Monks boycott junta chief in Sri Lanka

Nov 13, 2009 (DVB), Burmese monks living in Sri Lanka have said they will enact a boycott of religious services for the visiting Burmese junta chief in protest against mistreatment of monks in Burma.

Senior General Than Shwe, who has presided over the ruling military government since 1992, this week made a rare visit to Sri Lanka.

The notoriously reclusive leader is known to regularly shun diplomatic meetings with foreign envoys visiting Burma, and rarely sets foot outside of the new jungle capital, Naypyidaw.

U Awbartha, a member of the Burmese Scholar Monks Association in Sri Lanka, said that the normally apolitical monk community would deny religious services, a practice known as Pattanikkujjana, for Than Shwe.

"Burmese monks inside and outside of the country initiated their act of Pattanikkujjana against the government who tortured, murdered and imprisoned them after the 2007 Saffron Revolution," he said."The Pattanikkujjana act is still in place so we would not accept any donation [from Than Shwe]. We have also urged our fellow monks to refuse his donations."

He added that ties between the two countries appear to have strengthened since the Sri Lankan government successfully defeated the rebel group, the Tamil Tigers, last year.

The Sri Lankan president, Mahinda Rajapaksa, who has been heavily criticized by the United Nations for allegedly violating international law during the conflict, visited Burma soon after the Tamil defeat.

The Sri Lankan conflict had ranked alongside the Burmese junta's conflict with the opposition Karen National Union (KNU) as one of the world's longest running.

"Burma doesn't have many friends in Europe and in America," said U Awbartha. "Similarly, Sri Lanka hasn't been in close relations with these countries due to their war against the Tamils. I think these two countries are building diplomatic ties because of this."

Meanwhile, Than Shwe has reportedly been taken ill at the President's House in Colombo, where doctors are treating him for a "minor stomach ailment", according to the Colombo Page news agency.

Reporting by Htet Aung Kyaw

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