Is the Burmese Army splitting?
Singabloodypore is quoting Burmese blog sources suggesting that the Army is starting to split. There have been reports of troop movements and air force sorties which might be interpreted as military units facing off against each other. More reports of the same nature, some of it from the same source, at Yangon Thu. It's too early to tell; most pundits think the Burmese military will not cave. This article suggests the Burmese officers are "tough fighters" who may be far savvier than the opposition and "human rights" activists who are ranged against them.
Jotman reports General Sonthi, head of Thailand's National Security Council is uttering what may be the line the Burmese governments wants to spread. Nothing to see here, just move on. If so it indicates that Rangoon is sensitive to how their actions are perceived. They are trying to avoid the appearance of repression. That is also the context in which to understand their shutdown of Internet access: the need to control the perception of their actions.
Burma's shutdown of the Internet may consist of closing down the country's only ISPs. However, as old timers on this site may remember, data can still be sent in a number of ways. One of them is peer to peer over modems. Remember them? The other method, one I think is actually be used, is simply to slowly dictate messages over the phone. I am not sure whether text messaging has been completely shut down.
Regarding the dispersal of demonstrations, the Burmese government did not use military force. Police were deployed. That was the right approach. It has been used by every country— the military must step back to let police take charge. But the actual tactics may vary from country to country. However, I think there is no violence in the current situation. Everything is under control. The Burmese government is still in control of the situation. On the reports that Buddhist monks were assaulted, that cannot be concluded just from looking at the photos. . . As it happened in Thailand, sometimes people used violence against officials. So officials may have to defend themselves. There has been no political suppression. Burmese authorities should understand that it—getting Buddhist monks involved in the demonstrations — is a tactic used by demonstrators. . . If we get involved, that will undermine our relationship.
How easy is it for the Burmese government to shut down communications? Let's begin with what the infrastructure looked like in 2006.'
Burma's outdated communications systems are a serious impediment to modernization. Regime authorities regularly monitor all communications. The switching systems for Burma's land lines are improving but are still inadequate, particularly outside Rangoon and Mandalay. GSM and CDMA cell phone service, although very unreliable, is available in Rangoon, Mandalay, Bagan, and surrounding areas. Text messaging is available, but closely monitored. The government allows Internet access, but censors, monitors use, and routinely blocks “Freemail” sites like Yahoo! and Hotmail.
Myanmar Teleport and Myanmar Post and Telecom are the primary Internet Service Providers in Burma. The companies offer email and dial-up and broadband Internet services, but speed is still very slow. These censored and monitored services are available to all, but are prohibitively expensive for most Burmese. In 2003, the government licensed several private companies to run Internet cafés. However, the government censors all websites available at these cafes and Internet surfing fees of about $1/hour are beyond the range of ordinary people. Wireless internet connections are not available.
CDMA phones were made available in limited supplies in 1996. The government began to sell a limited number of GSM phones in March 2001 and has sold additional GSM phones since then, with the objective of 1 million phones sold by the end of 2006. The state-owned Myanmar Posts and Telecommunications is selling 30,000 GSM phones for a price of 1.5 million kyat each (about $1,500) to well-connected people. The secondary market price of the phones can be as high as 3 million kyat ($3,000) each. Effective February 1, 2003, domestic telephone call charges for all foreigners were set at 15 kyat ($0.15) per minute, with cellphone calls 25 kyat ($0.25) per minute for local calls and 35 kyat ($0.35) per minute for domestic long-distance calls. International phone calls are considerably more expensive.
In some border towns, moreover, Internet service is provided through China. For example, in the border town of Meng La:
Electric power comes from China, and is stable. Internet access is also via China, and at ¥2 (25 cents) an hour, is reasonably cheap. The usual Chinese restrictions apply: Don’t plan on conducting any extensive research on Falungong from a Meng La Internet terminal. A postcard from the Meng La post office mailed to Beijing is charged as Chinese domestic mail. The currency in Meng La, the Myanmar khat, is more useful as comic relief than anything else. Everything is paid for with Chinese people’s currency, the renminbi (RMB).
Burma's land borders with India and China will mean that a complete shutdown on information will be impossible. However, it can be throttled to the point where international attention dwindles to a trickle.