Burma, what all the fuss is about (video)

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Almost 20-years ago massive protests against the Burmese Government, known as the “8888 uprising“, resulted in military dictator Ne Win resigning. But not before more than 3,000 people were reportedly killed when Burmese army troops opened fire on protesters.

Senior General Than Shwe, Commander in Chief of the Burmese military and chairman of the State Peace and Development Council
Senior General Than Shwe, Commander in Chief of the Burmese military and chairman of the State Peace and Development Council David Longstreath/AP

Rather than heralding a new start for the country, the provisional democratic government of U Nu was tossed out of power by a new armed forces dictatorship headed by General Saw Maung, a Ne Win associate.

After the National League for Democracy (NLD) won 392 out of 492 seats in the parliamentary election in 1990, its party leader and human rights activist Daw Aung San Suu Kyi was placed under house arrest.

The country has been run by Senior General Than Shwe, Commander in Chief of the Burmese military (Tatmadaw) and chairman of the State Peace and Development Council since 1992.

Most corrupt globally

While it was one of the wealthiest countries in Southeast Asia when administered by the British, the country is now one of the poorest with the lowest rate of economic growth in the Greater Mekong Subregion (GMS).

In addition, the corruption watchdog organisation Transparency International (TI) ranked Myanmar the most corrupt country in the world, tied with Somalia, in its 2007 Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI) it released today.

The monk-led protests of the last nine days have resulted in one of the world’s biggest human rights tragedies dominating the world’s media and capturing the attention of world leaders.

A group of monks leading pro-democracy marches through the streets
A group of monks leading pro-democracy marches through the streets Racoles/ Wikipedia

The protests began in response to an increase in the price of fuel, but have grown into mass demonstrations involving tens of thousands, with Buddhist monks leading pro-democracy marches through Yangon.

In 1999 the Australian media devoted huge resources to reporting on the alleged atrocities carried out in East Timor by the Indonesian military.

However, as tens of thousands of saffron robed monks parade through the streets in opposition to one of the world’s most repressive and brutal regimes, the same media organisations have devoted only a fraction of the resources to reporting the matter.

As this life and death struggle unfolds in Burma, you could be excused for thinking nothing was happening at all if you watched any of the commercial television news broadcasts, especially in Melbourne.

As usual, SBS and the ABC have proved why they are the news services that people who refuse to accept the dumbed-down news broadcasts dished up by the commercial networks tune in to.

Vile regime

But what is all the fuss really about?

Writing in The Independent, John Bercow, chair of the all-party parliamentary group for democracy in Burma, describes first hand why the government he describes as a “vile regime” needs to be confronted and ultimately overthrown.

Mr Bercow has just returned from a visit to the India-Burma border where he met people from Chin State in western Burma.

According to him, they told him graphic tales of abuse, torture, killings, forced marriages, religious persecution, forced labour, and rape carried out on the Burmese people by the military junta, officially termed the Tatmadaw.

Mr Bercow said, “I met a boy who had been abducted by Burmese army soldiers when he was just three years old. His father was an opposition activist, and had escaped from jail. As bait, the regime held this boy in a cell with no windows and a mud floor in an army camp for eight hours. He was given neither food nor water.

John Bercow: “This vile regime in Burma has to be confronted”.
John Bercow: “This vile regime in Burma has to be confronted”. Times UK

“I met a man whose son had been beaten and tortured so badly that he is now paralysed. Another man described how he had been hung upside down and tortured all night, his body swung repeatedly against a pillar”.

According to Mr Bercow, the Burmese government “is guilty of every conceivable human rights violation”.

In his report Mr Bercow said the regime spends 40 per cent of its annual budget on the military and less than 60p (A$1.38) a person, per year on health and education. More than 3,000 villages in eastern Burma alone have been destroyed since 1996 and more than one million people have been forced to flee their homes.”

Yesterday Buddhist monks went to the UN offices in Rangoon and pleaded for help from the UN Security Council.

This brought about the predictable round of condemnations of the junta by world leaders, along with more talk of tougher sanctions against the Burma Government.

Monks being beaten, shot and tear gassed

As has been proved time and again, those in authority are not hurt by the imposition of sanctions against a nation.

The revolutionary peaceful protests of buddhist monks in the streets takes a bad turn. Tirador81

Today the newswires are full of stories about monasteries being raided by the army, of monks being beaten, shot and tear gassed, and the military firing live rounds into protesters.

A 50-year-old Japanese photo-journalist, Kenji Nagai, is among the 10 people confirmed killed in the latest protests. Hundreds of people are reported to have been taken away by the military.

While the West was happy to charge into Afghanistan, Iraq ,and more closer to home, East Timor, in the defence of human rights, it is doubtful it will do the same for the people of Burma. The so-called “coalition of the willing” not demonstrating any willingness to get involved in this instance.



Feature video Al Jazeera English



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John Le Fevre is an Australian national with more than 40 years experience as a journalist, photographer, videographer and editor.

He has spent extensive periods of time working in Africa and throughout Southeast Asia, with stints in the Middle East, the USA, and England.

He has covered major world events including Operation Desert Shield/ Storm, the 1991 pillage in Zaire, the 1994 Rwanda genocide, the 1999 East Timor independence unrest, the 2004 Asian tsunami, and the 2009, 2010, and 2014 Bangkok political protests.

In 1995 he was a Walkley Award finalist, the highest awards in Australian journalism, for his coverage of the 1995 Zaire (now Democratic Republic of Congo) Ebola outbreak.

Most recently he was the Thailand editor/ managing editor of AEC News Today . Prior to that he was the deputy editor and Thailand and Greater Mekong Sub-region editor for The Establishment Post, predecessor of Asean Today.

In the mid-80s and early 90s he owned JLF Promotions, the largest above and below the line marketing and PR firm servicing the high-technology industry in Australia. It was sold in 1995.

Opinions and views expressed on this site are those of the author’s only. Read more at About me

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