Saturday, January 12, 2008

Burma dissident attacks UN-backed talks

By Graeme Jenkins in Rangoon

Burma's most senior dissident leader to escape arrest in the crackdown following the pro-democracy protests in September has condemned United Nations-backed talks between the opposition and the military regime as a sham.

In an interview with The Daily Telegraph, held at a secret location in Rangoon, the former capital, the man known only by his codename "Phoenix" provided a rare insight into the obscure world of the country's underground pro-democracy movement, which while weakened and on the run still believes that people power can overthrow the junta.

Speaking before Aung San Suu Kyi, the Nobel laureate and leader of the National League for Democracy, was taken yesterday from house arrest to meet a government negotiator, Phoenix said that he feared the talks were a "trap" designed to fend off international pressure. The talks were brokered by Ibrahim Gambari, the UN special envoy, after the junta crushed the protests, killing at least 31 people.

Yesterday's meeting was their fourth, but the first in almost two months.

Phoenix said: "It seems like a trap set by the government to buy some time from the international community. Mr Gambari is trying to come again but I don't expect much of what he can do." (JEG's: actually Phoenix is right, everytime Gambari is coming the junta decides to show their "willing side")

He welcomed international pressure on the regime, but added: "International support is not where the answer lies. The answer lies within us, within the country. The problem is not that the government are strong but the opposition, we are not strong enough." (JEG's: UNITY is the answer here... united will be able to work their way through into power)

Phoenix is the acting leader of the "88 Generation" - activists who led demonstrations in 1988, when an estimated 3,000 demonstrators where killed by the army.

He was instrumental in orchestrating the protests in September, when thousands of monks took to the streets to demand political change.

After earlier protests had been disrupted by government thugs, he explained: "We thought of getting more power and that power we can get from the monks. We started talking to the monks to show their support for our movement and to back us up."

Rangoon is a city gripped by fear. Following the crackdown, during which hundreds of people were arrested in night-times raids, locals try to avoid a foreigner's eye. No one wants to talk.

There are informers everywhere. Each neighbourhood has a government office with photographs of every resident, where guests must be registered.

"Even inside their families people cannot talk loud," said Phoenix. The question for Phoenix and his allies is whether his movement can survive.

The first protest by monks took place in the north-western town of Sittwe at the end of August. Near there, in a candle-lit, windowless room, The Daily Telegraph recently met the leader of the Sittwe monks.

Many of his followers have been dispersed in the clampdown and he shifts location almost daily to avoid arrest.

"I am planning to try again to organise a demo," he said. "Whether it is possible or impossible to beat this government I don't know, but we must try."

Source: Telegraph

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