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Monks take Myanmar troops hostage in temple


Yangon : Buddhist monks Thursday held an army lieutenant colonel and a dozen troops hostage in a temple in central Myanmar and torched their vehicle, sources said.

The rebellious monks of Lay Tawya Monsastary in Pokokku town, 528 kilometres north fo Yangon, took the troops hostage after they visited the temple to try to dissuade the monks from participating in protests, administrative sources in Yangon said.

While the soldiers were being held inside, others torched their vehicle. Unconfirmed reports said the hostages were freed Thursday afternoon.

Phone lines with Pokukku had been cut off.

Hundreds of monks in Pokukku Wednesday reportedly marched against the government’s decision to hike fuel prices last month, but they were forced to disperse when soldiers fired above their heads.

Anti-inflation protests have been staged almost daily since Aug 19, resulting in more than 100 arrests and allegations of torture of the leaders of the demonstrations.

The monkhood has a long history of political activism in Myanmar, a predominantly Buddhist country.

Monks joined students in the anti-military demonstrations that rocked Myanmar in 1988, and ended in bloodshed.

Like the recent protests, the 1988 mass demonstrations were sparked by rising discontent with the military’s mismanagement of the economy and refusal to introduce some semblance of democracy.

After the 1988 events, the military, still very much in charge, dropped their socialist ideology and opened the country up to foreign investments and market forces.

But the brutal 1988 crackdown of the pro-democracy movement that left an estimated 3,000 dead, resulted in the severing of international aid to the regime.

The aid blockade and other sanctions have been kept in place for the past 19 years. Although the military allowed a general election in 1990 it ignored the outcome when 80 per cent of the votes went to the National League for Democracy (NLD) of opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, sealing its pariah status in the West.

Suu Kyi, a Nobel Peace Prize laureate, has been under house arrest since May, 2003. Her ongoing incarceration was harshly criticized earlier this week by US President George W Bush, who is currently attending the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit in Sydney.