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The Whole World Was Watching

Posted on Jan 22, 2008
protesting monks
AP photo / Mizzima News

Hundreds of Buddhist monks march through Rangoon in late September 2007 in the days before the Burmese military junta’s brutal crackdown.

By Sarah Stillman

(Page 3)

Stillman: The U.N. has reported on “grave child rights violations,” including the forced recruiting of children into the army.  Apparently there’s pressure to accelerate army recruitment rates, and brokers are said to be paid $30 and a bag of rice for each child soldier recruited. The U.N. also found that some children who desert from the Burmese military are given prison terms of up to five years. What is the state of the military. ... Is the regime so desperate that it has to recruit kids?

Maung Maung: Yes, the regime is having serious problems recruiting. The military used to be a respected entity, but this is no longer true. Although the top generals are filthy rich, many of their soldiers face great economic hardships. They don’t even have basic footwear—many of them go around in sandals or barefoot. It’s just not impressive!  When a soldier doesn’t have any shoes, it not only makes it hard to fight, but it also shakes his faith in his superiors.

We have a database of how many individuals are deserting the military, and it shows that more and more men at the senior levels of the military are defecting. This is due mostly to the hardships that their families face. It’s a sad fact, but many of the soldiers’ wives and daughters have become prostitutes to cope with the poverty. Reasons like this explain why the military is having a hard time recruiting.

And so what have they done? The regime is forcibly taking children, especially high school kids hanging out at the theater or wherever. The army truck pulls up and the kids are forced into the back of the truck and taken to the police station, where they are left to sleep overnight. The next morning, the sergeant shows up and tells them that they’ve committed a crime and that the only way to avoid jail is to join the military.


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Stillman: How would you describe the role of the trade union movement in the Burmese opposition? You’re a union leader, as are many of the key people who play pivotal roles in charting the next steps for this struggle. How did labor people come to play such a vital role?

Maung Maung: Well, I wouldn’t say we’re necessarily prominent. But the real key is that the trade unionists are the only unit of activists inside Burma who have unique experience with international organizations. We know exactly how to link up with trade union movements around the world to get basic training materials, and also to get references on the techniques used by other countries in other struggles in history.

We also have people who are well trained in organizing skills, unlike most of the movement’s student activists. I can ask any union person to come and offer training to our activists for two weeks, and they’ll come—we get tremendous help from the ILO [International Labor Organization], the ITUC [International Trade Union Confederation,] the SEIU [Service Employees International Union] and other groups. The ILO even has an office in Rangoon, working on international monitoring issues and providing protection for us. This isn’t true with the students or political organizations, who have a big handicap on the international front. They often lack basic organizing skills.

Stillman: You mention learning from other countries. When the street demonstrations were going on, Bishop Tutu of South Africa strongly backed the monks and other protesters, saying, “It is so like the rolling mass actions that eventually toppled apartheid.” Certainly there are many differences, but do you see parallels from the success of the anti-apartheid movement? 

Maung Maung: Well, different countries, different struggles. I’d say that the overall similarity is that the international effort must be coordinated. We need a wide array of governments to support the United Nation’s initiatives in a coordinated way. The U.S. is doing it, and the UK is, too. France is starting to wake up, and Italy.

But we’re been having big problems with the Germans, who’ve been a pain in the neck. They want to have their own approach. We need unity. Most countries are slowly moving towards working together, with the U.N. at the helm. Even China is starting to think like that. Coordination, like in South Africa, is the most important thing.

Stillman: What do you think is the most constructive role that American advocates can play in the pro-democracy struggle? What forms of action or protest would be most helpful?

Maung Maung: There has been a huge amount of moral support from American politicians, but the U.S. government hasn’t fully delivered. Sure, Congress has done a lot, and there is even support from Laura Bush, but we have huge problems with logistics and implementation.

What it really comes down to is money: We need simple things like bicycles and satellite phones. People may laugh, but the movement really needs bicycles. In Burma, fuel is very expensive, so bicycles allow organizers to go around and speak with individuals in different areas.

We also need money for video cameras, digital cameras and cell phones—these things are transforming our movement. It’s by bringing the eyes of the world back to the brutality of the regime that we can win out.

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By Douglas Chalmers, March 29, 2008 at 2:38 am Link to this comment

Asian rice crisis starts to bite -

“Worldwide rising demand has seen rice stocks plummet to their lowest in about three decades, with average prices doubling over the last five years.

Earlier this month the UN secretary general warned that global food stocks had fallen to their lowest level in decades, driving prices up and threatening millions with starvation….”

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By Douglas Chalmers, March 20, 2008 at 5:03 pm Link to this comment

Some topics from TalkChina are:-

IT’S TIME SOMETHING WAS SAID ABOUT BURMA!!! - or open a new topic in “Hot Issues” at

TIBET QUESTION subforum - join in or open your own topic.



