Monks Take Officials Hostage for hours in Upper Burma Standoff

By Shah Paung, The Irrawaddy, September 6, 2007

Yangon, Myanmar -- More than 10 high ranking officials and military officers were held hostage for about 6 hours on Thursday by monks at a monastery in Pakokku township in Upper Burma. The captors demanded the release of about 10 fellow monks arrested in a peaceful demonstration that was violently broken up by the authorities on Wednesday.

The monks captured their hostages during a standoff in which four official cars were set on fire. The hostages included the chairman of the District Peace and Development Council in Pakokku, a regional center about 370 miles north of Rangoon with a sizable community of monks. The hostages were freed at around 4:00 p.m. but it was unclear how the two sides solved the standoff.

The hostages were held at the town’s Maha Visutarama Monastery, known as Ah Le Tiak, an eyewitness told The Irrawaddy by phone. It is one of dozens of monasteries in Pakokku, all of which also have teaching institutes for young monks.

The monastery has about 700 monks, some several hundreds of whom participated in Wednesday’s demonstration. The monks called for a repeal of recent price increases and the release of protesters arrested in the demonstrations that are continuing throughout the country.

"Three monks were tied to an electric pole and were beaten with rifle butts and bludgeons…"

Wednesday’s demonstration by the Pakokku monks was brutally suppressed by police, troops and pro-government paramilitary thugs. Troops fired warning shots.

A Phaungdawoo pagoda trustee who witnessed the scene said: “Three monks were tied to an electric pole and were beaten with rifle butts and bludgeons…one monk, named U Sandima, sustained head injuries.” Rumor has it that one injured monk died.

Eyewitnesses said soldiers and police were joined by members of the pro-junta Union Solidarity and Development Association and the paramilitary group Swan Arr Shin in breaking up the demonstration.

They said abbot Tay Zaw Batha, chairman of the regime-appointed supervisory religious body Pakokku Sangha Maha Nayaka, took part in the suppression of the protest. He had now gone into hiding, the sources said.

One senior monk in Pakokku said that tension would continue to be very high in coming days.

Historically, monks have played a major role in political demonstrations, notably in the 1988 popular uprising and in the 1990 anti-government protests.

During the 1988 unrest, the military regime launched a heavy crackdown on the demonstrators. More than 3,000 demonstrators are believed to have been killed, including many monks and novices.

Monks across Burma refused to accept alms from military leaders following the crackdown on monasteries. Hundreds of monks and young novices who participated in the movement were later arrested and given lengthy prison terms.

The demonstrations against the fuel and commodity prices rise have been going on since August 19, led by the 88 Generation Students group and some members of the opposition National League for Democracy. At least 120 demonstrators are reported to have been arrested so far.

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