church in Toronto, Hyeon Soo Lim, was on a regular humanitarian mission to NK at the end of January when he disappeared, and CNN has now confirmed that he is being held there.

NK has praised the man who slashed the face of the US Ambassador to Seoul. NK has said that the attack “is just punishment” for the US military exercises with S. Korea. The attacker is a pro-NK activist who calls for unification and who has been convicted of attacking another ambassador previously.

It was reported in The Times on 27th Feb that a NK shipping company that was once caught trying to smuggle two MIG 21 jets under a mountain of Cuban sugar has renamed 13 of its 14 vessels to try to hide its illicit activities. A UN security council report claims that the Ocean Maritime Management Co, blacklisted by the UN last year, also transferred some ships to new owners to deepen the disguise and continue breaking sanctions.  It accuses the nation of defying security council resolutions “by persisting with its nuclear and ballistic missile programmes”.

Wendy Hughes
Burma & N. Korea Co-Ordinator
9th March, 2015

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Burma: Return to the Borderline

Our Burma & N. Korea co-ordinator Wendy has recently returned from several weeks on the Thai/Burma border and she has been kind enough to write up the following report on the situation in Burma and her experiences out there (as well as a helpful timeline at the end):

WAITING FOR NEARLY 70 YEARS:  the Panglong Agreement was signed by General Aung San (Aung San Suu Kyi’s (ASSK) father) in February, 1947 and was aimed to establish a Federal Union based on the principles of equality and self-determination for ethnic nationality groups, but shortly afterwards he and other key figures were assassinated.  A new Constitution came into being in September, 1947 and full independence from Britain in 1948 but the territorial issue, particularly for the Karen State (the largest ethnic group) was never resolved (their territory has never been owned by Burma). In 1984 the Burmese Army attacked the Karen and 10,000 fled to the Thai border. Burma’s Tiananmen moment was on 8/8/1988 when 3000+ died (more than actual Tiananmen or the Twin Towers) and 10,000 students fled and joined up with the ethnic groups on the border.   It was at this time that the ethnic issue became also a democracy issue. Up to that time the Burmese government claimed that the Karen were a bunch of insurgents and of course the whole subject came to World attention and never more so than when ASSK won the General election of 1990 for the National League for Democracy (NLD) while under house arrest at the time and was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991, collected in 2013.

I BECAME INVOLVED in 1990, when a Karen lady (whose son and daughter had been in the ’88 riots) arranged for a boat across the lake and up the river for me to take supplies of hammocks and boxes of sardines for the 3rd year medical students in Krain Camp outside Sangkhlaburi. In 1995 I travelled around Burma and met one of the NLD MPs who was running a guest house near Inla Lake where he showed me a video of himself being released from prison as white as a sheet and half his body weight.  Myself and other backpackers also marched up and down ASSK’s house in Rangoon but of course were soon moved on.   I am on the FCO list for briefings on Burma from our Government and here I meet the UK’s Burmese community and, through them, I got some work with the Karen Educational Department (KED) in Mae Sot in 2012.

In 2013 Angelique (from Bath Amnesty) and I had interviews with the Mae Tao Clinic, The Border Consortium who feed the refugees, the Aid Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP) and inside Mae La Refugee Camp (follow links to see these posts from 2013) and we also met with Ariana who with others was just setting up Burma Link. I returned last year to visit my friend who is working as a psycho social worker in the small Ban Don Yang remote refugee camp outside Sanghklaburi and where I found out that all the 3rd year medical students I met in 1990 did in fact get out to Western countries within 3 years through the Red Cross and ARC.

WHY ARE TOURISTS VISITING NOW when it has always been available?  If it is for ethical reasons that things have become better, may I enlighten them of the current situation: There are currently 120,000 refugees over 10 (9 plus 1 which the UN does not recognise for some reason) camps on the Thai side of the border and they have come because of armed conflict, human rights abuses at the hands of armed groups, land confiscation for military purposes, land grab for development projects, fear of landmines and forced labour. There are 400,000 internally displaced persons (IDPs) on the Burma side of the border. There is a massive drug issue both in the camps (which causes domestic abuse) as well as throughout the ethnic areas which is very under-reported. In Shan Sate alone, it is said that it would be unheard of not to have at least one family member be a drug addict on either opium or heroin. It is also said that half the youth in Kachin Sate use heroin and 90% of those in the mining areas are on heroin. Suicide and depression is becoming another problem with long-term refugees….hence my friend’s job. It is said that drug production and use increases in conflict areas when the usual crops of rice, corn and tea are either razed or bought compelling the owners to move into the mountains where only the growth of poppies is possible (Afghanistan another case in point).

