Villagers defy regime with boycott call

By Simon Scott

In what are believed to be the first public demonstrations to occur in Myanmar in the lead-up to next month's election, more than a thousand villagers from ethnic minority regions mobilised this week in opposition to the regime.

A 500-strong gathering of ethnic-minority villagers calling for a November 7 election boycott occurred near Kyawn village between Ye and Thanbyuzayat townships in Mon state, according to reports on Burmese-language Radio Free Asia.

A villager who joined the demonstration said protesters had come from 10 different villages in the area and assembled and dispersed quickly as a tactic.

"We demand the results of the 1990 election be recognised and call for a boycott of the 2010 election, which is unacceptable to the Burmese people and the international community," he said.

"We want to show that we do not agree with the 2010 election, which will guarantee long-term rule for military dictatorship."

Another protest, in Kya-in Seikkyi in Karen state, was joined by around 700 people from 155 different villages.

A demonstrator said that protest was made up of people from the Shan, Karen and Mon minority groups "who have lost their right to vote".

This loss of voting rights followed a September 16 announcement by the regime's Election Commission that voting would not take place in 3314 ethnic villages. It was a move that would disfranchise around 1.5 million ethnic voters, said pro-democracy network Altsean's Burma Bulletin.

The Karen state demonstrator added that they demanded an end to military rule, and wanted the regime to enter into a tripartite dialogue with Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy and ethnic groups to "build a democratic Burma".

The Karen state protest was the second in the past week. On October 21 a similar protest was held by 500 villagers. A small anti-election protest was held at Yangon's crowded Hledan crossroads on Monday.

The leaders of these protests have reportedly gone into hiding.

It is not known how the regime will respond to the demonstrations, but Bo Kyi from the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, a human rights group working on the Thai-Myanmar border, said he feared the worst.

"The risk for those who speak out against the regime is well known: arrest, imprisonment, torture and sometimes death.

"Despite this risk, these brave villagers spoke out and publicly protested against what they believe is a sham election designed to legitimise military rule - an election which more than one million ethnic people are being denied the right to participate in."

Bo Kyi added that since 2007 the number of political prisoners had doubled and 2193 people were in prison for their peaceful political activities.

A heightened military presence was reported in downtown Yangon at the weekend, and riot-police trucks were on standby near Shwedagon Pagoda, one of the key protest sites in the 2007 monk-led "Saffron Revolution".

- NZ Herald

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