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Activists on Border Say Burma Fight Not Over


Burmese activists in Thailand say opposition to the country's ruling generals will continue despite last week's brutal crackdown on demonstrations there. Trish Anderton reports from the Thai border town of Mae Sot.

Burma's military government has regained control of the streets in Rangoon, where tens of thousands of demonstrators marched just days ago.

But activist Peter Limbin says the calm does not mean surrender. Limbin is a member of the Burmese parliament that was democratically elected in 1990 but never allowed to take office. He believes the military overplayed its hand this time when it fired on the country's much-loved and respected monks.

"They've gone too far. The more arms they use - and I always believe might is never right, right is might - so as long as they use might, the more might they use, the people know how to fight for right," he said. "The people will rise again. I know that."

Thousands of Burmese refugees live in Thailand, near the border with Burma, after fleeing repression at home over the past few decades.

Many of the refugees are political activists who say people in Rangoon are protesting quietly by calling and writing to members of the military, appealing to them to switch sides.

Than Htut of the National Council of the Union of Burma, an umbrella group of anti-government organizations, says groups in Burma already have more mass actions planned.

"But they change their tactics," he said. "They encourage the people not to go outside. They will encourage the people to stay in their homes."

Than Htut says a stay-at-home strike will be called if the regime's opponents are dissatisfied with the results of United Nations envoy Ibrahim Gambari's visit to the country this week.

The military used force to break up demonstrations last week, after several days of peaceful marches led by Buddhist monks. The protests began in August after the government sharply raised fuel prices, creating new hardships for the impoverished population.

For now, the military appears to be trying to reinforce its grip on its troops. Than Htut's colleague Myint Thein says the government has ordered military families to watch government-controlled television for two hours each evening, presumably for indoctrination.

"From six to eight p.m. they need to hear [listen] to the TV what they will have to show and they will persuade to those people," he said.

The activists say they think at least 350 people have now been arrested in the crackdown, while the total number detained may be more than 1,000. They fear more than 300 were killed. However, since almost no independent journalists or outside experts have been allowed into Burma, there is no way to confirm those numbers.

The Burmese government says it has not used excessive force in halting protests it claims were encouraged by foreign governments and outside news media.

In 1988, more than three thousand people are believed to have been killed when the military crushed pro-democracy protests. Most leaders of the political opposition have been jailed, forced into exile or kept under house arrest in the years since the 1990 election.

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