Asia-Pacific People’s Partnership on Burma (APPPB)
The Asia-Pacific Peoples’ Partnership on Burma (APPPB) is a movement of organizations and individuals that aims to develop a strong broad-based partnership of peoples of the Asia-Pacific advocating and mobilizing a movement for promoting freedom, democracy and human rights in Burma. This movement facilitates strategic linkages; coordinates activities; develops and shares its capacity and resources; channels information resources; and promotes dialogue towards unified approaches. You can check them at http://apppb.blogspot.com.
The last two months have seen the large scale revival of a movement for change that has been simmering in Burma for nineteen years. The peaceful protest movement, started by leaders of the 88 Generation Student Group and later led by the Buddhist monks, has brought the people of Burma renewed hope for an end to the long suffering they have endured under the ruling military junta. Since the first protest in Rangoon on August 19, more than 1,000,000 people have taken to the streets across the country. This is huge achievement in a country where human rights are severely suppressed on a daily basis. With monks taking a leading role, demonstrations have been peaceful and protesters have shown exceptional discipline and bravery in the face of government repression.
Despite the brutal crackdown that has resulted in the killings of an estimated 200 protesters and 3,000 arrests, the protest movement is still alive and people across the nation are continuing to defy the ruling State Peace and Development Council (SPDC). Movement that has spread across 66 cities in 227 demonstrations does not die overnight. A movement of a million people with the bravery to defy bullets cannot easily disappear.
The catalyst for the current protests was the lowering of fuel subsidies at government petrol stations, which doubled the cost of fuel. This move substantially increases the suffering of Burmese people, the majority of whom have been living barely above subsistence levels, victims of 45 years of appalling economic mismanagement and corruption. The price hikes were immediately felt through a doubling in the cost of bus fares and commodity price rises that has increased the widespread suffering many Burmese people endure. Rice, the staple food of the country, has risen by 42 to 75% in some areas, which raises the threat of hunger and malnutrition.
In response to the fuel price hikes, leaders of the ‘88 Generation Student Group went on a nine kilometer march on August 19 with two hundred residents of Rangoon who could afford bus ticket. The march grew to more than five hundred people as more residents joined en-route. In the following days, protests grew and began to spread outside Rangoon. In reaction to this rapidly growing public dissent, the military stepped up repression, by intimidating protesters and arresting leaders.
The National League for Democracy (NLD) also played key role in the early days of the movement. Between August 24 and September 5, the NLD mobilized 34 peace marches in towns across Rangoon Division, Mandalay Division, Magway Division, Tennaserim Division, Irrawaddy Division, Pago Division. This showed the sustained strength of the NLD, despite 18 years of office closures, detention and intimidation of party leaders, including Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and U Tin Oo, as well as grassroots members and supporters. After September 5, NLD supporters joined the mass movement, marching with monks, students and other sectors of the society.
An unprecedented strength of the current movement is the leadership role taken by monks, who hold the highest moral authority in Burma. The current uprising is the first in Burma’s history that the monks have taken to the street on this scale. This has inspired hundreds of thousands of ordinary Burmese people to follow and join the monks in defying the dictatorship and seeing the future.
Mass mobilization of monks began on September 5, when protest took place in Pakkhoku involving more than 500 monks. The SPDC violently crushed the protest, beating and arresting monks. The following day, the monks asked for an apology and warned that they would boycott accepting alms from the military if their demand were not met. When the military failed to apologize, monks across Burma took to the streets. Monks’ protests soon spread across Central Burma, to western Arakan State, Northern Kachin State and beyond.
On September 24, state owned television aired footages of the Religious Affairs Minister, kneeling before select members of the highest authority of Burmese Buddhism, the Sangh Nayaka Council. The SPDC claimed to have the support of the Sangha Council however, a closer look clearly shows that the Sangha Nayaka Council refused to be bullied by the military leaders.
Religious affairs Minister Thura Myint Maung publicly called on the Council to “give instructions for the sake of the country”. If the military had the support of the Sangha Nayaka Council, the Council could publicly play a mediating role to silence the rising voice of protest. However the SPDC’s appeal for help was met with silence, since no new orders by the Sangha Nayaka Council appeared in Burmese media.
In desperation, the military then organized four Sangha Nayaka Council members to re-announce old orders from the 1980s and 90s. These orders demanded that monks follow all national laws, that abbots ban unofficial organizations of Buddhist monks and that monks stay away from party politics. Monks who disobey are threatened with ‘action’. It is clear that this was a last attempt by the SPDC to control the Sangha Nayaka Council.
