Tuesday, August 28

Newest Protests Quashed

YANGON, Myanmar - Demonstrators on Tuesday tried to mount a new protest against rising prices, but marched only 30 yards before being beaten and wrestled into waiting trucks by civilians who back Myanmar's military government, witnesses said.
The two dozen protesters shouted slogans against a big fuel price hike and implored onlookers to join them, stressing they were marching peacefully for their rights, said witnesses, who asked not to be quoted by name for fear of reprisals from the regime.
The marchers were quickly set upon by pro-government toughs, who pummeled demonstrators with fists while dragging them into trucks, the witnesses said. At least one protester was reportedly dragged by his feet.
A prominent labor activist and former political prisoner, Su Su Nway, took part in the protest, but said she managed to escape in a taxi with several colleagues.
"Peaceful protests are brutally cracked down upon and I want to tell the international community that there is no rule of law in Myanmar," she told The Associated Press.
More than a dozen of the country's leading democracy activists, members of the 88 Generation Students group, were detained Aug. 21 before a similar demonstration.
Myanmar activists in exile claimed 200-300 people, including many Buddhist monks, took part in another protest Tuesday in Sittwe, the capital of Rakhine State in western Myanmar.
A report on the Web site of the Democratic Voice of Burma, an opposition shortwave radio station based in Norway, said witnesses reported the protest lasted for at least an hour without interference.
Protests triggered by fuel price hikes began Aug. 19 and have continued on an almost daily basis despite a security clampdown by the military government supported by organized bands of civilian toughs serving as law enforcers.
Myanmar's ruling junta, which has received widespread international criticism for violating the human rights of its citizens, tolerates little public dissent.

Thursday, August 23

Protests Continue Despite Arrests

YANGON, Myanmar - Defiant pro-democracy activists took to the streets Thursday for the third time this week, forming a human chain to try to prevent officers from dragging them into waiting trucks and buses.
The demonstration came a day after 300 people marched to protest the military junta's imposition of fuel price increases despite the earlier arrest of at least 13 democracy activists.
The protests have been one of the most sustained anti-government demonstrations in years. Myanmar's ruling junta, which has received widespread international criticism for violating the rights of its citizens, tolerates little public dissent, sometimes sentencing activists to long jail terms for violating broadly defined security laws. It has held opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, a Nobel Peace laureate, under house arrest for 11 years.
On Thursday, about 40 people, mostly from Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy, walked quietly without placards for about two miles toward the party headquarters in eastern Yangon before being stopped by a security cordon.
Authorities ordered bystanders, and especially reporters, out of the area as the protesters were overwhelmed after a 30-minute standoff. Some reporters were roughed up by security personnel who shouted abusive language.
Protesters sat on the pavement and formed a human chain in an attempt to prevent officers from dragging them into the waiting trucks and buses. A dozen protesters, however, were dragged and shoved into the vehicles, where some were slapped around, said witnesses, who asked not to be identified for fear of being called in by the police.
A former political prisoner, Ohn Than, also staged an apparently solo protest outside the U.S. Embassy before being hauled away by plainclothes officers. He was holding a sign calling for U.N. intervention to make the government convene parliament, a witness said.
The NLD party called on the ruling junta to stop brutal suppression and inhumane treatment of protesters and demanded an immediate release of those arrested.
"Unable to bear the burden of spiraling consumer prices, the public express their sentiments through peaceful means. However authorities have arrested, tortured, beaten up and endangered the lives of those who are peacefully expressing their wishes," the NLD said in a statement.
Wednesday's march was broken up prematurely when a gang of government supporters assaulted some protesters with sticks and seized eight who were accused of being agitators, witnesses and participants said. The eight were later freed unharmed.
The demonstrations came after the arrests Tuesday of leaders of the group 88 Generation Students, the country's boldest, nonviolent dissident group. It has been defying the generals by staging petition campaigns, prayer vigils and other activities urging the release of Suu Kyi and other political prisoners and calling for an end to military rule that began in 1962.
"Though our leaders had been arrested, we will continue with our movement. We will not fear any arrest or threat," Mie Mie, a member of 88 Generation, said during the Wednesday march, which was monitored by plainclothes police.
State-controlled media reported earlier that 13 leaders of 88 Generation Students had been arrested and could face up to 20 years in prison.
The newspaper New Light of Myanmar said "agitators" in the group were detained Tuesday night for trying to undermine the "stability and security of the nation." On Sunday, they had led some 400 people in another march through Yangon to protest the doubling of fuel prices Aug. 15.
Leaders of 88 Generation Students were at the forefront of a 1988 democracy uprising and were subjected to lengthy prison terms and torture after the rebellion was brutally suppressed by the military.
The 1988 unrest was preceded by public protests over rising rice prices, a sudden government declaration that made most currency invalid, and other economic hardships.
Those arrested Tuesday included Min Ko Naing and Ko Ko Gyi, two of the most prominent activists, New Light of Myanmar said. Min Ko Naing spent 16 years in prison despite international calls for his release and numerous awards for his nonviolent activism for democracy.
"Their agitation to cause civil unrest was aimed at undermining peace and security of the state and disrupting the ongoing National Convention," the newspaper said, adding that such activity violated a 1996 law that mandates prison terms of up to 20 years.
Organized by the junta, the National Convention is drafting guidelines for a constitution as part of a so-called seven-step roadmap to democracy in Myanmar, which is also known as Burma. Critics call the process a sham.
The arrests drew condemnation abroad. The U.S.-based Human Rights Watch called for the release of all the detainees.
"The government's strategy of arbitrarily arresting its critics reinforces the severe hardship the people of Burma are going through," a statement from the group said. "Burma's military rulers run the country — and the economy — without any regard for human rights."
More Protests In Yangon

