Burma plans crackdown on monks as election nears

Military authorities fear repeat of 2007 when monks led 'Saffron Uprising'

The military authorities in Burma are planning a crackdown on the country's Buddhist monks to "discipline" them ahead of forthcoming elections.

State media reported over the weekend that the senior abbot who heads a government-controlled committee of senior monks is to call a meeting to outline new regulations. While monks are not eligible to vote in the election, analysts believe new restrictions will be imposed to further prevent them becoming involved in anything considered "political".

The junta, which styles itself the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC), has said that elections are to be held later this year as part of a process of transforming Burma into a democracy. Most observers believe the vote will be a deeply flawed process that further cements the role of the military within the country's political establishment, and the main opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi is widely expected to still be under house arrest and unable to participate. But some analysts believe the authorities remain nervous about a potential challenge from the monks, who in the autumn of 2007 led major demonstrations.

"They are still very nervous about this election. They have done everything they can do to control it, and the monks are the only possible challenge to them," said Bertil Lintner, a Thailand-based analyst and author of a recent Human Rights Watch report on the fate of Burma's monks. "They are reining in the ethnic minority armies; they have controlled the political opposition. The monks are the only potential threat."

There are an estimated 400,000 monks in Burma with perhaps a further 50,000 nuns. In September 2007, a group of monks seized on an incident in which a clergy member in the town of Pakokku was badly beaten by a junta-controlled militia to form the secret All Burma Monks' Alliance and launch protests across the country – demonstrations that rapidly became a vehicle for demands for democracy.

In the subsequent crackdown by the authorities, campaigners believe that dozens of monks and demonstrators were killed. Many more were detained and given long prison sentences. Scores of other monks who took part in the "Saffron Uprising" were forced into exile in Thailand and other countries.

The official Burmese-language newspaper Myanmar Ahlin said that Ashin Kumara, the chairman of a government-controlled sangha, or monks' committee, was to call a meeting of senior abbots at which the new guidelines would be announced. The move, said the newspaper, would help to "safeguard Buddhism, which had been weakened by attacks on the state monks' committee".

Many of those involved in the September 2007 uprising were younger members of the Buddhist clergy who ignored the proclamations of their abbots not to get involved in the demonstrations, which tapped into soaring public disquiet over rising fuel and food prices. As part of the junta's response, identification cards were introduced in 2008 to make the monitoring of monks easier. "Monks from different divisions and states were given different-coloured cards," monk Ashin Kaythira told the Irrawaddy website.

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Sport
sportWWE latest including Sting vs Triple H, Brock Lesnar vs Roman Reigns and The Undertaker vs Bray Wyatt
Arts and Entertainment
Louis Theroux: By Reason of Insanity takes him behind the bars again
tvBy Reason of Insanity, TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Cassetteboy's latest video is called Emperor's New Clothes rap
videoThe political parody genius duo strike again with new video
Arts and Entertainment
tvPoldark, TV review
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Junior Web Designer - Client Liaison

£6 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity to join a gro...

Recruitment Genius: Service Delivery Manager

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Service Delivery Manager is required to join...

Recruitment Genius: Massage Therapist / Sports Therapist

£12000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A opportunity has arisen for a ...

Ashdown Group: Practice Accountant - Bournemouth - £38,000

£32000 - £38000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A successful accountancy practice in...

Day In a Page

No postcode? No vote

Floating voters

How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

By Reason of Insanity

Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

Power dressing is back

But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

Caves were re-opened to the public
'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

Vince Cable interview

'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

The only direction Zayn could go

We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

Spells like teen spirit

A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

Licence to offend in the land of the free

Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

From farm to fork in Cornwall

One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

Robert Parker interview

The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor