Wednesday, September 26, 2007

"You most likely know it as Myanmar, but it will always be Burma to me."

By Michael J.W. Stickings

(So says Mr. Peterman to Elaine in "The Foundation," the first episode of Season 8 of Seinfeld.)

We have been following the situation in Burma closely in recent days, tracking the monk-led protests against one of the most brutal regimes in the world, a totalitarian military junta. The protests were getting larger and louder. As many as 100,000 people marched in Rangoon on Monday.

But, as I said in my last post on the situation, the totalitarians were not about to give in. It was easy to predict, but I predicted that they would soon fight back -- and with merciless brutality. And that is exactly what has happened:

The government said its security forces opened fire Wednesday on demonstrators who failed to disperse, killing one person, and witnesses said police beat and dragged away dozens of Buddhist monks in the most violent crackdown in a month of protests in [Burma].

You can find photos of the crackdown here. And, also from the BBC: reports from inside Burma, the government's view, and a valuable Q&A.

As the protesters were being brutalized, the monks beaten, the U.N. held an emergency session to address the situation and President Bush, in a move that ought to be applauded, announced new sanctions against the Burmese regime. "The United States is very troubled by the action of the junta against the Burmese people," a White House spokesman said this afternoon. "We call on them to show restraint and to move to a peaceful transition to democracy." In reality, the totalitarians will neither show restraint nor adopt democracy, and certainly not peacefully. Sanctions will speak louder than words, but those sanctions must be serious. And the problem is that no matter what the U.S. wants, the more powerful player in the region is China. And therein lies much of the problem:

In response to the violence, the United Nations Security Council called an emergency meeting on Wednesday to discuss the crisis, but China blocked a Council resolution, backed by the United States and European nations, to condemn the government crackdown. However, Secretary General Ban Ki-moon announced that the United Nations was "urgently dispatching" a special envoy to Myanmar, formerly known as Burma.

In other words, there is only so much the U.N. can do. Both China and Russia -- hardly the world's great advocates of liberty and democracy -- oppose sanctions. Both countries "have argued that the situation in Burma is a purely internal matter. Both vetoed a UN resolution critical of Burma's rulers last January".

It will take more than Bono's prayers not just to resolve this crisis but to ensure that it is resolved, somehow, in the protesters' favour. A U.N. envoy could open up a dialogue with the totalitarians, but without China and Russia it is unclear how successful new and tougher sanctions could be.

But what else is there? Military action? That won't happen, not with China the dominant power in the region. And, given the Sino-Russian argument that this is purely a domestic problem, the U.N. is not about to send a peacekeeping force to Burma. Ultimately, it will take international pressure on China, along with vigorous and robust sanctions, to compel the totalitarians to back down.

But then what? It may be enough, for now, for the brutality to end. In the long run, however, only the overthrow of the military junta will allow liberty and democracy to begin to flourish in that brutalized land.



Time: "Monks vs. Police in Burma."

Times: "Eyewitness reports from bloggers inside Burma."

Sullivan: "Freedom's Front Line" -- with many great links.

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  • 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!“.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 2:02 PM  

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