Myanmar's Unrest Poses Diplomatic Challenge

Monks in Myanmar have ceased coming out of their temples and the military is cracking down on what remains of public protests. Melissa Block talks with the U.S. Charge d'Affaires in Yangon, Myanmar, about the situation. The Charge d'Affaires says conducting diplomacy with the Myanmar government has been difficult at best.

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MELISSA BLOCK, host:

This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Melissa Block.

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

And I'm Robert Siegel.

The White House calls the crackdown barbaric. Myanmar's Asian neighbors expressed their revulsion. And the U.N. has sent its special envoy to Myanmar to try to work out a political solution. All this as Myanmar's military government continues to suppress pro-democracy demonstrations.

Earlier today, I spoke with a top U.S. diplomat in Myanmar, Shari Villarosa.

Ambassador SHARI VILLAROSA (U.S. Charge d'Affaires, Myanmar): Far fewer demonstrators came out today than previous days. But this is after two days of gunfire, teargas, beatings - so far fewer people. The military was posted around the city. And as small groups of protesters started to gather, they moved very quickly to break them up.

BLOCK: And when they found them, what happened?

Ambassador VILLAROSA: Well, we weren't necessarily there. But reports were people were beaten. There were people shot. People were actively chased.

BLOCK: Have you heard reports of any protesters being killed today?

Ambassador VILLAROSA: We - again, we've heard numerous reports of shootings, so that there were some death is probably to be expected.

BLOCK: The Australian ambassador to Myanmar has said that while the Burmese government had said 10 people are killed, he's heard unconfirmed reports that it's several multiples of that.

Ambassador VILLAROSA: Yes. I mean, I've heard estimates up to 200. I mean, that they're admitting 10 means that's sort of the floor, but there's likely to be more.

BLOCK: I'd like to ask you about what's going on at the monasteries. Troops apparently have occupied the monasteries, sealed them off to keep the monks who are protesting from getting out. What are you hearing about the situation there?

Ambassador VILLAROSA: On Wednesday evening, they entered at least six different monasteries. And whether they beat up or shot, there were pictures of bloodstains on the floors. There were broken windows, broken glass. We also received reports that many monks were taken away to prisons, presumably. Probably, for that reason, we noticed yesterday that there were significantly fewer monks that came out, although still a lot of ordinary citizens came out. Today, we saw no monks.

BLOCK: No monks at all?

Ambassador VILLAROSA: No.

BLOCK: As the U.S. charge d'affaires there, are you in direct contact with the junta leaders?

Ambassador VILLAROSA: No, they live in Naypyidaw, which is about 200 miles. It's their new capital. And the senior leaders rarely meet with foreigners.

BLOCK: Do you think this regime has any history of listening to outside pressure?

Ambassador VILLAROSA: No.

BLOCK: None at all?

Ambassador VILLAROSA: They don't listen to any - they don't listen to inside pressure.

BLOCK: So would there be any role for the United States or any other governments to try to work out some sort of peaceful resolution here?

Ambassador VILLAROSA: Well, I think there's tremendous desire on the part of the international community to facilitate a peaceful transition, but there doesn't seem to be any willingness on the part of the generals to talk with much of anyone.

BLOCK: It sounds like you're saying then that if this regime wants to launch a full-out assault on civilians who are protesting, nothing will stop them from doing that.

Ambassador VILLAROSA: I would hate to see that happen. What we've seen today is that not as many people have come out. So if they have succeeded in terrifying people from coming out - we saw all of this in 1988. And, again, the protests were brutally put down. This is a military that doesn't hesitate to shoot its own people.

BLOCK: It sounds like for a diplomat to be in Myanmar now as you are, this must be an extremely frustrating time, if you're dealing with a government that has no interest in listening to anything you have to say.

Ambassador VILLAROSA: Yes, very frustrating, but extremely fascinating. We have an opportunity to talk to the Burmese people all the time, and that's what makes working here such a pleasure because you know how important it is, and the fact that our presence gives these people hope.

BLOCK: Well, Shari Villarosa, thank you very much for talking with us today.

Ambassador VILLAROSA: Thank you, and keep remembering what's going on here. Don't forget.

BLOCK: Shari Villarosa is the U.S. charge d'affaires in Myanmar. She spoke with us from Yangon.

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