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The Jehoshua Novels


Only now, the full horror of Burmese junta's repression of monks emerges

Monks confined in a room with their own excrement for days, people beaten just for being bystanders at a demonstration, a young woman too traumatised to speak, and screams in the night as Rangoon’s residents hear their neighbours being taken away.

Harrowing accounts smuggled out of Burma reveal how a systematic campaign of physical punishment and psychological terror is being waged by the Burmese security forces as they take revenge on those suspected of involvement in last month’s pro-democracy uprising.

The first-hand accounts describe a campaign hidden from view, but even more sinister and terrifying than the open crackdown in which the regime’s soldiers turned their bullets and batons on unarmed demonstrators in the streets of Rangoon, killing at least 13. At least then, the world was watching.

The hidden crackdown is as methodical as it is brutal. First the monks were targeted, then the thousands of ordinary Burmese who joined the demonstrations, those who even applauded or watched, or those merely suspected of anti-government sympathies.

“There were about 400 of us in one room. No toilets, no buckets, no water for washing. No beds, no blankets, no soap. Nothing,” said a 24-year-old monk who was held for 10 days at the Government Technical Institute, a leafy college in northern Rangoon which is now a prison camp for suspected dissidents. The young man, too frightened to be named, was one of 185 monks taken in a raid on a monastery in the Yankin district of Rangoon on 28 September, two days after government soldiers began attacking street protesters.

“The room was too small for everyone to lie down at once. We took it in turns to sleep. Every night at 8 o’clock we were given a small bowl of rice and a cup of water. But after a few days many of us just couldn’t eat. The smell was so bad.

“Some of the novice monks were under 10 years old, the youngest was just seven. They were stripped of their robes and given prison sarongs. Some were beaten, leaving open, untreated wounds, but no doctors came.”

On his release, the monk spoke to a Western aid worker in Rangoon, who smuggled his testimony and those of other prisoners and witnesses out of Burma on a small memory stick.

Most of the detained monks, the low-level clergy, were eventually freed without charge as were the children among them. But suspected ringleaders of the protests can expect much harsher treatment, secret trials and long prison sentences. One detained opposition leader has been tortured to death, activist groups said yesterday. Win Shwe, 42, a member of the National League for Democracy, the party of the detained democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi, has died under interrogation, the Thai-based Assistance Association for Political Prisoners said, adding that the information came from authorities in Kyaukpandawn township. “However, his body was not sent to his family and the interrogators indicated that they had cremated it instead.” Win Shwe was arrested on the first day of the crackdown.

It was the russet-robed Buddhist clergy, not political groups, who had formed the backbone of demonstrations during days of euphoric defiance and previously undreamed-of hope that Burma’s military regime could be brought down by peaceful revolution. That hope has been crushed under the boots of government soldiers and intelligence agents and replaced by fear and dread.

A young woman, a domestic worker in Rangoon, described how one woman bystander who applauded the monks was rounded up. “My friend was taken away for clapping during the demonstrations. She had not marched. She came out of her house as the marchers went by and, for perhaps 30 seconds, smiled and clapped as the monks chanted. Her face was recorded on a military intelligence camera. She was taken and beaten. Now she is so scared she won’t even leave her room to come and talk to me, to anyone.”

Another Rangoon resident told the aid worker: “We all hear screams at night as they [the police] arrive to drag off a neighbour. We are torn between going to help them and hiding behind our doors. We hide behind our doors. We are ashamed. We are frightened.”

Burmese intelligence agents are scrutinising photographs and video footage to identify demonstrators and bystanders. They have also arrested the owners of computers which they suspect were used to transmit images and testimonies out of the country. For each story smuggled out to The Independent, someone has risked arrest and imprisonment.

Hein Zay Kyaw (not his real name) received a telephone call last week telling him to be at a government compound where the military were releasing 42 people, among them Mr Kyaw’s friend, missing since he was plucked from the edge of a demonstration on 26 September. Mr Kyaw told the aid worker: “The prisoners were let out of the trucks. Even though now they were safe, they were still so scared. They walked with their hands shielding their faces as if they were expecting blows. They were lined up in rows and sat down against the wall, still cowering. Their clothes were dirty, some stained with blood. Our friend had a clean T-shirt on. We were relieved because we thought this meant that he had not been beaten. We were wrong. He had been beaten on the head and the blood had soaked his shirt which he carried in a plastic bag.”

