Friday, September 28

Reporting on Friday's Burma protests will be slow and difficult

From a Wall Street Journal report today 'Citizen Journalists' Evade Blackout on Myanmar News
Reporters Without Borders says that at 3 p.m. yesterday, authorities disconnected most of the country's cellphone lines, preventing journalists and demonstrators from reporting on events. Authorities have also closed some Internet cafes in Yangon, effectively shutting down many blogs and Web sites.

The Internet has slowed so that it has been difficult to send out photographs and video. It took several hours for pictures to emerge of Wednesday's shootings [...]
I fear the regime's next move will be to purchase radio jamming equipment from China's military, as happened with Zimbabwe. Burmese around the country depend on VOA and BBC to receive news on the protests.

Little good news from yesterday but there was some. Protests went ahead even without the monks. The UN will be sending an envoy to Burma. And a meeting between Condi Rice and Burmese envoys went a little longer than planned because "she was giving them hell." (H/T CNN)

Also, ASEAN stepped out of their usual nonaligned stance to denounce the junta's violent crackdown, and China is asking the junta to practice restraint. Yet I am beginning to think that my hope is misplaced that China will give meaningful help.

It was stupid of me not to consider that Beijing would be particularly worried that democracy could break out in Burma; a democratic Burma would surely side with the Tibetan cause and be more interested in dealing with India than China.

Just last Friday Beijing canceled a diplomatic meeting in Germany to protest Angela Merkel's planned meeting with the Dalai Lama. China claims that the Lama is using religion to further political aims. They surely see the monk-led protests in Burma in the same way.

But one can always hope -- and the leading nations can continue to pressure China to intercede and use economic threats to brake the regime's violent crackdown.

As for the hope that Burma's rank-and-file soldiers would not turn on the monks or open fire on civilians, that hope has been dashed by events in the past 48 hours. Yesterday's Guardian threw light on this situation:
Most [Burmese] males, including soldiers, serve briefly as monks as their youth. But so far no soldiers have changed sides as happened in 1988 when some air force personnel joined demonstrations.

"The soldiers shooting might be special troops, recruited from the hill country, often from orphanages. They have no family. They are raised (by the military) to do whatever they are told to do," said Aye Chan Naing, chief editor for the Democratic Voice of Burma, an opposition shortwave radio station based in Norway.

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