Military Men Dominate New Burma Cabinet
Burma’s martial-law command Tuesday appointed a Cabinet of military men to run the beleaguered country, still stunned by Sunday’s military takeover and the bloody resistance it triggered.
No major demonstrations were reported in the streets of Rangoon, where militant protests began just hours after the army took over, but scattered clashes occurred between protesters and army patrols.
Government, opposition and diplomatic officials continued to tally the casualties, but the numbers were largely guesswork, according to reports from the capital.
Official Rangoon Radio put the deaths in three days of violence nationwide at 121, including 67 reportedly killed by soldiers Monday night and Tuesday in what the broadcast described as primarily incidents involving looting.
Journalists in Rangoon estimated that 200 or more have been killed in the capital alone, and some reports from diplomatic sources ran as high as 400.
Authorities at Rangoon General Hospital provided one of the few reliable partial figures for the toll. Thirty bodies, all gunshot victims, were brought to the hospital morgue, doctors said, including that of a 10-year-old boy shot between the eyes.
In the new Cabinet, announced by Rangoon Radio, army commander Saw Maung, the 59-year-old general who led Sunday’s takeover, retained for himself the defense portfolio he had held in the ousted government of President Maung Maung. He also becomes foreign minister, although Bangkok-based diplomats said he has no experience outside Burma.
No prime minister was named, and six of the other seven Cabinet posts went to senior army and navy commanders, continuing the tradition of military-dominated government that began with the 1962 coup of strongman Ne Win. Only the new health minister, Pe Thein, is a civilian.
Local Military Chiefs Rule
The radio report said the commanders of Burma’s nine military regions will run the government in their areas, down to the municipal council level.
Saw Maung said Sunday that he and a junta of 17 other military leaders had seized power to force law and order on a rebellious populace and, eventually, to deliver on the ousted government’s promise of democratic elections.
With Tuesday’s Cabinet announcements, however, the military has entrenched itself in power as deeply as it was under Ne Win, who ruled Burma through a one-party government until his resignation in July. Saw Maung is reportedly a loyal soldier of Ne Win, and opposition leaders, diplomats and Burmese inside and outside the country say they are543384946general is still controlling events in Rangoon.
Opposition Decries Takeover
The top opposition leaders issued a statement Tuesday decrying the takeover and the suppression of protest against it.
“Such suppression by force of arms will not stop the people’s just demand for democracy,” said the statement, put out by former Gen. Aung Gyi, one-time Defense Minister Tin Oo and Aung San Suu Kyi, the daughter of Burma’s independence leader Aung San. It called for talks with Saw Maung “to seek ways to correctly solve the current crisis” but received no immediate response.
In what is in many ways a political struggle primarily among ethnic Burmese in Rangoon, where the power lies, the opposition camp rejected reported offers of help from armed insurgents of other ethnic groups in border territories. They also accused the military of spreading rumors that the insurgents, who have been fighting for autonomy for decades, had infiltrated the demonstrators’ ranks in Rangoon.
On the streets, soldiers continued to remove barricades put up by demonstrators Sunday night and Monday. Army trucks reportedly patrolled the city, warning that anyone seen erecting new barricades would be shot.
Food and Fuel Shortages
A few food shops were open, and residents went out early hoping to stock up. Food and fuel shortages have reached desperate levels, and pledges by the opposition camp and the new military rulers to relieve the crisis have not been fulfilled.
Communications inside Burma and from abroad were sharply restricted Tuesday, reportedly by damage to the government telecommunications building in an attack Monday night by student-led protesters. One account said a microwave antenna atop the building had been hit by what appeared to be a rocket.
In its Monday night broadcasts, Rangoon Radio said some demonstrators were armed with rocket-propelled grenades and automatic rifles. The broadcasts cited attacks on police stations in Rangoon, Mandalay and other provincial cities by demonstrators apparently determined to seize arms. Five protesters were killed in Mandalay on Monday, Radio Rangoon said.
In the capital, demonstrators who took to the streets Monday in defiance of a martial-law ban on gatherings of more than five persons carried only primitive weapons, if any. Several one-sided clashes pitted protesters with gasoline bombs against soldiers with automatic rifles and machine guns. In several incidents, including one outside the U.S. Embassy, soldiers fired on unarmed demonstrators.
‘Strike Centers’ Seized
The broadcasts Tuesday said military units continued to seize protest “strike centers” in the provinces. In a raid at the Mandalay Institute of Technology, they reported, three Buddhist monks and 50 other activists were arrested. A similar raid in the far-southern port of Victoria Point drove 115 protesters, including six seriously wounded, across the Thai border, Thai officials said.
In all, Rangoon Radio said, more than 100 strike centers were raided.
Saw Maung, in announcing his takeover, gave government workers until next Monday to report for work or face dismissal. A radio broadcast Tuesday said the junta has extended that deadline to Oct. 3. Government employees have joined the widespread walkouts of the past two months that have brought Rangoon to a standstill.