This Monday, the foreign ministers of ASEAN will gather in Singapore for another meeting. Again, they meet in the aftermath of an atrocity -- this time, mass murder on an unimaginable scale -- perpetrated by an ASEAN member state. Burmese people have died -- and continue to die -- because after nearly two weeks, Myanmar's military junta has not permitted urgently needed assistance -- food, shelter, clean drinking water, and emergency medical care -- to reach 70-80% of cyclone survivors. On Monday the leaders of ASEAN confront a man-made tragedy of historic proportions.
As it happens, the message conveyed to me by the four escaped Burmese monks remains applicable as ASEAN foreign ministers -- including Myanmar's -- sit down for this meeting. May the words of these brave monks to be heard in Singapore on Monday. The original post follows.
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Tuesday, November 20, 2007
Leaders of SE Asia, these Burmese monks have a message for you.
This is the first report of the escape of these monks to appear in the English language.
Four monks who escaped Burma have a message for leaders of Southeast Asia gathered in Singapore this week.
The monks fled the crackdown in Rangoon and arrived in Thailand on November 14th. I spoke with them at their hideout Monday.
The monks tell me they first met one another this summer at Yan Myo Aung, a small monastery-school in Rangoon. The occasion of their meeting was the start of rainy season when monks begin a three month long retreat.
But things did not go well. There was not enough food to go around. By September they were subsisting on a diet of rice and salt.
First they passed out leaflets, then they marched.
At 1:00 am one night -- while the four were having a late night bull-session -- troops invaded their monastery. Trashing the place, soldiers even beheaded Buddha statues. The fate of monks who had been sleeping at the hour of the attack is unknown. Hunted by the soldiers, the four monks fled for their lives. U Sandawara, aged 23, said:
We faced many difficulties, and saw great suffering; and then we became confused about what to do after the crackdown. Fortunately we reached the border areas where we were able to make contact with some people. And we got ideas. And plans for future movements.At the start of our interview, there were four monks seated around the table with me. But the oldest monk soon got up and made his way to a lawn chair in the part of the large room used as the monk's sleeping area.
"He has a lung problem," the interpreter said of U Yewada, a fifty-one year old monk. I was assured that he had received medical treatment.
After telling me their story, I asked the monks if there was anything else they wanted to say. U Sandawara spoke up:
I would like to request that companies from different countries -- including Singapore, Thailand, Korea, and the West -- not continue doing business with Burma at this time. If possible, just a postponement -- or delay -- would be appreciated. Because this money supports the SPDC; it's used to buy arms and bullets and also even some -- how shall I put it? -- "strange" arms; these weapons get used in my land against my people, making them suffer.I asked U Sandawara if there was anything he wanted to say to the leaders of ASEAN, meeting this week in Singapore:
Leaders of the Southeast Asian countries at the ASEAN meeting: We ask you not to focus on your "own benefits" from Burma; please understand the Burmese peoples' current problems and difficulties. We ask that you think of the suffering Burmese as a part of your own family. Do something for democratic change in Burma."Picture Myanmar dictator Than Shwe seated at the conference table in Singapore," I said. "What should the other leaders say to him?"
And we request social support for the people who joined the protest and now suffer. Some people have bad injuries. Families are grieving. The military government will not help these people. People are hiding in different areas; they cannot go back home. Please put pressure on the military regime to arrange for their amnesty.
Understand that Shwe robbed the power from the people. Before he and the SPDC succeed in delay, in stealing the peoples' time, put the strongest pressure on him for democratic change in the very near future. That's my request. For all the leaders of ASEAN to pressure this man. Force him to change the country.
Know that Shwe is only interested in pursuing his own interests, his own business. He doesn't care about the people. There is a lot of corruption in his military group. He is not interested in improving the society. He's that kind of person. He's useless.
So please put pressure on him, so as to peacefully bring about a democratic Burma.
This post was the first of three in a series -- jots from my interview with U Sandawara, one of "the four escaped monks." For a list of my interviews with leaders of the monks' protest, the students' army, and to learn more about the plight of the Burmese people, click here.