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 Burma's Struggle for Democracy

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Punong Abala
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PostSubject: Burma's Struggle for Democracy   September 29th 2007, 10:53 am

BANGKOK, Sept. 28 — Myanmar’s armed forces appeared to have succeeded today in sealing tens of thousands of protesting monks inside their monasteries, but they continued to attack bands of civilian demonstrators who challenged them in the streets of the main city, Yangon.

Witnesses and diplomats reached by telephone inside Myanmar said troops were now confronting and attacking smaller groups of civilians around the city, sometimes running after them through narrow streets, sometimes firing at protesting groups.

“Today has been quieter than previous days, meaning far fewer protesters came out, but the military is being very quick to use violence, tear gas, guns and clubs to break it up,” said the chief diplomat at the United States Embassy, Shari Villarosa.

Diplomats said there was no way to estimate the numbers of dead and wounded in Yangon or other cities, but they said it was certainly far higher than the number the junta has reported.

The British prime minister, Gordon Brown, said today that he believed the loss of life was “far greater” than is being reported, and Bob Davis, Australia’s ambassador to Myanmar, said that based on unconfirmed reports, he was certain that the death toll was “several multiples of the 10 acknowledged by the authorities.”

Myanmar is mostly sealed to the outside world. Human rights and exile groups with contacts inside the country said they had fewer incidents to report on Friday, and this was at least in part because of an apparent government clampdown on Internet and telephone communications.

Brutal attacks on monasteries and a heavy military presence outside their gates appeared to have choked off, at least for now, following the huge demonstrations, led by monks, that have presented the military junta with its most serious challenge since it took power in 1988.

Exile groups passed on many vivid, unconfirmed reports about brutality toward monks and their superiors. Many monks were reported to have been seized and driven away in trucks, and armed soldiers were said to have been preventing others from leaving.

“Wednesday night numerous monasteries were raided, and we have reports that many monks were beaten and arrested, and we have pictures where whole monasteries have been trashed, and blood and broken glass,” Ms. Villarosa said.

With the monks contained, another diplomat said, the demonstrations seemed to have lost their focus, and soldiers were quick to pounce on any groups that emerged onto the streets.

“Troops are chasing protesters and beating them and taking them away in trucks,” said the diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity because of embassy policy. “There are pockets of protesters left. They are unorganized, and it’s all very small scale.”

Even if the junta succeeds in clearing the streets of the largest protests since 1988, it seems also to have turned most of the outside world against it.

The demonstrations and the military crackdown have drawn far more intense international attention than the ones in 1988 and have probably put an end to the junta’s long facade of moving along a “road map to democracy.”

Heavy pressure at the United Nations General Assembly has forced the military to break a long period of exclusion and allow a visit from a special United Nations envoy, Ibrahim Gambari. He was expected to arrive Saturday in Myanmar from Singapore.

In Washington, President Bush, who has focused new attention on the issue, thanked China for helping persuade the junta to allow the visit.

China is Myanmar’s leading trade partner and exerts particular influence, especially since many other countries have imposed a trade embargo on Myanmar that has left Western countries with little influenceleverage over the junta.

In Tokyo, Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda said that he had spoken with his Chinese counterpart, Wen Jiabao, and that they had agreed to work together on international efforts to solve the crisis.

“I asked that China, given its close ties with Myanmar, exercise its influence, and Prime Minister Wen said he would make such efforts,” Mr. Fukuda said.

Reuters also reported that Japan would send an envoy to Myanmar to investigate the death of a video journalist, Kenji Nagai. Videotape has emerged showing that Mr. Nagai, who was killed Thursday while filming the protests near the Sule Pagoda, may have been shot at close range as a target instead of having died in cross-fire.

Myanmar’s neighbors in Southeast Asia, who have mostly left the junta to its own devices over the years, issued a statement expressing “revulsion” at the violence.

It was not clear how the junta would recover any sense of legitimacy at home even if it succeeded in clearing the streets by force.

“The military is doing their best to frighten people into going back, but they are not doing anything about the underlying grievances,” Ms. Villarosa said. “Whether they will ultimately be successful, I doubt, because the grievances are real.”

