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John Kerry: U.S. Must Stand with Burmese Demonstrators

by Pamela Leavey

Editors note: I’ve been trying to make the time since the monks starting marching in Burma a few days ago, to write about the situation there, but I’ve had a lot on my plate. The situation with th epeaceful protest, has turned for the worse as the photo from today, below shows:

Andrew Sullivan has a round up of news stories, blog posts and he notes that “the Times of London has several blog reports from inside the country.” From one eyewitness:

A respectful old monk is in the vanguard of the column singing national anthem and holding flags of fighting peacock.

Despite [being] peaceful, demonstrators have been beaten to break up the crowd, and they are still together reciting “metta sutta” (A discourse on loving-kindness, about disseminating love to those who are aggressive).

Senator John Kerry spoke from the floor today in support of the peaceful, democratic uprising in Burma. He praised the bravery of the demonstrators and condemned Burma’s brutal junta. Kerry emphasized the need for strong U.S. diplomatic leadership to rally the international community in defense of the Burmese people. Below are Kerry’s remarks, as prepared:

Mr. President: Against all odds, the long-suffering people of Burma have risen up against one of the world’s most repressive regimes. What began a month ago as modest, impromptu protests has since mushroomed into a nation-wide, peaceful democratic groundswell. Tens of thousands of students have joined Buddhist monks in the streets, marching and chanting in unison against Burma’s brutal military rulers.

The Burmese people should know that America and all free peoples across the globe stand in awe of their commitment and courage. Their actions follow in the venerable footsteps of Mahatma Gandhi, Nelson Mandela, Lech Walesa, and all those heroes who understood that nonviolent resistance is humanity’s greatest weapon against tyranny and injustice. I want to join the President of the United States, Prime Minister Gordon Brown, Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer and many others in letting them know: We support your struggle. We stand with you.

What is happening today in the streets of Rangoon is as tenuous as it is unexpected. The cabal of generals, who pillage Burma under the guise of governing it, could easily meet these non-violent protests with a bloodbath, just like they did in 1988. And we must do all that we can to ensure that this does not come to pass.

No one should doubt the Burmese junta’s potential for brutality and large-scale violence. Since taking power, they have killed tens of thousands of Burmese and razed more villages than have been destroyed in Darfur. Over half a million have been internally displaced, and an additional one million refugees have fled the country. These tyrannical thugs have engaged in the systematic use of forced labor, human trafficking, forcible recruitment of child soldiers, torture, and rape — an appalling laundry list of human rights violations.

And, yet, despite such grave danger, the people of Burma have stood strong in the face of this extraordinary evil, to demand democratic reforms and basic human rights. They have done so with dignity, and they have done so peacefully.

The United States and the rest of the free world must stand with the people of Burma. The President’s decision yesterday to target the top generals for financial sanctions is a step in the right direction — but it will not solve the problem. And it is not enough.

The massive pro-democracy demonstrations in Burma represent the best opportunity for genuine political change in nearly twenty years. Burma’s “Saffron Revolution” is also an excellent chance for America to finally show greater diplomatic leadership on the world stage.

The United States must lead the international community in pressuring the military junta to release all political prisoners, starting with the venerable Nobel Peace Prize laureate and opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, and take steps down the path towards political change.

This week’s gathering of world leaders at the United Nations General Assembly is a tailor-made forum to get tough with Burma’s generals. From the halls of the United Nations to the headquarters of the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN), the message to the Burmese military must be clear: The world is united behind the people marching in your streets. Do not meet peaceful protest with still more butchery. We are prepared to act in concert against you unless you immediately embark on serious negotiations toward sharing power with the people of Burma.

Showing diplomatic leadership on Burma also requires that we demand better from those countries that have propped up this brutal regime and are thus best equipped to pressure it: India and, in particular, China. The President and the United Nations must engage in strenuous diplomacy with Beijing — which carries the most sway with Burma’s generals — and urge the Chinese to press for political reform.

