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SLORC's Offensive Against Buddhist

Subject: SLORC's Offensive Against Buddhist Monks Intensifies

by Buddhist Relief Mission 
April 6, 1997

On March 17, 1997, news reached the international press that Buddhist monks
were  rioting in Mandalay, Burma's cultural capital and second largest city.
Official SLORC sources reported the violence erupted when a Buddhist girl
was molested by a Muslim in Mandalay.  A later report referred to "riots
between Buddhist monks and Muslims."  Some news services wrote that the
government had imposed martial law, while others said that there was only a
"curfew."  This flurry of news seems to have come after several mosques were
destroyed--by mobs of Buddhist monks, according to some reports.  By March
21, protests had spread to other cities.  Although it was later reported
that demonstrators were demanding the release of a monk who had been
arrested, no further details were available.  Every report intimated that
the cause of the riots was the attempted rape.

To anyone familiar with Buddhist monks, these reports did not ring true.
Certainly Burmese monks have joined demonstrations and have actively
participated in protests against the SLORC since 1988, against Ne Win's
military dictatorship before that, and against repression since the time of
British rule.  The alleged violence and the destruction of mosques, however,
was not very credible.  The lack of details regarding these events and
SLORC's restriction of movement by monks, as well as the course of
succeeding events must have left the astute observer wondering. 

For those alert to SLORC's tactics, all this news sent signals that
something of major significance was taking place and that the military junta
might be making a preemptive move to quell a perceived threat to its
iron-fisted rule.

Certainly there are communal tensions in Burma, particularly between the
Burman majority and Chinese and Muslim minorities.  In the summer of 1988
the official media made much of threats of Buddhist violence against
Muslims, which in actual event never materialized.   With Buddhists making
up 90 percent of the population, Muslims and Christians are small
minorities, and, by and large, their leaders have to be placating and
cautious.  Occasionally both Muslims and Chinese have been useful targets of
hate, always convenient distractions for other problems the general
population might face.

Inside reports indicate that a number of monks in Mandalay were planning to
stage a demonstration for Burma's Human Rights Day, March 13,  to focus
attention on the deaths of 16 monks in SLORC prisons.  However, their
demonstration was postponed when SLORC, which has spies in many monasteries,
obtained advance information and swiftly moved to arrest some of the monk
leaders.  Because of these arrests, the situation, particularly in Mandalay,
was extremely tense in mid-March. 

At this time, despite SLORC's attempts to keep the news quiet, news of other
troubling events spread swiftly across the country via telephone lines, and,
with coded messages, around the world.   Independent reports confirm acts of
astonishing villainy at Maha Myat Mu Nye Pagoda, the most sacred pagoda in
the old Buddhist city of Mandalay.  

In the morning of March 16, Yedaw (Myethnarthit) Sayadaw, U Pinnyawantha,
the respected senior monk who daily wipes clean the face of the revered
Buddha image, Mahamuni, discovered a hole gouged in the stomach of the
image.  He immediately called other patron monks to investigate, and they
soon realized that the priceless ruby, "Padamya Myetshin," was missing.
This jewel is not an ordinary stone, but is regarded by pious Buddhists as a
wish-fulfilling gem of fabulous power. In subsequent discussions, it was
learned that SLORC officials had also stolen large amounts of gold from
Pakhan Pagoda, Anyathihataw Pagoda, and a temple in Pakkoku.

At 4:30 that afternoon, anti-Muslim riots broke out on the corner of 35th
and 84th Streets in Mandalay.  SLORC's explanation was that these riots were
monks' retaliation for the attempted rape, but  informed sources blamed
members of SLORC's own agents for trashing mosques and Muslim shops to draw
attention away from the thefts. 

The next morning, March 17, the Venerable U Pinnyawatha Sayadaw was arrested
by SLORC. 

Monks in Mandalay began demonstrating, with two demands-- that U Pinnyawatha
Sayadaw be freed, and that there be an immediate inquiry into the theft of
the Padamya ruby and the gold. 

Moving swiftly to prevent sympathetic monks from joining the Mandalay
demonstrations, the 39th Light Infantry Battalion surrounded
monastery-studded Sagaing Hill and closed the Ava Bridge across the Irrawady.

In the meantime, the anti-Muslim rioting spread to a number of other Burmese
cities, with more reports of SLORC agents dressed as monks provoking the
disturbances.  Some of these agents were said to be from the USDA, which is
sarcastically nicknamed "Kyant Phout," meaning a foul lizard of very bad
omen.  The All-Burma Muslim Union, a part of the Burmese pro-democracy
movement, immediately accused SLORC of being behind the latest
Buddhist-Muslim strife and of systematically causing trouble for Muslims.
Mohammad Yunus of the Rohingya Solidarity Organisation (RSO) of Arakan State
soon issued a statement charging that SLORC disguised its own agents as
monks to carry out the attacks.  RSO declared that dozens of Muslims had
been killed or wounded and 18 mosques demolished.  The RSO further charged
that the junta always made Muslims the "scapegoat whenever they faced strong
dissension from the masses." 

A major Buddhist celebration was scheduled at Rangoon's Kaba Aye for  March
23, offering lunch to one thousand monks.  That morning, however, it was
abruptly announced that only 100 selected monks would be allowed to attend
the much reduced event.   

In another abrupt move, the annual monks' examinations, traditionally held
at this time of year, have been canceled.   SLORC is undoubtedly afraid to
allow monks to gather freely.

In conjunction with this latest anti-SLORC uprising, more than 100 activist
monks are known to have been arrested and disrobed and at least three monks
killed outright by SLORC security forces.  Monasteries are under tight
security in many cities, especially Mandalay and Rangoon, and dawn-to-dusk
curfews have been imposed.

To informed observers, it seems certain that SLORC is manipulating these
latest events not only to hide its own crimes, but also to eliminate
resistance to its authority from a very influential sector of society, the
Buddhist Sangha.  One of SLORC's favorite slogans, ever present on
billboards, in magazines and newspapers, and on TV and radio, is "Crush all
destructive elements!"   Only in the lunatic world of SLORC could those
destructive elements mean activist monks, university students, NLD
supporters, and Daw Aung San Suu Kyi. 

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