Lip-Service for Selfless Sacrifice: Burma, Part Six

[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.

And we should all be reading Ko Htike’s blog.  He is a Burmese exile who has been covering this story wonderfully since day one (and before).  You can read more about him here.

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.

Sphere 

[view all of my posts about the Burma Demonstrations by clicking here]

Bloodbath Again! Burma, Part Five

[view all of my posts about the Burma Demonstrations by clicking here]

This will be the second post today about what is happening in Burma.  The news is grim.  Today, there were no massive protests as the military has taken control of the streets.  Read all about it:

Troops Take Back Control in Myanmar

There were small groups of activists who challenged the military, but they were quickly taken care of by the military.  As they were clubbed and shot at, they shouted “Bloodbath again!  Bloodbath again!”

The civilians were dealt a serious blow by the military when the monks were corralled.  As one woman said, “The monks are the ones who give us courage. I don’t think that we have any more hope to win.”  This same woman has not seen her boyfriend and fears he has been arrested.

Here is one description of today’s actions:

Just a few blocks from the Sule Pagoda in downtown Yangon, some 2,000 protesters armed only with insults and boos briefly confronted soldiers, wearing green uniforms with red bandanas around their necks and holding shields and automatic weapons.

As the crowd drew near, the soldiers fired bullets in the air, sending most of the protesters scurrying away. A handful of demonstrators still walked toward the troops but were beaten with clubs and dragged into trucks to be driven away.

Still others vow to continue to demonstrate despite the military crackdown.  One civilian said, “We will win this time because the international community is putting a lot of pressure.”

I wish that were so but I tend to agree with a different Burmese civilian who is quoted as saying, “Why don’t the Americans come to help us? Why doesn’t America save us?”   But of course American can’t save them.  We are too busy elsewhere.  All we can do is put sanctions on the leaders of Burma.

Yahoo has installed a Full Coverage News section devoted to the Burma crisis.  You can access it here.

The Charleston Pst and Courier has published the following editorial:

Burma protest needs world support

Unfortunately it seems less likely everyday that anyone is going to do anything to stand up for the peaceful demonstrators of Burma.  No one wants to take on the Burmese government because everyone is more interested in the resources of Burma than in a democratic Burma.  Read about that:

Action On Myanmar Unlikely Despite Anger

Finally there is a flickr site set up by Yahoo devoted to this story as well.  Find it here.  And there are plenty of other, privately designed, flickr sites devoted to this story as well.  Just search “Myanmar Monks” or “Burma Monks” and you will find them.

Pray for the Burmese people.  They are peaceful.  They want respect from their government.  They want a say in their lives. 

And pray for our world leaders so they may find a way to help the people of Burma have those things.

Sphere

[view all of my posts about the Burma Demonstrations by clicking here]

The Ugliness of the Situation: Burma, Part Four

[view all of my posts about the Burma Demonstrations by clicking here]

Surprisingly, and sadly, there is a lot of news out of Burma today.  The title of the front page article from The New York Times, I think, says it all:

More Deaths in Myanmar, And Defiance

Those of you who have been following my posts about the crisis in Burma (and I feel confident, now, about calling it a crisis), know how much I have commented about the beauty of the images of the monks protesting.  I linked to one particular image on September 24th’s post, “What’s Going On in Burma“.  Look at that image and compare it to the image that accompanies today’s New York Times article.  I am chilled to my core.

Before dawn yesterday, the military junta conducted raids on Buddhist monestaries.  It continued throughout the day with tear gas, beatings and gunfire. 

From what I understand, the monks have not marched again today.  However, pockets of laypeople have continued their demonstrations, despite the government’s recent ban on groups of more than five people.  The small pockets of demonstrators ranged in size from a few hundred to around 2,000.  Shots were fired (some as warnings, but other reports claim the shots were fired at demonstrators) and at least ten people have been killed.  Some witnesses are reporting far more but the news agencies have been hesitant to list numbers that they cannot confirm.  Other protests were broken up when the military junta attacked the crowds with clubs, beating the civilians.  The number of wounded is unknown.

The Association of Southeast Asian Nations expressed “revulsion” today and told the junta “to exercise utmost restraint and seek a political solution.” Meanwhile, the protests have spread throughout the region with demonstrations against the junta occuring in Malaysia, Thailand, Japan and elsewhere.

The Burmese government has also reinforced the media blackout by suspending the services of major internet providers, BaganNet and Myanmar Post and Telecom.  There have also been reports of the government closing Internet cafes, which had been where a lot of citizens had been loading and sending images from their camera phones.

