Southeast Asia Theater
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.
From East Timor & Indonesia Action Network, June 28:
The presence in Papua of a senior Indonesian army officer indicted on crimes against humanity charges in East Timor (now Timor-Leste) endangers human rights defenders and political activists and is a sign of the Indonesian government’s lack of commitment to justice and accountability a coalition of Indonesian and international human rights organisations said today.
The Philippine military is waging a "dirty war" against leftist activists and journalists, Human Rights Watch charged in a June 28 report, "Scared Silent: Impunity for Extrajudicial Killings in the Philippines." Based on more than 100 interviews, the report details the involvement of security forces in the murder or "disappearance" of members of opposition parties and NGOs, journalists, outspoken clergy and anti-mining and agrarian reform advocates. "To date there have been no successful prosecutions of any member of the armed forces implicated in recent extrajudicial killings," the report states.