The United States yesterday threatened unspecified new sanctions against Burma and called for an investigation into the death of Win Shwe.

White House spokesman Gordon Johndroe said in a statement: “The junta must stop the brutal treatment of its people and peacefully transition to democracy or face new sanctions from the United States.”

The scale of the crackdown remains undocumented. The regime has banned journalists from entering Burma and has blocked internet access and phone lines.

Mark Farmaner of the Burma Campaign UK says the number of dead is possibly in the hundreds. “The regime covers up its atrocities. We will never know the true numbers,” he said.

At the weekend the government said it has released more than half of the 2,171 people arrested, but exile groups estimate the number of detentions between 6,000 and 10,000.

In Rangoon, people say they are more frightened now than when soldiers were shooting on the streets.

“When there were demonstrations and soldiers on the streets, the world was watching,” said a professional woman who watched the marchers from her office.

“But now the soldiers only come at night. They take anyone they can identify from their videos. People who clapped, who offered water to the monks, who knelt and prayed as they passed. People who happened to turn and watch as they passed by and their faces were caught on film. It is now we are most fearful. It is now we need the world to help us.”

16 comments to Only now, the full horror of Burmese junta's repression of monks emerges

  • Zuma

    but instead, it’s not.

    i look at google news and saw nothing like this.
    certainly not in the papers.
    or other blogs.

    news seems more controlled than ever.

  • Bucksouth

    Chevron’s Pipeline

    The Burmese Regime’s Lifeline

    By Amy Goodman

    10/05/07 “ICH” — – The barbarous military regime depends on revenue from the nation’s gas reserves and partners such as Chevron, a detail ignored by the Bush administration.

    The image was stunning: tens of thousands of saffron-robed Buddhist monks marching through the streets of Rangoon [also known as Yangon], protesting the military dictatorship of Burma. The monks marched in front of the home of Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi, who was seen weeping and praying quietly as they passed. She hadn’t been seen for years. The democratically elected leader of Burma, Suu Kyi has been under house arrest since 2003. She is considered the Nelson Mandela of Burma, the Southeast Asian nation renamed Myanmar by the regime.

    After almost two weeks of protest, the monks have disappeared. The monasteries have been emptied. One report says thousands of monks are imprisoned in the north of the country.

    No one believes that this is the end of the protests, dubbed “The Saffron Revolution.” Nor do they believe the official body count of 10 dead. The trickle of video, photos and oral accounts of the violence that leaked out on Burma’s cellular phone and Internet lines has been largely stifled by government censorship. Still, gruesome images of murdered monks and other activists and accounts of executions make it out to the global public. At the time of this writing, several unconfirmed accounts of prisoners being burned alive have been posted to Burma-solidarity Web sites.

    The Bush administration is making headlines with its strong language against the Burmese regime. President Bush declared increased sanctions in his U.N. General Assembly speech. First lady Laura Bush has come out with perhaps the strongest statements. Explaining that she has a cousin who is a Burma activist, Laura Bush said, “The deplorable acts of violence being perpetrated against Buddhist monks and peaceful Burmese demonstrators shame the military regime.”

    Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, at the meeting of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, said, “The United States is determined to keep an international focus on the travesty that is taking place.” Keeping an international focus is essential, but should not distract from one of the most powerful supporters of the junta, one that is much closer to home. Rice knows it well: Chevron.

    Fueling the military junta that has ruled for decades are Burma’s natural gas reserves, controlled by the Burmese regime in partnership with the U.S. multinational oil giant Chevron, the French oil company Total and a Thai oil firm. Offshore natural gas facilities deliver their extracted gas to Thailand through Burma’s Yadana pipeline. The pipeline was built with slave labor, forced into servitude by the Burmese military.

    The original pipeline partner, Unocal, was sued by EarthRights International for the use of slave labor. As soon as the suit was settled out of court, Chevron bought Unocal.

