Fellow Andrew] Selth
says $ingapore also provided
the equipment for a 'cyber war
center' to monitor dissident
activity while training Burma's
secret police, whose sole job
it seems is to ensure pro-
democracy groups are crushed.
Monitoring dissidents is an area
where $ingapore has particular
Read the rest of the story here.
and on the Thai-Burma border we met with activists, monks, students,
orphans, Western diplomats, and ordinary people in teashops and
restaurants. We listened to their stories about events of the
last several months, and how they are continuing to work both
for the liberation of Burma as well as for their survival and
that of their families. Wherever we went, people were very happy
to meet with us, and welcomed the opportunity to share their stories.
generals want the international community to believe that everything
has returned to 'normal', that Burma is safe again for tourists,
and that the disorder from the protests is over. But the 'normality'
for Burma under the military regime is a state of fear and repression.
This verbal whitewash from the regime was very different from
what we learned from the people we met.
police or beggars were evident in downtown Rangoon, but we heard
from 'Aung Myint' that beggars and the homeless had been taken
to detention centres, and that some of the army were dressed as
monks at Shwedagon Pagoda, and others were in plain clothes. Our
group was investigated on one of our visits to a monastic orphanage
by plain clothes police and fortunately, giving out packets of
noodle soup to the children had not been a crime.
suffering very deeply. They suffer the consequences of a failed
state which spends according to IMF: 0.5 per cent of GNP on health,
0.4 per cent on education and 40 per cent on defence to control
their own people. [Ed: Click
here on $ingapore's trade with Burma.]
told us that many people just outside of Rangoon can only afford
one meal a day, and that with fuel increases some people cannot
afford the bus fare to go to work. We visited several Buddhist
monastic schools and orphanages. At one of these there were 500
students, and often there was not enough food, only a little rice.
Large classes of children sat at cramped benches, and the large
dormitories smelt of neglect.
George Yeo of $ingapore with
Burmese General Thein Shin [left].
This picture was taken in April 2007
when General Yeo was in Burma to
negotiate for sand. Indonesia has
refused to export sand to $ingapore.
visit, a health worker was lifting shirts to reveal ulcers and
extensive ring worm, which were dabbed with a sulphur cream. Malnutrition,
over-crowding and limited staff to care for the children surely
exacerbate the problem. The families of children at such an orphanage
as this cannot even afford the low fees of a government school.
In the Rangoon Division alone we heard there were 162 such Buddhist
orphanages. There are also many run by Christian denominations.
visits orphanages in other states, said there could be 'be hundreds
of thousands of orphans'. Often, she said, the child's father
was a soldier who had been killed, and mother may have been injured
by a landmine gathering food in a forest. We also heard these
children referred to as the 'scrap children' where many families
are too poor to feed all their children. And their future? Many
have no option but to join the army, or, to become a monk. And
monks and soldiers are about equal in number. But many children
are also forced as conscripts into the army. Recent reports of
child conscripts as young as 10 years have reached the international
media. The regime's response to this we heard from 'Stephen' was
to fine either the child or its parents, anything to avoid responsibility
being taken by the generals.
We had heard
how one prominent monk responding to the food shortages had set
up a food station to produce low cost boxed meals to distribute
through downtown shops and in rural areas. The Venerable was very
reluctant to talk about this and fear was palpable. We had hoped
to be able to contribute to this program but suspect the program
may have been suspended.
'normality' for Burma under the military regime is a state
of fear and repression.
are controlled not only by military force but also by fear. This
is all pervasive. People often speak in code to avoid being overheard
by unknown security people in plain clothes, or by informers so
poor and desperate for basic survival that they will inform on
anybody. We also touched this fear with our main concern for our
friends not to suffer the consequences of talking with us. But
there was also an increase in anger and urgency since last I was
San, a gentle elderly man confided he would like to get rid of
the leaders somehow for the greater good of all. Sitting at tea
shops, people would approach us with a common theme; 'life is
so difficult now', and '90 per cent of the people are against
this regime, and please do tell the international community' and
'do take our message to the Security Council'. All we could do
was listen. And as Buddhists, this is a valuable practice. So
many people had a deep need to talk and share, to tell the whole
story so often in all its violent and brutal detail interspersed
with jokes. Impossible to understand other than in terms of fear
and power, and possibly history. Aung San Suu Kyi, the democratically
elected leader of Burma, threw some light on this back in 1991.
"It is not
power that corrupts but fear. Fear of losing power corrupts those
who wield it and fear of the scourge of power corrupts those who
are subject to it," she said.
people are suffering deeply from the brutal onslaught on the highly
revered monks in a country where 90 per cent are Buddhist, and
where respect for monks is deeply imbued in their culture and
way of life. Many monks we heard had been forcibly disrobed so
they could be tortured. And it was not 2 per cent of the monks
as claimed by the generals who marched, but nearer 30 per cent
were involved in the protests. They were compassionately drawing
attention to the recent dramatic increases in rice and fuel costs.
They knew intimately of the people's plight - their begging bowls
providing an indication. Despite their poverty people still gave
a little rice to the monks.
often speak in code to avoid being overheard by unknown
security people in plain clothes, or by informers so poor
and desperate for basic survival that they will inform on
heard from 'Stephen' that there were four categories of people
in the protest. There were those who were guilty by looking, those
who clapped, those who offered water and those who marched. Only
the first three categories were released after a month's interrogation,
and then only if they signed that they would never again protest.
