The latest occurrences in the anti-government riots in Burma (currently named the Union of Myanmar) follow several weeks’ worth of heated resistance. The protests began when thousands of Buddhist monks and nuns marched from the golden Shwedagon Pagoda, considered the nation’s holiest shrine, to the offices of the opposition National League for Democracy (NLD) party on August 19.
The public dissent stems from opposition to the country’s military regime, taken from democratic Prime Minister U Nu by military coup, led by General Ne Win in 1962. It has since been under ruthless military control. The socialist regime has violently prohibited any type of anti-government protests and has several times used force upon those they fear may exhibit such a threat. In 1988, a civil protest known as the 8888 Uprising was the cause of a governmental massacre. The protest transpired from unrest over economic mismanagement and political oppression. Hundreds of demonstrators were brutally murdered. This led General Saw Maung to stage a coup d’etat and form the State Law and Order Restoration Council (SLORC), which in 1989 declared martial law and renamed Burma “Myanmar.”
Years later the opposition party, NDL, held elections and in fact won the majority of the vote, however SLORC declared the election null and refused to give up power. Other political parties and groups dedicated to restoring democracy have been formed within the country; however their actions are heavily monitored or suppressed by the government.
At the start of the current uprising, the military was at a loss as to how to deal with the protests. Buddhist monks are revered within Burmese culture, and if the military chose to use force, they feared it would only stimulate civilians to unite with them.
However, the most recent development is the killing of nine protestors, including a Japanese tourist, when security forces opened fire into a crowd on September 27. This apparently did not deter the democracy-seeking civilians. The crowd re-convened and marched through the city of Rangoon, defying the imposed 6pm to 6am curfew.
The Bush Administration has also imposed economic sanctions on the Burmese government since the horrific incident. It has announced it will freeze assets to certain officials. President Bush issued a statement saying, “The world is watching the people of Burma take to the streets to demand their freedom, and the American people stand in solidarity with these brave individuals.” He followed by later stating, “Every civilized nation has a responsibility to stand up for people suffering under a brutal military regime like the one that has ruled Burma for too long.”
In addition, the United Nations announced it will immediately send a special envoy to the country to try to attain national reconciliation through dialogue. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called on Burmese officials to cooperate fully with the envoy in order to come to a timely accord.
At this point it does not look as though a peaceful agreement is within reach. Many pundits feel that because of modern media – the Internet has allowed the opposition to broadcast their message and images throughout the country – the military’s regime could finally come to an end, but not without disorder. But this hinges on whether or not civilians choose to remain in the fight, following such recent drastic governmental force.