Tuesday, October 30, 2007
UNITED IN THEIR DISGUST
he Burmese people, including those with privilege and wealth, are united in their disgust for the regime, writes Choe Sang-Hun from Rangoon. The writer met with three friends, all grads from Burma's Defense Services Academy (where many of the junta leaders were schooled). Two are factory owners and one has a prestigious job working for an airline.
"When I was an army officer, my soldiers and I went out every day to fight Communists," said one of the men, who runs a factory in southern Myanmar. "What do they do now? They bring soldiers from the border, feed them with food, drugs and rum, and they run them like dogs, fighting their own people."Choe found it difficult during his time in Burma to find anyone who liked the regime, and says some of the harshest criticism came from relatively affluent people, such as the three veterans with successful lives. The three had all left the army disillusioned after the disastrous "Burmese Way to Socialism" of former dictator Ne Win turned one of the wealthiest countries in south east Asia into one of the poorest, sparking the last major uprising in 1988.
"My friends, their relatives, their sons and daughters - they all don't like the government," said the owner of the factory in the south.Following the US invasion of Afghanistan and the overthrow of the Taliban regime in 2001, and as the international debate about action against Saddam heated up in 2002, the Burmese generals were behaving as though they were afraid they might be next. I believe this is the period in which Than Shwe decided to relocate his centre of power to a remote town in central Burma -- afraid that the US was going to attack him if he remained in coastal Rangoon. In a discussion forum for Burma issues, I recall pro-democracy partisans taunting the junta's toadies (who are even now ever-present in these places) that George Bush was going to do Burma next (of course he wasn't), and playing up the junta's relationship (believed to include nuclear technology transfer) with North Korea. The regime was not named as a member of the "axis of evil" but they were pretty closely connected to it.
Listen to how some privileged Burmese are talking today.
"The junta will never change unless the generals and their families are hurt," said one of the veterans, who owns a factory in Yangon.It won't happen, of course. But such sentiments coming from a former officer of the army and a successful businessman do not bode well for the survivability of the regime. They try to force the population to hate America with repetitive slogans about "axe-handles" and "destructionists," but it isn't working. Or rather, it hasn't worked for the better part of two decades, and isn't likely to start working now. They're pushing it for all it's worth though.
None of the three saw a solution. One said he would "wait out" the geriatric junta. Another, like many people in Yangon, hoped for an unlikely U.S. invasion.
"When American troops attacked Saddam Hussein in 2003, a lot of Burmese wished that American military planes would attack their country too," said another relatively well-off resident, the owner of a machine tool shop.
"This time, too, a lot of Burmese wish that the United States would launch a surgical strike at Naypyidaw," he said, referring to the isolated jungle capital the junta built in 2005, whose name means "abode of kings."
Things cannot just go back to the way they were before the protests began in August. The mask has fallen off, and no matter that the Than Shwe clique hurriedly raises it again -- the people have seen what lies behind. The best hope now is that the senior generals will lose the loyalty of the younger, more educated generation of officers. We know that some refused orders during the crackdown, and some have defected out of disgust. We've seen one case, cited here yesterday, of a military man who recently committed suicide out of despair for what he had done to innocent life.
"Our country is turning into a crazy kingdom," said a young woman living in Yangon, a relative of a former government minister. "The generals think they are kings. I have relatives who are one-star or two-star generals. Even they don't like the senior generals."Than Shwe, the writing is on the wall.
Democratic Voice of Burma reports that one member of Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy Party, who had been in hiding for weeks avoiding arrest, has been found dead.
A member of the National League for Democracy in Arakan who had been reported missing by his family members has been found dead, said his colleagues.And some people, foreigners to be precise, are criticising the NLD for not doing enough to provide leadership and direction for the mass uprising last month. Hundreds of party members remain locked up, either in Burma's notorious prisons or in the makeshift concentration camps created for the overflow. Many of the rest are just trying to stay alive.
Nyi Pu Lay was member of the NLD in Taunggok township, and was an enthusiastic participant in last month's protests.
He had been in hiding from arrest for nearly 20 days before his dead body was found decomposing in a creek near the township on 19 October, according to Arakan NLD's joint-secretary U Thein Hlaing.
And in a dispatch from Bangladesh, where many monks and other refugees have been heading since the violence, reports of possible upcoming demonstrations in Sittwe, located on the western coast. They may be rumours, but they have the authorities worried.
In Sittwe, there is information that has been spreading about a demonstration that will be held by monks who recently formed a hard-core monk group comprised of 70 monks from several monasteries in the city, the teacher said.The mood in Sittwe is tense, with many monasteries continuing to refuse donations from the government. The Sittwe monks were the first to conduct satyagraha back on August 28, before the brutality against monks in Pakhokku on Sept. 5 galvanized the sangha across the country.
Since the rumor came out, the authorities have been deploying police forces at many key places in Sittwe. The authorities have built a temporary security camp near Bara Gri temple and Aye Zaydi monastery to block any monk demonstrations if they should break out.