Burma. Although Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi was
released from house arrest in 1995, the military junta's
harassment continued by her and her National League for
Democracy (NLD) party throughout 1996. She defied the
military by holding public meetings outside her home.
Sometimes the meetings were allowed, other times the
audience was prevented from even getting close to her house.
Countryaah.com, most of the participants were arrested before the NLD's
planned party congress in May, and eleven of them were later
sentenced to every seven years in prison. However, the
congress was implemented and resulted in plans for an
alternative to the constitution that a government-controlled
national conference is writing and tailored to prevent Aung
San Suu Kyi from ever coming to power. Soon the regime's
response to NLD's plans came: up to 20 years in prison for
those who interfere with the work of the Constitution. At
the same time, the junta started a smear campaign against
the NLD and Aung San Suu Kyi in person. A new attempt by the
NLD to hold a party congress in September was disturbed by
similar mass arrests. In early December, hundreds of
students conducted the largest demonstrations in several
years, and Aung San Suu Kyi was again barred from leaving
A close friend of Aung San Suu Kyi, the businessman and
Honorary Consul Leo Nichols, was sentenced in May to three
years in prison for, among other things. illegal use of a
fax machine. After a short time, he died in the cell,
according to authorities of myocardial infarction but
according to his acquaintances probably from the abuse.
Opium king Khun Sa surrendered to the army in January
under circumstances that aroused suspicion that he had
agreed to the regime. The United States pledged a $ 2
million reward to anyone who could get him convicted of drug
trafficking, but the government announced that he would not
be extradited. In November, Khun Sa was reported to be a
businessman with interests in tourism, among other things.
During the year, the US and the EU decided to refuse
entry to Burmese junta. But Burma is supported by its
Southeast Asian neighbors and has been promised an early
entry into the ASEAN partner organization.
In September 2007, the junta faced its biggest challenge
in 20 years. Large crowds demonstrated against rising energy
and food prices and for democracy. The country's many
Buddhist monks marked themselves as the driving force behind
a wave of popular protests. The protests were brutally
turned down. The use of violence provoked disgust both in
Myanmar and internationally. The regime tried to darken the
dramatic trend by stopping the news flow out of the country,
including blocking the Internet. The Norwegian-based radio
station and the website, Democratic Voice of Burma (DVB),
became an important source of information with its
broadcasts from Oslo.
Ahead of the wave of protests, in January 2007, China and
Russia had halted a UN Security Council resolution urging
the junta to stop oppression of opposition groups and ethnic
minorities. The resolution came as a reaction to the army's
new offensive against ethnic minorities in the conflict
areas southeast of the country. In June 2007, the
International Committee of the Red Cross broke its usual
neutrality with a strongly worded criticism of the army's
The protest wave was triggered by growing discontent over
increasingly difficult living conditions. According to UN
statistics, Myanmar was one of the 20 poorest countries in
the world, with an annual average gross domestic product
(GDP) of USD 1700. About 40 percent of the state's revenue
was spent on one of the world's largest armies, with about
400,000 active-duty soldiers. Grants for school and health
care were among the lowest in the world.
In 2007, Myanmar authorities removed the subsidies on
fuel, so that prices more than doubled. Thus, food prices
also rose. On August 19, activists from the 1988 student
movement led a major demonstration in Yangon against the
rise in prices. The leaders were immediately arrested, but
Myanmar's monks soon appeared. On September 22, thousands of
monks marched in the first mass demonstrations through
Yangon and Mandalay.
The protests grew in strength, spread to several cities,
and now included demands for greater freedom and democracy.
On September 24, 2007, tens of thousands of protesters
marched through Yangon in the largest popular manifestation
since 1988. Curfews were proclaimed, but many ventured into
the streets nonetheless. They were greeted by soldiers who
shot sharply into the crowd at the city's largest shrine,
the Shwedagon Pagoda. Police and military have now
systematically launched raids and mass arrests across the
country. Meanwhile, the junta leadership was at a good
distance from the turmoil in its new capital, Naypyidaw.
Towards the end of September, the protests erupted. Many
thousands had been arrested, including 4,000 monks.
Diplomats who visited the monasteries in Yangon found them
deserted and abandoned. Following international pressure,
the government granted entry permit to UN Special Rapporteur
on Human Rights in Myanmar, Paulo SÚrgio Pinheiro, who had
been trying to intervene since 2003. In November, he
presented his first report, with evidence that at least 31
people had been killed during the unrest in Yangon.
The political reactions from the outside world lacked a
comprehensive strategy. The West tightened somewhat on its
restrictions, but without agreeing on a uniform policy of
sanctions. China, India and Myanmar's other Asian neighbors
in the ASEAN Alliance rejected the United States' call for
economic blockade and diplomatic isolation.