YANGON (Reuters) - A gang of supporters of Myanmar's military rulers broke up a small protest in Yangon on Thursday as the arrest of 13 leading dissidents did little to quash public anger at soaring fuel prices and falling living standards.

A tense stand-off ensued before the 30 marchers, who had been walking towards the offices of the opposition National League for Democracy, were manhandled into trucks belonging to the junta's feared Union Solidarity and Development Association (USDA).
A Reuters reporter was told not to take photographs and chased from the scene.
Later, ex-political prisoner Ohn Than staged a one-man demonstration outside the U.S. embassy, shouting slogans in English and Burmese for 10 minutes before being carted off by police.
The 61-year-old called for the military junta that has ruled the former Burma for the last 45 years to honor the results of a 1990 election it lost by a landslide then annulled, witnesses said.
There was no word in the army-controlled media on the fate of the 13 dissidents arrested on Wednesday night, who included Min Ko Naing, the country's second-most prominent activist after detained Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi.
Five women and a man picked up by the USDA after a small demonstration on Wednesday in north Yangon were released.
For a second day, armed police and truckloads of USDA men armed with spades and brooms took up positions in the centre of the former capital.


However, in an apparent sop to the widespread outrage at last week's shock fuel price rises, bus fares for the shortest journeys were halved.
The junta's doubling of diesel prices and a five-fold increase in the cost of compressed natural gas had brought Yangon's bus networks to a standstill and stoked discontent in the city of 5 million people.
Analysts said the hard core of the dissident movement, centered on the still-influential leaders of a 1988 mass student uprising ruthlessly suppressed by the army with large loss of life, would continue to express public discontent.
However, the junta's coordinated action, starting with Wednesday's midnight swoops on the student leaders, had probably ensured the series of small but persistent social protests were not going to snowball into something larger.
"These people have vowed to continue the struggle at all costs. They have vowed to go all the way, and so for sure they will continue to protest," said Aung Naing Oo, a 1988 protester who fled to Thailand to escape the bloody military crackdown.
"But I doubt a large majority of people will participate. Small gatherings of 100 here, 200 there, will go on -- but the emphasis is on the word small," he said.
The world's largest rice exporter when it won independence from Britain in 1948, Myanmar is now one of Asia's poorest countries after more than four decades of unbroken military rule.
Suu Kyi, daughter of independence hero Aung San, who won the 1990 landslide election victory at the helm of her National League for Democracy party has spent most of the 17 years since in prison or under house arrest.

Wednesday, August 22

In the fifth of a series of articles from inside Burma, the BBC's Kate McGeown looks at the strength of opposition to the country's hardline military government.