The current crisis began on Aug. 19, after the government increased fuel prices overnight by as much as 500 percent, without any announcement or explanation.

That move sparked scattered protests that were led at first by longtime dissidents, most of whom had been involved in the student protests of 1988. The 1988 protests were crushed by force as the military shot into crowds, killing an unknown number of people that could have ranged into the thousands.

Both the events of 1988 and the recent demonstrations tapped into deep discontent and anger over the economic mismanagement and harsh rule of the junta.

In 45 years of military rule — and 19 years under the current junta — the country once known as Burma has become a ragged, suffering nation, one of the poorest and most repressed in Asia.

The crowds grew suddenly much larger after Sept. 18, when huge columns of monks filled the streets and residents joined them by the tens of thousands. Over the next week the demonstrations swelled to as many as 100,000 monks and supporters in Yangon alone.

Defying international warnings and condemnation, the government crackdown began Wednesday morning with raids on several monasteries and the use of aggressive force on the streets.

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PostSubject: Re: Burma's Struggle for Democracy   September 30th 2007, 10:36 am

Thousands of Burmese Buddhist monks and other protesters have been marching in Rangoon despite a crackdown that has reportedly killed at least one monk.

Monks' shaved heads stained with blood could be seen at the Shwedagon Pagoda where police charged against protesters demanding the end of military rule.

Some marchers started for the city centre while others headed for the home of opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

Security forces reportedly ringed six monasteries on the ninth day of unrest.

This is a battle of wills between Burma's two most powerful institutions, the military and the monk-hood, and the outcome is still unclear, the BBC's South East Asia correspondent, Jonathan Head, reports.

Hospital sources in Rangoon told the BBC that at least one monk had been killed and that two others were in intensive care.

The monks were beaten with the back of rifles. Taxi drivers are transporting the injured to nearby medical facilities, said the source, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Other reports differ on the number killed with a monastery official telling Reuters news agency two monks had died while Burmese officials told AFP three monks had been killed.

Analysts fear a repeat of the violence in 1988, when troops opened fire on unarmed protesters, killing thousands.

The UN Security Council has called a meeting for 1900 GMT on Wednesday to discuss the clashes, French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner said.

Earlier, UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown called for talks with a view to sending an envoy to the country. He vowed there would be "no impunity" for human rights violators.

'Human shield'

A clampdown on the media by Burma's military government, which has banned gatherings of five people or more and imposed a night-time curfew, makes following the exact course of the protests difficult.

It is known that several thousand monks and opposition activists moved away from Shwedagon Pagoda, heading for Sule Pagoda in the city centre.

They are marching down the streets, with the monks in the middle and ordinary people either side - they are shielding them, forming a human chain
Unnamed eyewitness quoted by Reuters

Reports suggest they were prevented from reaching it but other demonstrators did gather at Sule to jeer soldiers.

Troops responded by firing tear gas and live rounds over the protesters' heads, sending people running for cover.

Monks marching to the home of Aung San Suu Kyi reportedly urged civilians not to join them.

"We monks will do this, please don't join us, don't do anything violent," they were quoted by AFP as saying.

One witness quoted by Reuters said civilians were shielding the marching monks.

"They are marching down the streets, with the monks in the middle and ordinary people either side - they are shielding them, forming a human chain," the witness said.

At Shwedagon Pagoda, riot police charged against the protesters, leaving a number of monks and nuns covered in blood, some of them apparently seriously injured.

British embassy sources say at least 100 monks were beaten and arrested. Demonstrators were dragged away in trucks.

One BBC News website reader in Rangoon says armed and plainclothes police can be seen at key sites across the city. At City Hall, police are holding photos of the monks leading the protests, the reader says.

Two prominent dissidents, U Win Naing and popular comedian Zaganar, were arrested overnight.

'Different situation'

The protests were triggered by the government's decision to double the price of fuel last month, hitting people hard in the impoverished nation.

Aung Naing Oo, a former student leader who was involved in the 1988 uprising and who now lives in exile in the UK, believes the junta cannot stop the protesters.

"There was only very little information about the killings. Now with the internet and the whole world watching I think it's a totally different story... monks are highly revered in the country."

