Apr 30, ’13

If blogs that normally reflect the strategic thinking of Myanmar’s military leadership are to be believed, the hitherto peaceful Wa Hills may become a battlefield when this year’s rainy season is over.
Military action against the United Wa State Army (UWSA) would no doubt be popular among the Myanmar public at large, which sees the group as a stooge of China. Even the international community would most likely be sympathetic to a campaign to clip the wings of the UWSA. Unlike other armed groups in Myanmar, the UWSA is perceived internationally as a drug-trafficking organization, not a group fighting for ethnic rights or some political ideal. Several of its top leaders have been indicted on drug trafficking charges by a US court.
But the plan to attack the UWSA could also explain why the government wants to see a nationwide ceasefire agreement signed with all other ethnic groups no later than August. Political talks can be held later, the government says.

If the blogs are correct, what they are saying actually casts doubt on the government’s overall policy toward the ethnics: Is it meant to find a lasting solution to Myanmar’s decades-long ethnic strife, or is it just a clever divide-and-rule strategy to defeat the other groups by a variety of means, including wearing them down at the negotiating table?
For there is nothing to indicate that the military is prepared to give in to the demands of, for instance, the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) and other more genuine ethnic groups that seek a return to the federal system of government that Myanmar had before the 1962 military takeover.
In his speech to mark this year’s Armed Forces Day on March 27, Commander-in-Chief Snr.-Gen. Min Aung Hlaing held the ethnic groups responsible for the violence in the country’s ethnic areas and said: “We made peace agreements, but that doesn’t mean we are afraid to fight. We are afraid of no one. There is no insurgent group we cannot fight or dare not to fight.”
Exactly two years earlier, on Armed Forces Day 2012, Snr.-Gen. Min Aung Hlaing also made it clear that there was little room for negotiation on fundamental political issues, saying, “The military has an obligation to defend the Constitution and will continue to take part in politics as it has done in the past.”
In February of this year, the Tatmadaw, or Myanmar armed forces, conducted a massive military exercise in a central part of the country codenamed “Anawrahta” after the founder of the first Myanmar Empire, who reigned from Bagan from 1044 to 1077 and is one of Myanmar’s celebrated warrior kings.
According to Hla Oo’s Blog, a pro-military website, the war game consisted of “a combined Infantry-Airforce-Tanks-Missiles-Artillery assault on an enemy’s fixed position” like the UWSA’s headquarters at Panghsang on the Chinese border. The blog pointed out that a similar war game took place in March 2012 and was “then followed by a large-scale ground and aerial assault on KIA’s Laiza Headquarters in December 2012.”
This time, “the large-scale assault will be short but brutally decisive” as the Tatmadaw now has “massive firepower” including “short-range tactical missiles and heavy artillery.” The aim would be to “smash” the UWSA and drive “the Chinese Wa,” as they are referred to, “back into China.” If successful, Myanmar’s military would emerge stronger and perhaps also more popular than before—which could increase the chances of the military-backed Union Solidarity and Development Party doing well in the 2015 general election.
Military observers note that the government signed a ceasefire agreement with the KIA in February 1994—and then attacked the Karen National Union (KNU), capturing its Manerplaw headquarters in January 1995. In January 2012, the government signed a ceasefire agreement with the KNU—and later that year launched a massive attack against Laiza. Even if there may be little sympathy for the UWSA among other ethnic armies in Myanmar, agreeing to a ceasefire in August would nevertheless neutralize them and make it easier to attack Panghsang before the end of the year.
