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Buddhist Monk Calls for Arms Embargo Against Burma

By Nancy-Amelia Collins, VOA, March 6, 2008

Jakarta, Indonesia -- A Buddhist monk involved in the September protests in Burma has called on the world community to stop supporting, recognizing and selling arms to the military-run Burmese government. As VOA's Nancy-Amelia Collins reports, U Awbata made his appeal at an international human rights conference on Burma in the Indonesian capital, Jakarta.

<< Burmese monk U Awbata addresses diplomats and human rights activists at a conference in Jakarta, Indonesia, 06 March 2008

U Awbata escaped from Burma into Thailand, last November, after hiding for nearly two months following a government crackdown against peaceful street protests led by his fellow monks.

U Awbata says the world community must not support Burma in any way and should support an arms embargo against the military government.

"As you have seen that the military generals have used their guns to kill and crush their own people, I would therefore like to appeal to the international community here today to work together and urge those countries selling arms to Burma to stop them from doing so," he said.

The monks took to the streets of the capital, Rangoon, in September, chanting prayers in peaceful protests against a sharp increase in fuel prices.

Soon joined by ordinary citizens, the demonstrations quickly turned into the biggest anti-government protests seen in the country for nearly two decades.

Soldiers opened fire and beat protesters with batons, killing at least 31 people, according to the United Nations. Thousands were jailed in an effort to stop the demonstrations.

U Awbata he does not know how many died after soldiers attacked monks at the famed Shwedagon Pagoda in Rangoon, but that he will never forget what he witnessed there.

"I cannot forget," said U Awbata. "I cannot erase the sight that I saw on the eastern side of the Shwedagon Pagoda where three monks were shot at and when they fell down the soldiers used their boots and stomped on the heads of the wounded monks and beat them with batons."

Many countries, including the United States and the European Union have imposed strict economic sanctions against Burma.

But many participants at the Burma conference want the ten-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations to do the same.

Debbie Stothard, the coordinator for the Bangkok-based human rights group Altsean, says ASEAN should consider sanctions against Burma instead of sticking to its principle of non-interference in member states' affairs.

"We want a peaceful political solution for Burma, because a peaceful political solution will be good not just for the people of Burma but for the people of this entire region…we need the political will. We need ASEAN and Indonesia to prove it has political will," said Stothard. "Which means they will have to seriously consider sanctions.

Thursday, the United Nations special envoy to Burma, Ibrahim Gambari, arrived in Burma to resume his mission to try to convince the military government to start talks with the opposition on political reform.

He arrives just a month after the government announced plans to hold a referendum on a new constitution on May followed by elections in 2010, a move Gambari called a positive sign.

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