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Transcript: Britain's ambassador in Rangoon, Mark Canning, speaking to the BBC. - helen-louise
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Transcript: Britain's ambassador in Rangoon, Mark Canning, speaking to the BBC.
Transcript of this audio presentation.

Britain's ambassador in Rangoon, Mark Canning, told the BBC's World at One programme of emotional times in Burma, 2007-09-26

British ambassador Mark Canning: Today has been an extraordinary day, a very emotional day. We've again had thousands of people marching despite a very heavy security presence. The day opened with a show of force from the government. There were troops stationed around town and in certain areas, we had further arrests overnight, a curfew was put into effect, and the question then was whether the demonstrators would be intimidated off the streets or if they would continue, and despite tear gas being used against a number of the monks, and a number of people being quite severely beaten, they have persisted in their demonstration, they have marched in big columns, throughout various areas of the city. At one point we had almost 10,000 of them outside this Embassy, there was a nucleus of monks, and it's the monks that have led this from the outside, perhaps a thousand monks, with probably 8 or 9,000 civilians, many women, many students. They were entirely peaceful, er, they stopped - many of them outside this embassy and cheered, er, they were being followed by 4 military trucks but the military did not stop them marching. Clearly there's been some serious and disturbing violence today as I said, monks were beaten, there were a number of volleys of gunshots above the heads of the demonstrators, and reports of one death, but we haven't been able to confirm that but, um, the marchers have persisted as I've said.

Reporter: Have you seen or heard the gun shot yourself?

Mark Canning: I haven't myself but we've had several people out on the streets today, and so we've been able to confirm what I've told you. We've not been able to confirm the death of one person though.

Reporter: But they've reported back that there are signs of the regime growing more violent in its opposition to the demonstrations?

Mark Canning: Yes, well, many people have been surprised at, erm, the last few days when the marchers have been allowed to go about their business - and that's exactly what they should be able to do. But today the government has clearly decided to show its steel and they've issued some fairly draconian warnings. We have, obviously, condemned the use of violence - the Foreign Secretary and Prime Minister have both made statements today. We believe that the demonstrations have been disciplined, completely peaceful and that violence would only make matters worse. And our position is really that the government needs to take on board what these demonstrations are genuinely about. They're about deep, deep economic hardship and political frustration. This is not some foreign-inspired plot, it is a consequence of the misery in which many of people of this country have lived for so many years. So they need to sit down, in our view, with the opposition, with the ethnic minorities, and think about how these root causes can be healed.

Reporter: Is there any sign at all that the regime is willing to do that? I mean, presumably you've been urging them to do these kind of things in the past?

Mark Canning: Well, what we're doing now is designed to build the pressure and to, we hope, make them come to a realisation. History has tended to show a lack of compromise as you know, but we believe that in some respects what we're seeing now is the emergence of a different Burma. It's hard to believe what's happening on the streets when you contrast it with say, three weeks ago when single individuals who were protesting against economic hardships were being scooped up and arrested. And yet, a short while later, now you have all these thousands of people marching throughout the major cities, and it's not just this city, it's been happening in Mandalay and elsewhere.

Reporter: There had been an assumption that the regime would be unwilling to act against the Buddhist monks because they play such an important part in Burmese society, yet from what you've been describing - the use of tear gas and possibly worse, there don't seem to be any qualms.

Mark Canning: Well I mean, you're quite right, these were [the expected figures?] and the factor you just described perhaps explains why they have been slower to use violence than many people thought they might be, but there is no doubt that the fundamental calculation on their part is national security, survival of the government, and ultimately they will put that ahead, I think, of doing violence to the monks.

Reporter: Aung San Suu Kyi was seen briefly, earlier in the week greeting the demonstrators, and yet there are now reports that she may have been taken to prison. Have you heard anything?

Mark Canning: We haven't had any confirmation of that, I mean all we have seen is her road, University Avenue, heavily cordoned off today. We are of course aware of those rumours but, again, we're not able to confirm them.

Reporter: Have you yourself had meetings with any people within the regime?

Mark Canning: Well I travelled 500 miles yesterday up to the new capital, called Naypyidaw, and um, met with ministers up there and made clear the sort of points I've made to you, that violence is going to make things much, much worse and they need to think through what this is all about and address the underlying causes that are forcing people - and the word is forcing, because people have their backs to the wall economically, that's been forcing them out onto the streets.

Reporter: You've been describing what's happening in terms of the demonstrations today. What are your fears for what might happen next?

Mark Canning: Well, the fear of course is that the, um, the government will look at what's happened today and will assess that the measures that they took today, to station troops and use tear gas and to arrest a few of the ringleaders have not been sufficient to choke off the enthusiasm and the commitment of the people who that are marching on the streets. So the fear, of course, is that they make a calculation that something additional is needed to intimidate people away from what they're doing.

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