VOA's Southeast Asia correspondent, Luis Ramirez, was able to enter the Burmese border down of Myawaddy Saturday with no trouble. He says all seems normal there, with Burmese traders crossing into Thailand and back as usual. But on the Thai side, he spoke to several Burmese Buddhist monks who had escaped the violence in Rangoon. They told him they are preparing to return to Burma, to keep up the fight against the military dictatorship. Ramirez later had this exchange with VOA's Barry Kalb in Hong Kong.
KALB: "Luis, you've just been across the border into Burma. Can you give us some idea of whether any of the tensions that we've seen in Rangoon are being reflected there?"
RAMIREZ: "Traffic across the Thai-Burma border is normal. There are many merchants coming from Burma in the morning, leaving in the afternoon, transporting goods from Thailand into Burma - mainly fruit, vegetables - that type of traffic is normal. There are also people crossing the border with belongings on their heads. It is hard to tell which ones are fleeing the violence. Among those who have been coming are monks who have come all the way from Rangoon."
KALB: "Do you have any indication how many monks have been able to cross over since the violence and the protests began in Rangoon?"
RAMIREZ: "A number of people on the Thai side of the border - namely, those who work with the monks who are coming across - and also a Thai government official, who did not wish to be quoted, he estimated that about 300 monks have crossed the border. There is no major influx, he says, but many are coming. They describe a very difficult journey to this border, often under disguise, evading police, evading soldiers at the checkpoints they say have been established, or are operating between Burma's main city, Rangoon, and the Thai border."
KALB: "Have you been able to talk to any of the monks who are on the Thai side?"
RAMIREZ: "I had a chance to meet with several of them, who have come across the border only in the last few days. They left immediately after the crackdown. They were demonstrating in the streets of Rangoon when the security forces fired tear gas, used batons and guns against them. Some of them described being beaten on the streets. It's easy to understand why they would have come, but I asked them why they intended to go back, because they told me they intend to go back. Their response was that change can only come from inside, they've come here to obtain goods, money, support, and then head back into the country to continue protesting. A very, very difficult journey for these people [lies ahead]: they've been on the run on the Burmese side, and on the Thai side they are on the run. The interviews have been held in very secretive conditions, they've asked me not to reveal their identities."
KALB: "One thing has been striking in all this. The monks are said to be highly revered, as the moral core of Burma, and of course they are religious people. In your discussions with them, did the subject of religion or non-violence - that sort of thing - did that come up in any way?"
RAMIREZ: "Well, they stressed to me that their demonstrations have been entirely peaceful, that they have done nothing more than take to the streets and pray ,and in many cases discourage ordinary citizens from joining them. They told me that they mean to bring about change in their country by peaceful means. I asked them about those who are attacking them, the soldiers who are themselves Buddhists, and their only response was, in the case of two of the monks who spoke to me, they said, well, they know what they are doing, they have made a decision to behave badly, and in their faith, those who behave badly face dire consequences. I said, well, what does that mean? And one said, it means they will go to hell."