AFTER SEPTEMBER 2007 PROTESTS IN MYANMAR

AFTER SEPTEMBER 2007 PROTESTS IN MYANMAR

About three weeks after the September 27 crackdown, Associated Press reported: “Myanmar lifted a curfew and ended a ban on assembly imposed during a deadly crackdown on pro-democracy protests — the latest sign the military rulers are confident they have fully crushed the largest demonstrations in two decades. The relaxing of restrictions imposed Sept. 25 was announced from government vehicles driven through the streets of Myanmar's largest city, Yangon. "The curfew and ban on assembly has been revoked effective today, because security and stability has improved," according to the announcement issued from a speaker atop one of the vehicles. [Source: Associated Press, October 20, 2007 *]

“The lifting of the 9 p.m. to 5 a.m. curfew and ban on gatherings of more than five people indicates the junta believes it has stamped out the uprising...Since the crackdown, authorities in Myanmar have attempted to apply a softer touch. They have cleared the streets of soldiers and released some prominent activists. U.S. presidential press secretary Dana Perino said the announcement was "a bad sign that the regime now feels confident that it has cleared the monasteries of dissidents by either jailing them or sending them to their home villages, and arrested all the major players in the demonstrations and sent into hiding or exile those they have not captured." *

“The government announced earlier this month that military leader Senior Gen. Than Shwe was willing to meet with the Aung San Suu Kyi, but only if she meets certain conditions including renouncing support for foreign countries' economic sanctions targeting the impoverished nation.In a lengthy commentary, the state-run New Light of Myanmar newspaper said the time was right for Suu Kyi to respond positively to the offer of talks "with a view to serving the interest of all." "We are tired of watching a stalemate ... we should not go on like this forever," the commentary said. "There should be some forms of compromise. If one side makes a concession, the other side should do so. The situation will get worse if both sides are arrogantly intransigent, refusing to budge from their stand." *

“By November 2007, the junta was showing signs of reconciliation: it was sending out feelers to dissidents and allowing the United Nations to investigate the riots and tally the dead. Aung San Suu Kyi was shown shaking hands with a representative from the junta and she said she was ready to “cooperate” with the regime. Aung San Suu Kyi met with members of her party, the National League of Democracy, for the first time in three years. Some of the monks who led the Saffron Revolution remain in Myanmar’s prisons, and the regime has taken over many of the monasteries, carefully vetting all applicants for their political loyalties.” *

International Response to the

September 2007 Protests in Myanmar

In response to September crackdown, news services reported: “The European Union widened economic sanctions and the United States warned it would push for U.N. sanctions against Myanmar if it fails to move toward democracy. However, China and Russia remain opposed to any action by the U.N. Security Council, saying the situation in Myanmar is an internal affair that does not threaten international peace and security. China has said it is opposed to sanctions. Supporters of Myanmar's democracy activists came out in the thousands in cities across Europe and Asia to mark the International Day of Protests. "Burma is not a human rights emergency of today, last week or last month," said Irene Khan, the chief of Amnesty International, which organized the global protests. "It is a human rights emergency that the world has chosen to forget for the last 20 years. We will not forget this time round, we will not let the people of Burma down." [Source: News services, October 10, 2007]

The day after the crackdown, Reuters reported: “The United States and the 27-member European Union asked the council to consider sanctions and demanded that the junta in the former Burma open a dialogue with jailed opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi and ethnic minorities. "We condemn all violence against peaceful demonstrators and remind the country's leaders of their personal responsibilities (for) their actions," a joint statement said after the 27 EU foreign ministers met US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly. "We call on the Security Council to discuss this situation urgently and to consider further steps including sanctions." [Source: Reuters, September 27, 2007]

Associated Press reported: “The crackdown triggered an unprecedented verbal flaying of Myanmar's generals from almost every corner of the world — even some criticism from No. 1 ally China, which said it was "very much concerned about the current situation." It urged the ruling junta to "exercise restraint and use peaceful means to restore its stability as soon as possible." [Source: AP, September 27, 2007]

