Myanmar Forces Hunt Pro-Democracy Protesters
YANGON, Myanmar – After squashing a pro-democracy uprising with guns, Myanmar's junta switched to a terror campaign, dragging people from their homes at night and letting others know they were marked for arrest.
Military vehicles patrolled the streets before dawn Wednesday with loudspeakers blaring, "We have photographs. We are going to make arrests!"
Buddhist monks in the main city of Yangon were ordered to vacate their monasteries — the flash points of protests last week — and told to go back home to prevent future unrest.
Scores of monks jammed Yangon's main train station but it was not clear who had ordered them to leave. Some in Myanmar say the older abbots are closely tied with the junta, while the younger monks are more sympathetic to the democracy protesters.
"People are terrified," said Shari Villarosa, the acting U.S. ambassador in Myanmar. "People have been unhappy for a long time. Since the events of last week, there's now the unhappiness combined with anger, and fear."
New video footage broadcast Wednesday on CNN showed police and soldiers rounding up demonstrators, clubbing them before loading them onto trucks. In one shot, about six young men are squatting on the street, hands on their heads, cringing. One wearing a red shirt — the color adopted by the protest movement — is singled out for particular abuse.
The video also showed a man lying on the ground, his shirt bloodied, while another man looked around frantically as he tried to tend to him.
The footage appeared to have been shot three or four days earlier in downtown Yangon.
Residents living near the Shwedagon Pagoda, Myanmar's most revered shrine and a flash point of unrest, reported that police swept through several dozen homes in the middle of the night, dragging away several men for questioning.
The security forces were looking for people who had participated in the pro-democracy demonstrations, which troops brutally crushed last week with live gunfire, tear gas and baton charges.
The government says 10 people were killed in the crackdown but dissident groups put the toll at about 200. In addition, they say some 6,000 people have been arrested, including thousands of Buddhist monks who led the demonstrations.
Villarosa said her staff had gone to up to 15 monasteries in recent days and found them completely empty. Others were barricaded by the military and declared off-limits to outsiders.
"There is a significantly reduced number of monks on the streets. Where are the monks? What has happened to them?" she said.
Some arrested protesters were reported freed. The Democratic Voice of Burma, a dissident radio station based in Norway, said authorities released 90 of the 400 monks detained in Kachin state's capital, Myitkyina, during a Sept. 25 midnight raid on monasteries.
Yangon inched back toward normal on Wednesday. Traffic returned and street vendors braved the rain to offer flowers and food to those praying at the main pagoda.
In Brussels, European Union nations agreed to expand sanctions against the military regime. Diplomats said extra sanctions would include an expanded visa ban for members of the military junta, a wider ban on investment and a ban on trade in metals, timber and gemstones.
But the new measures do not include a specific ban on European oil and gas companies from doing business in Myanmar, diplomats said.
The Southeast Asian nation, also known as Burma, has vast oil and gas deposits that are hungrily eyed by its neighbors — India, China and Thailand — as well as by multinationals around the world. Myanmar is also known for its minerals, gems and timber.
Myanmar has been under military rule since 1962. The current junta came to power after snuffing out a 1988 pro-democracy movement against the previous military dictatorship, killing at least 3,000 people in process.
The generals called elections in 1990 but refused to give up power when pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi's party won. She has spent nearly 12 of the last 18 years under house arrest.
Suu Kyi, who remains in detention, met twice with the United Nation's special envoy, Ibrahim Gambari, during his four-day mission to Myanmar that ended Tuesday. Gambari also met with junta leader Senior Gen. Than Shwe and his deputies to express international outrage at the junta's brutal crackdown.
Gambari was not expected to issue any statement before briefing U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on the situation Friday.
But U.N. associate spokesman Farhan Haq said Gambari urged the junta "to cease the repression of peaceful protest, release detainees, and move more credibly and inclusively in the direction of democratic reform, human rights and national reconciliation."
The junta also has not commented on Gambari's visit.
Gambari's predecessor, Razali Ismail, told reporters in Singapore it was a good sign that the reclusive Than Shwe met the U.N. envoy. "It has been a successful trip because he has been able to meet the main man," he said.
Human Rights Watch in Bangkok presented a man they said was a Myanmar army major who had fled the country to Thailand. The group released a transcript of an interview with the unidentified man in which he expressed shock at the crackdown.
"They (the demonstrators) were very peaceful. Later when I heard they were shot and killed and the armed forces used tear gas, I was really upset," the man was quoted as saying.
Human Rights Watch declined to allow the AP to interview or photograph the man, saying it would compromise his safety.
Among those killed when troops opened fire on unarmed protesters in Yangon last week was Japanese television cameraman Kenji Nagai of the APF news agency. His body was flown out to Tokyo on Wednesday.