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Situation 'murky' in Myanmar (from pbs)

Situation 'murky' in Myanmar

JUDY WOODRUFF: The U.S. is encouraging its Asian allies to bolster their
sanctions against Myanmar.

For more, we talk to Tin Maung Thaw, a Burmese exile and board member of
the U.S. Campaign for Burma. Now a U.S. citizen, he fled Burma in 1978
to avoid political persecution.

And Tom Malinowski, Washington director of Human Rights Watch, he served
in the State Department and on the National Security Council staff in
the Clinton administration.

Thank you both for being here.

Mr. Thaw, I'm going to begin with you. What do you know right now about
what's going on inside your country?

TIN MAUNG THAW, U.S. Campaign for Burma: Currently inside Burma, the
situation is very murky. Nobody knows exactly what is going on. But
according to those people fled to Thai-Burma border, including monks and
other regular people, according to the accounts, there's a lot of
crackdown is still going on.

The government shut down all those monasteries in Rangoon. And those
monasteries used to have hundreds of monks, but now they have only two
or three monks. Nobody knows where they've gone, and they disappeared.
That's my main concern.

I think they're under arrest and sent into prison and subject to
torture. And we don't know exactly how many were arrested or how many
were killed. Usually, Burmese military government never tells the truth,
so we don't know the exact number. But some people from border area
estimated they arrested about 21,000 people, and about 1,900 people were

JUDY WOODRUFF: Twenty one thousand arrests, and how many killed?

TIN MAUNG THAW: Nineteen hundred, 1,900, yes.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And these are estimates?

TIN MAUNG THAW: Yes, these are estimates.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Now, Tom Malinowski, you were telling us you have
somewhat different numbers you're getting. What's the picture you're

TOM MALINOWSKI, Human Rights Watch: Well, it's a stage of siege in
Burma. There's no question about that. We don't know what the numbers
are, because the country is closed. No one has access to the prisons.
There's no way of getting a true picture of the death toll right now.

But it is a state of siege: The monasteries are occupied by the
military; the troops are in the streets; there are nighttime raids in
which security forces go neighborhood by neighborhood, pull people out
of their homes who they believe, based on their video footage,
participated in these demonstrations. People are very, very much afraid.

But I think it's interesting the government is also afraid and has some
reason to fear what might happen next.

Tom Malinowski
Tom Malinowski
Human Rights Watch
There is still a political impasse inside Burma between this military
government ... and the vast majority of, virtually everybody else in the
country who supports the opposition, Aung San Suu Kyi.

Matching faces to video

JUDY WOODRUFF: When you say looking at videos, you mean they're matching
the faces on videos that were shot during the protests?

TOM MALINOWSKI: Yes, that's what they say they're doing. They'll go into
a neighborhood and say on the loud speaker, "We have your pictures. We
know who you are. You might as well turn yourselves in." So that's used
to scare people, and also I think they are doing some of that matching.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And, Mr. Thaw, you're hearing this is going on even until
right now, continuing?

TIN MAUNG THAW: Yes, even right now. After 11:00 at night -- they impose
a curfew from 11:00 to 4:00 in the morning, so nobody can get out of
their house, but the military can go around and pick up, as Tom said.
They're stalking at night all those dissidents or whoever participated
in the demonstration in the past 30 days, and also they arrested all
those monks and took away in military trucks.

So now they either have to use -- they're going to those refugees in the
Thai-Burma border area. They have to use Rangoon University old
buildings as a detention center, because the Insein prison, which is
notorious for this, political prisoner holding cells, they are full. So
the prison, as far as we know, is large enough to hold 10,000 people. So
it must be more than 10,000 people were held.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So, Tom Malinowski, when we hear today that they've freed
70 people, how significant is that?

TOM MALINOWSKI: I don't think it's very significant. There is still a
political impasse inside Burma between this military government -- which
is hold up in this bizarre, isolated capital in the jungle, just
completely disconnected from its society -- and the vast majority of,
virtually everybody else in the country who supports the opposition,
Aung San Suu Kyi. There is not yet a dialogue between the two parties.
There is this very, very tense standoff, and no one quite knows what's
going to happen next.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So to describe it, I mean, a pervasive atmosphere of fear
throughout the country?

TOM MALINOWSKI: Yes. Yes. But I think, you know, as I mentioned, I think
the government is also afraid. They're losing control of the situation.
They're disconnected from their people.

Internally, they face this problem of, what do you do with the Buddhist
monasteries? They can't eliminate Buddhism from the country anymore than
Italy could eliminate the Catholic Church. At some point, these
monasteries reopen. The monks with their red robes come back, and
dissent re-emerges.

Outside of the country, they've lost their sources of support, from
their neighbors, from their former allies, and they're now suffering
these very, very targeted sanctions.

Tin Maung Thaw
Tin Maung Thaw
U.S. Campaign for Burma
Air Bagan issued a statement yesterday. They said, because of the U.S.
sanctions and other financial controls, they can no longer operate the
airline, so they're going to shut down on November 4th.