If it did decide to mount a decisive assault on the UWSA, however, the Tatmadaw would have to be prepared to face the armed group’s Man-Portable Air Defense Systems, or MANPADS, and other sophisticated military equipment it has obtained from China over the past few decades. No other rebel army in Myanmar is as heavily armed and militarily as strong as the UWSA.
So far, little or no attention has been paid to the Myanmar military’s strategic thinking in regards to the so-called “peace process.” Discussions have centered on “a nationwide ceasefire,” after which a “political dialogue” may be held. The government’s own outfit, the Myanmar Peace Center, has received massive funding from the European Union and other international donors, while a cabal of foreign “peacemakers” and “reconciliation experts” are flocking to the country to get their share of the pie.
The problem is that few if any of those “foreign experts” have a very deep understanding of the complexities of Myanmar’s ethnic problems. And, as critics are also eager to point out, these “experts” are paid more in one month than an ordinary Myanmar worker can earn in five years or more. “Peacemaking” has become a very lucrative industry in Myanmar—at least for the foreign experts and their organizations. And so far, no one has discovered that it is, in fact, a very shrewd strategy designed to outmaneuver and neutralize the non-Bamar ethnic groups without giving in to any of their demands.
While the leaders of the ethnic armies are being bribed with car-import licenses and other economic incentives, many of their followers are unhappy with those arrangements. The result is discord and even splits within those groups and between the various ethnic armies, making this an effective divide-and-conquer game to defeat the ethnic resistance.
In most other peace processes, talks are held first and agreements are signed when a consensus has been reached. No signatures are required for the preceding ceasefire that could be agreed upon verbally. But in Myanmar, the government and the foreign peacemakers are putting the cart before the horse, asking for an agreement to be signed first and then vague promises of talks later.
The model for that kind of strategy would be a somewhat similar peace process in the Indian state of Nagaland. In 1997, the insurgent National Socialist Council of Nagaland (NSCN; the Isaac and Muivah faction) signed a ceasefire agreement with the Indian government. Today, 17 years later, no less than 80 rounds of talks have been held in what clearly amounts to delaying tactics on the part of the Indian government. Meanwhile, the NSCN’s fighters are getting used to a comfortable life in so-called “peace camps”—and the Naga public is turning against them. They continue to demand “taxes” from the public while the leaders are becoming corrupt, spending the money they have collected on new houses and cars.
A similar development could be seen in Kachin State between the KIA’s signing of a ceasefire agreement in 1994 and when the government decided to break it in 2011. During those 17 years, the KIA lost much of the popular support it had preciously enjoyed—while the government’s attacks over the past two and a half years have galvanized the Kachin nation and made the rebels heroes in the eyes of most Kachins.
The KIA is not likely to repeat the mistake it made in 1994—nor would the “Naga model” work in Myanmar. The NSCN is only one group and it wants to separate Nagaland from India. Myanmar has more than a dozen ethnic armies, and they want federalism, a far more reasonable and realistic demand.
So will killing Myanmar’s ethnic groups with sugar-coated bullets and military action against the UWSA work? One has to consider why the ethnic rebels took up arms in the first place. A nationwide ceasefire agreement will only freeze the problem, not solve it.
And if the offensive against the heavily armed UWSA fails, the Myanmar military is in serious trouble. Whatever the outcome, the foreign peacemakers can always carry on to another conflict zone on the globe—and leave a mess behind in Myanmar.

