Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Burma: where have all the monks gone?


There’s no sign of the monks making their daily alms rounds,
reports edward loxton

Burmese security forces continued to round up dissident monks even as UN Special Envoy Ibraham Gambari was pleading with the regime to exercise restraint, UN officials reported today.

Around 1,000 monks detained at a disused government training college in Rangoon were loaded onto army trucks and driven to an unknown destination, according to officials of the UN World Food Programme in Bangkok, quoting its sources in the former capital.

There have been persistent reports in recent days that detained monks are being shipped to army camps in remote areas of Burma. A census of the monks still remaining - either voluntarily or by force - in their monasteries was underway today.

There has been no sign of monks making their daily alms rounds in recent days, raising further fears for their wellbeing. The monks depend on the alms rounds for their food,
which they are refusing to accept from the military authorities.

A novice monk who escaped the crackdown told a Western reporter in Rangoon that the monks had originally demonstrated in protest at steeply rising prices, which were causing severe hardship among lay Buddhists, who found it increasingly difficult to give alms and other material support to the monasteries.

When the authorities cracked down on the monks, the demonstrations turned political, the young monk said. "There was outrage, disappointment, hopelessness."

Ibrahim Gambari is not expected to report publicly on his visit until Friday. He dodged reporters in Singapore today as he made his way to a meeting with the city-state's PM, Lee Hsien Loong. Singapore currently chairs the 10-nation Association of Southeast Asian Nations, which has issued an unusually strong condemnation of the crackdown in Burma, expressing members' "revulsion".

Burma is closed to foreign reporters. Edward Loxton is reporting for The First Post from Chiang Mai in neighbouring Thailand.