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Human Rights Advocates Fear Toll In Burma Crackdown Is High

01 October 2007

Human rights activists say they fear the numbers of those arrested or killed in a government crackdown on protests in Burma is far higher than the country's ruling military has acknowledged. Trish Anderton reports from Bangkok, in neighboring Thailand.

The Hong Kong based Asian Human Rights Commission says it believes at least 700 Buddhist monks and 500 civilians were spirited away by security forces to unknown locations within the past week. Many observers believe the death toll may have been far higher than the 10 reported.

But in Bangkok, Swedish Ambassador at Large for Human Rights Jan Nordlander says it is impossible to know.

"There is a consensus assessment within the international community that the number of victims is considerably higher than the number that the government of Myanmar has indicated," said Nordlander. "But how many, I think, nobody can say at this time."

U.N. special envoy Ibrahim Gambari has headed back to Burma's administrative capital, Naypidaw, in the hope of meeting with junta leader General Than Shwe. A statement from the U.N. makes it clear the world body expects the reclusive general to meet with Gambari before he leaves.

Still, human rights activists in Bangkok say the U.N. is moving too slowly. Dozens of groups throughout Asia have issued a call to Asian governments to support a U.N. fact-finding mission and human rights monitoring system in Burma.

Aung Myo Min is with the Human Rights Education Institute of Burma.

"Last year in Darfur, in Sudan, the fact-finding mission did a great job after submitting the report that is seriously considered by the human rights council and also the Security Council," he said. "So, I think the first step is the fact-finding mission and also that there should be a monitoring system."

In Rangoon, the military removed barbed-wired barricades from around the Shwedagon Pagoda, a focus of the demonstrations, in a move that appeared to signal its confidence that it has put down last week's demonstrations.

Soldiers remain stationed there, however, and Internet access in the country is still disabled.

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