THIS WEEK IN HISTORY
Vol. 7, No.
September 12-17, 1998
THE past month, monks have gone from ceremonial bystanders at political rallies - blessing whoever is at the podium - to speakers, marchers and organisers in their own street demonstrations.
This activist upsurge, ironically, comes during the three-month Buddhist Lent when regulations confine monks to contemplation and study, forbidding them to leave their wats from sundown to sunrise.
But for this past week the monks have been wandering. And images of them being beaten and shot have been beamed around the world by television, causing incredulity among people from Buddhist countries such as Thailand.
Two monks were shot by police during a September 9 protest near the US Embassy, but the Buddhist demonstrators still refused to disperse. Fire trucks arrived a few minutes later and hosed down the monks, who hid behind their sun umbrellas and chanted defiantly at their attackers. The scene was only broken when riot police moved in a second time, beating and kicking all those who refused to budge.
At a September 10 march involving perhaps 8,000 or more people, monks were at the forefront. Monks were also in the forefront on September 8.
Ou Bunlong, leader of the Khmer Buddhist Society, defended the right of monks to take part in demonstrations.
"In previous regimes, monks were not allowed to vote. But the law now states that they can. Either joining demonstrations is wrong or the law is wrong."
A sterner view came from senior monk Un Sum, who declared on national television September 10: "Monks from the provinces and pagodas of the city have attended illegal demonstrations with civilians. This is against the rules of Buddhism."
A head monk from one of Phnom Penh's biggest pagodas, who asked not to be named, told the Post: "The motive of the government is to commit violence against Buddhist monks," the old man said, his voice quaking.
Interior Ministry spokesman Khieu Sopheak said September 10: "The crackdown on the monks, I do not justify this. But within the monk protesters, a few of them are not real monks."
Sopheak said the police did not use deadly force against the monks. "If police shot at monks, 10, 20 would be killed," he said, adding that the police shot into the air. POST STAFF