September 2007

Streets in Rangoon and Mandalay were relatively quiet on Saturday, following three bloody days in which at least 10 protesters were gunned down, according to state-run media, and scores of monks and civilians were beaten and arrested by security forces.

Crowds taunted and cursed security forces barricading central Rangoon overnight, as the junta tried to prevent more mass protests against Burma’s 45 years of military rule and deepening economic hardship.

It resembles a chaotic urban war zone with the Burma Army preparing to crush the people’s movement with a heavy hand.

In the ”before” shot, from May 2004, the village is there, a cluster of seven roofs near a small lake. In the ”after” shot, from February of this year, the houses are gone.

Over 30 monks being detained in Bamaw prison have started a hunger strike . They were later transferred to other prisons and separated on September 27. The local authorities raided various monasteries in Bamaw on September 25 night and arrested 108 monks. They were forcibly disrobed and sent to prison. Since then, 30 monks have been staging a hunger strike and over 100 monks are reciting the Sutra. (more…)

Dodging a deadly military crackdown, bloggers in Myanmar are now on the front lines providing news and photos of death and insurrection. The military responded on Friday by closing down the Internet, signaling that a wider and more severe crackdown on street protesters could be imminent. (more…)

Maungdaw, Arakan State : An unofficial curfew order has been imposed in Maungdaw and Buthidaung townships, Arakan state, Burma since September 25.

The traditionally hospitable people have clammed up and the tourists have disappeared from the streets of Myanmar’s main city amid fear and anger at the military’s brutal crackdown on pro-democracy protesters.

The Web site of The Irrawaddy News Magazine, a Chiang Mai-based Burmese news agency, was infected by a virus beginning on September 27. (more…)

Just last Sunday-when marches led by Buddhist monks drew thousands in Burma’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 Burma’s military rulers.

OUR country is dying amid the bloodshed of Buddhist monks.

Members of the ASEAN Inter Parliamentary Myanmar Caucus (AIPMC) called an emergency press conference on the deteriorating situation in Myanmar. (more…)

A Burmese official has apologized for the death of a Japanese video journalist during anti-government protests after Japan strongly protested the incident, a Japanese news agency reported Saturday. (more…)

Geneva – The United Nations Human Rights Council will hold an emergency session next week to discuss the bloody crackdown on protests by the military regime in Burma, which has left an unspecified number of Buddhist monks and other demonstrators dead and injured this week and hundreds under arrest. (more…)

Premier scraps scheduled speech to call for an end to the violence

Satellite images confirm reports earlier this year of burned villages, forced relocations and other human rights abuses in Myanmar, scientists said on Friday.

Burma’s military rulers have restricted the movement of food during the ongoing political unrest, hampering UN efforts to feed some 500,000 people in the impoverished country, the World Food Program said.

Burma or Myanmar? As the military regime has cracked down on pro-democracy protests in the Asian country this week, a war of words has flared again over what to call the troubled nation.

The Bush administration stepped up its confrontation with the ruling junta in Myanmar on Friday, and officials said they were searching for ways to persuade China and other nations to cut off lending, investment and trade into the country.

But in a sign of how limited Washington’s leverage is against the country, which has long been the target of American sanctions, officials said they were concerned that China, a trading partner and neighbor of Myanmar, would block any serious effort to destabilize the Burmese government.

The administration seems to regard the violent crackdown on Burmese monks as a long-hoped-for opportunity to get other Southeast Asian nations to rethink their insistence that they should not interfere with the internal politics of their neighbors. The hope is that American pressure might force the Burmese leaders into a political process that would drive them from power, if not from the country.

”What we are trying to do is speed their demise,” said a senior American official. ”The question is, do we have the diplomatic and economic influence to hit a bank shot here,” by persuading Beijing, in particular, that its dealings with Myanmar could embarrass it as the 2008 Olympics approach.

Another senior official said the administration would try to persuade China to offer sanctuary to the leaders of the junta, in hopes it would get them out of the country. Other ideas include getting China and India to halt investment in new oil and gas projects, cutting off bank lending in places like Singapore to freeze Burmese accounts.

The officials spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were discussing internal policy deliberations.

Many of the techniques are modeled on the sanctions designed against North Korea. Officials were surprised at how quickly banks ceased dealing with that country as soon as they realized it could affect their access to the American banking system.

