Extent of Myanmar Protest Crackdown Revealed
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JUDY WOODRUFF: And now a report on what happened during the September crackdown and its aftermath in Myanmar, the country formerly called Burma. U.N. special envoy Ibrahim Gambari ended a six day trip there today. Inigo Gilmore of Independent Television News has this report from neighboring Thailand.
INIGO GILMORE, ITV News Special Correspondent: Tears from a man who witnessed the horrors of the Saffron Revolution firsthand. Until now, Mr. U Pancha, a Sikh businessman, was the unknown face of Burma’s uprising. But here he is during those protests.
“Don’t be afraid. Come follow us,” he shouts to the crowd. U Pancha was on the front lines when the protests, which briefly inspired hope for change, were brutally crushed. He was at the sacred Shwedagon Pagoda when the first monks were forcibly de-robed and killed.
U PANCHA, Businessman and Activist (through translator): One of the monks in the front was beaten on his head and kicked in the chest. Blood poured from his mouth, and he died in front of my eyes.
INIGO GILMORE: U Pancha, now in hiding, is deeply skeptical about the U.N. mission in Burma.
U PANCHA (through translator): Gambari is a very important person. He should demand to meet the people and the monks arrested during the protests.
INIGO GILMORE: But for most of the past six days, Mr. Gambari has been closeted away in Burma’s bizarre jungle capital, Nay Pyi Taw. Only today, at the end of his visit, did he meet pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi. But he left the country without meeting the junta leader, Senior General Than Shwe, seen here waving off his prime minister on an overseas visit.
Instead of meeting the senior generals, Mr. Gambari has met with junior members of the regime who proceeded to lecture the special envoy. It appears to have been less of a dialogue than a monologue.
For U Pancha, there was a moment of hope for dialogue. He revealed to Channel 4 News that not all military commanders were prepared to follow orders to fire on monks and unarmed civilians. He held secret talks with a senior army officer who refused to carry out the orders of Burma’s military strongman.
U PANCHA (through translator): The commander of the 77th regiment said to me, “We will not shoot. We understand the situation, so please hold the demonstrations in a peaceful manner.”
So they sent another commander, Thura Shwe Mann, to Rangoon, and he ordered his soldiers to shoot the protestors. Regiment 66 shot the people, and many were killed. We felt great pity about the death of these monks. We shall never forget this.
Reprimands in the military
INIGO GILMORE: Burma's senior military leaders didn't forget, either. Yesterday, state media reported that the 77th regiment commander was being demoted, a clear warning not to step out of line.
And while he was permitted to meet some elderly, specially selected monks, Mr. Gambari did not get to meet young monks like 24-year-old Ashin Kovida or hear their testimony of fear and persecution. He took to the streets hoping the regime might heed the plight of its people. Then, as a wanted man, he went on the run, as monasteries like this one in Rangoon were ransacked.
The security forces did not hold back. At this monastery, pools of blood mark where monks were ruthlessly beaten. Kovida confirmed that the brutality continued in detention.
ASHIN KOVIDA, Burmese Monk (through translator): The junta officials sat on chairs, and then three monks at a time were told to squat on the floor. They were asked if they took part in the movement. If they said no, they were beaten on their backs with sticks and ordered to name the leaders of our movement. Those who refused were beaten again.
INIGO GILMORE: Monks are still being jailed, he says, and some are being killed. Bo Kyi's organization has demonstrated that over 1,000 people are still being held in detention following the crackdown, far more than the government admits to. And torture, he says, is widespread.
BO KYI, Political Prisoners' Advocate: Three already died. He died during the interrogation because he was tortured to death.
Alleged killing of schoolchildren
INIGO GILMORE: And Bo Kyi has further revelations which underline the urgency of Mr. Gambari's task. He's corroborated evidence about the killing of schoolchildren, which challenges the government claims that it was putting down a violent uprising.
The incident in question took place on the 27th of September at Than We state high school in Rangoon, not far from where these images were filmed on the same day. A 15-year-old boy was killed by soldiers.
BO KYI: His forehead was hit by one bullet.
INIGO GILMORE: One bullet?
BO KYI: One bullet. One of his head is â?¦ and then one of his head was all gone, blown up. Also, many people can see his brain on the ground, so there is â?¦ everybody was very shocked. And â?¦ regime in Burma cannot deny it.
INIGO GILMORE: Yet deny it they do. This was the government's response to Mr. Gambari's call for dialogue. Rather than address outrage over U.N. claims that more than 100 people involved in the protests have now died and concerns about mass detentions, state television launched into a diatribe.
Quoting the country's information minister, it began like this...
BURMESE STATE TELEVISION ANCHOR: But we'll never accept any interference that may harm our sovereignty.
INIGO GILMORE: And then a thinly veiled threat to Mr. Gambari.
BURMESE STATE TELEVISION ANCHOR: You should not force or pressure us by harming the role of U.N. to shape us as aspired by a big power. If so, your role of negotiator will be spoiled.
Meeting with Aung San Suu Kyi
INIGO GILMORE: Mr. Gambari was being told that getting the senior generals to sit down to talks with Aung San Suu Kyi remains a big challenge for the U.N., even though she's made it clear she is ready to talk.
DEBBIE STOTHARD, Human Rights Lobbyist: Aung San Suu Kyi herself has publicly said she will not rule out power-sharing. She will not rule out all options until there is an actual dialogue. All options are still on the table.
INIGO GILMORE: A U.N. statement issued tonight following Mr. Gambari's meeting with Suu Kyi claimed the way is open for substantive dialogue, but gave few details, except to say that the envoy will return to pursue his mission.
As Mr. Gambari left Burma, state television continued to show the familiar fare of staged, managed rallies in support of the regime. This is what awaits the U.N. special human rights envoy, Paolo Pinheiro, when he arrives next week for his first visit in four years.