SINCE MAY 2012 there has been ethnic cleansing of the Rohingya muslims, with 280 dead and 140,000 displaced persons and 200,000 people from Burma living in refugee-like situations in Bangladesh. Even when these people try to leave to get to another Muslim country such as Malaysia or Indonesia, thousands are trafficked by the Thais and treated like slaves so much so and despite the new Thai Military Government’s assurance to address the problem, vigilantes have taken on the job of trying to stop this abuse (reported Bangkok Post). In both the Shan and Kachin States in the NE, the Burmese Army continues to launch attacks on ethnic civilians, killing and torturing innocent villagers, burning and destroying their crops. At least 100,000 Shan, Kachin, Paulang and Lahu have been displaced. In total, then, it is estimated that 2 to 3 million have fled Burma since the 1980s. This past December a 56 year old female peaceful protester for the Letpadaung Copper Mine (50% Military 50% Chinese), where 4 villages have been destroyed with 26 more to go with inadequate compensation, was shot and killed.  Two female teachers of 19 and 20 were raped and killed in January by Burmese Military Battalion 88, Infantry 503 in N Shan State. This month (February 2015) the Burmese Government declared a state of emergency in the Kokang region, killing 100 people and driving tens of thousands over the border into China as reported in The Times and front page of the International New York Times on 19th Feb. There has been increased curtailment of free speech with Bath Amnesty writing protest letters on a monthly basis. E.g. 2 journalists are in prison for 10 years with hard labour for revealing that Burma has a chemical weapons factory, 15 activists in Michaingkan have been imprisoned for peacefully protesting about land confiscation without compensation. Htin Lin Oo has been imprisoned for making a speech at a literary event saying that Buddhism should not be used to promote discrimination and prejudice which was “insulting” to religion…presumably this was with regard to the Rohingya situation. There are currently 82 political prisoners (Burma Campaign says 161) with more than 200 in prison awaiting trial. A new law is about to be passed whereby a Buddhist woman cannot marry outside her faith which of course discriminates against both Muslims and Christians (Karen people are in the main Christian) and limits women’s freedom to choose. If as a tourist you speak to the locals, they are almost certainly to be the majority Burmans and they may refer to changes for THEM but possibly know nothing about the ethnic situation as their media is controlled by the military as the ruling party.

According to International Campaign to Ban Landmines (ICBL) Burma is the only state in the world to have scattered mines every year since 1997 and although 162 nations have, they have not signed the Mine Ban Treaty.  It must be said, however, that some ethnics also plant their own mines in order to keep out the military, but do advise their own villagers where they are.  When I mention ethnic minorities in Burma it should be pointed out that they collectively represent about 32% of the population so I think they should have a voice in matters. The Burma Study Centre in Chiang Mai in Thailand did a small survey of some of the just less than 1,800,000 legal migrants but actual figures could be over 3 million. Responding to the question: Has the situation in Burma improved since 2010 elections? 74.9% said it had improved only slightly or not at all.  To the same question in your village: 55.5% said not at all. Although 84% of those surveyed plan to return to live in Burma, many fear that it would not be safe for them to do so at this time.  Asked:  do you think there will be a nationwide ceasefire? 77.7% said strongly doubtful.

It is not all doom and gloom, and although in the NE and NW as outlined above, things are not so good, in Karen State things have improved with a recent ceasefire (there were still attacks only this last September/October 3 km from where I was) and some villages are being rebuilt. Children are getting an education in the camps and also in Mae Sot by volunteer teachers in some 60 schools, which is most inspiring.

