ASIA: Burma’s people determined confront the dictators; set an example for their neighbours

On the morning of 27 September 2007 people around the world were wondering if the protestors in Burma would back down in the face of heavy force that is believed to have left five monks and one civilian dead on the previous day, two monasteries looted and hundreds arrested.

They did not. Throughout the day, tens of thousands gathered in Rangoon, Mandalay and Sittwe, on the western seaboard; smaller groups came together elsewhere: in each place they marched and issued cries for democracy and national reconciliation in the face of guns pointed not over their heads but directly at them.

In Rangoon, crowds assembled on the road to Sule Pagoda in the city centre were soon met with gas, gunfire and baton charges from assembled troops, riot police and auxiliary forces. They repeatedly retreated and reformed. By nightfall thousands had still not dispersed; the voice of an eyewitness speaking to the Democratic Voice of Burma radio from Pansodan, in the downtown area, was punctuated by the sound of gunfire from near and far.

At least nine died by the admission of the military regime alone– among them, four monks, a high school student, university student and a Japanese journalist. As this number is drawn from propaganda newspapers, it is likely that there are many other casualties as yet unreported. In particular, some accounts have indicated that there was indiscriminate firing in and around a high school in Tamwe, and that students and their mothers were hit; others were injured when at least one vehicle driven by the security forces rammed into the crowd. At least one student from the school died. At a street in South Okkalapa too eight are reported to have been killed; security forces came and removed the bodies from the houses of the victims’ families.

In Mandalay, thousands of demonstrating monks and civilians were warned with gunfire from troops, stationed at roadblocks all around the city with riot police. Hundreds were also assaulted and arrested, but in an important sign of the resolve and continued defiance of the protestors, they were joined for the first time by a column of over a hundred monks from the Buddhist University there.

Large numbers of demonstrators have unequivocally chosen to confront the military, despite the risks to life and liberty involved. While some have been killed and more injured, far larger numbers have been arrested: in Mandalay there are reports that virtually the entire National League for Democracy leadership has been picked up and taken away. Hundreds of monks have been rounded up and tens of thousands confined to their monasteries by troops. At the school in Tamwe, students and others also were driven off. As the arrests are ongoing around the country, it is impossible to verify all reports.

Yet despite the abductions–these cannot be called arrests as they are not being carried out under any law–the protests continue unabated. This is because in the rallies is the surfacing of intense popular frustration at years of impoverishment, mismanagement and insults heaped upon insults.

In this, it can be said that there is an even greater expression of national will than those that occurred in 1988: whereas on that occasion, the uprising was initiated largely through the work of students moving from place to place and motivating the public to participate in the cause, after the August 15 fuel price rises this year, rallies began spontaneously in towns and villages all over the country, without a single organised leadership or figurehead.

For this reason, despite the arrests of thousands of monks and persons presumed to be leading the protests, people are back out on the streets again today. Their depth of feeling will not be deterred as easily as the military leadership appears to believe, for it has again underestimated the degree to which it is abhorred by its people. There are many in Myanmar today who have made the decision to fight to the end: it was through the making of just such a decision that another country in the region, Korea, ultimately found its way out of military dictatorship and towards a vibrant new society, although not until many years after lives were lost.

In the coming days, there is likely not only to be greater violence committed by state officers, but also acts of sabotage and provocation. Such methods are part of their normal mode of operating and will further test the resolve and discipline of the persons who are continuing onto the streets and standing before the gun barrels.

The Asian Human Rights Commission believes that whatever the outcome of this struggle, the people of Burma have already achieved a great deal: they have shown that militarisation is intolerable. At a time that their neighbours have succumbed to army-led coups they–who know more than anyone in the region about the real character of military maladministration–have struck a huge blow against the rule of soldiers over the rule of law. They have struck a huge blow against dictatorship not only for themselves, but for all of Asia. Thus they deserve our wholehearted support so that this remarkable achievement can be completed and such that those on the streets in Burma today may be able to tell their grandchildren that it was they who returned the generals to the barracks, and made history of the military dominance of their country.

Document Type : Statement
Document ID : AS-235-2007
Countries : Bangladesh, Burma (Myanmar), Cambodia, China, India, Indonesia, Nepal, Pakistan, Philippines, South Korea, Sri Lanka, Thailand,
Campaigns : Burma Peoples Protests