After nine days of mass, peaceful protests in Myanmar, the crackdown has begun. Government troops have beaten demonstrators and fired tear gas and live bullets. The government currently claims that there has been one death and three injuries; independent accounts confirm the death of at least one monk. There are unconfirmed reports of as many as six protesters killed. There are also reports that hundreds of monks have been arrested around the country.
Nevertheless, the demonstrations continued on Wednesday, despite the imposition of a curfew and a ban on gatherings of more than five people. The BBC reports that at least 10,000 protesters took to the streets today, including a large contingent of civilians.
There are numerous photos are available here, at a blog titled Ko Htike’s Prosaic Collection; the author seems to be a medical worker in a Yangon hospital, though most of the blog is written in Burmese.
The Washington Post’s story on the crisis contains some interesting details about attitudes within the Burmese military:
The soldiers who put down [the 1988] uprising had been transferred to Rangoon from outlying areas because of fears that the city’s regular garrison would not move against civilians. According to Maung, there were signs that similar hesitations are arising in the Burmese military this time.
A declaration from a group calling itself the People’s Patriotic Armed Forces Alliance was circulated among exile groups. In it, the authors depicted themselves as military officers and called on fellow officers to disobey if ordered to fire against protesting monks, students or democracy activists.
“On behalf of soldiers, we the People’s Patriotic Armed Forces Alliance seriously and categorically warn the SPDC’s top brass that if they solve the present situation with violence rather than seek peace, divergences would emerge inside the armed forces and defiance or mutiny would break out,” the statement said.
Maung said there was no way to judge the authenticity of the statement or how many officers it represented. But he added that someone identifying himself as a Burmese intelligence officer had posted comments on an exile blog Wednesday morning saying similar sentiments have emerged in Burma’s internal security services.
Seeking to play on the doubts, protesters sat in front of soldiers in the street and chanted, “People’s soldiers, our soldiers,” according to reports received by exiles.
Whither goest the military, goest the revolution. Bringing in soldiers from outside to suppress unrest is a well-used tactic. The soldiers who put down the Tiananmen Square protests were brought in from the provinces; during the Orange Revolution in Ukraine, troops were brought into Kiev from Crimea.
If the protesters can turn the military, then there perhaps there really will be a revolution. They don’t have to participate–just choose to sit it out. But if the military is willing to follow the orders to shoot, there is little chance that the protests will successfully oust the regime.