Burma Blacks Out News About Blasts, Witnesses Describe Carnage


2005.05.09
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A woman injured in a blast (R) is conforted by relatives at a hospital of Burma's capital city Rangoon. Photo: AFP

BANGKOK—Burma’s military government has stepped up security and ordered medical workers not to speak with reporters about three bomb blasts that shook the capital, Rangoon, over the weekend, amid eyewitness reports indicating the death toll could spike sharply higher.

Medical workers contacted by telephone told RFA’s Burmese service they had been warned against disclosing anything related to the blasts Saturday at two upscale supermarkets and the Yangon Convention Center, site of a Thai trade fair.

Thai officials meanwhile said at least 21 people had been killed—10 more than the fatalities reported by the Burmese junta.

‘People were lying there, not moving’

Within hours of the multiple bombing, witnesses at all three blast sites said they had seen dozens of casualties—many of them missing limbs or heads—and numerous blackened corpses.

Young people [from my shop] went upstairs and looked, and they said nine or 10 people were lying there, not moving and burned entirely black. Everybody rushed out from the stairs.

"I suddenly heard an explosion and thought the building had collapsed. Then the roof fell down, making a hole of about four square feet—and we realized it was a bomb,” a shop owner working on the second floor of the Thai trade fair at the time of the blast told RFA’s Burmese service.

“Young people [from my shop] went upstairs and looked, and they said nine or 10 people were lying there, not moving and burned entirely black. Everybody rushed out from the stairs,” the shopkeeper, who had been exhibiting diet foods from Thailand, said in an interview.

“I saw many injured people at the stairs, covered with blood. No rescue workers or security police came up—just people helping each other carry the wounded out using plastic tables and flagging down cars to ask them to help.”

“They were also carried by old government-owned office cars—there were no ambulances. Even at that moment as many as 10 people were lying there without moving at all, and the injured people being carried away were seriously hurt, covered with blood.”

‘No safe place in the world’

Burmese pop singer Zaw Win Htut, who had been scheduled to perform at the trade fair at 3 p.m. Saturday, said he arrived late—just after the explosion—and saw cars with windows shattered by the force of the blast.

This happened at a place where women and children and normal shoppers are going, so I can't understand this. I feel like there is no safe place in the world.

“This happened at a place where women and children and normal shoppers are going, so I can't understand this. I feel like there is no safe place in the world,” he said.

Crowded with weekend shoppers

A police officer on duty in Mayangon township at the Junction 8 Supermarket reported an explosion at 2:55 p.m. Saturday.

Three women were killed instantly, he said, with 22 women and 11 men injured. All the injured were sent to In Sein and North Okkalapa hospitals, the police officer said.

At the San Chaung township police station, an officer who asked not to be named reported an explosion at 2:55 p.m. Saturday at the Dagon shopping center. “We don't know how it happened,” the officer said.

We have nothing to do with this, and these area are not places where we operate. We operate only in the Shan State and we have no one from us in cities like Rangoon and Mandalay. We are not familiar with those areas.

One eyewitness at the Dagon center reported seeing 13 dead and numerous ambulances removing victims from the scene.

Other witnesses reported that the center was crowded with Saturday afternoon shoppers at the time of the blast and said they expected the death toll to rise much higher.

At Pazuntaung police station, also in Rangoon and near the Thai trade fair, police hung up the phone without speaking to RFA reporters.

Victims laid out on floors

An eyewitness who was at the General Hospital in Rangoon between 5 p.m. and 7 p.m. on the day of the explosions said the casualties overwhelmed the hospital’s capacity and had to be laid out on concrete floors.

The witness at the hospital, who asked not to be identified, reported seeing “nine or 10” people killed in the explosions who had been taken to the morgue, as well as many victims who had lost body parts—including children and the elderly.

Tighter security in Rangoon

Security in Rangoon has now been tightened, another witness said.

“Monasteries and houses were ordered to report all overnight guests. Also, at the city gate and bus and train stations, security is up,” the witness said.

“People don't believe the number of dead announced by the government. Some whole families are dead, according to hospital staff,” the witness said.

Burma’s government routinely restricts information on sensitive incidents such as bombings, clashes between authorities and the opposition, conflict with the country’s fractious ethnic minorities, and even natural disasters.

Opposition groups deny any role

The junta is blaming the bombs on ethnic rebel groups, including the Karen National Union and the Shan State Army, and exiled dissidents in the National Coalition Government of the Union of Burma (NCGUB).

Karenni National Progressive Party (KNPP) secretary Raymond Htoo, Karen National Union (KNU) secretary Phado Mansha, and Shan State Army (SSA) spokesperson Nang Khur Sen all denied any role in the blasts.

“We have nothing to do with this, and these area are not the place where we operate. We operate only in the Shan State and we have no one from us in cities like Rangoon and Mandalay. We are not familiar with those areas,” Nang Khur Sen said. “They want to label us as terrorists. And the place where they have foreign guests, normally they have tight security a month ahead. Only authorities with access to these places could do this.”

NCGUB leader Dr. Sein Win also denied any involvement.

The blasts came less than two weeks after a bombing at a market in the northern city of Mandalay killed two women and wounded 15 people. The junta blamed that attack on unnamed rebels.

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