By Jono Kinkade
UN special envoy Ibrahim Gambari recently completed a visit to Myanmar, the military-controlled Southeast Asian country that has been embroiled in a violent military crackdown where soldiers beat and fired on crowds of protesters and Buddhist monks in September.
Protests, led by monks, have reached up to 100,000 people in what many say is the largest show of public dissent since the military junta violently took power in 1988 during democratic elections in 1988.
Gambari met with the government’s leader, Senior General Than Shwe to voice the world’s outrage; and then met with popular opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, who has been under house arrest for 12 of the last 18 years.
After multiple days of bloody clashes, at least 10 people have been reportedly killed, including Buddhist monks and Japanese video journalist Kenji Nagai, whom video footage suggests was shot by a soldier at close range. Witnesses reported seeing instances of protesters shielding monks when soldiers opened fire.
The protests have mostly quieted down, as 20,000 military personnel line the streets and guard the temples, according to the Asian Times Online. Thousands of people have been detained and imprisoned in unknown locations, and the military junta is continuing to seek out any people believed to have involvement in organizing protests or sending information outside of the country. Among those are students, who have reportedly become more involved in organizing people in the place of the detained monks and activists.
The government has stopped granting visas to foreign correspondents, and has severely limited Internet service, making accurate information, including the number dead, hard to come by. In response, people inside the country have busily posted updates, photographs, and videos on internet bogs.
The Burmese people began protests in mid-August in response to a 500% rise in fuel prices—the latest of decades of economic marginalization and human rights abuses. The Wall Street Journal reported that the price increase came when the military junta cut fuel subsidies to recover from a budgetary pinch attributed to be a result of the costly move of the nation’s capital from Yangon to a more remote location in the forest, Naypyidaw.
The country is an exporter of natural resources, but does not have the mean to refine fossil fuels into useable form, making Myanmar dependent on outside countries, especially China, who has been hesitant to issue any sanctions on the nation.