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Burma 28 September 2007

Internet disconnected, newspapers closed and foreign journalists under surveillance as junta tries to seal off Burma

As the military junta continues its crackdown on pro-democracy protests, it has stepped up its strategy of isolating Burma, trying to reproduce the scenario of the 1988 massacres when witness accounts of the bloodshed only reached the outside world after it was over.

“There is an urgent need to help Burmese and foreign journalists to continue to do their job of reporting the news,” Reporters Without Borders and the Burma Media Association said. “This is a criminal regime, as the Japanese photographer’s murder has shown, and it is trying by all possible means to create a situation of complete isolation.”

The two organisations added: “The repression, with its dozens of deaths and hundreds if not thousands of arrests, is gaining pace, but the flow of news and information is drying up. The international community must take action to prevent this news blackout.”

The government disconnected the Internet at 11 a.m. today, adding to the country’s isolation. The leading ISP, an offshoot of the ministry of technologies, tried to blame it on a technical problem with an underwater cable. Reuters said no one was answering the phone at the ISP’s headquarters. Everyone questioned by Reporters Without Borders and the BMA described the official excuse as “ridiculous.”

All the Internet cafés are closed and the military are hounding the foreign journalists still working on the ground. At least one was forced to take refuge in an embassy or go underground.

The flow of news has slowed right down in the past two days. The international video news exchange system EVN has hardly any new footage for international TV stations.

Journalists in Rangoon said it was virtually impossible go to the centre of the city. Some said they had seen more arrests and more violence against civilians. According to these accounts, there are still many groups of demonstrators.

It has meanwhile been confirmed that several Burmese publications, including those owned by the Eleven Media and Pyi Myanmar press groups, have closed after refusing to publish propaganda articles. Editors said the public would not be interested in buying their publications if they could not read about the demonstrations. Reporters Without Borders and the BMA hail their courage in resisting the regime’s dictates.

The English-language Myanmar Times, which is run by an Australian, appears to have decided to continue publishing. Its website shows a picture of a photographer in a peaceful rural setting and makes no mention of the demonstrations or the use of violence to disperse them.

Although banned, many residents used satellite dishes to watch international TV stations. “Everyone is tuned to the Burmese-language international radio stations and the foreign TV stations,” said a journalist in Rangoon. “That is why the regime’s media have attacked these international radio stations. It is disgraceful.” Government news media such MRTV-3 have called the BBC and VOA “destructionist” and say they are in the pay of foreign powers.

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