Burma: The Latest

Aung Zaw
Editor, The Irrawaddy News Magazine
Friday, September 28, 2007; 1:00 PM

Violence subsided markedly in Rangoon on Friday as armed troops sealed off key downtown streets in an attempt to halt the bloody rioting that has shaken Burma and generated broad condemnation of the military dictatorship that has ruled the country for nearly half a century.

Aung Zaw, editor of The Irrawaddy, a news magazine based in Thailand, is monitoring the situation in Burma and was online Friday, Sept. 28, at 1 p.m. ET to discuss the very latest on the conflict between the Buddhist monks and the government.

A transcript follows.

____________________ Mr. Zaw, thank you for coming online today. Can you give us the latest information you are monitoring from Thailand please.

Aung Zaw: Heavy crackdow continues today - monasteries were raided - soldiers blocked roads - demonstrators could not reach city hall - more soldiers seen on the streets. Rumors spread around Rangoon that some soldiers refused to shoot unarmed protesters. Monks stayed at temples and monasteries; many are locked up and not allowed to leave. How can they get alms? Monks who were arrested were held in notorious prison where they reportedly held hunger strike...


Austin, Tex.: How is it that the beating and killing of monks and ransacking of the monasteries has not drawn out the large majority of the population to protest and or protect the monks?

Aung Zaw: Many Burmese were upset and thousands came down to the streets in Rangoon, Mandalay, Sittwe and Myitkyina.


Boston, Mass.: I saw a TV report from an ABC reporter who crossed the border into Burma and was filming around a Budhist monastary that had been cleared (I assume he had some kind of satellite video phone). Will government forces try to track him down and take away his equipment? How dangerous is it to cover the story inside Burma?

Aung Zaw: ABC reporter? Or CNN? I think he visited Tachilek. Not all are active in politics anyway. Many have also resigned from politics. But I think monks who challenged the military regime are quite impressive... now they all are in jails..

it is pretty dangeous to cover story inside Burma. This time many images and news came out of Burma. Burmese who have little skills in journalism are also involved in sending news and photos .. they are citizen reporters risking their lives... today soldiers chased down those who have cameras and beat them and arrested them.


Arlington, Va.: "The Nation" is reporting that Than Shwe and/or his family have fled to Laos. Is there any confirmation of that? What might that mean?

Aung Zaw: No... No to Laos. They will rather go to Singapore where they have bought house and condominiums and often fly there for shopping. Than Shwe is still in Naypyidaw.


Fairfax, Va.: The reason those monks are protesting was high natural gas prices. But is has been spun into a democracy movement. What democracy do the Buddhist monks want, freedom of religion? Do you see some people seize the opportunity for their own agenda?

Aung Zaw: Gas price hike was just a spark but political reasons are behind. People and activists are waiting to challenge the regime like in 1987 and 1988 when Gen. Ne Win announced to cancel bank notes. A scuffle in Burma turend to a natiowide uprising!


Los Angeles, Calif.: Thank you for keeping us updated on the horrendous events unfolding in Burma. Is there any word on the fate of "The Lady?" who I heard was taken from her home and placed in a prison?

Aung Zaw: Thanks. She has been reportedly moved to Insein prison, Reuters news agency reported. But some sources today told me that she is [in] Yemon police school, outskirts of Rangoon. Maung Aye, number two man, decided to move her there to protect her from hardliners... we will soon know where she is if U.N. man Gambari is allowed to meet her. He will fly in tomorrow. i think he got visa.


Fairfax, Va.: Will economic sanctions break the government and quell the demonstrations?

Aung Zaw: No. Santions alone won't work.


Washington, D.C.: Hello - I have a limited knowledge of Burmese history, but it seems that the military has been in power for a long time, and before that Burma was a British colony. If the military ever relinguished power, how successful would a democracy be in Burma? How easily could the country develop strong civil & political institutions?

Aung Zaw: Burma was colonized by British in 1885, then the country regained its independence in 1948. Then it was drawn into a civil war and ethinc insurgency and we have two military coups so far that last for more than 40 years. Longest coups! The country is ruled by feudal warlords.


Rockville, Md.: What are the hopes of the Burmese people to resolve this situation? The junta has not responded to previous sanctions against them from the world community. Will it take intervention from China?

