Myanmar's military government has ordered local officials and hotels to be on the look-out for key pro-democracy activists as it tries to squash unusually persistent protests sparked by fuel price hikes, an official said Thursday.
Demonstrations triggered by soaring prices began Aug. 19 and have continued almost daily_ although they have dwindled from a few hundred people to a few dozen _ as the junta employed menacing gangs of civilians to rough up protesters.
Dozens of people have been detained, including several prominent pro-democracy activists many of whom are party colleagues of detained opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi. However, several key protest leaders remain at large.
Authorities have sent out their names, photos and biographical information to local officials and hotel operators across Myanmar's biggest city of Yangon in hopes of rounding up the remaining protest leaders, said a local official who asked not to be named for fear of retaliation.
" We have been instructed to inform higher authorities immediately if we sight any of these people in our area," he said, adding that hotels, motels and guesthouses have been given the same information and instructed to inform authorities of any suspicious activities.
He said the list of dissidents includes Mie Mie, a member of 88 Generation, the former students at the forefront of a 1988 democracy uprising who were subjected to lengthy prison terms and torture after the rebellion was brutally suppressed by the military.
No demonstrations were known to have taken place Wednesday in Yangon, although there were reports of protests in two or three other towns. Information about them could not be independently confirmed.
Tension was especially high at Yangon's Hledan Junction, where security officials and their civilian auxillaries clamped down Tuesday on a protest within minutes of its start.
They pushed through crowds of onlookers to rough up about 15 demonstrators before tossing them into waiting trucks to take them away for detention, witnesses said.
On Wednesday, three trucks, each carrying about 20 tough-looking young men, were parked on either side of the road, watching for any protesters. About 20 plainclothes security officials roamed nearby sidewalks at the intersection, a traditional site for protests.
The EU on Tuesday said it was concerned about recent arrests of leading activists and the "decision to detain individuals who were exercising their right to peaceful demonstration."
While the protesters have shown no sign of giving up, analysts said they didn't expect the momentum to last because the general public remained afraid to join in.
"The struggle thus far is one-sided, with numbers, organization and will in the hands of the rulers," Josef Silverstein, a Myanmar expert and retired professor of Rutgers University in New Jersey, said earlier.
In 1988, public protests over rising rice prices were a prelude to a burst of major demonstrations.
Those protests, which sought an end to military rule that began in 1962, were violently subdued by the army, with thousands of people estimated to have been killed around the country. The junta held general elections in 1990, but refused to honor the results when Suu Kyi's party won.