As a follow up to my post on September 19 : the Associated Press now reports that thousands of Buddhist monks and sympathizers defied orders from the military junta by protesting today in the country's two biggest cities, Yangon and Mandalay. Soldiers, including an army division that took part in the brutal suppression of a 1988 uprising, converged on the capital.
Today's actions increase the pressure on the junta to either crack down on or compromise with a reinvigorated democracy movement. The monks have taken their traditional role as the conscience of society, backing the military into a corner from which it may lash out again. However, the military is restrained by China which has considerable investments in this country. The recent announcement by the Bush administration that more economic sanctions are to be placed on Myanmar is only political theater to claim that it plays a role in the current upheavals. When will we learn that sanctions are never effective, and that only home-grown democratic impulses work?
The military government has just banned assemblies of more than five people and imposed curfews in Myanmar's two largest cities. However, China has quietly set up some behind-the-scenes diplomacy asking junta envoys to reconcile with opposition democratic forces, and to consider releasing the leading opposition figure, Aung San Suu Kyi.
There's no question in my mind that civil upheavals are bound to happen shortly...a number of top photojournalists are on their way to Myanmar to cover the anticipated events.
Update 9.26.07: A dissident radio station says five monks have been killed, while the AFP agency puts the figure at three. Around 80 monks were arrested at Rangoon's Shwedagon pagoda and others were beaten as they tried to enter the building complex. One exiled dissident group said 300 monks had been arrested across the city.