Myanmar Government Blames Foreigners and Defends Its Actions

Five days after the September 27 crackdown, AFP reported: “Myanmar Foreign Minister U Nyan Win Monday defended his government's crackdown on pro- democracy protesters, blaming the turmoil on "political opportunists" backed by "powerful countries."Articulating his government's most detailed analysis of the current unrest, he told the U.N. General Assembly that "political opportunists" backed by "some powerful countries," which he did not name, were stirring the trouble. "The situation would not have deteriorated had the initial protest of a small group of activists against the rise in fuel prices not been exploited by political opportunists," he told the U.N. General Assembly. He said those "opportunists ... aided and abetted by some powerful countries" also took advantage of protests "staged initially by a small group of Buddhist clergy demanding apology for maltreatment of fellow monks by local authorities." [Source: AFP, October 2, 2007 <>]

“The minister asserted that Myanmar security forces showed "utmost restraint" and did not intervene for nearly a month. He said authorities were compelled to declare a curfew "when the mob became unruly and provocative. When protestors ignored their warning, they (security forces) had to take action to restore the situation. Normalcy has now returned in Myanmar." Nyan Win portrayed the turmoil as part of "neo-colonialist attempts" to impose Western-style democracy on Myanmar. The strategy, he said, involves launching media campaigns and "spreading disinformation that the country concerned is committing gross human rights violations" and portraying these drives as "a fight for democracy." The next phase, he added, is the imposition of sanctions "which hinder economic development and cause poverty for the people." The third step involves providing "political, financial and other material support to create unrest in the country," he said. Finally he added, in an apparent reference to the US-led invasion of Iraq, "under the pretext that a country is undemocratic, unstable and that it poses a threat to international peace and security, they intervene directly and invade the country." <>

Associated Press reported: “Myanmar's military government stepped up its propaganda machine, calling foreign critics of its crackdown "liars" and filling state-controlled media with positive spins of the junta's crushing blow to pro-democracy advocates. Soldiers maintained a visible presence on the streets of Yangon, Myanmar's biggest city, where an eerie quiet has returned after last week's deadly crackdown on pro-democracy protesters. The lakeside home of democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi remained heavily guarded with about 200 riot police posted near her home, two dozen inside her compound and two patrol boats watching from the water. With internet access to the outside world blocked, state-controlled newspapers churned out the government's version of the country's crisis and filled pages with propaganda slogans, such as "We favour stability. We favour peace," and "We oppose unrest and violence." [Source: AP, October 4, 2007 ><]

“Critics from the international community and foreign media were dismissed as "liars attempting to destroy the nation" - one of many bold-faced slogans covering The New Light of Myanmar newspaper's back page. Newspapers made no mention of Buddhist monks being detained for their role in protests or of soldiers dragging people from their homes in night-time raids. Instead, coverage was devoted to pro-government rallies that have been held in stadiums around the country in recent days, such as one in the south-eastern town of Myiek that New Light of Myanmar said was attended by 36 000 people. Critics say the rallies are shams filled with people ordered to attend by authorities. ><

Myanmar Junta Tightens Screws and Hunts Dissidents

Aung Hla Tun of Reuters wrote: “Despite gradually easing its iron grip on Yangon the junta continued to round up scores of people and grill hundreds more arrested during and after a ruthless crackdown on pro-democracy marches. A relative of three women released said detainees were being divided into four categories: passers-by, those who watched, those who clapped and those who joined in. "They're looking for the people who led the demonstrations. The people clapping will only get a minimal punishment - maybe two to five years," said Win Min, who fled to Thailand during a crackdown on a student-led uprising in 1988. Leaders could be looking at up to 20 years behind bars, he said. [Source: Aung Hla Tun, Reuters, October 4, 2007 =]

“People in central Yangon's Kamayut district said soldiers had arrested scores of people on Wednesday night for trying to impede a raid on the Aung Nyay Tharzi monastery a few days earlier and giving protection to fleeing Buddhist monks Another 70 young monks rounded up in other swoops across the city a week ago were freed overnight from a government technical institute, complementing 80 monks and 149 women believed to be nuns released. One freed monk, who did not want his name revealed, said some had been beaten when they refused to answer questions about their identity, birthplace, parents and involvement in the protests, the biggest challenge to the junta in nearly 20 years. "The food and living conditions were horrible," the monk, from Yangon's Pyinya Yamika Maha monastery told Reuters. =

The junta closed down monasteries. Thousands of monks were sent home to their villages from their monasteries. Associated Press reported: U.S. embassy staff had gone to some monasteries in recent days and found them empty. Others were barricaded by the military and declared off-limits to outsiders. "There is a significantly reduced number of monks on the streets. Where are the monks? What has happened to them?" the acting ambassador said. Scores of monks were seen at Yangon's main train station Wednesday, trying to get out of the city. Witnesses said some were ordered by their superior monks to go back home to avoid trouble. Others were ordered by the government to vacate monasteries and head home to reduce the possibility of future unrest. [Source: AP, October 3, 2007 ^]