China has in its grasp a momentous opportunity to demonstrate leadership commensurate with its growing power and status. Beijing can host the 2008 Olympics as an enabler of cruelty and repression or as a responsible stakeholder in the world community. This is an important test. The world is watching.

As the international community exerts greater pressure on the military junta, it must also reach out more aggressively with humanitarian assistance for the Burmese people.

The people of Burma have suffered not only under the bullets and bayonets of the current regime, but also from decades of misrule that have transformed their resource-rich nation into one of the poorest in Asia. Many of Burma’s 52 million people live in abject misery. About one-third are mired in poverty. Nearly half of all children never get to go to school. Malaria and tuberculosis are widespread, and mortality rates in Burma are among the highest in Asia. At least 37,000 died of HIV/AIDS in 2005, and over 600,000 are infected with HIV.

Burma’s suffering destabilizes Southeast Asia. Heroin and methamphetamines, HIV-AIDS and other infectious diseases, as well as hordes of refugees are spilling across Burma’s borders into neighboring countries.

The international community must respond to this ongoing tragedy by providing humanitarian aid to a desperate and deserving people. Current levels of international assistance are woefully insufficient. We need a network of public and private donors to fund health, education, and infrastructure projects. The resilient and brave Burmese people have shown they are more than worthy of our support and compassion.

I want to close by offering a final word of warning: We must not forget Burma’s last great democratic uprising in 1988 — one that was brutally crushed by the military at the cost of some 3,000 innocent lives. That day and the repression that followed show the horrible human toll of our collective failure to act.

A peaceful, pro-democratic outcome in Burma is within reach: the UN, ASEAN, India, and especially China must stand with the United States in solidarity with the Burmese people. We must not fail the people of Burma once again.

The Saffron Revolution has photos, video links and links to other Burmese bloggers, blogging the protest, that looked a bit like this days after it first started:

TIME has coverage here and here.

Bush announced sanctions against Burma yesterday and while addressing the U.N. General Assembly, he “called on the world body to do more to fight tyranny, disease, ignorance and poverty, and pointedly demanded that it reform its own institutions.”

AP News reports:

Myanmar security forces opened fire on Buddhist monks and other pro-democracy demonstrators Wednesday for the first time in a month of anti-government protests, killing at least one man and wounding others in chaotic confrontations across Yangon.

Dramatic images of the protests, many transmitted from the secretive Southeast Asian nation by dissidents using cell phones and the Internet, riveted world attention on the escalating faceoff between the military regime and its opponents.

Clouds of tear gas and smoke from fires hung over streets, and defiant protesters and even bystanders pelted police with bottles and rocks in some places. Onlookers helped monks escape arrest by bundling them into taxis and other vehicles and shouting “Go, go, go, run!”

The government said one man was killed when police opened fire during the ninth consecutive day of demonstrations, but dissidents outside Myanmar reported receiving news of up to eight deaths.

Some reports said the dead included monks, who are widely revered in Myanmar, and the emergence of such martyr figures could stoke public anger against the regime and escalate the violence.

Kerry is right, a “peaceful, pro-democratic outcome in Burma is within reach”… “We must not fail the people of Burma once again.”

3 Responses to “John Kerry: U.S. Must Stand with Burmese Demonstrators”

  1. It seems like virtually the entire liberal blogosphere has been “trying to make the time” to write about this but just hasn’t gotten around to it yet.
    http://jonswift.blogspot.com/2007/09/burma-schmurma.html

  2. How can the US, being consistent, come down on the side of the burmese monks, and the Pakistani dictatorship?

  3. Free Burma!
    International Bloggers’ Day for Burma on the 4th of October

    International bloggers are preparing an action to support the peaceful revolution in Burma. We want to set a sign for freedom and show our sympathy for these people who are fighting their cruel regime without weapons. These Bloggers are planning to refrain from posting to their blogs on October 4 and just put up one Banner then, underlined with the words „Free Burma!“.

    http://www.free-burma.org