U Lin Lin (not his real name) is 59 years old and an NLD member from Pakkoku.
He offers me a choice of three subjects he wants to talk about:
U Thant uprising
After deliberation, we decide to talk about the 2007 Saffron Revolution and his role in it.
“Three friends were secretly discussing democracy in Mae Sot, Thailand. I was there.”
They decide it has to start in Rangoon, because there is a big political movement there. There was less of a movement present in Mandalay, that is why Lin Lin went there to get a movement started (in Upper Burma).
He meets with King Zero and other monks every Thursday to discuss matters and make plans. Monks who are part of ABMA (All Burma Monks Association), such as U Obasa, U Kheminda and others distribute leaflets and papers about human rights.
“Apart from distributing information, they also participated in metta chanting and putting up stickers of the fighting peacock. One of the stickers said: ‘if there are students, there must be a union for them.’ This was destroyed. We also put up STOP-sign stickers throughout the country.”
“We produced and distributed pamphlets about the definition of politics, the strategy of non-violence and a non-violent political transition, like in South-Africa and in India with Gandhi. We were busy preparing the least risky strategy for change in the country. Some trustworthy people were sent abroad, to Mae Sot, for training. They learned how to develop the movement.”
“On 22 February 2007, the 88 Generation Students started to demonstrate for a reduction in fuel prices. I secretly introduced the monks Ashin Gambira and King Zero. I knew them both and I connected them to organise the uprising. Min Ko Naing’s students started it. We supported them: both monks and lay people distributed leaflets secretly. The people were active and then the monks started with their metta chanting in the streets. Then there was the incident in Pakokku: monks were beaten by the military which caused a big outrage. King Zero, Ashin Gambira, Ashin Kheminda and me were in Mandalay and formed the Sangha Thameggi (Sangha Union). We issued a statement to the media: we requested the regime to offer apologies for the beatings of the monks in Pakkoku.”
On September 9, 2007, the ABMA – All Burma Monks Association – was founded. This association consists of the AB Youth Monks, Rangoon Youth Monks (Ashin Gambira belonged to them) and Student Monks. The ABMA issued a warning to the authorities: the junta had to apologise for the Pakkoku beatings by September 18, or a Pattanikkujjana would be called for.
“They did not apologise and on 18 September 2007, the monks started to march and chant the metta suttra of loving kindness. The alms boycott also started: monks refused offerings given to them by members of the junta or military or of their families.”
“In Mandalay, Ashin Gambira was our spokesperson on behalf of the ABMA. He spoke to the media: RFA, DVB etc. I was busy encouraging the people to support and follow the monks, but many were afraid at the time. I visited monasteries. We also needed financial support for Gambira’s movement. On 26 September I had to go to Rangoon for business. That is when they first shot at the monks. “
Lin Lin was the brain and organiser behing the connection between the monks, NLD and students. He phoned and visited people and introduced people to each other to make the movement stronger and better organised. He also supported Ashin Gambira: to travel, to stay in places and to meet people.
“The secret service knew about this. I travelled with Gambira a lot and every night we had to stay in a different place. We were hiding in the forest and in the mountains. They were after us. “
When the demonstrations were brutally cracked down by the military, Lin Lin and Ashin Gambira secretly travelled to Mae Sot. They wanted to meet people and discuss what had happened. Ashin Gambira talked to the media a lot and was forced to go into hiding.
“I had a satelite telephone, because a normal phone can easily be listened into. I went back to Mandalay to talk about the future and what we could do. I went back and forth between Mae Sot and Mandalay and travelled a lot. All this being on the road made me very skinny. At one point, I carried about 3 million Kyat – 3,000 USD – for Gambira. I could not put this in a bank, for it would be traceable.”
On 4 November 2007, an article Ashin Gambira had written appeared in the Washington Post. He was arrested that same day.
“I had to disappear and went into hiding. I lived in the jungle and caught malaria. I pretended to be digging for gold in the forest. Because I got so ill, I had to go to Mae Sot again for treatment. They offered me to go to a third country as a refugee, but I refused. I cannot give up my political activities and my struggle for freedom for my country.”
Then another disaster hit Burma: in 2008 cyclone Nargis hit the country. Hundreds of thousands of people perished, lost their possessions and became homeless.
“I sent friends to go and help the people. Ten of them were arrested.”
“At the moment, I cannot go back inside to start and organise another movement; it is too dangerous. I have to organise things from here. If the opportunity arises, we will do something again. We have to. I have no contact with my family.”
“I am also advising the NLD from here. Also about the underground/opposition activities.”
What does Lin Lin think about the 2009 United States new approach to dealing with the regime: sanctions coupled with engagement?
“No other country can get rid of the junta. It can only happen from inside. We need more confidence, the ethnic groups have to join and there needs to be harmony. I believe it can be done by a combination of the non-violent way of the struggle, the numbers of the people (more have to join) and UG (underground movement).”
“In 2007, there was only the non-violent movement. We need armed groups such as the ethnic groups to join this movement, too. Many people do not believe in non-violence. We need more confidence. At the moment, all our real leaders are in prison.”
Will new leaders come from the new NLD members?
“New leaders just have to emerge, like Ashin Gambira did. The present leaders cannot win the hearts of the people: before the Depayin massacre in 2003, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi formed a youth group and was arrested. The NLD finds it hard to organise another group like this, because their leader Aung San Suu Kyi has gone.”
“In 2007, not many NLD members took part in the demonstrations. At present, the NLD is not very strong. The party lacks charismatic leaders. Because of this, they have to accept and are not strong enough to make big demands.”
Does Lin Lin think violence will be neccessary to create change inside the country?
“We have been talking with armed groups such as students and the KNU since 2006. The original idea was that once there would be a strong non-violent movement, they would back us up with violence if neccessary. But when it came to it, they were not strong enough. Right now, it will take time to get ready again for something like this. People are trying to be patient, but many have lost their confidence. We have been waiting for so long.”
Ashin Gambira was tranferred to Khamti prison were he is suffering a lengthy prison sentence. Organisations such as Amnesty International are campaigning on his behalf. One of the ways they are doing this, is by sending letters to the authorities, calling for Ashin Gambira’s release. Does Lin Lin think this effective?
“No. It is even better not to do it. Some organisations just issue statements and do not do much else. A fighter should first fight himself. Our underground movement tries to avoid such organisations.”
Does he have a message to the people?“I am very sad that the Burmese people do not know about human rights. We need more campaigns for Burma, to raise awareness. I want the international community to put pressure on the junta. We need campaigns to let the Burmese people know what human rights are and let them know that they are supported and people are aware of their situation. Then they will be more secure and confident.