For the first time since last month’s bloody crackdown (more…) by the military regime, monks have ventured back onto the streets of Burma. On Tuesday, more than 100 chanting and praying monks marched through the central Burmese town of Pakkoku, about 630 km (390 miles) north-west of Yangon.
People who witnessed the march, which lasted about half an hour, said the monks did not make any overt political statements but that the rally was clearly in defiance of the junta.
Pakkoku, a centre of Buddhist learning, was the scene of clashes between soldiers and monks on Sept. 5, when soldiers had violent confrontations with 600 demonstrating monks.
Since mid-August, hundreds of thousands of Burmese, among them many students and monks, had been protesting rising fuel prices in peaceful demonstrations against the military regime. With the brutal crackdown that began in Pakkoku and continued for weeks, the domestic crisis entered international headlines. Since then, public gatherings of monks have been prohibited, and many monasteries remain deserted.
While the Burmese government claims that only 10 people died in the clashes, diplomats and dissidents set the figure much higher. The Norway-based opposition news organization the Democratic Voice of Burma has estimated that 138 were killed in the violence and around 6,000 detained.
In response to the military’s repressions, the US and European Union have imposed sanctions and embargos. United Nations envoy Ibrahim Gambari, who visited Burma shortly after the crackdown and met with junta leader General Than Shwe as well as detained pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi, has thus far been unable to initiate a dialogue between the government and the opposition. The UN announced Tuesday that the regime had conceded to allowing Gambari back into the country in early November rather than mid-month, as originally planned.
The announcement came a day after the Burmese regime agreed to a visit by UN human rights investigator Paulo Sergio Pinheiro, who had been barred from Burma since 2003. The UN Human Rights Council is calling for an immediate investigation of the human rights situation in Burma.
Gambari is currently on a six-nation tour of Asia, discussing the situation in Burma and trying to garner support from key nations in the region. A UN spokesperson said that he would be continuing directly on to Burma.
The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), a bloc of 10 nations including Burma, has expressed “revulsion” at the military repressions but reiterated Tuesday in a press statement released after a conference held in New York that it does not support economic sanctions. SPIEGELnet GmbH