A land where freedom is a dirty word - World - smh.com.au
As Burma faces economic meltdown, many wonder if the country's regime can retain its Big Brother grip, writes Connie Levett.
THE day after political writer Ludu Sein Win met a European visitor at his Rangoon home, Burma's feared military intelligence knocked at the door: stop talking to foreigners.
Maung Maung Kyaw Win arranged a meeting between an American journalist and a recently freed leader of the 1988 student protests. Two weeks later, armed plain-clothes intelligence officers met him at a bus stop and took him somewhere quiet.
"We know everything. Don't think we know nothing about you. We have been watching you for long years, so stay out of politics, stay away from [the student leader] or your wife will become a widow," they told him. He fled the next morning, crossing illegally into Thailand. His family followed two months later.
The threats are real. Last year, Aung Hlaing Win, 30, was arrested at a Rangoon restaurant, then interrogated and tortured by military police for seven days. His interrogators told his family he had died from a heart attack during questioning. His body was cremated by the military. On March 17 this year, former political prisoner Ko Thet Naing Oo was beaten to death by police and firefighters on a Rangoon street, according to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, a group of exiled former Burmese political prisoners fighting to maintain awareness and improve conditions of current political prisoners.
Two friends who were with Naing Oo were arrested for obstructing government officials.
THIS is Burma circa 2006. When people talk about Big Brother here, they don't mean a television reality show. There are at least 1156 political prisoners, child labour is common and the military regularly uses forced labour to carry supplies and munitions. Locals refer to living in Burma as being "on the inside" as if their whole country was a prison. Since 1988 at least 127 democracy activists have died in prison, according to the political prisoners association.
Aid workers are viewed with suspicion, foreign journalists are blacklisted, local media is censored and giving information about government activities to outsiders is a jailable offence.
All people but one, Sein Win, who provided information for this story asked that their name be withheld. Sein Win wants to set an example of courage for the next generation of activists. On an oxygen tank, and partially paralysed by a stroke he suffered in prison, the 65-year-old fears the generals may outlast him.
For 44 years the Burmese generals have brooked no opposition. But now, as the economic wheels look set to fall off this gun-carriage regime, they have launched an aggressive two-pronged campaign to stamp out their most-loathed political and military opponents - Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy and the insurgent ethnic Karen National Liberation Army. It will either crush the last breath of air from opponents, or light the fire under a deep well of suppressed anger.
The brutality of the State Peace and Development Council, as the junta is known, is matched only by its paranoia. The generals consulted astrologers before moving the capital from Rangoon on the Gulf of Martaban, to Pyinmana in central Burma last November, and they are fighting their nemesis, Nobel peace laureate Suu Kyi, under strict house arrest in Rangoon, by planting astrologically powerful nut trees across the country.
[Read the rest at the Sydney Morning Herald]