Meanwhile, China (along with Russia) have blocked attempts by the UN to condemn the actions of Burma’s military junta.  This is significant since China is one of Burma’s chief allies and economic supporters.  President Bush, along with other European leaders, are urging China to pressure the Burmese government to show restraint.  Bush had a one-on-one meeting at the White House yesterday with China’s foreign minister, during which he urged China to use its influence to facilitate a peaceful transition to democracy.

It has been made clear to all experts on the situation that the big question of whether or not the predominantly Buddhist military in Burma would attack the monks.  From what has been reported, it is clear that their loyalty to the government is much stronger than their loyalty to the monks. 

The next big question that needs to be answered, then, is what effect the international sanctions will have.  According to the New York Times report (linked at the beginning), the sanctions are likely to have little to no effect on the Burmese government.  Certainly, none of the sanctions that have been in effect over the past twenty years have had any effect and so, the theory goes, it is unlikely that any more sanctions will have anay effect.  Thant Myint-U, a former United Nations official who wrote River of Lost Footsteps: Histories of Burma, is quoted as saying, “The big missing piece of the puzzle is what is going on in the minds of the senior leadership.  Nothing that they have said in the last 20 years would suggest that they will back down.”

This is not good.  This is a crisis.  Someone needs to get to Burma to support the demonstrators and, quite frankly, they need to have gotten there three days ago.  The UN Secretary General has sent a special envoy to Burma to act as a third party intermediary and hopefully he can help defuse the situation.  But it is unclear when he will get there.

But it does not look good for the people of Burma.  Sunai Phasuk, a representative of Human Rights Watch in Thailand, has said that all of the phone numbers of his contacts in Burma have gone dead.  The government is going to try to keep information from flowing out of Burma.  In today’s world, that is likely impossible.  Still, the situation seems to be getting worse by the day.

Yahoo has an article from the Associated press that contains satellite images of Burma.  It is worth reading:

Satellite images may show Myanmar abuses

There is also an accompanying video that you may want to view:

Satellite images may show Myanmar abuses

Sphere

[view all of my posts about the Burma Demonstrations by clicking here]

Has the Beauty Turned Into Brutality? Burma, Part Three

[view all of my posts about the Burma Demonstrations by clicking here]

There is less news out of Burma today.  Last night, Anderson Cooper said there was a media blackout, though, which would explain why there is so much less news.  But there are good things and bad things I’ve been reading.

Apparently, at least nine people were killed yesterday and at least eleven were wounded.  No report there on how many were monks.  Still, hundreds of monks were arrested yesterday in an effort by the Burmese government to prevent further protests.  Burmese officials say only one person died and only two were injured during this action, but other witnesses claim at least five are dead and hundreds were wounded.

It was unclear, early this morning, whether the monks would return to the streets.  Apparently, out fo fear of the government crackdowns, the monks stayed away today.  But throughout Burma, thousands of laypeople took to the streets in support of the monks and in support of the push toward democracy.

Also, George Bush has announced increased sanctions against senior officials in Burma.  Read that one here:

Bush Imposes Sanctions On Myanmar After Crackdown

I really wish we had the ability to do more than just impose sanctions.  I really do.

The last bit of news I have is a report from the Associated Press describing the odds against the monks.  The good news is that there are more monks than members of the military.  Also, those in the military tend to be Buddhist so it is difficult to imagine them attacking monks.  The bad news is that, well, they have attacked the monks. 

Along with that, the military and police have more practice today with non-lethal methods of controling the people of Burma than they did in the late 1980s/ early 1990s.  I’m unsure if that is good or bad news — good because less people, hopefully, will die; bad because it will make it harder for the international community to get over there and support the demonstrators.  Read all about the odds:

Odds against monks facing Myanmar troops

I will continue to post about what is happening in Burma as more news comes in.

Sphere

[view all of my posts about the Burma Demonstrations by clicking here]

What’s Going On in Burma, Part Two

[view all of my posts about the Burma Demonstrations by clicking here

The post on the demonstrations in Burma is getting quite long because there is new news, seemingly, every hour.  I’m starting a new post in order to try and keep the original “What’s Going On in Burma” post from being overwhelmingly long. 

Here is the latest news, as of 3:30 on Wednesday, September 26: 

The associated press has confirmed that at least four people have been killed in Burma, and at least three of those were Buddhist monks.  Meanwhile, the junta has now surrounded at least six major monasteries in the attempt to stop further demonstrations.  They have also ordered bus drivers not to pick up any monks. 

There are also reports of monks wearing gas masks to counteract the effects of the military’s tear gas.  Amid the tear gas, witnesses claim to have seen at least 200 monks arrested.

Time Magazine has put together a report about the confrontation.  The report is an amalgamation of a number of eyewitness accounts that they have been receiving.  Read it here.

Reuters has put together a timeline of events related to this story.  The timeline goes back to August 15th.  You may find it here.


Monks protest: 100000 march in new Myanmar protest” posted by news6776

Sphere

[view all of my posts about the Burma Demonstrations by clicking here]

What’s Going On in Burma

[view all of my posts about the Burma Demonstrations by clicking here]

The protests in Burma have made it to the front page of The New York Times today.  To read about the 100,000 plus who marched, as well as to see a wonderful picture, read here:

Monks’ Protest Is Challenging Burmese Junta

Let’s try to put these protests into a bit of context.  Burma(currently known as Myanmar) has been attempting Democracy since the fifties.  The usual story occured, filled with puppet presidents, military coups and various squelched rebellions. 

The story really picks up in the late 1980s.  Pro-democracy demonstrations began and they ousted the dictatorship of Ne Win.  More generals seized power, though, by brutally crushing the protesters.  Thousands died as the generals/dictators gunned down the protesters and demonstrators.

In 1990, elections were held and the National League for Democracy won the majority of seats in the government’s elections.  The military-run State Law and Order Restoration Council declared the elections invalid and Aung San Suu Kyi, the leader of the NLD, was placed under house arrest.  She has been under house arrest on and off, being released for short periods of time and then returned to having military guards outside her home, ever since and was seen for the first time in four years last week when the monks travelled to her home.

The monks have been marching since September 17th, 2007and since then the public has joined them.  Over the weekend, 100,000 people marched, about 5,000 of whom were young Buddhist monks.  These protests began for a number of reasons.  Some are marching in response to economic conditions (the marches began as the government raised fuel prices in this very poor Asian country).  Others are marching in response to the cruelty of the government.  Still others are just marching because they want more Democracy, a link that has been strengthened each time the monks have lead the demonstrators to Aung San Suu Kyi’s home. 

The junta (the government run military) has been careful about how it deals with these protests.  The Buddhist monks in Burma are considered the conscience of the country (the young monks who are protesting claim that, as the country’s conscience, they must do something about the situation of average people in Burma).  The monks are also revered.  A violent response toward the monks could, and likely would, incite major riots throughout the country.  The monks have, to say it simply, put the junta in a tough spot. 

Since the demonstrations began, the Burmese government has not acknowledged the actions of the monks or their followers.  Television and radio in the country, run by the government, have not covered the story.  The information that is spreading is spreading thanks to new technologies like the internet, which the government has been unable to control.

But today the situation has changed again.  After a week of demonstrations, after a week of red robed monks marching and saying, “May there be peace”, the Burmese government has warned the monks to stop their demonstrations.  The government has told senior Buddhist monks to control the younger monks who are protesting.  If the monks don’t stop demonstrating, the government will be forced to take action.  At the same time, U.S. President, George W. Bush has announced increased military sanctions against the Burmese government and against governments that support it.  This, he says, will help the growing movement for democracy in Burma.  The end results of this, he hopes, will be the end of the dictatorship in Burma and the spread of Democracy throughout the country (and perhaps throughout Asia).

I can’t exactly say why I am so fascinated by this story.  I’ve talked in recent posts about the beauty of the images that relate to this story.  And certainly the peaceful demonstrations against an evil dictatorship inspire hope that the world may yet be saved. 

I also am struck by this wonderful use of religion.  So often those on the left are plagued by religious groups who are doing things to fight what we consider civil liberties (abortion, same sex marriage) or who are fighting science (stem cell research, evolution).  Here we see the power of religion to lift a people up.  Here we see the ability of religion to fight for justice and equality.  Here we have an example of how religion can inspire a people to stand up for themselves.

I hope the demonstrations continue in Burma and I hope the sanctions imposed hurt the government (but not the people — though the usual effect of sanctions is to make innocent, poor people more poor while having little, if any, effect on the government under sanction).  I hope violence doesn’t break out and I hope our news doesn’t have to start covering the brutal assassinations and mass murders of monks and poor people (it would be a shame for CNN to start covering this story in prime time only after violence breaks out).

But maybe there is a powerful, maybe even industrialized, nation that can use all of its political, economic and military prestige and strength to support this pro-democracy movement against a violent, totalitarian, oppressive dictatorship.  Anyone able to take this supportive role?  Anyone who hasn’t already committed all of their resources in another area of the globe?