When Buddhist monks began to protest, they gained the backing of the majority of people and were critical challenge to the SPDC leadership. The regime has not succeeded at this however, since as soon as soldiers began riding and looting monasteries and beatings and killings of monks, and news spread and hundreds of thousands of people mobilized to show their outrage and attempted to protect the monks.
So far at least 31 monasteries have been raided and raids are continuing on an almost nightly basis. A witness describes this shocking attack against Buddhism: “We have gone by number of monasteries and they are empty. And it is frightening to think why that is.” A number of monasteries in many areas where protests took place have been locked down. Lay people who visit those monasteries have reported harassment and intimidation by security forces. Just on Wednesday night, at least five monasteries were raided in Rangoon.
It is unprecedented in Burma for a ruler to fight against the institution of Buddhism, This crime has shocked the world and forced world religious leaders to speak up.
In a statement issued on September 23, His Holiness the Dalai Lama voiced his full support for the movement and appealed to Buddhist members of the SPCD to “act in accordance with the sacred dharma in the spirit of compassion and non-violence”.
Pope Benedict also spoke out in support of the democracy movement, expressing his “spiritual closeness to (Burma’s) dear population in this painful trial that is going through.”
Archbishop Desmond Tutu compared the uprising to the movement against Apartheid. “The courage of the people of Myanmar (Burma) is amazing and now they have been joined by their holy men” he said. “It is so like the rolling mass action that eventually toppled apartheid”.
“Two months of sustained protest against the military regime is a huge accomplishment in a country under brutal dictatorship. While less people have been demonstrating since the crackdown, many Burmese continue to defy the military and protest in so many ways.”
Since the start of the movement, the SPDC has used brutal tactics against peaceful protesters, including torture, beatings, detention, disappearances and killings. Initially protesters were attacked by hired thugs from the United Solidarity and Development Association (USD) and Swn Ah Shin and regular police. Later, riot police, the ‘anti-terror’ squad and soldiers were added to the fray. More than 200 protesters have been brutally killed and thousands have been beaten, tortured and detained.
In Rangoon and Mandalay, soldiers raid houses of protesters nightly, beating and detaining those they can catch. On the streets, soldiers randomly search people and those found with cameras or cell phones are immediately taken away.
People are being threatened not to listen to BBC, VOA and other opposition radio, which is the main source of information available to Burmese people. The military junta has already acted in this threat, beating and arresting a man in Mon State for simply listening to the radio and even arrested a township SPDC chairman in Northern Shan State for that ‘crime’.
To complete the crackdown, the SPDC is trying to turn neighbors against each other, ordering that people should turn in anyone in their community who joined the protests. The junta also appears to be paranoid about the true feeling of civil servants, who are being prevented from joining the demonstration through threats of sacking and arrest. Government offices are being locked down during the day to keep civil servants away from the movement.
In states and divisions where protests have taken place, monks are virtually locked into their monasteries and under constant surveillance and many monks have been forced into hiding. This is happening in Arakan, State, KAchin State, Mon State, Rangoon Division, Mandalay Division, Pegu Division, Sagaing Division and Megwa Division.
The SPDC is systematically starving whole states and divisions where protests have taken place by grounding food transport.
Furthermore, commercial transportation of food in and around Mandalay and Sittwe has been banned. The Sittwe port is a food transport hub for the whole country so restrictions there have disastrous repercussions for the people of Burma. Restrictions have even halted the World Food Program from distribution food to the most marginalized communities. Mandalay is a food transport hub for central Burma so restrictions there create great hardship for residents in towns and villages through central and northern Burma.
There are now food shortages in markets throughout Burma and if these restrictions continue, there is grave concern that hunger and malnutrition could increase to deadly levels. The SPDC is effectively starving millions of people in a war against its own population, as a punishment for peaceful defiance.
Two months of sustained protest against the military regime is a huge accomplishment in a country under brutal dictatorship. While less people have been demonstrating since the crackdown, many Burmese continue to defy the military and protest in so many ways. Many more are waiting for the chance to continue protests as restrictions are inevitably eased. International support is urgently needed to prevent continued bloodshed s people re-mobilize.
An unprecedented strength of the current movement is the leadership role taken by monks, who hold the highest moral authority in Burma. The current uprising is the first in Burma’s history that the monks have taken to the street on this scale...