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[ReadingRoom] News on Burma - 26/3/08

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  • CHAN Beng Seng
    1.. Factions within junta deaw battle lines 2.. Myanmar monasteries deserted six months after protests 3.. Insein prison inmates join metta chanting campaign
    Message 1 of 1 , Mar 26, 2008
      1. Factions within junta deaw battle lines
      2. Myanmar monasteries deserted six months after protests
      3. Insein prison inmates join metta chanting campaign
      4. Student activists initiate vote 'No' campaign
      5. Total & Kouchner see eye to eye on Burma
      6. India cuts a deal with Burma's junta
      7. Thai PM defends investments in Myanmar
      8. Apt time to push for change in Myanmar

      Factions within junta draw battle lines
      BangkokPost: 26/3/08

      Tomorrow is Army Day in Burma - the moment the country's military leaders show a united front in a pompous ceremony in the new capital, Naypyidaw, that is held every year. The junta chief, Senior General Than Shwe, has imported another new Mercedes Benz to stand in as he leads the parade. He brought a new one in last year for the same occasion.

      But underneath this show of unity is the start of a new battle for Burma's future. This time it is not between the monks and the military, as it was last year, but between two factions in the army.

      In the past few months a major rift has emerged within Burma's military government over the country's political future. At the centre of the conflict is who should control the roadmap - Burma's plans for political change.

      The confrontation is now beginning to take shape - between those who are currently in control of Burma's government and the country's economic wealth, and those who see themselves as the nation's guardians and wish to protect the country from unscrupulous officials.

      The junta is no longer cohesive and united, as two major camps have clearly emerged. On one side there are the ministers and members of the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC) who have major business interests and are associated with Gen Than Shwe's brainchild, the mass community-based Union Solidarity and Development Association (USDA).

      On the other side are the top ranking generals - loosely grouped around the second in command, General Maung Aye - who want a professional army and see its main role as protector of the people.

      They have become increasingly dismayed at the corruption within government and understand that it is undermining the army's future role in the country.

      As the war between these two groups begins to escalate, Gen Than Shwe's rapidly deteriorating health has effectively left the country without a real leader. The result is total inertia in government administration and a growing fear that one of the contesting factions may launch a "soft coup" in the near future, according to Burmese military sources.

      But the "real" army, as these officers under Gen Maung Aye view themselves, is going to have to act quickly if it is to remain a force to be reckoned with.

      The planned referendum for May and the election in two years' time will radically change the country's political landscape.

      The USDA, which is organising both the referendum and the elections, will significantly increase its power and control over the country's new emerging political process.

      Senior members of the army are increasingly resentful of the growing dominance of the USDA and the likely curtailment of the army's authority after the May referendum. "It will bring an abrupt end to the army's absolute power," said a Burmese government official.

      At the centre of this emerging battle for supremacy is the growing division within the army between those who graduated from the Officers Training School (OTS) like Gen Than Shwe, and those who went to the Defence Services Academy (DSA) like Gen Maung Aye.

      Many cabinet ministers associated with the USDA are from the OTS, as are several hardliners within the ruling SPDC, though some no longer have operational commands. These leaders are known to have the ear of Gen Than Shwe and have convinced him to take an uncompromising stand against detained opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi and her party, the National League for Democracy (NLD).

      These key ministers, including Industry Minister Aung Thaung, Fisheries Minister Maung Maung Thein (who is also head of the powerful Myanmar Investment Commission), Construction Minister Saw Htun and Agriculture Minister Htay Oo (who is also a key leader of the USDA), are notorious hardliners and amongst the most corrupt members of the government.

      They have all amassed huge personal fortunes from smuggling and kickbacks. "These fellows are out of control and racking up the money from bribery and fraud - not even Maung Aye, who despises excessive corruption, can touch them," a Burmese military source told the Bangkok Post on condition of anonymity.

      Everyone seems powerless to stop them at present, according to Burmese government sources. "They are known as 'the Nazis' within the top ranks of the army," according to a Burmese businessman with close links to the military hierarchy. "They have the money and they have their own militia."

