Southeast Asia Theater
Democratic Voice of Burma Oct. 2 reports claims from members of the Burmese junta's Swan Arr Shin militia that thousands of detained monks could be headed for labor camps:
Monks currently detained at the government technical college compound in Insein township may be sent to a hard labour prison camp, according to a source at the college compound.
While the Burmese regime still touts an official count of 10 dead in five days of repression, the UK's Daily Mail reports Oct. 2 claims of a "a former intelligence officer in Burma's ruling junta that thousands of protesters have been killed and the bodies of hundreds of executed monks have been dumped in the jungle." The official, whose rank or title are not given, is named as Hla Win, and is said to have defected when he was ordered to take part in a massacre of holy men. He told the Daily Mail: "Many more people have been killed in recent days than you've heard about. The bodies can be counted in several thousand." A more cautious report in The Scotsman cites the Oslo-based Democratic Voice of Burma (DVB) saying the death toll stands at a minimum of 138. DVB's Aye Chan Naing also said 6,000 people have been detained, including about 2,400 monks.
For all the opprobrium being directed at China over its support for the repressive Burma regime, the US corporate presence is going unexamined. As we recently noted, the new Burma sanctions announced by Bush mean no more than a visa ban on some members of the junta, and the freezing of assets of some figures linked to the regime. (DPA, Sept. 24) None of the US sanctions enacted since the bloody junta took power in 1988 have interfered with Unocal's operations in Burma—which continue to this day.
The Burmese junta currently shooting unarmed protestors received a cynical plea for restraint from the Israel government on Sept. 29. According to the Israeli paper Ha'aretz, the Israeli foreign ministry announced "Israel is concerned by the situation in Myanmar, and urges the government to demonstrate restraint and refrain from harming demonstrators." The article ended by pointing out that "Israel denies selling weapons to Burma or Myanmar." (Ha'aretz, Sept. 29)
A few days before Burma exploded into the world headlines, the annual US State Department report ranking nations on their narcotics control efforts listed the Rangoon regime as among those not making the cut. Twenty countries were listed as major drug producers or exporters, but only Burma and Venezuela were found to have demonstrably failed to make substantial efforts to adhere to international counter-narcotics agreements or cooperate with Washington in accordance with US anti-drug laws.
The Democratic Voice of Burma website reports that army troops attempting to raid monasteries in Rangoon and Mandalay were forced to withdraw by local residents Sept. 27. Troops approaching the monasteries backed off after locals armed with sticks and slingshots barred their way. Residents reportedly set up an alert system, banging pots and pans at the approach of soldiers. Monasteries have been raided in Mandalay, Masoyein, Mya Taung, Veitthudayon, Phayagyi and Dhammikarama. (DVB, Sept. 25) Protests continue in Rangoon today, bringing some 20,000 to the streets despite a heavy military presence and repression which has left an unknown number dead. (DVB, Sept. 24)
History is being made in Burma, as some 100,000 protesters led by Buddhist monks marched through Rangoon Sept. 24, the largest demonstration since a 1988 pro-democracy movement was brutally crushed by the military regime. Surreptitiously shot photographs and videos show thousands of civilians marching with the monks; audio recordings document shouts of "Do-aye!"—"It is our task!"—a slogan also heard in 1988. Protesters raised the political ante Sept. 22 when more than 500 marched past the home of detained democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi, where she greeted them in her first public appearance in more than four years. (SMH, Sept. 25) In a media footnote, dozens of activists protested Sept. 25 against a visit to Rangoon by India's Petroleum Minister Murli Deora to discuss energy cooperation, including new contracts between Indian and Burmese firms for three deep-water gas exploration blocks. The protesters, who included school children, held placards reading "Hey, Murli Deora, Don't Go For Gas, Go For Democracy" and "India Stop Supporting Burmese Military Rule." Said a written statement from the protesters: "It is a shame for the world's largest democracy to send its cabinet minister to Burma for reasons of exploiting more natural gas from the country at the time people and monks are protesting against the fuel shortages and economic hardships in Burma." (Reuters, Sept. 24)
Twenty Burmese security officials taken captive for several hours by Buddhist monks were released unharmed Sept. 6. The officials had arrived at the monastery in the town of Pakokku to apologize for injuries caused during a protest on the previous day over fuel price rises. Angry monks set fire to their vehicles and refused to let them leave. Hundreds of local residents gathered outside the gats of the monastery to applaud the monks. The officials were freed after a senior abbot intervened. At the Sept. 5 protest, security forces fired shots into the air to disperse 400 people in a rare demonstration by monks in Pakokku. At least three monks were injured.