It seems there are two concurrent and in some ways opposing narratives about Burma. Internationally much seems to be moving in a hopeful direction, the reaction to the explosion of resistance is different to ’88, change is possible, meanwhile internally the regime makes some PR concessions but the story is one of a tightening police state, rumours of atrocities and protesters on the run, adapting and overcoming to keep resistance alive.
The Burma Campaign UK are pleased with our Gordon-
The Burma Campaign UK today warmly welcomed the action the British government is taking with regards to the current crisis in Burma. The measures were summarised in a ministerial statement by Foreign Secretary David Miliband today.
“The steps the British government is taking are exactly what is needed,” said Mark Farmaner, Acting Director of the Burma Campaign UK. “They are applying pressure in all the right places. We are very pleased to see the government taking decisive action in this way.”
Only two points are outstanding-
What more could the British government be doing?
• Support a United Nations arms embargo on Burma.
• Release the names of companies trading with the regime. For many years we have been calling on the government to publish the names of companies that import goods from Burma into the UK. £26 million of goods were imported last year, but the Treasury refuses to disclose the names of those companies, citing a duty of confidentiality. However, the information could be released if the relevant government Minister decided it was in the national interest to do so. This would give the British public the choice of avoiding purchasing goods from Burma if they choose to do so.
But the mood seems to be Brown is actually doing something more than previous administrations (Thatcher, Major, Blair- not exactly hard, ahem). The UN are ‘debating’ a formal response, it’s hard not to see the realpolitik on show here, countries benefiting from the regime oppose a strong statement, countries who would like a slice of the Burma pie are coming over all concerned about democracy. But any port in a storm, the regime are so bad it is necessary to take support where it can be had, then perhaps the second era of a Burma campaign will be helping them resist a thorough sacking by the forces of neo-liberal ‘economic development’.
What is hopeful is only a very few government’s with vested economic interest in Burma are standing by the regime, overall condemnation is the persistent message (although the ever capitalist authoritarian Singapore leaves a lot to be desired)-
Malaysia’s foreign minister, Syed Hamid Albar, said General Than Shwe should drop any conditions on talks with Aung San Suu Kyi if Burma was to avoid a range of punitive sanctions being urged by the US and EU following the junta’s brutal crackdown on pro-democracy demonstrators. “Myanmar [Burma] has no choice but to move towards democracy,” he said. The strong words that spoke for all Burma’s neighbours in the Association of South East Asian Nations came as the UN security council prepared to debate a draft resolution today condemning the repression
Internally the Generals feel enough pressure to make some PR moves, a weak diversionary tactic-
Burma’s military rulers have appointed an official to liaise with detained pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi in an apparent concession to the UN. Aung Kyi, a retired general currently serving as deputy labour minister, was appointed to “continue relations [with her] in the future”, state TV said.
Dissected at length at Irrawaddy-
More probable is that this is a clever and calculated diplomatic offensive launched by Than Shwe and his experienced diplomats. The former psychological warfare officer was indeed manipulating in order to deflect external and internal opinion and criticism with the aim of buying time. Than Shwe has had two face-to-face meetings in the past with Suu Kyi and reportedly holds a grudge toward the Nobel Peace Prize winner.
He and his hardliners masterminded a plot to kill Suu Kyi and her supporters in Depayin, a remote area in central Burma where no journalists, film crew or photographers were able to witness the carnage in May 2003. Suu Kyi and her deputy Tin Oo (former army chief in the 1970s) narrowly escaped the thuggish attack and were taken in custody to a safe location by intelligence officers belonging to Gen Khin Nyunt, who was then still in power.
Although no film footage or photographs of the attacks reached the outside world, the incident prompted international condemnation. Than Shwe, however, launched a clever counteroffensive. Shortly after the attack, the regime surprised the world by releasing dozens of photographs of meetings between Suu Kyi and top leaders, including Than Shwe, to demonstrate that the regime had conducted dialogue with her, while accusing her of destabilizing the regime.
Now, after crushing the street demonstrations in Burma, the regime has stepped up its damage-control campaign, with the blessing of China and neighboring countries.
The other moves at perception management and outright corrupt propaganda suggest the regime is indeed less than sincere in its approach-
State-run newspaper the New Light of Myanmar has published its own account of raids on monasteries by government security forces, including allegations of items recovered in the raids.
Burmese authorities blamed some monks, along with 88 generation students and “bogus monks”, for fomenting unrest and threatening monks who did not participate in the recent mass demonstrations in Burma. The paper also denounced foreign media, which it accused of misinformation and fabricating stories about the deaths of monks during the protests.The article defended security officers who had rounded up all the monks during the monastery raids, claiming that they were unable to distinguish between the real monks and imposters and so had to arrest everyone.
Among the items that had reportedly been found during the raids were alcohol, pornographic and sexual materials, women’s clothing, anti-government literature and a variety of weapons. U Gambira, a spokesperson for the People’s Movement Leader Committee, dismissed the claims. “People of Burma and the whole world know whether these accusations being made about monks by the junta are really true or not. Monks are peaceful people and we don’t need to give any answer to the government’s claims as everyone knows the truth. But still, I would like to say this is a very bad thing the [Burmese government] has done,” he said.
This leads into the parallel story, of the continuing lockdown and extermination of dissent, prisoners are moved to unknown locations and some are beaten to death in custody. And another story of mass cremations appears, albeit in a Murdoch rag-
The Burmese army has burnt an undetermined number of bodies at a crematorium sealed off by armed guards northeast of Rangoon over the past seven days, ensuring that the exact death toll in the recent pro-democracy protests will never be known.
The secret cremations have been reported by local people who have seen olive green trucks covered with tarpaulins rumbling through the area at night and watched smoke rising continuously from the furnace chimneys.
And the resistance is now underground, an atmospheric undercover video report from the BBC here. The web is back up partially which is good and bad, the regime reckon they have crushed the uprising so the web is not a threat, which is bad if they are right, but with the web up the resistance can organise more easily and communicate directly with the outside world. So this is the race for Burma, the regime strangling the democracy movement while internationally some real difference in response suggests the military will not be able to revert to their standard operating procedures.