An organizer of the protest movement in Rangoon has blasted UN special envoy Ibrahim Gambari for bowing to the Burmese regime and achieving nothing in his visit to Burma.
Surinder Karkar Singh, also known as Ayea Myint and U Pancha (the Punjabi), helped organise the civilian protection circles that ringed the monks as they marched through the streets of Rangoon for eight days.
“Nothing was achieved. I am fed up,” the Sikh Burmese man said.“He (Mr Gambari) plans to come again in November. Whatever the regime told him, he did. While he was there, we were being shot, we were being detained. After he left, there was more rounding up of people.
“He saw Aung San Suu Kyi (the detained pro-democracy leader) but gave no press conference. He should announce what she said. This regime is full of lies. Gambari reports to the UN what the regime says, not what Aung San Suu Kyi says.”
No surrender … U Pancha, the veteran protest leader, speaks for the first time after arriving in Thailand. Photo: Jack Picone
U Pancha is now in Mae Sot, Thailand, where many Burmese opposition groups in exile are based. He gave a rare insight into the first days of the protest and how the organisers responded as the movement grew.
“I participated in 1988, then I retired. I took up the protest again because prices were rising and people were starving around me,” he said. “I was not at all frightened. I participated in the forefront. I was prepared to die.”
He met monks and a few civilians at the Shwedagon pagoda, the most important Buddhist temple in Rangoon, on September 17 to plan protests.
“The idea was to bring down petrol prices, to get dialogue and an apology for the way the monks were beaten at Pakokku,” U Pancha said.
“There were only about 100 to start with. We let the monks lead. I was in charge of surrounding the monks for protection.
Protest leader U Pancha (The Punjabi) is now in exile.
“On the 18th, we were very anxious, we were worried whether people would follow us, but from the beginning they joined in. We were very encouraged. That night we had a hurried meeting because of the support and made three streams of people to go to different points in the city. On the 19th the groups exceeded 100,000.”
That night, they got word the military had issued a shoot-to-kill edict. After a heated meeting they elected to proceed.
“In the midst of our marching, Battalion 77 refused to take the order to shoot to kill,” he said.
From September 21 to 25, the protests were peaceful and the crowds increased. On the night of 25th, the military command changed from 77th battalion to 66th battalion, he said.
He remembers the 26th and 27th as the most bloody days, with bloodshed on the roads.
“When three monks went to beg them not to use violence, they started beating the monks and shooting,” U Pancha said.
“On the 26th, I led 100,000, with 5000 to 6000 monks. People were not scared. I thought we were winning. In the midst of flying bullets we were able to march. We had people in side streets with stones and rocks ready to give protection to the protesters.”
On the 27th, the monks were gone, and the crowd dwindled to 2000 to 3000.
“Many people were scared on 27th,” he said. “When the Japanese (photographer) was shot, they (knew) the Government would shoot even foreigners.”
By the 28th, the movement had all but disintegrated.
U Pancha waited in Rangoon, in hiding, until October 4 to see the outcome of the UN mission. Bitterly disappointed, he fled to Thailand.
He is determined to fight on. “I am still a leader, we have leaders inside and outside,” he said. “We are only pausing, not surrendering.”