Burma Capital Hit by Looting; Troops Move In
Looters plundered government buildings and factories in Burma’s capital today, and army trucks loaded with troops rolled downtown after state-run radio said security forces would shoot to prevent further destruction.
“The defense forces and the people’s police force shall open fire to impose control should they find that these looters, bent on violence, continue their acts,” Rangoon Radio announced today.
The violence, combined with the resignation Tuesday of 187 Foreign Ministry officials from the ruling party, was another blow to the besieged government of President Maung Maung.
The regime is already laboring under the threat of a general nationwide strike called for Thursday by students and other opposition leaders. They are demanding that Maung Maung step aside in favor of an interim government as the first step toward restoring democracy in the country.
Sources described the situation in Rangoon as chaotic. Many residents closed the doors of their homes and shops, and traffic was minimal.
Looters reportedly broke into the Customs Department warehouse, a building of the Education Department and soap and textile factories. Thieves were spotted carrying away air conditioners and office equipment from the Rangoon office of the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization.
A livestock and poultry farm near the city’s airport was pilfered.
Troops Near University
More troops were seen in the Kamayut Hledan area near the campus of Rangoon University, where students have held rallies and meetings to plot strategy to force the government to give in to their demands for democracy.
The radio broadcast was the first stern warning about intervention to stop looting, which has been occurring in the city’s suburbs for several weeks and spread downtown Tuesday, when the government allowed looters to go unchecked.
Sources said hundreds of people Tuesday carried away bags of rice from a warehouse in the western part of the city, then sold it to merchants for a quarter of the normal price.
Nearby, looters took frozen fish and equipment from a warehouse at the Fisheries Department, and another group stole provisions from a Food and Beverages Corporation warehouse near the Rangoon University campus, the sources said.
Two rice-filled carriages at the Central Railway Station were pilfered by railway employees, who were later joined by nearby residents.
Residents of the suburb of South Okkalapa earlier reported that at least 20 people died Monday in a clash between looters and members of a neighborhood “vigilance committee” who rushed to a government biscuit factory to stop looting.
Protest One-Party Rule
Meanwhile, the 187 Foreign Ministry employees who resigned from the Burma Socialist Program Party said in a statement that they decided to quit en masse to protest 26 years of one-party rule.
Many other government departments have expressed opposition to the government through public statements, strikes and demonstrations. But the government has refused to budge from its plan for the party leadership to meet Monday to consider organizing a referendum on establishing multi-party democracy.
On Monday, opposition leaders threw their support behind a demand by one student group that an interim government be formed by 8 p.m. today or protests will follow Thursday.