Agam's Gecko
Tuesday, October 09, 2007

've been acquiring links to stories I want to share here faster than I can get new posts up, as I continue to wrestle with my computer security issues. So here is a roundup with some pulled quotes (to entice you to read the full articles), and "sprinkled with some commentary" (as my critic puts it).

First up is the most recent, a very disturbing account of the methods used by SPADCO killers to dispose of the bodies of their victims. Wai to Jotman (a new discovery for me, and also writing from Bangkok). Jotman has been covering the Burma situation very well, so check it out.

The Times UK:
THE Burmese army has burnt an undetermined number of bodies at a crematorium sealed off by armed guards northeast of Rangoon over the past seven days, ensuring that the exact death toll in the recent pro-democracy protests will never be known.

The secret cremations have been reported by local people who have seen olive green trucks covered with tarpaulins rumbling through the area at night and watched smoke rising continuously from the furnace chimneys...

Horrifying rumours are sweeping the city that some of those cremated were severely injured people thrust into the ovens alive, but these have been treated with extreme caution by independent observers and have not been verified.

However, it is widely accepted that the cremations began on the night of Friday, September 28, more than 24 hours after soldiers opened fire on unarmed Buddhist monks and civilians demonstrating on the streets of Rangoon.
When Mr. Gambari was being hustled out of Rangoon immediately upon his arrival, strung along for several more days while he waited for his audience with Burma's butcher-in-chief, and taken to witness a junta-produced show of "popular support" up in Shan State, I wrote here that the delay was to enable the killers to have enough time to hide the bodies. After all, they wouldn't want Mr. Gambari to accidentally notice all that crematorium smoke, or covered trucks heading out to the jungle. But as Jotman notes from experience, the junta is very good at record keeping so it may still be possible to know the true extent of their crimes at some time in the future.

But where would they get such a disgusting idea to begin with? I haven't seen any accounts of them doing this after the massacres of 1988 -- and they had thousands of bodies to deal with after those events -- less than a year before the Beijing massacre in the vicinity of Tiananmen Square.
The Chinese army carried out a similar practice of anonymous cremations in Beijing after the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre, when many unidentified bodies were disposed of at the city’s Babaoshan crematorium. The true number of dead has never been established.
Did the Burmese military ruling council acquire some friendly advice between dictatorships? Another question that will perhaps be answered some day.
Some of the worst violence appears to have occurred at the Mwe Kya Jan monastery in northwest Rangoon. According to graphic testimony published in yesterday’s Thai newspapers, the soldiers lined the monks up against a wall and smashed each of their shaven heads against the wall in succession. The monks were roughed up and thrown into trucks, but the abbot was so severely beaten that he died on the spot, the reports claimed.
Christopher Hitchens had a commentary piece in The Australian over the weekend. He laments that his protesting days may not be over after all, as he found himself joining with young and passionate demonstrators outside of a certain military attache office in D.C.
I thought US President George W. Bush was quite correct in listing his least favourite regimes during his address to the UN last week and in trying to ramp up the international pressure on the goons in Rangoon. The governments that he singled out were the uniquely repellent ones that consider the citizen to be the property of the state and the uniquely boring ones that have remained in power until their citizens are positively screaming for release. I do not need to specify these senescent gangster systems individually, except that they all have one thing in common. They are all defended, from Cuba to Zimbabwe, by the Chinese vote at the UN...

If Beijing had had its way, Saddam would still be in power. Iran is being supplied with Chinese Silkworm missiles. Most horribly of all, China buys most of the oil of Sudan and in return provides the weaponry -- and the diplomatic cover at the UN -- for the cleansing of Darfur. ("Blood for oil" would be a good description of this bargain, though I have not seen the expression employed very often.)

Meanwhile, everybody is getting ready for the lovely time they will have at the 2008 Beijing Olympics. If there could be a single demand that would fuse almost all the human-rights demands of the contemporary world into one, it would be the call to boycott or cancel this disgusting celebration.
Following the disgusting slaughter in Rangoon, almost overnight the words "Olympic boycott" are no longer only heard from Tibetan and Uyghur (Eastern Turkestan) freedom activists or Stop Darfur Genocide organisations, but from parliamentarians and other national officials around the world.

Nick Meo is writing for The Australian from Mae Sot, Thailand, where he recently met the first of Burma's monks who have reached safety outside their country. Monk Vida along with two of his colleagues reached Mae Sot last week after an arduous flight from the killing streets.
Just over a week ago, Vida, 48, was a simple monk who marched through the streets of Rangoon because he believed a show of loving kindness would persuade the regime to be more compassionate towards Burma's hungry poor.

Yesterday he was an angry, perhaps traumatised, but certainly determined man with a haunted expression who kneaded his hands constantly as he described his hatred of a military regime he is determined to help bring down.

Vida, 48, and two comrades are the first monks to escape from Rangoon.

"In a few weeks' time the monks will reorganise," he said. "This is not the end."
Vida ran for his life amid the teargas, screaming and gunshots, and believes some of his fellow monks were killed there. He hid in a temple and laid low in Rangoon for a few days before deciding to attempt to reach Thailand, and tell the world what he'd seen. He says there were about 300 monks at a Rangoon bus station, desparate to escape.
"I hate the soldiers now," he said through an interpreter. "I know I shouldn't, but I do. Those who killed monks will go to the lowest depths of the hells. They will not scare us into giving up, though. We are even more determined to continue our struggle against the military. We want peace, national reconciliation, lower prices, and the release of political prisoners and Aung San Suu Kyi.

