FRONTLINE/World [home]

Search FRONTLINE/World

FRONTLINE/World Rough Cut
image image image image

Rough Cut
Burma: Inside the Saffron Revolution
After the uprising, what comes next?
 

 

Our correspondent has produced a number of reports from Burma over the past year. He has remained anonymous so that he can continue to report inside the country. You can watch those reports and more of our Burma coverage here.

Watch Video

Length: 13:50

On the one-year anniversary of Burma's September uprising, when hundreds of thousands of monks caught the world's attention by protesting for democracy, the country's military junta continues to wage war against its own people and the crisis there has slipped back into obscurity.

As a journalist, I can understand this reality. Given the financial crisis, terrorist attacks, and natural disasters, the troubles of this Southeast Asian nation can feel remote.

Burma

On the one-year anniversary of Burma's September uprising, when hundreds of thousands of monks protested for democracy, the country's military junta continues to wage war against its own people.

To find out what has become of that uprising, much of it distilled into this video report, I've made several undercover trips back to Burma during the last year. Increasingly, I found a place as complicated as Iraq -- divided by political interests, ethnic groups and languages. It's a land of contrasts, with as many soldiers as there are monks -- roughly 400,000 of each.

At the heart of the country's long political struggle and isolation is Burma's reclusive dictator, General Than Shwe. The general, trained in psychological warfare, so reviles the opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi that he won't allow her name to be uttered in his presence.

Aung San Suu Kyi, who was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991 for leading her country's pro-democracy struggle, has spent the best part of the last two decades under house arrest in Rangoon.

Economically, Burma should be one of the most prosperous countries in the world; it has vast natural gas reserves, minerals, teak and the finest rubies, jade and sapphires. Instead, the generals mismanage the country, selling its resources to the highest bidders -- China, India, Thailand and Russia among them -- while pocketing most of the profits for themselves. The average Burmese makes less than 66 cents a day and a third of the country's children are malnourished.

Even if the pro-democracy movement that Aung San Suu Kyi inspired could oust the regime tomorrow, it would take years for the country to get back on its feet.

monk

One senior monk, whose monastery was shut down after the uprising, compared the junta's 50-year grip on the country to Cambodia's reign of terror under the Khmer Rouge.

One senior monk, whose monastery was shut down after the uprising, compared the junta's brutal 46-year grip on the country to Cambodia's reign of terror under the Khmer Rouge.

"Millions could die," he said, "simply so that they [the military rulers] can keep their hold on power."

"The authorities have destroyed the economy, public health and the environment. Now Buddhism itself has come under attack," he said.

Since last year's mass protests, the junta has intensified its crackdown on democracy activists. Many have been imprisoned; others have died from old age before they could be caught. Some, like the two main characters in this film, have been granted asylum in the West.

As the old saying goes, "It's darkest before the dawn;" and from the many who have told me their stories inside and from exile across the border, Burma feels very much like a country descending into its darkest hour.

REACTIONS

Saint Jonhs, Arizona
The economic-political situation in Burma is similar to the one in the Congo, and Darfur, Sudan, where peoples rights are being suppressed in order to accommodate the extreme greed of the corporatists. Natural resources are being extracted at such fast rate that future generations
will have nothing to survive on. It isn't just the Earth being raped but
the children of today and future children.

Ruth - Wodonga, Vic
It is amazing to me that so little of this story has made it into our own national news...Why is this, why is the war in Iraq or Afghanistan more important than that of these people, one guess. Money & power, it seems to me that the Burmese people could show western society how to live together peacefully yet in our war filled envirnment this gentle culture must live under tyranous dictators while the rest of the world looks away. Please continue to report on this topic as it is the only way I for one can keep informed. Thanks for a great job.

Jeffrey Hellman - Ithaca, New York
The next revolution is the "Everyday Revolution" it comes from outside and inside of Burma. Every city, Every nation. We will rise like the Sangha and we will "Use our liberty to promote [theirs]." We will not give up. We will rise rise rise, like the calling of the dawn. A new day. A new era.
Democracy reborn.

Tin Than - FT. Myers, FL
Excellent report. Your contuining reports about Burma is greatly appreciated in the case of the news of the pitiful condition of the 48 million Burmese who have gone into complete oblivion on the world scene.

Champaign, IL
It is sad that people are starving with so much abundance in their midst. Thank you for keeping the world informed regarding the despondent state of the country.

EFREN CASILLAS - INGLEWOOD, CA
My reaction is that countries don't have the same rights; just give them their freedom of speech. They are human beings.

Bill Morgan - Santa Monica, CA
I feel so sorry for the people of Burma. And this report doesn't paint any progress in the country since the uprising - just beaten down monks forced into exile, to live in secrecy, and a population that's in more threat than ever from the brutal regime that runs Burma. My heart goes out to the Burmese. Thank you PBS and Frontline World for keeping the spotlight on Burma and for this brave reporting.I can only hope that the Western world gets a dose of humility through this financial crisis and starts to really look at the world as one connected place where all people should be helped to live in freedom and with dignity.

Adam - San Francisco, California
Excellent report. Very moving. Thank you for keeping some attention on the awful situation in Burma.