Burmese Troops Carry Out Nighttime Arrests; Monks Put to Flight

Associated Press
Thursday, October 4, 2007

RANGOON, Burma, Oct. 3 -- After crushing the democracy uprising with guns, Burma's military junta switched to an intimidation campaign Wednesday, sending troops to drag people from their homes in the middle of the night and letting others know they were marked for arrest.

People living near the Shwedagon Pagoda, Burma's most revered shrine and a flash point of unrest during the protests, reported that police swept through several dozen homes about 3 a.m., dragging away many men for questioning.

A U.N. Development Program employee, Myint Nwe Moe, and her husband, brother-in-law and driver were among those taken away by police, the U.N. agency said.

Dozens of Buddhist monks jammed Rangoon's main train station after being ordered to vacate their monasteries -- centers of the anti-government demonstrations -- and go back to their home towns and villages.

It was not clear who ordered them out. Older abbots in charge of monasteries are widely seen here as tied to the ruling military junta, while younger monks are generally more sympathetic to the democracy movement.

Following the night of widespread detentions, military vehicles patrolled the streets in Rangoon, Burma's biggest city, with loudspeakers blaring a warning: "We have photographs. We are going to make arrests!"

"People are terrified," said Shari Villarosa, the acting U.S. ambassador in Burma. "People have been unhappy for a long time. Since the events of last week, there's now the unhappiness combined with anger, and fear."

Anti-junta demonstrations broke out in mid-August over a sharp increase in the price of fuel, then ballooned when monks took the lead last month. But the military crushed the protests a week ago with bullets, tear gas and clubs. The government said 10 people were killed, but dissident groups put the death toll at up to 200 and say 6,000 people were detained.

Villarosa said her staff had found as many as 15 monasteries completely empty during visits in recent days. Others were barricaded by the military and declared off-limits to outsiders. "There is a significantly reduced number of monks on the streets. Where are the monks? What has happened to them?" she said.

While troops rounded up people in Rangoon, some arrested protesters were let go elsewhere. The Democratic Voice of Burma, a dissident radio station based in Norway, said authorities freed 90 of about 400 monks who were detained in Myitkyina, the capital of Kachin state, during a Sept. 25 raid on monasteries.

In Brussels, European Union countries agreed to widen sanctions on Burma's military government. Diplomats said new sanctions included an expanded visa ban for junta members, more controls on investment in Burma, and a ban on trade in the country's metals, timber and gemstones.

The new measures did not include a specific ban on European oil and gas companies doing business in Burma, diplomats said.

The Southeast Asian nation, also known as Myanmar, has vast oil and gas deposits that are hungrily eyed by neighbors -- India, China and Thailand -- as well as by multinational companies. Burma is also known for its minerals, gems and timber.

Among those killed when troops opened fire on unarmed protesters in Rangoon last week was Japanese television cameraman Kenji Nagai of the APF news agency. His body was flown to Tokyo on Wednesday, and Japan said it was reconsidering its aid to Burma.

Also on Wednesday, the advocacy group Human Rights Watch presented in Bangkok a man they said was a Burmese army major who had fled his country. The group released a transcript of an interview with the unidentified man in which he expressed shock at the crackdown.

The demonstrators "were very peaceful. Later when I heard they were shot and killed and the armed forces used tear gas, I was really upset," the man was quoted as saying.

© 2007 The Washington Post Company