The Long Nightmare
covering burma and southeast asia
Tuesday, December 12, 2017
Magazine

LETTER FROM BURMA

The Long Nightmare


By Naomi Mann/Rangoon NOVEMBER, 2007 - VOLUME 15 NO.11


RECOMMEND (274)
FACEBOOK
TWITTER
PLUSONE
 
MORE
E-MAIL
PRINT

Rangoon’s weeks of terror left few untouched

There can be very few, in this city of five million, who have not been touched by the events of the last few weeks. Everyone I meet has a story to tell or a memory of where they were when the shooting started.

No amount of censorship can erase these memories or the emotions they have aroused. No matter how many lines of communication are cut, the accounts of what people saw, heard or felt during the uprising will continue to circulate.

Many of those with whom I have spoken confess to feelings of guilt because they did not or could not take part in the demonstrations. That the monks who walked in peaceful protest on their behalf should have been treated with such callous disregard has fermented in them a new sense of defiance. Even among very ordinary people whose silence has traditionally been taken by the regime as a sign of agreement, there is a growing mood of resentment. The scales have most decidedly tipped—but in whose favor?

For now, the imposition of a nighttime curfew is being used by the junta to eliminate any voice of dissent, from whatever source—civil or religious.  In mid-October, I talked to witnesses living near an army compound in Hle Gu Township, on the outskirts of Rangoon, who reported seeing two large trucks pass by at high speed escorted by police blowing whistles to clear the road ahead of traffic.

They described seeing around 200 people inside the trucks, hands held behind their shaven heads—obviously monks. Just a little farther along the road lies the Yay Kyi Ai interrogation center, a military intelligence facility where torture is known to occur. The witnesses were in no doubt that this is where the trucks were heading.

Such human rights abuses urgently need to be monitored if the international community is to respond effectively and unanimously. It would be naïve to suppose that the well worn overtures of the regime are anything other than a ploy to win time while the vicious excesses of the current purge continue unabated. For the thousands of detainees now being held in the harshest of conditions time means only more suffering.

In the longer term, I am certain that the protests and the violent crackdown which has followed will leave their mark on a new generation of activists. Like those, from all walks of life, who participated in the popular uprisings of 1962, 1975, 1988 and 1996, they too have witnessed at firsthand the bloody way in which the military regime typically reacts to any kind of perceived threat to its authority.

People I have managed to talk to are keenly aware of the parallels. The conclusions they draw from this may lead to new strategies and tactics with which to confront the regime. It is still too early to say whether they will continue to follow the path of nonviolence. What seems clear is that attitudes are becoming far more polarized and the chances for meaningful dialogue all the more remote.

more articles in this section