“Soldiers said they were hunting pro-democracy protesters in Yangon and the top U.S. diplomat in the country said military police had pulled people out of their homes during the night. Military vehicles patrolled the streets before dawn with loudspeakers blaring that: "We have photographs. We are going to make arrests!" Shari Villarosa, the acting U.S. ambassador in Myanmar, said in a telephone interview that people in Yangon were terrified. "From what we understand, military police ... are traveling around the city in the middle of the night, going into homes and picking up people," she said. Residents living near the Shwedagon Pagoda, Myanmar's most revered shrine and a flashpoint of unrest, said police swept through several dozen homes in the middle of the night dragging away several men for questioning. ^

“The Democratic Voice of Burma, a dissident radio station based in Norway, said authorities have released 90 of 400 monks detained in Myitkyina, the capital of Kachin state, during a midnight raid on monasteries on Sept. 25. Authorities also released a reporter for the Japanese newspaper Tokyo Shimbun after six days in detention. Min Zaw was taken from his home Friday by plainclothes security personnel who said he would be held temporarily for questioning. ^

“Meanwhile, the junta pursued other means of intimidation. An employee from the Ministry of Transport, speaking on condition of anonymity, said he was told to sign a statement saying he and his family would not take part in any political activity and would not listen to foreign radio reports. Many in Myanmar use shortwave radios to pick up foreign English-language stations — a main source for news about their tightly controlled country. ^

“A semblance of normality returned to Yangon after daybreak Wednesday, with some shops opening and light traffic on the roads. However, "people are terrified, and the underlying forces of discontent have not been addressed," Villarosa said. "People have been unhappy for a long time. ... Since the events of last week, there's now the unhappiness combined with anger and fear." ^

Arrests After the September 2007 Protests in Myanmar

Two weeks after the September 27 crackdown the news agencies reported: “A relentless crackdown on Myanmar's pro-democracy activists showed no sign of easing with the junta announcing that 78 more people have been detained in spite of global outrage and new sanctions. The latest arrests, reported by the state-run New Light of Myanmar newspaper, brought to nearly 1,000 the number of people the military regime acknowledges holding in detention centers. In addition, it says 135 Buddhist monks remain in custody. But dissident groups and foreign governments say more than 6,000 people. [Source: News services, October 10, 2007 ~]

The New Light of Myanmar, a mouthpiece of the junta, quoted investigators as saying 78 more people "who were involved in the protest" were being questioned. It did not say when they were detained. These were in addition to 2,093 people who were detained earlier, of which 1,215 were released, the paper said. Authorities also took in 533 monks for questioning "to differentiate between real monks and bogus monks." "Out of those taken, 398 monks have been sent back to their respective monasteries," it said. ~

The junta's propaganda machine, meanwhile, continued to claim massive rallies across the country, allegedly in support of the government. The paper said demonstrators denounced the recent protests "instigated" by some monks and members of democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi's party. Demonstrators waved placards and shouted: "We want peace, we don't want terrorists." It reported four rallies in central and northwestern Myanmar, attended by 7,500, 19,000, 20,000 and 30,000 people. Such rallies are widely believed to be stage-managed by the government, with every family in the district forced to contribute one or two members. The junta has snuffed out the democracy movement despite international condemnation. ~

The BBC reported as many as 10,000 people were rounded up. Norimasa Tahara wrote in the Yomiuri Shimbun: “Myanmar's military junta planted plainclothes soldiers and policemen among demonstrators to identify monk and citizen leaders...A source close to the junta disclosed that the junta launched a “preemptive attack” on anti-government movement leaders. ~

Jill Drew wrote in the Washington Post, “One 60-year-old man, who was a bystander during the protests but has not been arrested, said he spoke with a friend who spent five days in a detention center. The man estimated there were 3,000 people in the building, once a technical college in Insein Township, near the notorious Insein Prison. People were put in former lecture halls, hundreds in a room without toilets. Drinking water was scarce. "He said it was like a life in hell for five days," he said. A Rangoon taxi driver told of a friend detained for 10 days. "He was given one egg to share with eight people, one bottle of water. No one was allowed to sleep. They had to sit, and if they lay down, they were hit." [Source: Jill Drew, Washington Post, October 24, 2007]

