Sunday, April 26, 2009

Can All Monks Be Trusted?

The Burmese people respect their monks more than their government,
but some suspect the monks have been infiltrated by informers

"some people practice their Buddhism by giving.
They are the true Buddhists.”
Burmese source

There is time for play. Novices are boys, after all. Photo: RFA/Tyler Chapman

By Tyler Chapman

RANGOON (RFA)—Every morning, just after sunrise, they stream out of the monasteries across Burma, alms bowls in hand.

The monks of Burma are the bedrock of the nation’s Buddhist heritage and traditions, symbolizing the charity, one person to another, that underpins Burmese society.

Awaiting them on the streets of every city and town are people young and old, rich and poor, with food for their bowls. The monks are barefoot, indicative of their avowed poverty, and so are those who donate, as a gesture of their humility and reverence.

It is a scene that has played out through the centuries, timeless in its rhythm and grace.

I have witnessed this act of sharing many times, and it always impresses me how much more respect the Burmese have for their monks than for their government.

Monks lead protests, relief efforts

There are an estimated 400,000 monks in Burma, about equal to the number of troops serving the military regime that has ruled for 47 years, and most are far from reclusive pacifists.

“If you want to know what’s going on in Burma,” a friend once told me, “ask the monks.”

Indeed, it was the monks who led the so-called Saffron Revolution of September 2007 in reaction to the government raising the price of gas. The revolution was snuffed out when troops opened fire on the demonstrators, killing at least 31, and rounded up the protest leaders and sympathizers. Many of them are now in prison serving life sentences.

And it was the monks who rallied the early relief efforts when Cyclone Nargis hit in May of 2008, leaving 140,000 people dead or missing. The government lagged far behind.

Now, however, there are suspicions that the government has put informers even among the monks, to head off any more protests and to root out monks encouraging dissent.

“You don’t know which monk is ‘real’ and which monk is ‘fake,’” a friend told me.

Fear evident among monks, too

In my previous visits to Burma, monks would approach foreigners like me with complaints about the junta. This time, that didn’t happen.

In Mandalay, when I asked an otherwise friendly monk about the political situation, he changed the subject. He wanted to talk about the price of computers. I took it as a measure of the fear that now permeates Burma: Keep your mouth shut for your own well-being.

Even so, the time-honored flow of Buddhist tradition transcends government oppression.

Spring in Burma brings the school holidays and, with them, the time for young boys to be initiated as novice monks. Almost every day, in big cities and small towns, I saw the festive processions celebrating this major transition in a boy’s life.

His family will save the hair shaved from his head, and the boy will don the robes of a novice and join the monastery to learn the basics of Buddhism. All his worldly possessions are left behind.

Younger boys will stay a few days, older boys two weeks. Poor families sometimes leave their sons longer, when life in the monastery is better than at home.

Good deeds offer some hope

A gong will awaken the monks and novices at 4:30 a.m. They will have breakfast, pray, and then take their alms bowls to the streets to collect the food, mostly rice, for their midday meal. Local restaurants often donate meat and vegetables.

Volunteers do the cooking and, in many cases, most of the cleanup.

After noon, there will be no more food for the monks until breakfast. Afternoons are spent resting and studying. Darkness brings bedtime. Monks sleep on mats on the floor.

The monasteries provide a haven not only for monks and novices but also the needy, the sick, and the homeless. They are community centers and meeting places.

I visited a monastery outside Rangoon that had taken in 160 children, most of them orphans from Cyclone Nargis.

The monastery was looking after a mother and daughter until the daughter could get medical help for unexplained seizures. Like most other monasteries, it exists on the charity of donors, one of whom was building a dormitory for the children.

“Some people practice their Buddhism by giving,” one of my friends said. “They are the true Buddhists.”

At pagodas around the country, there are bells for people to ring, three times, to announce they have done a good deed.

Buddhists believe that good deeds in this life—“making merit”—will put them in good stead in their next life, that despite an uncaring government and economic hardship, there is a chance for something better.

