- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 2, 2007


Reports of a massacre by Burma’s military junta are trickling out of that long-oppressed country. Here’s what we know. A brutal crackdown by the regime has dispersed the saffron-robed monks and their supporters from the streets. The military junta has imposed an information stranglehold via an Internet and cell phone blackout. There is good reason to fear the worst with this regime’s history. At minimum, we know that it has has pulled out most of the stops to suppress a new generation of dissidents.

A thousand or more monks from last week’s protests are reportedly missing, some in prison or detained in universities. A nighttime curfew is in place and travel is severely restricted. Pagodas are prohibited from their usual boarding of travelers and monks from the rural countryside. The worst unconfirmed report comes from a defecting Burmese intelligence official, Hia Win, who told London’s Daily Mail newspaper that the bodies of hundreds of executed monks had been dumped in the jungle. “Many more people have been killed in recent days than you’ve heard about. The bodies can be counted in several thousand,” he said. “I decided to desert when I was ordered to raid two monasteries and force several hundred monks on to trucks. They were to be killed and their bodies dumped deep inside the jungle. I refused to participate in this.”

Two countries could do much to sway Burma: China and Thailand. Beijing’s foreign policy of enabling dictators and kleptocrats in Burma, North Korea and the African continent could be finished overnight in a gesture of goodwill in the run-up to the 2008 Summer Olympics. If Beijing cynically calculates that it can survive this episode with its roster of repressive crony allies intact, there is no doubt that its behavior will haunt next year’s events. Thailand has more leverage than it perhaps acknowledges. Burmese natural gas powers about 20 percent of Thailand’s electricity consumption, or about $2.8 billion. The size of the Burmese economy is about $85 billion (per capita GDP is about $1,800). Natural-gas exports to Thailand are thought to comprise about 40 percent of Burma’s total exports.

This is also a moment to consider the failings of the West. On the opposite page, Gerald Steinberg of NGO Monitor chronicles the failure of European and American watchdog groups to do much about Burma. The United Nations, for its part, shows its irrelevance the longer it dithers. Meanwhile, U.S. policy has been a hodge-podge of ineffective sanctions and tolerance of Asian regional powers’ tendency to soft-pedal the Burmese regime for economic reasons.

If the Saffron Revolution is crushed, there will be no shortage of accomplices.

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