All but 91 of the 3,000 or so people arrested were released within a few weeks. In December Associated Press reported: “national police chief Brig. Gen. Khin Yi said that 2,927 people, including 596 monks, were detained in connection with the protests, but that only 80 people, including 21 monks, remain in custody. [Source: AP, December 7, 2007]

Arrest of Leaders of the September 2007 Protests in Myanmar

In mid-October 2007, Seth Mydans wrote in the New York Times: “In a continuing campaign of arrests in Myanmar, the authorities have caught their most-wanted man, a former student leader who helped organize recent protests, Amnesty International said. The organizer, U Htay Kywe, 39, was the last remaining leader of a group called the 88 Generation Students Group, which had led protests against a fuel price increase in mid-August that grew into huge demonstrations against the military junta. Two other members of the group were also arrested, as well as another dissident, according to Amnesty. One of the people reported to have been arrested is Daw Mie Mie, 35, who was prominent in photographs and videos of the first small demonstrations that had been smuggled out of the country. [Source: Seth Mydans, New York Times, October 14, 2007]

The government is now hunting down participants in the rallies, from leaders like Mr. Htay Kywe to prominent monks to other categories of people like “those who watched,” “those who clapped” and “those who joined in,” according to exile groups. “The crackdown is quite systematic, to create terror, real terror, among the people,” said Aung Zaw, editor of the exile magazine Irrawaddy, who has maintained contacts in Myanmar, formerly Burma. “After they put down the monks’ protests they are just hunting down Htay Kywe and other civilian activists,” he said. “They want to arrest them all and put them in prison, perhaps indefinitely.”

Thirteen other leaders of the 88 Generation Students Group were arrested after the first protest, on Aug. 19. Most of them, like Mr. Htay Kywe, spent many years in prison after leading countrywide demonstrations in 1988 that were violently suppressed by the military. Estimates of the death toll in that crackdown range from the hundreds to the thousands. Among the leaders arrested in August is one who goes by the name Min Ko Naing — which means Conqueror of Kings — the most influential opposition figure after Aung San Suu Kyi.

Mr. Htay Kywe has been the subject of an intense manhunt as the authorities circulated pictures of wanted dissidents to hotels, raided houses and checked passengers on buses, exiles said. Still on the run are three women who were prominent in the August rallies, including Daw Nilar Thein, who left her 4-month-old baby with her grandparents when she went into hiding, the exile groups said, and Daw Su Su Nway, 34, a labor activist who had been receiving medication for heart problems.

U Gambari

U Gambira is the pseudonym of a leader of the All-Burma Monks Alliance, which spearheaded nationwide protests in September. After the protests he was arrested and given a 68 year prison term that was cut short with his release in January 2012. He was arrested again a few weeks later but was released after pressure was put on the Myanmar regime by the international community.

U Gambira was 28 at the time of the protests in September 2007. In an op-ed published in the Washington Post published on November 4, 2007 — the day, as it happened, of his arrest after weeks on the run, he wrote: “In August, the Burmese people began to write a new chapter in their determination to find peace and freedom. Burmese monks peacefully protested to bring change to our long-suffering country. As we marched, hundreds of thousands of Burmese and our ethnic cousins joined us to reinforce our collective demand: that military rule finally give way to the people's desire for democracy. Video and the Internet have allowed the world to witness the brutal response directed by Gen. Than Shwe, Burma's de facto ruler and military leader. Than Shwe unleashed his soldiers and the regime's thugs, who attacked us. Once again the streets in Rangoon and Mandalay ran red with the blood of innocent civilians seeking to save our country from the moral, social, political and economic crises that consume us. [Source: U Gambari, Washington Post, November 4, 2007 +++]

“Hundreds of our monks and nuns have been beaten and arrested. Many have been murdered. Alarmingly, thousands of clergy have disappeared. Our sacred monasteries have been looted and destroyed. As darkness falls each night, intelligence units try to round up political and religious leaders. Military rule has brought Burma to collapse. Our economy is in ruins. Once the breadbasket of Asia, Burma cannot feed itself. Once we were a light for education and literacy; now, the regime has closed schools and universities. Once we breathed the air of freedom; now, we choke on the foul air of tyranny. We are an enslaved people. +++

