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Junta shuts down monasteries in Mandalay

AsiaNews, Dec 4, 2007

Yangon, Myanmar -- After closing down the famous Maggin Monastery near Yangon, Myanmar authorities have decided to evacuate monasteries in Mandalay that sided with anti-government protests in September, this according to local AsiaNews sources. Thus through their words and their deeds Myanmar’s generals continue to show their real intentions.

The junta’s Information Minister Brigadier-General Kyaw Hsan (see photo) said that the government would not open up the process of writing the constitution to opposition groups or figures, even though the international community, including China, has called for an inclusive constitutional process and national reconciliation, a decision which is implicitly directed at the National league for Democracy (NLD) led by Noble Prize Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi.

The military have ruled Myanmar, formerly known as Burma, since 1962. In 1990 they held free elections which the NLD won hands down, but the process came to a halt when the army cancelled the vote and placed Ms Suu Kyi under arrest.

In order to discredit her party the authorities have been waging a media campaign. Sources told AsiaNews that in the old capital of Yangon the press is running articles and authorities are making official statements warning that the actions against the monks was needed to save the country from chaos caused by Western powers with the complicity of the NLD.

Army strongman General Than Shwe reiterated his regime’s plans for the country, vying to transform the nation into a “peaceful, modern and developed discipline-flourishing democratic country.” For this reason he launched a national slogan to “realise the state’s seven-step road map.”

In 2003 the ruling military unveiled its “roadmap” to democracy, which included among other things a national convention to write a constitution (a process that ended last September after four years but was boycotted by the NLD), a referendum on the new constitution, free and fair elections to implement an elected government. But none of the anticipated steps has a set date.

In an interview with The Irrawaddy, Thakin Chan Tun, a former Myanmar ambassador to China, said it is clear that the junta will interpret the roadmap as it sees fit.

“There is no chance of a dialogue or a review of the constitution, whatever the international community suggests,” he said. “What I learned from them is that the junta still does not have any political will for dialogue or for national conciliation. The ongoing meetings between Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and Minister U Aung Kyi are just for show. ”

Even the release of 8,500 prisoners since November does not raise much hope. Only 10 of them are political prisoners; the rest are common criminals. By contrast, arrests and abuses continue.

In Mandalay the authorities have ordered the closure of Buddhist monasteries that backed the September anti-regime protests. They also plan to move the monks to more remote areas to better isolate them.

Monks are now concerned that they might find themselves without a home, some local Buddhists said.

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