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Monks return to streets of Burma

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More than 100 monks have marched in central Burma, the first time they have returned to the streets since last month's bloody crackdown on protests.

The monks chanted and prayed as they marched through Pakokku, the site of an incident last month that triggered pro-democracy protests nationwide.

The government said 10 people died during the crackdown, but diplomats believe the toll was much higher.

Thousands more - many of them monks - were thought to have been detained.

Separately, the Human Rights Watch organisation has accused the Burmese army of forcibly recruiting children to cover gaps left by a lack of adult recruits.

Envoy's return

Pakokku is a centre of Buddhist learning about 630km (390 miles) north-west of the main Burmese city of Rangoon.

Reports that soldiers had beaten up monks there on 6 September gave momentum to protests that began on 19 August over fuel price rises.

Protest on 26 September in Rangoon
The junta began its crackdown on protests on 26 September

Witnesses at Wednesday's march said the monks did not make any overt political statements but that the rally was clearly in defiance of the junta.

In the wake of the crackdown on protesters last month, public gatherings of monks in Burma have been banned and many monasteries remain deserted.

According to the BBC's Asia correspondent Andrew Harding, there is no way of telling whether this new demonstration is the start of another wave of protests.

One monk who was on the march told the Democratic Voice of Burma, a Norway-based radio station run by dissident journalists: "We are continuing our protest from last month as we have not yet achieved any of the demands we asked for.

"Our demands are for lower commodity prices, national reconciliation and immediate release of [pro-democracy leader] Aung San Suu Kyi and all the political prisoners."

Aung Nyo Min, the Thai-based director of the Human Rights Education Institute of Burma, said of the rally: "This is very significant... we are very encouraged to see the monks are taking up action and taking up peaceful demonstrations in Burma."

'Systemic abuse'

There are hundreds of thousands of monks in Burma. They are highly revered and the clergy has historically been prominent in political protests.

The crackdown on protests sparked international action, with the United States and European Union imposing sanctions and embargoes.

United Nations envoy Ibrahim Gambari is expected to return to Burma this weekend for talks with the military government in the wake of the crackdown.

I do think this sort of economic and political frustration that is within the population will manifest itself again in the coming months
Mark Canning,
UK ambassador to Burma

A Western diplomat told Agence France-Presse news agency Mr Gambari would be in Burma from 3-8 November.

Mr Gambari last visited on 29 September, just three days after the bloody crackdown began, and met junta chief Gen Than Shwe and Aung San Suu Kyi.

He has been on a six-nation Asian tour to try to increase pressure on the generals.

The British ambassador to Burma, Mark Canning, told the BBC he expected further unrest in the country.

"I do think this sort of economic and political frustration that is within the population will manifest itself again in the coming months."

Meanwhile, in a move that will add further pressure to the ruling junta, the campaign group Human Rights Watch has released a report saying children as young as 10 are beaten or threatened with arrest to make them enlist in the military.

The government insists it is opposed to the use of child soldiers, but Human Rights Watch says the abuses have been extensive and systemic.


video and audio news
A monk talks about the march



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