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Myanmar hunts protest leaders as US politicians urge UN action

Myanmar hunts protest leaders as US politicians urge UN action

American politicians issued urgent calls for Myanmar's military government to stop its repression as the junta Thursday hunted down pro-democracy activists it blames for spearheading ongoing protests against rising fuel prices.
Two senior senators and the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee urged the State Department to persuade the U.N. Security Council to hold an emergency meeting on human rights violations. Senators Mitch McConnell and Dianne Feinstein called for "a strong and meaningful response by our government," while Congressman Tom Lantos decried the junta's "widespread crackdown" on pro-democracy activists.
The State Department said it would work at the U.N. and other forums to pressure the junta to release opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi and other political prisoners and move to restore democracy.
Protesters have held scattered demonstrations around the country over the past week and a half, but those participating have dwindled from a few hundred people to a few dozen as the junta employs menacing gangs of civilians to manhandle opponents. Scores of people have been detained, though several key protest leaders remain at large.
On Thursday, 20 people staged a march against the fuel price hike in Kyaukpadaung, about 460 kilometers (285 miles) northwest of Yangon, activists said. The protesters were jeered at by pro-junta mob, and leaders were ushered into a meeting with the township chairman, who advised them of a ban on gatherings of more than five people before letting them go.
"We told the (chairman) that we are marching to express the economic hardship due to the fuel price hike and also demanded that all political prisoners be released," said protester Myint Lwin. "We are peacefully expressing our civil rights."
The government has ordered local officials and hotels to be on the lookout for key pro-democracy activists, sending out their names and photos, 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 the list of dissidents includes at least one member of the 88 Generation Students group, the most active in carrying out nonviolent anti-government protests. Most of its top members were arrested Aug. 21, two days after staging the first of the current round of protests.
Su Su Nway, a labor activist on the run, said she has gone into hiding for fear of being detained. She was earlier jailed for 18 months and has since taken part in repeated protests.
"The house where I used to stay in Yangon is closely watched day and night," she said by phone. "I am hiding at the moment and I heard that family members of activists are being arrested and harassed."
In Yangon, truckloads of young, tough-looking government-hired enforcers directed by plainclothes security officials were parked at key points, the occupants ready to pounce on anyone suspected of trying to spark unrest.
It has been a government tactic in the past to use members of the Swan-ah-shin and Union Solidarity and Development Association _ ostensibly a social welfare organization, but closely linked to the junta _ to assault and intimidate opponents. The association was linked to attacks against Suu Kyi and her party supporters on May 30, 2003, which the military gave as the reason for detaining her for her own protection.
"I believe the junta does not use uniformed personnel because they don't want to be blamed for their action," said a diplomat who did not want to be named because of protocol. "Now that they are using civilians, they can claim, as they have done in newspapers, that it was the agitated public that stop the protesters."
In 1988, public protests over rising rice prices were a prelude to a burst of major demonstrations. The current protests are nowhere near their scale. Those protests, which sought an end to military rule that began in 1962, were violently subdued by the army. The junta held general elections in 1990, but refused to honor the results when Suu Kyi's party won.


Updated : 2021-06-22 23:09 GMT+08:00