Monks March as Boycott Begins—Authorities Use Tear Gas
covering burma and southeast asia
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Monks March as Boycott Begins—Authorities Use Tear Gas

By KYAW ZWA MOE Tuesday, September 18, 2007


Monks in Rangoon and other cities across Burma began their threatened boycott of members of the ruling military regime and their families on Tuesday, and also participated in peaceful marches. A demonstration by monks and civilians in Sittwe, Arakan State, was broken up by the authorities, using tear gas.

Monks protesting in Rangoon on Tuesday [Photo: Myat Moe Maung]
Hundreds of monks in rows of two and three peacefully marched through downtown Rangoon and Pegu. They also marched in Pakokku and other towns in Magwe Division. The monks walked in procession to local temples, chanting metta sutta and paritta sutta (Buddhist calls for kindness and protection against evil and harm).

Security forces fired tear gas to break up a demonstration by several hundred monks and civilian protesters in Sittwe, according to a local eyewitness. He told The Irrawaddy hundreds of local people had joined in the demonstration by local monks, including some Muslim residents of the town.

The news agency Reuters also said three or four monks were arrested in Sittwe as the authorities used tear gas to break up the demonstration. Protesters were hit, an eyewitness told Reuters.

Tuesday’s demonstrations were the first of this size by Burma’s monks since the 1988 nationwide pro-democracy uprising, in which thousands of monks participated.

Their alms boycott, called “patam nikkujjana kamma,” is the first time in 17 years that monks have withheld their recognition of members of the ruling military regime and their families. Most of Burma’s community of an estimated 400,000 monks are expected to follow, and there were reports late Tuesday that the boycott was growing.

Their move is seen as a significant confrontation between the Sangha (sons of Buddha) and the state and a big challenge for the military authorities. The vast majority of Burmese citizens are Buddhist, including most of the country’s military leaders.

The boycott went into effect on Tuesday as early as 3:00 a.m., in the towns of Gyobinguak in Pegu Division, Aunglan and Pakokku in Magawe Division, and in towns of Rangoon and Mandalay divisions.

Thousands of people applauded the protesting monks as they marched.

“I have never seen such a huge crowd in my life,” an eyewitness in Pegu Division told The Irrawaddy. He thought there were as many as 100,000 people present. About 1,000 monks participated in the march in Pegu.

“I have mixed feelings of happiness and sadness to see the monks turn out for the welfare of the people,” the eyewitness said. “At the same time, I am so worried that those monks might be violently suppressed.”  

Monks who refused alms from the military authorities in October 1990 faced a heavy crackdown from the authorities. In Mandalay, where many monasteries are located, more than 130 monasteries were raided and monks were disrobed and given lengthy terms of imprisonment. As many as 300 monks were forced to disrobe and arrested across the country.   

Apart from Sittwe, there were no reports of official action against the protesters. In Zigon, Pegu Division, a local resident said he saw a board reading: “Than Shwe, Maung Aye and Shwe Mann, who are against Buddhism, go to hell.” Than Shwe, Maung Aye and Shwe Mann are the junta’s top leaders. 

Witnesses said the marching monks were disciplined and didn’t allow supporters and bystanders to join them. Rumors are circulating that bogus monks are being infiltrated to stir up trouble and bring about a legitimate crackdown by the authorities.   

In demonstrations in August and early September, the military regime organized mobs to violently disperse the protesters.

Observers expect that as the boycott grows in coming days the military authorities will try to persuade senior monks to control their monks. High-ranking military officers and ministers have been making merit recently in unusual displays of Buddhist fealty.

One senior monk in Koesaung monastery in Myingyan, Magwe Division, commented on the demonstrations: “That’s what we monks should be doing.”

A member of the Alliance of All Burmese Buddhist Monks said in an interview: “This is a fight between dhamma and ah-dhamma (between justice and injustice).”  

Shah Paung also contributed to this story.

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