Further Goings-On in the Golden Land
Sunday, September 9
The past week has seen a series of developments in the ongoing protests at the fuel price increases announced 3 weeks ago. Some of the news might be construed as hopeful, but much of it is going to be bad news for the long-suffering people of Burma.
First of all, the manhunt for various members of the 88 Generation student movement (OK, they're not students anymore, they're approaching 40 years of age) continues. The government press is vilifying them, trying to implicate them in a series of bombs that went off 2 years ago in Yangon, and saying that Htay Kywe, one of the 88 Generation leaders, is being hidden by agents of "a powerful country" (step forward the United States). I'm amazed and heartened by the fact that anyone has escaped the dragnet. Aung San Suu Kyi is being demonized as well for "destabilizing" the country. Her house, on the other hand, is sporting some fresh paint and NLD flags on its outer compound walls, so somebody is willing to risk arrest by showing support for her.
Meanwhile, rumour has it that one of the arrested 88 Generation dissidents, Kyaw Min Yu, otherwise known as Ko Jimmy, has died as a result of being tortured in police custody. As well, Kyaw Kyaw Htwe and Min Zeya, prominent dissidents arrested at the outset of the protests, are said to be in hospital as a result of the torture they've received. One protest leader, Ye Thein Naing, whose leg was broken during his arrest was released two days ago after a hunger strike by his fellow arrestees.
In an unrelated development, 6 young labour organizers were just sentenced on Saturday to long jail terms for organizing a seminar at the American Center in Yangon in May. Thurein Aung, Wai Lin, Myo Min and Kyaw Win were sentenced to 28 years in prison. Nyi Nyi Zaw and Kyaw Kyaw were given 20 years in jail. The government hates the American Centre and has accused the English teachers there of interfering in internal affairs by teaching courses in "Journalism and Ethics" and allowing members of the National League for Democracy to take courses at the Centre.
In other news, apparently 4 home-made primitive bombs were found last week at Yangon's central Bogyoke market. They were crude flour-and-cotton contraptions, but the authorities banned taxi traffic into the market for a while in order to lessen the chances of more bombs being brought in. There were a series of bomb attacks two years ago at shopping centres, but nothing more of that sort since then.
There have been no new protests in Yangon this week, but protests have spread around the country. The most spectacular protest was in the central town of Pakkoku, near Bagan. On Wednesday, 100 monks marched to protest the fuel price increases, and police and army units fired shots over their heads to disperse them, while beating three monks severely. Beating up monks is a big no-no in such a devoutly Buddhist country, so the next morning 20 government and army officials went to the monastery to apologize. The monks dragged the officials inside and held them hostage all day, burning the officials' vehicles to punctuate their protest. Apparently townspeople came to the monastery and shouted slogans supporting the monks. The officials were released unharmed late in the afternoon. The next day (Friday) a group of monks went into downtown Pakokku and smashed up a shop owned by a government official, so tensions remain high in Pakokku.
An unconfirmed rumour I heard on Saturday is that Pyay, a city on the Irrawaddy River halfway from Pakokku to Yangon, is under martial law, with troops patrolling the streets, after protests on Friday. I don't know if it's true, but it would be nice to know that protests are continuing and not dying out. Another report culled from the Internet says that 50 people have been arrested for their role in protests in various towns in central Myanmar.
I'll do my best to keep posting snippets of information here on the blog as things develop.