THE FOUNDER & EDITOR OF THE IRRAWADDY  news organisation and winner of numerous international journalism awards and author of 2 books, Aung Zaw, who was imprisoned for his involvement in the 1988 pro-democracy protests, says: “I think the 2010 election was a joke…something happened in 2010 because the Western world was expecting something…The West in return also promised something which was “If you open up, if you change, even if you cheat in the elections, if you take off the uniforms and wear the civilian clothes, we will still come with aid and we will recognise you” and that is exactly what happened…even though we know the election was fixed, the West was happy that at least they had made some concessions like the Myitsone Dam building being suspended (there are 8 more dams) and the release of ASSK, release of some political prisoners (but counted in the numbers were criminals and those who were genuine political prisoners were often rearrested after the figures were published). He goes on to say, “It would be very interesting if the international community and the Western governments who want to believe and romanticise the changes in the country actually had the interest and capacity to listen to the common people in Burma”. This brings me to Burma Link for which I volunteered this winter and which used to be called “Silenced” because they consider this very attitude of the Western world has indeed SILENCED the ethnic minorities. I couldn’t agree more. Their “Agents of Change” workshops aim to create a network of empowered young leaders who can act as role models in their communities and help their community voices to be heard. This supports their overall goal of sharing the voices and stories of Burma’s ethnic nationalities and displaced people.

WHY? to all the above: because all Burma’s natural resources like hydro, teak, copper, gems, gold, poppies etc. are in the eastern fringe throughout the ethnic areas!

Wendy Hughes, Mae Sot on the Borderline, February 2015

BURMA TIMELINE

1824                Burmese try to invade India
1886                Britain conquered entire country starting in 1824 as a result of invasion
1937                Administered as a province of British India until 1937 then separate, self- governing colony
1942 – 44        Burma Independence Army (under Aung San) and Arakan Army fought with Japanese against Britain but in 1945 switched to Allied side
1947                 Panglong Agreement signed
1948                 Independence from Britain and known as Union of Burma as a democracy
1961 – 71        U Thant became the first non-westerner to be Secretary General of UN (with Aung San Suu Kyi as one of the Burmese working under him)
1961                General Ne Win led a coup d’etat that toppled civilian government and military have ruled under various titles ever since (Ne Win for 26 years)
1962, 74, 75, 76, 77 student protests violently suppressed
1988                Widespread pro-democracy demonstrations throughout the country with casualties said to be 3000+ (more than Twin Towers and Tiananmen)
1989                Socialist Republic of Union of Burma becomes Union of Myanmar and, although recognised by UN, not by UK, Canada, US
1990                Aung San Suu Kyi and NLD (National League for Democracy) win first free elections in 30 years, which were annulled. Aung San Suu Kyi held under house arrest or prison off and on from 1989 to 2010.  My visit to Krain Camp
1991                Aung San Suu Kyi wins the Nobel Peace Prize.  Refugees 250,000
1995                I visit Burma, campaign outside ASSK’s house and meet NLD MP
1997                Burma admitted to ASEAN
2007               Saffron Revolution by Monks, students and general population
2008               Cyclone Nargis leaves 138,000 as casualties or missing. New, and still current Constitution point No. 359 permits enslavement
2010                November sham elections in which the military put on civilian clothes and continue to rule. 13 November Aung San Suu Kyi released from house arrest.
2012                I go to Mae Sot and work for the Karen Education Department (KED)
2013                Angelique and I visited Mae Sot and Mae La Refugee Camp, The Border Consortium, the Aid Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP), Mae Tao Clinic (donation from friends and Bath Amnesty members)
2014                I go to Sangklaburi to revisit Karen lady who helped visit the students in 1990 and also to visit my Australian friend working in Ban Don Yang refugee camp for Australian Volunteers International (AVI)
2015                I volunteer for Burma Link and take donations from Bath Amnesty members and friends for them and above organisations.

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February 2015 Report

Letterwriting:  we signed 16 letters last month and will be signing 2 at the next meeting, many thanks to those attending.  Wonderful news is that Dr Tun Aung, the Rohinyga community worker about whom we have been writing for two and half years was freed on 19th January.  Let’s keep writing the letters….

Burma:  the British whistleblower Andy Hall, who raised the issue of the treatment of Burmese workers in a factory in Bangkok has had his sentence lessened.  Embassy staff attend his hearings and the issue has also been raised in the British Parliament.

I have visited the AAPP (Aid Association for Political Prisoners) and advised that currently there are 82  (Burma Campaign says 161) political prisoners in prison and that more than 200 are in prison awaiting trial and we are getting more and more letters from Amnesty about others all the time.   In December a young girl called KHIN WIN was shot dead while peacefully protesting about land takeover with regard to the Letpadaung Copper Mine project and about which we will be signing a letter and there are two other cases about Burma for letter signing too.   On 20th January AI issued a statement about two Kachin girls aged 19 and 20 who were raped and murdered allegedly by Burmese Military Battalion 88, Infantry503 who were in the village that night in N. Shan state and on the same day an attempted rape by members of Battalion 77 also in N. Shan state despite Burma having been the 150th signatory in June 2014 of the Declaration of Commitment to end sexual violence in conflict.  I think it would be fair to say that our Government’s engagement with the Burma military is not working.

