BANGKOK, Thailand (AP) Watching soldiers firing their guns and beating die-hard protesters with clubs in the streets of Myanmar, a distraught man decried the bloodbath and pleaded for American intervention.
With the streets eerily quiet today after the military’s brutal crackdown on three days of demonstrations, many protesters were losing hope and falling back on such familiar pleas for help from the outside world.
It’s a call made every time the pro-democracy movement has dared stand up against Myanmar’s 45 years of harsh military rule, only to be crushed.
Some of those challenging the regime in the most forceful demonstrations in nearly two decades still hope such help even in the form of U.S. bombing may arrive. About 300 die-hard protesters marched down a street in the Chinatown section of Myanmar’s main city, Rangoon, today, waving the peacock-emblazoned flags of the democracy movement. They dispersed when soldiers arrived.
Monks and civilians called diplomats to report that troops had shown up at three different monasteries late today, but were prevented from entering by people in the neighborhood who massed outside them. The soldiers departed, but with threats of returning in larger numbers.
U.N. envoy Ibrahim Gambari also rushed to Myanmar today and was taken immediately to Naypyitaw, the remote, bunker-like capital where the country’s military leaders are based. The White House urged the junta to allow him to have access to Aung San Suu Kyi, the Nobel Peace Prize laureate who is under house arrest, and ordinary Myanmar residents.
Many people in Myanmar said that despite Mr. Gambari’s visit, however, they’re resigned to a repeat of the 1988 uprising when the international community stood by as thousands were gunned down.
“Gambari is coming, but I don’t think it will make much of a difference,” said one hotel worker, who like other residents asked not to be named, fearing retaliation. “We have to find a solution ourselves.”
A young woman who took part in Thursday’s massive demonstration in Rangoon said she didn’t think “we have any more hope to win.” She was separated from her boyfriend when police broke up the protest by firing into crowds and has not seen him since.
“The monks are the ones who give us courage,” she said, referring to the clergymen who have been the backbone of rallies both those of this week and in past years. Most are now besieged in their monasteries, penned in by locked gates and barbed wire surrounding the compounds.
The demonstrations began last month by people angry over massive fuel price hikes, then mushroomed to crowds of tens of thousands after the monks joined in.
The junta, which has a long history of snuffing out dissent, started cracking down Wednesday, when the first of at least 10 deaths was reported, and then let loose on Thursday, shooting into a crowd of protesters and clubbing them with batons.
The crackdown has triggered an unprecedented verbal flaying of Myanmar’s generals from almost every corner of the world even some criticism from No. 1 ally China.
But little else that might stay the junta’s heavy hand is seen in the foreseeable future.
The United States, which exercises meager leverage, froze any assets that 14 Myanmar leaders may have in U.S. financial institutions and prohibited American citizens from doing business with them. The leaders, including Than Shwe, are believed to have few if any such connections.
The United Nations has also compiled a lengthy record of failure in trying to broker reconciliation between the junta and detained pro-democracy leader Suu Kyi. Mr. Gambari, the top U.N. envoy on Myanmar, has been snubbed and sometimes barred from entry by the ruling State Peace and Development Council, as the ruling junta is formally known.
“Unless and until Beijing, Delhi and Moscow stand in unison in pressuring the SPDC for change, little will change,” says Thitinan Pongsudhirak, a political scientist at Bangkok’s Chulalongkorn University. “The SPDC has virtually invented its own ‘great game’ in which it has become a masterful manipulator and has been winning to the consternation of the wider world.”
However, China, India and Russia do not seem prepared to go beyond words in their dealings with the junta, ruling out sanctions as they jostle for a chance to get at Myanmar’s bountiful and largely untapped natural resources, especially its oil and gas.
The United States, Japan and others have turned a hopeful eye on China Myanmar’s closest ally and biggest trading partner as the most likely outside catalyst for change. But some Chinese academics and diplomats say the international community may be overestimating what Beijing can do.
“I actually don’t think China can influence Burma at all except through diplomacy. China’s influence is not at all decisive,” said Peking University Southeast Asia expert Liang Yingming.
India has switched from a vocal opponent of the junta to one currying favor with the generals as it struggles to corner energy supplies for its own rapidly expanding economy.
The Association of Southeast Asian Nations, or ASEAN, a 10-member bloc which includes Myanmar, also has given no indication that it is considering an expulsion or any other action.
As governments heap criticism on the junta, Myanmar and foreign activists continue to call for concrete, urgent action.
“The world cannot fail the people of Burma again,” said the National Coalition Government of the Union of Burma, an exile group based in Thailand. “Selfless sacrifices deserve more than words and lip-service. They want effective intervention before it is too late.”
Associated Press reporters Jim Gomez, Sutin Wannabovorn, Matthew Streib and Tim Sullivan contributed to this report.