Myanmar's missing monks still a mystery months after crackdown
Nov 30, 2007, 10:23 GMT
Bangkok - Two months after Myanmar's brutal crackdown on peaceful protests in Yangon led by Buddhist monks, the former capital is noticeably short of monks, a senior US diplomat said Friday.
'Prior to September, almost any place you looked in Rangoon (Yangon) there were 25 to 50 monks, they were everywhere, but now you only see one or two,' said Shari Villarosa, charge d'affaires of the US embassy in Myanmar, also known as Burma.
For two weeks in September, Myanmar's saffron-robed monkhood led peaceful demonstrations in Yangon to protest the country's deteriorating economic conditions under the authoritarian military regime that has ruled the predominantly Buddhist nation for the past 45 years.
The protests ended on September 27, after the army unleashed a brutal two-day crackdown on the monks and their lay followers that left at least 15 people dead, according to official figures.
Other estimates place the death toll above 100. It is unknown how many monks were arrested and died in the crackdown.
What is known is that the ruling junta has forced monks out of Yangon, leaving many monasteries and temples with skeleton staffs.
In some cases, the junta has closed down monasteries altogether.
Authorities on Thursday shut down the Maggin Monastery in Yangon, where many of the dissident monks had stayed, Villarosa confirmed at a press conference held in Bangkok.
'The big question out there is where are all the monks,' she said. The US diplomat recently visited Moulmein, the home of more than 13,000 monks on Myanmar's southern coast, and encountered a similar scarcity of them there.
Myanmar military authorities have told diplomats that the monks have 'gone home,' but Villarosa said, 'we believe a considerable number have been arrested.'
There is no official figure for the number of monks in Myanmar, but prior to the September crackdown, there were believed to be close to 500,000 monks and novices.
Besides cracking down on monks and closing their monasteries, Myanmar's military has also continued to make arrests of dissidents in the aftermath of the September crackdown.
'We get reports on almost a daily basis of people people picked up,' said Villarosa. 'It raises questions about the sincerity of the military in pursuing a genuine dialogue leading towards national reconciliation.'
In the aftermath of the crackdown, under considerable pressure from the international community, Myanmar's military supremo Senior General Than Shwe vowed to start a dialogue with opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, but demanded that she agree to drop her support for sanctions against the regime.© 2007 dpa - Deutsche Presse-Agentur