Monks Suffer with Dignity but Shall Not Forgive

Monk receiving treatment in Mandalay General Hospital (Photo: JPaing / The Irrawaddy)

Monk receiving treatment in Mandalay General Hospital (Photo: JPaing / The Irrawaddy)

RANGOON—Wunna Theddhi hasn’t been able to swallow food for five days. Police pounded him on the chest on Thursday morning during a raid on protesters demanding a complete shutdown of a Chinese-backed copper mine project in Sagaing Division, central Burma.

The crackdown, the most violent since reformist President Thein Sein took office last year, has so far seen nearly 70 Buddhist monks hospitalized—Wunna Theddhi among them.

“I still feel in extreme pain. I can only sip water,” the 45-year old told The Irrawaddy from his hospital bed in Mandalay. Several hours later he was transferred to the city’s General Hospital for more extensive treatment.

His voice was faint and weak but his spirit, like his fellow monks, was still strong. “As long as our demands are not met, we will protest again when we are totally cured,” said Wunna Theddhi.

Despite his painful injuries, the monk is still luckier than many of his fellow clergymen who suffered severe burns caused by incendiary devices hauled by riot police during the 2:30 am assault.

Tikha Nyana, 64, was the oldest cleric to be attacked by police at the Wan Bao Company offices by the Letpadaung mountain range. His son confirmed that nearly half the monk’s body was severely charred in the incident.

“My dad is now undergoing an operation for the second time since Thursday. He’s suffering a lot,” Ko Hmak told The Irrawaddy while waiting outside the theater in Mandalay General Hospital.

The 38-year-old explained that even though his father was not from one of the monasteries directly affected by the copper mine, he believed it was his moral obligation to stand with the protesters to demand the cancelation of the project because of its negative social and environmental impact.

“The crackdown was very inhuman,” added Ko Hmak. “Those responsible for the attack should admit their wrong-doings. As the son of an injured protester I demand that the government let us know who mastermind this attack and why.”

Sandawbatha still remembers what happened to him during the raid. “The water jets came first, and then our skin started itching. Suddenly black, round objects fell around us and fire broke out,” recalled the 28-year-old monk who has severe burns on his legs and left eye. Some of his skin has since peeled off, he said.

Some patients said their wounds have become infected and swollen over the last few days.

“But we are feeling a bit better now. We are satisfied with the treatment we have received [in Mandalay],” said Thusiddha, another Buddhist monk, whose face and hands were injured by incendiary devices.

On Saturday, the Sagaing Division Police Chief San Yu apologized for the raid and claimed that it was an accident, generating nationwide anger.

“We don’t accept their apologies,” said Wunna Theddhi faintly yet firmly from his hospital bed. “We demand that Thein Sein apologizes to us personally and completely shuts down the project. If they do so, we are happy to forgive them.”

“We don’t accept their offerings either,” said Thusiddha. “For they are trying to appease us for what they have done,” referring to some packs of soft drinks sent by the local authorities that lie untouched in the hospital corridor.

“Now we regard our time in hospital as taking bed rest—taking rest to grow strong enough for another strike against the government for a complete shutdown of the project,” said Sandawbatha.

When the 88 Generation Students group paid a visit to the hospital on Sunday, a 64-year old monk called Tikha Nyana asked them to support those who were brutally crushed during the raid. “Even though I’m speaking to you now, I’m not sure I will survive my injuries,” he said. “So let me urge you to please stand with us and bring us justice.”

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