By Anthony Davis Apr 23, ’14YANGON – Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, commander-in-chief of Myanmar’s armed forces, or Tatmadaw, is a man on the move. Since the beginning of the year he has traveled to Laos and Indonesia, attended large-scale war g…


By Bertil Lintner May 2, ’13CHIANG MAI and WASHINGTON – A new reality is emerging amid all the hype about Myanmar’s democratization process and moves to liberalize its political landscape. Myanmar’s drift away from a tight relationship with China …


By Bertil Lintner Mar 19,  ’13CHIANG MAI – Things are seldom as they seem in Myanmar, a country still little understood by the outside world. On a visit to Europe in early March, Myanmar President Thein Sein – an ex-general turned civilian po…


By Bertil Lintner Jun 25 ’13MYITKYINA – A grand ceremony is expected to be held next month in the Myanmar capital of Naypyidaw, where a nationwide ceasefire with various ethnic resistance armies will be announced to an audience of United Nations r…


By Berti Lintner
Washington Post

To the satisfaction of the rulers, Suu Kyi has morphed from a once fiery opposition leader into an avid supporter of the new order

Since ex-general Thein Sein assumed the presidency in March 2011, foreign observers have generally appeared optimistic that Myanmar is on its way toward some kind of liberal democracy. The only snag seems to be the ongoing conflict with ethnic rebels in Kachin, Myanmar’s northernmost state, which has been explained as local commanders acting with “an unusual degree of autonomy.” Either that, or people question the president’s ability to control the military during the country’s democratic reform. Some foreign analysts have argued, however, that the outside world needs to support Thein Sein’s “reformist” government against so-called “military hardliners.”
According to this narrative, neither Thein Sein nor the military are held responsible for the brutal suppression of the Kachins, which has not come to an end despite a tentative peace agreement reached in the state capital of Myitkyina in May 2013. In fact, the two sides only agreed to undertake efforts to achieve “de-escalation and cessation of hostilities” and “to hold a political dialogue.” No firm commitments were made concerning when and where such talks would take place.
This decades-long civil war reached its height in January 2013 with the inclusion of massive artillery barrages supported by airstrikes from helicopter gunships and fighter jets. It defies logic that such a large-scale offensive could have been launched by some local commanders or, as the Washington-based Centre for Strategic and International Studies claims, that “a minority of the military” is acting “as a spoiler” to the democratisation process. This assessment reflects a lack of understanding of the Burmese military’s command structure as well as of its relationship with Thein Sein’s government.
It is too often forgotten that Thein Sein came to power through the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC), the name for Myanmar’s military regime. The SPDC seized power in 1988 and was officially dissolved in March 2011 when Thein Sein assumed the presidency. Thein Sein was heavily involved with the junta government. His positions included general of the Myanmar army, first secretary of SPDC, and later prime minister (a position he held up until he became president).
At no stage in his career did Thein Sein display any political independence or initiative. He was a loyal soldier, hand-picked by then-SPDC chairman and prime minister, Than Shwe. Thein Sein always said and did what he was told.
For instance, in the summer of 2010, while serving as Prime Minister, Thein Sein received a delegation from North Korea. He was quoted praising the military advancements of the Korean people under Kim Jong Il and advocating the strengthening of the countries’ friendship. In those days, Myanmar was not shy to admit its friendly relations with North Korea.
The cooperation continues today, only in secret. A Myanmarese businessman who recently met Thein Sein in private described him as “indecisive, just repeating what’s been said in official announcements, saying what he has been told to say.”
So, who is telling Thein Sein what to say? According to sources familiar with high-level Burmese military thinking, Thein Sein was selected because he had “no ambitions” and would not pose a threat to Than Shwe, who slipped from public view into supposed retirement.
In June 2010, Than Shwe picked his trusted colleague, Min Aung Hlaing, to become head of the armed forces. Min Aung Hlaing was another soldier who could be trusted not to turn against his former mentor; he, too, is not known for being an independent thinker.
Both President Thein Sein and Senior General Min Aung Hlaing owe their positions to Than Shwe. Than Shwe remains a powerful player behind the scenes and, according to military insiders, still has the final say in matters concerning security.
Myanmar’s power structure with the military at its apex has not changed. It would therefore be incorrect to talk about a transitioning political system. It is more important now than ever to understand what is really happening in Myanmar and how change may or may not come about.
The country’s constitution was drafted by a military-appointed body and was adopted after a rigged referendum in May 2008. The referendum was held when Cyclone Nargis hit the country, which caused widespread destruction in parts of the country near the coast. Officially, 92.48 per cent of eligible voters voted in favour of the new constitution, which came into effect after a general election in November 2010.
That election was also blatantly rigged and thoroughly fraudulent. Even the regime’s own announcements demonstrated this. State-run media had to correct previous reports that stated that 102.09 per cent of Pegu Division had turned out to vote. The correct figure, the announcement said, should have been 99.57 per cent. Likewise, in a township in western Rakhine State, 104.28 per cent of the electorate were said to have voted; that number was later adjusted to 71.74 per cent.
