Myanmar’s bloody “8-8-88” uprising remembered
By Aung Hla Tun
YANGON, Aug 8 (Reuters) – People in Myanmar marked exactly 20 years on Friday since the army crushed an “8-8-88” democracy uprising with the loss of an estimated 3,000 lives, although the only protests were likely to be outside the country.
After last year’s large-scale fuel-price rallies, the generals in charge of the former Burma are taking no chances, with extra police and pro-government thugs stationed at strategic points and Buddhist monasteries around Yangon, the main city.
Most of the leaders of the 1988 uprising, the biggest challenge to army rule stretching back to 1962, were arrested last August at the start of the fuel-price demonstrations, and remain behind bars — just a few of an estimated 1,100 political prisoners.
Torrential monsoon rains lashing Yangon, the former capital, were also likely to dampen the ardour of any would-be protesters.
“We are not planning any official ceremony, although some people might choose to do something in private,” Nyan Win, a spokesman for the opposition National League for Democracy, said.
Outside the pariah Southeast Asian nation, however, human rights groups and activists who fled the crackdown on the 1988 protests, which rumbled on for seven months, were planning demonstrations outside Myanmar and Chinese embassies.
“REMEMBER THE ATROCITIES”
The latter are being targeted on what is also the opening day of the Beijing Olympic Games because of China’s commercial and diplomatic ties to the generals, gate-keepers of Myanmar’s plentiful reserves of natural gas and other resources.
“As the world celebrates the opening of the Beijing Olympics, people should pause to remember the atrocities in Burma 20 years ago,” Elaine Pearson, deputy Asia director of Human Rights Watch, said in a statement.
“This anniversary is testament to the Burmese people’s enduring demand for freedom and to the world’s failure to end repressive military rule. And China, more than any other country, has enabled the survival of the brutal Burmese regime,” she said.
Aug. 8, 1988 — 8-8-88 — was chosen as the focal point of the uprising because of its numerologically auspicious connotations for most Burmese people. It was also said to be a powerful foil to then military supremo Ne Win, whose lucky number was nine.
On Thursday, U.S. President George W. Bush used a visit to neighbouring Thailand, home to more than 100,000 Myanmar refugees and more than a million migrant workers, to call again for the release of opposition leader and Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi and highlight the 1988 bloodshed.
“The American people care deeply about the people of Burma and dream for the day the people will be free,” he told dissidents and former political prisoners at an hour-long lunch.
However, Bush also heard criticism of Washington’s stance towards Myanmar — labelled an “outpost of tyranny” by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice — for forcing the generals into the international isolation that junta supremo Than Shwe craves.
“I asked him to engage with the Burmese military,” former student activist Aung Naing Oo, who fled for his life 20 years ago, told Reuters.
“It’s only Than Shwe and a few other generals who want to isolate Burma, so I told him engagement was very important,” he said. (Additional reporting and writing by Ed Cropley; Editing by David Fogarty)