Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Ashin Kovida on 2 days that shook the world in 2007

This is Part II (here is Part I) of my exclusive interview with Ashin Kovida, Chairperson of the Monks Representative Group. I spoke with this prominent leader of the September 2007 mass protests at a safe house near the Thai-Burma border.

JOTMAN: Where were you the night of the 25th?

On the night of the 25th of September raids on the monasteries occurred in Rangoon. The next day there were blood stains in the monasteries. They beat up monks. They arrested monks. They left blood stains on the floors.

My monastery had only a few monks. They raided mainly the big monasteries.

JOTMAN: What happened on the 26th? (Note: here is my summary of news reports out of Burma on 09/26, and for further context here is my September timeline ).

KOVIDA: On the 26th the security was very tight. I was at She Shwedagon -- around a kind of bonze Buddha in front of Swadagon. At the times the main roads in Rangoon inside the city were blocked by the security.

JOTMAN: And the protest continued?

KOVIDA: The people couldn't go close to the Shwedagon Pagoda. But fortunately about 300 monks and townsfolk reached it, taking sneaky routes to get there. And as soon as they arrived in the compound, the security immediately came out and pushed them away, telling them to "move, move, move," forcing them down the streets. . .

So they were blocked, and they couldn't go anywhere, so what they had to do was . . .

It was very hot at the time, under the sun. I was negotiating with the police officers there. Meanwhile, the monks started reciting the metta sutta (sutra of loving kindness). During the negotiations, the police kept saying you can't be here. No more than 5 people they said, referring to the curfew. Now they said, "we will prepare the car. we will bring you back to your monasteries." But we don't trust them. Because on the 25th they had raided the monasteries and beaten up the monks. And if we accepted their offer of transport, we had no idea where they would take us.

So after about an hour of negotiations the security forces started arresting -- I mean pulling students out from the group. And I was shouting, "Hey, don't touch the people! You cannot do this!" They were hesitant.

That was when one young novice monk started moving and running so the other people -- you know all the people were under the pressure of a difficult situation -- and so this one person breaks away. I mean he explodes. He's off running as fast as he can. And others break away too, they are racing.

We all ran. We ran hard until we came to a wall. Soon a lot of people are trying to climb the wall. As they are trying to get over it, the security forces are pulling at their legs. They pull some down. Girls and some nuns are pulled down by their sarongs. These they tear off. They beat people on their heads. Brutally.

Only about 70 people were able to escape, includin
g myself; only those of us who could climb the wall to reach the other side. Although I made it there I got hit by a policeman's rubber baton.

JOTMAN: What happened next?

KOVIDA: It so happened that after we crossed the wall, on the other side was a monastery. And we found people gathering there to go to Shwedagon Pagoda. This group of people had gotten very angry because the military had begun beating the monks. So they started throwing stones and bricks at the riot police and soldiers. I think the riot police shot a tear-gas bomb into the crowd. So the situation was worsening before our eyes.

At this point I tried to request to the people not to do violence. Although, of course, the troops had started the violence. So I am trying to explain to the people that we are doing a peaceful demonstration and we want it to end up in a peaceful way.

Photos: Jotman, map of Rangoon is from the BBC.


  1. I have been away a while- illness- but am glad to be back reading again. All the while, you kept Burma at the forefront of my mind. Your pictures of the children are beautiful- they are the forgotten victims in this story.

    Happy New Year, Jotman. May 2008 and bring peace to Burma.

  2. Bella, I am really glad to have you back, to hear you are feeling better -- and enjoying the Burma Smiles. Happy New Year Bella!


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