In the meantime, I have had a letter from our Foreign Minister Hugo Swire on 8th January giving the usual platitudes that while some of us feel the reforms in Burma have stalled and in some cases reversed, he assures us that our government has raised with the Burmese government not only the appalling situation and human rights abuses with the Rohingya but the recent intimidation, detention and sentencing of reporters and political activists and the ongoing conflict in ethic areas.   Some of us would say, that is not enough.

With regard to my time here on the Thai/Burma border and because it is a private trip, I thought I would report to you about it separately and on return, but all the donations specified in my last report were duly paid over, with all their grateful thanks.

North Korea:  While the NK website I received everyday said that there would be a meeting between NK and SK on 19th January, I have heard nothing further about it and believe a condition of rather a lot of aid has been placed on such talks.  However during the past 9 years the UN has already paid out $US98.9million in humanitarian assistance – so much for taking a stand against the regime’s shocking human rights record.

NK has a 300mile border with China and as there have been some murders recently by NK of Chinese, the Chinese gov have placed more militia on that border which will of course make it more difficult to escape NK on that popular route out.

AI’s UK director Kate Allan has announced that AI are putting out The Other Interview:  “we should all be worried when blackmail, threats and the hacking of private data are being used to censor and silence”.  Unlike the comedy, it illustrates the shocking treatment of escapees. See the trailer here.

A bit of good news: because of recent reforms which allow agricultural farms to keep one-third of their harvest, grain production has increased.

Wendy Hughes,

Burma & N.Korea Co-Ordinator

9th February 2015

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Amnesty Fundraising Gig March 21st 2015

band pic - big ten inchCome and join Bath’s branch of Amnesty International for an evening jam-packed with musical talent and entertainment!

Our fantastic line-up for the night includes the following local acts:

Widcombe Choir
Walcot State Choir
Daniel FitzHenry – Comedian
Big Ten Inch

There will be a bar, raffle and plenty of dancing so get your glad rags on for a great cause and come down to Widcombe School on March 21st.

TICKETS are available for £5 in advance from Lennie’s Cafe on Widcombe High Street, or on the door of the event for £7 (£5 concessions/students).

Facebook event here (share and invite friends!)

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January report 2015

AMNESTY REPORT JANUARY 2015

 

STOP PRESS: Although not an Amnesty thing but of mutual interest I hope, I delighted to report that for my private and 4th trip to the Burmese refugees on the Thai/Burma border I have received donations from members as well as funds from the Burma evening, as wished by those who worked on it, of £435 which is an enormous sum over there.   This will be divided between Mae Tao Clinic in Mae Sot which is the main medical centre for all 9 camps as well as operating backpack doctors to remote areas.   For the Aid Assistance for Political Prisoners centre who get food, clothing and medical supplies to those in prison and pay fares for poor families to visit them.   To the Burma Link organisation which runs courses to repatriate the Karen people where I will be working and to the remote Ban Don Yang Camp and I have attached my friend’s latest reports about this camp. Thank you so much to all those who so thoughtfully and generously gave funds.

 

Letterwriting: we wrote 38 letters last month and 26 greetings cards, many thanks to those who came along and this month it will be 16 letters. I am pleased to report that the Dominican Republic has decriminalised abortion in certain circumstances about which we wrote last month, so a great success.

 

Abbey Petition: we gathered 174 signatures from only 2 weeks at the Abbey and this has now been sent to Federica Mogherini, who took Baroness Ashton’s position as the EU Foreign Policy Chief and if you remember the petition was to put pressure on the Burmese President to release ALL political prisoners.

 

Burma: reported on 13Dec that a New Zealander and Burmese owners of a new bar in Rangoon have been sent for trial for showing Buddha sporting a pair of earphones, considered an insult.

 

North Korea: I imagine you are all aware of the upset that the film The Interview has created and the subsequent hacking into Sony’s computers. Obama has announced more sanctions as a result of this. I have since read that a NK defector and activist now in SK plans to fly 100,000 copies of it by balloon into NK. However, balloons are often shot down and even if successful it is rare for any NK families to own a DVD player or computer with which to play it.

 

Merrill Newman, An American was detained for 42days in late 2013 and has subsequently been billed $3241 for his detention!

