Mayhem in Burma (Myanmar)

Tasneem Khalil

Tasneem Khalil

Video: Al Jazeera English via You Tube.

[Zafa Noor, USA.]

9 people were killed today (September 27, 2007) in Burma (Myanmar), by the country’s military force. For last few days, freedom-loving people took to the streets, protesting against the oppressive military regime that has ruled Burma for the last two decades. The soldiers under instruction of the Junta used batons, rifle butts and riot shields to beat the protesters, including monks and journalists. When that was not enough to stop the protests, the troops fired automatic weapons on the crowd.

The protest began initially against a fuel price hike (on August 19) that accelerated and became a voice of the people when the monks joined the demonstration and launched a pro-democracy movement. Military forces raided many monastries and beat up many Buddhist monks severely, arrested hundreds of them and at one point fired automatic weapons on the thousands of angry protesters chanting, “Give us freedom.” There are blood stains on the stairs of the sacred institutions and on the streets. The monks are highly revered in Myanmar.

Witnesses and a Western diplomat told the Associated Press (AP) that dozens of men were arrested and severely beaten after soldiers fired into one crowd of protesters. Troops in at least four locations fired into crowds after several thousand protesters ignored an order from security forces to disband.

While the riot broke out on the streets of Myanmar’s major cities, people around the world worried about the safety of Aung Sung Suu Kyi, Myanmar’s symbol of hope — the daughter of Burma’s assassinated independence hero — who has been under house arrest ever since the military rulers took power. In 1988 Suu Kyi co-founded the National League for Democracy that won elections by a landslide in 1990.

[Photo/National Coalition Government of the Union of Burma: September 23. Riot police stand guard between Aung Sung Suu Kyi and monks.]

The military regime never allowed her to lead her people, rather kept her under house arrest for the last 12 years in various capacity. She was offered freedom if she would leave the country, but she refused. Highly influenced by Gandhi, Suu Kyi has always insisted on non-violence as the way to “freedom from fear,” and won the Nobel Peace prize in 1991.

Her most notable quote is

“Fear of losing power corrupts those who wield it and fear of the scourge of power corrupts those subject to it.”

Suu Kyi was not even allowed to pick up her Nobel Prize in 1991. UN urged the regime to set her free since her house-arrest was against the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948) but it was ignored. UN envoys have not been allowed to enter the country since 1994, and her house arrest continued to be extended. The government of Myanmar imprisoned Suu Kyi under the 1975 State Protection Act (Article 10 b), which grants the government the power to imprison persons for up to five years without a trial. Sounds eerily familiar to some of the “special powers” being practiced by the government in Bangladesh, doesn’t it?

The international community has somehow woken up to this crisis, even though the country has been under military dictatorship for the last 45 years. Among those killed Thursday was Kenji Nagai, a journalist for Japanese video news agency APF News. That quickly prompted Japan’s foreign minister state that “..international community cannot allow peaceful protesters to be killed and injured.”

China, after years of refusal to use its regional influence on Myanmar’s still refused to impose sanctions against the country but agreed to condemn the recent crackdown and urge the country’s military rulers to allow in a UN envoy.

European Union diplomats agreed to consider imposing more economic sanctions on Myanmar. US called on Myanmar’s military leaders to open a dialogue with the protesters. Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill said “


11 Responses to “Mayhem in Burma (Myanmar)”

  1. Tanoy

    Very well written piece Zafa. Aung Sung Suu Kyi is the symbol of a non-violent warrior to the the world. Current regime of Burma is the continuations of a long term dictatorship. I came to know that Suu Kyi has been shifted to the prison again from her home. Her legendary father General Aung San ended his life with a bloody incident. I don’t know what type of history will be written on this great warrior of Myanmar. I am not sure what will be the output of this monk movement. But my moral support will be always with them.

  2. Mash

    Zafa, excellent article. This is an important story.

    The latest reports are that at least 200 people have been killed even though the junta has only admitted to 10 deaths.

    The lead general’s family is apparently now in Thailand and other reports say some generals have sent family members to Dubai. There may be a rift developing within the army. Whether the regime falls or there is a bloodbath remains to be seen.

    Let’s hope the brave people of Burma stay safe today. Burma has a leader in waiting in Aung San Suu Kyi — the embodiment of Burma’s hopes for the future. Let’s hope that future comes sooner than later.

  3. Iconus Clustus

    I do not know what the future holds… none of us do for that matter, but we have history to fall back on… let’s ponder:

    1. Who were with East Pakistan and who were with West Pakistan? We all know the camps were like BD-India-Russia v. Pak-USA.

    2. Why does USA, the avatar of democracy, support military regimes in Pakistan and Bangladesh, but not in Burma? Allies in axises. After all , nothing is about democracy here — it is all about “sphere of influence.” If China and Russian were not behind Burma, USA would have been gladly feeding the junta as they are doing in ours or in Pakistan.

    Zafa, thanks for a timely piece. We should definitely lend a helping hand in whatever shape or form there is… cause their pain is our pain, their anguish is our anguish, their struggle is our struggle. Also, we should learn from these geruwa-clad non-violent monks how powerful a walk can be.

