Monks demand US policy 'timeline' as threats continue

Oct 2, 2009 (DVB), United States' engagement with the Burmese junta must be linked to a clearly defined time scale with comprehensible goals, according to an international network of Burmese monks.

The New York-based International Burmese Monks Organisation (IBMO) welcomed the announcement by the US on Monday that it would begin direct engagement with Burma, via a letter sent to the Subcommittee on East Asian and Pacific Affairs.

"US direct diplomacy with the regime should not be an open-ended process, but should take place within a reasonable timeframe and with clear benchmarks," the letter said.

Dozens of monks, including members of the IBMO and the All Burma Monks Association (ABMA), protested on Tuesday outside of the building in New York where US officials held talks with a Burmese government delegation.

A statement released by IBMO expressed frustration that talks where overwhelmingly bilateral, and didn't include Burma's opposition movement.

"We are disappointed that neither monks nor members of Burma's democracy movement were invited to testify," the statement said.

Meanwhile, monks inside Burma are reportedly preparing to boycott religious services for the ruling junta, unless some 240 monks are released from prison.

A spokesperson for the ABMA, U Dhamma Wuntha, said it was unlikely the government would apologise so the boycott, known as Pattanikkujjana, would start tomorrow.

"The [government] doesn't have courage to admit its wrong doing; they are cowards," he said.

Authorities have reportedly threatened monks with arrest should they run the boycott. One monk said that security had been tightened, and monks were unable to leave the monasteries after 9pm.

Ashin Pannasiri, a veteran of the September 2007 monk-led uprising, who escaped from jail to India, said that intimidaiton was likely to continue.

"The junta is really afraid of monks, so they will continue to arrest monks. Some monks are still missing [after being] arrested a few weeks ago".

Reporting by Joseph Allchin and Naw Say Phaw

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