Munesuke Yamamoto’s visa applications to Myanmar have repeatedly been rejected since the freelance photographer conducted an exclusive interview with democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi in Yangon in September 1998.

Yet his desire to see democracy in the country remains undimmed, leading him to publish a collection of photos shot in Myanmar and its border areas.

“Burma’s Children” features images of kids attending school and working on the streets, as well as shots of a young prostitute suffering from AIDS.

It also features photos of Karen Liberation Army soldiers, who are opposed to the military junta, and of daily life in Yangon.

“One of the photos shows a monk offering leftovers to beggars in a monastery compound,” Yamamoto, 50, said. “As monks are usually provided with donations, the handout from the monk should be an unbelievable sight.”

Yamamoto asserted that the image is a graphic reflection of the poverty into which Burma has fallen.

“Why do people in a country with abundant resources remain poor?” he asked.

Yamamoto calls the country “Burma,” refusing to accept the government’s insistence on using “Myanmar” since 1989.

He expects his photo collection, which features Japanese and English captions beneath each photo, to raise awareness about Myanmar and about how the junta has hurt daily life there.

Overall conditions in Myanmar have deteriorated since May 30, when progovernment demonstrators and supporters of Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy clashed in northern Myanmar.

The 1991 Nobel Peace Prize winner was held incommunicado afterward and now remains under house arrest.

She is recovering from surgery performed in mid-September and is still barred from any contact with well-wishers and political supporters.

“It is really too bad that people around the world focus on Burma only when Ms. Suu Kyi risks her life to defend democracy,” Yamamoto said.

The photographer has repeatedly visited Myanmar since 1988, when he started covering the country. He held interviews with Suu Kyi on four occasions until he was ousted from Yangon in 1998.

Despite the rejection of his visa applications, Yamamoto has continued to visit border areas. He chose about 60 images for the collection from a massive welter of photos shot between 1989 and 2002.

The collection includes several photos of Suu Kyi; one shows her addressing hundreds of people in front of her house in 1995, while another shows her holding up a newborn girl of whom she became a godparent.

“At the meetings with me, Ms. Suu Kyi expressed her anger at the junta, which has damaged the political system and the economy of the country, while she was always energetic and attractive,” he said.

Earlier this year, Myanmar laid out a “road map” to democratization and national reconciliation. The leaders of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations welcomed this move as “encouraging” at their October meeting in Indonesia.

But Yamamoto hit the ASEAN stance, saying, “It just gave official approval for the military junta in Burma.

“And it means that Tokyo provides life support equipment to the junta, which has cracked down on the democracy movement, through (Japanese) taxpayer money if it continues donating official development assistance.”

Yamamoto said about 10,000 Myanmar nationals live in Japan, some of them having been forced to overstay their visas in the face of tough conditions at home.

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