The Irrawaddy (a Thailand-based newsmagazine run by Burmese exiles) quoted a Yangon businessman as saying that the military’s Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) “won in two constituencies where the elections had been cancelled in Kachin State – the USDP not only won across the country, but also in areas where the elections were not held.” A well-placed source in Yangon said that he and many of his friends had voted for one of the pro-democracy parties that took part in the election. Its win in their township was confirmed when the local votes were counted. But then, a number of “advance votes” were dumped into the constituency, reversing the initial result. Similar cases of fraud were reported all over the country.
The USDP is the successor to the Union Solidarity and Development Association (USDA), which was set up by the junta government in September 1993. Among USDA membership were Than Shwe and Thein Sein. The association, which claimed to have 24 million members, became a party in March 2010, with Thein Sein as its leader, in order to take part in the November 2010 elections. It secured a solid majority in both houses of the new bicameral parliament. Even of the seats it did not win, a quarter of all seats in both houses are directly appointed by the military and selected from serving military officers.
With a new constitution in place, and a parliament it could control, Myanmar’s ruling military elite felt that it could embark on a reform programme to enhance its severely tarnished international reputation. It hoped to improve relations with the West in order to counterbalance its heavy dependence on China, which, according to internal documents from the Myanmar army made available to me, was causing “a national crisis.” Thus opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi was released from house arrest shortly after the election, hundreds of political prisoners were set free, and the media was allowed to operate amazingly freely after decades of rigid censorship.
In April 2012, Suu Kyi’s party, the National League for Democracy (NLD), took part in a by-election to fill seats left vacant after USDP delegates were appointed ministers and deputy ministers. According to the new constitution, cabinet members cannot both sit in the Parliament and be members of a political party. The NLD won 43 of the 44 seats the party contested. Suu Kyi became a member of parliament – but her party is in control of only 7 per cent of all seats.
Critics say her performance, and that of the NLD, has been entirely disappointing. They have not acted as an opposition, questioning official policies and presenting alternatives. Instead, they have trudged after the government, asked a few questions but offered nothing new. Khun Htun Oo, a prominent leader of the Shan people, one of Myanmar’s many ethnic minorities, said that Suu Kyi had been “neutralised” by the government, and as such, “can no longer speak for the people.” Her silence over the war in Kachin has caused not only criticism but also widespread condemnation, especially from Kachin community groups who feel betrayed.
To the satisfaction of Myanmar’s rulers, Suu Kyi has morphed from a once fiery opposition leader into an avid supporter of their new order. In her most recent praise for the military, speaking at the East-West Centre in Honolulu in January 2013, Suu Kyi said: “I’ve often been criticised for saying that I’m fond of the Burmese Army, but I can’t help it, it’s the truth.”
Such statements have been widely perceived as insensitive and have cost Suu Kyi support among Myanmar’s ethnic minorities, many of which looked to her for inspiration during the darkest days of military rule. As Suu Kyi spoke in Hawaii, thousands of Kachins, mostly women and children, were hunkered down in newly dug bunkers near the Kachin rebel headquarters while the army and air force ramped up their indiscriminate bombardment.
There is actually little Suu Kyi can do about the dominant role of the military. The first chapter of the 2008 constitution states that the “Defence Services” shall “be able to participate in the national political leadership role of the State.” And it does so by holding 25 per cent of all seats in the national parliament. The charter lays out complicated rules for constitutional amendments, which effectively give the military veto power over any proposed changes to the present power structure. Minor constitutional changes may be considered by if 20 per cent of MPs submit a bill. However, a tangle of 104 clauses mean that major charter changes cannot be made without the prior approval of more than 75 per cent of all MPs, after which a nationwide referendum must be held where more than half of all eligible voters cast ballots.
This complicated procedure, coupled with Myanmar’s record of holding bogus referendums (the first, held for the 1974 constitution was as lacking in credibility as the one held in 2008) make it virtually impossible to change those clauses. This legally perpetuates the military’s indirect hold on power.
As for the MPs-to-be, constitutional safeguards are already in place to make sure they don’t cause any trouble after they are elected. Article 396 of the new constitution ensures that the Union Election Commission (which is indirectly controlled by the military through personal contacts and) can be dismissed for “misbehaviour.” And, if the “democratic” situation gets really out of hand, Article 413 gives the president the right, “if necessary,” to hand over executive as well as judicial powers to the commander-in-chief of the armed forces.
It gets even trickier at the local level: Myanmar’s seven regions and seven states all have their own assemblies. There, one-third of all elected seats are reserved for the military, and local assemblies are subjected to perhaps the most curious of clauses in the 2008 Constitution. Number 183 reads: “The resolutions and proceedings of the Region and State Hluttaw [assemblies] shall not be annulled, notwithstanding the acts of some person who was not entitled to do so sat or voted or took part in the proceedings are later discovered.”