"In about three weeks' time, after a Buddhist festival is completed, I will return to Burma. We will return to our struggle. Plans are being drawn up."

Asked whether he is ready to die, Vida answered emphatically "yes"...

"They will not last much longer. The monks have the power of love. But we need the international community too."
An analysis by Denis Gray for AP speculates that by inflicting such brutality on the country's respected monkhood, the junta may have done the one thing that could cause a split in the military. There are persistent reports of officers and troops refusing to carry out orders, and at least one officer is said to have defected to the liberated areas along the Thai border.
"The crackdown by the military against the monks may be a major element in the destruction of the very military unity they seek. Many may be profoundly disturbed by the actions of their colleagues," says David Steinberg of Georgetown University, an author of several books on Myanmar.
Any Burmese Buddhist, or any Buddhist for that matter, will have been profoundly disturbed by what was done to peaceful demonstrators -- but most especially by the violence that was unleashed on the monks.

I have a small correction to offer on this, though.
Others unleashed their hatred of the regime by screaming abuse and even exposing their genitals to soldiers.
Some people do wear underwear, y'know? This comes from a photo that came across the wires on the 27th or 28th, showing a democracy demonstrator facing a group of the junta's civilian enforcer gangs -- the USDA, Swan Arrshin and the like. The man stood alone in the street, raising his sarong toward them. He's exposing nothing more than his distain for a bunch of goons with bamboo sticks defending a killer regime. Scroll down here to Sept. 28th to see the photo.

Josef Silverstein has been an eminent scholar of Burma since the early post-independence period of civilian governments. Commenting on the apparent overtures to Suu Kyi, he says:
"I don't believe there is one shred of evidence that they (the junta) are sincere," says Josef Silverstein, a retired Rutgers University professor who has studied Myanmar for more than half a century. "(Than Shwe) is still the commander and she's expected to come crawling to him on her belly."
The state television mouthpiece surprised everyone last Friday night by showing footage of Aung San Suu Kyi, and even referring to her with an honorific title.
There has been no word from Suu Kyi, 62, who is confined to her house in Yangon without a telephone and requires official permission, rarely granted, to receive visitors.

But, in what appeared to another move aimed at deflecting international anger, state television broadcast rare footage of Suu Kyi for the first time in four years on Friday night.

It referred to her respectfully as Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, a departure from past practice when her father's name, Aung San, was dropped to deny her link to the nation's independence hero.
Latest information is that the government has appointed a liaison person for dealing with Daw Suu.

Media stories have all cited the government's claim of only 10 deaths over the 3 - 4 days of the worst violence, while giving estimates from other sources of more than a hundred and up to several hundred. That's not including the unconfirmed reports, including from the defecting military officer, that the toll is in the thousands. In fact, the junta admitted to one death on Wednesday the 26th (other Rangoon sources said at least four) and nine deaths on the 27th (when Kenji Nagai was killed). So the government's claim is only for the first two days (of course it's higher), and they've said nothing about how many they killed on Friday and Saturday, or beyond.

Monk Tezaniya
Buddhist monk Oo Tezaniya sits outside the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners Museum in Mae Sot, Thailand, Tuesday Oct. 2, 2007.
Photo: AP / David Longstreath
Former political prisoners of the Burmese military now in exile in Thailand looked with horror at the pictures emerging from their country. The exiles have formed the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners Assistance Association for Political Prisoners and are now collecting evidence for international organisations.
Oo Tezaniya, a 42-year-old monk who spent eight years and three months in prison for opposing the government, clenched his hands in the folds of his saffron robe as he told how he was seized in the middle of the night in 1988.

He was brought to an interrogation center, beaten with guns, and then thrown into a dark cell for a month with two other men and no bathroom.

"There was excrement all over the floor," he said.

Tezaniya's heart sank this week when he saw pictures of what dissidents said was a monk's body floating face down in a Yangon river. The junta said in a statement Friday that the body was not of a monk but of a man "with a piece of saffron robe tied round the neck."
I've blocked out Tezaniya's face for obvious reasons, if you read the Times article linked at top.

In a story on the naming of the new liaison officer to deal with Aung San Suu Kyi, Reuters quotes from a commentary in the junta's print media mouthpiece, New Light of Myanmar suggesting her release is a long way off.
"The three demands of the protesters -- lowering consumer prices, release of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and political prisoners, and national reconciliation -- cannot be satisfied through protest," the paper said, attaching an honorific to her name.

"Now, those responsible are making arrangements to draft the state constitution and collect the list of voters," it added. "When the state constitution is approved, the fulfillment of the three demands will be within reach."
Within reach. At the rate their "constitutional process" has proceeded until now, I would estimate this to take at least another 20 years. Suu Kyi is 62.
Stage One of the roadmap -- a National Convention to draw up the "detailed basic principles" of the charter -- took 14 years.

Furthermore, Stage Two -- "step-by-step implementation of the process necessary for the emergence of a genuine and disciplined democratic state" -- is so unclear few know what it means, let alone when it can be completed.

Stage Three is drafting the constitution, a process that many thought the National Convention was meant to have been doing for the last 14 years of on-off meetings, most of which have been boycotted by Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy (NLD).
Actually, this reminds me of another minor inaccuracy commonly reported lately. The 1990 election was not "annulled" by the junta, they simply changed the rules after the NLD won by a landslide. After the 492 parliamentary representatives were elected, the junta simply said, "This election was not for a parliament, it was for a constitutional drafting committee."

That was 17 years ago, so I guess it was three years before the committee managed to have its first meeting.


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