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By Douglas Chalmers, March 20, 2008 at 5:02 pm Link to this comment

Its utterly pathetic that Truthdig has taken the Tibet blogs off its front page this week despite the continuing turmoil there - makes it hard to genuinely congratulate them on keeping this topic running, uhh.

Nevertheless, you can blog IN CHINA on an English language forum of the China Radio International website (main page at ) in BeiJing and listen to music online…..

The TalkChina forum menu is at

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By British Jew of faith, March 12, 2008 at 3:31 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Jeffrey, You might want to re-think Non Credo’s
point. It’s not so much about what the US is doing
wrong as it is about straightening out the Americans’ priorities. The issue of the fate of Palestine, of war or peace, has always been entirely up to our leadership in Israel. “We” hold total power over the Palestinian population. If we were in the state the Palestinians find themselves in, what would the world say? Show the courage of the Israeli soldiers who have said no to killing of civilians.

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By Douglas Chalmers, March 10, 2008 at 10:26 am Link to this comment

I wonder if this would have received more attention if the reporter was American?

Japanese Reporter Shot Dead by Burma Military

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By Thanks, March 8, 2008 at 10:36 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Thank you for this important article.

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Purple Girl's avatar

By Purple Girl, March 6, 2008 at 3:31 am Link to this comment

Outrageous this particular religious group is the focus of any violence.They preach no hate, intolerance, no fear, no judgement no condemnation.
How tell tale when such a group is allowed to be victimized and yet no other religious leaders bother to take up their cause. where is the Christians, the Muslims the Jews- oh yeah slaughtering each othe ras ususal.
Perhaps it is out of envy they do nothing. Kill the most faithful and kind of mans religions and there will be no glaring light upon their heretical doctrines.Instead these relgious folks are spewing more rhetoric about their ‘rightful place in Gods eyes’ and others demonic alliegences.Why do these groups never take on the Buddhists- becasue the Buddhist won’t play their insolent game of who “Daddy loves more”. WE are all the creation of ‘God’/nature. We are the only species who are capable of changing th eworld with just one. We ahve been give Gifts and tools by which we are to honor and care for- WE ARE THE STEWARDS- our existence requires we keep an eye on all, manage and pass on into the future- Man’s Prime Directive, meaning of life. WE must ‘Pay it Forward’
My heart and soul go out to the Monks and their followers. Many of US around the world see your philosophy’s Beauty and Logic. Mankind is still struggling for the right to religious freedom and expression, Through the Snake Oil doctrines that hold us back and damn Us and our decedants to this day. These ‘religious’Orgnaizations are the first Horseman. The circular logic which has enslaved man for millenia. they have bound, gagged and tortured Us- becaseu they say they have the right to. Reality is that only by our concession do they weld such power. A charade, a fallacy, A SIN Against God Nature and Mankind. The first ‘Tool’ that was made into a Shackle. The First Rider Mounted and ready to ride against Us. Then it gave birth to ‘Gov’t’ the second Shackle, the second Rider, who covered or legitimized the First. But how best to keep the masses controlled- through their labor and their consumption. Big Business,the Third Shackle/Rider. Control all necessary Natural Resources, control wages, control market availability and options. Ensure Indentured Slavery by Instiutionalized Imbalance. Pay them less charge them more- add interest. And gamble well into the Future- they willnever catch up.Who is the Forth? But the Mass communications industry. Control information, and control thoughts that can be shared- a mental isolation tank. So bombarded with mindless crap we are unable think for ourselves- introspection, reflection, deductive logic. butthis Horseman is new, weak a fledgling. It may still have the fortitude to ride away. Honestly instead of the Telecoms hoping this “Immunity” thing flies- they should stop talking an dstart Singing. they have all the gathered Evidence- well documented and have additional info that would seal the other three fate. we are well aware that the other Three have set their loyalties through out history. But the Free Press and Freedom of Speech are the sole realm of the Mass Communications - the other three rely on you. We are Begging You to turn away and Ride Home to Us. “Just Gimme Some Truth” J. Lennon

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By Douglas Chalmers, March 4, 2008 at 2:51 am Link to this comment

By kath cantarella, February 29 : “What we can do for Burma… the financial sanctions…”

One of the major problems is ASEAN wich suddenly seemed to be run by a bunch of nameless idiots once the issue of the military in Myanmar/Burma was raised at their last conference. The presidents and foreign ministers fell over themselves apologizing for the dictatorship they have fostered for decades just as US politicians fawn over AIPAC despite Israel’s continued human rights abuses and scheming manipulating of US domestic politics.