In a small house in the Burmese city of Mandalay, three comedians spend their days putting on shows for tourists.
Calling themselves the Moustache Brothers, they perform traditional Burmese vaudeville - a mixture of song, dance and slapstick humour.
But in reality, the show is more about politics than entertainment - and interspersed among their routines are jokes poking fun at life under the country's brutal military regime.
The reason the show is so popular is because it is such a rarity in Burma. Hardly anyone else dares to openly criticise the government, which is not surprising given the likely consequences - long prison sentences, hard labour or worse.
But the Moustache Brothers say they have little to lose; two of them have already served long jail terms and they are reduced to performing at home because they have been banned from all public venues.
"We're on the government blacklist already," said Lu Maw, one of the trio. "There is nothing more the authorities can do to us."
Most Burmese people, though, seem to have decided that after 40 years of military government, it is best to just get on with life rather than protest against the system they are living under.
One man, who was given a two-year jail sentence in the 1960s for being a student demonstrator, told me he had lost the spirit to fight.
Now a successful businessman with a wife and three children, he said: "Since I came out of jail, I've managed to build a life for myself as best I can, and keep out of any trouble - but I'm still very, very worried about my country."

Local resistance

While there is little open defiance, many people are still prepared to do what little they can to register their opposition to the military regime.
"I purposely avoid going to anything the government could use as propaganda, like the opening of a new pagoda or a celebration for something," one man said.
Another man, the head of a rural community, said his entire village stopped every evening to listen to at least one foreign radio broadcast.
"We never miss a day," he said proudly, explaining that it was the only way they could really find out what was happening in Burma because local media was so heavily censored.
But he acknowledged that while the villagers would like to take part in a more active form of resistance, they were simply too scared.
"We're waiting and hoping for change, but what can we do? Look at what the government has done to the Lady [Aung San Suu Kyi]. If they can do that to her, think what they would do to us," he said.
As leader of the opposition National League for Democracy (NLD) and daughter of independence hero General Aung San, Ms Suu Kyi is the focal point of Burmese opposition.
Many people consider her the country's rightful leader, because the NLD won national elections in 1990 but the military refused to hand over control.
She has been in some form of detention for 10 of the last 17 years, but however hard the military junta tries to make people forget about her, she remains at the forefront of many Burmese citizens' minds.
"The Lady is our best hope for the future. She is the one person who can unite everyone together," one man told me.
"I totally support the Lady in everything," said another man. "I will always support her and the NLD."

Waiting and hoping

In Ms Suu Kyi's absence, her party campaigns tirelessly for her release and for constructive dialogue with the regime.
"One day the nation will explode, and people will rise up against the government," said NLD spokesman Nyan Win. "Until that day comes, we will continue to push for dialogue and reconciliation."
But there are some people in Burma who say the NLD is too idealistic. "They won't compromise on anything, so nothing changes," said a Rangoon activist.
"It's got to the point where many people in Burma are just waiting for outside help to overthrow the regime, rather than doing what they can right now, to change things from within," he said.
Waiting is something the Burmese are getting very good at. After more than four decades of military rule, there is still no end in sight.
But whether they actively opposed the government or not, I found that the vast majority of people I spoke to still dared to hope that things could get better.
"One day I'm going to perform properly again," said Moustache Brother Lu Maw.
"Maybe this street will become like Broadway or the West End," he joked, looking out at the dusty alley he lives in.
The Moustache Brothers - and in fact everyone in Burma - know they have a long way to go for their dreams of democracy and freedom to be realised.
But despite everything, they have still not given up.
In the fourth of a series from inside Burma, the BBC's Kate McGeown looks at how the government's abrupt decision to move its capital is affecting local people.

When Burma's military rulers began moving their seat of power to a semi-rural area near the town of Pyinmana last year, many people were mystified.
"I don't understand why they decided to leave Rangoon," said one man in the former capital.
"I don't know why they wanted to come here," added a villager not far from the site of the new city.
Many people said they had hoped the move would not actually happen, once the cost and complication became clear.
But now it seems there is no going back. The opening ceremony took place in March, and several locals who have seen the site - which the ruling junta has christened Naypyidaw (Seat of Kings) - said that half the buildings had been completed and were open for business.
But the new capital is not open to everyone. Almost all foreigners, especially journalists, are strictly forbidden from going anywhere near it.
Most ordinary Burmese are also denied access, and two Rangoon-based reporters were given three-year jail terms for attempting to film the area.

