Tuesday, December 11, 2007
ast week, the murderous military regime which rules Burma held a press conference. On first glance, I thought the conference heading was a dumb typing mistake. "Press Conference 2/2007"? Did they forget the "/12" to form a complete date? It turns out, not. It was held on December 4, and was only the second press conference of the entire year. Such are the public relations "efforts" of anti-democratic regimes, and as amateurish as their ridiculously constructed, frames-laden website (where press information is under the "Drugs" category, and linking is apparently discouraged).
One thing you can say about Than Shwe's thuggish regime though, is that their timing is impeccable. What better time for them to order the forced closure of Maggin monastery (known for its caring for AIDS patients), expulsion of all monks and the patients being cared for, and the hounding of the abbot out of Rangoon, than doing it practically on International AIDS Awareness Day?
And what better time to dismiss the massive protests against them in September (and the blood-drenched crackdown they launched) as "trivial," than just days before a UN investigator makes public his findings that the true death toll was, at an absolute minimum, more than three times what the regime has admitted to?
Yes, Brigadeer General Kyaw Hsan is certainly deserving of the appellation given by Bangkok's Nation editorial writer over the weekend: the unfunny 'Comical Ali' of the State Peace and Development Council. But this time, instead of, "The Americans are lost in the desert," while securing the Baghdad airport, we have, "There was no popular protest with citizens' participation, only biased information generated by a western power conspiring to install a puppet government, " etc. At a time when the regime is pretending to support the efforts of the UN envoy Mr. Gambari toward national reconciliation, this minister is declaring that neither Aung San Suu Kyi nor her National League for Democracy will have any role in Burma's future. Also at this press conference, it was confirmed that the regime stands by its figure of only 10 killed in the crackdown.
A couple of days later, Human Rights Watch released the results of its investigation, which included personal interviews with more than 100 eyewitnesses to the various violent incidents (available as a 130-page pdf download, with a separate photographic report summary; video here and more video here). This investigation can confirm at least 20 deaths, and is the most comprehensive so far available to the public.
On the same day, the general findings of the UN's independent investigator, Paulo Sergio Pinheiro was made public. In his 77-page report, to be presented to the UN Human Rights Council today, Mr. Pinheiro finds the most conservative number of confirmed deaths at the Burmese government's hands, is 31 -- more than 3 times the regime's admission (they seem to have recanted an earlier admission of 15 - see the press conference transcript - claiming that some had died in custody of "illness").
In addition, Mr. Pinheiro has compiled a name-list of more than 650 detainees (and estimates that up to 1,000 are still being held behind bars, not counting the 1,150 political prisoners held before the protests), and says that several thousand more had been detained than the regime had admitted. These are all absolutely minimum numbers which he could arrive at, with the non-cooperation of the regime in his work inside the country.
He also has a name-list of 74 people who have "disappeared," and credible testimony of the mass cremations of a large number of bodies in the middle of those terrible nights in late September. And of course, he will have no information on those who may have been beaten and tortured to death behind closed doors, out of anyone's sight.
Out of all this, the headline writers were characteristically curt and imprecise: UN says 31 killed in Myanmar crackdown - AP. Actually no, that's not what it says at all. It says he can identify 31 of the dead people, with much more credible testimony to a greater number with no names attached.
"There are a number of incidents where no names were reported but where there were allegations of groups of people reportedly killed, which have also been shared," Pinheiro said in a report released by the U.N. on Friday."State-supported groups" -- that would be the "Union Solidarity and Development Association" and other military-sponsored civilian militias.
Pinheiro, who visited Myanmar on Nov. 11-15, said "credible sources" reported a large number of bodies wrapped in plastic and rice bags that were burned in the early hours of the final days of September. The burning took place at the Ye Way crematorium in Yangon. Authorities blocked Pinheiro from visiting.
"Sources indicate that it was not usual practice for the crematorium to operate during the hours in question, that normal employees were instructed to keep away, and that the facility was operated on those nights by state security personnel or state-supported groups," Pinheiro said.
What sort of response might one have to Brigadeer General Kyaw Hsan, Burma's non-comical answer to 'Comical Ali?' Perhaps we can turn to Burma's own state mouthpiece, its "international broadcaster" MRTV 3 for some help.
Hey, thanks MRTV 3 -- exactly what I was thinking! What do you suggest the people of Burma, and the people of the world, should do about these lying liars, and the lies they tell?
Excellent! I'm sure we'll all keep that advice in mind.
The UN Secretary General has been in Bangkok for the past few days, for meetings with Prime Minister Surayud and His Majesty the King, before heading to the global warming shindig in Bali. Even the world's top diplomat is losing his patience with Burma.
'The international community is impatient, in fact our patience is running out,' Ban said after meeting with Thai Prime Minister Surayud Chulanont.A nice, friendly reminder of ASEAN's shameful "none of our business" approach during their big summit last month in Singapore (Philippines not included in that shame, and hopefully to be joined by a new Thai government in the near future).
'The people of Myanmar have suffered from isolation for such a long time, it is high time for the Myanmar authorities allow the people to be able to enjoy genuine democracy, freedom and human rights,' Ban said...
'ASEAN has a special responsibility in promoting further democratization in Myanmar,' said Ban.
The Nation, in another editorial yesterday, appealed to Mr. Ban to make a dramatic trip of his own to Rangoon, to change the equation and avoid the UN process from stalling. He could easily do it while in Bangkok, and be back the same afternoon. Let's see how much they really want to work with the UN, and how much they're playing the UN card to buy time. Their response to a spontaneous trip by Mr. Ban would be most telling on that question.
At least the US administration is not turning away from the freedom movement, the way ASEAN did last month, and as much of the world's attention has done in the past 2 months. The administration's 'point person' on the issue is the First Lady, and she doesn't mince words.
The normally soft-spoken first lady repeatedly blasted Burma's rulers as brazen despots. Mrs. Bush said the Burmese people have been denied "nearly every right" contained in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. She accused Burma's junta of crushing political dissent and generating "widespread misery and poverty."Nice concise bottom line, expressed by a great freedom-loving lady.
In a teleconference call with the U.S. ambassador to Thailand as well as a medic who works on the Thai-Burmese border, Mrs. Bush said the international community must do more to bring about change in Burma.
"President Bush and I call on all nations, especially Burma's neighbors, to use their influence to help bring about a democratic transition [in Burma]," she said...
"Members of the junta have promised to engage in a serious dialogue with democratic representatives of the Burmese people," she said. "If Than Shwe and the generals cannot meet these very basic requirements, then it is time for them to move aside and make a clear path for a free and democratic Burma."
Although the medical worker on the Thai-Burma border who participated in the teleconference was not credited in this or other news coverage, I'm almost certain that it would have been the wonderful Dr. Cynthia Maung, a refugee doctor (in both senses of the phrase) who set up her Mae Tao Clinic in Mae Sot nearly 20 years ago, after the previous crushing of the Burmese freedom movement.