Friday, September 7, 2007

Monks Burn Cars, Take Hostages, Confront Military

Talk about letting it all hang out! In a mind bending act of civil disobedience , Myanmar's Buddhist Monks take to the streets, light four officials' cars on fire while capturing and releasing twenty hostages in principled defiance of the military regime. Crowds cheered on the monks who have a strong and long tradition of leading in the nation previously known as Burma. A demoralized military struck back beating the monks in public.
"The monks, who are students at a large
monastery in Pakokku,are very angry with the military regime," said Than Win Htut, a senior producer for Democratic Voice of Burma (DVB), a radio and TV station run by exiles from Myanmar and based in Oslo, Norway.

Clashes first erupted on Wednesday between soldiers and monks in Pakokku town, some 500 kilometers north of the old capital Yangon. That morning, soldiers fired warning shots to break up a crowd of more than 300 monks, representing apparently the first time security forces have used their firearms since the protests against the fuel hike began last month.

"The monks started a protest march from their monastery and were cheered on by thousands of people as they headed into the town," said Than Win Htut. "The soldiers dragged about 10 monks away, tied them to electricity poles and beat them with bamboo sticks."
In Myanmar, as in America, the public is outraged over the rising cost of fuel with no end in sight and no oversight. The price of fuel is putting strain on those already crushed at the bottom of the economic ladder. These are the same poor people that share their food and make donations to the local monasteries and Buddhist clergy. Myanmar's monks have faced towering odds against them in the past, directly taking on the oppressive colonization from the British Empire. This is a new generation of monks in the same mold. The 1990's saw the outbreak of resistance, jailing and the humiliation by disrobing of monks, many of which are still held by the military. 1962 saw the military take power in a coup with popular demonstrations and brutal military overreactions happening to this day.

The Military is an enormous fuel consumer and is not affected by the hikes. Or should I say, hike. Overnight the price of fuel rose five fold. Unbelievable. The military is in charge of price control and to raise prices 500% in an already struggling economy with tens of millions already impoverished, does not show the authoritarian control freaks regime to be enlightened economic Einsteins in the Myanmar government. Iraq had the hilarious Baghdad Bob who made stuff up, America has Baghdad Bush who demands Magical September success, and Myanmar has The New Light of Myanmar to spew government propaganda.

The aid blockade and other sanctions have been kept in place for the past 19 years. Although the military allowed a general election in 1990 it ignored the outcome when 80 per cent of the votes went to the National League for Democracy (NLD) of opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, sealing its pariah status in the West.

Suu Kyi, a Nobel Peace Prize laureate, has been under house arrest since May, 2003. Her ongoing incarceration was harshly criticized earlier this week by US President George W Bush, who is currently attending the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (Apec) summit in Sydney.

An excellent book on Burma is the lyrical and beautifully rendered, The River of Lost Footsteps: Histories from Burma by Thant Myint-U. His previous scholarly work is The Making of Modern Burma.

Another book with a mesmerizing book jacket is from Peter Olszewski titled Land of a Thousand Eyes: The Subtle Pleasure of Everyday Life in Myanmar.

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