BANGKOK—Ordinary Burmese accused the government of extreme brutality as a special U.N. envoy to Burma met detained opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi in Rangoon after days of mass protests and a deadly crackdown by the military regime.
Eyewitnesses said a protest march of about 80 monks and 3,000 citizens was intercepted by troops as it walked along the main road from the Pyaylone Chantha Pagoda in the western city of Sittwe. Soldiers began detaining and beating people randomly who saw the demonstration, they said.
“A soldier standing nearby hit my face with the butt of a rifle because I was talking,” an elderly resident of Rangoon told RFA’s Burmese service. “My glasses fell off and the blood started dripping. The flesh on my face was crushed.”
“My son was sitting with me, and they beat him up, broke his head, and then detained about 20 people, including my son. They were released during the night.....I took my son to the clinic, and he had four stitches on his head," the man said.
“The young people from our ward who went inside the convenience store were hit with rifle butts on their backs three or four times. The tall, fair youth who was in the teashop got beaten with a chair in the teashop.”
“They said, ‘Are you a student? Are you the one?’ They hit him with the butt of the rifle and took him outside, and four or five or six people kicked him with their boots outside. I feel as if they insulted people living in this ward,” he said.
“They arrested all of the young people and told 22 of them to sit outside and were tying them up with ropes. We said, ‘We didn’t participate. We are elders. We were just sitting in the teashop. We didn’t march.’ And we went back into the teashop and remained there,” the elderly man from Rangoon said.
“They went along and were interrogated...and they said they were not part of the demonstrations, and that they were just sitting at the teashop. Only then were all of them released,” he added.
A protester who took part in a march in Mogok, in the northeastern part of the country, said government forces beat up everyone in sight.
“The monks were in the front, followed by the group of men, and the women were last. Behind the women’s group was a group of motorcyclists. There were about 14 or 15 bikes,” he said.
“When we crossed to Anauk Yat from the main road, they followed us. They followed us slowly. Then they beat up the group of women, shouting, ‘Beat them. Beat them.’ They beat up everyone in sight...I saw about 20 people in the prison trucks,” he said.
“Most of the demonstrators were just saying, ‘May we be free from people torturing people.’ We were just reciting that. The monks were just reciting prayers. When we got...to [the] Katheh area, the bystanders swore at them. And so we heard that when we got to Katheh Gaba-Aye ward, they gathered people from the houses on Gaba-Aye road and beat them up,” he said.
U.N. envoy Ibrahim Gambari met detained opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi on Sunday before travelling to the new capital to meet the junta leader, Gen. Than Shwe, the United Nations said.
Reports put the number of troops in Rangoon at about 20,000 after reinforcements arrived during the weekend, ensuring that almost all demonstrators would remain off the streets.
Troops have now arrested hundreds of monks and barricaded the streets of Rangoon, shutting thousands of monks under armed guard inside their monasteries.
Observers said the likelihood of further serious opposition to the government in the city now looked unlikely, as people suspected of leading or organizing this week’s rallies have been continually taken into custody.
The Rangoon resident seemed to agree.
“We experienced something we had never experienced before. It was as if we were facing robbers. They came making lots of noise and arrested people, and shot at people. They said they’d shoot and kill everyone. Of course, we didn’t dare to move. We don’t have any force. We don’t dare to do anything,” he said.
We experienced something we had never experienced before...They came making lots of noise and arrested people, and shot at people. They said they’d shoot and kill everyone. Of course, we didn’t dare to move.
Others, however, called for a further rally of anti-government protests.
“If you keep quiet and take whatever the dictator does, the dictator will continue to do whatever he wishes. He’ll bully the public with this...with this evil dictatorship forever,” a leader of the All Burma Monks’ Alliance, U Gambira, said in an interview from an undisclosed location.
“People have gone through bad history and many bad events. People should understand it and know what they should do. Otherwise, our religion will disappear.”
U Gambira also called on the International Committee of the Red Cross to investigate the detention of some 1,000 Buddhist monks and nuns, said to be refusing food from the authorities in protest.
Some sources estimated that around 2,000 people had now been detained, including several prominent members of Aung San Suu Kyi’s opposition National League for Democracy (NLD).
The crackdown meanwhile sparked fresh outrage abroad, sparking protests outside Burmese embassies around the world, and an online campaign against the military regime.
Pope Benedict called for a peaceful solution to the “extremely serious” events in Burma and expressed his solidarity with the country’s impoverished population during their “painful trial.”
State-run media say at least 10 people have been killed after the ruling junta’s violent suppression of protests by Buddhist monks, which had been building since mid-August against 45 years of military rule.
British Prime Minister Gordon Brown and many others have said they fear the loss of life is much higher.
Original reporting by RFA’s Burmese service in Washington and Bangkok. Translation by Than Than Win. Edited by Khin May Zaw. Service director: Nancy Shwe. Executive producer: Susan Lavery. Written and produced for the Web by Luisetta Mudie and Sarah Jackson-Han.