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Doubts Arise in Wake of Myanmar Crackdown

MICHELE NORRIS, host:

A United Nations envoy is in Myanmar, but there's no word of progress since effort to get the military government to end its violent repression of protesters. Yesterday, Ibrahim Gambari was allowed to meet with detained opposition leader, Aung San Suu Kyi. He is yet to see the military's top leader, Senior General Than Shwe.

NPR's Michael Sullivan is covering developments from Bangkok.

MICHAEL SULLIVAN: Myanmar state-run medias says that order has been restored in the country - some might call it that. Government troops and police were out in large numbers on the streets of Myanmar's biggest city, Yangon, again today. And anti-government demonstrators were largely absent.

Shari Villarosa is the top diplomat at the U.S. Embassy in Yangon.

Ambassador SHARI VILLAROSA (U.S. Charge d'Affaires, Myanmar): It is quieter than it was last week basically because the willingness of the military to shoot their people in the streets has persuaded a lot of people to stay home. There's also a lot of military troops stationed particularly in downtown, where most of the demonstrations took place, and lots of barricades.

SULLIVAN: Some barricades were removed today around the Shwedagon and Sule pagodas, rallying points for last week's demonstrations. But soldiers and police remained close by. They show no sign of leaving any time soon. And few observers expect the visit by the U.N. special envoy to change things.

Mr. AUNG ZAW (Editor, Irrawaddy Magazine): How many U.N. special envoys are flying in and flying out of Burma? I mean, 20 years, we've seen seven special envoys, and the Burmese government as always, always ready to exploit their visit.

SULLIVAN: That's Aung Zaw, A Burmese exile who edits Irrawaddy magazine. He says the military routinely uses the U.N. as window-dressing, pretending to listen to appease the international community. Then, he says, the military goes ahead and does what it wants.

Professor David Steinberg, a longtime Myanmar watcher at Georgetown University, says the military is probably more concerned about its own soldiers than international opinion, especially when it comes to using force against Buddhist monks.

Professor DAVID STEINBERG (Asian Studies, Georgetown University): There are plenty of members of the military that really - they are minimally uncomfortable doing this to the monks or basically hate it. And so that massive repression of the monks could lead to internal military strife, something I think that they may well fear.

SULLIVAN: But Steinberg dismisses rumors of a possible split at the top, between Senior General Than Shwe and his deputy, Maung Aye. They may not like each other, Steinberg says, but they know they need each other. Irrawaddy editor Aung Zaw agrees.

Mr. ZAW: I mean, they maybe dissenting how to deal with the demonstrator, how -whether to use the water cannons, or whether to use rubber bullets or whether to use automatic semi-rifles. I mean, they might have arguments, you know, of what force are they going to use. And I still have a doubt or reservation on whether there's a real split.

SULLIVAN: Both Aung Zaw and David Steinberg agree the military has won this round, and because of it won't pay too much attention to the criticism from abroad - criticism they've largely ignored in the past, too. But neither Aung Zaw nor David Steinberg believes the military is out of the woods in the long run.

Professor Steinberg.

Prof. STEINBERG: I can't say who and I can't say when. But I think this whole level of political, economic and social frustration is cumulative. It's not something that dies down and disappears and then it has to be rebuilt. It's building up over time. And at some point, something is going to happen. Some lower member of the government is going to commit some egregiously stupid act that will upset everybody and cause, essentially, a revolution.

SULLIVAN: Michael Sullivan, NPR News, Bangkok. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

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.