All eyes are on how Beijing will react as Burma’s Buddhist monks lead waves of protests against the country’s dictatorship. It is the biggest movement Burma has seen since people rose against the junta in 1988 when 3,000 people were gunned down. Burma’s military junta is utterly dependent on the Chinese regime, which is ruthlessly exploiting the country’s oil and gas reserves. China has sold $2 billion worth of arms to the junta which are used in continuing atrocities against the political opposition as well as ethnic minorities. Beijing’s Stalinist regime is, of course, also deeply involved in propping up the notorious regimes in Zimbabwe and Sudan as it exploits Africa’s resources.
At the weekend the monks were joined by young, pink-robed, shaven-headed nuns as around 20,000 people took part in a march in the former capital Rangoon, often knee-deep in rainwater, calling for an end to the dictatorship. On Saturday, opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi of the National League for Democracy (NLD) who has been under house arrest for 11 years, emerged for a tearful moment to pray with the 2,000 monks who had made their way to her house. Yesterday, however, the authorities turned back monks from the road leading to her home.
Elsewhere in the country, soldiers and state-backed militia beat up monks in cities like Pakokku, Mandalay, and in Sittwe, where tear gas was fired and arrests were made. The movement, led by a new group of young monks, the Alliance of All Burmese Buddhist Monks, is now a direct challenge to Burma’s military authorities, the State Peace and Development Council (SLORC). A spokesman for the group said they would protect their leaders from arrest.
The present crisis was sparked by an abrupt doubling of petrol and diesel prices on August 15 which triggered protests during which demonstrators and monks were brutally beaten. The anti-junta movement gathered international momentum towards the end of August when actor and comedian Jim Carrey, went on U-tube calling for viewers to join US anti-junta organisations. On September 18, the 19th anniversary of the SLORC military coup, protests were held in 20 countries around the world.
There are presently around 600,000 Internally Displaced People (IDPS) in Burma, with huge refugee camps on its borders in neighbouring Thailand and Laos. A group of US Congressmen is currently calling for a boycott of the 2008 Beijing Olympics “unless the Chinese regime stops engaging in serious human rights abuses against its citizens and stops supporting serious human rights abuses by the governments of Sudan, Burma, North Korea against their citizens”. As the junta spends billions on arms and wallows in luxury, one third of the country’s children are malnourished. People scrabble in the streets of the capital for food handouts from the temples. Humanitarian organisations like Medecins Sans Frontieres and disease-fighting specialists have been forced to leave, with even the Red Cross finding it difficult to operate.
Several Buddhist monks have stated they would not end the marches and demonstrations until the dictatorship is “wiped from the land” and there have been chants saying, “Our uprising must succeed.” If the junta decides to crack down, it may well rely on new helicopters supplied by India, containing British and EU parts, to gun down protesters.