      Many in the army now fear that this group - with some senior officers in the SPDC, current or former heads of the Bureau of Special Operations (BSO) - are planning a grab for power using the USDA as a front. "They are the real enemies of the people," said the Burmese businessman.

      There are growing numbers within the army that are viewing these developments with increasing concern. There is mounting resentment and frustration amongst the junior officers in Naypyidaw. Many of the junior officers are divisional commanders, aged between 47 and 55. These are the army's "young Turks", who are alarmed at the way in which the USDA is growing in influence at the expense of the army.

      "They are watching their unscrupulous colleagues, hiding behind the uniform, building up massive fortunes from corruption in government and they are worried that this tarnishes the image of the army," said a source in Naypyidaw.

      "It's time to get rid of the OTS bastards," an officer recently told a visiting businessman. But so far there are no signs of a palace coup. Many officers may feel aggrieved, but there is no open discussion as yet about doing anything in practice. "The climate of fear that pervades the whole country is also prevalent in the military," according to a Thai military intelligence officer.

      This resentment is going to continue to simmer. They know that after the referendum in May their position will become increasingly less significant, as ministers and selected military generals move into the USDA and take up civilian roles in the future. At the same time they fear that widespread corruption will also destroy the country and its political stability.

      "The 'real' army is the only institution that can bring genuine democracy to the country in the future," a military man told the Bangkok Post. "The new generation of officers represent the real hope for the country." They would be open to a political dialogue with Aung San Suu Kyi, he insisted, as they see themselves as the real guardians of the country.

      Myanmar monasteries deserted six months after protests

      AFP: Tue 25 Mar 2008

      An elderly Buddhist monk sits in his saffron robes inside a Yangon monastery, one of just a handful of senior monks trying to teach and care for dozens of young novices reviewing their lessons nearby.

      Six months ago, this monastery was full of monks who were at the forefront of pro-democracy protests that unfolded in September, eventually swelling to more than 100,000 people in the streets of Yangon.

      Now this monastery - like most others in Myanmar's main city - is almost empty, after monks and other activists fled a deadly military crackdown that began on September 26.

      "We monks have done what we could do for the people. What is the result?" the senior monk said.

      "Many monks went back to their hometowns. They left the monasteries because of the suppression and their fears," he told AFP, speaking on condition of anonymity.

      The violence that Myanmar's security forces used to break up the peaceful protests shocked the world and instilled a pervasive fear in the people here.

      Monks are considered inviolate in this devoutly Buddhist country, where they are treated with the utmost respect by the public.

      They were treated as saviours when the began taking to the streets in cities around Myanmar - formerly known as Burma - in September.

      Protests first broke out in Yangon on August 19, when pro-democracy activists began staging small street demonstrations in anger at a surprise hike in fuel prices that left many unable to afford even the bus fare to work.

      Hundreds of monks in the central town of Pakokku joined the protests on September 5, but security forces fired shots over the crowd and beat some of the monks, according to witnesses.

      The violence shocked the clergy, who began leading marches against the ruling junta in cities around the country.

      About 300 monks joined the first march in Yangon on September 18, in what became daily protests.

      The general public only started joining the movement four days later, when the monks defied a security barricade and walked to the home of democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi, who has been under house arrest for 12 of the past 18 years.

      She appeared briefly at the door, tearing up in an iconic moment that captured the nation's imagination and inspired tens of thousands of people to take to the streets.

      At its peak, the protest movement drew more than 100,000 people on to the streets of Yangon, while other demonstrations took place in cities around the country.

      When the military decided to crack down, their tactics were severe.

      Protesters, including monks, were beaten in the streets. Shots were fired into crowds, and a Japanese photojournalist was shot dead at close range. More than 3,000 people were arrested, and rights groups estimate some 800 remain in detention.

      The violence against the monks was particularly appalling for residents in Yangon. Security forces staged night-time raids on monasteries, leaving behind blood-stained floors and ransacked rooms as they took monks to makeshift detention centres.

      Most monks fled the violence, growing out their hair and seeking shelter in villages.

      Thailand-based Myanmar analyst Win Min estimated that as little as 10 percent of the monks in Yangon are still in the city.

