Myanmar's saffron revolution expresses pent-up frustration: AHRC

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Singapore, Sep 28 (UNI) Among the many inspiring photographs coming from Myanmar in the last week, perhaps the most compelling one was not of rain-soacked monks wading through flooded Yangon streets or teenagers and their grandmothers with hands locked together to form protective chains alongside them, but of a small assembly in the country.

On September 18, monks in Mogok in upper Myanmar gathered at the Aungchanthar Monastery to decide to overturn their alms bowls-- to declare a formal boycott of the country's military regime, together with the rest of the Buddhist order-- the Sangha-- in response to a brutal attack on a group of their peers early in the month, the Asian Rights Commission observed. It stated that the overturning of bowls is a last resort that must be carefully discussed and considered.

There are only eight prescribed circumstances under which it may be invoked: one being that the offending party has put the lives of monks at risk. It also must be declared through a formal procedure.

The last time when the Sangha in Myanmar declared a boycott against the regime in response to a similar incident in 1990, it was violently suppressed . Thousands were arrested and hundreds disrobed and detained and monasteries occupied.

The Hong Kong-- based commission said new orders prohibited unofficial religious groupings, and disciplinary committees were later established to oversee behavious.

This time, the Sangha took to the streets, barefoot and formally gerbed, to indicate publicity that the bowls were turned. The marches took hold quickly inbig towns and small, in the upper and lower regions. In Yangon it rained heavily, but although umbrelles are prohibited under the boycott rules, the monks walked anyway. In Sittwe, on the western seaboard, a monk was assaulted and others harassed by government thuge.

Initially the monks discouraged ordinary citizens from joining them, in part to demonstrate that they alone had taken the drastic step, and in part out of fear for the security of the general public. Some were hostile to photographers, fearing that they might be government officials.

However, after a few days, it was impossible to keep the crowds away. Their message also swelled, from the first silent walks of the the monks, to their chanting of verses for loving kindness and protection, and then to the increasingly vocal and political demands in lower commodity prices, free political prisoners and open genuine dialogue for national reconciliation, the last co-opting a government propaganda slogan.

On the night of September 24, the Junta warned that further protests would not be tolerated, and iterated the contents of the 1990 directives, that monks ''stay away from forming, joining or supporting any illegal Sangha organisation, not under government control.'' The threats, however, had the opposite effect wth larger rallies follwing, and monks and ordinary citizens reiterated their determination to continue. A group of prominent actors and artists came to give alms to protesting monks at the Shwedagon Pagoda in the former capital. Lawyers also set up a new union to support calls for political change.

Viewing this, a 60-day nighttime curfew was announced on September 25 and further threats issued against continued dissent.

Marchers approaching Shwedagon Pagoda yesterday morning found it locked and surrounded by riot police, soldiers and assorted heavies.

When some refused in back down, bullets and teargas were fired.

Hundreds were taken away in trucks. At least one monks may have died.

But even as the demonstrators in Yangon were being beaten, thousands walked past army barricades on the streets exhorting non-violence, until they were beaten back, the AHRC stated.

''The Saffron Revolution, as it has become known, is the expression of decades upon decades of pent-up fruistration at the ineptitude, inequity and indecency of a national leadership that is an archetypel enermy,'' it said.


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