Burmese Catholics to Pope: at Christmas, remember our people in your prayers
by Kraisak Leekpai
AsiaNews publishes the appeal by some Catholics in Myanmar to Benedict XVI. The fear that the world might forget the sufferings of their country is also present in the testimonies of some Buddhist refugees gathered in Thailand: the systematic cruelty of the military regime, the disarray of health care, the destruction of the education system, and the massive exploitation of resources and manual labour on the part of great powers like China have brought the country to its knees, and it is losing any hope for change.
Mae Sot (AsiaNews) - We ask the Pope that with the arrival of Christmas, he "continue to pray" for the Burmese people, and that with his words he "help keep the world from forgetting the sufferings of our country". This is the moving appeal sent to AsiaNews by some Catholics in Myanmar, who remain anonymous for obvious reasons of safety. The same desire to keep attention focused on the fate of the country formerly known as Burma is expressed by some Buddhist exiles in Thailand. They speak of the cruelty of a military regime that for over 40 years has thrown the once-flourishing country into misery, ignorance, and fear; of the massive exploitation of a people purely for economic gain; of the paralysis of a generation of disillusioned and distrustful young people who flee to other countries in the vain hope of finding a better future. But they ask the world not to forget the tragedy that is raging within their country. Kyaw Lin Aung, aged 35, from Yangon, and Nay Zey Tun, aged 40, from Mandalay, took refuge in Mae Sot after the wave of anti-government protests in late September. They recount the violence of the soldiers against the peaceful movement of the Buddhist monks in the town squares, as also in the prisons. And they warn: "The repression has never stopped!"
Kyaw Lin Aung is unable to forget what he has seen and heard from friends and relatives: "The shots fired against the monks reciting prayers of love and piety in Pakokku, the burning of monasteries that aligned themselves against the government, but also the stories of the corpses of demonstrators that were burned in crematorium ovens or buried in haste in order to distort the true extent of the repression".
Even the apparent willingness of the Naypydaw regime to accept the requests of the international community on respect for human rights conceals only a ferocious cruelty. "Spies disguised as monks roam around the country, contributing to the arrest of young activists and Buddhist monks", Kyaw recounts. "In the prisons, they are tortured an denied medical assistance. This happened even after pressure from the UN and the United States to free the detainees - before freeing them, the prison guards had them infected with lethal viruses, so that they would die after returning home and leave [the government] free from criticism or responsibility".
By this and other means, Burma's military junta has chosen to silence those in the country who, beginning this summer, dared to rise up and protest against policies that have brought the country to its knees, handing over its riches to the great powers in the region.
When he speaks of his country, Nay Zey Tun depicts a nation on its knees, almost without any hope left. The crisis unfolds beginning with the basic services: health and education. "The state hospitals are completely lacking in any form of assistance", Nay recounts. "Sometimes it is difficult even to find a bandage, and the personnel do not work. A few months ago, I helped my father, who was hospitalised for a week, and I found myself acting as a nurse for the other patients: there was a woman who was supposed to give birth, and no one was helping her. Later it was discovered that her baby had already been dead for ten days, and no one had noticed. They operated on her, and then I had to talk to the lead physician, who didn't know anything. Not to mention the operating rooms . . . we say that it is better to die at home, rather than to go seek care in the hospital".
Education is also sinking into deep crisis. "With the nationalisation of the schools in 1962, and the expulsion of the missionaries from the country", Kyaw recalls, "education suffered a serious wound. The military government prohibited the teaching of English until 1985. Many of the university texts are in English, and now the young teachers can't even read them. A widespread ignorance reigns, and the people know longer know what freedom is, nor do they understand the value of life. Even the young people who want to rebel don't know exactly what to ask for: although they assemble in the squares, they are waiting for someone to lead them, to become the spokesman for their sufferings and the sufferings of their families". To this ignorance is added a deep depression: "In the villages, electricity id available only seven hours a day," Nay explains, "and even water is not distributed regularly; one now works solely to keep hunger at bay, without being able to save any money, and so the people no longer think about politics, and wait for the outside world to do something in order to change things".
The feeling among the Burmese is that the international community is seeking a compromise in order to avoid doing too much harm to the interests of the great regional powers in the former Burma. This means India and Russia, but above all, China. "For ten years", Nay denounces, "Beijing has practically been colonising our land: the Chinese companies are outsourcing their business to Myanmar, because manual labour costs even less than in China. Moreover, they are exploiting our country indiscriminately, appropriating our energy resources and basic materials. In the morning, around Yangdon one can see lines of trucks full of labourers being taken to the Chinese factories like animals to the slaughter".
Paralysis, the conviction of being unable to change things is increasingly driving the young people to leave the country. "The airport", Kyaw recounts, "is full of young people leaving the country to find work elsewhere. They are uprooted, not knowing where to go, and they think that by emigrating they will be able to earn more. Most of them end up in very menial jobs in Malaysia or Dubai". "But in order to pay for their travel", Nay emphasises, "they often sell the land and homes of their elderly parents, who remain in Myanmar without anything left to live on. I have read the lyrics of some songs written by medical students, which go more or less like this: 'My children sell my field and depart: remember your parents, who cannot even grow rice, and send them at least a little money to buy soup'".