Precious cargo

To local people living near the site, many of whom are farmers and agricultural workers, the whole situation must be bewildering.
Until last year they were living in a rural hinterland. Now they are ploughing fields and raising cattle not far from their country's capital.
"I keep seeing new buildings, but I don't know what they're for," said one young woman on the outskirts of the city.
Those living along the main road to Pyinmana have got used to seeing large trucks laden with construction materials passing by, as well as cars carrying important members of the military.
"If you're driving down the road at the time they come past, you have to pull over and let them pass," said one woman.
Other people have been affected more directly by the move. One man said some of his neighbours had been thrown out of their homes, and had their land repossessed, with no compensation.
"I'm really scared that will happen to me, too," he said quietly.
Then there is the issue of who exactly is constructing the new capital. Definite evidence is hard to come by, but there are strong suspicions that the government is using forced labour.
"I've spoken to people who have fled Pyinmana, and have now come over the border into Thailand," said Maung Maung, the general secretary of the Federation of Trade Unions in Burma. "They say they were forcibly made to work on the roads, and clear areas of bush."

'Transfer of power'

Back in Rangoon, there are few obvious signs that the city is no longer the country's capital.
The one direct impact on local people is that the electricity supply - which was already erratic before the move - has now become even more unreliable.
"They've spent millions on the new capital. As a result, the services in Rangoon like electricity are getting worse and worse, but Pyinmana is all lit up," said one Western diplomat. "Locals joke that a 'transfer of power' has taken place."
Behind the scenes, there are other problems too. NGO workers and diplomats say the move is slowing down the process of government.
"Everything is taking twice as long, because you have to go to Pyinmana to get your documents stamped," the diplomat said. "There are containers stacked up in the ports because the necessary paperwork hasn't been signed."
Anyone who visits a government office in Rangoon will quickly notice something has changed. One businessman said that when he went to the Ministry of Culture for a meeting, he found it was virtually empty except for a few stray dogs and children playing games.
The ministers and officials might have gone to Pyinmana, but few seem to have gone willingly. Many were given little or no notice, and had to leave their families behind.
There are reports of several people retiring early, and rumours that an entire government department tried - and failed - to resign en masse.
In fact, many analysts say the enforced move was probably one of the main reasons government salaries were suddenly increased in April - in an attempt to persuade people to stay in their jobs.
Since the announcement of the capital move last November, there has been intense speculation about the reasoning behind it.
Some believe the military wants to move further inland for fear of a foreign attack. Others say that Burma's most senior military general, Than Shwe, wants to emulate the kings of old by building a new capital in his honour.
Others even say it could be due to the advice of fortune-tellers, who play a central role in Burmese life.
So I asked a local soothsayer if the capital move would bring good luck.
After studying his charts and making some calculations, he remained unconvinced.
But whatever the future holds for Burma, it looks likely that a former agricultural backwater near Pyinmana is set to play a pivotal role.
In the third article of a special series from inside Burma, the BBC's Kate McGeown looks at the military government's record of caring for the health and education of its citizens.

Burma's hospitals and schools are secretive places.
Much of what goes on inside these tightly controlled buildings remains a mystery to the outside world.
But indications from the few people prepared to risk speaking out paint a disturbing picture.
One doctor described long queues of patients, many with the classic diseases of poverty such as TB, malaria and water-borne illnesses.
She said she was often unable to give people the treatment they needed, because the drugs were either too expensive or impossible to obtain.
"I get upset sometimes, but then I'm also used to it - every day's the same," she said.
Burma's military junta has been ruling the country for four decades, during which time many other South East Asian nations have seen dramatic improvements in their economies, government services and standards of living.
But many analysts believe that since it came to power, the Burmese government has done little to improve basic services, preferring to spend money on the military and expensive projects like building a new capital.
The World Health Organization estimates that Burma spends $10 per person per year on healthcare, compared with its neighbours Thailand and Malaysia, which spend $160 and $218 respectively.
One NGO estimated that the actual Burmese figure was even lower - more like $0.50.
The results of such policies are obvious. An estimated 150,000 Burmese children under the age of five die every year of malaria, acute respiratory infections and diarrhoea.
"There is no question that the government is not caring adequately for its people," one aid worker said.