    Chevron’s role in propping up the brutal regime in Burma is clear. According to Marco Simons, U.S. legal director at EarthRights International: “Sanctions haven’t worked because gas is the lifeline of the regime. Before Yadana went online, Burma’s regime was facing severe shortages of currency. It’s really Yadana and gas projects that kept the military regime afloat to buy arms and ammunition and pay its soldiers.”

    The U.S. government has had sanctions in place against Burma since 1997. A loophole exists, though, for companies grandfathered in. Unocal’s exemption from the Burma sanctions has been passed on to its new owner, Chevron.

    Rice served on the Chevron board of directors for a decade. She even had a Chevron oil tanker named after her. While she served on the board, Chevron was sued for involvement in the killing of nonviolent protesters in the Niger Delta region of Nigeria. Like the Burmese, Nigerians suffer political repression and pollution where oil and gas are extracted and they live in dire poverty. The protests in Burma were actually triggered by a government-imposed increase in fuel prices.

    Human-rights groups around the world have called for a global day of action on Saturday, Oct. 6, in solidarity with the people of Burma. Like the brave activists and citizen journalists sending news and photos out of the country, the organizers of the Oct. 6 protest are using the Internet to pull together what will probably be the largest demonstration ever in support of Burma

  • mauberly

    brutality to which there are currently 16 comments and this one on prison brutality(if you like euphemisms) to which there are 2, about to be three.

    I say “Free Burma”, as opposed to “Free felons and assorted drug dealers.”

    http://mauberly.blogspot.com/

  • dk

    you should have a running FP aricle on this topic, like the Iraq Update thread. and both need prominent placement on the front page at all times. maybe Jay could tweak the design a little, or is that Rick?

    maybe just a page tab to the forums would suffice. it’s a better format for long running stories. I think it’s a good idea, what about you? your incredible economics posts are just languishing back in the recesses of this site, they need to be brought to a wider audience.

  • Anonymous

    which is why I front paged this story and wrote the other one.

    And what will work, and make all those deaths mean something, is to do to Burma what was done to South Africa.

  • dk

    The U.S. government has had sanctions in place against Burma since 1997. A loophole exists, though, for companies grandfathered in. Unocal’s exemption from the Burma sanctions has been passed on to its new owner, Chevron.

    may I suggest we do it to Chevron? but I can’t think of the last time I saw a Chevron station. how do you hit them?

  • Raja
    • Security council demands political prisoners’ release
    • No sanctions yet, but vote marks big shift by Beijing

    The Guardian, By Julian Borger, October 12

    China turned against the Burmese government last night and supported a UN security council statement rebuking the military regime for its suppression of peaceful protests, and demanding the release of all political prisoners.

    The security council statement, which also called for “genuine dialogue” with the opposition leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, marked the first time that Beijing had agreed to UN criticism of the junta.

    The statement did not threaten sanctions, but the significance of its unanimous support by all 15 members of the security council would not have been lost on Burma’s generals, who had hitherto been able to count on China, a neighbour and key trading partner, to block UN censure.

    “That represents a very significant shift in global politics from just a few weeks ago,” said the foreign secretary, David Miliband. “It is proof that the recent brutal crackdown and ongoing persecution of peaceful protesters has isolated the Burmese regime. They must now respond to these growing global calls for them to work with others in building a better future for the people of Burma.”

    ===

    Prior Burma Threads


    “Vanity, Vanity, all is Vanity.”

  • mauberly

    it just fades with yesterday’s stories. The compilation threads have a way of sticking around if you post to them. I don’t know if there is a way to reorg matters any better.

    You always have the problem of the current headline that says ‘me first.’

    But the first will be last, as the good book says.

    http://mauberly.blogspot.com/

  • mauberly

    But what was done to South Africa that you have in mind?

    http://mauberly.blogspot.com/

  • Ian Welsh

    the multinationals out. It’s the foreign currency that seems to keep the Junta afloat. Non violent resistance would work if they didn’t have another source of income other than their own internal lousy economy and destitute population. But with hard money they can pay their military, but their equipment and so on.

    Hit them in the pocketbooks.

  • dk

    sorry can’t be me. funeral.