Effect of the sanctions

JUDY WOODRUFF: You mentioned the sanctions. Do you know what effect the
sanctions are having? The Bush administration announced some sanctions
last month, more sanctions in the last week.

TIN MAUNG THAW: So far, I saw one impact to the Burma airline called Air
Bagan, which was owned by General Than Shwe's wife. And...

JUDY WOODRUFF: This is the general...

TIN MAUNG THAW: General Than Shwe, the butcher of Burma, who killed
those monks, number-one man of the power in Burma. And his wife owned
this Air Bagan since three years ago. Now Air Bagan issued a statement
yesterday. They said, because of the U.S. sanctions and other financial
controls, they can no longer operate the airline, so they're going to
shut down on November 4th. And they offered who already bought ticket,
they're going to give a refund.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Is that a significant move?

TOM MALINOWSKI: It's a small sign of something that's going to be
happening increasingly. The Burmese government, Burmese military makes
money from various sources. They sell gems, rubies, hardwood, oil and
gas. And it's very hard to cut off all of those sources of income.

But however they're making money, the money always ends up in one place:
in a bank, usually in a country like Singapore, outside of Burma, where
it's vulnerable to pressure from the U.S. Treasury Department, because
all of these banks depend on their access to the U.S. financial system
to be able to do their own business.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And, in fact, the U.S. asked the countries in the region
to put on their own pressure, as well. Is that happening?

TOM MALINOWSKI: The magical thing about these sanctions is the other
countries don't actually have to join in. The banks in Singapore
apparently are already freezing accounts held by Burmese leaders, by the
companies associated with those leaders, not because their own
governments are telling them to, but because those banks, in places like
Singapore and Hong Kong, depend on their access to the U.S. financial

JUDY WOODRUFF: Which is a new...

TOM MALINOWSKI: It's a new kind of sanction.

JUDY WOODRUFF: ... kind of sanction.

TOM MALINOWSKI: It's very targeted, very sophisticated, highly personal.
It doesn't affect the people of the country; it affects the people at
the top. And it's essentially like taking away the credit card of the

Tom Malinowski
Tom Malinowski
Human Rights Watch
[W]hat they're being asked to do is to compromise, to share power, and
gradual transition. As easy as that sounds, I don't think they're going
to do that until the pain of not doing it exceeds the pain, in their
minds, of taking that step.

Meeting with dissident leader

JUDY WOODRUFF: Mr. Thaw, how significant a meeting between Aung San Suu
Kyi and the government official in the last day?

TIN MAUNG THAW: According to past experience, most of the meeting will
take place when international pressure is building up. So military uses
it as a defusing method to defuse the situation and to satisfy the
international community. "We are doing something."

Actually, they don't have any sincere intention to do this. They have
almost 20 years -- after 1990 election -- 20 years to have a meaningful
national reconciliation process. They never did. Instead of doing that,
they just tried to crack down on the opposition.

And now they tried to use that method again. They just tried to use as a
deceptive method to the international community and Burmese people, and
something is going to happen or something like that, false hope.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Do you agree with Mr. Malinowski's assessment that the
government is starting to feel some pressure, though?

TIN MAUNG THAW: Yes, especially because I think now China also -- China
is a main backer of the Burmese regime. And China now is also concerned
for the 2008 Olympics.

So China says something to Burmese regime, "Keep it in low profile.
Don't kill too many people or something like that." So because of the --
they tried to protect their image, China itself. But I think, after 2008
Olympics, China may do business as usual again.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So we're talking about pressure from the U.S., pressure
from these other, economic pressure here. Tom Malinowski, what does it
take for there to be a real change in the attitude of this military
government towards the people?

TOM MALINOWSKI: Well, the good news is that they're not being asked to
step down. Aung San Suu Kyi, who's the leader of the opposition, is not
a revolutionary. She has said for many years that she believes that the
military, despite all it's done to her and the people of the country,
should play a vital political role in the future of the country.

So what they're being asked to do is to compromise, to share power, and
gradual transition. As easy as that sounds, I don't think they're going
to do that until the pain of not doing it exceeds the pain, in their
minds, of taking that step. And that's where the pressure from regional
countries, from China, from India, from ASEAN, the regional association
of countries, comes in, and particularly this pressure on the banks and
on their finances.

Because, you know, when they can no longer draw money from their bank
accounts, and their credit cards are canceled, and their kids come to
them and say, "Dad, what have you done? We're broke," that's the point
where I think they feel they may need a way out. And, fortunately, the
way out is not that hard for them.

JUDY WOODRUFF: All right, Tom Malinowski, Human Rights Watch, we thank
you very much. And, Tin Maung Thaw, we thank you. Gentlemen, we
appreciate it.

TIN MAUNG THAW: Thank you for having me.

Myanmar Takes Careful Steps Following Protest Crackdown
Former PM Bhutto Seeks Full Inquiry Into Deadly Pakistan Attack
Bhutto Pledges No 'Surrender' to Militants After Deadly Attack

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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