Changing Sides Burmese Military Officer Seeks Political Asylum in Norway

There are signs of the Burmese junta splitting as a high-ranking military officer in Burma defects. He claims that "several thousand" have been killed in the crackdown. Meanwhile the EU plans to expand sanctions on the regime.

Monks and civilians gather in Yangon, Burma, near the east gate of the Shwedagon Pagoda on Sept. 26.

Monks and civilians gather in Yangon, Burma, near the east gate of the Shwedagon Pagoda on Sept. 26.

As Burma's junta continues its violent crackdown on demonstrators, one high-ranking army officer has defected, raising hopes of cracks within the regime.

Major Hla Win, chief of military intelligence with the Burmese army in Rangoon’s northern region, fled to Thailand after refusing orders to attack Buddhist monks in recent anti-junta protests.

Win, 42, and his 17-year-old son rowed to Thailand over a river that separates the two countries to seek safe haven. Win intends to apply for political asylum in Norway, where many Burmese opposition supporters live in exile. "I am a Buddhist," he told the Norwegian broadcaster TV2 Norway after his escape. "I don't want to kill monks."

The most senior officer to defect from the military, Win explained that "many more people have been killed in recent days" than the Western media has reported. "The bodies can be counted in several thousand," he told London's Daily Mail newspaper. "If I go back, I will surely be killed."

Meanwhile, the European Union is tightening sanctions on Burma in a bid to rein in the current crisis. EU member states agreed Wednesday to expand sanctioning to include a broader visa ban for members of the military junta, a wider ban on investment, and an expanded ban on imports of metals, timber and gemstones. Experts will now prepare a sanctions plan ahead of an Oct. 15 meeting of EU ministers. Many of the initial sanctions have been in place since 1996 because of Burma's dire human rights record and lack of political reforms.

The new measures do not, however, affect the European oil and gas companies currently doing business in the country. One of the biggest in operation is France's Total SA, one of the six largest oil companies in the world.

Western oil companies argue that they need to remain in Burma, even in dire political circumstances, otherwise Chinese oil companies will move into the territory. China is currently Burma's largest trading partner and has its eyes on the country's natural resources.

Total's Web site announced that "the Group would like to express its deep concern over the present situation, which it is monitoring very closely. ... We hope that the current tensions facing the country will quickly subside and that solutions will be found in order to safeguard the population and protect human rights."

French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner, however, told the Associated Press Tuesday that Total SA would not be spared in the most recent proposals for EU sanctions against the military regime. "If there are sanctions," he said, "Total will not be exonerated -- it's not possible."

Burma has been under military rule since 1962. The current military government came to power in 1988 after quashing an earlier pro-democracy movement against the then military dictatorship, killing at least 3,000 people in the process.



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