”International institutions take our list seriously,” one of the officials said, referring to banks. The official added, ”They quickly realize the downside of dealing with these people is greater than the upside.”

At least for the moment, officials said, the junta leaders seemed to be gaining some ground over the protesters, cutting off their access to the Internet, so that photographs and video of the street confrontations would not circulate around the world.

The government does face international criticism, though. The United Nations, under pressure from the Bush administration and European leaders, is sending a special envoy, Ibrahim Gambari, to Myanmar, which agreed to allow him to visit after China intervened, officials said.

In a meeting on Thursday, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice confronted a midlevel Burmese diplomat, according to officials who were present, telling him it was ”bizarre” that he was defending his government while pictures emerged of troops shooting unarmed monks.

On Friday, Ms. Rice expressed disappointment that the United Nations Security Council could not act more forcefully, largely because of opposition from China.

”I will say on Burma that given what is going on in the streets in Rangoon, I would have hope that the Security Council would have taken stronger action,” Ms. Rice said in New York, referring to the country’s capital, Yangon, by its traditional name. American policy does not recognize the military government’s changing of the country’s name to Myanmar and continues to refer to it as Burma.

The Bush administration’s efforts have received praise from an unexpected quarter: human rights advocates.

”To the extent the international community is not moving, it is not the fault of the United States,” said Jeremy Woodrum, a co-founder of the U.S. Campaign for Burma, an advocacy organization in Washington. He credited President Bush with forcing through statements critical of Myanmar’s leaders this week by the United Nations Security Council and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.

Officials said Mr. Bush saw the events in Myanmar as a chance to reinforce his push for democracy around the world. ”It’s a legacy moment,” a senior American diplomat said.

Mr. Bush discussed how to respond to the military crackdown in a video conference on Friday with Prime Minister Gordon Brown of Britain, who promised to seek tougher sanctions through the European Union. The State Department also announced that it had barred ”more than three dozen” senior officials and their family members from entering the United States.

On Thursday, the Treasury Department announced a list of 14 of Myanmar’s leaders who now face sanctions. One of the senior officials said that the list would be expanded next week to include more officials.

Few Burmese leaders have ever traveled to the United States, but President Bush pointedly included family members when he announced the visa bans. The State Department did not specify who was on the list, though it almost certainly includes those on the Treasury Department’s list.

The officials warned that it could easily be expanded to include Burmese officials’ children or grandchildren who might be visiting or studying in the United States.

One of the senior officials said that the administration was also considering the fate of the only major American investment in Myanmar, a Chevron energy stake, which was grandfathered in when the Clinton administration imposed sanctions on the country in 1997.

Chevron owns a share of a gas field and pipeline project that was initially acquired by Unocal. The project also includes Total from France, PTT Exploration and Production of Thailand and Myanmar’s Myanma Oil and Gas Enterprise.

A spokesman for Chevron, Donald Campbell, declined to comment on whether the new sanctions or any other under consideration would affect the company’s investment.

Given the dearth of American investment and trade with Myanmar, the financial levers appear limited, officials acknowledged.

But the United States has stepped up pressure in other ways: Voice of America and Radio Free Asia doubled their broadcasting into the country in Burmese to five hours a day.

Officials hope to increase that, and also to shift funds to help support nongovernmental organizations and purchase cellphones to help disseminate information, especially now that the government has shut down Myanmar’s Internet connections.

Ultimately, though, the officials said the greatest hope for forcing the military government to negotiate its own demise, in effect, rested with the country’s neighbors, especially China.

President Bush used an Oval Office meeting with China’s foreign minister on Thursday to press for strong action, but American officials say the Chinese are reluctant to act against a significant trading partner or set a precedent for undermining a single-party government that represses dissent.

Still, the White House press secretary, Dana M. Perino, said Friday that Mr. Bush was pleased with the outcome of his meeting with the foreign minister, Yang Jeichi. ”I think that the Chinese were helpful in allowing to make sure the U.N. special envoy was allowed to get there, to Burma,” she said.

If the world acts in concert, the violence should be the last spasm of a vicious regime in its death throes “FEAR”, the lady used to say, “is a habit.” This week, inspired in part by the lady herself, Aung San Suu Kyi, partly by the heroic example set by Buddhist monks, Myanmar’s people kicked the addiction. (more…)

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