In simple language, a group of imposters could enter the local assemblies, sit there, and vote, and nothing can be done about it, even if they were not elected. The purpose of the clause is to prevent local assemblies from passing decisions and regulations that would give them more rights and jeopardise the centralised structure of the state. Through the clause, these efforts can be thwarted by blocking elected local assembly persons from voting and instead sending in “some persons” to vote in their place.
A Myanmar lawyer argues that the new setup is based on Than Shwe’s calculations. Previous Myanmar dictators made the mistake of handing off power and not maintaining a proper legacy. When he stepped aside in 2010, Than Shwe took a different path in order to protect himself and his children and grandchildren. He created four centres of power: the military, the central government, the de facto ruling USDP, and parliament. Parliament is the only centre of power in which some token opposition is tolerated.
Of those four power centres, the military remains the most important. Apart from its special powers, it also controls the National Defence and Security Council, which acts above the government. Thein Sein may be its chairman, but that is irrelevant. Five of its 11 members are serving military officers and another five are former officers. Only one is an actual civilian. The military is not under Thein Sein’s command, but under that of Min Aung Hlaing who, in turn, reports to his mentor Than Shwe.
What Myanmar has today is a military government and power structure with a quasi-civilian facade. Opposition parties and freedom of expression are tolerated within the confines of what the military can manage and control. It is highly unlikely that the military would allow the NLD to assume power even if it wins in the 2015 elections. It may, however, be able to appoint some ministers in the government. But, according to the constitution, these ministers and deputy ministers would have to resign from their parliamentary posts and even their respective political parties once assuming cabinet posts. The NLD will thus be “tamed” and become part of the established order.
The pervasive reach of the military doesn’t just extend to the formal branches of power. It has its hands in Myanmar’s supposedly “freed” society as well. The media may be freer than ever before under military rule, but more sophisticated methods have replaced old censorship rules.
In January and February, the website of the Eleven Media group, the country’s largest privately-owned publishing company, was hacked and pictures and other material were deleted. Eleven Media was the first domestic news group to report objectively about the war in Kachin State. One of its journalists, who travelled to the war zone in Kachin, was kept under visible surveillance, a method frequently used to intimidate people. The email accounts of several journalists, both Burmese and foreign, have been hacked by the military. Myanmar’s dreaded secret police, known among the public as “MI” or “Military Intelligence,” is alive and well. And Myanmar’s most draconian press law, the 1962 Printers and Publishers Registration Law, which was introduced after the first military takeover, has not been revoked.
Though the 1962 law is not currently being enforced, in May this year, the Committee to Protect Journalists published a report that states that the media environment in the country remains repressive despite recent liberalisations. In June, Time magazine was banned for carrying a story about a controversial Buddhist monk, U. Wirathu, whose sermons allegedly encouraged mobs to attack the country’s Muslim minority.
At the same time, the military has retained its powerful position in the economy and economic development through its two vast holding companies, the Union of Myanmar Economic Holdings (UMEH) and the Myanmar Economic Corporation (MEC). UMEH, founded in 1990, is run by the Burmese military. The Directorate of Defence Procurement, the body that oversees Myanmar’s purchases of military equipment from abroad, owns 40 per cent of the shares while active and veteran military personnel control the remaining 60 per cent. According to a Reuters special report, UMEH “enjoys unrivalled access to import permits and monopolies.” And according to Sean Turnell, an expert on the Burmese economy at Australia’s Macquaire University, “for years, ex-dictator Than Shwe controlled the profits”. MEC was founded in 1997 and is a far more secretive organisation operated under the Directorate of Defence Procurement with interests in heavy industries and IT ventures.
While this new system suits Than Shwe and his immediate underlings, it may not work in the long run, and it is in this context that future conflicts could emerge. The man to watch is ex-General Thura Shwe Mann, No 3 in the former SPDC and now parliamentary Speaker. He has reportedly forged an informal alliance with Suu Kyi against Than Shwe, but that may be a temporary arrangement as sources who are familiar with the process say that he will dump her when she is no longer needed to boost his popularity. On the other hand, military insiders assert that Shwe Mann is not popular with the regional commanders. He is seen as “too ambitious” and could pose a threat to the established order.
Shwe Mann may or may not succeed, but there will be more conflicts and power struggles within the ruling military elite. It is there — and not in the parliament or even the government — that the future of Myanmar lies. Than Shwe has just turned 80 and is reportedly not in good health. It remains to be seen if the power structure he has created will survive him. Optimists argue that the passing of Than Shwe could herald in a new, even more open era in which the military may even fade into the background. Sceptics, however, remember that foreign observers and Burmese alike used to say the same thing about the old strongman Ne Win — and that the military has managed to remain in power in one shape or another. The only thing that is clear is that despite all the hype, Myanmar’s “reform programme” is only skin-deep and designed to preserve the military’s grip on power, not undermine it.
— Washington Post
Bertil Lintner lives in Thailand and is a former correspondent with the Far Eastern Economic Review and author of seven books on Myanmar, including Burma in Revolt: Opium and Insurgency Since 1948 and Aung San Suu Kyi and Burma’s Struggle for Democracy.