      Although the junta last month announced a timetable for elections, with a constitutional referendum set for May and a multiparty poll in 2010, daily life remains a struggle in Myanmar, one of the world's poorest countries.

      "The economic situation in Burma is worse now than at the time of the protests last year," said Sean Turnell, of Burma Economic Watch at Macquarie University in Sydney.

      "The regime's response to the protests … frightened off any would-be investors who might have thought Burma a destination for their capital," he said.

      "Of course, it also frightened away foreign tourists, and the much needed foreign exchange they bring in," he added.

      Even in a nation that has suffered under military rule for 46 years, the violence against the monks has instilled an even greater sense of fear in the public, Win Min said.

      "The frustration is still there, but the fear is greater. People are more afraid than they were before," he said.

      "They are scared, because they think if the military can do this to the monks, they will do worse to the ordinary people."

      Insein prison inmates join metta chanting campaign - Aye Nai
      DVB: Tue 25 Mar 2008

      A metta chanting campaign initiated by All-Burmese Monks Alliance leader U Gambira at Insein prison has been spreading to other prison wards, the monk's sister said.

      U Gambira's sister Ma Khin Thu Htay said that detainees from different parts of the prison had joined the campaign.

      "U Gambira said all the inmates who are being held in the main prison ward, the special detention area and also the women detainees have been chanting metta," Khin Thu Htay said.

      Khin Thu Htay said the campaign was the reason prison authorities put U Gambira into solitary confinement on 14 March.

      "We are all Buddhist people and it is not a strange thing for us when a monk chants metta. Putting him into solitary confinement for that is an unacceptable act and it makes our country look really bad."

      U Gambira's last scheduled court appointment at Hlaing township court last week did not take place and his remand has been extended for another week.

      U Gambira was arrested by government authorities in Magwe division's Sintgaing township on 4 November 2007 for his role in instigating public protests in September.

      Student activists initiate vote 'No' campaign - Myo Gyi and Maung Dee
      Mizzima News: Tue 25 Mar 2008

      In a fresh campaign, student activists in northern Burma's Kachin State on Tuesday urged people in the state's capital of Myitkyina to vote 'No' in the upcoming referendum.

      Eyewitnesses said A4 size posters carrying the message "vote 'No' to the junta's forced referendum," were pasted in various places around town, including the markets of Zeygyi Wards no. (1) and (2), Dukathaung Ward, Yanggyi Aung Ward, Station Ward and the Myitkyina University Ward.

      Ma Brang, a member of the student group widely known as the All Kachin Student Union (AKSU), said, "We believe our poster campaign will be successful, because the people are confused as to whether they should vote 'Yes' or 'No' in the upcoming referendum or whether they should run away."

      "All we want is to let the people know that we should vote 'No' in the referendum," added Ma Brang.

      Local witnesses said soon after the members of AKSU pasted posters on the walls of Myitkyina University at about 8 a.m. in the morning, ten soldiers accompanied by police came and guarded the university.

      "Police on motorbikes made rounds inside the university campus. In the university there are correspondent students, so the police are guarding them," a resident near the university told Mizzima.

      A university student added, "Several soldiers were brought near the university campus. I think they feared that the students might start something after the posters were distributed this morning. Everyone here understands, and most people talked of voting 'No' in the upcoming referendum."

      Tuesday morning's poster campaign is the second activity that AKSU has conducted this year. AKSU also pasted posters urging the people to vote 'No' in the town of Winemaw, opposite Myitkyina.

      AKSU is an underground student group formed during last September's Saffron Revolution.

      While AKSU and a few other activists are campaigning for a 'No' vote in the junta's upcoming referendum, authorities, including Township Chairmen in Shan State, are reportedly gathering local residents and urging them to vote 'Yes'.

      Meanwhile, local residents in Muse of Shan State said activists on Sunday reportedly also urged the people to vote 'No' in the referendum by distributing pamphlets and pasting posters.

      Total & Kouchner see eye to eye on Burma - Oliver Dours
      Bakchich.info: Tue 25 Mar 2008

      In Asia, the French Minister of Foreign Affairs never misses a chance to lend a hand to his pals at Total, who are getting bogged down in the Buddhist monks' rebellion.