There is doubtless a two-way street of financing and corruption (oops, I mean favoritism) which involves the Singapore state octopus, Temasek Holdings, and associated corporations which have helped finance the sudden construction of an entire new capital city, Nay Pyi Daw, in Burma in the last couple of years. No doubt, that has been helped by the funny money which finds its ways into everybody’s pockets, tainted by the drugs trade and so forth….. and pics at

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By kath cantarella, February 29, 2008 at 4:34 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

According to Maung Maung :


‘It’s only the United States that has done anything substantive. We have to thank the U.S. customs people and other authorities for following up on [presidential] executive orders. ‘

‘As small as they are, the financial sanctions are making a huge economic impact. The man I mentioned earlier—Tay Za—owned an airline called Air Bagan. It flew to Singapore and Thailand, and the military generals were very proud of it. But then the financial scrutiny hit Tay Za, and the banks in Singapore refused to handle his money. The French, too, stopped servicing his planes, and Tay Za eventually had to give up the enterprise…’

‘There has been a huge amount of moral support from American politicians, but the U.S. government hasn’t fully delivered….we have huge problems with logistics and implementation. ‘

and material support:

‘What it really comes down to is money: We need simple things like bicycles and satellite phones…. fuel is very expensive, so bicycles allow organizers to go around and speak with individuals in different areas.’

‘We also need money for video cameras, digital cameras and cell phones—these things are transforming our movement. It’s by bringing the eyes of the world back to the brutality of the regime that we can win out.’

Report this

By Jeffrey Stingerstein, February 27, 2008 at 12:51 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Congrats!  That was the most ridiculous way to make this about the US doing something wrong that I have yet seen!  The issue of Israel and Palestine is far more complex than your lame post suggests.  And your post is way off topic.

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By kath cantarella, February 27, 2008 at 2:58 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

My head is now the shape of Burma, Dougie, from which the subject has veered to…er… the shape of my head.

And since i have participated in this process, mea culpa.

This thread should be about Burma.

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By Douglas Chalmers, February 17, 2008 at 9:27 pm Link to this comment

By Kath cantarella, February 16: “Mama tells me i was dropped on my head as a child…”

Only as a child? What “figure” is it shaped like now, uhh???

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By Kath cantarella, February 16, 2008 at 9:22 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Mr Apricot, i’m afraid i always have a hard time figuring out what you are trying to say. (Mama tells me i was dropped on my head as a child, go figure.)

I’ve never been a fan of apricots but thank Christ (or South America?) for good coffee.

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By lilmamzer, February 7, 2008 at 8:55 am Link to this comment

Chalmers says, “The first things ARE loving kindness and doing to others as we would have them do to us.”

Hypocrisy never sounded more Progressive.

Chalmers, you never fail to deliver.

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By lilmamzer, February 7, 2008 at 8:39 am Link to this comment

frickin’ tin-foil-hat broken record

~ Y A W N ~

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By Douglas Chalmers, February 3, 2008 at 1:44 pm Link to this comment

#By kath cantarella, January 25: “You’re a peach, Doug…”

Uhh, I’m not a peach, I’m an apricot…....

#By Non Credo, February 3: “At least in Burma, the US is not actively, materially, fanatically, brazenly taking the side of the oppressors as they go about their greedy, murderous business…”

Well, they are actually, Non Credo. Its that we have downgraded the significance of scheming and manipulating as a motivating force in what happens. We know that the USA supports its oil + gas corporations wherever they operate. That means diplomatically and covertly (the CIA) as well as militarily.

Diplomacy is actually the first step in “the art of war” and it is often the most lethal. Blundering military action on the part of a superpower is the last resort but should not be waited for before assuming guilt or complicity. That is a game that the courts and the legalists love to play, though.

So, let us NOT forget Burma. The first things ARE loving kindness and doing to others as we would have them do to us. Of course, that is not the way of Machiavellian politics but it is the way to the end of the world and the end of civilization. We should be learning from the Buddhists there, not the generals…....

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By kath cantarella, January 25, 2008 at 10:56 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

thanks for replying.

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By Sang Ze, January 25, 2008 at 8:58 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

“The world is a dangerous place to live in not because of those who do evil but because of those who watch and let it happen.” Albert Einstein

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By Douglas Chalmers, January 25, 2008 at 4:59 am Link to this comment

Re: Burma needs more coverage world-wide - #By kath cantarella, January 25: ”...can you clarify your comment please, since you have quoted me…”

Uhh, sorry, kath, I meant to include something about your comment which was interesting. The reason I was making that statement, though, was NOT about you.

The problem is that the military don’t often turn away from their commanders because they are what they are. It is (a) a kind of psychopathic state and (b) they love the thrill of killing, the chase, the fire-fights, whatever.

