Buddhist Monks Renew Protest in Myanmar

Myanmar's military regime has released several pro-democracy activists that were arrested during a deadly crackdown last month on anti-government demonstrations.

Thousands were detained by the military, which said most have since been released, others fled rather than face arrest, and possibly worse.

Ktun Haung and his wife Sanda — not their real names – are at the Thai border town of Mae Sot. A month ago, they were affluent, up-and-coming professionals in Myanmar's largest city, Yangon. The two were childhood sweethearts and they got married earlier this year, started a new business and were talking about starting a family, too. Then came the demonstrations, which Sanda joined, figuring there was safety in numbers.

"If the government arrested everybody who demonstrated, there would be no place to put them all," she said. "I thought like that."

She thought wrong. A few weeks after the military crushed the demonstrations; authorities came for Sanda at her mother's house but missed her by just a few minutes.

They then tried her sister's house - she wasn't there either, but her husband was. He didn't know what was going on.

"Immediately my husband realized the situation ... and he answered 'I don't know where she's gone,'" Sandra said.

They asked him for his wife's passport. He said he didn't have it. They said get it, and if you don't we'll use force. Not wanting to cause trouble in his sister's house, Ktun Haung complied and the police left.

"After that, I called my wife," he said. "She told me she was OK, but wouldn't tell me where she was.

She was afraid the police were listening.

Starting from that day, he didn't go back home and slept in different places.

Sanda reached out to a powerful and influential uncle. With good contacts high in the military government, she hoped he could fix things.

"The next day, he called me and said what did you do?" she said. Her uncle said "it's not a simple case. They believe that you are the channel between foreign political support and all the information the political information from inside."

Many people did pass information to the outside world, namely photographs and videos about the violent crackdown.

But Sanda said she was not one of them. All she did, she said, was join the demonstrations. She said she thought seriously about staying and facing the charges against her.

"I didn't want to leave Myanmar. My family is there and I don't want to leave them. I had a long discussion with my family and they all suggested I do not stay and face the case," she said.

The family was afraid they would torture her into confessing to something she had not done. So Sanda and her husband left Yangon two weeks ago. He was unhappy about leaving his new business, but never considered staying without her.

"We've been in love for a long time," he said. "There was no way I'd stay if she left and it wouldn't have been safe for me to stay anyway. ... (in) Myanmar, if they don't find the person they're looking for they'll go after the one that person is closest to. So it was safer for both of us to leave."

They couple said it took 10 days to make their way to the border and to slip across into Thailand. Now they are refugees with no passports, lying low, fearful of being arrested and deported.

They have little hope of returning to their once comfortable life, but neither of them regrets taking part in the demonstrations, even though that decision appears to have cost them their comfortable life.

"Sure, we were comfortable. We had a good business," Ktun Haung said. "We lived a lot better than most, but it could have been taken away at any time. The people in power make the rules and bend the rules as they please. Nobody is safe."

Buddhist Monks Renew Marches in Myanmar

More than 100 Buddhist monks marched peacefully in northern Myanmar on Wednesday, in the first such public demonstration since the country's military regime launched a bloody crackdown last month on pro-democracy activists, several monks said.

The monks in Pakokku shouted no slogans, but one monk told the Democratic Voice of Burma, a Norway-based short-wave radio station and Web site run by dissident journalists, that the demonstration was a continuation of the protests in September.

"We are continuing our protest from last month as we have not yet achieved any of the demands we asked for," the monk told Democratic Voice of Burma.

"Our demands are for lower commodity prices, national reconciliation and immediate release of (opposition leader) Aung San Suu Kyi and all the political prisoners," said the monk, who was not identified by name.

He said they had little time to organize, so the march was small, but "there will be more organized and bigger protests soon."

As many as 100,000 demonstrators turned out last month in Myanmar's largest city, Yangon, before the protests were crushed by troops who fired on crowds Sept. 26-27. The crackdown left at least 10 people dead by the government's count, though opposition groups say as many as 200 were killed. The military junta's crushing move drew international condemnation.

Pakokku, a center for Buddhist learning with more than 80 monasteries about 390 miles northwest of the commercial center of Yangon, was the site of the first march last month by monks as they joined - and then spearheaded - the biggest anti-government protests in nearly two decades.

The protests originally started Aug. 19, when ordinary citizens took to the streets to vent anger after the government hiked fuel prices as much as 500 percent. The rallies gained momentum when Buddhist monks in Pakokku joined the protests in early September.

Reports that troops had beaten protesting monks in Pakokku on Sept. 6 rallied monks around the country to join the burgeoning marches.

On Wednesday, the monks started out at Pakokku's Shwegu Pagoda, marching for nearly an hour and chanting Buddhist prayers without incident. They then returned to their respective monasteries, two monks said in telephone interviews, speaking on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisals.

The march came after a pro-junta rally in town. Opposition groups in exile claim such rallies are stage-managed by the government.

Historically, monks in Myanmar, who are revered in the country, have been at the forefront of protests, first against British colonialism and later military dictatorship.

They played a prominent part in the failed 1988 pro-democracy rebellion that sought an end to military rule, imposed since 1962. The junta held general elections in 1990, but refused to honor the results when Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy party won. Suu Kyi has been detained under house arrest for more than 12 of the past 18 years.

From NPR reports and The Associated Press

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