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full horror of Burmese junta's repression

from The Independent & The Independent on Sunday
12 October 2007 19:11 Home > News > World > Asia
Only now, the full horror of Burmese junta's repression of monks emerges
By Rosalind Russell
Published: 11 October 2007
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."

Table of Contents

Page title Most recent update Last edited by
Burma update from BPF, and films and books November 1, 2007 4:34 AM Tom L.
Situation 'murky' in Myanmar (from pbs) October 27, 2007 10:14 AM Tom L.
Recent Petitions from Burma October 26, 2007 11:54 PM Tom L.
Steep decline in oil production brings risk of war October 22, 2007 11:45 PM Tom L.
full horror of Burmese junta's repression October 15, 2007 12:35 AM Tom L.
Totla Denial: A Documentary October 13, 2007 7:46 AM Tom L.
How China Got Religion October 11, 2007 11:05 PM Tom L.
Satements by Countries October 7, 2007 11:47 PM Tom L.
Security Council 10-5-7 October 8, 2007 12:00 AM Tom L.
Scot Marciel's Senate Statement on Burma October 4, 2007 11:49 PM Tom L.
U.S. Policy Regarding Burma October 5, 2007 1:03 AM Tom L.
Comment's on Senate Hearing on Burma October 5, 2007 6:55 PM Tom L.

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