We publish below the Full text of the cover story “The Face of Buddhist Terror” in July 01, 2013 TIME magazine;

The Face of Buddhist Terror

It’s a faith famous for its pacifism and tolerance. But in several of Asia’s Buddhist-majority nations, monks are inciting bigotry and violence — mostly against Muslims
By Hannah Beech / Meikhtila, Burma, And Pattani, Thailand 
His face as still and serene as a statue’s, the Buddhist monk who has taken the title “the Burmese bin Laden” begins his sermon. Hundreds of worshippers sit before him, palms pressed together, sweat trickling down their sticky backs. On cue, the crowd chants with the man in burgundy robes, the mantras drifting through the sultry air of a temple in Mandalay, Burma’s second biggest city after Rangoon. It seems a peaceful scene, but Wirathu’s message crackles with hate. “Now is not the time for calm,” the monk intones, as he spends 90 minutes describing the many ways in which he detests the minority Muslims in this Buddhist-majority land. “Now is the time to rise up, to make your blood boil.”

Buddhist blood is boiling in Burma, also known as Myanmar–and plenty of Muslim blood is being spilled. Over the past year, Buddhist mobs have targeted members of the minority faith, and incendiary rhetoric from Wirathu–he goes by one name–and other hard-line monks is fanning the flames of religious chauvinism. Scores of Muslims have been killed, according to government statistics, although international human-rights workers put the number in the hundreds. Much of the violence is directed at the Rohingya, a largely stateless Muslim group in Burma’s far west that the U.N. calls one of the world’s most persecuted people. The communal bloodshed has spread to central Burma, where Wirathu, 46, lives and preaches his virulent sermons. The radical monk sees Muslims, who make up at least 5% of Burma’s estimated 60 million people, as a threat to the country and its culture. “[Muslims] are breeding so fast, and they are stealing our women, raping them,” he tells me. “They would like to occupy our country, but I won’t let them. We must keep Myanmar Buddhist.”

