At a briefing at the National Endowment for Democracy in downtown Washington D.C., Ashin Khaymarsara, Chairman of the Thailand-Burma border-based All Burma Young Monks’ Union, says the monks’ movement in Burma, which began in the August 1988 national uprising and continues to this day, has no political ambition but only wants democracy, human rights and peace.
He says the majority of the 400,000 Buddhist monks in Burma, with great influence on the community in the cities as well as in the villages, have an important role to play in bringing about an end to authoritarian rule and democratic change in Burma.
He also says the military authorities view the influential Burmese clergy as a potential threat to their hold on political power and have jailed or disrobed monks who took part in political movements and restricted the activities of other monks through monks’ registration system and other measures like setting up a so-called Monks’ Support Group.
He claims it is nothing but a military intelligence proxy, headed by a lieutenant colonel of the Military intelligence, to keep a constant eye on what the government thinks are the unruly elements among the monks.
He also says there are about 20 monks in Burmese prisons now, the latest monk to be arrested being Rev. Nanda Wuntha. The 25-year-old Karen monk was detained in front of the British embassy in Rangoon April 4, 2003 for protesting against military rule and calling for sacrifices for change in Burma.
U Khaymarsara says there is a lack of religious freedom in Burma, compared to other countries, not only for the Buddhist majority but also for the other religious minorities like Christians and Muslims.
The Burmese government, on the other hand, has repeatedly said, through its internet website and at various press conferences, there is religious freedom in Burma.