Myanmar monks remain defiant

Activists behind 2007 anti-government protests promise another showdown.

    The crackdown by Myanmar's military rulers has left few monks in the monasteries of Sittwe

    The monasteries in Sittwe are half empty, only the children remain.


    Last August it was in this coastal city in the northwest of Myanmar that the monks led the first protests against the military government.


    In video

    Myanmar's dissident monks
    in hiding

    The protests quickly spread to across the country and to Myanmar's largest city, Yangon, before the military turned its guns on the demonstrators.


    Now those who took part in last year’s anti-government protests are scattered and on the run.


    But despite the crackdown, the dissident monks are preparing for another showdown.


    At a secret location Al Jazeera met the 24-year-old monk who organised the first protest.


    "There will be another demonstration," he says. "Monks became men after the demonstration and they are angry and depressed after the arrests."


    He says the monks hopes had been buoyed by the international attention last year's protests received and he is ready to spread the word again once the protests resume.


    "I had a small generator in my village and I sold it to buy a second-hand camera," he told Al Jazeera. "If the chance comes again, I can record what happens."


    Eventually, our own people will have to decide  our own future

    For now though, he is in hiding. When he went to his village after the protests were crushed by the military the local authorities already had his picture and an arrest warrant.


    His friends who tried to escape across the border to Bangladesh were arrested on the way.


    Footage obtained by Al Jazeera shows some of those arrested being paraded in front senior clergy who support the government.


    Activists allege some prisoners were abused and where they are now remains unclear.


    "Those who were arrested were tortured in prison," one activist told Al Jazeera.


    "Political prisoners are beaten and killed, and we heard that even though they provided rice it was mixed with lead. It’s a kind of torture, isn’t it?"


    Hundreds of protesters have been rounded
    up and tortured, activists say
    Other dissident leaders believe that the monks' actions last year have already weakened the government.


    As a result a loose alliance has developed between different groups opposed to the military regime - among them, members of the student-led uprising in 1988 when Myanmar was known by its former name, Burma.


    Al Jazeera met the acting leader of the "88 Generation" group of activists, known by his code name Phoenix.


    "The problem here is not that the government are strong but that we the opposition are not strong enough," he says.


    "Eventually, our own people will have to decide our own future. There will be time when all people, all the citizens of Burma, will stand up and say something against the government. There will be time, I believe."




    The challenges confronting Phoenix and his colleagues are enormous.


    There are different types of surveillance – government informers in every street and people fear that the walls have ears.


    Even inside their families, people cannot talk aloud because of the fear of informers, members of the government militia and other forms of surveillance.


    On the surface life seems normal, but you can feel the constant fear everywhere.


    Many people that Al Jazeera spoke to seemed deeply depressed by the brutal suppression of what has been called "the saffron revolution".


    Now Myanmar's democrats must rebuild and start again.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera


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