      Total's CEO, Christophe de Margerie, is determined to protect his company's assets in Burma. On October 16, 2007, he rambled somewhat senselessly before the National Assembly's Foreign Affairs Commission. In answer to a question put by Commission Chair Axel Poniatowski, de Margerie claimed that neither Aung San Suu Kyi nor representatives of the Burmese opposition had ever, "asked Total to leave." He also boasted about the "opinion shared by a great number of people on the spot (i.e. in Burma) as well as all of the eyewitnesses who have been there, that Total's activities are essential, and should be sustained in the interests of the Burmese people, for whom they are directly beneficial."

      Bizarre notions that the Burmese Prime Minister-in-exile, Dr. Sein Win, and his UN representative, Than Htun were quick to dispel during their recent stay in Paris, late last October. In actual fact, as far back as 1992, Burmese pro-democracy forces asked Total to abandon its project for a natural-gas pipeline from Burma to Thailand to produce electricity. To make matters worse, since it was put into service in 2000, they have never stopped pleading for the suspension of this financial windfall, which has already brought in some $3 billion to the Burmese generals' regime. For the opposition, it is abundantly clear that Total has been indeed been essential… to the change in the junta's status on the international scene, from disreputable "narco-dictatorship" to the more presentable "gas-pipeline-dictatorship." At a press conference in Paris last October, Messrs. Sein Win and Than Htun expressed surprise that the letter they had addressed to the French government just before the meeting of the European Council in Luxembourg on October 8 had not been taken into account. In it, the Burmese government-in-exile requested the establishment of effective sanctions - which inevitably meant seizure or international control of natural-gas revenues. In actual fact, the European Ministers made haste to exclude fossil fuels from the scope of the sanctions. Decision which can surely be blamed on pressure from the French.

      When asked, "Who is your leader ?", certain monks have been known to confess under torture, "His name is Siddhartha." As the agitator's identity and description was passed through the ranks of the uniformed hierarchy, in order to establish a warrant for his arrest anywhere in the country, one officer - slightly cleverer than the rest - realized that Siddhartha is the name of the historical Buddha born 2,500 years ago in Kapilavastu, now part of Nepal…

      To console his woes, Christophe de Margerie can always go sob on Bernard Kouchner's shoulders : after all, once upon a time, the high-spirited French Minister of Foreign Affairs was a consultant for Total-Burma. This week, the French doctor performed a strange belly dance in a neighboring country he was visiting. In Singapore on October 29, he came up with another suggestion based more on smoke and mirrors than true substance : a funding project for Burma that would allow the international community to finance micro-credits to assist the country's development, on condition that the junta become more democratic. All under the auspices of the World Bank… which can no longer operate in Burma since the Americans vetoed it.

      On October 30, 2007, in Bangkok, Kouchner laid it on even thicker by singing the praises of Total's pipeline, which, he said, was beneficial for the people of Burma and Thailand. And again, on October 31 in Beijing, he tried to sweet talk Chinese leaders - to get them to reason with their Burmese protégés - by offhandedly mentioning that French president Nicolas Sarkozy could be convinced not to receive the Dalai Lama during his planned visit to Paris in August 2008. Unlike a certain George W. Bush. During his visit to Beijing in December 2007, President Sarkozy asked his Chinese counterpart to intercede with his Burmese protégés in order to have visas granted to Bernard Kouchner and Rama Yade, his Secretary of Human Rights –raising snickers in diplomatic circles around the region, but otherwise to no avail…

      Translated by: Regan Kramer

      India cuts a deal with Burma's junta - Nava Thakuria
      Asia Tribune: Tue 25 Mar 2008

      Worried about its restive northeast, New Delhi is poised to make a major transport deal with Burma. Ignoring continued international pressure to boycott Burma's ruling military junta, New Delhi on April 4 will sign an agreement to develop a port on the western Burmese coast for the benefit of India's restive northeast, where a stubborn secessionist movement has continued its rebellion for decades.

      Vice Senior General Maung Aye, second in command of the State Peace and Development Council, as the Burmese junta calls itself, is to arrive in New Delhi to finalize the US$100 million Kaladan project. This includes development of the Sittwe port on the Bay of Bengal, connecting it with landlocked northeastern India through the Kaladan River and road transport system and providing India with a crucial alternative route for transport of goods to the northeastern states, bypassing Bangladesh.

