Hope Wanes Among Protesters in
September 29, 2007
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.
Housewives and shop owners taunted troops
but quickly disappeared into alleyways. According to diplomats
briefed by witnesses, residents of three neighborhoods blocked
soldiers from entering the monasteries in a crackdown on Buddhist
monks, who led the largest in a month of demonstrations. The soldiers
left threatening to return with reinforcements.
The top U.N. envoy on Myanmar, Ibrahim
Gambari, arrived in the country but many protesters said they
were nonetheless seeing a repeat of the global reaction to a 1988
pro-democracy uprising, when the world stood by as protesters
were gunned down in the streets.
"Gambari is coming, but I don't think
it will make much of a difference," said one hotel worker,
who like other residents asked not to be named, fearing retaliation.
"We have to find a solution ourselves."
Soldiers and police were posted on almost
all corners in the cities of Yangon and Mandalay. Shopping malls,
grocery stores and public parks were closed and few people dared
to venture out of their homes.
A young woman who took part in a massive
demonstration in Yangon Thursday said she didn't think "we
have any more hope to win." She was separated from her boyfriend
when police broke up the protest by firing into crowds and has
not seen him since.
"The monks are the ones who give
us courage," she said. Most of the clerics are now besieged
in their monasteries behind locked gates and barbed wire.
Gambari was taken immediately to Naypyitaw,
the remote, bunker-like capital where the country's military leaders
are based. The White House urged the junta to allow him to have
access to Aung San Suu Kyi _ the Nobel Peace Prize laureate who
is under house arrest _ and ordinary Myanmar residents.
The demonstrations began last month as
people angry over massive fuel price hikes took to the streets
_ then mushroomed into the tens of thousands after the monks began
The junta, which has a long history of
snuffing out dissent, started cracking down Wednesday, when the
first of at least 10 deaths was reported, and then let loose on
Thursday, shooting into a crowd of protesters and clubbing them
The crackdown triggered an unprecedented
verbal flaying of Myanmar's generals from almost every corner
of the world _ even some criticism from No. 1 ally China.
But little else that might stay the junta's
heavy hand is seen in the foreseeable future.
The United States, which exercises meager
leverage, froze any assets that 14 Myanmar leaders may have in
U.S. financial institutions and prohibited American citizens from
doing business with them. The leaders, including Than Shwe, are
believed to have few if any such connections.
The United Nations has compiled a lengthy
record of failure in trying to broker reconciliation between the
junta and Suu Kyi. Gambari's efforts have been stymied, while
his predecessor, Razali Ismail, was snubbed or sometimes barred
from entry by the State Peace and Development Council, as the
ruling junta is formally known.
The United States, Japan and others have
turned a hopeful eye on China _ Myanmar's biggest trading partner
_ as the most likely outside catalyst for change.
But China, India and Russia do not seem
prepared to go beyond words in their dealings with the junta,
ruling out sanctions as they jostle for a chance to get at Myanmar's
bountiful and largely untapped natural resources, especially its
oil and gas.
"Unless and until Beijing, Delhi
and Moscow stand in unison in pressuring the SPDC for change,
little will change," says Thitinan Pongsudhirak, a political
scientist at Bangkok's Chulalongkorn University.
Some Chinese academics and diplomats say
the international community may be overestimating what Beijing
"I actually don't think China can
influence Burma at all except through diplomacy. China's influence
is not at all decisive," said Peking University Southeast
Asia expert Liang Yingming.
India has switched from a vocal opponent
of the junta to one currying favor with the generals as it struggles
to corner energy supplies for its own rapidly expanding economy.
The Association of Southeast Asian Nations,
or ASEAN, a 10-member bloc which includes Myanmar, also has given
no indication that it is considering an expulsion or any other
As governments heap criticism on the junta,
Myanmar and foreign activists continue to call for concrete, urgent
"The world cannot fail the people
of Burma again," said the National Coalition Government of
the Union of Burma, an exile group based in Washington. "Selfless
sacrifices deserve more than words and lip-service. They want
effective intervention before it is too late."
Associated Press reporters Denis D. Gray,
Jim Gomez, Sutin Wannabovorn, Matthew Streib and Tim Sullivan
contributed to this report.