Saturday, January 05, 2008
A STRANGE INDEPENDENCE
t was a strange sort of independence that was marked yesterday in Burma, 60 years after it ceased to be a British colony. While ordinary citizens could understandably wonder, "What sort of independence is this?" while being ground under the boot heels of a murderous dictatorship, even the official event marking the anniversary was a reclusive affair which gave no recognition to the father of that independence, General Aung San.
Held practically in the middle of the night, in the secluded military capital Nay Pyi Daw (off limits to ordinary Burmese people), the brief ceremony was not even attended by senior dictator Gen. Than Shwe. He sent a statement to be read out to several thousand soldiers and officials on his behalf, urging "patriotism" and "sacrifice" for the establishment of a "discipline-flourishing" society.
There was not a single mention of the man most responsible for attaining independence, the beloved national hero Aung San. It's as if any August 17 in Jakarta could take place without mentioning Sukarno, or any July 4 in Washington DC without mentioning that city's namesake, or any July 1 in Ottawa without Sir John A MacDonald. The dictator in his snug, isolated new garrison city is so insecure, he dare not mention -- much less praise -- Bogyoke Aung San, for fear that some of it might accidentally rub off on his daughter (who remains under house arrest by the junta). Of course there was also no mention of the most significant events of the past year.
Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy party held its own independence day observance in Rangoon (with attendance by some foreign diplomats), watched and photographed by security police. NLD members in various parts of the country were arrested in advance, to prevent their participation in similar activities. After pledging a new beginning in relations with Suu Kyi following the crushing of the popular freedom movement, she has not been seen since her third brief meeting with "Relations Minister" Aung Kyi on November 19. Promises to allow her to meet with her party have also not been honoured.
In contrast with the dictators, ordinary citizens do want to remember Aung San, but they must do it quietly.
Pausing in front of the fence around Yangon's main park, a man points through the iron bars to show his two young children the statue inside.Sixty years of independence, most of that under a succession of superstitious absolute dictators, have come to this. Aung San never lived to see independence (he was assassinated a few months earlier), but I wonder how he would feel about what has become of his dream. The leaders of the army he founded won't even mention his name in public, and his people fear repercussions if they would do so.
"This is Myanmar's independence leader General Aung San. He was a very honourable man," he said.
The children gazed at the 10-foot (three-meter) statue and started to ask a question when their father hushed them.
"I will tell you all about him once we get home," he said.
The country's rulers (I won't say leaders) believe that with enough effort, they can control every thought, word and deed. The counter-proof to that was seen by the world in August and September, but that doesn't affect their delusion. Those events were described by the "Information Minister" as "trivial" and of no consequence. They can lie as much as they wish (a "skyful"!) and never be called on it at home. Abroad, it's a different story. Last week, the head of the Japanese news agency APF (for whom journalist Kenji Nagai was working when he was killed by Burmese soldiers) called them what they are -- liars. APF is considering a lawsuit against the junta mouthpiece New Light of Myanmar for lying about their correspondent.
"The piece really was a big insult to Kenji's journalistic integrity," Yamaji told RFA's Burmese service. "Nagai Kenji followed the Burmese democratic movement with great interest since 1997 up until his death. He had watched the movement with great admiration."NLM had also claimed that Nagai was shot accidentally from a great distance, when the autopsy and even Burmese police officials had already confirmed he was shot at very close range (about one meter), which anyone can see in the video record. The NLM article also claimed that Nagai's camera was non-existent, when everyone who saw the pictures of his shooting can see it in his hand.
"He wanted to get news stories and tell the world how the Burmese people are actually suffering and coping with their lives in a country where the Japanese government had given a huge amount of assistance."
The official newspaper also quoted a Japanese weekly magazine as saying that Kenji had no interest in Burma's democracy movement, and knew little about it.Despite their promises to the UN investigator Sergio Paulo Pinheiro, the regime continues to hunt down journalists and others who took photos and video of the August - September events, and at least nine journalists have fled to Thailand. Mobile phones and landlines which were used by local and foreign reporters have been cut off by the authorities.
"There are still books and documents on Burma on Mr. Kenji's table in the APF office in Tokyo and if they want they can come and see it for themselves," Yamaji said.
