What Burma's Junta Must Fear
In August, the Burmese people began to write a new chapter in their determination to find peace and freedom. Burmese monks peacefully protested to bring change to our long-suffering country. As we marched, hundreds of thousands of Burmese and our ethnic cousins joined us to reinforce our collective demand: that military rule finally give way to the people's desire for democracy.
Video and the Internet have allowed the world to witness the brutal response directed by Gen. Than Shwe, Burma's de facto ruler and military leader. Than Shwe unleashed his soldiers and the regime's thugs, who attacked us. Once again the streets in Rangoon and Mandalay ran red with the blood of innocent civilians seeking to save our country from the moral, social, political and economic crises that consume us.
Hundreds of our monks and nuns have been beaten and arrested. Many have been murdered. Alarmingly, thousands of clergy have disappeared. Our sacred monasteries have been looted and destroyed. As darkness falls each night, intelligence units try to round up political and religious leaders.
Military rule has brought Burma to collapse. Our economy is in ruins. Once the breadbasket of Asia, Burma cannot feed itself. Once we were a light for education and literacy; now, the regime has closed schools and universities. Once we breathed the air of freedom; now, we choke on the foul air of tyranny. We are an enslaved people.
My colleagues and I welcomed the strong actions of the United States to impose financial and travel restrictions on the regime and its enablers. Australia is following this model, and the European Union should as well.
Than Shwe and his fellow military leaders have sought to portray this uprising as a singular event, now over. A veneer of quiet has replaced the sounds of gunfire on city streets. Unfortunately, many in the international community buy in and actively support this propaganda.
At the United Nations, China and Russia continue to block the Security Council from facilitating a dialogue between democratic forces and the regime. Within our region, senior officials of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations have condemned the regime's actions but have done little else. Perhaps most disappointing, the world's largest democracy, India, continues to provide military assistance and trade deals that help finance the regime's war on its people.
What will it take for the world to realize that Burma's generals are a menace and that because of their misrule, drugs, diseases and refugees from Burma spill across borders and wash through other societies, ruining lives?
The recent steps by U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and his special adviser, Ibrahim Gambari, to open a dialogue with Burma's generals are welcome and necessary. The United Nations can help bring peace to Burma. However, the Security Council is the proper forum. All efforts must focus on making council members take the steps necessary to coerce the generals to come to terms with the people. This involves setting a timetable for the regime to release all political prisoners, including Aung San Suu Kyi; allow free assembly; and give a full accounting of the thousands who have disappeared. The council should also seek a ban on all arms sales to the regime.
People ask whether I am disheartened and whether this latest spasm of democratic activism is over. The answer to both questions is no. Although I am wanted by the military and forced to hide in my own country, I am awed by the bravery of so many, including sympathetic security agents of the junta who opened their homes to democracy leaders and me.
Since August, I have seen my country galvanized as never before. I have watched our 88 Generation leaders bravely confront the military. I have watched a new generation of activists join to issue an unequivocal call for freedom. And I have watched as many in the police and military, sickened at what they were forced to do to their countrymen, give so many of us quiet help. The primary tools wielded by Burma's senior generals, a climate of fear and the use of violence, are no longer working -- and with nothing to lose, we are no longer afraid.
On Wednesday, more than 200 monks staged a protest in Pakokku. They stared military officers in the face. Their spirit and determination are a warning to the regime and those that prop it up.
Burma's Saffron Revolution is just beginning. The regime's use of mass arrests, murder, torture and imprisonment has failed to extinguish our desire for the freedom that was stolen from us so many years ago. We have taken their best punch.
Now it is the generals who must fear the consequences of their actions. We adhere to nonviolence, but our spine is made of steel. There is no turning back. It matters little if my life or the lives of colleagues should be sacrificed on this journey. Others will fill our sandals, and more will join and follow.
U Gambira is the pseudonym of a leader of the All-Burma Monks Alliance, which spearheaded nationwide protests in September. Wanted by Burma's military junta, he is living in hiding as he continues the monks' campaign.