Monday, October 01, 2007

The Grim Reality of Burma

The military doesn't want anyone knowing it, but many people are being killed:
BANGKOK, Thailand - One hundred shot dead outside a Myanmar school. Activists burned alive at government crematoriums. A Buddhist monk floating face down in a river.

last week's brutal crackdown by the military, horror stories are filling Myanmar blogs and dissident sites. But the tight security of the repressive regime makes it impossible to verify just how many people are dead, detained or missing.

"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.

The military has made no overtures of willingness to meet with the UN envoy trying to broker peace.

Related: This is Burma, A Lack of Burma in all the Wrong Places