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Burmese cops in UN hard drive snatch kerfuffle

UN: It never happened. And we don't know any monks either

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Reports suggest that the Burmese military government has attempted to seize computer hard drives from UN offices in an attempt to root out pro-democracy activists.

According to the Times, Burmese police and diplomats entered UN agency premises at the Traders Hotel in Rangoon on Friday and demanded the hard drives from computers there. Officials made similar approaches to the Japan International Cooperation Agency - a Japanese government aid organisation - at the Sakura Tower.

The demands were rebuffed, and the local authorities departed. However, UN staffers in Rangoon were sufficiently worried about a return in force that they spent much of the weekend deleting files.

It is thought the Burmese government suspects foreign diplomats and aid workers of providing communications to the outside world for local dissidents. The government has made strenuous efforts in recent weeks to prevent any news leaking out about pro-democracy protests and the resulting crackdown, even going so far as to cut off the country's main internet links 12 days ago.

However, various foreign organisations in Burma have access to satellite communications which are not under government control, and it is understood that the military oligarchy suspects these have occasionally been placed at the protesters' disposal.

The Times quotes an unidentified Western diplomat in Rangoon: "It's part of this systematic, repressive response to the demonstrations.

"We've seen them focus on people who directly participated in the demonstrations by picking them up through the videos. Then they've arrested people with cameras containing images of the demos. And now they're trying to track down the means that were used to send them out."

When refusing the officials' demands, UN staffers suggested that an official request for information be submitted by the Burmese government. It appears that such a request has now been made, but it asks only to see the licences for the UN's satellite equipment.

It now appears to be the official diplomatic position that no demand was ever made for UN hard drives, only for details of satcomms gear. Similarly, no UN staff have provided communications to Burmese dissenters.

"All they asked was to see the permits for the [satellite telephones]," the UN's Burma co-ordinator told the Times, though this was apparently at odds with what other UN personnel had said.

"We told them that we will provide them through the appropriate channels."

More from the Times here. ®

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