The military rulers of Myanmar, the country also known as Burma, released 50 pro-democracy activists as its representatives met with movement leader Aung San Suu Kyi. Human rights advocates assess conditions since last month's crackdown on the protests.
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The streets of Yangon, the capital of Myanmar, have been largely quiet since the violent government crackdown on pro-democracy protesters late last month. Nevertheless, the military rulers of the Southeast Asian nation deployed troops in the streets today, a show of force intended to deter any protests marking the one-month anniversary of a pivotal day in the uprising.
Yesterday, the government released 70 prisoners detained during the unrest, 50 of whom are members of the pro-democracy party led by the dissident Aung San Suu Kyi, the Nobel Peace laureate who has spent 12 of the last 18 years under house arrest. The release represents a fraction of the estimated 6,000 Burmese detained amid the protests.
Also yesterday, Suu Kyi met in public with a newly appointed government official. The government has been under pressure from the United Nations to foster reconciliation with Suu Kyi and her party. The U.N.’s lead envoy to Myanmar, Ibrahim Gambari, said there is much left for the government to do.
IBRAHIM GAMBARI, U.N. Envoy to Myanmar:
Clearly, we welcome that, but we see it as only the first step. And so this should lead to the early resumption of the dialogue that will lead to concrete and tangible results.
The demonstrations began in August, initially to protest high fuel prices, but the protests evolved into a challenge to the ruling military junta, which has controlled Myanmar, also known as Burma, for the last 20 years.
The protests were led by thousands of Buddhist monks and spread to other Burmese cities. The generals who control the country crushed the protests in a bloody crackdown over the course of several days. The government claimed only 10 people were killed; independent estimates place the toll in the hundreds.
Reports from refugees leaving the country have begun to emerge, and they paint a picture of carnage and chaos. This monk, who requested anonymity even outside his native land, was interviewed in Thailand by a Burmese pro-democracy dissident group.
BURMESE DISSIDENT (through translator):
Some of the injured were so bloody that you couldn’t tell where blood was coming from. Some of the monks lost the top part of their robes. I saw civilians helping the injured monks; most of their injuries were head injuries. The riot police were aiming for the head.
The crackdown, which reportedly continues, sparked widespread international outrage. Economic sanctions already in place were strengthened by the United Nations and other bodies. And President Bush announced that the U.S. would impose additional economic penalties on the ruling junta.
GEORGE W. BUSH, President of the United States:
Burma’s rulers continue to defy the world’s just demands to stop their vicious persecution. They continue to dismiss calls to begin peaceful dialogue aimed at national reconciliation. Most of all, they continue to reject the clear will of the Burmese people to live in freedom under leaders of their own choosing.