BANGKOK, Thailand – One hundred shot dead outside a Myanmar school. Activists burned alive at government crematoriums. A Buddhist monk floating face down in a river.
After last week’s crackdown by the military, horror stories are filling Myanmar blogs and dissident sites. But the tight security of the repressive regime makes it impossible to verify just how many people are dead, detained or missing.
“There are huge difficulties. It’s a closed police state,” said David Mathieson, a consultant with Human Rights Watch in Thailand.
Authorities have acknowledged that government troops shot dead nine demonstrators and a Japanese cameraman in Yangon. But witness accounts range from several dozen deaths to as many as 200.
“We do believe the death toll is higher than acknowledged by the government,” Shari Villarosa, the top U.S. diplomat in Myanmar, said Monday.
Villarosa said her staff had visited up to 15 monasteries around Yangon and each was empty. She put the number of arrested demonstrators in the thousands.
“I know the monks are not in their monasteries,” she said. “Where are they? How many are dead? How many are arrested?”
She said the death toll may never be known because bodies are cremated in the Buddhist country. “We’re not going to find graves like they did in Yugoslavia,” Villarosa said.
Dissident groups have been collecting accounts from witnesses and the families of victims, and investigating reports of bodies turning up at hospitals and cemeteries.
The U.S. Campaign For Burma, a Washington-based pro-democracy group, says more than 100 people were killed in downtown Yangon after government troops fired automatic weapons last Thursday at thousands of demonstrators. It also claims that 100 students and parents were killed the same day at a high school in northeastern Yangon after troops shot at them as school let out.
The military junta did not respond to AP requests for comment Monday. It is impossible to independently verify the death toll because Myanmar is virtually off-limits to journalists.