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Page last updated at 16:07 GMT, Monday, 1 October 2007 17:07 UK

Burma unrest: Account from a monastery

A Buddhism student, who experienced first-hand the events of the last two weeks at a Buddhist monastery in Burma, describes the recent unrest.

Monks watch armed police officer
Rage, disappointment and hopelessness - this is what they feel
In Burma, the topic of politics is always on people's minds. But only until recently it would have been impossible to predict the events that were about to unfold.

It is commonly perceived that the government has spies in Buddhist monasteries.

There is always a feeling of suspicion and everyone's careful about what they say. Casual conversations have led to trouble in the past.

Burmese people protested against fuel price increases in August. The monks' first reaction was a response to the economic situation. Monasteries depend on material support from the public.

The price increases put a strain on ordinary people and in turn they couldn't spare much of their income to give to monasteries. Monks were worried that they can't survive like that and that they soon won't have anything to eat.

For those who have spent all their lives in a monastery, to leave and do something else was not an option. A few monks expressed their dissatisfaction to members of the government.

The incident in Pakokku, in which monks were beaten, was like a kick to their faces. It activated their attention and that's when they realised that this involves them too.

There was widespread outrage, but still no action.

Impact of the news

Then they heard on the radio that groups of monks were protesting on the streets of Rangoon. That's when they realised that something was happening. Everyone was glued to the radio waiting to hear the latest news from the BBC and Voice of America.

The news had a bigger impact on decisions and events, than any leader could have had.

Those who took part were from the younger generation of monks, who hadn't experienced the events of 1988 and thought that they couldn't be attacked.

The older monks were too frightened and hesitant. Those who had responsible positions in the monastery were particularly against anybody taking part in protests.

After they had fled the beatings, they would come back and cheer that they could go out and do what they have done
They issued orders to other monks not to take part. They were saying 'don't do anything, if you leave, you will be disassociated'.

The middle-level monks were sandwiched between the senior monks and the young ones. Many sneaked in and out.

After they had fled the beatings, they would come back and cheer that they could go out and do what they have done. Some got injured, but nobody was killed.

Then we heard on the news that monks were being killed. There was outrage, disappointment, hopelessness.

They wanted to send a message to the international community. They were hearing about China, sanctions, the UN, negotiations, things they didn't understand. But it gave them hope that the international community is watching closely what's happening in Burma.

Losing hope

The whole thing started as a religious movement. It was not an organised democratic movement and there was no intention whatsoever for it to be turned into one. Monks were adamant about it.

They knew that there is no point in asking the generals for freedom. They knew that they don't have guns and can't beat the army. All they wanted to do was show the world what their situation is and that they are prepared to die.

They were very hopeful about the UN envoy coming to Burma. But they were quite surprised to hear that he met Aung San Suu Kyi.

They love and respect her, but they felt that this time it is about them and that the UN envoy should be speaking to them. They felt that it's a distraction from them while they are being shot at and need protection.

This was an opportunity for them to express themselves for the first time after 20 years. Their eyes are on the international community, their only hope is that the world will see their plight and help them.

But when they hear that support for the demonstrations is dwindling and time passes by without help from anyone, they lose hope. They are getting disillusioned and eventually they'll give up.




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