 

UN’s Bank Ki Moon has welcomed the announcement yesterday of high level talks between NK and SK while SK is providing $620,000 aid to the North through the UN Economic and Social Commission for Asia & Pacific.

 

Wendy Hughes,

Burma & NK Co-Ordinator

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December 2014 Report

AMNESTY REPORT DECEMBER 2014

 

Letterwriting: We have been writing letters on behalf of Dr. Tun Aung, Burma for the last 2.5 years and with 120,000 messages for him, he has had his 17year sentence reduced and due to be released next year. Yorm Bopha of Cambodia was released on bail in Nov 2013 after the authorities received nearly 253,000 (at least one from us). The journalist Eskinder Nega in Ethiopia is still serving his sentence but his wife was overwhelmed by the solidarity messages (at least one from us) “I cannot emphasise enough the positive impact and encouragement we got from the campaign”. Miriam Lopez of Mexico is still fighting for justice for her kidnap and torture by soldiers about which we wrote and has said “thank you for supporting me, even though you don’t know me”……More good news, Zainab al Kawaja of Bahrain has been released after only one month and we wrote a letter last month. AI has advised that the Afghani Gov has officially undertaken to protect the 10 year old Brishna who was raped, you will remember we received a letter about her from the Embassy last month.   We have now heard from the Moroccan Embassy to which we wrote in Oct about Baber and others and their mistreatment in prison.   They have given very detailed news of these men but the point is that we have their attention and hopefully their treatment will improve according to the letter. We wrote 20 letters last month and tonight we will be signing 38 letters and writing greetings cards for the 12 on the Write for Rights campaign.

 

Human Rights Day Action: While this is on Wed 10December we marked this occasion on Saturday 6December at Green Park with the Stop Torture campaign.when the public signed 150 cards on behalf of five victims.   Thank you to all helpers.

 

Burma: was in the news in the last month thanks to President Obama attending a Summit of East Asian leaders there and spoke of the “backsliding” on freedom of the press, freedom to protest and above all the fate of the stateless Rohingya people 140,000 of whom have been driven from their homes by Buddhists mobs including monks. He also said that the US “is watching the electoral process very closely” “this election will be critical to establishing a representative democracy that reflects the aspirations of all the people of Burma and of course it will shape how the US engages with the country going forward”. Also reported that Aung San Suu Kyi recognises that she will not be able to stand in next year’s elections and instead is seeking an alliance with one of the generals who imprisoned her for 15years….that is Shwe Mann, the Speaker of the lower house of the Burmese parliament and the No. 3 in the junta that ruled Burma until 2011.   This compromise would appall many of her supporters who suffered torture, persecution and detention for their peaceful opposition to the junta.   Shwe Mann is said to be a moderate and would reduce the number of military seats and make it easier to change the constitution clearing the way for ASSK to later become president, so it is said now! However, the current President favours Min Aung Hlaing and has long been a rival of Shwe Mann.   Richard Lloyd Parry wrote in The Times about the Rohinyga who have become boat people, the “stain on Burma’s international reputation” as these people often drown or fall prey to human traffickers.

 

North Korea: I went to Salisbury Amnesty group twice in Nov: to help with their Petition “Close the Camps” and make a You Tube clip which you can see on www.youtube.com/watch?v=tQNdmmo8Dkc&feature=youtube_gdata_player and I am the one holding the O in Close!! If this does not work, then type in YouTube Salisbury North Korea and you should be able to access it through that link, I was introduced to a North Korean Joo il Kim (a prison camp guard defector) and who now has his own NK News.org website. I also went to hear a talk by Bona Shin a S. Korean lady who runs the non profit organisation Theatre 4 All dedicated to art, music and performance in order to help the N. Korean community of 691 in New Malden, Surrey.   I think both of them would make good joint speakers for us in the future?   Reported on 20Nov that the UN General Assembly voted 111 to 19 to support the resolution (tabled by the EU and Japan) for N. Korea’s leaders to be prosecuted for crimes against humanity. This resolution will go to the Security Council this month when it will almost certainly be opposed by China and Russia.   Kim’s younger sister Kim Yo Jong has become vice department director in the Central Committee of the ruling Workers Party of Korea (WPK) …..she is certainly better looking!   It is said that Kim’s aunt has died of a heart attack having an argument with Kim about the execution of her husband which made international news.

 

Wendy Hughes

Burma & NK Co-ordinator

8December 2014

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