The big question Jotman pursued last week was whether mass murders occurred during or in the aftermath of the crackdown. I am tracking these reports here. The Sunday Times now weighs in on the issue, investigating reports of secret cremations:
THE Burmese army has burnt an undetermined number of bodies at a crematorium sealed off by armed guards northeast of Rangoon over the past seven days, ensuring that the exact death toll in the recent pro-democracy protests will never be known.
The secret cremations have been reported by local people who have seen olive green trucks covered with tarpaulins rumbling through the area at night and watched smoke rising continuously from the furnace chimneys.
They say they have watched soldiers in steel helmets blocking off roads to the municipal crematorium and threatening people who poke their heads out of windows overlooking the roads after the 10pm curfew.
Their accounts have been volunteered to international officials and aid workers in Rangoon, Burma’s main city. The consensus in the foreign community is that the consistency of the stories makes them credible.
“There has been no attempt to identify the dead, to return the bodies to their families or to give them even the minimum Buddhist religious rites,” said a foreign official who has collated information on the toll of dead and injured from a wide variety of sources.
Horrifying rumours are sweeping the city that some of those cremated were severely injured people thrust into the ovens alive, but these have been treated with extreme caution by independent observers and have not been verified.
However, it is widely accepted that the cremations began on the night of Friday, September 28, more than 24 hours after soldiers opened fire on unarmed Buddhist monks and civilians demonstrating on the streets of Rangoon.
They have continued at intervals right up to the end of last week, according to local people. Taxi drivers refused to take a foreigner to the area, saying they were too frightened and that the army moved bodies after the shoot-on-sight curfew.
The Chinese army carried out a similar practice of anonymous cremations in Beijing after the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre, when many unidentified bodies were disposed of at the city’s Babaoshan crematorium. The true number of dead has never been established.
A more disturbing aspect of the Burmese regime’s conduct is the apparently continuous stream of deaths days after the guns fell silent.
“We have first-hand evidence from respected Burmese doctors that hospitals and clinics were ordered not to give any treatment to the wounded,” said a foreign medical expert, “so it’s not possible to assess the victims by those treated in public hospitals.
“We do know that some injured people were treated in hiding in people’s homes. We assume that beaten, injured or wounded people taken into custody have got no treatment and may have died.”
This evidence has given rise to grave concern for the wellbeing of elderly monks and very young novices rounded up, by all accounts, with brutality.
There has been a drumbeat of allegations that soldiers and militiamen unleashed crazed violence against these holy men when they crashed into monasteries in the small hours of the night over the past week. Blood-stained robes, shattered statues and defaced holy pictures have been caught on digital images smuggled out of the country.
Some of the worst violence appears to have occurred at the Mwe Kya Jan monastery in northwest Rangoon. According to graphic testimony published in yesterday’s Thai newspapers, the soldiers lined the monks up against a wall and smashed each of their shaven heads against the wall in succession. The monks were roughed up and thrown into trucks, but the abbot was so severely beaten that he died on the spot, the reports claimed.
I must say that I disagree with the observation by the Sunday Times that the fact of secret cremations ensures "that the exact death toll in the recent pro-democracy protests will never be known." There's almost certainly a paper trail. Because this is a regime that keeps meticulous records of the movements of people. And that will be the subject of my next post.