Warning Against Euphoria in Burma

March 13, 2013 by Open Doors in General


Sunday, March 10, marked the 16th anniversary of the Global Day of Prayer for Burma, celebrating some progress toward reform, but warning that grave issues remain, especially the continuing attacks against the Kachin and Rohingya ethnic and religious minorities.

The Day of Prayer followed a news report claiming government troops have destroyed 66 churches in Kachin State in the north of Burma, on the border with China and India. The report, by the Kachin Women’s Association of Thailand (KWAT), also claimed the military are using rape as a weapon of war. It said the Burma army set fire to churches after the 2011 collapse of the ceasefire in Kachin State. A recent report by Amnesty International has condemned air strikes against the mainly Christian Kachin.

Hkanhpa Sadan, the Joint Secretary of the Kachin National Organization, told the prayer event in London that up to 100,000 Kachin have been driven from their homes. Along the China border, 75,000 have sought shelter in temporary camps. He criticized the UN for failing to bring in relief aid and said, “The people are living on rice and salt – that is the only nutrition they can get. The UN is not pushing hard enough to bring in humanitarian aid.”

He described the attacks as religious persecution. “When the Burma army comes to the villages, they torch the churches, but don’t touch the pagodas.” He told World Watch Monitor, “They want us to be Burman, to be Buddhist, and to follow their orders.” The mainly Christian Kachin are seeking autonomy within Burma and say they are attacked for being both separatist and Christian.

Sadan was skeptical about the claim that widespread reform is taking place in Burma. “We don’t see this as genuine. In Kachin State we haven’t seen reform at all. All the reforms seem to be centered on Rangoon and Mandalay, and aimed at the Burman [tribal] majority.”

Amnesty International has confirmed three civilians were killed in an air strike in January against the Kachin town of Laiza, on the border with China. Burma has acknowledged carrying out the air strikes, but says they were necessary to prevent rebels cutting off military supply routes. Amnesty has criticized the Kachin for positioning potential military targets near civilian areas but has accused the army of committing “multiple human rights violations against Kachin civilians, including extrajudicial executions, torture and other ill-treatment, arbitrary detention, forced labor and sexual violence.”

British parliamentarian, Baroness Cox, founder of the Humanitarian Aid Relief Trust (HART), recently returned from Kachin State, told the BBC on March 8th, “We saw the Burmese army attacking civilians. There are 156 battalions of Burmese army in that one state. They are bombing civilians and committing atrocities. It is heartbreak land. It is terror.” Baroness Cox confirmed that troops were raping civilians.

There is also persecution against Christians in the Chin community, but the most extreme religious persecution in Burma is taking place against the Rohingya Muslim minority in Rakhine state. Jarmal Ahamed, General Secretary of the Burmese Rohingya Organization UK, said, “Since June 2012 more than 5,000 Rohingyas have been killed, some burned alive. Homes and mosques have been destroyed, hundreds of women and girls have been raped, often in front of family members, and 140,000 have been forced to leave their homes. Many have nothing to eat, nowhere to go, and are dying of hunger and disease.”

In a recorded message to the London event, U Tin Oo, Deputy Leader of the National League for Democracy (NLD), acknowledged, “There are still tangible violations of human rights along the border region. The victims are facing great damage and devastation [and] do not have access to food and shelter. Conditions there are gradually deteriorating.” He added, “I do pray with you for relief and a remedy to cure the great poverty [of these] helpless refugees.” However, NLD leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, originator of the first annual Global Day of Prayer in 1997 and widely expected to become president in 2015, is accused of not doing enough to help the persecuted ethnic and religious minorities. “Aung San Suu Kyi has been a disappointment,” said Sadan, of the Kachin National Organization. “She was our only hope. But she has failed to speak up for the ethnic minorities, failed to visit the refugees. She is afraid of offending the army and has one eye toward the elections in 2015. Our message to Aung San Suu Kyi is, ‘Please help us. Use your liberty to speak up for us.'”

London event organizer Ben Rogers described the Day of Prayer as a success. “Our aim was to help people see that Burma still has many challenges, and while it is right to give thanks for the signs of hope, there is a danger of premature euphoria. The situation in Kachin is extremely serious and we must redouble our prayers for Burma to have genuine freedom and peace. For that to be permanent, it must turn into a peace process, a meaningful political dialogue that leads to a lasting political solution for Burma’s ethnic nationalities.”

(Additional sources: BBC, Amnesty International)

Father, fellow believers in Burma, and Muslims as well, have suffered long and relentless oppression by the very government called to protect them. We pray for an end to the violence there, for true freedom and peace. We pray for opportunities for Christians to enter into constructive dialogue with the government. Grant wisdom, discernment and strength, to the church leaders as they respond to the brutality with the intertwining of courage and grace that only You can give. Lead them to be instruments of peace and reconciliation that Your glory might extend throughout all the boundaries of that nation. In the name of Jesus the Prince of Peace, Amen.

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