[view all of my posts about the Burma Demonstrations by clicking here]
I took yesterday off and while there is some news from Burma from the past two days, it is slim and, as expected, not good.
It seems much of the media blackout in Burma has worked. There is little information about what is going on inside Burma. But, the UN envoy made it to Burma. He was unable to meet with junta generals but he did, surprisingly, meet with Aung San Suu Kyi. This is good news. I had heard she was moved from house arrest to a prison, though I am unsure if that is true, and I had feared she may have been killed. Thankfully, she is alive and hopefully will stay alive.
There were some small demonstrations, including one of 800 people. But the military has kept them very small and short. Each report of demonstrations is followed by reports of the military attacking the demonstrators. The 800 are reported as having been chanting, “Release all political prisoners.”
But, hope is fading. As already reported, with the monks in isolation, the demonstrators have lost their powerful leaders. CNN has reported that the monks are being held in their monasteries and that the monasteries are covered with barb wire. There have been rumors of a mutiny within the ranks of the military, who are predominantly Buddhist, but that rumor does not seem to be true. Here is a snippet from one report:
Still, a video shot Sunday by a dissident group, the Democratic Voice of Burma, showed a monk, covered in bruises, floating face down in a Yangon river. It was not clear how long the body had been there.
Meanwhile, diplomats are being informed that the military has tried to break into at least three monasteries. They were prevented but promised to return with greater numbers. During the attempt, the monks chanted, “Loving kindness.” These kinds of actions are what got me first interested in this story. I fell in love with the monks’ peaceful protests and my heart breaks at hearing about how they are being treated. With any luck, the rest of the world will have enough of a broken heart to take action.
The New York Times reports that without the monks, the demonstrations have simply lost focus and this has allowed the junta to quickly and violently destroy the few small demonstrations. One Western Diplomat is quoted as saying, “Troops are chasing protesters and beating them and taking them away in trucks. There are pockets of protesters left. They are unorganized, and it’s all very small-scale.”
No one knows how many are dead. The junta continue to claim only ten people are dead. Everyone else knows the number is much, much higher. Many fear hundreds may be dead, but I fear it is, or soon will be, in the thousands. I have heard reports of streets lined with bodies with a few brave souls praying over the bodies. We may never know how high the death toll really is.
No one is really doing anything to protect the Burmese people. The sanctions by the United States have little effect and everyone in the international community knows that US economic pressure will have little, if any, effect on the junta. China is said to be the only country that can have any effect but they seem unwilling. Still others claim China’s impact has been overestimated.
So today, it was quieter, but that is not really a good thing. According to The New York Times, Shari Villarosa, the chief diplomat at the United States Embassy, has said, “Today has been quieter than previous days, meaning far fewer protesters came out, but the military is being very quick to use violence, tear gas, guns and clubs to break it up.”
International condemnation and outrage continues. Monks in New Delhi have been marching in support of the Burmese civilians and monks. They have also criticized the Indian government for not doing anything about the situation. In the 1980s, India had supported the pro-democracy movement in Burma. But they quickly changed sides and supported the junta, who controlled the country’s resources. Now, however, India’s parliament is speaking out in against the junta and demanding the release of all political prisoners. They have sent a letter expressing, “solidarity with the monks, nuns and the people of Myanmar. We would like to appeal to all concerned, that the political leaders, including Aung San Suu Kyi, are released and the process for establishing democracy be started soon.”
The Catholic Church has also spoken out against the violence of the junta:
Pope Benedict XVI expressed serious concern Sunday about the situation in Myanmar and said he strongly hoped that a peaceful solution would be found.The pontiff told a gathering of pilgrims in Italy he was following “with great trepidation the very serious events” in the Asian nation.However, the Catholic Church has urged Catholics in Burma not to protest and not to march, likely to ensure because of the dangers of demonstrating.
Rebels in Burma are also coming to the aid of the pro-democracy movement:
The Karen National Union (KNU), which has battled the government for 57 years in one of the world’s longest-running insurgencies, condemned the government’s violent crackdown to disperse protesters.
The KNU urged 17 ethnic rebel groups that have signed ceasefires with the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC), as the junta calls itself, to unite in opposing the government.
But, despite the international outrage, global companies continue to support the junta:
US energy giant Chevron, French oil group Total and China’s top oil producer China National Petroleum Corporation are among companies giving much-needed income to Myanmar, defying activists’ calls to pull out.
Burma’s natural gas has enticed companies to deal with the Burmese military and government and most companies publicly acknowledge that, despite the junta’s violent response to the demonstrations, they would not being changing their policies. In addition to natural gas, companies are vying for Burma’s teak, forest products, jade, gems, beans and textiles. They should be ashamed.
In an interview with The Associated Press, Thitinan Pongsudhirak, a political scientist at Bangkok’s Chulalongkorn University, says, “Unless and until Beijing, Delhi and Moscow stand in unison in pressuring the SPDC for change, little will change.”
The National Coalition Government of the Union of Burma, an exile group based in Washington, has told the Associated Press, “The world cannot fail the people of Burma again. Selfless sacrifices deserve more than words and lip-service. They want effective intervention before it is too late.”
But for me the most telling quote from all of the reports comes from the same Associated Press article (the emphasis is mine):
Die-hard protesters waved the peacock flag of the crushed pro-democracy movement on a solitary march Saturday through the eerily quiet streets of Myanmar’s largest city, where many dissidents said they were resigned to defeat without international intervention.
The blogs are roaring on this topic as well and I encourage you to click on the Sphere icon below to see what people are writing. But it seems so futile to this blogger. I almost want to give up. What can I do sitting in my Ohio apartment? My friend, and fellow blogger, Jim Trumm has the answer to that though (he has another post worth reading as well. Check it out here).
At the very least, the bloggers are, as Trumm says, bearing witness. And we need that now more than ever. Our media won’t cover these things deeply and when they do they wait until it is too late.
You should also check out Kyi May Kaung’s blog. She is a Burmese poet who has gathered a lot of information that has helped me, at least, to understand the reality, the concreteness, of this story.
I also recommend Bumese Bloggers Without Borders.
We are all bearing witness and we must continue to bear witness. But to do so we must view and think about dangerous, difficult and disturbing things. Witness.org has a video called “Shoot on Sight” (It is also available on YouTube and GoogleVideo). Is there a stronger word than “saddened”? How about for “enraged”? Or “sickened”?
My words are failing me and that is the nature of our task during this crisis. Since no one will go to Burma to stop what is happening, since no one seems willing to stand up for democracy in Burma, and since the junta will not stop, the citizens of the world must bear witness. We cannot forget what has happened in Burma nor can we forget what will happen.
So, if news continues to come, I will keep following it. Hopefully, at least the blog-world will keep the spotlight shinning on Burma and the junta long after the violence has “ended” in order to keep the people’s movement for peace and democracy alive.
The world may be paying lip-service to the Burmese people. I will not. And hopefully neither will you.
[view all of my posts about the Burma Demonstrations by clicking here]