Independent reporting on human rights, environmental and conflict issues

News Direct from Burma to My Doorstep

I received a telephone call Wednesday morning, from a friend, who shall remain annonymous for obvious reasons. He was franticly trying to find a Machintosh computer. “I’ve just arrived from Burma and I need to send my photos to the press. Can you help me?” “Come.” I said, without question. “Get in a taxi and pass me your driver.” None of my journalist friends were able to get a visa, although many tried, and I knew that they would be eager to hear the news he had to share so I sent out a message to everyone about town that we were to meet that evening.

My friend arrived in Rangoon just after the massacres had ended. He told me that everything was under lockdown and the population was too terrified to say or do anything. It would take months, he said, before they could reorganize to do anything whatsoever. He managed to slip in on a tourist visa and went about town cautiously with his camera, constantly being followed, constantly changing hotels, and always, unfortunately, putting the Burmese he had contact with at risk. He took photos from his hotel windows of the junta with a small digital zoom camera, photos which, for a celebrated photojournalist were extremely poor in quality and content, but served as a record with a date and a place to be filed in history. Reception tried to give him a room without a window one night for fear that he would take photos, and it became clear that even his presence there was a threat to the management. The junta came to tell the woman running the place that she would pay dearly if anything were to emerge to the press from her hotel.

My friend also told me that it was clear the military had received orders to shoot anyone filming at the time of the violent crackdown, that the Japanese man who paid with his life simply had not been aware of the order, and that many among the military had refused to carry out such orders. The crackdown would likely have been even bloodier were it not for an apparently distinct dissent from within the ranks.

“The Burmese have resigned themselves to praying for democracy,” he said. It is the only thing they can do now; what with all the leaders of the revolution imprisoned, murdered or chased away, an absolute paranoia has seized the civilian population and there is no way for them to show their solidarity against the junta without instantly suffering a similar fate. Now the people of Burma are left to suffer the high price of petrol, and many are spending their entire salaries on transport alone. Gambari’s scheduled visit next month is unlikely to engender change from within the increasingly psychopathic and xenophobic junta, and the only country with any real leverage, China, has done virtually nothing to remedy the situation.

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