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October 21, 2007
"Ominous Calm" Reigns in Burma
Burmese citizens still walk in fear more than a month after the crackdown by the ruling Military Junta on the pro-democracy movement.
The sense of danger is mixed with feelings of rage and hopelessness - both at the Junta and the outside world who residents believe has abandoned them.
“We want to explode our feelings, but if we do, who will help us?” said a 58-year-old businessman who, like many, spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of retaliation. “The U.N.? The U.S.? China? They all said they would help us. But all they did was blah, blah, blah.” Signs of the crackdown are everywhere. The military has posted pictures of monks that have been beaten and imprisoned. It has had it's desired effect; the people are terrified:
Some residents specifically found fault with the recent report on Myanmar by Ibrahim Gambari, the United Nations special envoy, who cited “continuing and disturbing reports” of abuses, including “beatings, arbitrary arrests and disappearances.”
“Does the U.N. Security Council really think the regime here will care about its statement?” asked a 46-year-old dissident journalist.
“Keep your pen and piece of paper in your pocket; there are spies everywhere,” said a 62-year-old retired man in Yangon’s Chaukktatgyi Pagoda. “Please don’t tell anyone my name. Big trouble for me.” The pro-democracy movement has truly been crushed - for the moment.
On the campus of the defunct Government Technology Institute, one of the several detention centers believed to hold people arrested during the nighttime raids, soldiers tore off monks’ saffron robes, beat them and made them “jump like frogs,” said a 60-year-old monk.
Even now, weeks after the initial crackdown, “neighbors are looking for their family members missing,” said a 33-year-old businesswoman. She added: “We have never seen anything like this in our history. Even the British colonial rule, they stopped chasing people when they ran into a monastery.”
“We feel leaderless,” said a 46-year-old former student leader. “It will be very difficult to restart protests again. Maybe small sporadic protests are possible, but not large demonstrations soon.” The last democracy uprising took place in 1988, almost 20 years ago. Will it be that long before the Burmese people can gather their courage and make another attempt at freedom?
With the government arrests continuing, dissident groups are becoming weaker everyday, said a 37-year-old publisher. “Without outside help, patience, patience, patience is all we have, and the junta knows it,” he said.
“They are taking advantage of our Buddhist tolerance and good heart.”