07/28/2010, 00.00
INDIA – MYANMAR
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Burmese leader in India kneels before the Buddha as troops shell Christian village

by Tint Swe
Senior General Than Shwe has been in India since Sunday to sign economic agreements. On the first day of his visit, he travelled to Bodh Gaya and Sarnath, two important pilgrimage sites related to the life of Gautama Buddha. Two days earlier, the Burmese military wiped out a Christian village in Karen State, eastern Myanmar.
New Delhi (AsiaNews) – Soldiers from the Burmese Army attacked Tha Dah Der, a Christian village in Karen State, eastern Myanmar, on 23 July, burning 50 homes, a school and a church. Over 600 villagers fled in the jungle as the army advanced, joining 300 more from neighbouring villages who had also abandoned their homes in fear.

The incident was made public today, whilst Myanmar’s strongman Senior General Than Shwe, is in India to sign economic agreements. The Burmese dictator arrived in New Delhi last Sunday. The first thing he did was to visit the towns of Bodh Gaya (Bihar) and Sarnath (Uttar Pradesh), places closely connected to the life of Gautama Buddha.

AsiaNews spoke to Tint Swe, Information Minister of the National Coalition Government of the Union of Burma (NCGUB) that was set up in exile after the military junta annulled the 1990 elections won by the National League for Democracy. After finding refuge in India in 1990, he settled in New Delhi on 21 December 1991.

The attack against Christian Karens took place just before Senior General Than Shwe, the blood stained dictator, could make his pilgrimage to Bodh Gaya and step on the red carpet laid out by Indian government.

Looking only at this aspect of the news story, one might conclude that the Burmese regime favours one religion over the others. This is partly true because around 90 per cent of potential voters in the controversial upcoming elections are Buddhist. The Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) desperately needs them. In order to help Prime Minister Thein Sein in his efforts, the State Peace and Development Council Chairman Than Shwe wants to entice innocent Buddhist voters by visiting Bodh Gaya and Sarnath.

In their memorandum to Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, pro-democracy Burmese in India expressed their indignation at the visit. They said that those who kill the children of Gautama Buddha are visiting India where Buddha was born, became enlightened and reached Parinirvana. By contrast, in Burma Buddhist monks are not even entitled to vote or run for office. For Than Shwe, it seems, Myanmar’s 400,000 Buddhist monks have no value at all.

The Democratic Karen Buddhist Army (DKBA) that attacked non-Buddhist Karens was set up by Burmese military intelligence in 1994. Burmese intelligence and a Buddhist faction that broke away from the Karen National Union picked the group’s name. This has angered Buddhists around the world because it reflects negatively on Buddhism. Burmese from all religious denominations do not see it as a way by the junta to promote Buddhism. Indians and Burmese have equally suffered under British colonial policies of divide and rule. Burma’s military regime has learnt its lesson on how to divide the Karen people along religious lines.

It might be a coincidence, but India, Burma and the United Kingdom have been in the news, together. A day after meeting with Burma’s dictator, the Indian Prime Minister will receive the British Prime Minister

Against the backdrop of David Cameron’s visit, the headlines are reporting British Petroleum’s role in releasing the Libyan Lockerbie bomber as well as its deepwater drilling off the coast of Libya.

In other words, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s illustrious guests are the world’s third worst dictator and the leader of the nation where the world’s third largest energy company is based. Nowadays, the policies of these countries are pragmatic. Burma’s junta leader is no novice; hence, his decision to add the world’s largest democracy to his pre-election schedule.

Burmese leaders will not hesitate to buy Burmese Christian votes for the UNDP. Burmese Muslims have been given different colour indemnity cards for voting as well as limited travel and business. After Than Shwe’s visit, Burmese of Indian origin, who constitute most of Burma’s Hindu community, will enjoy some privileges they did not have previously. Yet, how far and for how long will it last?

To a large extent, religion is good for everything, including politics. In order to meditate, Than Shwe and his wife Daw Kyaing Kyaing sat in the Sarnath park where the Buddha taught his first Wheel of Dharma. Terrorists always pray before all the killings and destructions.

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