Saturday, August 15, 2009

Are Monks Preparing to Return to the Streets?

The Irrawaddy News

Buddhist monks, angered by the Burmese junta’s decision to place democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi under a further 18 months of house arrest, may be preparing to take to the streets again in protest, according to sources in Rangoon.

Burma’s monasteries, some with as many as a thousand monks, have been largely silent since a crackdown on monk-led protests nearly two years ago. But some monks say that simmering resentment could come to a head again over the August 11 court ruling, which found Suu Kyi guilty of violating the terms of her house arrest.

“We can’t accept the court’s shameful verdict,” said a monk from a monastery near Rangoon’s famous Shwedagon Pagoda. “The military government has angered us again.”

Local residents said they have seen a handful of monks gathering near Shwedagon and Sule pagodas, two of the focal points of massive pro-democracy demonstrations in September 2007. Both locations have been under close surveillance in recent weeks as the Rangoon Northern District Court prepared to pass sentence on Suu Kyi.

Security has also been tight in other parts of the former capital.

“Local authorities are closely watching young monks and their monasteries,” said a resident of North Okkalapa Township, on the outskirts of Rangoon. “There are plainclothes security forces keeping an eye on them. I’m not sure if the monks will take to the streets again or not.”

There are more than 400,000 monks in Burma—roughly equal to the number of personnel in the armed forces of the military-ruled country. They have always played an important role in Burma’s social and political affairs, often in opposition to oppressive regimes.

Since the 2007 uprising, dubbed the Saffron Revolution, the Burmese authorities have applied pressure on senior monks to control younger monks.

“Local authorities and the township Sangha Mahanayaka Committee [the state- sponsored Buddhist monks’ organization] have asked monasteries to submit the personal details and three photos of every monk,” said a monk from Zabu Aye Monastery in North Okkalapa Township.

“The authorities have also warned senior monks that if any monk from their monastery becomes involved in anti-government demonstrations, the senior monks will be either disrobed or sentenced to three years in prison,” said the monk.

The monk also said that the authorities have strictly restricted travel by monks, who are no longer allowed to go anywhere without a letter of recommendation from their monastery.

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