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September 24, 2004 - The Burmese military junta, habituated to years of repressive rule, is today in the eye of a storm. The Sanghas have taken on the Tatmadaw. In a dramatic form of peaceful protest, Buddhist monks with upturned begging bowls have literally flooded the streets of Burma turning them into a crimson sea. The generals in their wildest dreams could not have imagined that the shock increase in oil prices would let loose a movement so momentous.

What started as sporadic protests spearheaded by 88 generation students seem to be engulfing the Burmese polity. Hordes of people have joined the protests. Anyone outside the regime's penumbra is for the protests. May be many of them too. Students, monks, activists, politicians, and more have reacted. The pent up feelings of a populace under the heels of the army has found a vent. In the ultimate analysis the demand is for change. That's what the people of Burma desire.

Used to putting down dissent with a heavy hand the junta thought nothing of arresting some monks who were protesting in Pakhokku in central Burma. Its goons owing allegiance to the Junta such as Union Solidarity Development Association and Swan Arrshin allegedly beat up a few monks after arrest. Rumours spread like wildfire that the monk beaten on the head with a baton had died.

It was as if the spark was waiting to be ignited. Monks sworn to the path of Ahimsa went on the rampage. The monks deftly turned the tables on the junta. Officials who forcibly entered the monastery in Pakhokku including those from the Department of Religious Affairs were detained and four of their vehicles set ablaze. The junta had to eat humble pie and release the arrested monks in exchange of the detained officials.

The Buddhist Monks Alliance demanded an apology from the regime. With the junta not obliging the monks took to the streets more vehemently. The several thousand disciplined Buddhist monks marched on the streets of several cities including Rangoon and Mandalay , praying for peace and freedom from evil and untold suffering. In another move which the junta did not anticipate, it called for a religious boycott (Thabeikmhaut) of the junta and anyone on its side.

The snowballing events have now become inexorably interlaced with the movement for democracy. The rarest of rare sight of detained democracy icon and Noble Peace Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi in the compound of her house by the marching monks on September 22 has lent a different dimension to the protests.

The fountainhead of the democracy movement in Burma came out to the compound and paid her obeisance to the monks bringing tears to her eyes and the monks. The emotional contact may weigh heavily on a junta struggling to control the growing monk's movement which has demanded freedom for Suu Kyi and all other political prisoners, a political dialogue with the opposition and an end to economic hardship in beleaguered Burma.

Caught totally unawares at the turn of events, the junta is floundering. While there are rumours of a massive crackdown, any attempt at it will invite the wrath of the populace, a majority of whom are Buddhists.

For the first time the monks alliance has called on Burmese people to 'banish the common enemy, the evil despots from Burmese soil forever.' If this does not send a chill down the collective spines of the military brass then nothing will.

The monks have done what they had to do. To be precise, they have done more than is expected of men in robes. They have opened the flood gates. Now it is for the people of Burma to carry the movement forward seeking to send where the military belongs - the barracks.

The current movement is definitely not a religious affair but it is rooted to the political system. The ruling military generals should also note that the protesting monks, students and activists and their supporters are calling for a political dialogue and national reconciliation, not a change of regime. This should pave the way for a peaceful political and economic transition in the country, unless the ruling generals chose to do something else. News of military movements in the cities, especially in Rangoon, has been trickling in. Using force will put Burma on a retrograde mode for at least the next 20 years.

The country needs a political solution to be negotiated across the table. Killings will not solve the natural-resource rich country's dilemma. Without solving the political and economic malaise Burma will be doomed notwithstanding the dictatorship. At this juncture there is an option for the regime for a "safe-exit" leaving behind its dark and bloody years.

It is now for the international community, especially Burma's neighbours to realize that they are in a way responsible for the situation in Burma. They need to intervene in Burma immediately and pressure the regime to talk to the opposition and ethnic nationalities for a peaceful transition to democracy. The people of Burma have once again spoken out. The message is that they want peace, democracy and development that their counterparts in many South East Asian countries are enjoying. They have spoken out loud and clear.
It is still not too late for the United Nations, Russia China and India to act to stave off a disastrous situation. There is immediate need for the world body and these countries, which have influence on the generals, to act.

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