Death count climbs in Burma, while information shuts down.

BlogHer Original Post

It is hard to know what is actually going on in Burma. The Burmese government has reportedly shut down all internet access and all cell phones. The Daily Mail reports hundreds, perhaps thousands of jailings and adds:

News of the jailings comes after a former intelligence officer for Burma's ruling junta revealed the true extent of killings to clamp down on protests...The most senior official to defect so far, Hla Win, said: "Many more people have been killed in recent days than you've heard about. The bodies can be counted in several thousand."Mr Win said he fled when he was ordered to take part in a massacre of holy men.

The web is full of gruesome photographs, photographs which were smuggled out of the country, of monks floating, dead, in swamps, their bruised and battered bodies visible for all to see.

Again, in news from the UK, The Guardian gives us a frightening picture of what it may mean for the monks and the military to collide further.

The number of monks in Burma is estimated to be anywhere between 400,000 to 500,000. The number of soldiers is around 400,000. So, one monk for every soldier.
One of the many rumours to emerge from Burma over the past couple days is that there may be a split in the army. Troops from central Burma are said to be marching towards Rangoon. Some say they are coming to challenge the soldiers who are attacking monks; others say they are coming to reinforce them. Whether these rumours are true or not, they are often accurate barometers of people's hopes and fears: Will they free us, or will they crush us?
If the army succeeds in crushing this uprising - which, so far, it seems to be doing - then the regime will set to work purging the monastic order of what it likes to call "destructive elements" and even more monks will be imprisoned and tortured. The regime's intelligence agents will shave their heads and infiltrate the monasteries, praying among the monks as one of them. What little space for political organisation once existed within the monkhood will be obliterated. Yet another attempt by the people to speak out about their suffering will have been silenced.

And the story is made even more complex by what is now being uncovered as the Chinese economic involvement in the current Burmese regime. The Australian News reports on this ugly bedfellow relationship:

...Chinese businesses have, in effect, colonised the property markets in Burma's cities, stripped the forests, excavated the gems, hauled off the minerals and built roads, ports and airstrips to serve China's hunger for resources and commerce.
Stepping into the void left by European and US firms, most of whom observe the sanctions, the Chinese have become the new masters of Burma. They sell the weapons, organise the trade and provide the credit lines that keep the generals in business. Fantastic fortunes have been made by Chinese business people. Exile groups allege huge payoffs have gone to Burmese and Chinese officials. The pink lights of karaoke parlours and dens of prostitution catering to a vulgar class of new rich thrive adjacent to the sacred shrines of Burmese Buddhism.At the same time, China has provided cover for Burma at the UN under the straight-faced affirmation that it is Beijing's policy to veto interference in the internal affairs of other nations.The junta's crackdown was planned and executed on the Chinese model, using stealth, intimidation, psychological shock tactics and the selective use of lethal force.

Reports say the protest is regrouping -- or that it is over -- or that it is still going on. It is impossible to know with certainty.

The author Cecelia Brainard in her blog
states that

Dissidents hiding along the Burma border said thousands of monks had been locked up and were being beaten inside blood stained temples."

One UK sourcesaid that
Liselotte Agerlid, a Swedish diplomat just returned from a visit to Burma, told journalists in Thailand: "The Burma revolt is over. People are scared and the general assessment is that the fight is over. We were informed... that 40 monks in the Insein prison were beaten to death today and subsequently burned."

Leslie Harris makes the impassioned point that human rights are being stifled when Burma closed off the world via internet.

Freedom of speech, which includes the rights to express oneself, communicate with others, share and receive information, hold and state opinions, and even freely associate, is a fundamental human right, recognized by Articles 19 and 20 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Freedom of speech is essential for government accountability and the achievement of human potential, and the Internet facilitates free expression like never before.
While private actors such as business, academia and Internet users themselves have a role to play, they alone will not be successful in advancing “Internet Human Rights” around the world. An open Internet is a human rights issues, thus the U.S. and other democratic countries must vehemently denounce any attempt by governments to interfere with their citizens’ legitimate and rightful use of this powerful medium. Burma, by silencing its people has violated their human rights and ours

What do we do when it is impossible to know? We keep talking about it -- keep blogging about it.

We observe October 4th as Free Burma International Blogger's Day on our personal blogs the way Beth suggested we do.

And we tell our elected officials to keep up the pressure. Those of us who pray, pray as we call and email our officials.

But even in the midst of all of that, we also need to hold ourselves accountable. It is easy to feel spiritually righteous about Burma. It is clear-cut. But let's also listen to the words of Brownfemipower who raises the uncomfortable issue that slaughter in Burma is taken more seriously than in other countries:
She says:

I think that all of us really need to question the willingness of so many of us (including the president and condi rice) to support the Burmese people–but not, say, the Jersey Seven, the people of Oaxaca, the people of Darfur, the people of Sudan, etc etc etc. What is going on here? How does our own racism make us want to ’save’ some people and not others? What’s up with that?

I have no answers. But I think it’s really important to consider.


N.B.: Oct 03, 2007:> The Burma Campaign in the UK has published a "Dirty List" of foreign companies doing business in Burma directly with the military regime in the areas of tourism, timber and oil. Chevron Oil is reported as one of the major players. Snail and email addresses are provided for those who wish to express their concern to any of these companies.


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