By VIOLET CHO
The Irrawaddy News
The mayor of Rangoon has confirmed that security will be heightened in the former capital in the coming weeks, as Burma approaches another sensitive anniversary, this time marking last year’s monk-led uprising against military rule.
Speaking to local journalists on August 13, Rangoon mayor Brig-Gen Aung Thein Linn said that the number of security forces in Burma’s largest city would be increased in response to reports of a terrorist threat.
The military presence in Rangoon has been noticeably greater since late July, according to local residents, who said that soldiers and riot police in full uniform had been deployed around the city center in advance of the 20th anniversary of the “Four Eights” uprising of August 8, 1988.
“The soldiers and police that have been deployed since the end of July are still in sight,” said one Rangoon resident. “It looks like the tightened security will continue because the anniversary of the monks’ uprising is coming.”
In addition to barricades and security forces wielding batons or assault rifles, residents have reported seeing plainclothes agents near university campuses, monasteries, pagodas and other public areas that have traditionally served as focal points for protests.
“The security around Shwedagon, Kabar Aye and Kyaik Ka San is very tight right now, with soldiers and riot police everywhere,” said another local resident, naming three pagodas that were at the center of last year’s demonstrations, the largest since 1988.
Meanwhile, four Buddhist monasteries in Pakokku, where harsh handling of protesting monks last August fueled much larger demonstrations the following month in Rangoon, are also being closely watched by local military authorities.
According to an abbot at one of these monasteries, monks have continued to refuse alms from military leaders and their families since the army crushed last year’s uprising. More than 3,000 protesters were arrested and at least 31 people killed in the crackdown, according to UN estimates.
In Rangoon, pictures of four alleged terrorists, along with an offer of a 2.5 million kyat reward for information leading to their arrest, have been posted to alert residents of the threat to their security.
However, most observers believed that the scare tactics were little more than a pretext for increasing the military presence in Rangoon ahead of the sensitive anniversary.
“Terrorists are coming, so everyone must be on high alert,” said a skeptical Rangoon-based lawyer, noting that Burma’s military rulers have used such tactics many times in the past since seizing power in 1962.
Kyi Wai and Aung Thet Wine contributed to this story from Rangoon.