‘Saffron Revolution’ Leaders Say Rangoon Chief Minister Should Face Court

By Lawi Weng & Zarni Mann, Reform 26 September 2013

RANGOON/MANDALAY — Leaders of Burma’s 2007 “Saffron Revolution” on Thursday called for Rangoon Division Chief Minister Myint Swe to stand trial over his alleged role in the violent crackdown against demonstrations led by Buddhist monks.

Thursday saw events in Burma to mark the sixth anniversary of the start of arrests and violent suppression of the uprising. In the former capital, Rangoon, dozens of monks and activists gathered at Shwedagon Pagoda to pray in remembrance of the military crackdown, in which at least 31 people were killed, according to the United Nations. In Mandalay, about 500 monks gathered at a monastery to remember the date.

U Vayama, a monk at from Twante Township who was among the leaders of the 2007 demonstrations, said at Shwedagon on Thursday that Myint Swe—who was in charge of security operations in Rangoon at the time—should stand trial for the crackdown. Myint Swe has denied any role in the violence and earlier this month reportedly said he was willing to be hanged if he was convicted of ordering the crackdown.

“If he [Myint Swe] says that he is not involved in the violence, let’s go to sit in front of the court together to investigate about this,” U Vayama told the Irrawaddy.

“We have ears, memories and eyes. We can remember everything, how we had to struggle during the crackdown. It is important to have it said out in the open in court.”

U Vayama said he was not concerned about revenge or punishment for Myint Swe and other alleged perpetrators of the crackdown, but wanted them to acknowledge their crimes and apologize.

“You dared to do it, you must dare to admit it,” he said.

At the ceremony in Mandalay, the monks who participated in the September uprising six years ago recalled their experiences and urged the people not to forget history.

“To look from the bright side, the Saffron Revolution somehow played an important role in the changes of the country we have seen today. However, we must not forget what we have experienced, not to take revenge, but to learn lessons from it,” said U Saedita from Magway Division’s Pakokku Township, where the uprising began in August 2007 as a protest against commodity prices.

Monks in Mandalay also urged the government to rewrite or abolish the 2008 Constitution and to solve land confiscation issues across the country.

“To form a democratic country and to have peace and stability in the country, the 2008 Constitution must be rewritten or repaired,” said U Tayzawbartha, a monk of Mandalay’s Kantatgone Masoeyein monastery who participated in the monk-led mass protests.

The monks said that solving the land issue is the most important for country’s stability and the economy, as Burma depends heavily on the fruits of agriculture.

“We would like to urge the government to take care first of the land issues, which are happening across the country because the farmers are suffering as their land has been confiscated. If farmers lost their land forever, the country’s agricultural sector will be suffered,” said U Tayzawbartha.

The monks explained that the commemoration ceremony in Mandalay on Thursday was initially prohibited by local authorities, but later got official approval.

“If we were not allowed to do this ceremony, we would have decided to go out into the streets [in protest]. But, thanks to our senior monks, we are allowed. Their [the authorities’] intention is to try to eliminate history. We would like to urge the authorities not to try covering up the history as well,” said U Tayzawbarth.

A statement from the 88 Generation Peace and Open Society said that the movement led by Burma’s Buddhist monks in 2007 had very important role the country’s current political reforms.

“We salute to whose participated in the movement, which was a victory of mitta [love and kindness], not only from the monks and but also with cooperation from students and civilians for this victory,” said the statement.

The movement highlight to the world the military regime’s brutality in the face of peaceful protest, added the statement.

Burma’s government has not yet apologized for the killings and suppression of monks and activists in 2007, despite the quasi-civilian government that took power in 2011—still dominated by the military and former generals—pledging to move the country toward democracy.

“They have guilt for the crackdown on our monks. Unless our monks forgive them, this guilt will not be let out of them. So they need to apologize for this first,” said U Vayama.