Burmese Urged To Back Boycotting Monks

Radio Free Asia, Sept 19, 2007

BANGKOK, Thailand -- Authorities have used tear-gas to disperse a protest by hundreds of monks in northwestern Burma, but a fugitive opposition leader is urging Buddhist groups and students across the country to protect monks joining a boycott of the military government.

One monk who played a key role in the demonstrations Tuesday said authorities had demanded monastic robes from monasteries around the former capital, Rangoon, and handed them out to junta-hired thugs charged with breaking up protests.

“We first aimed to march to Shwedagon Pagoda, but there were a lot of bogus monks already waiting [there],” the monk said. “So we changed the plan. The USDA [Union Solidarity Development Association, a government-backed group] gathered 20 to 40 thugs from every township in Rangoon and created the bogus monks. They collected robes by force.”

“All monks of Burma will continue the boycotting until authorities fulfill the Monks Alliance's demands,” the monk said.

In Sittwe, in the northwest of the country, authorities used tear-gas to disperse a protest comprising hundreds of monks, witnesses said. Authorities beat some of them and arrested an unknown number of others.

The monks had set a deadline of Sept. 17 for the junta to apologize for its actions during an earlier rally in the city of Pakokku. Soldiers and junta-backed thugs beat up several monks at the time, and the Monday deadline passed without any apology. The monks also want the release of all political prisoners, including opposition leader and Nobel peace laureate Aung San Suu Kyi.

Call to protect boycotting monks

A protest leader said the demonstrations had occurred in Rangoon, Pegu, Chauk, Kyaukpadaung, Pakokku, and Aung Lan. “This is a remarkable day in Burmese history and Theravada Buddhism history,” Ko Htay Kywe, a protest leader who spoke to RFA’s Burmese service from hiding, said.

Ko Htay Kywe called on “senior monks, members of the central sanghas’ council—sanghas all over the Burma—to protect the boycotting monks by [any] means. I also urge students all over Burma to take care of the boycotting monks.”

At the center is a new group calling itself the All Burma Monks Alliance. The group appears to be organizing the demonstrations by Buddhist monks, who play a key role in the country and wield substantial civic clout.

The monks’ alliance has asked all its followers to boycott offerings from anyone with close ties to the junta, which has ruled Burma since a deadly crackdown on country-wide protests in 1988.

The All Burma Monks' Alliance comprises various sangha or Buddhist monastic associations from across the country.

In a move reminiscent of the 1988 pro-democracy demonstrations, which ended in a deadly crackdown, the monks appear to be flexing their considerable power over the hearts and minds of the populace, even those employed by the junta, experts said.

Monasteries have been put under close surveillance since a sudden rise in fuel prices sparked demonstrations across the country in August.