Aung Zaw: China holds the key on Burma. It has to have political will to see change in Burma. U.S., E.U. and ASEAN neighbors should able to convince that a stable and prosperous Burma will guarantee long term investment of China...


Arlington, Va.: I really wish The Washington Post would stop referring to what is happening in Burma as "bloody rioting." People are protesting peacefully and they are being beaten, shot, and arrested for it. They are NOT rioting!

Aung Zaw: There was no riot until the army and riot police stepped in. So now we saw violent crackdown and shooting and killings on the streets... the demonstrations by monks were quite well-planned and peaceful.


McLean, Va.: What effect will the Olympics have on what is going on there?

Aung Zaw: Activists are making the link between 2008 Olympics and Burma crackdown. Chinese are a bit nervous.


Washington, D.C.: What about the people of Burma other than the protesters, the regular day to day people? How are they being affected? Are they in sympathy with the monks? Is everyone against the government?

Aung Zaw: People are praying for positive change. i spoke to some parents who fetch kids at school in Tamwe township yesteday and soldiers fired into the school. So even those who are apolitical want to see a better Burma.


New York, N.Y.: Are there reports from your sources inside that are different from what we are reading in the U.S. media? Is the situation worse than is being reported?

Aung Zaw: In fact, situation inside Burma is worse what we have seen in U.S. or international media. Sometime media presents black and white and too superficial. But Iwas amazed to see coverage on Burma by TV networks including Al Jazeera, CNN, BBC and many others.


Juneau Alaska: Can you give us some background on the general economic conditions in Burma today? Where are the jobs, what kind of food insecurity is there, how great of an impact did the recent increases in food and fuel have?

Secondly can you address how effective/ineffective do you think the U.S. sactions are in promoting change among the ruling junta?

Lastly, can you give us a short primer on the ruling junta, who are they and what is their background. Thanks

Aung Zaw: U.S. sanction is politically symbolic but it won't bring down the regime. I don't think sanction alone will work. There has to be a proper Burma strategy mapped out by U.N., U.S., E.U., China and ASEAN nations. Countries need to invest political capital; lip service alone is not enough.


Washington, D.C.: How do you feel about if the U.S. would eventually establish a military base in Burma?

Aung Zaw: Burmese love their nation but they still daydream U.S. will come and save the country.


Washington, D.C.: Are you from Burma? If so, do you have family there and are they safe?

Aung Zaw: Yes, I am from Burma. My brother was in prison for nine years. He was student activist. We are a small family. We now live together, waiting (trying) to go home.


Reston, Va.: My comment is that the longest pole in this Burma tent is China. China WILL only do lip service (just for PR, don't want to lose the access to the limited resources in Burma, etc.) to satisfy international concerns -- nothing more. They hold the key (or very good influence). They won't help just because we know how they dealt with Chinese democratic movement in 1989.

U.S. again will do sanctions (limited effect) but what they need is the direct involvement from U.S.; however, there is no interest (no skin in the game) for U.S. to be actively involved in this.

Give it a week (unless the entire country goes to the streets), it will fizzle out. I wish it won't fizzle out.

Aung Zaw: I remain skeptical on seeing change in Burma and foreign governments' response on Burma. They might calm down a few weeks later but Burmese people will continue to suffer. The regime is always able to exploit differences of opinion and can able to hide behind China and Russia.


Alexandria, Va.: Why did soldiers fire into the school? Were monks hiding in there?

Aung Zaw: Well, soldiers in Burma are trained to shoot "destructive elements" so they shoot students, monks and civilians... monks are now hiding and some key leaders have been apprehended. 1990, 130 monasteries were raided in Mandalay and 300 monks inlcuding senior abbots were disrobed and served in prison for 10 years.


Washington, D.C.: Does Irrawaddy have reporters there on the ground? How are you getting your information?

Aung Zaw: Our stringers are there. We have daily contacts with them. We also talk to our sources and contacts everyday. People are very brave and outspoken. We gather info through cellphones, talking to people, meeting and interviewing and sending correspondents to Burma.


New York, N.Y.: In the Times:

"The big missing piece of the puzzle is what is going on in the minds of the senior leadership," said Thant Myint-U, a former United Nations official, "Nothing that they have said in the last 20 years would suggest that they will back down."


Aung Zaw: Yes.. he is correct.

_______________________ This concludes our discussion with Aung Zaw. Thank you for joining us.


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