Myanmar embassy gunmen villains then heroes
By David Brunnstrom
BANGKOK, Oct 3 (Reuters) - Probably the most bizarre sight after a
dramatic siege at the Myanmar embassy in Bangkok at the weekend was that
of hostages cheering their former captors as they escaped by helicopter.
It appeared to be more than simple ``Stockholm Syndrome'' -- the
psychological condition whereby after close confinement with their
captors hostages begin to see them as friends. It seemed like genuine
sympathy with their cause.
The five dissident gunmen held 89 hostages to publicise demands for
democracy in Myanmar. They called on the ruling military government to
free political prisoners, start a dialogue with the opposition and
convene a democratic parliament.
The siege ended after 25 hours of negotiations -- frequently punctuated
by gunshots from the attackers but no casualties -- after which Thailand
supplied a helicopter to take them to a safe area on the Thai-Myanmar
A group of at least seven foreign hostages, some with pro-democracy
headbands, shouted ``Free Burma'' and flashed ``V for victory'' signs as
the attackers made their getaway. Some hostages wept and praised
Thailand for letting the dissidents go.
``They talked about their reasons for doing this thing. They didn't fear
death,'' the Bangkok Post quoted one of Western women hostages as saying
of her captors. ``I really appreciate them and praise them as heroes of
my heart forever.''
Thai hostage Wannarat Udomsamutr, released early as she was four months
pregnant, said: ``I feel sympathy for them and I am concerned about the
political situation in Myanmar.''
THAI GOVERNMENT ALSO SHOWED SYMPATHY
Even Thailand's Interior Minister Sanan Kachornprasart, in a comment
bound to anger Myanmar's generals, seemed determined to prove that one
man's terrorist is another's freedom fighter.
``We have given them safe passage to their own country,'' he said. ``We
don't consider them to be terrorists. They are student activists who
fight for democracy.''
Sanan's comment is certain to incense the military rulers of Myanmar,
like Thailand a member of the Association of South East Asian Nations.
But it was an indication of democratic Thailand's attitude towards a
neighbour which slaughtered thousands to crush a pro-democracy uprising
in 1988 and then ignored an election result two years later.
Myanmar condemned the hostage-taking. It said on Saturday: ``It's very
important to make these criminals realise that no matter under what
pretext or disguise it might have been staged, the peace-loving people
of the world community will not tolerate the criminal and terrorist
activities they have committed.''
The opposition National League for Democracy, which advocates
non-***, issued a statement ``categorically condemning'' the taking
Other dissidents in living in exile, like the All Burma Students'
Democratic Front, worried that Thailand may take a tougher line with
them after the incident and a demand by Prime Minister Chuan Leekpai for
a review of security measures.
``The ABSDF hopes that punitive measures will not be taken against the
peaceful democratic and ethnic groups as a consequence of this recent
crisis,'' it said.
But the ***less end to the siege has eased many fears.
``Everyone has ended up being quite sympathetic given they haven't seen
people beaten up or shot in front of them,'' said Debbie Stothard of the
democracy support group ALTSEAN Burma which had urged Thailand not to
turn the activists over to the Myanmar authorities.
Naung Maung Aye, general secretary of the National Council of the Union
of Burma which groups dissidents in exile, said: ``Because nobody died
and no one was wounded it's a good outcome.''
He added: ``We don't want to officially recognise this operation, but at
the same time we don't want to officialy condemn it. We don't want to
call them terrorists as they did this to draw attention to what is
happening in Myanmar.
``A lot of Burmese people are happy they did what they did because they
don't like the military regime.''