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Friday, September 18, 1998 Published at 12:03 GMT 13:03 UK

World: Asia-Pacific

Burma: 10 years under the gun

Aung San Suu Kyi: The leader of the democratic movement

Peter Biles: Few signs of democracy
On the 10th anniversary of the military takeover in Burma, the exiled government has said the opposition is experiencing its worst-ever repression.

The National Coalition Government of the Union of Burma, which is based in Thailand, said members of the opposition were being targeted as well as ethnic minorities, whose women are often raped.

[ image: 1988: Pro-democracy marches are crushed by the military]
1988: Pro-democracy marches are crushed by the military
The military has detained more than 800 opposition supporters since May, mostly in the past two weeks.

The military government is widely condemned for its serious human-rights abuses, but over the last 10 years it has shown few signs of introducing greater democracy.

The army has dominated politics in Burma since its independence in the 1940s.

Election anulled

Former UK Ambassador to Rangoon, Martin Moreland, was there in 1988
In the 1990 elections, called in response to pressure from the international community, the opposition National League for Democracy won by a huge margin.

But the military annulled the results and Burma's leaders have consistently refused to negotiate with any members of the opposition.

BBC's Peter Biles: "they show no sign of relinquishing power"
Yesterday, the NLD said it had elected the members of a committee to act on behalf of the elected parliament, most of whose members are now in jail under the on-going crackdown.

Correspondents say the NLD is risking arrest because the military government has declared illegal any attempt to convene the parliament.

'The army... shoots straight'

Burma's pro-democracy movement exploded onto the streets in the summer of 1988 when protesters called a nation-wide strike to demand political change.

Popular anger at the autocratic rule of General Ne Win had finally boiled over after 26 years.

[ image: A wounded demonstrator is carried away after soldiers open fire]
A wounded demonstrator is carried away after soldiers open fire
Ne Win himself agreed to step down, but warned "when the army shoots, it shoots straight."

On 18 September 1988, the army made its move. Soldiers sprayed automatic rifle fire into crowds of protestors.

Other demonstrators were carried away in trucks and never seen again.

Human rights groups say more than 3,000 people were killed.

Tumbling economy

Ten years later, the army is still in power but the economy has taken a dive.

[ image: Burma's ethnic minorities are also targetted by the military]
Burma's ethnic minorities are also targetted by the military
While official corruption flourishes, day-to-day life for most ordinary Burmese has become a struggle for survival.

Visitors to Burma say the resentment is palpable.

But the army says the people see them as a benevolent force.

Military spokesman Hla Min says that "for the man on the street in Myanmar [Burma] they think that it's good, they have extra security on the streets for them."

Growing international pressure

The BBC's Michael Pan witnessed the demonstrations
But pressure is growing on the military government.

The opposition leader, Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, has mounted a series of challenges to the junta.

Members of the Association of South-east Asian Nations (ASEAN) which Burma joined last year, have criticised the arrest and harassment of opposition members.

Internal conflicts

[ image: The military has been the dominant force in Burmese politics since independence]
The military has been the dominant force in Burmese politics since independence
But Aung San Suu Kyi remains free and there are growing signs of a revitalised opposition to military rule, as in recent weeks, there have been a series of small-scale protests by students in the capital Rangoon.

Experts in Burmese politics say a simmering rivalry between the powerful military intelligence wing and the rest of the army over how to deal with the opposition has deepened in the past year.

If that is true, they say, it could provide the opportunity Burma's democratic opposition has been waiting so long for.

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