Saturday, October 13, 2007
BURMA PM DIES FOR REAL; MONKS AND PROTESTERS DETAINED IN HELL
urma's Prime Minister, a loyalist of paramount dictator Than Shwe and believed responsible for a murderous attack against Aung San Suu Kyi's convoy in May 2003, has died (his death was widely reported about 10 days ago).
Soe Win died in Burma's largest city, Rangoon, on Friday, state radio said.While very few in the country will be mourning Soe Win's passing, thousands of people are concerned for loved ones -- either knowing they are in the clutches of the military and confined to makeshift concentration camps, or simply not knowing where their loved ones are. Conditions for the monks and other protesters is likened to hell.
Reports say he had returned to the country earlier this month, following months of treatment in Singapore. There had been rumours about his death since early last week.
Soe Win was one of Than Shwe's most trusted associates and will mainly be remembered for his role in stifling opposition to military rule, says BBC East Asia analyst Steve Jackson.
Diplomats and human rights groups say he masterminded a bloody attack on the convoy of democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi that led to her return to house arrest in 2003.
“Due to the lack of food and the extreme highs and lows of temperature, some monks and laypeople felt like they were suffocating. Others simply died.Some Burmese exile groups are saying that around 200 people have died in custody so far. The thugs think they can avoid the sin of mistreating a monk by simply declaring them non-monks.
“The conditions were terrible. We each had no more than a small patch of cell to sit on,” lamented Burmese monk U Sandar Vaya, looking pale and weak and somewhat older than his 33 years...
Another Buddhist monk who was recently released confirmed that about 700 monks and laypeople were detained in a hall some 9m by 21m (30 ft x70 ft)...
“More than a dozen monks and other people died,” claimed a layman who was released on October 5. “And almost all the detainees got sick.
"It really was hell," he said. “I could do nothing for a young novice who was dying beside me. We asked for help from the security guards, but they didn't do anything until they came to take away his dead body.”
Myanmar's junta were beaten and kept in animal-like conditions without toilets or drinking water during days of interrogation, one of those freed said on Thursday...But according to state-run propaganda outlets, none of this is true, and the authorities have acted with utmost restraint against peaceful protesters, whom they refer to as "stooges."
"When one of us used a pronoun refering to himself as a monk, he was slapped," the monk said. "Then an interrogator said: 'You are no longer a monk. You are just an ordinary man with a shaven head.'"
"Stooges of foreign countries, neglecting the national prestige and integrity, put on a play written by their foreign masters," the official New Light of Myanmar said.Understandably, many people in Rangoon are totally intimidated and living in fear.
"We all hear screams at night as they [the police] arrive to drag off a neighbour. We are torn between going to help them and hiding behind our doors. We hide behind our doors. We are ashamed. We are frightened."Apparently that help is not seen as very urgent, now that the abuses are taking place behind closed doors. It was only yesterday that the UN Security Council made its first official statement on the emergency. And even with its watered-down wording, the junta completely rejects the Council's recommendations.
In Rangoon, people say they are more frightened now than when soldiers were shooting on the streets.
"When there were demonstrations and soldiers on the streets, the world was watching," said a professional woman who watched the marchers from her office.
"But now the soldiers only come at night. They take anyone they can identify from their videos. People who clapped, who offered water to the monks, who knelt and prayed as they passed. People who happened to turn and watch as they passed by and their faces were caught on film. It is now we are most fearful. It is now we need the world to help us."
"Myanmar's current situation does not affect regional and international stability," said the statement, attributed to Col. Thant Shin. "However, we deeply regret that the U.N. Security Council has issued a statement contrary to the people's desires."The first part of that sounds suspiciously like the Chinese position enunciated by the PRC's UN ambassador just a few days ago.
But the citizens of Rangoon are not all cowed by the junta's brutality, and have found novel ways to continue their resistance.
A resident of Shwegondine, Bahan Township, told The Irrawaddy on Friday that she saw a group of four dogs with pictures of the regime’s top generals around their necks.Excellent. A good number of Burmese people seem to have taken on Daw Suu's teaching regarding freedom from fear. Visit this Burmese language blog-post for a funny cartoon on the dog strategy.
Sightings were also reported in four other Rangoon townships—Tharkayta, Dawbon, Hlaing Tharyar and South Okkalapa.
Some sources said the canine protest had started at least a week ago, and was keeping the authorities busy trying to catch the offending dogs. “They seem quite good at avoiding arrest,” laughed one resident.
Associating anybody with a dog is a very serious insult in Burma.
Spray-painters are also at work, daubing trains with the words “Killer Than Shwe” and other slogans.
In the early hours of this morning (Saturday), the regime packed some thousands of coerced citizens into the city's main sports ground for a pro-government rally. The general public was kept well away, and the surrounding streets were blockaded. I've seen film of these pro-junta marches, and they're quite pathetic. They walk along unenthusiastically -- those carrying placards carry them as low as they dare, and everyone is looking absolutely downcast.
Residents said that people were bused in from around the city, but that the crowd included many workers as well as government-backed groups.The civilian-dressed goons who helped crush the uprising (and we saw making arrests in Thursday's post) were also working for these "government-backed groups," such as USDA and Swan Arrshin. Exile media is reporting that some of these have been given very large cash rewards for their work (a figure of 10 million kyat was cited, more than $7,000 US - a substantial fortune in Burma).
"Every factory in the industrial zone had to send at least 50 people to attend," one resident told AFP on condition of anonymity.
UN envoy Ibrahim Gambari is now on his way to Bangkok for meetings around the region, before going into Burma once again to see if he can accomplish anything. I certainly hope that he will, because this emergency is very clearly continuing (with very little attention now from the world's media). International pressure remains essential for the killing to finally stop, because it hasn't stopped yet.