“People ask whether I am disheartened and whether this latest spasm of democratic activism is over. The answer to both questions is no. Although I am wanted by the military and forced to hide in my own country, I am awed by the bravery of so many, including sympathetic security agents of the junta who opened their homes to democracy leaders and me. Since August, I have seen my country galvanized as never before. I have watched our 88 Generation leaders bravely confront the military. I have watched a new generation of activists join to issue an unequivocal call for freedom. And I have watched as many in the police and military, sickened at what they were forced to do to their countrymen, give so many of us quiet help. The primary tools wielded by Burma's senior generals, a climate of fear and the use of violence, are no longer working — and with nothing to lose, we are no longer afraid.” +++

In November after the main protests had finished “more than 200 monks staged a protest in Pakokku. They stared military officers in the face. Their spirit and determination are a warning to the regime and those that prop it up. Burma's Saffron Revolution is just beginning. The regime's use of mass arrests, murder, torture and imprisonment has failed to extinguish our desire for the freedom that was stolen from us so many years ago. We have taken their best punch. Now it is the generals who must fear the consequences of their actions. We adhere to nonviolence, but our spine is made of steel. There is no turning back. It matters little if my life or the lives of colleagues should be sacrificed on this journey. Others will fill our sandals, and more will join and follow. +++

Gambira’s monastery in Yangon was shut down. He withstood four years of torture and beatings during his imprisonment. After his release in January 2012, he resumed his harsh critiques of the government. He then broke into three monasteries that had been sealed by the army in 2007 and also traveled to Kachin State in northern Myanmar to draw attention to human-rights abuses a war against ethnic separatists there and was briefly jailed again. Joshua Hammer wrote in Smithsonian magazine, “The physical and mental strain of prison life, along with continued harassment, took a heavy toll on Gambira. In March he reportedly suffered a nervous breakdown. The monk left the monastery, returned to layman status and moved in with his mother near Mandalay. “He does not want to speak to anybody,” she told me when I called. “He is not in good mental condition.” [Source: Joshua Hammer, Smithsonian magazine, September 2012]

U Gambira, a Buddhist monk sentenced to 63 years in prison for his role in the 2007 Saffron Revolution protests was badly tortured in 2009 according to Amnesty International, the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (Burma) and his elder sister, Ma Khin Thu Htay. The monk was given narcotic injections to silence him rather than appropriate medical care. According to his sister, he was beaten on the head with a stick “every 15 minutes for the entire month of April 2009.” [Source: Fred Hiatt, Washington Post, November 10, 2011 }{]

“He was beaten in this manner for requesting permission to walk for his health,” she wrote in a recent letter to Myanmar’s president. “While he was being beaten, his hands were placed behind his back and handcuffed, and he was forced to wear iron shackles. In addition, he was hooded with a black cloth bag and pieces of cloth were forcefully put in his mouth . . . he was fed meals with a spoon by prison guards . . . and [had to] urinate or defecate on the chair.” By the time he was transferred to another prison in May, he was, according to a prison official, “a crazy guy.” }{

Escaping from Myanmar After the September 2007 Protests

Reporting from a refugee camp on the Thai-Myanmar border, Jill Drew wrote in the Washington Post, “The young Buddhist monk arrived here by boat from Burma, exhausted and disheveled, with no passport, the stubble of his hair dyed blond for a disguise, and wearing a traditional Burmese longyi wrap instead of his saffron-colored robe. He had to elude capture by running barefoot, racing two miles down a highway, and jumping into bushes when cars passed. Burmese troops had been hunting Ashin Kovida for three weeks, since he helped lead pro-democracy protests in Burma's largest city, Rangoon. Ashin Kovida, 24, came to the safety of this mountain town on Thailand's western border, joining about 20 other refugees. [Source: Jill Drew, Washington Post, October 26, 2007 ~~]

On September 26, when the Myanmar regime started to get serious about its crackdown, “Ashin Kovida got on a bus with other monks, looking for a place clear of government troops to start marching. As they were making their way to Sule Pagoda, a friend called to tell him to avoid Sule; government forces were again shooting people. He headed back to his monastery, but he and the other monks were afraid that it was only a matter of time before soldiers raided it, too. Ashin Kovida found a hiding place, where he stayed until Oct. 12. He heard that police had his photo and were hunting him. The government newspaper published his name in a list of 20 monk leaders who were "making the country unstable." "It was getting worse and worse," he said. "But I didn't know where to go. I didn't have any connection outside of Burma." Of the 15 monks who were part of his leadership group, he has heard that eight have been arrested and six are in hiding. The government is still trying to find him. ~~