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By kath cantarella, January 25, 2008 at 1:33 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Hi Douglas, can you clarify your comment please, since you have quoted me?

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By Douglas Chalmers, January 23, 2008 at 7:51 pm Link to this comment

Burma needs more coverage world-wide - #By kath cantarella, January 22: ”...if only the military would turn away from it’s commanders….. The Burmese resistance is an example to the West…”

Everyone should be aware that Burma/Myanmar topics as well as Pakistan/Benazir Bhutto topics do attract low-level propaganda disinformation, misinformation and smear tactics from military officers from these countries posing as ordinary bloggers.

Thye operate in much the same way as GOP supporters do in covertly attacking Hillary Clinton blog topics through various kinds of deception. It happens on all blogs including in Asia. You get to know who is who after a while….. they also make use of the internet!

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By sy, January 23, 2008 at 6:09 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Readers of this article may find the following interesting:
“Pulling the Plug: A Technical Review of the Internet Shutdown in Burma”

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By Burma Bloggers for Freedom, January 23, 2008 at 9:42 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Very thankful to truthdig and Sarah Stillman,

Thank you for presenting interview with Maung Maung. Actually, he did nothing for our people inside Burma and never involved in any activities for the recent movements. It is really really ashame for him he said what he did inside and saying about his people for the recent protest were totally incorrect. Maung Maung, he’s useless too.  What did he do along the Thai-Burma border, nothing, just sitting and talking shit. Sorry for that. We don’t want to see his interview again with incorrect infos. He neither represent people nor workers. God Bless You Maung Maung. We’re watching your move.

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By Douglas Chalmers, January 23, 2008 at 3:52 am Link to this comment

Quote Sarah Stillman: “American consumers, too, play a role in funding the regime, thanks to our taste for Burmese gemstones. In 2006 alone, the state-controlled Myanmar Gems Enterprise lapped up almost $300 million from the global ruby and jade trade, a revenue increase of 45 percent from the previous year….”

After making crawlingly supportive gestures towards Burma/Myanmar’s military rulers at a recent ASEAN meeting, Singaporean prime minister, Lee Hsien Loong, ”...has called on France and other European countries to take a strategic view of their relationship with Asia. He said they need to look beyond economics and take a stake in Asia’s developments instead. Mr Lee was speaking to Singapore reporters after he met French President Nicolas Sarkozy in Paris on the first of his three-day visit…...

Mr Lee cited one example on how France can take the lead in having a greater stake in Asia. He said France was the first European country to sign the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation, or TAC, with ASEAN.
That treaty commits the ASEAN countries to co-exist peacefully and France endorsed that treaty last year at the ASEAN meeting in Cebu, Philippines. This shows France’s interest in Southeast Asia. Mr Lee said “because they did that, other European countries are now wanting also to participate and to sign the TAC”....”
- PM Lee calls on Europe to take strategic views over Asian ties -

Well, that would be nice because, despite the US Senate in December approved sanctions against Myanmar ‘s multi-million dollar gemstone industry, “Myanmar ‘s military government sold 600 lots of gems and jade at a recent auction, state media said Sunday, earning much-needed foreign income for the isolated military government as it faces stiff economic sanctions.

Despite calls from the United States and human-rights groups for a boycott of the sale after a bloody crackdown on protests last year, about 280 foreigners attended the sale, the New Light of Myanmar paper said…...

About 1,600 lots of gems and jade were up for sale at the auction which ended Saturday, and another sale of the precious stones is scheduled for March, the newspaper said. Myanmar , one of the world’s poorest countries, is the source of up to 90 per cent of the world’s rubies, and each auction rakes in more than 100 million US dollars, making it a key source of revenue for the military regime….” - Myanmar auctions gems, jade despite boycott calls -

NOTE that news items such as these do NOT necessarily appear on the Singapore or other ASEAN countries’ media websites but usually have to be searched for on site using “...Myanmar” as part of the search terms.

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By kath cantarella, January 22, 2008 at 10:15 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Unlike Iraq, Burma has a leader that would unite the country, if only the military would turn away from it’s commanders. 
The Burmese resistance is an example to the West.

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By srelf, January 22, 2008 at 12:58 pm Link to this comment

Like Michael Moore asked of CNN when he wrangled with Wolf Blitzer over their distortion of the healthcare debate, “Who’s keeping CNN honest?”
Anderson Cooper should be doing constant updates on Burma and I still cringe when I hear him repeat that phrase! But he probably has no power to stay on a story like Burma that requires long-term attention. It’s the nature of our screwed-up news/entertainment business, supported by a populace that hasn’t been taught by the preceding generation what citizenship means.

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