As some of you may know, I originally came to Thailand (2 years ago) to volunteer with a Human Rights group based on the Thailand/Burma border in Mae Sot. During my time there, I developed a much better understanding of the situation in Burma (also known as Myanmar), as well as becoming good friends with many people displaced by, and affected in one way or another by the ongoing situation there.
To hugely simplify a very complicated situation, since about 1960, Burma has been under the control of a one-party military government that uses fear and violence to subdue and oppress its population. It has also, arguably, been attempting genocide against some of the many ethnic minority groups there. (There are 135 distinct ethnic groups recognised by the Burmese government).
In 1988 thousands of people were killed across Burma in anti-goverment riots, and in 1989 opposition group National League for Democracy (NLD) leader Aung San Suu Kyi was put under house arrest.
In 1990, the NLD won a huge victory in a general election, but the result was ignored by the military.
Since the early 90s there have been a number of protests put down violently by the military, but none on the scale of the protests currently happening inside Burma by the monks. Yesterday 1,500 monks took to the streets of the capital Rangoon in their biggest protest yet.
The BBC site reports this today as follows:
In a strongly-worded statement, seen by the BBC, the Alliance of All Burmese Buddhist Monks described the military government as “the enemy of the people”.
It said the monks would keep up their protests until they had “wiped the military dictatorship from the land of Burma”.
The group has asked people across the country to pray in their doorways at 2000 hours on Sunday for 15 minutes.
This is the first time the monks have explicitly challenged the government in this way. The decision to take to the streets has given fresh momentum to protests that began in mid-August over the government’s sudden decision to double the price of fuel…. The movement has turned into the largest public show of opposition to the Burmese authorities since the uprising of 1988.
If their past behaviour is any guide, it cannot be long before the military uses force to stop such opposition.
Having been very interested in the situation in Burma for a couple of years, I feel a sense of nervous excitement to read such strong words issued by the Alliance of All Burmese Buddhist Monks against the government. It must take great courage. I also fear for the outcome over the next few weeks.
Further reading: If you are interested, there are many groups that document the on-going human rights abuses inside Burma, and one of the longest running and most respected is Karen Human Rights Group.