10/17/2007, 00.00
MYANMAR
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Junta “eliminating” soldiers who fired on monks

The generals are trying to get rid of evidence and witnesses to the late September repression should they be called to account some time in the future. Meanwhile arrests continue as do pro-government demonstrations organised by the military regime. Some ethnic Burmese are dressed up in ethnic minorities clothing to show minorities’ support for the government against the West. ASEAN only expresses support for UN initiative, refuses to implement sanctions against the junta.

Yangon (AsiaNews) – Repression in Myanmar is now turning against the army that carried it out. Reliable sources in the country told AsiaNews that rumours are circulating Mandalay and Yangon according to which the junta is physically  “eliminating” the soldiers that shot at monks and protesters in late September in anti-regime demonstrations in order to get rid of evidence and witnesses should they be called to account for ordering the violence.

In a brief announcement on state TV, the junta said that people involved in the demonstrations caused by fuel price hikes are still being detained. Out of 2,927 people arrested, 468 remain in prison. However, these numbers refer only to people taken into custody on September 26 and 27 when tension was at its peak. Since then the military has continued to arrest opponents by using photos taken during the marches to identify people. Unofficial estimates put the number of those in prison at over 6,000.

Along with arrests and torture, the military’s propaganda campaign continues. By organising pro-regime rallies, the junta is trying to turn the population against Western countries, which it holds responsible for the crisis and the monk-led movement.

“The authorities are forcing every village to send 400 to 500 residents to join these [pro-junta] rallies,” said some farmers from the area Sagayng area, just north of Mandalay. “Anyone who tries to avoid taking part in the march runs the risk of spending months in jail or paying stiff fines. This happened yesterday to us, but we still won’t shout the slogans the military imposed on us.”

Sometimes people are summoned in stadiums or public spaces at 5 am and forced to wait until 8 am “when some officials arrive to read speeches full of attacks against Europe and pro-democracy activists in order to educate participants.”

During these rallies in the city of Monywa, some ethnic Burmese were forced to wear clothes identifying them as members of local ethnic minorities in order to show that these groups supported the government.

Many monks have found refuge in villages which are now surrounded by soldiers days and night. “Some monks are wearing civilian clothes to avoid visibility,” some residents in the Mandalay area said. “But they also wear a yellow string as an arm band to show that they are not giving up their role.”

The international community also continues to put pressure on the generals to stop arrests, release prisoners and start talking to the opposition. Japan, one of the junta's biggest aid donors, announced it was cutting off US$ 4.7 million in funding. The European Union has also increased its sanctions. And US President George W. Bush is threatening new measures against the junta.

Thailand, where UN envoy Ibrahim Gambari began his new Asia tour, has proposed a regional forum with China and India to push the Burmese government to implement democratic reforms.

Yesterday in Malaysia Gambari only got “support” from the members of the Association of South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN) for the UN Myanmar mission.

Malaysia Foreign Minister Syed Hamid Albar said there would be no threat of sanctions or suspension from ASEAN.

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