Thomas Fuller wrote in the New York Times, On September 26 “the government began a violent crackdown. Security forces clubbed and tear-gassed protesters, blocked their path and arrested hundreds. ”The police pulled the monks’ robes and beat them,” Mr. Kovida said. ”Nuns were stripped of their sarongs.” He said he escaped by climbing over a brick wall. The next day, as the crackdown intensified, he said he changed out of his robes and fled to a village about 40 miles away where, with the help of relatives and friends, he hid in an abandoned wooden hut. He was so afraid of attracting the attention of neighbors that he suppressed his coughs and never left the dark hut for two weeks, he said. He relieved himself using a plastic bucket, he said, and friends occasionally dropped off food. [Source: Thomas Fuller, New York Times, October 26 2007 }{]

“On October 12, his adoptive mother, whom he called Daw Thin Thin Khaing, was detained, news that was immediately relayed to him. He fled into the night, barefoot. ”I ran down a large road,” he said. ”Whenever a car came I hid in the bushes.” He headed back to Yangon, he said, where he dyed his hair blond. He bought a crucifix in a local market and, several days later, boarded a bus heading toward the Thai border. Using a false identity card, he passed about eight checkpoints and reached Myawadi, a border town, on October 17. The next morning, he said, he crossed the Moei River to Thailand in a boat, bypassing the official border post. An October 18 article in The New Light of Myanmar, the state-run newspaper, accused him of hiding ”48 yellowish high-explosive TNT cartridges” in his monastery. Now, facing almost certain detention in Myanmar, Mr. Kovida said he would request refugee status in Thailand. ”I have been in the monkhood since I was so young,” he said. ”My whole life, I have been studying only Buddhism and peaceful things.” }{

"Because the monks' peaceful demonstrations got international support and the support of the people of Burma, the government does not know how to take more actions against the monks," Kovida told the Washington Post. "So they are trying to say monks are going to use violence. If they take action against the monks without telling a story, it's not good in the international community." ~~

Myanmar Monks March Again

In late October, more than a month after the September crackdown, Aung Hla Tun of Reuters wrote: “Buddhist monks in Myanmar staged a protest march, their first since soldiers crushed a pro-democracy uprising a month ago, as U.N. special envoy Ibrahim Gambari prepared a return visit to the former Burma. The latest march by monks in the central town of Pakokku, 370 miles northwest of Yangon, suggests the crackdown merely managed to stifle, not eradicate, widespread anger at 45 years of military rule and deepening poverty. The town has been a flashpoint since soldiers fired over the heads of monks in early September, transforming small, localized protests against shock hikes in fuel prices into the biggest anti-junta uprising in two decades A witness told Reuters about 200 maroon-robed monks chanted prayers as they walked three abreast through the center of the town. [Source: Aung Hla Tun, Reuters, October 31, 2007]

The Democratic Voice of Burma, a dissident radio station based in Norway, said the monks were sticking to their demands for lower fuel prices, national reconciliation and release of all political prisoners, including Suu Kyi. "We are not afraid of getting arrested or tortured," a monk was quoted as saying. There were no reports of trouble. One resident, who did not want to be named for fear of reprisals, said the monks had deliberately chosen a route to avoid clashes with junta-sponsored rallies to condemn last month's demonstrations.

Year after Crackdown, Myanmar Junta Flexes Muscles

In late September 2008, a year after the crackdown, Reuters reported: “Myanmar's junta put armed police and barbed wire barricades on the streets of Yangon, the first anniversary of a bloody military crackdown on major anti-government protests. Security was especially tight near the house of detained opposition leader and Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, and in front of City Hall, where a small bomb exploded earlier, wounding seven people. Official papers said none of the victims were seriously hurt, and urged public vigilance against the "bombers and terrorists in disguise". No group was blamed for the blast. Normally in the aftermath of such incidents, the junta immediately points the finger at underground democracy activists or the ethnic guerrilla groups. [Source: Reuters, September 26, 2008]

"The authorities concerned are conducting investigation into the case to expose the saboteurs and explosives," said the New Light of Myanmar, the junta's primary mouthpiece. The paper also said bomb squad officers found and defused a second device left near the site of the first explosion and timed to detonate an hour afterwards. Even though it is impossible to say who might have been behind the bombs -- one diplomat suggested it could even be the military trying to justify its heavy security presence in Yangon -- the timing was significant.