      Maung Aye's arrival is the highest-profile visit to India for a Burmese leader since Senior General Than Shwe, the junta leader, was in New Delhi four years ago. Last August and September, the junta earned worldwide opprobrium with a brutal crackdown on the country's restive population, beating and shooting at peaceful protesters led by tens of thousands of Buddhist monks. Although the junta put total deaths at 10, unofficial tallies go much higher.

      "The Kaladan project will include shipping, riverine and road transport," Jairam Ramesh, the Indian junior commerce minister, said in a press briefing during a recent visit to the region. "New Delhi wants to connect the northeast with commercial sea routes. Moreover, with the development of the Sittwe port and the Kaladan River to make it efficient for navigation, the region is expected to have another viable access to Southeast Asian countries."

      India's northeast, which is almost cut off geographically from the rest of the country by Bangladesh, comprises eight states surrounded by Nepal, Bhutan, Tibet, Burma and Bangladesh. The region's cumulative population of about 50 million enjoy more affinity toward China and Burma than with India because of its predominantly East Asian origin. The area is connected to mainland India through only 2 percent of its territorial boundary.

      The Burmese junta, though providing free land for the Kaladan project, has been reluctant to invest, which finally compelled New Delhi to extend a US$10 million soft loan to the SPDC leaders, which critics characterized as a bribe. The project is anticipated to be completed within four years and will be executed by the public-sector Rail India Technical Economic Services organization.

      India is already under fire across the globe after a visit to Burma by its petroleum minister, Murli Deora, in September at a time when the world's media were delivering pictures of massive protests against the junta and the crackdown. Although Deora witnessed as many as 100,000 demonstrators on the streets of Rangoon, he made no statements. Instead, during his visit, he signed three bilateral agreements for deep exploration in oil blocks. India's state-owned Oil and Natural Gas Corp (ONGC) Videsh pledged to invest nearly US$150 million for gas exploration in Burma's Rakhaine coastal region.

      New Delhi strongly supported the pro-democracy movement in Burma until 1993 but has become increasingly concerned over growing Chinese influence in the country. That has forced India to change its Burma policy to one of greater economic cooperation. Another major concern remains the relentless insurgencies in India's northeast. Armed groups based in the trouble-torn region use the jungles of northern Burma as their hideouts and training camps. India cannot afford to ignore the junta's support in dealing with the situation along the porous 1,600-kilometer Indo-Burmese border.

      New Delhi's move to invest in the Burmese port assumes additional significance in view of Bangladesh's reluctance to give India access to its Chittagong port, which is nearer to the northeast, and which is less than 200 km from Agartala, capital of the Indian state of Tripura.

      "It is unfortunate that we have not been able to develop our relationship with Bangladesh to the level of making it our gateway to Southeast Asia," Ramesh said, although he pointed out that New Delhi is working on enhancing ties with Bangladesh. (As Asia Sentinel reported on March 12, Bangladesh's army chief of staff, General Moeen U Ahmed, recently spent a week in India in arguably the closest example of cooperation between the two countries since Bangladesh's independence in 1971.)

      Burmese exiles have come out against New Delhi for initiating the project, saying any money invested in Burma will not reach the common people, but will go into the pockets of the generals.

      "This is not a right time and [the junta leaders] are not the right persons to build a long-term relationship, while human-rights abuses have been claiming many lives every year in Burma," said M Kim, the coordinator of the Shwe Gas Pipeline Campaign Committee (India).

      In an interview, Kim said: "India must not bury alive its extraordinary democratic values and inspiration of promotion of peace and human rights by dealing in business and building relations with this barbaric Burmese military junta, which recently not only killed, tortured and imprisoned its own innocent people and monks but also violated religious rights by sealing off monasteries and restricting the basic rights of prayers at pagodas."

      Forced labor, Kim said, is still rampant in Arakan state, where the Kaladan project is to be built, with villagers forced to dig and dam fisheries and prawn ponds for the interest of the authorities. The only thing they receive from the authorities is mistreatment, he said.

