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Letters from Tokyo
Myanmar: Ethnic Minorities & Aung San Suu Kyi
By Lee Jay Walker
Tokyo Correspondent
Aung San Suu Kyi

The current regime in Myanmar is clearly unconcerned about international opinion because daily persecution continues. This applies to the continuing persecution of many minorities, notably the Chin, Karen, Rohingya, Shan, and others. At the same time, the leading political figure in Myanmar, Aung San Suu Kyi, faces further confinement. However, the regime fears little because of power politics and geopolitical factors.

Another major concern in Myanmar is the systematic persecution of religious minorities and this especially applies to Christians and Muslims. Therefore, the Christian dominated Karen National Union (KNU) faces a joint military and Buddhist onslaught because the Democratic Karen Buddhist Army (DKBA) is a staunch ally of the regime.

Other Christian and Muslim minorities also face daily persecution. Therefore, like I reported in my last article called

"Karen Christians face joint army and Buddhist onslaught," I will quote Benedict Rogers who is a human rights advocate and journalist.

Because Benedict Rogers (12 Dec, 2004) notified the British House of Commons about systematic persecution. He stated 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."

Muslims are also in dire straights because they have been persecuted for decades. Amnesty International, for example stated that "The Rohingyas’ freedom of movement is severely restricted and the vast majority of them have effectively been denied Burma (Myanmar) citizenship. They are also subjected to various forms of extortion and arbitrary taxation; land confiscation; forced eviction and house destruction ... "

The report continues that "In 1978 over 200,000 Rohingyas fled to Bangladesh, following the ‘Nagamin’ (‘Dragon King’) operation of the Burma (Myanmar) army. Officially this campaign aimed at "scrutinising each individual living in the state, designating citizens and foreigners in accordance with the law and taking actions against foreigners who have filtered into the country illegally." This military campaign directly targeted civilians, and resulted in widespread killings, rape and destruction of mosques and further religious persecution."

"During 1991-92 a new wave of over a quarter of a million Rohingyas fled to Bangladesh. They reported widespread forced labour, as well as summary executions, torture, and rape. Rohingyas were forced to work without pay by the Burma (Myanmar) army on infrastructure and economic projects, often under harsh conditions. Many other human rights violations occurred in the context of forced labour of Rohingya civilians by the security forces."

Therefore, many ethnic and religious minorities have been persecuted for decades and this is the real tragedy of Myanmar. After all, it would appear that regional nations are more concerned about economic trade and maintaining a regional consensus.

Yes, from time to time you hear disenting voices throughout the region but these are few and far. Also, for regional powers like China and India, they both understand the geopolitical importance of Myanmar and of course economic interests are also important. So it would appear that ethnic and religious minorities have little hope under the current political system in Myanmar.

Meanwhile, the most famous political figure in Myanmar faces fresh political charges in order to keep her under house arrest. However, Aung San Suu Kyi remains defiant despite her endless persecution and the “ray of hope remains.”

Aung San Suu Kyi once stated that “It is not power that corrupts but fear. Fear of losing power corrupts those who wield it and fear of the scourge of power corrupts those who are subject to it.”

Yet for the people who wield power in Myanmar, it is apparent that China and India, and others, are willing to play the geopolitical game. Therefore, despite the European Union and America taking a strong stance, it is clear that Myanmar can survive because of trading links with China, India, Singapore, South Korea, Thailand, and other nations.

Also, Aung San Suu Kyi understands that only an internal collapse or uprising will change the current status quo. Despite this, she remains loyal to non-violent action and “her weapon” is her firm democratic conviction.

However, just like the ethnic Christian and Muslim minorities, and others, it is clear that decades of struggle is zapping the energy out of many; so words of strength by Aung San Suu Kyi are badly needed. Yet the chains appear to be getting tighter so the future remains bleak.



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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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