Monks threaten face-off with junta as Myanmar’s constitutional drafting process begins

Updated On: Dec 07, 2007

Even as the UN Special Envoy Ibrahim Gambari prepares to make his third trip there this month, and that the junta has released more than 8,500 prisoners as a “gesture to the United Nations and to celebrate progress on its long-awaited constitution”, there are no signs of impending change.

Senior -General Than Shwe (the country’s top leader) has exhorted the citizens to cooperate with the government in implementing the country’s infamous “Roadmap to Democracy” with “patriotism, nationalism and union spirit”. Drafting of the new constitution apparently began on Monday this week (3 December).

This has obviously won no praise for the junta. US State Department deputy spokesman Tom Casey declared the US stand, “It is Than Shwe and his senior generals who are obstructing progress toward democratization in Burma. We condemn the Burmese regime's rejection of meaningful participation for Aung San Suu Kyi and other democratic and ethnic minority leaders in the process of drafting a national constitution.” The opposition group, the National League for Democracy (NLD), condemned the junta for causing national prestige to plummet to a “very low level”.

More alarmingly, the monks are getting increasingly incensed over the oppression, the latest being the forced closure of the largest AIDS hospice in Yangon last week and the continuing arrests and detention. Having initiated the protests in September, the monks have come out to declare that they are prepared to clash with the junta if the generals continue to shun international calls for reforms. This might sendMyanmar into a meltdown. Also, contraband videos by two senior monks –Nyanissara and Kawvida –titled “The end of sinful people” are circulating well. These videos contain sermons condemning the despotic rule and warned of hellish retribution for the wicked.

In the light of such bad press, Myanmar is trying to manipulate the ASEAN in more embarrassing ways than at the ASEAN Summit. Incensed by the criticisms, Brigadier-General Kyaw Hsan, Myanmar Information Minister, told the Committee of Culture and Information (COCI) of ASEAN “to unitedly distribute authentic and constructive information to resist the media influence of some powerful nations” at a meeting on Tuesday (3 December). He slammed the incendiary “Western” media for “inciting for instability in the country they want to interfere [in]” and abusing “biased information with negative views to tarnish the image of the country intentionally”. Kyaw Hsan then called for counter-tactics by ASEAN’s media so as to let “the international community correctly know about the ASEAN through communications and information techniques”. He also said that a “correct” media which the ASEAN governments could bring about would bring about true “development of ASEAN”.

Of course, given the ASEAN solidarity and policy of non-interference, it is expected that Myanmar’s wishes may be heeded. It is significant that ASEAN has graced Myanmar with the honour of holding the first ASEAN film festival in Yangon next week to celebrate the grouping’s 40th anniversary.

China is expected to continue propping up the junta especially as two vital economic deals have been signed between both countries. This week, China beat India to the rights to buy natural gas fromMyanmar's biggest field, Daewoo International Corp. (the operator of the field) said. Furthermore, China's Yunnan Joint Power Development Co. has inked an agreement with Myanmar's Electric Power Ministry to operate the power station at Shweli dam for 40 years. The Shweli dam is China's first build-operate-transfer hydropower project with the junta. It is reported that this dam project will adversely affect thousands of people and devastate the environment.  (6 December 2007)


Myanmar AIDS monastery shuts (AP, 5 December 2007)

U.S. Condemns Myanmar Excluding Suu Kyi from Democracy Talks (Bloomberg, 5 December 2007)

China Wins Rights to Myanmar's Gas, Beating India (Bloomberg, 5 December 2007)

Myanmar Army build up in Karen state (AHN, 5 December 2007)

Myanmar urges ASEAN media persons to resist influence of some powerful nations (Xinhua, 5 December 2007)

Burma: ASEAN Should Not Go Against the UN (Asian Tribune, 5 December 2007)

UN envoy to return to Burma soon (Bangkok Post, 5 December 2007)

Chased from streets, Myanmar monks get out message on video (AP, 4 December 2007)

Myanmar top leader urges implementation of roadmap with patriotism (Xinhua, 4 December 2007)

Chased from streets, Myanmar monks get out message on video (AP, 4 December 2007)

US says Myanmar junta obstructing negotiations on new constitution (AP, 4 December 2007)

Myanmar Opposition: Nat'l Prestige Low (AP, 4 December 2007)

Myanmar Frees More Than 8,500 Prisoners (AP, 4 December 2007)

Myanmar top leader urges implementation of roadmap with patriotism (Xinhua, 4 December 2007)

CNPC mulls large refinery in Yunnan -report (Reuters, 3 December 2007)

China dam project a boost for Myanmar junta – report (Reuters, 3 December 2007)

Myanmar to hold first ASEAN film festival: report (AP, 3 December 2007)