Thursday, October 25, 2007

Citizens Wait, Worry in Junta's Climate of Fear

By Jill Drew
Washington Post Foreign Service
Wednesday, October 24, 2007; Page A01

RANGOON, Burma, Oct. 23 -- She does not know if the police have her picture. But that uncertainty has not eased her fear.

Twice soldiers have entered this woman's Rangoon neighborhood. They came at night, with photos taken during pro-democracy demonstrations. "They look at everyone and then they take you," she said in a low voice, speaking on condition she not be identified. "I don't sleep."

The nighttime raids began last month, after Burma's military junta violently put down the country's largest protests in nearly 20 years, led by Buddhist monks. At least 10 people were killed in the crackdown, the government has acknowledged, and thousands were arrested. The arrests have continued even after an 8 p.m. curfew was lifted last week. This woman joined the protests, and now she waits to be taken next.

Those active in Burmese politics say the arrests have succeeded in capturing many key organizers of the protests while injecting new fear into people who have lived for more than 40 years under a military dictatorship known for its brutality.

As U.N. envoy Ibrahim Gambari jets across Asia, pressing for an active dialogue to bring democracy to Burma, people in the country's two largest cities, Rangoon and Mandalay, watch and wait. Many private homes, no matter how ramshackle, have satellite dishes to catch Western news. And though few people can afford their own computers or even their own telephones, logging in to international news sites is easy at Internet cafes, so many here have access to the latest information.

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