Fight against HIV

Not all the news is bad, though. In the past few years, the authorities have increased their co-operation with local and foreign NGOs to tackle the spread of HIV/Aids - and according to UNAids, there have been some concrete results.
Condom use has tripled since 1999, needle exchange programmes are far more prevalent than a few years ago, and more people are both seeking and obtaining treatment.
But Burma still has one of the most serious HIV/Aids epidemics in South East Asia. UNAids estimates that 360,000 Burmese people are currently living with the disease - and other organisations put the figure as high as 600,000.
Despite these successes, there is evidently a long way to go in raising awareness, judging from one man who was brave enough to talk to me about his experiences.
Not only did he risk the wrath of the authorities - like everyone else I spoke to - he also risked exposing himself to the discrimination that comes from having a disease which is still seen as a taboo subject.
"There is a lot of discrimination," he admitted. "I used to share a flat with a friend, but when he found out I had HIV, he made me leave.
"Another man I know used to own a business, but when people found out, no one would buy anything from him anymore."
The man I spoke to is somewhat unusual, in that he is being given free anti-retroviral drugs - a rare luxury in Burma.
"I am one of the lucky ones," he admitted, adding that many Burmese died of Aids without ever knowing there was an alternative.

Education and propaganda

If little is known about healthcare, even less is known about Burma's schooling system.
Because of past student uprisings, the government sees schools and universities as potential hotbeds of dissent, and is therefore especially vigilant at keeping them free from prying eyes.
In fact, according to most of the teachers who were prepared to speak, the government seems to put more energy into stopping outsiders getting into schools than it does on educating the children inside them.
"I have about 80 children in my class," said one woman. "I have to shout so everyone can hear.
Much of a teacher's time is taken up with fulfilling government requests.
"I spent a lot of time being involved in government propaganda," said a woman who left the teaching profession last year in frustration.
"I kept being told to take the children outside to wait for hours at a time, so they could wave flags when important people came past."
The result is that many children leave school without an adequate education.
There are glimmers of hope, though, for even the poorest students.
A few charitable schools operate around the country. One in Mandalay provides free education to nearly 6,000 children.
Passing tourists are welcome to visit, and foreign volunteers are actively sought to help teach English.
It is a refreshing change from the majority of Burmese schools, where the doors remain firmly shut - not only to outsiders, but also to the hopes of Burmese children who want to improve their lives.
In the second article of a special series from inside Burma, the BBC's Kate McGeown looks at the day-to-day problems facing ordinary people under the country's repressive military regime.

"I hate my life here. I'm just surviving one day at a time," a Burmese taxi driver said sadly, as he stopped to pay a bribe at yet another roadside checkpoint.
"Everything's so difficult. Prices keep going up, and there's too little fuel and electricity.
"There are so many restrictions on everything I want to do... and so much corruption," he said, handing some money to a surly teenager.
For most people in Burma, life under the military government is far from easy.
A farm worker told me he was lucky if he earned 1,000 kyats ($0.80) a day. Some days he earns half that. "I have enough to buy some poor-quality rice for my family, but not much else," he said.
What angers many people is that Burma has plentiful natural resources and was once one of the richest countries in South East Asia, before decades of military rule stifled the economy.
The situation has got far worse in recent months, because of a government decision to increase the salaries of state employees, in some cases by more than 10 times.
"Everyone knew the government couldn't afford it," said a Burmese journalist.
The result was predictable - locals estimate that prices have gone up by more than 30% since April, making it harder for ordinary people to make ends meet.
Andrew Kirkwood, the director of Save the Children in Burma, said malnutrition was a "serious problem", with half the children under five in some areas of Burma thought to be chronically malnourished.
"In some parts of the country, the situation is as bad as we've seen in sub-Saharan Africa," he said.
A man from the western state of Rakhaing said he had even heard reports of farmers selling their babies to child traffickers in exchange for food.

