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Sep 25, 2007

Focus:Freedom of Expression
Action Request:Protest
Location:United States
Lets change the world 
                                                                                                                                                                                  Our shameful silence on Burmese terror

Mary O'Kane
September 25, 2007

Even China has encouraged the junta to introduce democracy.

FOR the past 11 years, Aung San Suu Kyi has lived under house arrest, completely isolated except for her live-in maid, a doctor's monthly visits and her jailers. On Sunday, she was joined by more than a thousand monks, who filed past the house that has become her jail in a show of support for the democracy movement that she has led for nearly 20 years. In a rare moment of near freedom, "the Lady", as she is known, was able to come out of the house to pay respect to the monks before being ushered back inside.

As tensions grow around the country, the symbolism of monks in their thousands walking towards and joining the leader of the democratically elected political party, the National League for Democracy, sends the strongest possible message to Burma's ruling military junta and the international community: Burma's people want democracy now.

With its pivotal position in the region, Australia can play an important role in making this happen. Despite widespread statements from countries all over the world, Australia's politicians remain devastatingly mute on the plight of Burma's people.

Buddhist monks have been protesting in Burma's cities since September 17, having called a Pattanikuzana, an excommunicative boycott including the refusal of alms from military officials and their families. This is the third time in Burma's modern history the Sangha (Burma's Buddhist institution) has taken such drastic action. As the ruling military junta draws political legitimacy from "sponsoring" Buddhism in Burma, the Sangha's boycott is a powerful non-violent challenge to military authority performed on behalf of the civilian population. In support, crowds of thousands attend these marches. Their presence gives support while their numbers provide a protective gaze, and sometimes human chains, to stave off violent attack. Monks, civilians and the military junta all recognise that street protests have now grown past a point of no return.

The protests were triggered by unannounced and immediate fuel price rises introduced on August 15. More than 200 protesters and leaders have been detained since the protests started four days later.

Concern for the safety of all detained is acute, as torture and the denial of health care are routine practices of the regime. Four key leaders from the bloody 1988 protests — Ko Min Ko Naing, Ko Mya Aye, Ko Jimmy and Ko Kyaw Kyaw Htwe — were admitted to hospital days ago for torture-related injuries during military interrogation.

The regime has funnelled a massive 40 per cent of the national budget into the 400,000-strong military to continue civil war at the expense of developing the country's human resources. Through this, coupled with astoundingly gross economic mismanagement, the military regime has run the country into the ground.

Crippling poverty, civil war, political oppression and incompetent governance characterise Burma today.

Student-led uprisings in August 1988 resulted in the massacre of as many as 10,000 peaceful protesters and the imprisonment of thousands more. An estimated 10,000 student protesters fled to border areas to join already long-fighting ethnic insurgent groups. During this time, Nobel peace laureate Aung San Suu Kyi rose to lead the pro-democracy movement, only to be placed under house arrest in 1989.

After 20 years of struggle, the political front line has shifted from soldiers versus students to civil society groups versus plain-clothed sections of the military. But the fight is the same. The people are demanding the right to be free from brutal beatings, rape, torture and the murder of their families.

Make no mistake; the junta is preparing its violent crackdown. Military presence has been reportedly intensified in every town and village where protests have been held. On September 5, soldiers fired warning shots at a protest by 500 monks, seriously beating three and detaining six, an event attributed to mass mobilising the Sangha.

This was recognised as a thinly veiled reminder by the regime of the 1988 violence.

A Burma analyst has warned that the large involvement of the Buddhist Sangha signals a major increase in the level of protest, and thus an increased potential for significant state violence to occur.

International responses to these events have been numerous. Statements have been released by the United States, Britain, the Czech Republic, Ireland, Sweden, Canada and Denmark. Several countries, including Indonesia, have urged China and India, the regime's closes allies, to put weight on Burma's generals. In a surprise move, a Chinese diplomat publicly expressed concern: "China wholeheartedly hopes that Myanmar will push forward a democracy process that is appropriate for the country."

The United Nations Secretary-General, UN Human Rights Commissioner and various UN special envoys have all expressed concern. Though a UN resolution on Burma was vetoed in January by China and Russia, the shift in Chinese attitude towards Burma could potentially contribute to a different outcome in the future.

In this atmosphere of international concern, the Australian Government is notable for its silence. Added international scrutiny of Burma's streets, prisons and interrogation centres can be the difference between achieving political openness and a repeat of the bloodshed of 1988.


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Posted: Tuesday September 25, 2007, 5:10 am
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Karen Finck (24)
Tuesday September 25, 2007, 5:17 am
Rise up people
Lets change the world


Karen Finck
female, age 55, committed relationship, 1 child
Red Hill, NU, Australia
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