Burma: Monks Stage Quiet Protest
Buddhist monks staged a peaceful protest march to mark the anniversary of last year's bloody crackdown.
About 100 Buddhist monks in western Burma staged a peaceful protest march to mark the anniversary of last year's bloody crackdown on pro-democracy demonstrators as world powers called on the junta to make "tangible" progress on political reforms.
Ahead of a possible visit by UN chief Ban Ki-moon to the country by the end of the year, the first ministerial meeting on Burma by the five permanent Security Council and mostly Asian nations urged the country's military rulers to co-operate with Mr Ban's special envoy to resolve the nation's political crisis.
Envoy Ibrahim Gambari has made four visits to Burma since the protests a year ago but failed to restart a dialogue between detained democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi and the junta or achieve significant gains.
In the country's biggest city, Rangoon, recently released political prisoners helped celebrate Saturday's 20th anniversary of the founding of the party led by Ms Suu Kyi, while police and other security personnel kept a close watch.
No protests directly related to the crackdown anniversary were noted in Rangoon, where last year's demonstrations attracted up to 100,000 people. The junta put down the protests with force, killing at least 31 people and detaining thousands.
But in the western port city of Sittwe, about 100 Buddhist monks marched peacefully in heavy rain for about 30 minutes, according to witnesses who asked not to be named.
The monks' march took the form of their morning round of begging for alms, but it is widely understood that such a large number of monks marching in an organised fashion represents a veiled protest.
In Rangoon, six truckloads of riot police were deployed near the opposition party offices. People attending the ceremony there were videotaped and watched by at least 50 plainclothes security personnel.
The ceremony, attended by about 350 people including party members, diplomats and reporters, was also a homecoming for a senior party member, Win Tin, released from jail a few days earlier.
In an anniversary statement, the party reiterated its call for the immediate release of all political prisoners, including Ms Suu Kyi — who has spent 13 of the past 19 years in detention — and her deputy Tin Oo. It also called for the freedom of Buddhist monks and ethnic leaders arrested by the junta.
The party was founded in 1988 after an abortive pro-democracy uprising, and since then has faced nearly constant harassment from the ruling military. When the party's candidates won the most seats in 1990 general elections, the military refused to let it take power.
The anniversary coincided with UN talks, which Mr Ban's spokeswoman, Michele Montas, said underlined "the responsibility of the Myanmar (Burma) Government to demonstrate its stated commitment to co-operation with the good offices (of the UN Secretary General) through further tangible results".
The meeting of Mr Ban's so-called "group of friends on Myanmar" also wanted the generals to "respond more positively" to international demands for the release of political prisoners, including Ms Suu Kyi, and a dialogue with the opposition, Ms Montas said.
Mr Ban chaired the informal talks on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly amid little signs the military junta will embrace political reforms, one year after its bloody crackdown on pro-democracy protests.
The group comprises permanent Security Council members — the United States, Britain, France, Russia and China — as well as Australia, the European Union, India, Norway, Japan and South Korea plus ASEAN states Indonesia, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.