Two-tier system

But the problems that the Burmese face go much deeper than just a lack of money. There is a huge disparity between those allied to the ruling elite and the rest of the population - a distinction which permeates every aspect of day-to-day life.
For many goods, there is a two-tier pricing system. If you know someone influential, you can buy at the government price.
If not, you have to resort to the black market, which is at least twice as expensive.
One of the hottest properties at the moment is a telephone. The black market price is about $3,000 - way beyond most people's means.
Petrol is another commodity where the black market reigns supreme. An ordinary citizen is only allowed two gallons (nine litres) per day at the government price - and even then, queuing can sometimes take hours.
But there always seems to be plenty of petrol at the many black market stands throughout the country. "We're being robbed," one man said.
This climate of semi-official corruption has become so entrenched that whole swathes of the population earn their living from it.
To send a letter, you need to find a friendly "agent" who will make sure it is not pocketed by a postal worker. If you want to avoid paying constant traffic fines, or your child to do well at school, it is vital to know the right people and pay the right price.

Strange decrees

Burma's military rulers make their presence felt in other ways, too. Permission needs to be sought for almost every aspect of life.
"Everything I do is restricted," one man said. "Where I go, what I do, who I see... The authorities even have to give permission if I want anyone to stay the night."
The media, too, is heavily censored. "You only see two colours on TV - orange (for the Buddhist religion) and green (for the military)," said a former television employee.
The government is also unpredictable, and many people fall foul of policies that seem to change at whim.
"One minute farmers are told to grow potatoes to export to India," said a local NGO worker. "The next minute the authorities won't allow it, and all that investment has been wasted."
The latest government campaign is an initiative to grow nut trees, not only as a source of bio fuel but also because government fortune-tellers believe they will shore up the military's power.
Other government decisions, though, are far more sinister. Groups such as the International Labour Organization claim that the Burmese junta continues to use forced labour for its often ambitious construction projects.
Sometimes villagers are even thought to be co-opted as "porters" by the military, many being maimed or killed by landmines as they are made to trek through conflict areas ahead of the soldiers.
Despite living under one of the most draconian regimes in the world, some Burmese people still manage to find time for life's pleasures.
I spoke to a man in his early 20s who, over the last few months, has been using the rare moments of electricity to charge batteries so he can watch the World Cup.
I can imagine him now, glued to a television screen, escaping for a few precious hours from the chaos around him.
The BBC's Kate McGeown has just returned from Burma, where she talked to people about life under its repressive military regime. In the first of a series of articles, she gives her impressions of a nation the international community seems at a loss to know what to do with.

As I stepped down from the plane onto Burmese soil, my head full of warnings about spies watching my every move, I was pleasantly surprised to find friendly faces rushing to greet me.
"Thank you so much for coming," said an elderly man, smiling through betel-stained teeth.
Where was the Orwellian nightmare I had been warned about? Where were the police ready to cart me off to jail because they had found out I was a journalist?
The sun was shining, the people were open and friendly... it seemed like any other Asian country. I found it hard not to wonder what all the fuss was about.
But it did not take long to find evidence of Burma's darker side.
Barely 20 minutes along the main highway from the airport, I saw a road leading off to the right that was completely shut off by heavily-armed police.
The tight security was not surprising, given that the road led to the home of opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, whose term of house arrest had been extended just days before my arrival.
Local people never mention Ms Suu Kyi by name - they just call her The Lady, a term of deference towards a woman whom many Burmese, probably the vast majority, believe is the rightful leader of their nation.
Despite spending more than 10 of the last 17 years as a prisoner, she remains the main symbol of resistance against the military regime that has ruled Burma for four decades, and which often uses fear and intimidation to keep people in line.


Against this backdrop, Burma's 50 million citizens carry on with their daily lives as best they can.
Down the road from Aung San Suu Kyi's house, the people of Rangoon queue for the city's crowded buses, huddle in shops with working generators during the frequent power cuts or play their own version of the Thai national lottery.
Then they do what all Burmese do, and stop in one of the many teashops to gossip about the weather and the football.
But that does not mean that their anger at the military regime has disappeared. If you talk to someone about their life, any veneer of contentment will usually evaporate.
One day, as we drove past a peaceful rural scene of villagers ploughing paddy fields with their oxen, I asked my taxi driver for his views on the political situation.
He had been singing a song to himself, but his face suddenly turned red and angry, and he said: "I hate the people who rule this country. My hatred of the government knows no bounds."
In fact he got so upset that we had to stop the car so he could calm down.
Another man became equally animated when I asked him about the secret military informants who lurk around ever corner.
"They're like a virus - a disease ripping this country apart," he said. "They are everywhere, and they see everything we do.
"So many of my friends have been caught and jailed over the years - some for doing hardly anything. So many lives have been ruined."