For the Burmese, being able to ring the pagoda bell three times offers the hope they need to persevere.

Tyler Chapman is a pseudonym to protect the author's sources. This is his second visit to Burma for Radio Free Asia.

21 April 2009

READ MORE---> Can All Monks Be Trusted?...

Thailand: Bodies found at river, Who kill them?

SAME MAN?: A restaurant owner claims the man on the right in a red shirt is security guard Chaiyaporn Kantang, 29, pictured left in an official ID photo. Police investigating the murder of Chaiyaporn and another security guard during the Songkran riots say neither man had an interest in politics.

Questions still remain over bodies found in Chao Phraya River


(Bangkok Post) No one denies the deaths were brutal. Their heads and faces bore the marks of savage beatings. Their mouths were gagged with white cloth and their hands were bound tightly behind their backs with blue nylon rope.

Nattapong Pongdee, 23, from Udon Thani, and Chaiyaporn Kantang, 29, from Phrae, both worked as security guards for Krung Thai General Business Services in Lat Phrao. Eleven days ago their bodies were dragged from the Chao Phraya River. Since then their mysterious deaths have become part of the political debate over what really happened during the ``red revolt'' over Songkran and what transpired on Bangkok's streets under a state of emergency decree.

Were they red shirts killed by the military or other forces, as claimed by the opposition, or were they simply victims of a vicious criminal act that happened to take place at the same time as the security crackdown?

During the parliamentary debate last week on the Songkran unrest, opposition Puea Thai party MP for Phrae, Worawat Ua-apinyakul, tried to consolidate previous claims that the two were red shirt supporters who faced a grisly end as a result of the military crackdown. He produced pictures to support his claim, one of which he said showed Chaiyaporn in a red shirt.

Police Lt Col Virat Petcharat, who is heading the investigations into the murders, conceded that the case is difficult to handle as politics has affected police work.

He said police planned to interview the politicians who had made claims that the killings were linked to the riots, but they had to reschedule their plan due to the ongoing political unrest. So far, the police have not found any evidence to link the case to a political motive. The colonel said police had interrogated the dead men's wives and colleagues.

``They said if the two were involved in politics, they would have mentioned this to them somehow,'' he said.

On April 15, Pol Lt Col Virat was informed by radio that there was a body floating in the Chao Phraya River close to Phra Pin Klao Bridge. His team rushed to the scene and found Chaiyaporn's body, clad in a grey-coloured T-shirt T-shirt and trousers, floating near the Phra Arthit pier. His hands were bound with a blue nylon rope and his mouth gagged.

At around 11am, they found another body in the river. It was Nattapong's, in a black T-shirt which had an image of a rescuer carrying a girl's body.

Nattapong's hands were bound with the same type of rope as Chaiyaporn's and his mouth was also gagged.

The doctors who joined the police team concluded from initial examinations of the bodies at the scene that the two had suffered head and facial injuries and had drowned, meaning that they were both still alive when they were thrown in the river.

The bodies were then sent to Siriraj Hospital for autopsies. The autopsy reports have not yet been submitted to police, Lt Col Virat said, adding that it may take a month for the reports to be completed.

The bodies of both men were cremated last week in their home provinces.

The police investigating team was earlier able to interview the men's colleagues and wives. In their report, Nattapong's wife _ Suwanna _ is quoted as saying that on April 13 she was with her her husband who was drinking alcohol with Chaiyaporn at his house near the men's workplace. At around 11pm Nattapong left to drive his wife home. Nattapong then went back and continued drinking until 2am the next morning, one of his workmates who was also at Chaiyaporn's house told police.

The last friends saw of the two men is when they rode off on an orange Honda Wave motorcycle.

``Now, we know where they were and what they did before they died, but we don't know what happened afterwards until we found their bodies,'' said the police colonel. ``From the circumstances, they were tortured and murdered. That is the main clue that we have so far to help lead us to establish a charge.''

