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Myanmar Crackdown Isolates Monks


This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.

In Myanmar's major city, soldiers and police are out in force today behind barbwire barricades as loud-speaker trucks warning people to stay off the street.

Yangon is reported quiet today. Yesterday, it was the bloodiest day in a monk-led protests against decades of military rule. Troops fired automatic weapons into crowds of demonstrators. At least eight people have been confirmed dead, though it's believed the death toll is considerably higher.

We go now to NPR's Michael Sullivan who's monitoring the situation in Myanmar -and he is in Bangkok, Thailand.

And, Michael, what's the latest? So far today it's turning in to rather a quiet day considering the last 10.

MICHAEL SULLLIVAN: So far, yes. I mean, we know, Renee, that some people have come back out on to the streets to demonstrate but in small numbers. We know that the security forces, as you said, have saturated the city and are keeping more demonstrators from gathering. We know that the government has declared the area around five monasteries as no-go areas, that's according to diplomats. But beyond that, we know very little and, I think in part, because the government now appears to be severely restricting information getting out.

Today, the military reportedly shut down Yangon's Internet cafes. And I think that's to stop news and pictures from getting to the outside world. People have been using the Internet to send photos. And I witnessed accounts of what's been happening to various news agencies abroad and interest groups abroad and they have been broadcasting them into the world. And that access now appears to be severely restricted if not shutdown altogether. And even phone calls in and out of the country are getting much harder.

MONTAGNE: Well, in a sense, was that expected? In a way, it's rather surprising that the government allowed these sorts of communications to go on for as long as they did.

SULLLIVAN: Yeah. I mean, everybody expected this to happen. I mean, I was in the country about a week. I left Tuesday night. And even then people were saying that they expected both the phone and the Internet lines to be cut when the military began its crackdown. And everyone pretty much knew that a crackdown would come.

And it's looking more clearer now that despite the length of time it took the generals to respond - they do have a plan. And that plan is to rein in the monks who've leading these things for more than a week. More than a hundred have been arrested in the past few days, a great many more now confined to their monasteries by force. And if there's no monks on the streets then I think ordinary people are probably going to think harder about going on without them, especially after yesterday's violence.

I mean, the military has a long history of crushing dissent. They've been in power for almost 50 years. They know how to do this. They've had lots of practice. And they don't hesitate to use force when they feel they need to. That's how they stay in power. Killing monks would be something different. I know they think that that would enrage the public. And I think that's why we haven't seen that happen. I mean, I know there have been some reports suggesting monks have been killed, but I haven't seen any pictures - I don't know if you have - because I think the military knows that this would be a very, very bad thing.

So I think they're being careful not to let it happen. Yeah, they're arresting monks. Yes, they're beating them. But mostly, they seem to be isolating the monks from the general public.

MONTAGNE: Now, diplomatic protests, Michael, against Myanmar's government seemed to be growing daily, even China is talking a little bit tough and it's its great ally. Having any effect?

SULLLIVAN: There have been strong statements from all over. But I'm just not sure that any of it really means anything, that the generals really listen to anybody. I mean, events on the ground over the past couple of days certainly suggest otherwise. They're doing what they think they need to do to stay in power. And today, at least, it seems to be working. I think you can score this round, today, to the military.

MONTAGNE: NPR's Michael Sullivan speaking from Bangkok, Thailand.

If you want to find out more about the politics of Myanmar and see images of the protests there, go to Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Renee Montagne, one of the best-known names in public radio, is a special correspondent and host for NPR News.
Michael Sullivan is NPR's Senior Asia Correspondent. He moved to Hanoi to open NPR's Southeast Asia Bureau in 2003. Before that, he spent six years as NPR's South Asia correspondent based in but seldom seen in New Delhi.