The BBC reports (Monks seize troops in Burma town) that Buddhist monks have taken about 20 members of the security forces hostage in central Burma, a day after clashes at a protest rally.
In Burma (officially Myanmar) democracy and military dictatorship have been playing seesaw for decades. After liberation from Japanese occupation at the end of Word War II, was first under civilian leadership, but then in an ominous move, army Chief of Staff General Ne Win formed a caretaker government in 1958.
1960 saw elections and a win by U Nu, but then the military took over again in 1962. In 1974 power was transferred to a nominally civilian People’s Assembly — formed and run by the former military leaders. in 1990 the National League for Democracy (NLD) led by Aung San Suu Kyi won a general election, but the military did not recognize the result. If this is a game of seesaw, then the military dictatorship is playing Moe to democracy’s Calvin.
The governing military dictatorship has persecuted minorities, hounded pro-Democracy activists, kept Aung San Suu Kyi under house arrest on and off for 11 years, and has generally mismanaged the economy to the point where people are rioting.
The monks had been involved on Wednesday in an anti-government rally where security forces had fired rounds into the air. The officials who are being held captive had come round to the monastery the next day to apologize, only to be seized and to have their vehicles set alight.
This isn’t very monastic behavior, but given the situation we can’t help applauding them. According to the BBC the monastery is surrounded by hundreds of people who have gathered to support the monks, and the security forces are afraid to approach.
In June of this year US diplomats held talks with Burmese government ministers in Beijing to press for Aung San Suu Kyi’s release and to discuss the regime’s behavior, but reported that the military dictatorship showed no signs of softening its stance.
The regional grouping Asean (Association of South East Asian Nations) is also losing its patience with Burma, frustrated by the government’s continued refusal to progress towards democracy, the poverty it has causes, its tolerance of corruption, its human rights abuses and high levels of black market trading, which includes the smuggling of gems, drugs, and sex-workers into neighboring countries.
Burma is friendless in the region, but in January of this year China and Russia vetoed a draft US resolution at the UN Security Council urging Burma to stop persecuting minority and opposition groups.
Internal dissatisfaction with the ruling junta has been simmering for years and there’s no guarantee that the military dictatorship will relinquish power, but we can keep our fingers crossed that the actions of these feisty bhikkhus will inspire the Burmese people to restore democracy.