Burma, what all the fuss is about


Senior General Than Shwe, Commander in Chief of the Burmese military and chairman of the State Peace and Development Council. (Photo courtesy of Wikipedia.org)
Senior General Than Shwe, Commander in Chief of the Burmese military and chairman of the State Peace and Development Council. (Photo courtesy of Wikipedia.org)

Almost 20-years ago massive protests against the Burma 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 Burma Army troops opened fire on protesters.

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.

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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.

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.

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

The monk lead 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 its politicians.

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 monk’s 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.

Perhaps it has something to do with the fact that no Australian journalist has been killed in Burma, as in Balibo, East Timor, or that no Australian journalist is, or has been, the lover of the Burma resistance leader.


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.

After all, the AFL Grand Final is in a couple of days and this is considerably more important than the events in a country most people have difficulty pronouncing. Or so it would appear.

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 watch.

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 over-thrown.

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.

Bercow said, “I met a boy who had been abducted by Burma 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.

“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 Bercow, the Burmese Government “is guilty of every conceivable human rights violation.”

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.

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

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 journalist is among the ten 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” is probably not so willing in this instance.


It’s taken almost 20-years for the people of Burma to make a second concerted effort to free themselves from the shackles imposed by the tyrannical rulers of their country.

But I’m sure that tomorrow the Melbourne newspapers and commercial television news broadcasts will devote more resources to AFL football than to Burma.

Just as it did with Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia, the world will stand by and fail to provide the Burmese people with the real support they need.


© John Le Fevre, 2007

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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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