      "It is inevitable that if [Kaladan] is carried out under the present regime, gross human-rights violations will follow," Kim said. "No development project will be done without committing human-rights abuses, so India must hold off on the Kaladan project until the military dictatorship is replaced by a democratic regime, and local communities have a say in how their natural resources are used."

      The Mizoram Committee for Democracy in Burma and the Campaign for Democratic Movement in Burma in January appealed vainly to New Delhi to cut ties with the junta as "economic cooperation with them [will] never benefit the people unless democracy is restored in Burma."

      But Deepak Parvatiyar, a former journalist turned Indian government communication officer now based in Kuala Lumpur, said the mounting pressure on the military rulers of Burma "should be maintained at a diplomatic level but not at the cost of development."

      Speaking to Asia Sentinel from the Malaysian capital, Parvatiyar said: "Contribution to development is always welcome, even after taking into consideration the recent happenings in Burma and the continued regressive policies by its military rulers.

      "By participating in the development of the port in Burma, India has shown maturity in dealing with her troublesome neighbors," Parvatiyar said. "Opening bilateral trade with Pakistan was the beginning that considerably helped smooth the relationship between the two countries. By participating in the development of Burma, it will enhance the reputation of India as a country that cares for its neighbors irrespective of political differences. Moreover, the Kaladan project will give the backward northeast region access to commercial sea routes."

      However, Tayza Thuria, a Burmese exile based in London, answered that "India's doing business with Burma and engaging with Burma's de facto military government is not wrong in itself. But the Indian government needs to be careful to maintain a balanced and ethical approach towards Burma; ie, while engaging with them in business and security affairs, New Delhi must also try to persuade, advise and guide the junta to make systematic democratic reforms in due course."

      Thai PM defends investments in Myanmar
      The Straits Times via AFP: Tue 25 Mar 2008

      THAI Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej insisted on Tuesday that the kingdom would continue doing business with neighbouring Myanmar in a bid to pressure the military regime to reform.

      Thailand is one of the biggest investors and trading partners in Myanmar, spending billions of dollars a year to tap into the country's natural gas and hydropower resources to fuel its own growing economy.

      Western countries have tightened sanctions on Myanmar following the junta's crackdown on pro-democracy protests last September, when the United Nations estimates at least 31 people were killed.

      Asked if Thailand would change its investment policy to add to the international pressure on the regime, Mr Samak insisted that the countries would remain good neighbours.

      'Who will force Thailand to stop being friends with our neighbour? Do we have to adopt the Western opinion on what we can or cannot do?' Mr Samak told reporters.

      'When we want something, and we ask Myanmar, they give it to us,' he said.

      Myanmar monasteries deserted 6 months after protests

      'For example, when we want electricity and we need to a build a dam there, they allow us. If we need transport facilities, they let us build a port. So we are good neighbouring countries,' Mr Samak said.

      Thai Foreign Minister Noppadon Pattama has said that his country opposes sanctions on Myanmar, saying that talks with the iron-fisted generals could lead to positive developments in the country, which has been ruled by the military since 1962.

      Apt time to push for change in Myanmar - Amy Chew
      The New Straits Times: Tue 25 Mar 2008

      With many military officers having family members who are monks, the Myanmar military has become more divided following the brutal way demonstrating monks were treated during protests in September last year, writes AMY CHEW IN the aftermath of Myanmar's brutal crackdown on the country's Buddhist monks' peaceful demonstration last year, the ruling regime's Gen Than Shwe called up his deputy for a regular game of billiards. But to Than Shwe's surprise, the country's second-highest military officer, Gen Maung Aye, turned him down.

      "Gen Maung Aye doesn't play billiards any more with Gen Than Shwe," Win Min, an activist with extensive contacts with the military, told the New Straits Times.

      "I heard that he (Than Shwe) called up General Maung Aye and said, 'Let's go play billiards', but Maung Aye refused.

      "It's like a protest to the top general," Win Min said.

      Myanmar's military is divided and at its weakest since 1988, the last time large-scale protests erupted and ended in bloodshed, say Win Min and pro-democracy activists.

      Its once fearsome military intelligence service is also diminished, following the 2004 sacking of military intelligence chief Khin Nyunt.

