Burma’s military junta arrested three more activists Wednesday November 14, witnesses said, surging ahead with a crackdown even as it hosted a UN human rights investigator and insisted that all arrests had stopped.
The latest to be nabbed were at least three people handing out anti-regime pamphlets at the busy Thiri Mingalar fruit and vegetable market in Yangon, shoppers and other witnesses said, speaking on condition of anonymity because they feared reprisals from the government.
“I saw at least three young men in white shirts being arrested by market security officials,” said one of the witnesses, a market worker. The leaflets included a statement from the United Nations and one saying that forcing people to take part in pro-junta rallies violated the Geneva Conventions.
The incident followed earlier arrests of two prominent dissidents. One came Tuesday as UN human rights envoy Paulo Sergio Pinheiro met with Cabinet ministers in the junta’s remote jungle capital Naypyitaw.
Pinheiro’s five-day visit is part of an investigation into widespread allegations of human rights abuses since the regime’s violent crackdown on pro-democracy protests in September. He was “given assurances” by the junta that he would be able to interview detainees before leaving, the UN said in a statement.
Pinheiro was to confer with the government’s foreign and labour ministers before returning to Yangon on Thursday.
At a UN Security Council meeting Tuesday, the United States and other Western countries deplored the arrests of the two dissidents, saying they raised doubts about the ruling junta’s sincerity in moving toward democracy and cooperating with the United Nations.
Su Su Nway, a prominent female activist who has been on the run for more than two months, was arrested Tuesday morning in Yangon as she tried to place a leaflet near a hotel where Pinheiro was staying, exiled Burma dissidents in Thailand said.
U Gambira, a Buddhist monk who helped spearhead the pro-democracy demonstrations in Yangon was arrested several days ago, said Stanley Aung of the Thailand-based dissident group National League for Democracy-Liberated Area.
U Gambira, also known as U Gambiya, was a leader of the All-Burma Monks alliance, a group established to support pro-democracy protests after small demonstrations began in August. The junta had placed him on a wanted list, announcing on state television in early October that he was one of four monks it was hunting down for leading the protests.
Monks inspired and led the movement until it was crushed September 26-27. The authorities began their crackdown by raiding several monasteries in Yangon in the middle of the night and hauling monks away.
The Thailand-based Assistance Association for Political Prisoners urged Pinheiro to try to meet with U Gambira in prison. “I am very worried about U Gambira,” Bo Kyi, the head of the association said in an e-mail to The Associated Press. “I fear he will be tortured.” Other dissident groups also reported the monk’s arrest, though details differed. Some said he was arrested November 4, while others said November 10.
Addressing the UN Security Council, Burma’s Ambassador U Kyaw Tint Swe insisted Tuesday there “had been no further arrests in connection with the demonstrations.” He made no mention of Su Su Nway or U Gambira. But Britain’s ambassador to the UN, John Sawers, said Su Su Nway’s detention “raises a question mark over the regime’s” assurances to UN envoy Ibrahim Gambari days earlier that political arrests would stop. US Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad denounced both arrests and demanded the junta “release all political prisoners” if it wants to show its commitment “to cooperating with the United Nations.”
Gambari said that if the arrests were confirmed, “it would be extremely worrisome because what we want to do is move forward, not back.” Nevertheless, Gambari, who visited Burma last week for the second time since the September turmoil, told the Security Council he was making progress in nudging the junta toward meaningful dialogue with the pro-democracy opposition. He urged the Security Council to give his diplomatic effort time to succeed. “The situation is qualitatively different from what it was a few weeks ago,” he said.
Pinheiro has said his mission is to determine how many people were killed and detained in the crackdown. Burma authorities said 10 people were killed when troops opened fire on crowds of peaceful protesters on September 26 and 27. Diplomats and dissidents, however, say the death toll was much higher.
The government acknowledged detaining almost 3,000 people but says it has released most of them. Most of the prominent political activists, however, remain in custody.