It doesn't happen too often. But 10 days ago, Burma made international headlines, when the military junta ordered a crackdown on protestors marching through Yangon calling for an end to their 45-year rule. A Japanese photographer was shot in front of the Sule Pagoda. Monks were beaten and killed.
Burma’s only Internet server was shut and text and picture messaging on mobiles, stopped. Soe Myint, managing editor of the Delhi-based news agency Mizzima, is one of the windows into what's happening now in Burma. Paramita Ghosh talks to him.
What are they showing on Burma’s state TV today?
They are showing soldiers marching and singing songs.
Who is leading the popular protest now?
Most of the leaders of the National League for Democracy are in jail, Aung San Sui Kyi is under house-arrest. The movement is not leaderless. It has become a public movement. There may be no visible leadership but they are in touch with the people.
Through radio — the leaders who are in hiding, broadcast their instructions to the four radio stations that are operating outside Burma. At present, all the people of Burma are listening to the radio. The military cannot jam the radios as they are on shortwave and if they do so they will affect their own wireless systems.
How is your own agency, Mizzima, able to get news out of Burma? Who are the people who make your team?
Mizzima News was established in August 1988 by three Burmese journalists-activists in exile, and I am its founder. When we began, we did not have even a telephone line. We see ourselves as an independent media for Burma. There is no independent media there. The junta exercises high censorship in the country. Any one who is found to be a Mizzima journalist will be arrested. The reporters who report the news independently can be sentenced for long-term imprisonment. So far, all our reporters are safe.
How has the international press, including India, reported Burma so far, and not just for the last 10 days?
Burma has been in the international news for some time now. However, our lack of democracy and human rights go unreported. Even in the Indian media, news coverage has been minimal. Mostly, it’s been a case of no coverage for days. In ’88-89, India supported us. Now it supports the generals.
Is the September movement different from the one in 1988? Would you call the present turmoil a protest, a revolt or a revolution?
Certainly it’s an uprising. It’s driven by high school students, businessmen, politicians, actors, comedians and people from all walks of life — except for the police and the military. It’s a revolution of the people and has spread to 50 cities since August 15. But whether it has affected the entire country and all its people — no, it has not.
How will the situation turn in the coming week?
The UN special envoy is on his way to Burma. The general’s deputy Maung Aye, I believe, does not want to kill protesters on the street. The envoy may be able to persuade the military to talk to the opposition leaders and stop the violence. Otherwise there will be more bloodshed.