      Khin Nyunt was viewed as a moderate who was open to working with pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

      For the democratic forces in Myanmar, now is the best time to regroup to push for change.

      "This is a window of opportunity to exploit," said Nyo Ohn Myint of Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy (NLD). "It's the chance to regroup, reorganise another people's power (revolt)."

      The activists were in Jakarta recently to attend an international conference on Myanmar.

      Throughout the 46-year rule of the military regime in one of the world's poorest countries, dissent has always been crushed with brute force. But last September's crackdown backfired.

      When Than Shwe's special troops beat and shot monks and raided monasteries in the capital Yangon, the brutality repulsed officers within the military itself.

      U Awbata, 30, was one of the monks at the protests who managed to escape. He now lives in Sri Lanka.

      "I saw three monks shot and one of them fell," he said. "The soldiers kicked and stomped his head with their military boots and started beating him. I couldn't do anything but cry."

      With many military officers having family members who are monks and holding them in respect, "the military has become more divided after September's demonstrations", said Win Min, who also lectures on Burmese affairs at Chiangmai University.

      "There are many mid-level and even some high-level generals who disagree with the level of force used against the monks. The monks are revered symbols in Burma. They are at the top of our value system."

      Buddhist monks are an integral part of Burmese society, their presence as ubiquitous as the temples that dot the country's landscape.

      "Just as the monks depend on the people for their basic needs, the lay people depend on the monks for their spiritual needs," said U Awbata.

      "In the past, the people always acted on their own to demonstrate whenever they were faced with problems in their daily basic needs.

      "So when the monks saw the people suffering, they took it upon themselves to act on behalf of the people because it's our duty. We never thought the military would treat us this way."

      Maung Aye's loyalists and other troops, unhappy with the crackdown in Yangon, responded by not shooting at the monks.

      "If you look at what happened in Mandalay, the troops just surrounded the temples but they did not shoot or beat the monks. They also did not raid the monasteries, unlike in Yangon," said Win Min.

      "In Yangon, the special troops there are very close to Than Shwe."

      But even as Than Shwe might see over Maung Aye's subtle insubordination, he has not sacked him. His deputy has many regional commanders behind him as well as the loyalty of the troops under his command.

      September's peaceful uprising took the military by surprise and exposed the weakness in its intelligence service after Khin Nyunt's ouster.

      "When the demonstrations erupted, (the junta) had no idea who the leaders were as all the informers they had planted in the monasteries were no longer working," said Win Min.

      Pro-democracy activists put the death toll of monks and other protesters at 100, with another 1,200 jailed, bringing the total number of political prisoners to 2,200.

      Western sanctions have failed to prod the regime to make any changes, as investments from China, Russia, India and Asean countries help offset its economic isolation.

      Pro-democracy activists have begun lobbying China to use its influence over Myanmar to bring about reform.

      Nyo, an aide to Suu Kyi, recently met in Kunming with Chinese officials, who expressed a list of concerns over regime change and extending support to Suu Kyi.

      As China shares a very long border with Myanmar, the Chinese are concerned Suu Kyi would allow Myanmar to fall under Western influence and allow the United States to spy on them.

      "I told them that Suu Kyi is a very nationalistic person," Nyo said.

      China also worries it would lose its vast economic interests in Myanmar under a new regime.

      Suu Kyi has agreed to give China special privileges for a period of time, perhaps around 10 years.

      "She instructed me to work closely with China," said Nyo. "China is very important and she is willing to assure China that no matter how Burma is transformed into a democracy, China's interests are secure."

      China is also worried about Russia's growing influence in Myanmar since 2000. Russia has large investments in nuclear power plants, coal mines and technical military hardware.

      As the world's major powers jostle to balance their influence in the region, time is running out for the impoverished Burmese.

      "The people are in a very bad situation," said Nyo. "Unemployment is running at around 70 per cent. People have very, very little opportunity to make money. The cost of living is very high.

      "There is going to be another uprising, not because of Aung San Suu Kyi, but because the people have no tomorrow.

      "We do not want to see more bloodshed, people sacrificing their lives. The alternative is for a political solution."

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