‘We owe him a great debt’

Burmese activists and journalists have been among the many paying tribute to Sam Kalayanee, the founder of Images Asia who passed away on Saturday.

The 50-year-old Thai national and founder of Images Asia was described by Nang Hseng Noung, the head of the Shan Women’s Action Network (SWAN), as “one of the first Thai people to support the democracy movement in Burma”.

His focus on Burma spanned more than two decades, triggered by the student uprising of 1988, and took him deep inside the country to document the plight of ethnic minorities, as well as pro-democracy activists.

“Sam’s definition of ‘the border’ was not defined by the more narrow scope of access from Thailand. He travelled to remote areas inside Shan state, Kachin state and Burma’s western border including Nagaland as a seeker of truth, as an eyewitness and a tireless advocate for the millions of ethnic people in Burma devastated by militarization, displacement and conflict,” said Yeni and Jeanne Hallacy, writing in The Irrawaddy magazine.

Khin Maung Win, deputy director of DVB who worked with Sam for more than 20 years, said: “Sam Kalayanee was the first Thai student to meet and help the Burmese students who fled to the border with Thailand [after the 1988 uprising].

“Burmese democracy groups in exile, including the All Burma Students’ Democratic Front [ABSDF] owed him much. He helped with everything for the Burma VJ shooting in Thailand. His contribution and help for the Burma democracy movement should be written down in history.”
His battle with lung cancer came to an end on 3 September at around 4pm. He is survived by his wife and daughter.

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