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Undeterred: The people’s desire

September 16, 2008

From Mizzima News

In an effort to prevent yet another peoples’ uprising, Burma’s military government has stepped up security measures, ordering police forces to remain overnight at local ward administrative offices, sources said.

A Secretary of a Township Peace and Development Council (TPDC) office in Mandalay, Burma’s second largest city, said at least two policemen have been ordered to stay overnight at every local ward administrative office since the beginning of September.

“In our township there are several ward offices, and at every office at least two policemen have been kept overnight to keep watch since September 4,” the Secretary told Mizzima on Saturday.

The Secretary, who requested anonymity for fear of reprisal, said she and her colleagues in the office have been told that police would be standing guard throughout the month of September.

“I don’t know what they [government] are worried of, but we were told to keep close watch over peoples’ movements, and keep record of participants if there is any kind of protest,” she added.

Meanwhile in Rangoon, a police officer in-charge of a township confirmed that he has had to assign junior police to routinely stay overnight in ward level administrative offices.

“I have to make sure that at least three to four police are staying overnight in the ward offices, so that if there is any kind of anti-government activity they can be easily available for action,” the officer explained.

The police officer, who also requested anonymity, said while he is not clear of the intentions of the government, he was told to maintain strict vigilance throughout the month of September.

“I think it is out of fear that another round of protests would break out this September,” the officer elaborated.

In Rangoon, owners of restaurants, shops and tea stalls, which usually open until late at night, said local authorities informed them earlier this month to close latest by 11 p.m. and not to extend business hours.

While authorities have not provided any reason for the order, restaurants and shop owners said they believe it could be related to the fear that further protests, similar to those of September 2007, will take place.

In September 2007, Buddhist monks declared a nation-wide boycott against the ruling junta for their misbehavior towards fellow monks who were marching peacefully and chanting ‘Metta’, the Buddhist words of loving kindness, in central Burma’s Pakokku town.

The monks, who called on the government to publicly apologize for their misbehavior, stepped up the boycott and called on the people to join them in a nation-wide protest after the junta refused to make a public apology.

Thousands of Burmese people across the country on September 19 began marching the streets, while in Rangoon, the former capital, tens of thousands of people filled the streets demanding lower commodity prices and calling for a public apology.

Soon, the protests took a decidedly political turn, with monks, students, and political activists calling on the junta to hold a political dialogue with opposition parties in an effort to kick-start a process of political reformation.

But the military, which has a tradition of brutally cracking down on any form of anti-government activity, on September 26, began opening fire on protestors and conducted midnight raids into houses and monasteries, arresting key monk and activist leaders.

Continued crackdown

Throughout the past year the junta has continuously arrested activists, beginning with the arrest of prominent student activists of the 88 generation, including Min Ko Naing and 12 of his colleagues on August 21, 2007.

The latest arrest of an activist was on September 11, when authorities arrested female activist Nilar Thein, who had been on the run for over a year since she led protestors in August and September 2007.

The junta has also arrested several other activists including human rights activist Myint Aye, charging him with masterminding bomb explosions in Burma.

According to the Thailand-based Assistance Association for Political Prisoners – Burma (AAPP-B) – the number of political prisoners in jails across the country increased to more than 2,000 from slightly over 1,000 before the crackdown on protestors in September 2007.

The AAPP in its press statement said that in August 2008 alone Burma’s ruling junta arrested 39 activists and continued to detain at least 21 of them, while releasing the others after brief interrogations.

No sign of activism

With the junta vigorously taking measures to prevent another round of protests, the streets of Rangoon, which overflowed with protestors last September, seem today to be normal and do not carry any sign of activism, local residents report.

Aung Thu Nyien, a former student activist who now analyses Burmese political affairs, said that with key activists arrested and detained, mass protests this year are unlikely.

“People are becoming tired and do not seem to have any more energy for another protest,” said Aung Thu Nyien, pointing out that the devastation caused by May’s deadly cyclone that stormed into Burma’s Irrawaddy and Rangoon Divisions only added to the weariness on the streets.

The Secretary of the TPDC in Mandalay said that though the authorities seem to be in a precarious state, she does not find anything suspicious in the movement of the people that could indicate that there will be any kind of protest in the immediate future.

“For all I can see, the people are too busy struggling with their daily lives. I don’t see anything suspicious and I don’t think people have the time and energy,” she added.

A Christian pastor in Mandalay, who has connections with people at the grass roots level, commented, “I see people are really struggling to live their lives because it is really difficult for them to make ends meet.”

Sean Turnell, an associate professor in the department of economics at Australia’s Macquarie University, added, “If we just focus on the fact that economic conditions are now worse than those that drove people onto the streets last year, widespread protests should be imminent.”

But, he cautioned, with the people of Burma having witnessed the brutality and ruthlessness of their government in two recent incidents – in the repression of the Saffron Revolution and in the aftermath of Cyclone Nargis – people seem to be scared to initiate another uprising.

“So, in a sense, the people are more aware now that the costs of an uprising could be very high for them as individuals,” continued Turnell.

People’s desire

Turnell said the Burmese people, having gone through decades of economic hardship as a result of the junta’s economic mismanagement, wished for some kind of security – both physical and economic.

“I think people first just want the freedom that comes from having a margin above mere subsistence,” Turnell went on to say.

Secondly, Turnell said people just want Burma to be a normal country, where there is some hope for the future, and where parents can expect, as parents elsewhere do, that their children will have a better life than they did.

“But, I think currently in Burma the opposite is true – this makes Burma unique, and a very sad place,” Turnell added.

The Christian pastor said the Burmese people, in their struggle for survival, would very much like to see the government, if not supportive, at least refrain from serving as an obstacle to improved conditions.

“There is a general feeling of fear among the people anytime they bump into the authorities. People just want to avoid anything having to do with the government,” the pastor added.

Turnell, however, said he believes no amount of government repression can subdue the peoples’ spirit and desire to live in freedom, meaning that resistance from the people will continue.

Though so far the government “has done enough, and has been ruthless enough, to avoid any widespread uprising,” it has failed to totally suppress the people.

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