(AFP) – Oct 4, 2007
YANGON (AFP) — Myanmar's suppression of protests and ongoing arrests have restored a tense calm in the main city Yangon, but discontent and anger are simmering over the bloodshed, the top US diplomat here said Thursday.
Shari Villarosa, US charge d'affaires in the military-ruled country, also said she believed the death toll from last week's crackdown was much higher than the junta has admitted and that thousands of people may have been jailed.
On the streets of Yangon "a semblance of normalcy has returned, but those of us who live here see the mood has changed," she told AFP by telephone. "There has always been a lot of discontent, but now it's mixed with anger and fear."
She said people in the country also known as Burma had for years suffered under "the steady economic decline, the lack of educational opportunities, the deteriorating health care system and the general lack of freedom."
For now the mass protests have stopped, but the regime leaders "haven't addressed the underlying sources of discontent," said Villarosa, who is the US head of mission as Washington has no ambassador to Myanmar.
"That's been simmering for years, and now it's been heightened by anger by what has been done against the demonstrators, the atrocities that have been committed against the monks," she said.
In terms of casualty figures, she said, "I think it will be very difficult to ever get precise numbers. The military doesn't issue press releases."
"We think there were considerably more than 10 killed," she said. Asked about the number of monks and activists believed in detention, she said: "I feel fairly certain that they are in the thousands."
More than 1,000 disrobed monks and activists have been held in one detention centre in Yangon, and residents of the city have worried about the fate of other monks who have disappeared from their monasteries.
"Some monasteries are open, and monks can be seen, some are empty, and some are surrounded by soldiers," Villarosa said.
In the mornings -- when monks traditionally receive alms from the Buddhist faithful as they walk through Myanmar's villages and cities -- "there are a lot fewer monks on the streets" of Yangon, she said.
Nightly arrests continue, Villarosa said, both in Yangon and the country's second city of Mandalay.
"We continue to receive reports," she said. "They have a curfew in place and every night they arrest people."
The Internet blackout to the outside world continued after the regime Friday shut off online access, closed cyber-cafes, and now appeared to be reading and filtering what little domestic e-mail traffic there is.
"Most cyber-cafes are closed," she said. "Apparently you can send e-mails from one .mm (Myanmar) address to another, but you can't send it to any foreign address including something like Gmail or Hotmail or Yahoo.
"People report that e-mails take up to three days to arrive. You may as well send a letter."
Villarosa said it was unclear whether global protests over the crackdown had had any impact on the junta, adding that she had last requested a meeting with the government in August but had yet to receive a reply.
"They live over 200 miles from here in Naypyidaw," she said, referring to the new capital in central Myanmar which the ruling generals retreated to last year. "They live in self-imposed isolation."
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