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Power of love might not be enough, says monk who fled Rangoon terror

by Nick Meo, The Times, October 5, 2007

Mae Sot, Thailand -- Last week Vida was a simple monk who marched through the streets of Rangoon because he believed it would persuade the regime to be more compassionate towards Burma’s hungry poor. Yesterday he was an angry, perhaps even traumatised, man - but a determined one; his face haunted, his hands kneading constantly as he described his hatred of a military regime he is determined to help to bring down.

Vida, 48, and two comrades were among the first monks to escape from Rangoon, crossing the border into Thailand and bringing with them a tale of horror and heroism from the Saffron Revolution and a message of defiance for the world. “In a few weeks the monks will reorganise,” he said. “This is not the end.”

Vida did not want to give his first name, nor be photographed, as he intends to return to Burma soon. He said he had given up his job as a TV repairman seven years ago to become a monk and had never been interested in protest politics before this summer.

Speaking from a safe house in Mae Sot, he said: “Politics is not the concern of the monks but this time we saw the people getting poorer and poorer and their trouble get bigger and bigger. We thought the monks could negotiate between the regime and the people and show loving kindness to both sides.” The overture was met with a deadly fusillade, which Vida believes may have killed some of his comrades, although in the confusion of a panicking crowd, as he ran for his life amid teargas, screams and gunshots, he cannot be sure.

He escaped into a temple and then spent a couple of days in Rangoon staying with friends and avoiding his monastery as agents from the regime’s militia rounded up monks. He decided to try to reach Thailand to tell the world what he had seen, begging lifts from bus drivers and talking his way through police checkpoints on the road to the border.

The last few days have left their mark. His face is drained. The euphoria of protest, followed by the horror of the attack and the fear of being on the run, has left him exhausted.

The experience has also tried his Buddhist beliefs. “I hate the soldiers now,” he said through an interpreter. “I know I shouldn’t, but I do. Those who killed monks will go to the lowest depths of the Hells. They will not scare us into giving up, though. We are even more determined to continue our struggle against the military. We want peace, national reconciliation, lower prices and the release of political prisoners and Aung San Suu Kyi.

“In about three weeks, after a Buddhist festival is completed, I will return to Burma. We will return to our struggle. Plans are being drawn up.” Asked whether he was ready to die, Vida answered emphatically: “Yes”. He said he did not know whether the monks would return to street protests, or to a more long-term civil disobedience campaign. “I think there will be a different style of protest,” he said.

He described his escape from a bus station where 300 desperate monks had gathered to try to get out of Rangoon. Some had cast off their robes but they were unmistakable with their shaven heads. People were scared to help them, he said, but some managed to summon up the courage to do so, donating money for food, or beds for the night. One monastery in Thailand refused shelter to him and his two colleagues, one of whom was ill.

Other Burmese monks in Thailand have described angry arguments within monasteries in Burma over whether to join the protests, with radical young monks sometimes claiming that corrupt abbots, paid by the regime, tried to hold them back.

Fear levels are high. Siri, one of Vida’s comrades, said: “The military are so brutal. I think they might have had a lot of people shot and beaten.”

Vida added: “They will not last much longer. The monks have the power of love. But we need the international community, too.”

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