Such hate speech threatens the delicate political ecosystem in a country peopled by at least 135 ethnic groups that has only recently been unshackled from nearly half a century of military rule. Already some government officials are calling for implementation of a ban, rarely enforced during the military era, on Rohingya women’s bearing more than two children. And many Christians in the country’s north say recent fighting between the Burmese military and Kachin insurgents, who are mostly Christian, was exacerbated by the widening religious divide.
Radical Buddhism is thriving in other parts of Asia too. This year in Sri Lanka, Buddhist nationalist groups with links to high-ranking officialdom have gained prominence, with monks helping orchestrate the destruction of Muslim and Christian property. And in Thailand’s deep south, where a Muslim insurgency has claimed some 5,000 lives since 2004, the Thai army trains civilian militias and often accompanies Buddhist monks when they leave their temples. The commingling of soldiers and monks–some of whom have armed themselves–only heightens the alienation felt by Thailand’s minority Muslims.
Although each nation’s history dictates the course radical Buddhism has taken within its borders, growing access to the Internet means that prejudice and rumors are instantly inflamed with each Facebook post or tweet. Violence can easily spill across borders. In Malaysia, where hundreds of thousands of Burmese migrants work, several Buddhist Burmese were killed in June–likely in retribution, Malaysian authorities say, for the deaths of Muslims back in Burma.
In the reckoning of religious extremism–Hindu nationalists, Muslim militants, fundamentalist Christians, ultra-Orthodox Jews–Buddhism has largely escaped trial. To much of the world, it is synonymous with nonviolence and loving kindness, concepts propagated by Siddhartha Gautama, the Buddha, 2,500 years ago. But like adherents of any other religion, Buddhists and their holy men are not immune to politics and, on occasion, the lure of sectarian chauvinism. When Asia rose up against empire and oppression, Buddhist monks, with their moral command and plentiful numbers, led anticolonial movements. Some starved themselves for their cause, their sunken flesh and protruding ribs underlining their sacrifice for the laity. Perhaps most iconic is the image of Thich Quang Duc, a Vietnamese monk sitting in the lotus position, wrapped in flames, as he burned to death in Saigon while protesting the repressive South Vietnamese regime 50 years ago. In 2007, Buddhist monks led a foiled democratic uprising in Burma: images of columns of clerics bearing upturned alms bowls, marching peacefully in protest against the junta, earned sympathy around the world, if not from the soldiers who slaughtered them. But where does political activism end and political militancy begin? Every religion can be twisted into a destructive force poisoned by ideas that are antithetical to its foundations. Now it’s Buddhism’s turn.
Mantra of Hate
Sitting cross-legged on a raised platform at the New Masoeyein monastery in Mandalay, next to a wall covered by life-size portraits of himself, the Burmese bin Laden expounds on his worldview. U.S. President Barack Obama has “been tainted by black Muslim blood.” Arabs have hijacked the U.N., he believes, although he sees no irony in linking his name to that of an Arab terrorist. About 90% of Muslims in Burma are “radical, bad people,” says Wirathu, who was jailed for seven years for his role in inciting anti-Muslim pogroms in 2003. He now leads a movement called 969–the figure represents various attributes of the Buddha–which calls on Buddhists to fraternize only among themselves and shun people of other faiths. “Taking care of our own religion and race is more important than democracy,” says Wirathu.
It would be easy to dismiss Wirathu as an outlier with little doctrinal basis for his bigotry. But he is charismatic and powerful, and his message resonates. Among the country’s majority Bamar ethnic group, as well as across Buddhist parts of Asia, there’s a vague sense that their religion is under siege–that Islam, having centuries ago conquered the Buddhist lands of Indonesia, Malaysia, Pakistan and Afghanistan, now seeks new territory. Even without proof, Buddhist nationalists stoke fears that local Muslim populations are increasing faster than their own, and they worry about Middle Eastern money pouring in to build new mosques.
In Burma, the democratization process that began in 2011 with the junta’s giving way to a quasi-civilian government has also allowed extremist voices to proliferate. The trouble began last year in the far west, where machete-wielding Buddhist hordes attacked Rohingya villages; 70 Muslims were slaughtered in a daylong massacre in one hamlet, according to Human Rights Watch. The government has done little to check the violence, which has since migrated to other parts of the country. In late March, the central town of Meikhtila burned for days, with entire Muslim quarters razed by Buddhist mobs after a monk was killed by Muslims. (The official death toll: two Buddhists and at least 40 Muslims.) Thousands of Muslims are still crammed into refugee camps that journalists are forbidden to enter. In the shadow of a burned-down mosque, I was able to meet the family of Abdul Razak Shahban, one of at least 20 students at a local Islamic school who were killed. “My son was killed because he was Muslim, nothing else,” Razak’s mother Rahamabi told me.
Temple and State
In the deep south of Burma’s neighbor Thailand, it is the Buddhists who complain of being targeted for their faith. This part of the country used to be part of a Malay sultanate before staunchly Buddhist Thailand annexed it early last century, and Muslims make up at least 80% of the population. Since a separatist insurgency intensified in 2004, many Buddhists have been targeted because their positions–such as teachers, soldiers and government workers–are linked with the Thai state. Dozens of monks have been attacked too. Now the Buddhists have overwhelming superiority in arms: the Thai military and other security forces have moved into the wat, as Thai Buddhist temples are known.
If Buddhists feel more protected by the presence of soldiers in their temples, it sends quite another signal to the Muslim population. “[The] state is wedding religion to the military,” says Michael Jerryson, an assistant professor of religious studies at Youngstown State University in Ohio and author of a book about Buddhism’s role in the southern-Thailand conflict. Muslims too are scared: more of them have perished in the violence than Buddhists. (By proportion of population, more Buddhists have died, however.) Yet Buddhists are the ones who receive the greater state protection, and I listen to monk after monk heighten tensions by telling me that Muslims are using mosques to store weapons or that every imam carries a gun. “Islam is a religion of violence,” says Phratong Jiratamo, a former marine turned monk in the town of Pattani. “Everyone knows this.”
It’s a sentiment the Burmese bin Laden would endorse. I ask Wirathu how he reconciles the peaceful sutras of his faith with the anti-Muslim violence spreading across his Bamar-majority homeland. “In Buddhism, we are not allowed to go on the offensive,” he tells me, as if he is lecturing a child. “But we have every right to protect and defend our community.” Later, as he preaches to an evening crowd, I listen to him compel smiling housewives, students, teachers, grandmothers and others to repeat after him, “I will sacrifice myself for the Bamar race.” It’s hard to imagine that the Buddha would have approved.
– Time-

