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Candle in the Wind

Updated On: Oct 02, 2007

The number of protestors in Yangon has fallen significantly.

In Yangon alone, the Associated Press quoted a diplomat as saying that the number of troops had swelled to over 20,000 after reinforcements arrived overnight. Although sporadic demonstrations still take place, they have been quickly put down by the military. Soldiers have shot and killed at least 10 people - though diplomats and dissidents say the number is likely higher - ransacked Buddhist monasteries, beaten monks and arrested an estimated 1,500 people in the last week. An Asian diplomat also told the Associated Press that the arrested monks were defrocked and likely to face long jail sentences.

International condemnations of the Myanmar government continued. New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark said that the United Nations (UN) must decide whether to tighten economic sanctions onMyanmar. Pope Benedict XVI called on the Myanmar's generals to peacefully end their crackdown on protesters.

More seriously for Myanmar, the Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Nobutaka Machimura said Monday (1 October), that the Japanese government will conduct its own autopsy on a Japanese reporter, Kenji Nagai, who may have been shot by security forces at extremely close range. A local autopsy showed Kenji did not have burns or gunpowder residue on his skin, as is usually the case when someone is shot at point-blank range. Deputy Foreign Minister Mitoji Yabunaka, who is visiting Myanmar, is expected to ‘strongly request’ the return of the camera during meetings with Myanmar officials. In Tokyo, the Chief Cabinet spokesman Nobutaka Machbimura said Japan is considering sanctions to protest the junta's crackdown.

The current crisis in Myanmar is also being watched with concern by Taiwan, though for different reasons. The Taiwan's de facto ambassador to the United States, Joseph Wu said on Thursday (27 September) that the worsening political crisis in Myanmar would push Washington closer to China. He warned, “"There is a possibility that it would put a bit more pressure on Taiwan, just like when the United States needed China's help in North Korea and Iraq. And that would give China leverage in other grounds as well.”

Nonetheless, the Chinese government has apparently expressed private unease at the fact that ASEAN governments forged their united position on Myanmar by consulting more with Western governments, rather than with Beijing.

The current chairman of ASEAN, Singapore, sent a letter condemning the Myanmar government’s violent crackdown on the protestors. Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong wrote in the letter dated 29 September, saying, “We are most disturbed by reports of the violent means that the authorities in Myanmar have deployed against the demonstrators, which have resulted in injuries and deaths.”

The Indonesian paper, Jakarta Post, has published several commentaries and opinion pieces, calling on the Indonesian government to bring the Myanmar issue on the ‘forefront of conversations with other ASEAN countries.”

New Straits Times’ editorial said that those who wanted to believe that the Myanmar military government was serious in moving towards a restoration of democracy, would have been ‘played for fools.’ While acknowledging that the current unrest was triggered by rising fuel prices, it said that the current military regime had ‘forfeited what feeble sympathy it had for remaining in power’ and that ‘to continue insisting the present unrest is because of fuel-price inflation is to demonstrate a cynicism or ignorance so unconscionable as to strip the last shred of credibility from this regime.’

The Bangkok Post, called the Surayud government's response to the tragic events in Myanmar, ‘shameful.’ The Bangkok Post also published several highly critical articles criticizing the Myanmar and Thai governments. One article also called the ‘complete silence’ from the Thai monastic community ‘equally disturbing.’ 

A Filipino Senator, Loren Legarda called on the ASEAN members to form an ASEAN Human Rights Commission so that ASEAN could play a more meaningful role in addressing human rights abuses in the region.

The Malaysian government is urging its citizens to refrain from visiting Myanmar until the domestic conditions improve. Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi said the deteriorating situation in Myanmarwarranted a strong collective statement from ASEAN, which was issued by the grouping's foreign ministers.

The Myanmar News and Periodicals Enterprise Managing Director Soe Win told the Third China-ASEAN Media Cooperation Seminar on Friday (28 September), “Today, the countries with superiority in media power are bullying weak countries through the exercise of neo-colonialism.”

An Indian paper, India Today, published a largely sympathetic article acknowledging the necessary actions taken by the Indian government in countering the Chinese influence in Myanmar by ensuring thatMyanmar continues to deliver on its commitment to supplying India with energy resources. 

International attention is now focused on the outcome of the visit by the United Nations special envoy, Ibraham Gambari.  Gambari arrived in Myanmar on Saturday (29 Sep) to try to persuade the notoriously unyielding military junta to halt its harsh crackdown on pro-democracy advocates. Mr Gambari met acting Prime Minister Thein Sein, Culture Minister Khin Aung Nyunt and Information Minister Kyaw Hsan at the new capital, Naypyidaw when he first arrived. He then held an unexpected hour talk with Aung San Suu Kyi.  However, he had yet to meet the two top leaders – Senior GeneralThan  Shwe and General Maung Aye, and was instead sent on a sightseeing tour in the northeast of Myanmar and to attend a workshop with journalists.

Ultimately, it would seem that as long as the military remains united and willing to resort to violence to put down any demonstrations, there would not be significant political development in Myanmar. The military still believes that it alone is capable to maintain unity of the country. Without a change in the military’s attitude, the democratic and economic aspirations of the Myanmar people will simply be a flickering candle in the wind.  (2 October 2007)

Sources:

Arrested monks defrocked, says diplomat (Straits Times, 2 October 2007)

UN envoy’s Myanmar trip takes an unusual turn (Straits Times, 2 October 2007)

Supping With The Junta (India Today, 8 October 2007)

LEAD: Japan To Urge Myanmar To Return Slain Reporter's Camera (Kyodo, 1 October 2007)

Chen Decries Atrocities In Myanmar (Taipei Times, 1 October 2007)

ASEAN Turns Screws On Myannar As Japan Mulls Sanctions (Associated Press, 1 October 2007)

UPDATE:UN Envoy Makes 2nd Attempt To Meet Myanmar Junta Rulers (Dow Jones International, 1 October 2007)

Indonesia Can Push For Major Reform In Myanmar (Jakarta Post, 1 October 2007)

Only Hope Is For Young Turks To Break Ranks (Today, 1 October 2007)

Chee Stages Protest Against MyanmarSingapore (Today, 1 October 2007)

Destructive Engagement (New Straits Times, 1 October 2007)

PM Lee: Asean Fully Behind UN Myanmar Mission (Straits Times, 1 October 2007)

Asean Proves Its Diplomatic Worth (Straits Times, 1 October 2007)

Region's Powers Seek Stake In Myanmar (Straits Times, 1 October 2007)

Deadly Game Of Cat And Mouse On Yangon Streets (South China Morning Post, 1 October 2007)

Myanmar Military Rules: Talk Unity, Crush Brutally (The Wall Street Journal Asia1 October 2007)

Thai Role Gets UK Backing (The Nation, 1 October 2007)

Gambari Meets Suu Kyi (Bangkok Post, 1 October 2007)

Peace Will Hopefully Soon Return (Bangkok Post, 1 October 2007)

Opinion / Crisis In Burma (Bangkok Post, 1 October 2007)

EDITORIAL; Feeble Response To Brutal Regime (Bangkok Post, 1 October 2007)

Loren Presses For Revival Of Asean Rights Commission (Manila Standard, 1 October 2007)

Powerful Nations Using Media To Bully Weak Nations - Soe Win (Bernama, 30 September 2007)

Postpone Trips To Yangon, Malaysians Advised (New Sunday Times, 30 September 2007)

‘Collective Asean Stand Warranted’ (New Sunday Times, 30 September 2007)







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