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Troubling News from Burma

by Pamela Leavey

The Daily Mail is reporting that a former intelligence officer for Burma’s ruling junta has defected and revealed that “thousands of protesters are dead and the bodies of hundreds of executed monks have been dumped in the jungle.”

The most senior official to defect so far, Hla Win, said: “Many more people have been killed in recent days than you’ve heard about. The bodies can be counted in several thousand.”

Mr Win, who spoke out as a Swedish diplomat predicted that the revolt has failed, said he fled when he was ordered to take part in a massacre of holy men. He has now reached the border with Thailand.

Exiles along the Burmese frontier “confirmed that hundreds of monks had simply “disappeared” as 20,000 troops swarmed around Rangoon yesterday to prevent further demonstrations by religious groups and civilians.”

Word reaching dissidents hiding out on the border suggested that as well as executions, some 2,000 monks are being held in the notorious Insein Prison or in university rooms which have been turned into cells.

There were reports that many were savagely beaten at a sports ground on the outskirts of Rangoon, where they were heard crying for help.

Others who had failed to escape disguised as civilians were locked in their bloodstained temples.

Hla Win, said from his border hideout last night, that he “hopes to cross into Thailand and seek asylum at the Norwegian Embassy.”

The 42-year-old chief of military intelligence in Rangoon’s northern region, added: “I decided to desert when I was ordered to raid two monasteries and force several hundred monks onto trucks.

“They were to be killed and their bodies dumped deep inside the jungle. I refused to participate in this.”

The question of how many are dead still remains unclear despite the claims from Hla Win, who defected from the junta. AP News reports that groups are struggling to tally the dead:

There are huge difficulties. It’s a closed police state,” said David Mathieson, a consultant with Human Rights Watch in Thailand. “Many of the witnesses have been arrested and are being held in areas we don’t have access to. Other eyewitness are too afraid.”

Authorities have acknowledged that government troops shot dead nine demonstrators and a Japanese cameraman in Yangon. But witness accounts range from several dozen deaths to as many as 200.

“We do believe the death toll is higher than acknowledged by the government,” Shari Villarosa, the top U.S. diplomat in Myanmar, told The Associated Press Monday. “We are doing our best to get more precise, more detailed information, not only in terms of deaths but also arrests.”

Villarosa said her staff had visited up to 15 monasteries around Yangon and every single one was empty. She put the number of arrested demonstrators — monks and civilians — in the thousands.

“I know the monks are not in their monasteries,” she said. “Where are they? How many are dead? How many are arrested?”

She said the true death toll may never be known in a Buddhist country where bodies are cremated.

“We’re not going to find graves like they did in Yugoslavia … We have seen few dead bodies. The bodies are removed promptly. We don’t know where they are being taken,” Villarosa said.

Dissident groups have been collecting accounts from witnesses and the families of victims, and investigating reports of dead bodies turning up at hospitals and cemeteries in and around Yangon.

Fred Hiatt writes in the WaPo today about “What We Owe The Burmese.” He makes the suggestion that China should be told in regards to their connection to the Burmese junta, “as far as the United States is concerned, it can have its Olympic Games or it can have its regime in Burma. It can’t have both.” The Guardian UK chimes in, “As Burma suffers, China must be forced to act.”

China’s determination to use the 2008 Olympics to win international kudos gives the world’s democracies a rare opportunity to exert influence on Beijing, shaming it into action on human-rights abuses at home and sponsorship of repression abroad.

AP news reports that planned talks with the Junta have stalled and Reuters is reporting “U.N. envoy Ibrahim Gambari has been told he can meet Myanmar’s senior general on Tuesday.”

There’s further discussion in the blogosphere at TalkLeft; The Mahablog; The Glittering Eye; The Van Der Galiën Gazette, Real Clear Politics and Jules Crittenden.

And, there’s a movement for an International Bloggers Day for Free Burma started. Bloggers can sign up to participate here:

Free Burma!

One Response to “Troubling News from Burma”

  1. Part of this area used to be called The Golden Triangle, an area famous for it’s heroin output. The product was brought to market by the CIA because it was produced by, and used to finance the Kuomintang forces driven from China to the south. My impression based on this history was that this p[lace might not be in the Chinese sphere of influence, but I haven’t heard anything really informative for many years.

    But hell yeah. If China can pull this together and doesn’t, I’d vote for an Olympics boycott.

    Or maybe Bush is trading these poor folks off for progress on nuclear disarmament up North Korea way.