Kachin leaders back UN involvement

By Myanmar Times June 03, ’13

Members of the Kachin community have asked Vijay Nambiar to help increase international involvement in Myanmar’s peace process during a meeting in Myitkyina last week.

Kachin representatives met Mr Nambiar, the special adviser to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on Myanmar, on May 29, during the rest day in peace talks between the government and the Kachin Independence Organisation (KIO). Mr Nambiar was an observer at the talks, which concluded with the signing of a seven-point agreement on May 30.

At the meeting Myitkyina resident Daw Jar Sai Khum said international help was needed to resolve the conflict in Kachin State.
“I think you can understand very well that this conflict has been running since the country became independent more than 64 years ago,” she said. “Ethnic groups around Myanmar are trying to solve the problems within our communities and regions but we cannot manage all of this ourselves.
“It is clear to me that the international community needs to play a role in solving these conflicts.”
Kachin people urged Mr Nambiar to monitor the conflict until a fair solution was found. They also asked him to raise the issue of Myanmar’s ethnic conflicts in the UN Security Council and encourage other members of the international community to take part in the peace process.
Representatives also told Mr Nambiar that the KIO and Kachin communities “are one”.
‘’We want the UN to help as much as it can,” said 81-year-old Daw Innfan Jar Yar. “The government and KIO have held peace talks many times but so far there has not been any positive outcome.
“We suffer the terrible impacts of the conflict,” she said, adding that a political solution was needed. “We want to get [a] federal [system] at once. We don’t want to wait any more to get it.”
The Kachin National Consultative Assembly (KNCA) published a statement before Mr Nambiar’s visit and this was presented to him at the meeting. The statement included nine points on the conflict and alleged that the government “consistently ignores the ethnic rights that ethnic nationalities have been demanding, or intentionally stalls and gives excuses”.
The statement said that past meetings have not been successful in part because international monitoring groups have not been involved and called for these groups to be involved in future talks.
Mr Nambiar said at the meeting that the UN is supporting and facilitating peace talks and that those talks were being watched closely around the world.
“Every one of you has an aspiration, an expectation … and an experience. But any political solution that comes will not satisfy everybody in all respects,” Mr Nambiar said.
“I have no doubt that the UN and KIO, as well as the Kachin people and Myanmar people, will see the peace process move forward,” he said.