24 October 2017
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  • » 02/10/2017, 19.08


    The "new" Myanmar is hostage to the military and ethnic and sectarian divisions

    Francis Khoo Thwe

    In Kachin State, a Christian nurse is raped and murdered. China and Myanmar discuss security along the latter’s northern border. International media coverage focuses on the persecution of the country’s Muslim minority. Sources tell AsiaNews that violence against "various religions and ethnic groups" tends to be obscured by that against the Rohingya. Social and political factors are at play.

    Yangon (AsiaNews) – The new Myanmar under Aung San Suu Kyi and the National League for Democracy government elected in 2015 is still hostage to the military and marked by deep ethnic and sectarian divisions, this according to sources that spoke to AsiaNews.

    The violence "affects various religions and ethnic groups", even though the focus of the international media "has been on the plight of the Rohingya minority" about whom Pope Francis spoke in his last general audience on Wednesday.

    The latest incident to stir the political cauldron is the murder of a young Kachin Christian nurse in Myitkyina. "She was sexually assaulted, then stabbed to death 19 times,” a source said.

    Little is certain about the attack.  In the past, young Kachin have been abused and murdered by soldiers in a region marred by bloodshed and an ethnic conflict that has displaced thousands of people.

    "To this, we must add the destruction of churches and Christian places of worship in the region, which confirms that even the Christian community is not safe.”

    China, which has recently intervened as a result of the violence in Kachin State, has called for a ceasefire to end the exodus of refugees across its border.

    Last Tuesday, high-level Myanmar and Chinese officials met in Kunming, in China’s Yunnan province. Beijing wants to see the conflict end and peace and stability restored along the border to protect its own citizens and their businesses in the area.

    Ethnic and sectarian tensions are so strong that the construction of two statues in Mudon (Mon State) and Myitkyina (Kachin State) dedicated to General Aung San, a hero of Myanmar (Burma) independence and father of Aung San Suu Kyi, have sparked protests.

    Construction is underway in the two towns but civil society groups said that they cannot accept them so long as the conflict in Kachin State continues and federalism is not implemented.

    Likewise, the death of a famous Muslim lawyer and constitutionalist, Ko Ni, who was a consultant of the Nobel Peace Prize laurate and the NLD, remains unresolved.

    "This story has caused great sorrow throughout the country,” a source in Yangon told AsiaNews. “Regardless of his faith, everyone is mourning. He was a good citizen, a friend and fellow townsman. There is no reason to believe there was a sectarian motive; it was not a religious murder."

    For some experts, the murder was politically motivated given his work to amend the existing military-imposed constitution.

    The Rohingya Muslim minority also continues to top international headlines, although it has been going on for many years.

    At present, a military commission (one general and five other senior officers) has begun an official investigation into allegations of violence and human rights violations committed by the military.

    A ship flying the Malaysian flag brought in aid – 2,300 tonnes in food and basic necessities – to help tens of thousands of Rohingya refugees. However, when it docked in the port of Yangon, it was greeted by protesting nationalist groups and Buddhist extremists.

    Scores of Buddhist monks and protesters waved Myanmar flags, chanting slogans and waving banners that read ‘No Rohingya’.

    "The situation is different from how it is described in the international media,” the source told AsiaNews. “Nationalism and widespread poverty, despite some development, play into it.”

    “Many Burmese want priority given to their countrymen before others. However, young people are more open to others and their religion. There is some resistance if not outright hostility among older people and seniors.”

    "I agree with the pope’s words and I have many Muslim friends from childhood. This is not a religious problem but we have reached a breaking point for a number of political and social reasons.”

    In a country of about 135 ethnic groups, peaceful coexistence has always been a struggle, especially with the central government, which is dominated by ethnic Burmese.

    In the past, the ruling military junta used an iron fist against the groups least amenable to central control, like ethnic Kachin, who live along the border with China in the north, and more recently, ethnic Kokang, in Shan state.

    This is complicated by violence against the Rohingya Muslim minority, deemed illegal immigrants by the government and therefore deprived of any citizenship.

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