Monks’ boycott of govt remains: Gambira

The recent political prisoner amnesty and ceasefire agreement with Karen rebels is not sufficient proof of the Burmese government’s democratic intentions, according to released monk leader Ashin Gambira, who said the religious boycott of government officials enacted during the September 2007 uprising remains in force.

Gambira has been quick to temper the hype that surrounded last Friday’s amnesty that included other prominent dissidents, including Min Ko Naing and Shan leader Khun Tun Oo. Following his sentencing in 2008, the 32-year-old was severely tortured.

“The government has transformed its external appearance into a civilian one but their efforts to implement democracy are still rather weak, while many cases of human rights violations continue,” he told DVB.

Asked whether he had any words for President Thein Sein, who was prime minister under the junta that jailed Gambira three years ago, he said the boycott had not been lifted.

“He [Thein Sein] is one of the members of the group our boycott was aimed at. [The government] will have to apologise to the monks three times in order for the Pattaneikkujanakan [boycott] to be revoked.”

He added that the demands that triggered the 2007 uprising, namely that the government drop fuel prices, were still in place. Days before the amnesty, it was announced that fuel and electricity prices would hike, in some cases two-fold in order to meet a budget deficit, although campaigners were quick to point out the large sums of money the government makes from selling off the country’s vast energy reserves.

In all nearly 300 political prisoners were released on Friday, as well as number of former intelligence and customs officials purged by Than Shwe, who ruled Burma until March last year. While the amnesty was met with celebrations, observers have been quick to point out its shortcomings, namely the conditions attached to releases, and the fact that around 1,000 political prisoners remain behind bars.

Monk Ashin Wirathu, who was eight years into a 25-year jail term when he released from Mandalay’s Obo Prison last Friday, said the government’s decision to free leaders of various groups, such as the All Burma Monks’ Association and 88 Generation Students, whilst keeping lower-ranking members behind bars might sow discord.

He listed a number of monks that remain in prison. “This makes me think that there is intention [on behalf of the government] to cause dissension following the releases.”

The US followed the amnesty and ceasefire with an announcement that it would appoint an ambassador to Burma for the first time since Burmese troops gunned down around 3,000 pro-democracy protestors in 1988. Visiting US senator Mitch McConnell told reporters after meeting with Aung San Suu Kyi today that while the move was promising, more needed to be done.

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