Internet blackout in Myanmar stalls citizen reporting

The government in Myanmar has reportedly cut off Internet access in the troubled country.

The loss of Internet access in Myanmar has slowed the tide of photos and videos shared with the rest of the world but people outside of the troubled country continue to use new media sites and other technologies to protest military activity in the Southeast Asia country.

Reporters without Borders and the Burma Media Association reported that the government cut off all Internet access in the country on Friday morning and they said that all Internet cafes in the country also have been closed. The Web site of the Myanmar Post & Telecommunications, the government-run telecommunications provider, appears to be down.

But Burmese and other interested people around the world continue to discuss the issue online and use the Internet to organize opposition to the military crackdown. The Democratic Voice of Burma, a Web site run from Norway, is posting reports of activities in the country. , who lives in London, had been posting notes and photographs from people in Myanmar (formerly known as Burma), until the Internet connection went down.

Those sites have been crucial in the reporting of both the protests staged by monks in Myanmar and the reaction by the government which sent in the military to stop the protests. Reports of the number of dead range from ten to hundreds.

The Facebook group, support the Monk's in Burma, currently has nearly 128,000 members, with new members joining rapidly. They're using the site to organize a day of protest around the world. The page also has hundreds of photographs attached, including many that appear to have been taken in Myanmar.

The combination of the broader penetration of Internet access and the availability of personal media, like cameras and computers, is what has allowed the broad-based creation of news beyond the traditional news organizations, said Kirsten Foot, an associate professor at the University of Washington and the co-author of the book Web Campaigns.

But the Internet is not the only technology that can help the outside world monitor what is happening in Myanmar. The Association for the Advancement of Science has already analyzed satellite images, that it says, document and corroborate accounts of specific instances of destruction of villages and of a growing military presence in specific areas and forced relocations in Myanmar from the middle of last year through early 2007. Since the recent military activity in the country, satellites have been deployed to collect new images of the country's urban areas, the AAAS said. Without Internet access to the country, the images could be crucial in understanding the level of military deployment there.

Still, it's unclear if the satellite images and the upswelling of protest and support online will have any influence on the Burmese government. But in a "twisted way," it might be good news that the Burmese government has cut off the Internet, said Foot. "If anything, it shows that the government in Burma is sensitive to international pressure and therefore they don't want what's happening to be seen internationally," she said.

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Nancy Gohring

IDG News Service
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