Revolt in burma
A cry from the heart of a revolution
Editor's note: The introduction to the column below was written by Richard Baker, special assistant to the president at the East-West Center in Honolulu.
The violent crackdown on Burma's demonstrating monks presents wrenching moral and emotional dilemmas.
In Burma, people are risking -- and losing -- their lives in standing up for more representative and humanitarian government.
They are also crying out for help, as indicated in the message that follows. Those on the outside, looking on in horror, will hope for some kind of meaningful response.
The hard fact, however, is that there is very little that the international community can or is likely to do in this situation. It cannot act in time to stop the immediate carnage and loss of life. Most governments sympathize with the victims and will strongly condemn the actions of the regime.
But serious practical measures to pressure Burma's generals to spare their people would require the acquiescence of the regime's international partners -- principally China, which holds veto power in the United Nations, but also India.
The United States and other Western countries will try to persuade the regime's defenders, through the threat of embarrassment if nothing else, that they have a responsibility to speak up for the basic human rights of the Burmese people.
In the meantime, the voices from Burma and Burmese will pierce the conscience of the world, if not the hearts of their rulers.
By a Burmese student
This might be our last chance.
If we cannot make a change in Burma this time, it may be forever. With the world watching, monks and citizens of Burma are staking their lives and their safety on one last best chance to put their country on the path to democracy.
In 1988, pro-democracy demonstrations began largely outside the eye of Western media and the international community. That "summer of democracy" ended in blood, with a ferocious backlash against demonstrators that left thousands of civilians dead.
But no one was watching.
Today, the world is watching. We have international pressure.
We have the General Assembly of the United Nations in session and the Security Council is looking into the matter. A special envoy is on his way.
We cannot lose this opportunity.
While much of the news media focus has been on the courageous public protests by monks, dissatisfaction with the current government is deeply rooted in the country, among students, government workers, ordinary people as well as the respected monks.
No one loves their government.
Rising fuel prices have created great economic hardship in Burma.
Goods cannot get to market. Workers, including government bureaucrats, cannot even get to their jobs because of the high cost of transportation.
The buses actually stopped because of fuel price increases.
And in all of this, the monks take the people's suffering as their own suffering.
We have had almost 45 years of brutal military rule. It has stayed in power by repressing the people. This cannot continue.
The protests will continue. While the military is stronger in terms of guns and bombs, the monks are stronger yet because the people support them. They are of one mind.
Now, it depends on the United Nations and the international community to step up.
They must not step back.
If we fail this time, we may never have this opportunity again.
An e-mail from a colleague in Rangoon paints a picture:
"Government really killed monks this noon at She Dagon Pagoda. They explode fire crackers beside tear bombs.
"Let's demonstrate together tomorrow!
"We have no way to choose in this country. This event is our last chance to freedom.
The author, a Burmese student studying in the United States, submitted this commentary to the East-West Center in Honolulu. The author wishes to remain anonymous.