Puea Thai party spokesman Prompong Nopparit believes that the deaths are related to the pair's participation in red-shirt gatherings. He cited Chaiyaporn's brother's account that the two went to join the red shirts on April 12 to serve as security guards for the protesters.

According to some residents in the Lat Phrao 106 community, near the company where the two men worked, the pair did have an interest in politics.

The owner of a restaurant where they often had lunch said Chaiyaporn was keen on politics, particularly the ideas of the red-shirts. During the last few months, after exchanging ideas with some red-shirt people at the restaurant, he eventually undertook security guard work for red shirts from the community.

The restaurant owner provided pictures to the Bangkok Post Sunday which he said showed Chaiyaporn wearing a red shirt at one of their recent gatherings. Some pictures were taken as recently as April 8, he said.

``We don't know why they died. But don't rush to ignore the fact that they were involved in politics. What is needed is the truth,'' said the restaurant owner.

READ MORE---> Thailand: Bodies found at river, Who kill them?...


Red shirts to protest every week

Bangkok Post

The red shirt protesters of the United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship will hold weekly demonstrations and set up an assembly in a fresh effort to topple the Democrat-led government.

The strategy was unveiled by UDD leaders in front of 5,000 protesters gathering at Sanam Luang yesterday.

It was the first rally by the supporters of former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra since the Songkran melee and the lifting of the state of emergency.

"We have to think about a new strategy to fight for our causes because we were unable to achieve political change simply by holding mass demonstrations," said UDD leader Jaran Dithapichai.

The UDD will rally every Saturday in one of 15 provinces, including Lop Buri, Ayutthaya, Chiang Mai, Udon Thani, Nakhon Si Thammarat and Phatthalung, said another leader Somyos Prueksakasemsuk.

Another major demonstration will be held on May 17 in Bangkok to commemorate the 17th anniversary of the Black May incident in 1992, he added.

The assembly will comprise red shirt representatives from every province.

Yesterday's rally, which ended about 11pm, was broadcast live via websites run by overseas red shirt supporters. The three UDD leaders - Veera Musikaphong, Natthawut Saikua and Weng Tojirakarn - who were released on bail of 500,000 baht each on Friday, did not show up. There was no phone-in from Thaksin.

The organisers showed a video clip of soldiers cracking down on the red shirts in Din Daeng on April 13. Demonstrators at Sanam Luang showed anger at the army.

Mr Jaran demanded the government immediately release all red shirt leaders and demonstrators and set up an independent panel to investigate the clampdown on red shirt demonstrators during the Songkran riots.

He also called on the government to unblock the signal of UDD's television broadcaster, DStation, and allow all pro-UDD community radio stations to resume broadcasting.

Pongthep Thepkanchana, who appeared on stage but did not make any statement to the protesters, told reporters that the government, opposition bloc, People's Alliance for Democracy, UDD and media should be allowed to submit a list of their representatives to sit on the probe committee to ensure fairness and neutrality. About half of the demonstrators opted not to wear red shirts to the rally yesterday, for safety reasons.

Prathum Wangklan, a 51-year-old Bangkok vendor, said he joined the rally because he did not believe media reports about the political situation.

"I have to come here to listen to the truth," said Mr Prathum. "The harder the government tries to suppress the red shirt movement, the more people will join the demonstration," he added.

Jittima Fuksa-ard, 45, from Prachin Buri, said she attended the rally because she was still upset with the violent crackdown on red shirts at Din Daeng.

"I was there [at the pre-dawn raid] and my friend was badly hurt by authorities," she said.

Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva has instructed security officers to monitor the UDD movement and ask the demonstrators to make sure their rallies stay within the law.

Metropolitan police chief Pol Lt Gen Vorapong Chiewpreecha has set up 40 checkpoints, manned by police and soldiers, in inner Bangkok. A special checkpoint was also set up in each area to search for weapons and explosives among those wanting to join the UDD rally at Sanam Luang.

Another rally was in Udon Thani where 300 members showed up at Thung Si Muang. The rally was held to allow red shirts taking part during April 8-11 rallies in Bangkok to talk about what happened.


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