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A high-profile Burmese monk with links to the political opposition has agreed not to return to the Rangoon monastery from which he was evicted by authorities this month.
Ashin Pyinya Thiha, abbot at the Thardu monastery, was described by Burma’s government-backed monastic body as “disobedient” after he spoke at the National League for Democracy’s headquarters in Mandalay last September, despite a ban on him giving public speeches.
He also hosted a ceremony in December to mark 20 years since Aung San Suu Kyi won the Nobel Peace Prize, and met with visiting US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton late last year.
His growing profile has irked the government in Burma, which considers the Sardu monastery as something of an organising hub for the opposition. The Rangoon division of the Sangha Nayaka monks’ council yesterday urged him to sign an agreement pledging that he would leave the monastery by 19 February.
“I don’t want you to think that I have no courage but I wanted to solve this peacefully,” he told a crowd at Sardu following the meeting.
“I worried very much that our people and the country will lose their chance to experience democracy when it’s so close. I don’t want to start a problem which may lead to unrest, and thus repeat history. I choose to sign the pledge – the peaceful solution to avoiding damage to our country and the people.”
A 500-strong crowd, including monk leader Ashin Gambira, who was released last week after serving three years of a 65-year prison sentence for his role in the September 2007 uprising, gathered outside the building where the meeting was taking place to show their support for the revered monk.
Monks continue to hold substantial political clout in Burma, despite regular intimidation by authorities. A group of monks who in November last year protested in Mandalay are now reportedly under “village arrest” in Thaphyay Aye in Sagaing division, signifying ongoing unease within the government about the degree of influence they have over Burmese.