Much of my education about this story came from the following sources:
100,000 Turn Out for Myanmar Protest
Myanmar government warns monks
The New York Times: Myanmar
Bush to Impose Sanctions on Myanmar
The Columbia Encyclopedia. 6th Edition: “Myanmar”

Other posts about this topic include:
Wild Chihuahuas: Where Are Our Monks
Hard Talks: 1000,000 turn out for Myanmar protest
Petunias: More Burma
Myanmar Burma News: Mok Revolution In Burma
Rule of Lords: Saffron Revolution
With Bowl and Rice: Burma: In Praise of the Buddhist Monks
whereinsoever: the road to myanmar looks bleak, folks
Burma Review: India can’t afford to be a fense sitter in Burma’s struggle for Democracy
Myanmar Ethnic Rehingyas Human Rights Organization Malaysia: FACTS ABOUT CHINA’S RELATIONSHIP WITH BURMA’S MILITARY REGIME
Andrew Sullivan’s The Daily Dish: A Saffron Revolution?

UPDATED 9/25/07: 6:28 PM

Two new developments out of Burma today.  The protests did continue, this time with 35,000 people and with an estimated 10,000 of those being Buddhist monks.  They traveled the streets chanting, “Democracy, democracy.”  In response, a nightime curfew has been imposed and all gatherings of more than five people have been banned. 

During the demonstrations today, there were no overt signs of the police or the junta.  But after the demonstrators left, riot police and troops moved in, filling up the city’s center.  At the same time, witnesses claim that Aung San Suu Kyi was taken from her home and moved to Insein prison.  This would take a powerful symbol away from the demonstrators as they would no longer be able to march to her (though they, theoretically, could march to her home still).  Read more about these events:

Myanmar imposes curfew, bans assembly

Troops move in after monks chant ‘democracy’

UPDATED 9/25/07: 6:28 PM

I am attempting to change all references to Myanmar into references to Burma.  Thanks to Andrew Sullivan for reminding me that the violent and repressive anti-democracy generals are the ones who changed the name from Burma to Myanmar.

UPDATED 9/26/07: 11:14 PM

More news out of Burma today.  The monks (and civilians) continued their protests, despite the government’s ban on gatherings.  Shots were fired.  The Associated Press has confirmed that the government’s security forces have killed one person and wounded three.  Witnesses claim at least five people are dead (including monks), but that information has not been confirmed.  Read more:

Violent crackdown launched in Myanmar
Police Clash With Monks in Myanmar

And on the blogs:

Asian Students Association: Burma: SPDC Responds to Monks’ Protest with Violence
Burma Digest: Photo: Bloody Crack Down in Burma
Andrew Sullivan’s The Daily Dish: Burma on the Brink
Framed: Courage

And an editorial from The New York Times:

The Despotism Formerly Known as Burma

UPDATED 9/26/07: 3:30 PM

This post is getting so long that I have decided to put all further updates into a new post.  So if you’ve read this and want to know what has happened after this, go read “What’s Going On in Burma, Part Two.

Sphere

[view all of my posts about the Burma Demonstrations by clicking here]

A Wet Blanket on a Recently Received Email

Just got one of those email jokes that get spread around and I thought I would share it with all of you.  Have fun:

A Detroit Tigers scout flies to  Baghdad to watch a young Iraqi play baseball and is suitably impressed and  arranges for him to come over to states.Two weeks later  the Tigers are in a close game with the Indians. The manager gives the  young Iraqi reliever the nod and on he goes. The kid is a sensation,  he strikes out everyone he faces for the rest of the game and wins it  for the Tigers! The fans are delighted, the players and coaches are  delighted and the media loves the new star.

When the player comes off  the field he phones his mom to tell her about his first day in the   Majors.”Hello mum, guess what?” he says in an Iraqi accent. “I played for three innings today, I was called from the bullpen with the bases loaded but I struck out everyone I faced , and we  won. Everybody loves me, the fans, the media, they all love me.”

“Wonderful,” says his mom, “Let me tell you about my day. Your father got shot  in the street and robbed, your sister and I were ambushed, gang raped and beaten  and your brother has joined a gang of looters, and all while you were having  such a great time.”

The young lad is very upset, “What can I say mum, but I’m  so sorry.”

“Sorry?!!! Sorry?!!!” says his mom, “It’s your damn fault we  moved to Detroit in the first place!”

Yeah, there’s nothing like joking about the rape, murder, kidnapping, and violent sectarian segregation of nearly an entire country.

Didn’t Michigan Congressman Tim Walberg already make an ignorant comment like this, inciting the anger and disbelief of pretty much anyone who heard about it?  Read all about it.