Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Myanmar - 5 dead as troops shoot protesters

At least one person has been killed in the crackdown by authorities in Myanmar where pro-democracy demonstrations have continued throughout this week. Tear gas has also been fired upon the crowds. UK Ambassador Mark Canning, speaking to Sky News, said there had been “serious and disturbing violence against demonstrators”. Besides an attempt by the authorities to stop the dissemination of news filtering out from the country by shutting down mobile telephone networks and internet cafes, pictures have nonetheless arrived at news agencies around the world. Thousands of monks and members of the general population have been seen protesting on the streets and world leaders have called on the authorities to show restraint. On Tuesday, George W Bush took to the podium at the United Nations General Assembly and criticised the authorities in Myanmar, sometimes known as Burma, saying that they should show restraint in dealing with pro-democracy protests or face sanctions. This had earlier been echoed by Britain’s Foreign Secretary, David Miliband at the Labour Party Conference in Bournemouth, southern England. Mr Bush said “Americans were outraged at the situation” in the country “where a military hunter has imposed a nineteen year reign of fear”. Mr Bush said that “Basic freedoms of speech, assembly and worship are severely affected, ethnic minorities are persecuted. Enforced child labour, human trafficking and rape are common”. He spoke too of the more than 1000 political prisoners held in detention, including Aung San Suu Kyi “whose party was elected overwhelmingly by the Burmese people in 1990”. She has reportedly been taken to a high security prison.

Today there are reports of 3 Buddhist monks killed by army troops, though some sources the death toll was as much as 5. Many others have been severely beaten. And there are also reports saying that at least 50 have been arrested.

There has been widespread condemnation from around the world. The White House today called the situation “troubling” while Britain’s Prime Minister Gordon Brown said, “The whole world is watching … and will hold Burma accountable”.

China and India both big trading partners with Myanmar, have been encouraged to exert diplomatic pressure on the Myanmar regime. However there is no sign that either country has been involved in discussions with the Myanmar government. Meanwhile a meeting at the UN later today is set to discuss sanctions against the country. Former Ambassador to Thailand was sceptical, saying that sanctions were unlikely to work. Derek Tonkin said that influence from China and India was more likely to achieve results.

CNN stressed the difficulty in obtaining information from Myanmar. The Democratic Voices of Burma, a non profit organisation, was providing some insight as to the events on the ground. With under cover reporters on the ground and using satellite TV broadcasts as well as short-wave radio transmissions, the media outlet was giving voice to protests that were virtually impossible in the past. In 1988 at least 3000 were killed during a crackdown by government troops. Coverage of those events was stifled and largely unseen due to the tight reign of the media by the military authorities. Burma has had a troubled history. The area now known as Myanmar has come together over several centuries. The country has seen invasions and immigration from all its surrounding borders. In the 13th century the Mongols invaded, led by Kublai Kahn. Internal struggles continued throughout the following 300 years with the gradual coming together of smaller states. In the 17th century the Portuguese occupied part of the country but was eventually defeated. The Chinese, French and British also attempted incursions and occupation of the country over the coming centuries. British occupation tied upper and lower Burma together by 1886. The occupation saw the British bring in workers from India and China, changing the ethnicity of the territory. The country also saw many protests against the British occupation. But it was not until after World War II that Britain rescinded ownership and declared independence of Burma. A Democratic Republic was formed, but in 1962 a military coup d'├ętat put General Ne Win into power. Anti-government protests were violently put down in 1974 and again in 1988. The first free elections brought a win for Aung San Suu Kyi, but the ruling party refused to stand down, declaring the results annulled. The fear amongst many is if the authorities will go as far in their brutal crackdown of pro-democracy protesters as they did in 1988 [8888 Uprising]. But Aye Chan Naing told CNN he did not expect a repeat of those events.

[BBC / CNN / Sky News]

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