Speaking out

It is hardly surprising that emotions run so high.
I was only in Burma for a short time, but I quickly found out how uncomfortable it is to be under surveillance - albeit by a somewhat amateur spy.
On my first day, a man walked into the lobby of my hotel and pretended to read a newspaper near where I was sitting.
He did not turn the page for 20 minutes, but the real giveaway was that the paper - a week-old copy of The Straits Times - was upside-down.
Despite the obvious personal risks of talking to a foreigner, many Burmese people were still willing to put aside their fears and share their lives with me.
They told me about their healthcare system, their schools, their views on the government and the extraordinary decision to move the country's capital to what was, until a few years ago, a rural backwater.
One day a tour guide showing me round one of the Burma's many pagodas turned to me and whispered: "Please let other people know what it's like for us here. We need the outside world to understand."
In this series of articles, I will do my best to answer his request.
Here are the "Main Players" in the military junta in Burma:

Than Shwe
Senior General Than Shwe, 73, is the head of the ruling junta and controls the army. He is the most hard-line leader, strongly opposed to allowing any political role for opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi.
After working in the Burmese postal service, Than Shwe joined the army at the age of 20 and his career included a stint in the department of psychological warfare.
He has acted as Burma's head of state since 1992, and was initially seen as more relaxed than his predecessor, General Saw Maung. Some political prisoners have been released, and human rights groups were allowed to visit Burma.
But he continues to suppress all dissent, and oversaw the re-arrest of Aung San Suu Kyi in 2003.
He is said to be superstitious and to regularly seek the advice of astrologers.

Maung Aye
Maung Aye is also a career soldier and the second most powerful man in the country.
He is believed to have established strong ties with Burma's many drug lords in the Golden Triangle while operating as a colonel in the late 1970s and 80s, before he joined the military leadership in 1993.
He has a reputation for ruthlessness and xenophobia, and is also staunchly opposed to allowing Aung San Suu Kyi any future role.
He is also rumoured to be a hard drinker.

Soe Win
Lieutenant General Soe Win, 58, is seen a hard-line operator with close links to Than Shwe. He succeeded Khin Nyunt as prime minister in 2004.
Some diplomats and dissidents believe that, as a key figure in the Union Solidarity and Development Association - the civilian wing of the junta - he was behind a bloody attack on Aung San Suu Kyi's convoy in the north of the country last year, which led to the opposition leader being taken back into house arrest.
Earlier in his career, he commanded an infantry division which helped crush the democracy party in 1988 following Aung San Suu Kyi's overwhelming victory in national elections.
He joined the Defence Service Academy in 1965, and quickly worked his way up through the military ranks. He joined the junta in 1997, and was appointed as Secretary-2 of the council in February 2003, and Secretary-1 in August of the same year, replacing Khin Nyunt, who became prime minister.
Junta breaks up rare Burma rally

Supporters of Burma's military junta have broken up protests against the doubling of fuel prices.
About 200 people marched in Rangoon in the rare demonstration, but dispersed after a number were bundled into cars and driven away.
A similar protest was held on Sunday, the largest such rally in a decade.
The junta arrested at least 13 activists before Wednesday's protest, including some of the nation's most prominent dissidents.
Veteran leaders
The latest protest took place on the northern outskirts of Rangoon.
The demonstrators, most of them women, were cheered by onlookers as they marched in defiance of the junta's strict controls on protests.
Group of former student activists in Burma
Named after the 1988 uprising, which was brutally crushed by the military
Key members have suffered long prison terms
"We are marching to highlight the economic hardship that Myanmar (Burma) people are facing now, which has been exacerbated by the fuel price hike," one protester told the Associated Press news agency.
Their path was blocked by supporters of the junta and plain-clothed officers, witnesses said, and the rally dispersed as up to 10 demonstrators were bundled into cars and driven off.
Last week's fuel price rises left many people struggling to find the money to travel to work.
Sunday's protest against the move had involved veteran leaders of the so-called 88 Generation Students group.

