'They Come at Night and Murder
In Yangon the killing goes on. Opponents
of the regime and monks are falling victim to the junta's special
forces by night. Diplomats assume that several hundred people
have already been killed. Now even China is putting the military
Riot police and military personnel crack
down on the protests in Yangon last week. There are reports of
a brutal crackdown at night, with hundreds of people killed.
It is 9.15 p.m. on Tuesday evening in
Yangon, the time of day when the stranglehold of fear settles
across the city. The first heavily armed soldiers take position
outside the few restaurants that still serve foreigners. Curfew
starts at 10 p.m. After that, anyone who is still out on the streets
is risking their lives.
"Take a bicycle to the street to
grab a taxi," the manager of L'Opera, an Italian restaurant,
yells into the kitchen. The foreigners, waiting in the courtyard,
can't find any more rental cars. Someone dashes out to look for
some kind of transport.
It is completely quiet for a moment in
the car park. Then a young man emerges from the darkness. He was
obviously waiting for a chance to be alone with foreigners. He
is poorly clothed, but speaks English that is somewhat understandable.
"Please don't believe what the junta says," he whispers.
"The repression is continuing every night. When there are
no more witnesses, they drive through the suburbs at night and
kill the people."
The young man wanted to tell his story
quickly. He knew that he couldn't let himself be caught doing
so -- otherwise he could soon find himself in jail or dead. He
comes from South Okalapa, a huge township east of Yangon, where
there is hunger and misery. Most of the monks who demonstrated
against the regime last week came from there. After the junta's
troops finally crushed the unrest in the city center on Saturday,
they took their brutal revenge in Okalapa on Sunday.
It was around midnight when the long convoy
of military vehicles drove into the district. They contained police
officers from the anti-insurgency unit and the so-called "Lome-Ten,"
a unit of gangsters and ex-convicts, who do the regime's dirty
They surrounded a monastery on Weiza Yandar
Street. All the roughly 200 monks living there were forced to
stand in a row and the security forces beat their heads against
a brick wall. When they were all covered in blood and lay moaning
on the ground, they were thrown into a truck and taken away. "We
are crying for our monks," said the man, and then he was
Four days have passed since the last shots
were fired in central Yangon but normality has yet to return to
Burma's largest city. Most shops remain closed today and the human
rights violations continue. Horrifying rumors and news of further
repressive measures continue to leak out.
These rumors are difficult to confirm
as journalists are not allowed to work in the country. The few
correspondents who are left in the country on tourist visas are
being observed day and night. Secret service spies waylay them
at their hotels. And even if the regime doesn't dare to execute
another foreign journalist following the death of the Japanese
photographer last week, it's still impossible to conduct normal
reporting and research.
Every Burmese whose name appears in the
international media has to fear for his life. Even foreigners
living in the country are opting for silence, for fear of persecution.
But the rumors and stories circulating in the city paint a horrible
picture. It's clear that Yangon has done away with almost all
of its monks.
In the huge monastery complex under the
Shwedagon pagoda, only the red and saffron coloured robes of the
holy men are left to blow in the wind. There are no traces of
the several thousand monks and novices that once leant this place
its unique and peaceful air.
A deadly silence has also settled into
Yangon suburbs like Okalapa or Takada, where young monks from
other provinces can normally come to learn to read and write at
small religious institutions. But these have been shuttered, their
entrances barricaded with iron doors and rubbish is piling up
on the premises. The monasteries, temples, schools and orphanages
in the surrounding area are empty.
"We are assuming that the number
of victims among the monks and protesters last week goes well
into the hundreds," says one diplomat, speaking on condition
of anonymity. Clearly security forces in both suburbs have engaged
in major crackdowns. As the junta's henchmen tried to remove the
monks on Sunday and early this week, residents of both districts
resisted, and many of the demonstrators are believed to have been
"Our students have gone back to their
home villages for the time being," the abbot of one Okalapa
monastery says. But that's only half true. Diplomats here have
fairly reliable information that the junta has built at least
three internment camps in recent days in Yangon, where it has
placed opponents of the regime.
One is located near the old British horse
race track, between Yangon's 50th and 51st streets. Another camp
is located near the Mingala international airport. The worst conditions,
though, are to be found on the grounds of the Yangon Institute
In the north-western part of the former
Burmese capital, very close to the notorious and overflowing Insein
Prison, about 300 cells have been erected in recent days -- each
measuring 3 meters by 3 meters (9.8 by 9.8 feet). Close to 800
monks have been imprisoned there. Sanitary conditions are atrocious
and the monks are engaging in a hunger strike. Just as they did
during their protests, the monks are refusing to accept any food
handouts from the military. Meanwhile, the armed soldiers have
stopped locals from trying to bring any food to the monks. And
if the authorities don't provide international organizations with
access to the camps soon, it will be a matter of time before there
are further deaths.
But although the situation appears hopeless,
the British ambassador -- of all people -- sees a first glimmer
of hope in the chaotic situation. Mark Canning sits in his high
security office with a view of Yangon port. He is a large man
with a youthful face, and wears a white shirt but no jacket or
tie. He is surely not a typical representative of the Foreign
Office. Canning appears to regard finding a solution to the conflict
in the country, which was once Great Britain's wealthiest colony
in Southeast Asia but finds itself today in abject poverty, as
his own personal mission.
Canning exploits his room for maneuver
right up to the limits of what is possible for him as a diplomat.
During the uprising, the ambassador constantly gave live interviews
to the BBC about the situation in the country. "If the events
achieved one thing, then it is the fact that the international
community is now united in its condemnation of the regime,"
He repeats the word "revulsion"
several times. It was the word used by the otherwise very reserved
ASEAN, the community of the Southeast Asian states, to condemn
its member country Burma over its crackdown on the uprising.
For that reason, Canning believes that
the process of dialogue which the United Nations has initiated
with the Burmese military regime could soon show its first results.
After his arrival in Burma on the weekend, the UN special envoy
for Burma Ibrahim Gambari met with opposition leader Aung San
Suu Kyi, who is under house arrest. Then he met Tuesday morning
with junta leader Than Shwe in the new capital Naypyidaw.
Canning pins particular hope on the Chinese.
The generals could not survive for long without the economic assistance
of Burma's northern neighbor. "The Chinese have made it clear
to Burma that they want stability and peace on their southern
border," says Canning. Admittedly the Chinese aren't talking
about democracy, Canning says, but perhaps they can help to establish
dialogue between the military and Aung San Suu Kyi. That way,
the hunger and misery in Southeast Asia's poorest country could
be alleviated -- which is exactly what the demonstrating monks
had been demanding from the junta.
Editor's Note: For security reasons we
are not naming our correspondents in Burma.