Burmese monks begin fresh protests

Haroon Siddique and agencies
Guardian Unlimited
31 Oct 07

More than 100 Buddhist monks marched and chanted in Burma today in the first public demonstration since the military junta crushed last month’s anti-government protests, several monks said.

The monks in Pakokku made no political statements and shouted no slogans, but their march, which lasted nearly an hour, was in clear defiance of the government.

“We walked around the town and chanted … We are continuing our protest from last month as we have not yet achieved any of the demands we asked for,” one monk told the Democratic Voice of Burma, a Norway-based radio station.

“Our demands are for lower commodity prices, national reconciliation and immediate release of Aung San Suu Kyi and all the political prisoners.”

He said the march was small because there had been little preparation time but promised “more organised and bigger protests soon”.

Up to 100,000 people joined last month’s protests which were brought to a brutal end when troops fired on protestors on September 27 and 28. At least 20 people were killed by the government’s own count, including a Japanese photographer.

Opposition groups claimed as many as 200 people may have been killed in the crackdown, which drew international condemnation and new sanctions against the regime.

Pakokku, a centre for Buddhist learning with more than 80 monasteries, is about 630km north-west of the commercial centre of Rangoon.

It was the site of the first march by monks last month as they joined, and then spearheaded protests against raised fuel prices, which turned into the biggest anti-government protests in nearly two decades.

The protests originally started on August 19, when citizens took to the streets to vent anger after the government hiked fuel prices as much as 500%.

Reports at the time that troops had beaten protesting monks in Pakokku rallied monks around the country to join the burgeoning marches.

The junta has admitted it arrested nearly 3,000 protesters during the crackdown and that hundreds had been interrogated. It said it had only released those who had signed pledges not to protest against the regime.

The government announced today that it had released seven members of Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) party who were detained last month.

The releases last night came ahead of a visit by the UN special envoy, Ibrahim Gambari, to seek reconciliation between the junta and democratic forces.

An NLD spokesman, Han Tha, said at least 150 party members out of nearly 300 who had been arrested since September remained in detention.

He said many had been denied proper medical treatment and were living in harsh conditions.

Aung San Suu Kyi held surprise talks with a representative of the military rulers last week, although no substantive details of the meeting have emerged.

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