BANGKOK, Thailand -- A Burmese man who hijacked a Thai International Airways passenger plane, to publicize his country's struggle against its military regime, says other protestors in Burma should not seize aircraft but find "dramatic" and "creative ways" to gain world support.

"I do not regret the 'hijacking'. I am proud of what I did -- this peaceful 'hijacking drama' in 1990 -- given the kind of situation at that time," Soe Myint said in an interview.

"There was very little international attention on how the peoples of Burma were struggling under the military regime," he said, reflecting on the reasons he and another Burmese activist commandeered the plane from Burma to India 17 years ago.

The two Rangoon University students wielded a fake bomb and forced the Bangkok-to-Rangoon flight to continue east to India's port of Calcutta in November, 1990, with 220 passengers.

"We were able to do it without any weapon, without harming anyone, and [with] the whole-hearted support we got from the peoples of India," after the plane landed in Calcutta, also known as Kolkata, Soe Myint said.

"We were able to create some public awareness about Burma with this action, and able to do something for Burma's movement for democracy and human rights.

"I was acquitted by the court in India in 2003," he said after being charged under New Delhi's Anti-Hijacking Act, and spending three months in jail, before gaining refugee status in India.

None of the passengers filed a complaint, nor did Thai Airways, and Soe Myint gained support from more than 30 Indian members of parliament, plus international human rights groups and the United Nations High Commission for Refugees.

Today, Soe Myint lives in India's capital, New Delhi, as editor-in-chief of Internet-based Mizzima News, which offers online and print reports in Burmese and English, plus photos and video.

"I established it (Mizzima News) in August 1998, wanting it to become an international wire news service on Burma and related issues," he said in an e-mail interview.

In 2006, Mizzima News received money from Washington's National Endowment for Democracy, George Soros's Open Society Institute Development Foundation, and groups in Europe, Thailand and elsewhere.

His status as an ex-hijacker gives Soe Myint a unique insight into various forms of dissent available to Burmese currently struggling for democracy -- including non-violent civil disobedience or armed resistance.

"If you are asking me specifically about whether a person should 'hijack' -- even that depends on many things, such as to use weapons, or not to use weapons etcetera -- a plane, just to create awareness as we did in 1990, my answer is, 'no'.

"I don't think it is necessary now. There is quite an awareness of Burma currently by the international community. And secondly, the current international atmosphere will not be helpful for that person to 'hijack' the plane," Soe Myint said.

"But the peoples of Burma should be able to do, themselves, some other forms of non-violent actions to strengthen their political movement and to expand the network of their supporters.

"What kinds of these actions depend on how much one can be creative in mobilizing the peoples, not harming any individuals, but trying to get sympathy and support in a dramatic way and creative way."

Much of the recent bloodshed in Burma occurred when the military regime opened fire on unarmed protesters demanding democracy in the streets of the commercial port, Rangoon, also known as Yangon, killing at least 10 people.

Blood-stains also appeared inside the bedrooms and other chambers in some of Rangoon's Buddhist monasteries, temples and shrines after security forces reportedly stormed the sites during the night, viciously beating Buddhist monks and dragging them away.

While many urban dwellers insist the struggle must be peaceful, Burma has suffered several simultaneous guerrilla wars waged by minority ethnic tribes demanding independence or autonomy.

Burma, also known as Myanmar, is mainland Southeast Asia's biggest country and was a British colony until 1948 when the majority ethnic Burmans gained control, much to the dismay of scattered minority groups, including the Karen, Karenni, Shan, Wa, Kachin, Mon and other tribes.

During the past 60 years, some rebels cut deals with Burma's military dictatorship, which has ruled since 1962.

But some guerrillas continue to fight with occasional help from European and North American mercenaries or, in some cases, with cash from growing illicit opium, processing it into heroin, or manufacturing and smuggling methamphetamines.

"The struggles of Burma's ethnic nationalities for self-determination and democracy, by taking up armed struggle for years, are legitimate struggles, given the facts of how they were finally forced to take up the armed struggles, how they were -- and are -- brutally suppressed in Burma by the central government," Soe Myint said.

"I may not in future personally take up an armed struggle, and I want the struggle to be a peaceful struggle, but I will have no objection to their armed struggles," he said.

"For the struggle for democracy, freedom and human rights to succeed, the peoples of Burma have to pay for that success in various ways.

"They have been paying with their lives, their families, their properties, etcetera, for many years," he said.

"They may have to do so for some years more. That is the sacrifice the people have to do, if they want their children at least to see freedom and democracy."

But he warned against a violent revolution.

"One must avoid harming the lives of ordinary citizens. If their actions are to affect the lives of ordinary citizens, they should be able to avoid it, even if they have to take their own lives first."

Richard S Ehrlich is a Bangkok-based journalist who has reported news from Asia since 1978. He is co-author of "Hello My Big Big Honey!", a non-fiction book of investigative journalism, and his web page is