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As Myanmar Military Crackdown Intensifies, International Response Falls Short

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Funerals were held today for some of the latest victims of the military's crackdown against protesters in Myanmar. At least 114 people were killed yesterday in what turned out to be the deadliest day since the military took power in a coup on February 1. Some of the victims were reported to be children and teenagers. More than 420 people have been killed in the violence that has followed last month's coup, when the military ousted the elected government led by Aung San Suu Kyi.

We wanted to learn more about the situation in Myanmar, so we've called Murray Hiebert, senior associate of the Southeast Asia Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, which is based in Washington, D.C. Murray Hiebert, welcome. Thank you for joining us.

MURRAY HIEBERT: Thank you.

MARTIN: So it's been almost two months since the military coup in Myanmar. The protests against the military continue despite the brutal crackdown that we've seen against demonstrators. How significant do you think that is, that the protests continue?

HIEBERT: It's pretty amazing. I mean, like, protesters are determined. They had a little taste of quasi-democracy for a few years, and they really are hell-bent on stopping the military and returning to at least some form of democracy.

And beyond the protesters, we also have the civil service, which just basically has walked off the job and shut down the hospitals, the schools. A lot of government ministries are only functioning with a couple of people. And so it's really a very determined effort. And it's surprising because previous efforts have ended much more quickly than this one.

MARTIN: The U.S. and others have condemned the coup and the violence. But I want to read you a quote from the top U.N. human rights official from Myanmar, Tom Andrews. According to the AP, he said that, quote, "words of condemnation or concern are, frankly, ringing hollow to the people of Myanmar while the military junta commits mass murder against them," end quote. What is your assessment of the international response to what's happening in Myanmar? What - has it been forceful enough? Is there something that should be happening that isn't happening?

HIEBERT: That's a really tough question because, you know, the U.S., the EU, the European Union, a lot of democratic countries have imposed sanctions against the military, the top generals that instituted the coup - against their companies, against their children, against their children's companies. And it's not being heard. And there's all this condemnation. You would need a massive cutting off from China, from Myanmar's neighbors, Thailand and Singapore, Japan. And that's just not happening. So I'm not sure what else the democratic world can really do.

MARTIN: Going forward, do you have a sense of what you think the next few weeks look like for Myanmar?

HIEBERT: Well, you know, the other thing that we haven't talked about is that increasing numbers of people, protesters, are leaving the cities because it's just so dangerous. And they're joining up with a couple of armies of the ethnic armed groups that have fought, really, against the military since 1948. This is kind of unbelievable. And they're along the Chinese and Thai border.

And so some of the protesters are going out there, and they're now threatening, you know, that they joined some Karen National Union forces, and they're going to attack the military, which, you know, they have a couple of hundred people that are just really, you know, not well-trained and not well-equipped. It's not going to go very far. I don't know.

Does the military - as the economy maybe keeps unraveling, does the country basically - the economy collapse? People aren't working, aren't getting paid. And does it collapse, and we end up with the military doing what? Does it say, OK, here we go back to the status quo? Everybody's really dubious about that. So there really - it's really hard to know. But I think we're going to have considerable more cracking of heads at the rate we're going.

MARTIN: That was Murray Hiebert with the Southeast Asia Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. Mr. Hiebert, thanks so much for joining us.

HIEBERT: Thank you very much.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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