Friday, September 28, 2007

Journalists Struggle as Burma Internet Access Cut

PM broadcast [MP3; text transcript]:

MARK COLVIN: It's a truism about the internet that, like the human body, it reacts to damage by creating pathways around it.

But in the case of Burma, where the country's main internet pipeline has actually been cut today, that may take a while.

Hours after the Internet stoppage became obvious, a Burmese official is now claiming that "the Internet is not working because the underwater cable is damaged".

But it's not just the cable. By a strange coincidence, an official at a Thai telecom that provides satellite services to Burma says it appears that internet services inside the country are down as well.

Since the Burmese military government won't let journalists in to see what's happening for themselves, those, like our Correspondent Karen Percy in Bangkok, who are trying to gain information from afar, are finding it even harder.

Karen joins me now.

But, Karen, I gather that some information, even with the internet down, is starting to leak out?

KAREN PERCY: Yes, we're starting to get some stories come across the wires. New video has also appeared. CNN has just showed some video. It is from yesterday, but apparently we are … there has been some way that the various people who've been feeding out information have been able to get around these restrictions.

We're in fact hearing that shots have been fired in Rangoon. We cannot confirm this at this stage. There are reports of hundreds or thousands, depending on who you believe, of crowds in the city, but we do know that also, going on what has happened in the past couple of days, that the security forces will be on the lookout for anybody breaching the various bans that the Junta has put on on gatherings and the like.

We are also hearing, via some internet websites, that troops are on their way to the city, troops … divisions from central Burma are on their way to Rangoon.

Now, there is an extraordinary … some speculation going on. In fact, a couple of these divisions may well be preparing to retaliate against the troops who are already in Rangoon.

I do stress this is unconfirmed, it is speculation, but I will also say that a lot of the rumours and speculation that we have heard over this past week or so have turned out to be true, but I will still caution, I guess, what is going on there. We're also hearing of military aircraft activity.

So there's certainly a sense that the Junta, there's activity, military activity, and the protesters are active again today. So confrontation of some sort is inevitable.

MARK COLVIN: Military aircraft activity, is that coming, for instance, from the … from surveillance by, from outside? Is it coming from the Thai Air Force or anything like that?

KAREN PERCY: I'm not sure where the … it's popping up on one of the various websites that are monitored by activists on the outside. Where they're getting their information, I don't know. I guess that they're hearing from people on the inside that there is military activity. As to where it's coming from, I don't know. But if aircraft are up and about, then that would signal something major is going on.

MARK COLVIN: And what about what we've been able to glean about yesterday? We already have heard the Australian ambassador saying the death toll is probably well above what the military government is saying. What else can we find out about yesterday?

KAREN PERCY: Well, new pictures have appeared. CNN has just played some new pictures, apparently shot from a rooftop of some sort, looking down onto where the protesters were yesterday, and seeing I think it would be the Japanese photographer video journalist, you see him in the distance, a soldier very close to him, I think it's him being shot pretty much at point-blank range. There is another person who goes down in front of him, just a few seconds before.

The crowd is quite large, so certainly the information we're getting in terms of the fact that there is still a resolve by people seems to be there, but that also the military is certainly not just firing into the air. They seem to be firing with an intent to, if not kill, then maim.

There are some other …

MARK COLVIN: But, by the way, with the Japanese photographer, I think the Burmese military claimed that it was just a ricochet, but you say the video makes it pretty clear that it's nothing of the sort.

KAREN PERCY: Well, this particular video, if it matches up with the video that the Japanese have also got, then I think yes, it certainly shows he's very close. But even the still that I have seen on a Japanese website shows a soldier … shows the journalist lying on the floor and a soldier maybe two metres away from him, standing, looking at him. Nobody else is around.

So it would appear to me that yes there was a deliberate, and that's certainly been what the various reports on websites has been saying as well.

But again, you know, we need to be very careful here. It's hard to make judgement calls because there is so little information.

But we area also getting information from the Asian Human Rights Commission that is saying that it has heard of eight people being killed in a suburb of Rangoon yesterday, that there were …

So, and also we were talking earlier about reports of activity at a school at Rangoon, we think this morning, where a student might've been killed.

MARK COLVIN: Karen Percy, thank you very much. Karen Percy in Bangkok.