  • quiet Bill

    is to click on “topic sections” in the left sidebar

    then click on “Agonist Compilation Threads”

    which takes you to:

    http://agonist.org/topic/agonist/agonist_compilation_thread

  • Tina

    Burma’s ‘new life’ camps evoke memories of Pol Pot

    By Kim Sengupta
    Published: 20 October 2007

    Burma is a “land of prisons” with thousands of human rights activists being sent off to brutal “new life” camps after being arrested during night raids and convicted in secret trials, a senior British diplomatic source has said.

    Monks who led the pro-democracy campaign are among the disappeared. Some are believed to have been beaten close to death in custody, while the fate of many others remain unknown. Roads to the monasteries have been cut and very few monks are now seen in public.

    The account of retribution which has followed last month’s violence came from the official who is closely acquainted with the unfolding situation in Burma. The “new life” camps, echoes of “re-education centres” set up by Pol Pot in Cambodia under the Khmer Rouge, are away from the capital, Rangoon, and surrounded by tales of savage punishment, he said.

    Those considered by the regime to be leaders of the protest are believed to have received sentences of up to 20 years imprisonment.

    And tales have begun to emerge of mistreatment in the jails and “new life” camps, with the monks in particular being targeted for severe abuse. They are being held in rooms where there are no toilets and where the walls are covered in excrement. They have been routinely beaten and soaked in ice cold water, with the interrogators often stripping robes from the clerics because this supposedly expiates them of any sins over what they had done.

    The diplomat said yesterday that the regime is trying to portray a scene of normality, but “very serious abuses” are going on behind the scenes. “There are huge night-time sweeps. They have scooped up hundreds of people. There is heavy security in the parts of town where many of the dissidents come from. A hundred activists have been tried this week in closed courts in Mandalay, while another thousand have been brought before special courts in Rangoon.”

    more
    http://news.independent.co.uk/world/asia/article3078919.ece

  • quiet Bill

    Tuesday October 23, 2007 12:31 AM

    By EDITH M. LEDERER

    AP

    Myanmar’s government has agreed to a visit by the U.N.’s human rights investigator, who has been barred from entering the military-ruled country since 2003, the United Nations said Monday.

    Myanmar has been strongly criticized for sending troops to quash peaceful protests by students and monks last month. The U.N. Human Rights Council condemned the crackdown at an emergency session on Oct. 2 and urged an immediate investigation of the rights situation in the country.

    Romanian Ambassador Doru-Romulus Costea, who chairs the 47-nation rights council, appealed to the Myanmar government to allow an urgent visit by Paulo Sergio Pinheiro, who was appointed as the U.N’s independent expert on human rights in Myanmar seven years ago.

    In a letter to Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on Friday, Myanmar’s Foreign Minister Nyan Win suggested that Pinheiro’s visit take place before the Nov. 17 summit of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, U.N. spokeswoman Michele Montas said.

    The Human Rights Council has been criticized by the United States for failing to act on urgent human rights issues around the world and spending too much time criticizing Israeli actions against the Palestinians. The body, which replaced the discredited U.N. Human Rights Commission, lacks enforcement powers and is limited to focusing global attention on human rights offenders.

    The protests in Myanmar began Aug. 19 after the government raised fuel prices in one of Asia’s poorest countries. They were based in a deep-rooted dissatisfaction with the repressive military rule that has gripped the country, previously known as Burma, since 1962. The protests were faltering when Buddhist monks took the lead late last month.

    Soldiers opened fire on the demonstrators and the military junta said 10 people were killed, although diplomats and dissidents say the death toll is likely much higher. Thousands were arrested, and the hunt for participants is reportedly continuing.

    U.N. envoy Ibrahim Gambari, who was sent to Myanmar by Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon after the crackdown, is unlikely to return to the country before mid-November as the Security Council wanted because the government hasn’t given him a visa for an earlier visit.

    Gambari is currently in India as part of a six-nation visit to the region.

    U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad told reporters Monday “it’s urgent that Mr. Gambari be allowed to come into Burma to facilitate in the reconciliation that is necessary, and in the transition to a new order, that is necessary for Burma to become a normal place.”

    “We are calling on all those with influence to redouble their efforts to get Mr. Gambari there as quickly as possible,” he said.

    Myanmar’s junta took power in 1988 after crushing the democracy movement led by opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, who has spent much of the past 18 years under house arrest. In 1990, the junta refused to hand over power when Suu Kyi’s party won a landslide election victory.

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