Burma: labor camps for detained monks —”energy blackmail” silences neighbors

Democratic Voice of Burma Oct. 2 reports claims from members of the Burmese junta’s Swan Arr Shin militia that thousands of detained monks could be headed for labor camps:

Monks currently detained at the government technical college compound in Insein township may be sent to a hard labour prison camp, according to a source at the college compound.

Around 1,900 people, including monks, nuns, students and civilians, have been detained in the college compound as part of the government crackdown on recent mass demonstrations.

Among those detained are young monks aged between 16 and 18, and novices as young as 5 to 10 years old. Nuns are also being held at the compound, along with 140 other women. All monks and nuns have been disrobed and made to wear civilian clothes.

According to a Swan Arr Shin member placed inside the compound, authorities are planning to send the detained monks to a hard labour prison camp in Sagaing township.

The compound is being guarded by troops from battalion 77, who took part in the crackdowns. Swan Arr Shin members are also being paid 3,000 Kyat a day (about USD 2) to keep a close watch on the detainees inside the compound.

Batholomew’s Notes on Religion provides a quote from an Oct. 1 BBC World Service interview with Win Naing of the Burmese National League for Democracy, who has a rather alarming message:

As far as I know we are going into the religious war because the soldiers posted in Rangoon, they are non-Buddhist soldiers. They have crashed down the monasteries, they have beaten up the…the monks… They even decapitated our Buddhist statue. This is just the most critical, the most evil thing that happened in our country since our history… We are going into a religious war. All of the Buddhist countries have to participate…

This would appear to be a war between Buddhism and an authoritarian state that opposes religion per se as an uncontrollable force—not a war between religions. BBC News noted Sept. 29 that some 200,000 members of Burma’s Muslim minority have been forced by government persecution—sweeps, forced labor, torture—to flee into Bangladesh over the past 20 years. There, they languish in squalid refugee camps, with no aid from the government, and facing threat of forcible repatriation.

But Batholomew points to an editorial in The Nation of Bangkok Oct. 1, suggesting Burma’s Buddhist neighbors will not rush to the support of their co-religionists. Emphasis added:

A careful study of comments and statements by senior officials including Prime Minister Surayud Chulanont, General Sonthi Boonyaratglin, the chairman for the Council For National Security, and Foreign Minister Nitya Pibulsonggram shows a complete lack of moral courage and appreciation of the democratic struggle there. While the international community has expressed outrage and applied pressure, Thais are behaving as if they were…part of the Burmese junta.

In response to a question on the Burmese situation posed at a luncheon talk at the Asia Society in New York on Wednesday, Surayud said with a deadpan face that as the head of a Buddhist nation, he urged the Burmese junta not to use force as this was not the Buddhist way. He should have known by then that five people had already been killed…

Sonthi’s insensitive comments earlier also added salt to the wounds. He said quite blatantly that the demonstrators tried to incite the military junta. As a Thai-Muslim Army chief, he should have kept his mouth sealed, but he instead was showing off and defending the junta for the whole world to see…

Somehow, the government has not learned from its recent history. Thailand backed the Khmer Rouge, which committed genocide during its reign of horror between 1975-1978. From 1978-1995, almost three-million Cambodian refugees lived in camps along the Thai-Cambodian border… Currently, the government is committing the same faux pas with the Burmese.

As a frontline state to Burma, Thailand has utterly failed to show leadership… Rangoon has effectively blackmailed Bangkok for its energy needs.

For which we can thank Chevron.

See our last posts on Burma and Thailand.