Earlier this month, female activist Nilar Thein, a student leader in a brutally crushed democracy uprising in 1988 and an organiser of last year's protests, was detained after a year on the run. She went into hiding, abandoning her four-month-old daughter, when her husband was arrested in August for helping stage the small fuel and food price demonstrations that snowballed into the monk-led marches a month later. The junta says all but a handful of those detained have been freed, although rights groups say 700 are still behind bars. Myanmar's longest-serving political prisoner, 79-year-old journalist Win Tin, was freed this week after 19 years in prison. However, another senior member of the opposition National League for Democracy (NLD) was rearrested only 24 hours after being released from a prison in Katha, 1,000 kilometers north of Yangon, NLD spokesman Nyan Win said.

Opposition After the September 2007 Protests

A year after the protests, Kenneth Denby wrote in The Times, “Across the country, and principally in the cities of Rangoon, Mandalay and Sittwe, monks and lay activists are using mobile telephones and the internet to keep the spirit of opposition alive. Mass demonstrations, of the kind that so shook the Government a year ago, are almost out of the question – any public display of opposition would end in long imprisonment. Instead tiny, loosely linked groups of activists secretly perpetrate small, symbolic acts of defiance in anticipation of the moment when the opportunity to take to the streets will represent itself again. “It is impossible for us to demonstrate openly now because the security is too much,” Min Tun, the abbot of a monastery in Mandalay, told The Times. “But there will be opportunities and there will be demonstrations in the future. The Saffron Revolution is not finished.” [Source: Kenneth Denby, The Times, September 26, 2008]

The Venerable Min Tun (like the other Burmese activists in this report, his name has been changed) presents another example of the kind of action by which the Saffron revolutionaries sustain their morale. It is a simple sketch of a human hand inside a circle – it might represent a friendly wave, the raised palm of the Buddha or the hand of a traffic policeman. This is the symbol of the “stop campaign”, an emblem of peaceful resistance to the military regime. The stop sign has been printed on pamphlets scattered in the streets of Mandalay by night and sprayed on walls, above splashes of red paint that symbolise the blood shed by the regime. A young man named Lu Kar explained how he used a tiny stamp to imprint the symbol on the banknotes in the shop where he works. “The stop sign means stop torture, stop violence, stop injustice, and there are many people like me, making this mark on the banknotes,” he said. “Eventually, in a few months or a year, people will look at their money and start to notice.”

Increased oppression has forced the anti-junta resistance to extremes of ingenuity, and even wit. Stray dogs have been set loose with signs round their necks bearing the names of Senior General Than Shwe and his junta. Poets have published acrostic verses whose first letters spell out insulting messages about the generals. Ironically, it is the savageness of the economic suffering in Burma, and the cartoon-like crudity and brutality of its rulers, which give some in the democratic movement hope. “The demonstrations last year happened for a reason, because of underlying social and economic problems,” Maung Maung, an opposition journalist, said. “They have put people in prison and killed some, but those economic problems are still there.”

In the meantime the organising continues discreetly. Various opposition groups put out bulletins and statements but they are less like formal membership organisations than loosely linked networks of friends. The Venerable Min Tun explained that his group, the All Burma Monks Association, had a cell system whereby one monk remained in touch with four laymen so that when the momentum towards demonstrations reached a sufficient level they could be mobilised quickly.

In 2009, the Washington Post reported: “Activists and diplomats say the government has become more like a greedy mafia than an all-powerful military regime. And it appears increasingly shaky. "Living in any authoritarian country, while you're in the midst of it, it's hard to see that they'll ever cede power or go away -- or anything," Villarosa said. "But actually, they cause their own destruction. And their foundations are rotting. "It's going to happen here," she added. "It's a question of time. None of these [regimes] go on forever. It is going to collapse. The foundations are getting weaker and weaker." [Source: Washington Post, August 24, 2009 ||||]

Image Sources:

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, The Irrawaddy, Myanmar Travel Information Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Global Viewpoint (Christian Science Monitor), Foreign Policy, burmalibrary.org, burmanet.org, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, NBC News, Fox News and various books and other publications.

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© 2008 Jeffrey Hays

Last updated May 2014

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