Myanmar Crackdown Creates Climate of Fear

Empty temples, sweeping arrests and intimidation tactics keep the air tense and citizens fearful as Myanmar's ruling junta continues its campaign to crush opposition to its power.

Troops dragged people from their homes in the middle of the night Wednesday in capital city Yangon announcing on loudspeaker that they had photographs of civilians that warranted arrests, according to The Associated Press.

Several dozen homes near Shwedagon Pagoda, Myanmar's most revered shrine and a protest point, gave reports of security forces hauling away men and even some women for questioning.

"People are terrified," said Shari Villarosa, the acting U.S. ambassador in Myanmar, according to AP. "People have been unhappy for a long time. Since the events of last week, there's now the unhappiness combined with anger, and fear."

Meanwhile, many temples were emptied of its inhabitants as Buddhist monks fled to their hometowns and villages following orders from unknown sources.

Bodies were also reported to be lying on the streets, in front of a pagoda, and on the back of truck, according to CNN. The bodies are thought to be part of the government's intimidation campaign.

In response to the atrocities, the Evangelical Fellowship of Asia (EFA) said in an issued statement Wednesday: "It is with deep anguish and shock that we learn of the violent attack on Buddhist monks and civilians who were engaged in a peaceful protest in Burma (Myanmar) during the past week.

"We are appalled by the violent repression of unarmed protestors … and subsequent raids on Buddhist temples," the statement continued. "We condemn this brutal attack on religious leaders and civilians."

EFA urged the international community, particularly ASEAN (Association of South East Asian Nations) countries to step up their efforts to end the violence in Burma and to "initiate a peaceful transition towards democracy."

Myanmar, also known as Burma, has been ruled by various military regimes since 1962. The current junta took over after crushing a 1988 democracy movement that led to the deaths of at least 3,000 people.

The junta is accused of persecuting ethnic minorities; squashing freedom of speech, assembly and worship; ordering the destruction of churches; instituting child labor and human trafficking; and holding thousands of political prisoners – including Nobel Peace Prize laureate and pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

It is also accused of sanctioning sexual violence against women of ethnic minorities, with gang rapes making up nearly half of the reported cases documented against women of the Chin ethnic minority – about 90 percent of which is Christian –according to a recent report by U.K.-based Christian Solidarity Worldwide. Furthermore, at least a third were committed by officers.

"These horrors are being sanctioned by the state in Burma," said Cheery Zahau, a spokesperson for the Women's League of Chinland, in a released statement. "How can the civilized world accept this junta among their ranks? And how can countries like India and China be arming these rapists?"

Last week, massive pro-democracy protests numbering in the tens of thousands were brutally crushed with bullets, tear gas and clubs. Dissident groups say some 200 people were killed and thousands arrested while the government claims only 10 were killed by its forces.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said he will meet with the Security Council Friday to discuss possible action in response to human rights abuses in Myanmar.

In the meantime, the EFA said its members would be in prayer for the civilians and Buddhist monks who suffered physical injury during the police crackdown.

"We stand with those prisoners of conscience who have been arrested and incarcerated for expressing their views through peaceful demonstrations," the EFA concluded.

The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops also expressed its concern and support on Wednesday, sending a letter of to the Catholic Bishop's Conference of Myanmar to offer prayers for a peaceful resolution and voice concern for the U.S. ambassador of the Union of Myanmar.