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Letters from Tokyo
MYANMAR – Karen Christians Face Joint Army and Buddhist Onslaught
By Lee Jay Walker
Tokyo Correspondent
Ethnic Karen kids playing soccer

Myanmar is beset by many internal problems and the current military junta desires to crush all opposition. Therefore, many minorities fear a fresh onslaught because regional powers desire to exploit the resources of Myanmar or they hope to gain an important leverage because of the geopolitical element.

Either way, it spells disaster for the main ethnic and religious groups which desire either greater autonomy, a federal state or independence. Added to this tragedy, is the betrayal of Karen Buddhists who have allied themselves with the military junta in their struggle to defeat Karen Christian forces. So can the Karen Christian leadership hold out against the joint forces of the military junta and the Karen Buddhist army ?

Before focusing on this it is important to mention the nature of this Karen Buddhist military betrayal because in the past the Karen had only one enemy, the military junta. However, today the Democratic Karen Buddhist Army (DKBA) is an ally of the military junta and now they are fighting their own people. Therefore, the Christian dominated Karen National Union (KNU) faces an uphill struggle because they face both external and internal forces, which seek to crush the KNU and all other opposition to the military junta.

The Karen follow different religions and the majority are still Buddhist and others are Animist, or they fuse both faiths together, however, the Christian religion is also vibrant. Within the KNU it is clear that Christians have major power and influence but the KNU is open to all faiths and many Buddhists within the Karen community despise the military junta. However, for the DKBA they seek to crush the KNU and other opposition to the military junta within the Karen community.

Benedict Rogers (12 Dec, 2004), a human rights advocate and journalist, stated at the British House of Commons that "Christians among the Chin, Kachin, Karen and Karenni ethnic nationalities report serious religious discrimination and persecution, including the destruction of churches and Christian symbols. In Chin State, all crosses on mountain-tops have been destroyed and Christians have been forced to build Buddhist pagodas in their place. Church services have been disrupted, and Chin children from Christian families have been taken and placed in Buddhist monasteries, where they have been forced to become novice monks. The printing of the Bible is banned, and Christians in government service are denied promotion."

Therefore, it is clear that many ethnic groups are suffering at the hands of the military junta. Benedict Rogers also gave an example of the Buddhist DBKA onslaught because he comments that "On 25 March, 2004, for example, in a Karen village, the SPDC-aligned militia, the Democratic Karen Buddhist Army (DKBA), ordered villagers to clear an area for the construction of a Buddhist pagoda, directly in front of a church. Christians were then ordered to construct the pagoda, and forbidden to construct a cross they had planned to build. Church services were drowned out by the DKBA using loudspeakers, who urged villagers to convert to Buddhism. Threats were made that, once the pagoda was built, Christians would be forced to leave the village. The DKBA threatened to kill the pastor, who fled for his life."

This example is one of many and since 2004 the pressure is increasing against the KNU because their power base is getting smaller and this applies to land and numbers who are willing to fight against the military junta and DBKA. In 2008 the charismatic leader of the KNU, Pado Mahn Shar, was assassinated in Thailand and this killing was not only brutal, but it was a harbinger of more bad news.

For shortly afterwards the government of Thailand began to move closer to Myanmar because of the need to exploit the natural resources of land which once was under the control of the KNU. This applies to gold, zinc, rubber, timber and antimony. Given the recent loss of land to the military junta and the DBKA then it is clear that the KNU is losing major revenues and these revenues can no longer prop up the quasi-government of the KNU.

Also, in 2009 the government of Thailand ordered KNU military commanders to leave Thailand and to move back to Myanmar. At the same time the government of Myanmar and Thailand plan to develop hydroelectric dams along the Salween River. Therefore, the more Thailand depends on important raw materials and energy from Myanmar, the worse it becomes for the KNU.

So today the KNU is being attacked on all sides via different forces and their situation looks bleak. This applies to the growing strength of Buddhist forces who are exploiting the situation in order to crush Christianity; the joint military operation between the military junta and the Buddhist DBKA; loss of land and power within their stronghold; the loss of valuable resources which enabled the KNU to function a quasi-government; decreasing revenues also hinders the militarization of KNU units; and the safety net of Thailand is all but finished.

In recent times hundreds of Karen villagers have been overrun in the Dooplaya District and in other areas. Once more Buddhist forces within the DBKA destroyed Christian churches and enforced the supremacy of Buddhism via harsh methods. Organizations like Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) and others are demanding action because of the seriousness of the situation. CSW issued the following statement which is that "We call on the UN Security Council to impose a universal arms embargo on the regime in Burma (Myanmar) and to refer a case against Burma's Army Generals to the International Criminal Court for crimes against humanity."

CSW also continued by stating that "It is now time to secure real and lasting change for the Karen people and all the peoples of Burma." After all, other ethnic groups also suffer deeply in Myanmar and Muslims also suffer enormous persecution. In the past many Muslim mosques have been destroyed and Buddhist monks demanded the destruction of the ancient Hantha Mosque. Therefore, anti-Muslim riots have been common in parts of Myanmar. So it is clear that all minorities suffer enormous persecution and the same applies to anybody who opposes the military junta.

Overall, the picture looks really grim for the KNU and Christian child soldiers and military units of the KNU face an uphill struggle to survive. Richard Lloyd Parry, Asia Editor for The Times, a British newspaper, stated "The Karen conflict began with British betrayal after the Second World War and has stubbornly lived on. But now, as it marks its diamond jubilee, the war is nearing its endgame."

Therefore, if the endgame does happen, like some people predict, then the only winners will be the military junta and militant Buddhists within the DBKA. However, it will be another "nail in the coffin" for the brave Karen people who fought so bravely against Japanese imperialists during World War Two and then fought for freedom within Myanmar. Given this, will the international community abandon yet another minority because they happen to reside in a distant land and because they have no international clout?

Lee Jay Walker
THE SEOUL TIMES
leejayteach@hotmail.com



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Lee Jay Walker serves as Tokyo Correspondent of The Seoul Times. He specializes in int'l relations and geopolitics. He is also involved in analyst work and research on business. After finishing BA degree in East European Studies at the University of London, He earned MA degree in Asia Pacific Studies in Nottingham Trent University. He also studied business at London Institute.

 

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