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Monk Says Myanmar Regime Is Worse Than Saddam Hussein's

by Jim Sciutto, ABC, Nov 16, 2007

Rangoon, Burma -- Since the violence of this past September, the world's eyes have been trained on Myanmar. Unfortunately, foreign journalists are banned from the country formerly known as Burma.

<< This photo, from the Web site of Mizzima News, shows crowds gathered to protest at Sule junction shortly before Myanmar security forces stormed the demonstrators in Yangon last September.

But ABC News' senior foreign correspondent Jim Sciutto and his crew posed as tourists in order to enter the country. Filming on a small camera, they conducted interviews undercover to give a voice to the silenced dissidents in the closed-off country.

Sciutto and his crew searched for the monks who last September flooded these streets in the biggest anti-government rebellion in nearly two decades. But they were gone. Even at Myanmar's holiest Buddhist site, the Shwedagon Pagoda in Yangon, the monks with their bright, red robes were nowhere to be seen.

Earlier this fall, Shwedagon Pagoda was the site of one of the monks' biggest protests. Now, only two months later, this golden temple lies vacant, with many of these monks now locked inside their monasteries.

Interested in speaking to the monks themselves, Sciutto and his team secretly made their way inside a monastery in Mandalay, Myanmar's second largest city, and a center of Buddhist education. In public, the monks appeared peaceful. But in private, they seethed with anger.

"We are very unfortunate having this regime," said one monk. "This regime is the worst regime in the world, worse than Saddam Hussein."

Hundreds of this monk's fellow brothers are now missing. Some fled the government crackdown, retreating to their homes. Many others were imprisoned far away in the countryside, far from the public eye.

In prison, protesters face terrible conditions, torture and even murder. Our correspondent met a young student leader who was thrown in jail alongside the monks. After weeks in prison, he was released the day before we met him.

"They hit people with the rubber stick and they kick," he said.

Since the police follow him 24 hours a day, he was interviewed in a moving taxi, to avoid arousing suspicion.

"Some are dying. Buddhist monks are dying," the young leader said.

According to this student, so many prisoners are dying that the government has had to figure out ways of secretly disposing of their bodies.

"They carry them in a coffin," he said, "because [the prisoners] are all dying. The government [comes] with the policemen, and they throw them in the river."

Civilians comment on the undercover police they see watching them &$151; police whom are called spies. One monk said everyone lives in terror here.

Many told us they would not have dared to speak in the past, but the protests gave them a newfound confidence. And despite the restrictions, monks and other dissidents plan more demonstrations in the coming weeks.

When asked if the revolution is finished, Myanmar's best known political satirists, Lu Maw and Par Par Lay, who were just recently released from prison, answered, "not finished, not finished. That's why the government is now watching everything.

"The revolution isn't over, just underground. The people [are] still defying the government."



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