OO RUEHCHI RUEHDT RUEHHM RUEHNH RUEHTRO
DE RUEHGO #0121/01 0451032
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
O 141032Z FEB 08
FM AMEMBASSY RANGOON
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 7194
INFO RHEHNSC/NSC WASHDC IMMEDIATE
RUCNASE/ASEAN MEMBER COLLECTIVE
RUEHGG/UN SECURITY COUNCIL COLLECTIVE
RUEHBY/AMEMBASSY CANBERRA 0913
RUEHNE/AMEMBASSY NEW DELHI 4473
RUEHUL/AMEMBASSY SEOUL 8004
RUEHKO/AMEMBASSY TOKYO 5565
RUEHCHI/AMCONSUL CHIANG MAI 1388
RHHMUNA/CDR USPACOM HONOLULU HI
RUCNDT/USMISSION USUN NEW YORK 1345
RUEKJCS/JOINT STAFF WASHDC C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 RANGOON 000121
DEPT FOR EAP/MLS, DRL, AND IO
PACOM FOR FPA
E.O. 12958: DECL: 02/13/2018
SUBJECT: MONKS OF CENTRAL BURMA PREDICT MORE PROTESTS
RANGOON 00000121 001.2 OF 002
Classified By: Poloff Chelsia Wheeler for Reasons 1.4 (b) & (d)
1. (SBU) SUMMARY. Monks from monasteries in Yenanchaung and
Kyaukpadaung believe that there will be further
demonstrations sooner rather than later. This area in
Central Burma historically has given rise to popular
movements, and citizens of the two towns actively joined the
September protests. The worsening economic situation in the
region, along with citizens' willingness to challenge
soldiers, were cited as reasons for the likelihood of future
protests. END SUMMARY.
Monks Afraid to Return
2. (C) On February 8, Poloff and P/E LES visited monasteries
in Yenanchaung and Kyaukpadaung along the Irrawaddy River in
Magwe Division. Magwe Division is one of the poorest
divisions in the country due to lack of rainfall to grow
enough food. The people are predominantly ethnic Burman and
strongly supported the NLD during the 1990 elections.
Citizens of the two towns we visited took an active role
during the September protests.
3. (C) U Thanwaya, head monk at Thukhawaddy Monastery in
Kyaukpadaung, which was one of the most active monasteries
during the September protests, told us that during the peak,
crowds of men and women surrounded his monastery to protect
it from soldiers. They threw stones and sticks at the
soldiers, who eventually left the scene without injuring any
of the citizens. The people considered this a great victory
against the government. U Thanwaya estimated that
approximately thirty percent of the local population
participated in the demonstrations in some way, a far higher
percentage than in either Rangoon or Mandalay.
4. (C) Immediately after the protests, almost all of the
monks left Yenanchaung, although many have since returned,
reported Shwe Win Kyi, treasurer of the local branch of the
Free Funeral Society. (The Free Funeral Society has offices
in Sapeyone Monastery, another active monastery during the
protests.) She said that of over a hundred monks who lived
in Sapeyone Monastery prior to September, most came from
local villages. All but thirty have returned since leaving
in September. Monks at Zeyathuka and Thirithuka Monasteries
on the outskirts of Yenanchaung also reported that a few
monks have yet to return from the surrounding villages.
5. (C) In contrast, U Thanwaya, whose monastery in
Kyaukpadaung housed nearly 300 monks, now has no more than
200. The monk offered two reasons to explain why fewer monks
have returned to his monastery. Unlike Sapeyone, Zeyathuka,
and Thirithuka Monasteries, many of the monks at U Thanwaya's
monastery came from towns and villages further away. Some
monks may also be afraid to return.
6. (C) The government has very little leverage with
monasteries in the area, but has taken other measures to
block further protests. For example, U Thanwaya said that
the government has ordered the closure of four private
NLD-run schools at the end of the term in March. NLD members
had been active behind-the-scenes during the protests, and he
speculated that the government feared NLD organizing future
protests. The government strategy, said U Thanwaya, is to
put the local NLD out of business.
Poverty Breeds Dissent
7. (C) Shwe Win Kyi and U Thanwaya told us that monks'
parents would not let them return for fear of further
protests. Their fear was compounded by the poor economic
situation in Central Burma combined with intense underlying
anger after September's events. All of the monks we spoke
with in Yenanchaung said that the economic situation worsens
daily. We noticed several children at Zeyathuka Monastery
who the monks said came from surrounding villagers in hopes
of eating some of the monastery leftovers. The monasteries
RANGOON 00000121 002.2 OF 002
themselves, he said, cannot house as many monks as before
because the local population cannot afford to give them as
much in alms.
8. (C) Shwe Win Kyi reported a rumor that monks would rise up
again during a Buddhist monk examination to be held in March
or April. U Thanwaya refused to give such a definite date,
but predicted that more protests would take place before the
end of the year. They would be bigger, he asserted, and the
situation would probably get worse before it got better.
9. (C) Comment. The international press paid little
attention to protests in these small towns in Central Burma,
since they did not have access. These towns, however, have
historically served as the based for popular movements in the
country, including for NLD in 1990. The military has done
nothing to improve their lives since then, and increasing
poverty and anger could spark another movement. In Burma,
the protests in the large cities may get international
attention, but the popular resentment against the military is
widespread throughout the country. End comment.
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