The fourth category is probably still in detention.
also shared with us that his college friend, who was now a colonel,
had revealed details of the invasion of a monastery while drunk,
and that he was under orders to beat up monks when questioning
them. These are humanitarian concerns, and we need to keep asking
where are the monks and the people detained? We further heard
from 'Stephen' that soon after the protests ended, that the crematoriums
had been running at the unusual hours of 1 to 4 am.
a reliable source, indicated numbers killed were much higher than
given by the regime, and would seem to be higher than in the report
by the U.N. Special Rapporteur on the human rights situation in
Myanmar, Paulo Pinheiro, Dec 7, 2007. We heard that 30 monks were
killed in Yangon and more than 70 people were killed in detention
after the demonstrations had stopped. Pinheiro reported that 31
monks had been killed and a further 74 listed as missing, and
up to 1,000 still detained - 106 of these were women, of whom
six were Buddhist nuns. We heard on a visit to one monastery,
that the nuns from nearby had left. What has happened to other
nuns in Burma?
teacher monk at a monastic school and orphanage for 500 children
said there were now 15 monks, 35 novices, 12 teachers and 80 resident
children. Prior to September, there were 200 monks and novices
who have not been heard of since their participation in the 'revolution'
and who had fled. They were to make contact but nothing has been
heard. It is feared they are in detention or worse.
On the Thai-Burma
border there are many local organisations, such as the Assistance
Association for Political Prisoners. There were photos of political
prisoners around the walls and a prison model exhibition, depicting
the forms of torture employed. And yet speaking with 'Myint,'
a survivor of torture and 15 years of prison, including several
years in solitary confinement, we were left in no doubt about
the extraordinary courage and ardent commitment to democracy,
freedom and dignity of many of the activists.
the first three categories (those who were guilty by looking,
those who clapped, those who offered water) were released
after a month's interrogation, and then only if they signed
that they would never again protest.
how is the military crackdown impacting on Buddhism? On the one
hand, many monks have gone from being revered to now being treated
as criminals. On the other, meditation would seem to be strong.
Some political prisoners we met, have survived long incarceration
and torture and overcome deep depression through meditation. Some
monasteries such as Maggin in Rangoon have been closed and the
HIV/Aids patients it cared for have been dispersed. There are
3,000 Buddhist monasteries throughout the country which provide
accommodation, food, care and education for many children, and
we could not get answers as to who is now taking responsibility
for the children.
On the Thai-Burma
border we met with three different groups of monks who had managed
to flee. Their number is surprisingly small given the 100,000
monks who actively participated, leaving grave concerns for the
safety of those still in Burma. We heard that some monks from
Mandalay had fled in terror to the border, disrobed and are now
working as migrant workers. Other monks who have fled are living
in three safe-houses set up for 51 new arrivals from September.
Despite being out of Burma, they have great difficulties. They
have been forbidden refuge in Thai temples - three police cars
were seen outside one temple keeping watch. They have no travel
permits and, if caught, may be very heavily fined or be sent back
to Burma. UNHCR is also no longer registering asylum seekers.
On the other hand, resettlement of refugees in third countries
such as Australia and the United states is having a de-stabilising
effect on border communities. Those people with some level of
training, such as health workers and teachers are being given
priority causing hardship for the local communities whose resources
are already severely over-stretched.
Despite the fear, the poverty and with little hope of change,
people we met demonstrate huge generosity, a great sense of humour
and deep caring for their country, which was once the rice bowl
of Asia, and with many highly educated people. Many have found
ways to survive, of finding opportunities in the cracks between
conflict and possibility, of taking one step at a time. There
is a refusal to give up - people rising up again and again in
full awareness of the consequences and risks to their lives and
those of their families. Their message is very clear and urgent
- enough is enough, and it is time for freedom.
a growing movement with resonances of pre-independence India led
by Gandhi. This mostly underground democracy movement inside Burma
has strong links with a developing civil society and local organisations
on the borders, linked with increased awareness and strength of
an environmental movement. But it would seem that unless the international
community intervenes little will change for the people of Burma.
Now is the time.
were pleas from many we met not to allow their Asian neighbours
to accept this 'normality', and a warning not to accept
what the generals say.
I feel a deep responsibility to speak out, to share as widely
as possible, that life in Burma is 'not back to normal'. People
have been disappeared. Far too many. Where are they, and what
has happened to them? The intense and pervasive fear and gross
human rights abuse contravene international conventions. Even
those not in official detention are in effect in detention in
a place called Burma.
There were pleas from many we met not to allow their Asian neighbours
to accept this 'normality', and a warning not to accept what the
generals say. It is not evident that they care one scrap about
the people they control. We in Australia should support the broad
based democracy movement and the people inside Burma with a passion
for freedom, on the need for dialogue and reconciliation.
There are no easy solutions and the wounding has been long and
deep but the question now that we have all seen the pictures and
heard the cries for help, how can we continue to respond? I feel
we must prioritise the freeing of political prisoners including
Aung San Suu Kyi, and encourage dialogue and reconciliation. There
is also a great need for healing and humanitarian support.
Jill Jameson is a member of the Buddhist Peace Fellowship. This
is an account of her visit to Burma in early December.
Download Wayne Shorter's Tribute to Aung
San Suu Kyi
Such Good Friends, by Eric Ellis
$ingapore, A Friend Indeed To Burma, by Eric Ellis
ASEAN Talks Nonsense About Burma, by Kyaw Zwa Moe
Suu Kyi's Unhappy Face