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Myanmar Brutally Cracks Down on Protest03/05 06:20

   

   TOKYO (AP) -- Myanmar's security forces have killed scores of demonstrators 
protesting a coup. The new junta has jailed journalists --- and anyone else 
capable of exposing the violence. It has done away with even limited legal 
protections. The outside world has responded so far with tough words, a 
smattering of sanctions and little else.

   The slide from a nascent democracy to yet another coup, as rapid as it has 
been brutal, opens up a grim possibility: As bad as it looks in Myanmar now, if 
the country's long history of violent military rule is any guide, things could 
get worse.

   Protesters have continued to fill the streets despite violence that left 38 
people dead one day this week  --- though in smaller numbers than the weeks 
right after the Feb. 1 coup. They have used smartphones to capture the 
brutality. Recent videos show security forces shooting a person  at point-blank 
range and chasing down and savagely beating demonstrators.

   The military, however, has the clear upper hand, with sophisticated weapons, 
a large network of spies, the ability to cut telecoms, and decades of fighting 
experience from civil conflicts in the country's borderlands.

   "We are at a crisis point," Bill Richardson, a former U.S. ambassador to the 
United Nations with long experience working with Myanmar, told The Associated 
Press, pointing to the arrests of journalists, including AP's Thein Zaw, and 
the indiscriminate killing of protesters. "The international community needs to 
respond much more forcefully, or this situation will degenerate into complete 
anarchy and violence."

   So, will it?

   Governments around the world, including the United States, have condemned 
the coup, which reversed years of slow progress toward democracy. Before that 
opening up began, Myanmar had languished under a strict military rule for five 
decades that led to international isolation and crippling sanctions. As the 
generals loosened their grip in the past decade, the international community 
lifted most sanctions and poured in investment.

   Despite the flurry of recent global criticism, however, there's not much 
hope that pressure from outside will change the course of events inside the 
country. For one thing, coordinated action at the U.N. --- like a global arms 
embargo that the world body's independent expert on human rights in Myanmar, 
Tom Andrews, called for --- is unlikely. Russia and China, Myanmar's most 
powerful supporter, are still selling arms to the military --- and they each 
have a permanent seat on the U.N. Security Council and thus could veto any such 
measure. The Security Council will take up the crisis in Myanmar on Friday.

   Myanmar's neighbors, the countries that make up the Association of Southeast 
Asian Nations, are generally loathe to "interfere" in one another's affairs --- 
a policy that means they are unlikely to do anything more than call for talks 
between the junta and the ousted government of Aung San Suu Kyi.

   That leaves sanctions from the United States and other Western countries. 
Washington imposed sanctions on Myanmar's top military leaders after the Feb. 1 
coup. More pressure came after a U.N. envoy said security forces killed 38 
people on Wednesday. Britain imposed sanctions on three generals and six 
members of the junta in response to the coup and the crackdown. The European 
Union is drawing up measures to respond to the coup.

   But even tough sanctions from those countries are unlikely to yield 
anything, though they may weigh heavily on ordinary people. Myanmar has ridden 
out decades of such measures before, and the military is already talking about 
plans for "self-reliance."

   U.N. special envoy for Myanmar, Christine Schraner Burgener, told reporters 
this week that she had warned the military that tough sanctions may be coming 
--- and the response was that the generals knew how to "walk with only a few 
friends.'"

   "Myanmar's history suggests the military will use ever increasing brutality 
and violence in an attempt to put down the protest movement," said Ronan Lee, a 
visiting scholar at the International State Crime Initiative at Queen Mary 
University of London. "In the past, the military has been prepared to murder 
thousands to quell civil unrest or to meet its goals."

   In the face of such determination, some observers question how long the 
protest movement can last.

   "While it may appear at first glance to be a battle of wills, the military 
has a substantial resource advantage over the average protester and has 
demonstrated that it's willing to engage in extreme acts of violence and 
brutality to try to force compliance," said John Lichtefeld, vice president of 
The Asia Group, a consulting firm.

   It may get much worse, he said. The military "is an organization with 
tremendous institutional pride, and it's possible that hardliners within the 
military who have been pushing for a more aggressive response are beginning to 
gain influence."

   The military has also gotten away with past abuse. In 2017 the army 
slaughtered thousands of minority Rohingya Muslims in massacres that U.N. 
officials have said bear the "hallmarks of genocide" with few consequences so 
far.

   In a sign of how limited the options are to influence the junta, when asked 
what more Britain and other countries could do, Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab 
responded: "We will continue to look at how we hold individual members of the 
regime to account."

   Myanmar's military is banking on the world going no further than "harsh 
words, some economic sanctions and travel bans," Lee, the scholar at Queen Mary 
University, said. In order to ensure that, it may exercise some restraint in 
its crackdown --- to try to keep violence below a threshold that would compel 
action --- or at least keep it hidden.

   This is why, he said, authorities are targeting journalists. It suggests 
they "understand the value of international exposure to the protesters and are 
aggressively working to limit it."




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