    Let’s keep BURMA in mind when we stand up against our version of the junta… let’s experience the power of non-violence. Let’s deter people from being destructive and have them unite under a much powerful and effective banner — steadfast in NON-VIOLENCE.

    My SALUTE TO THE MONKS and PEOPLE of Myanmar/Burma.

  4. Rezwan

    Great piece Zafa. The notable thing is that the Burmese bloggers were the visions of the world in getting updates of the situation. Check Global Voices Online and Burma-Myanmar Genocide 2007 for these reports. The Myanmar Junta has conveniently taken down the internet to stop these reports to be exposed to the world. It remains to be seen how situations develop.

  5. Corporal Shihab

    China and India are two close friends of Myanmar. China has an important strategic interest in Myanmar. Beside the huge reserve of gas, China needs access to the Indian ocean through Myanmar. But, the West including United States does not like that Beijing gains a strategic foothold over Yangoon. The Chinese monopolization of Yangoon

  6. Tasneem Khalil

    Shihab: Good one.

    That reminds me of a Time magazine cover story that exposed how Asian countries are feasting on Burmese people’s blood by doing business with/therefore, bankrolling the junta:

    http://www.time.com/time/asia/covers/501060130/story.html

    Also noteworthy is the total silence of the Bangladeshi side on this. Though with much ado this government signed up road-linkage deals with the junta months back risking yet another influx of Rohingya refugees.

  7. Sonali_danar_chile

    USA has taken a new strategy after 9/11. In the post 9/11 world, US foreign policy has been guided by two primary concerns: strengthening military capacity both at home and abroad, and buttressing democratic governance.

    Things happening in Pakistan, Bangladesh, Burma to some extent I think because US wants military in this region to fight against terrorism. If US can establish military governments in this region then US also can sell military supply in this region and also will be profited from the oil and gas reserve of Asia. It’s a quite profitable war for US, the “War against terrorism.” The reason of this war is US thinks that a military government is better for developing countries than democratic governments to fight terrorism. But every country has its own tradition. Army can’t rule the world. Intellectuals are superior than army to take any decision for development sectors.

    If we go through the history of Bangladesh army then we can see that our army or a large section of our army is greedy for power not patriotism. They are slaves of Pakistani ISI. They killed the father of the nation. Before 9/11 our army did lots of things against democracy, Yet they were not ashamed to be friends with war criminals. Should we depend to our army for peace? They are the slaves of USA .

    Now the time is to face that clash. Whether we should build a democratically secular country or a colony of USA via Pakistan. As our General Moeen U Ahmed said if they receive order they will go back. Courageous. I appreciate him. But if the CTG again concentrate to other things and delay election it won’t bring any fruitful result for them and also for the country.

  8. Corporal Shihab

    The Daily Star, September 30, 2007:

    Just last Sunday when marches led by Buddhist monks drew thousands in Myanmar’s biggest cities Indian Oil Minister Murli Deora was in the country’s capital for the signing of oil and gas exploration contracts between state-controlled ONGC Videsh Ltd. and Myanmar’s military rulers.

    The signing ceremony was an example of how important Myanmar’s oil and gas resources have become in an energy-hungry world. Even as Myanmar’s military junta intensifies its crackdown on pro-democracy protests, oil companies are jostling for access to the country’s largely untapped natural gas and oil fields that activists say are funding a repressive regime.

    China Myanmar’s staunchest diplomatic protector and largest trading partner is particularly keen on investing in the country because of its strategic location for pipelines to feed the Chinese economy’s growing thirst for oil and gas.

    Companies from South Korea, Thailand and elsewhere also are looking to exploit the energy resources of the desperately poor Southeast Asian country.

    France’s Total SA and Malaysia’s Petroliam Nasional Bhd., or Petronas, currently pump gas from fields off Myanmar’s coast through a pipeline to Thailand, which takes 90 percent of Myanmar’s gas output, according to Thailand’s PTT Exploration & Production PLC.

    But investing in Myanmar has brought accusations that petroleum corporations offer economic support to the country’s repressive junta, and in some cases are complicit in human rights abuses. This week’s bloody clampdowns on protests have escalated the activists’ calls for energy companies to pull out of the country.

    “They are funding the dictatorship,” said Marco Simons, U.S. legal director at EarthRights International, an environmental and human rights group with offices in Thailand and Washington. “The oil and gas companies have been one of the major industries keeping the regime in power.”

    Demonstrations that started a month ago over a spike in fuel prices have become a broader protest against the military rulers. Ten people were killed in two days of violence this week. Soldiers fired automatic weapons into a crowd of demonstrators in Yangon on Thursday and occupied Buddhist monasteries and cut public Internet access Friday. The moves raised concerns the crackdown on civilians was set to intensify.

    Myanmar’s proven gas reserves were 19 trillion cubic feet at the end of 2006, according to BP PLC’s World Review of Statistics. While that’s only about 0.3 percent of the world’s total reserves, at current production rates and Thailand’s contract price for gas, the deposits are worth almost $2 billion a year in sales over the next 40 years.

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