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Myanmar Head Prepared to Meet Suu Kyi

With the landmark Petronas Twin Towers illuminating the night sky, a Burmese dissident holds up a placard demanding the release of pro-democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia on Friday.
Tengku Bahar
/
AFP/Getty Images
With the landmark Petronas Twin Towers illuminating the night sky, a Burmese dissident holds up a placard demanding the release of pro-democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia on Friday.

Myanmar's senior military leader has said he will meet with opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, but according to state-run media, it would happen only if she first "loses her confrontational attitude" toward the junta and abandons support for sanctions.

Senior Gen. Than Shwe's offer was greeted with skepticism and derision by opposition groups, including Suu Kyi's own National League for Democracy.

However, on the number of arrests carried out as part of a crackdown on anti-government demonstrations last month, dissident groups and diplomats are in relative agreement with the military regime, which says nearly 2,100 have been detained so far, less the 700 it says it has now released.

What is harder to quantify is the number of people who died in last week's violent crackdown. The government maintains that only 10 were killed, while opponents of the military and western diplomats have said the number is much higher.

In Mae Sot, just inside Thailand along the border with Myanmar, opposition groups have been collecting their own data.

"We can estimate maybe 100 people killed in uprising we believe. Eighty to 100 died in the uprising," said Win Hlaing, an activist for Suu Kyi's NLD.

He said his party's figures come from information received from inside the country. Other opposition groups have similar numbers.

But getting information from inside cloistered Myanmar has been even more difficult than usual since the military abruptly severed Internet and most phone connections over the weekend. That has cut off the stream of information and pictures being sent out of the country by activists and ordinary citizens.

The NLD's Win Hlaing said security forces are also trying to prevent people from carrying reports out by hand to Thailand.

"Every station, every town, they search," he said. "Even [people] walking people, they order to stop and they search [for] camera(s) and recorders," he said.

There are also fewer refugees coming to Thailand than many here predicted. Former political prisoner Khun Saing - who works for another opposition group on the border – said that is because Myanmar's military is far stronger now than in 1988, the last time demonstrators took to the streets in large numbers to protest military rule.

"In 1988, … [there was] no security intact at that time," he said. "These days … the government apparatus (is) still intact and … there (are) many checkpoints. So, we don't see massive [refugees] coming, [but] maybe only a few persons can arrive by different ways."

One of these people is a monk from Yangon named Vida. He managed to evade security forces for four days as he traveled from Yangon to the Thai border. Monks from his monastery took part in last week's demonstrations. And some, such as Vida, fled.

Many monasteries were raided by the military and many monks arrested, he said.

"But many other monasteries are empty, because their monks fled and are now in hiding in people's homes and in vacant buildings," he said.

That helps explain why many of the 'missing' may be missing by choice. Not in detention. But there is no doubt they are still being hunted, and that the crackdown is continuing.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Michael Sullivan
Michael Sullivan is NPR's Senior Asia Correspondent. He moved to Hanoi to open NPR's Southeast Asia Bureau in 2003. Before that, he spent six years as NPR's South Asia correspondent based in but seldom seen in New Delhi.