US President George W Bush has announced a tightening of US economic sanctions against Burma.

The US already has an arms ban on Burma, a ban on all exports, a ban on new investment and a ban on financial services.

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PostSubject: Re: Burma's Struggle for Democracy   October 3rd 2007, 5:04 pm

Burma: Thousands dead in massacre of the monks dumped in the jungle
01.10.07

Thousands of protesters are dead and the bodies of hundreds of executed monks have been dumped in the jungle, a former intelligence officer for Burma's ruling junta has revealed.

The most senior official to defect so far, Hla Win, said: "Many more people have been killed in recent days than you've heard about. The bodies can be counted in several thousand."

Mr Win, who spoke out as a Swedish diplomat predicted that the revolt has failed, said he fled when he was ordered to take part in a massacre of holy men. He has now reached the border with Thailand.

Meanwhile, the United Nations special envoy was in Burma's new capital today seeking meetings with the ruling military junta.

Ibrahim Gambari met detained opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi in Rangoon yesterday. But he has yet to meet the country's senior generals as he attempts to halt violence against monks and pro-democracy activists.

It is anticipated the meeting will happen tomorrow.

Heavily-armed troops and police flooded the streets of Rangoon during Mr Ibrahim's visit to prevent new protests.

Mr Gambari met some of the country's military leaders in Naypyidaw yesterday and has returned there for further talks. But he did not meet senior general Than Shwe or his deputy Maung Aye - and they have issued no comment.

Reports from exiles along the frontier confirmed that hundreds of monks had simply "disappeared" as 20,000 troops swarmed around Rangoon yesterday to prevent further demonstrations by religious groups and civilians.

Word reaching dissidents hiding out on the border suggested that as well as executions, some 2,000 monks are being held in the notorious Insein Prison or in university rooms which have been turned into cells.

There were reports that many were savagely beaten at a sports ground on the outskirts of Rangoon, where they were heard crying for help.

Others who had failed to escape disguised as civilians were locked in their bloodstained temples.

There, troops abandoned religious beliefs, propped their rifles against statues of Buddha and began cooking meals on stoves set up in shrines.

In stark contrast, the streets of Rangoon and Mandalay - centres of the attempted saffron revolution last week - were virtually deserted.

A Swedish diplomat who visited Burma during the protests said last night that in her opinion the revolution has failed.

Liselotte Agerlid, who is now in Thailand, said that the Burmese people now face possibly decades of repression. "The Burma revolt is over," she added.

"The military regime won and a new generation has been violently repressed and violently denied democracy. The people in the street were young people, monks and civilians who were not participating during the 1988 revolt.

"Now the military has cracked down the revolt, and the result may very well be that the regime will enjoy another 20 years of silence, ruling by fear."

Mrs Agerlid said Rangoon is heavily guarded by soldiers.

"There are extremely high numbers of soldiers in Rangoon's streets," she added. "Anyone can see it is absolutely impossible for any demonstration to gather, or for anyone to do anything.

"People are scared and the general assessment is that the fight is over. We were informed from one of the largest embassies in Burma that 40 monks in the Insein prison were beaten to death today and subsequently burned."

The diplomat also said that three monasteries were raided yesterday afternoon and are now totally abandoned.

At his border hideout last night, 42-year-old Mr Win said he hopes to cross into Thailand and seek asylum at the Norwegian Embassy.

The 42-year-old chief of military intelligence in Rangoon's northern region, added: "I decided to desert when I was ordered to raid two monasteries and force several hundred monks onto trucks.

"They were to be killed and their bodies dumped deep inside the jungle. I refused to participate in this."

With his teenage son, he made his escape from Rangoon, leaving behind his wife and two other sons.

He had no fears for their safety because his brother is a powerful general who, he believes, will defend the family.

Protests: But the situation inside Burma remains unclear

Mr Win's defection will raise a faint hope among tens of thousands of Burmese who have fled to villages along the Thai border.

They will feel others in the army may follow him and turn on their ageing leaders, Senior General Than Shwe and his deputy, Vice Senior General Maung Aye.
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PostSubject: Re: Burma's Struggle for Democracy   January 26th 2009, 4:05 am

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