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Burmese rulers said to resettle many dissenters

The military rulers of Myanmar, formerly Burma, have forcibly removed thousands of people from its capital city this year to resettlement areas in the barren countryside, according to diplomats who witnessed the relocations. Some of the diplomats, contacted by telephone in Yangon, formerly Rangoon, said the forced removals _ officially part of a new population-resettlement program _ are aimed at breaking up potential opposition political strongholds and preventing demonstrations for democracy such as those that erupted in the summer of 1988 and brought the government to the edge of collapse before being crushed by the army.

While many of the people targeted for relocation are listed as squatters, most have been living in the same houses for the past 30 or 40 years, the diplomats said.

Many of the poor neighborhoods being affected by the program are in the same areas in which people turned out in large numbers in the 1988 anti-government protests and the opposition National League for Democracy is believed to have its strongest support, they said.

About 160,000 people have been targeted nationwide for forced removal from the cities to satellite towns, according to diplomats familiar with the government's plan. Diplomats here monitoring the situation also said that forced removals were under way in the northern city of Mandalay.

The diplomats said they see the forced relocations as part of a systematic government campaign to harass and intimidate Myanmar's new political opposition by arresting some of its top leaders and trying to break its base of popular support before national elections scheduled for May 27.