A journalist in Rangoon said that foreign correspondents from well-known news agencies such as NHK and Reuters were among those whose phone lines had been cut, as well as diplomats from some foreign embassies.However the MPT and government ministries all denied responsibility, while Military and Security Affairs department said they were "not part of this operation." And who might take responsibility for the operation to bar citizens watching foreign television, by setting a 16,600% increase in satellite dish permit fees?
"We have paid all the fees and charges for our phone use and can't understand why our lines are being shut down, said one source, speaking on condition of anonymity.
"We asked the MPT [Myanma Post and Telecommunications] about this and they said they had received an order to do it."
With no word in state media of any license fee increases, the first satellite dish owners knew of the hike was when they went to pay the 6,000 kyat levy, only to be told it was now 1 million kyat ($780), three times the average citizen's yearly income.They want to close the eyes and ears of the people, as a retired government official is quoted in that story. The state media mouthpiece continues to rail against BBC, Voice of America and Radio Free Asia with their "skyful of liars" nonsense. Now, presumably they will be empowered to simply confiscate unauthorized dishes -- an "operation" that will surely keep the authorities busy for some time to come. None but the very topmost elite could afford to pay so much for a permit.
An official at Myanma Post and Telecom confirmed the increase on Wednesday, but was at a loss to explain it.
"It's not our decision," the official, who asked not to be named, told Reuters. "We were just ordered by the higher authorities. Even I was shocked when I heard about it."
Coincidentally with this announcement, the Democratic Voice of Burma has boosted its satellite broadcasting seven-fold, from one hour per week (on constant loop 24 hours each day) to one hour of new programming each day. People simply get no news whatsoever from the state broadcaster -- just a diet of generals visiting dams and bridges, and leaving "necessary instructions." Satellite television (frequently viewed in tea-shops) and short wave radio is the only way they have to receive actual news of the world.
While the regime celebrated Burma's 60th independence day up in their jungle hideout in the dark, it was also marked by one steadfast supporter abroad. US First Lady Laura Bush.
Today, January 4, is the 60th anniversary of Burma’s independence. Instead of celebrating their freedom, the Burmese people live in fear, poverty, and oppression under General Than Shwe and his military regime. These generals have plundered Burma’s economy and rich natural resources, and a once-prosperous nation now has the lowest GDP per person among ASEAN countries. Hundreds of innocent people remain in jail -- and more continue to be arrested -- for exercising their rights to freedom of speech and peaceful assembly. An untold number of Buddhist monks have been banished from their monasteries. Reports suggest that the Burmese army is now massing in eastern Burma, preparing for a renewed military onslaught against Burma’s ethnic minorities. Past offensives have resulted in killings and rapes of civilians, forced labor, crop burnings, and mass relocations.This lady truly knows of which she speaks, and sums up the situation concisely in two paragraphs. She's very much on top of the latest developments, including the build-up for the junta's dry season offensive against the Karen, Shan and other ethnic minorities.
President Bush and I ask all nations to join in condemning the military junta for its shameful abuses of basic human rights. We urge the regime to fulfill its promises to the United Nations Security Council, and to take more than token steps toward meaningful dialogue with Burma’s opposition. General Than Shwe must release Aung San Suu Kyi and other democratic leaders, so they can begin the process of national reconciliation. Meanwhile, the United States stands with Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and all those working to make sure that by the next January 4, the people of Burma will celebrate real independence.
Myanmar's army has moved reinforcements into ethnic minority areas for the probable renewal of an offensive whose past human rights violations have been far greater than those against urban protesters that riveted world attention last fall, aid and rebel groups say.Proof of the regime's genocidal program is now available with hi-res satellite imagery, showing that more than 3,000 villages have been destroyed in recent years, leaving more than half a million internally displaced people in eastern Burma (and hundreds of thousands of refugees in Thailand). Please see Free Burma Rangers for more.
The groups provide continuing reports of killings of civilians, rapes, forced labor, burning of crops and mass relocations as Myanmar troops attempt to wipe out die-hard guerrillas of the Karen National Union and other ethnic rebel forces.
May the Burmese people have a real independence day next January Fourth.