Myanmar deaths higher than U.N. estimate: activists
By Rob Taylor
CANBERRA (Reuters) – The death toll from a democracy crackdown
ordered by Myanmar’s ruling junta was much greater than U.N.
estimates and scores of people were still missing, activists just
back from the reclusive country said on Friday.
A delegation of Buddhist witnesses who entered Myanmar posing as
tourists to document the aftermath of September’s monk-led uprising
said secret talks with activists pointed to a death toll of at least
70, far above United Nations estimates of 31.
“The regime is at pains to paint the situation as being back to
normal, and it is anything but, because there is so much pressure and
security,” Australian delegate Jill Jameson from the Buddhist Peace
Fellowship told Reuters.
The crackdown on peaceful protests — the biggest since 1988 — drew
international condemnation and provoked calls for more sanctions on
the isolated country once known as Burma.
U.N. special rapporteur Paulo Sergio Pinheiro this week said at least
31 people were killed when Myanmar’s military rulers tried to
suppress the demonstrations. Official media have said only 10 people
Jameson entered Myanmar with two Thais and an American priest,
talking to rights activists, monks, aid groups and social workers in
Yangon and on the Thailand-Myanmar border.
“We were told by a reliable source that there were 70 people who were
killed after the demonstrations, while they were being detained,” she
said. “We were told crematoriums were operating in the early hours of
the morning between 1am and 4am.”
The stories, she said, tallied with Pinheiro’s description of
corpses, some seemingly the bodies of monks, being burned in
suspicious circumstances at a Yangon crematorium, in an apparent
attempt to hide the number of those killed.
“An English teacher monk at a monastic school and orphanage for 500
said there were now 15 monks, 35 novices, 12 teachers and 80 resident
children,” Jameson said.
“Prior to September, there were 200 monks and novices who have not
been heard of since their participation in the “revolution”,” she
Before the crackdown, there were an estimated 500,000 monks and
novices in Myanmar. Many are now missing, rights groups say.
Human Rights Watch this month said security forces fired into crowds
using live ammunition and detained thousands of people in official
and unofficial jails, citing witness reports.
Jameson’s group heard bystanders who applauded protesting monks,
offered water or simply stood by and watched demonstrators were
arrested and held in jails for up to a month.
“Neither army, police or beggars were evident, but we heard
from ‘Aung Myint’ that beggars and the homeless had been taken to
detention centers, and that some of the army were dressed as monks
and others were in plain clothes,” she said.
Myanmar has been under military control since 1962. The army held
elections in 1990, but refused to hand over power after being
outvoted by the opposition National League for Democracy.