Many taxis and buses did not run after the price rises
The group was at the forefront of the 1988 pro-democracy uprising that was violently put down by the military.
Seven top leaders of the group were among the activists arrested this week.
They include Min Ko Naing and Ko Ko Gyi - some of Burma's most prominent dissidents after Nobel Peace Prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi.
Burma's state media said the activists had been arrested for "undermining stability and the security of the nation".
The BBC's South-East Asia correspondent, Jonathan Head, says there have been several small demonstrations since February focusing on growing hardships as the economy declines under the impact of international sanctions and government mismanagement.
The latest rallies are by far the largest and our correspondent says the prospect of economic protests linking up with the 1988 veterans would be especially alarming to the military government.
It was this combination of factors that led to the near overthrow of the military regime during that first uprising 19 years ago.
On Monday the opposition National League for Democracy (NLD) warned there could be further protests and security was stepped up in Rangoon.
The NLD's leader, 62-year-old Ms Suu Kyi, has spent most of the past 17 years under house arrest.
The NLD won landmark elections in 1990 but the junta never recognised the result.

Myanmar arrests dissidents, halts fuel protests

YANGON (Reuters) - Myanmar's military junta arrested 13 top dissidents and deployed gangs of spade-wielding supporters on the streets of Yangon on Wednesday to halt protests against soaring fuel prices and falling living standards.

Armed police also took up positions across the country's biggest city alongside truckloads of men from the army's feared Union Solidarity and Development Association (USDA). Many were carrying brooms and shovels, pretending to be road sweepers.
Despite the clampdown and the overnight arrest of the prominent activists, 100 people staged an hour-long march before being dispersed. Five women and a man were arrested, although there was no violence, witnesses told Reuters.
"Onlookers applauded but failed to join the march," one said.
In a rare announcement in all state-run newspapers, the junta said the 13 had been arrested for "agitation to cause civil unrest" and "undermining peace and security of the state," charges that could put them in jail for up to 20 years.
Min Ko Naing, Ko Ko Gyi, Min Zeya, Ko Jimmy, Ko Pyone Cho, Arnt Bwe Kyaw and Ko Mya Aye -- all leaders of a 1988 student-led uprising crushed by the military with heavy loss of life -- were among those named. Friends and relatives confirmed the arrests.
Min Ko Naing, Myanmar's second-most prominent political figure after detained Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, was released in November 2004 after 15 years in jail. He was re-arrested in September for four more months.
"Military intelligence and government intelligence seized their houses and searched their houses," another dissident, Htay Kywe, said in a recording e-mailed to Reuters by Myanmar exile groups in neighboring Thailand.
Government agents had taken papers and mobile phones, added Htay Kywe, who had managed to evade capture during a raid on his home and had gone into hiding, one of the exile groups said.
The swoop came ahead of a planned protest on Wednesday against last week's shock hikes in fuel prices, the latest in a rare series of demonstrations against deteriorating living conditions and galloping inflation in the former Burma.
The Washington-based U.S. Campaign for Burma said it feared for the safety of the detainees, especially Min Ko Naing, winner of U.S., Canadian and European human rights awards.
"Min Ko Naing and the other leaders arrested have all been severely tortured during previous incarcerations and we are gravely concerned for their immediate well-being," policy director Aung Din said in a statement.
Min Ko Naing's 88 Generation Students Group led a march on Sunday tapping into public anger at the 500 percent rise in the price of compressed natural gas -- a hike that came without warning and brought Yangon's bus networks to a standstill.
Myanmar has some of Asia's largest natural gas reserves and has just decided to export production of two major fields worth billions of dollars to China.
Min Ko Naing -- a Burmese nom de guerre meaning "conqueror of kings" -- was not linked to Wednesday's protest planned by Ko Htin Kyaw, an activist already arrested four times this year.
The world's biggest rice exporter when it won independence from Britain in 1948, Myanmar is now one of Asia's poorest countries after 45 years of unbroken military rule.
Aung San Suu Kyi, 62, has been in prison or under house arrest for much of the past 17 years. Human rights groups and the United Nations say as many as 1,100 others are behind bars for their political beliefs.