Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Is Rangoon Burning?

The MSN goes to great lengths to avoid the ideology of the Myanmar rulers and always refers to them as "Military" or "Junta" but make no mistake, they are the contemporaries and former allies of the Viet Cong and the Khmer Rouge. They are communists.

Myanmar crackdown: 'Monks killed'

At least five protesters have been killed by Myanmar security forces Wednesday, according to opposition reports, as the anticipated crackdown began.

Speaking to CNN, Aye Chan Naing of Oslo-based opposition group Democratic Voice of Burma, said it had had been told by the main Bhuddist organisation that at least five monks had been killed.

And speaking from neighboring Thailand, the spokesman for the resistance organization the National Council of the Union of Burma (Myanmar), Soe Aung, told CNN that at least one monk died after clashes with security forces in Yangon.

The AFP news agency also reported officials as saying that at least three monks had died, including one who was shot as he tried to take a firearm from a soldier. The agency also reported officials as saying that two other monks had been beaten to death. A protester who was not a monk had died after being shot, it quoted Yangon General Hospital as saying.

It is not known if these fatalities are the same as those reported by the Democratic Voice of Burma and the National Council of the Union of Burma.

Meanwhile, an opposition Web site gathering information from sources inside Myanmar reported security forces have shot at least two protesters near Sule Pagoda, a Buddhist monument and landmark located in Yangon's city center.

"One protester reportedly died, according to people who took part in the demonstration," the Web site said. "The soldiers continued firing at the demonstrators, who numbered several thousand."

Since last week thousands of monks, barefoot and dressed in red robes, have taken to the streets of Yangon, with little incident. However, on Wednesday the opposition-issued report -- which CNN cannot independently verify -- painted a different picture.

Earlier in the day security authorities used tear gas, warning shots and force to break up a peaceful demonstration by scores of monks gathered around the Shwedagon Pagoda.

The Web site reports that protesting "monks were beaten and bundled into waiting army trucks," adding about 50 monks were arrested and taken to undisclosed locations.

In addition, the opposition said "soldiers with assault rifles have sealed off sacred Buddhist monasteries ... as well as other flashpoints of anti-government protests."

It reports that the violent crackdown came as about 100 monks defied a ban by venturing into a cordoned off area around the Shwedagon Pagoda, Myanmar's holiest Buddhist shrine.

It says that authorities ordered the crowd to disperse, but witnesses said the monks sat down and began praying, defying the military government's ban on public assembly.

Security forces at the pagoda "struck out at demonstrators" and attacked "several hundred other monks and supporters," the opposition Web site detailed.

Monks were ushered away by authorities and loaded into waiting trucks while several hundred onlookers watched, witnesses said. Some managed to escape and are headed towards the Sule Pagoda, a Buddhist monument and landmark located in Yangon's city center.

Aye Chan Naing, speaking to CNN, said that any violence used against monks could draw more of the population into the protests. "I think it will really anger the general public," he said. "It's a really shocking situation for a lot of people."

Speaking to CNN from Thailand, editor of Irrawaddy Magazine Aung Zaw said protestors he had spoken to were determined to continue their demonstrations, using hit-and-run protests, despite there being "a lot of injuries and wounded people."

He added that the developments in communications and technology since 1988 - when the last major protests and crackdown took place - had also helped, although some phone lines in Myanmar had been cut in recent days. "In spite of that we are getting images and information," he said.

He said that there were also fears about refugees being unable to escape into neighboring countries such as Thailand, India and China. "In Thailand several checkpoints have been closed down," he said. There was no comment from Thai authorities on his claim.

Observers have been preparing for possible violence in Myanmar, where human rights concerns have emerged as an international issue.

"We have no rights, no rights of media, no rights of freedom, no freedom at all," one man told CNN's Dan Rivers, near the Myanmar-Thai border.