Wednesday, September 19, 2007
BURMA: BUDDHIST MONKS DEFY REGIME
he Buddhist clergy of Burma stepped up their protest activities against the dictatorship yesterday, mounting peaceful demonstrations in many cities and towns across the country. Authorities fired tear gas at several thousand monks and their supporters at Sittwe, in western Arakan State, beating them with truncheons and gunstocks, and arresting several clergymen. Hundreds of monks in Rangoon, the former capital, were blocked from entering the country's principle temple, Shwedagon Pagoda. Demonstrations were also held in Pegu (sometimes written as Bago), Pakokku, Mandalay and in many other towns.
The current unrest was sparked when the ruling military council raised fuel prices last month by up to 500 percent. Small public demonstrations took place, a practice that for years the people have been too fearful to carry out. These small protests were quickly suppressed, and since that time nearly 200 citizens have been arrested for their expression of dissent. In the first week of September, monks in the central town of Pakokku held a march which was brutally suppressed with gunfire, beatings and arrests. When a number of government officials later went to their monastery to ask that no further protests be carried out, angry monks held them hostage for several hours and burned their vehicles before allowing them to sneak out the back door to avoid an angry crowd of citizens gathered outside.
The harsh crackdown drew condemnation from around the world. Notable in her outspoken criticism was the American First Lady Laura Bush. Her husband also demanded the release of the activists. Burma is expected to be on the UN Security Council agenda (any time now I'm sure). SecGen Ban Ki Moon responded to the repression by defending that body's "constructive engagement" policy.
The monastic community then issued a September 17 deadline for the regime to issue a clear apology for the violence, reduce commodity prices, and release all political prisoners including the Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, who continues to languish under house arrest. If these issues were not addressed, monks would begin to refuse devotional offerings from the military. This is a very serious move by the Sangha -- something like being excommunicated from a church. In fact, it's about the only leverage anyone has against these incompetent thugs, and it's something they would take very seriously.
The deadline of course passed on Monday without any apology or action on the other issues by the junta -- formerly known as the State Law and Order Restoration Council (SLORC) until it renamed itself several years ago as the State Peace and Development Council (SPADCO). This particular dictatorship took control of the country exactly 19 years ago yesterday, but Burma has been under military rule since 1962. I should mention here that today is the anniversary of Thailand's coup last year, and we are on track for elections in about three months. The SPADCO boys haven't even come up with a constitution yet.
The Irrawaddy Online magazine has accounts of events in several cities yesterday, and a separate eyewitness account with photos of the protest march in Rangoon. There was no violence in the former capital yesterday (the mindless Generals have moved their capital to a malaria infested jungle in central Burma - I think its name may translate as "far from trouble" or some such), as monks apparently warned the citizens not to join them in their orderly march down the street, however hundreds of citizens followed them on the sidewalks. Mizzima News has more accounts from other locations across the country.
The Burmese Democracy Movement is now calling for urgent international intervention, anticipating widespread violence as the protests grow, and as the junta hires additional street thugs to conduct suppression operations. Democratic Burma supporters mounted protests across the region yesterday, from Delhi to Manila, Bangkok to Auckland. These demonstrations were focused not on Burmese diplomatic missions in these countries, but rather at Chinese embassies. The "People's" Republic of China is the primary enabler of the brutal tyrants who continue to grossly mismanage that country, providing them with military hardware and financial support while sucking it dry of hardwoods, minerals and other resources. This international attention to the China factor in Burma may be beginning to pay off. Director of the New York based Burma U.N. Service Office, Thaung Htun:
"China is very much concerned about the possible political instability in Burma. So, they said that going through the democratic process is the only option for the sake of Burma," Htun said. "And, China encouraged the Burmese military to work for the national reconciliation and to go through the democratic process. So, it is an encouraging signal."There's some classic "P"RC hypocrisy for you: Democracy for thee, but not for me.