03/13/2021, 10.02
ITALY-MYANMAR
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Myanmar, the coup of death and the people of life

by Bernardo Cervellera

As news of more targeted killings of demonstrators arrives, Italy observes a moment of witness and prayers for peace in Myanmar. Centred around the words of Sister Ann Rose Nu Tawng, who begged the soldiers on her knees not to shoot at her "her people". The presentation given by AsiaNews editor Fr Bernardo Cervellera.

Rome (AsiaNews) - A meeting titled "In communion with Myanmar" took place online yesterday at 20.30. Over 1000 people from Italy, but also from other countries around the world, took part in the virtual gathering, organized by the publisher Emi. The event centred on the testimony of Sister Ann Rose Nu Tawng, whose photo - praying in front of the soldiers in Miytkiyna so that they wouldn't shoot the crowd – became viral worldwide. The meeting was interspersed with prayers and testimonies from some PIME (Pontifical Institute for Foreign Missions) seminarians including two young Burmese. The conclusion was entrusted to Card. Matteo Zuppi, archbishop of Bologna. The editor AsiaNews also took part in the meeting, with the presentation that we publish below.

Meanwhile in Myanmar the demonstrations do not stop, but neither does the violence. Two other people were killed overnight in Tharketa, near Yangon, in front of the police station. They demonstrated with hundreds of others to demand the release of those arrested in recent days.

Since February we have been confronted with a familiar and yet new reality in Myanmar. The familiar reality is the coup attempted by the military, in an attempt to return the country to the era of the junta, which dominated unchallenged from 1962 to 2011.

In 1962, authoritarian and socialist Gen. Ne Win, carried out a coup d'état and seized power by overthrowing the democratic government that had existed since 1948, the year of independence. In teh space of a few years, 250 missionaries were expelled. Only 11 remained, from PIME, my institute who had been there for over 10 years. The group included Blessed Clemente Vismara, the apostle of children.

Since then, despite ever changing names and definitions, the army has held the country in an iron fist. The testimonies we have published many times on AsiaNews tell of burned villages, destroyed churches, raped women, children forced to be slaves or child soldiers, nocturnal disappearances of opponents, mass graves: what the Rohingya will later suffer, all minorities have suffered.

In 1990 there was an attempt to hold free elections, won by the League for Democracy party, also led at the time by Aung San Suu Kyi. This party won them, but the junta did not recognize them and put Aung San Suu Kyi and his collaborators in prison, just like in recent weeks.

The isolated economy, the change in mentality in some quarters of the military leadership lead to some changes: a new constitution in 2008 - which guarantees 25% of the seats to the military together with some important ministries -, the release of the "Lady" and new elections in 2010. But they were so falsified that the population boycotted them.

Finally, in 2015 new elections are held, free and fair, which are won by the NDL. In November 2020 there were more elections, a landslide with 75% of the seats for the NDL. Since desires for change spreading among the military, the junta fears that this victory is the end of their power not only military, but also economic, given that all the resources of the country (oil, gas, agriculture, precious wood, mines, ... ) are in their hands, while the free market is in trouble. The coup is a matter of life or death for the military.

The response of the people

But they found themselves faced with an unprecedented and new reality: the people’s response to the dictatorship. Past attempts to overthrow the junta featured university students in 1988; the long lines of Buddhist monks in 2007. In recent weeks the strike for civil disobedience was launched first by doctors, then by health personnel; then by teachers and students; then again by bank employees, private firms, railway workers, dock workers. Consequently, the economy has ground to a halt.

The same Gen. Min Aung Hlaing, head of the new military junta, admitted that two thirds of the hospitals are not functioning; according to the UN, three quarters of state employees are on strike; a Burmese investigation channel claims that the strike has crippled all 24 ministries of the new government.

Strikes and demonstrations spread to several cities. Hundreds of thousands of people by day or by night invade the streets of Yangon, Mandalay, Myitkyina, Monywa, Pagan, Dawei, Myeik, Lashio, Taunggy. With signs that are often ironic or humorous - this is also a novelty - the population is calling for an end to the state and the release of political prisoners, first of all Aung San Suu Kyi and President Win Myint, under house arrest in the new capital of Naypyidaw since the first day of the coup.

The united ethnic groups

Another novelty is the multi-ethnic character of the demonstrations: a sign that the 136 ethnic groups of Myanmar can live together without the hard fist of the generals.

The country's multi-ethnicity has often been a ballast for national unity, even if the army - which stood as the guarantor of its unity - has always implemented the policy of divide and rule, giving weapons to one group, fighting another, intervening to "pacify". At the moment, however, the majority of ethnic groups are united against the coup and against the junta.

Many ethnic groups, especially the Chin, the Kachin and the Karen, are still not at peace and for years they have been waging war against the junta that has been robbing them of all the riches of the territory. Now they are thinking of joining forces to fight the army violence which terrorizes the population by killing the demonstrators.

The Church and the violence

Another important element is the participation of priests, seminarians, Catholic nuns in the demonstrations. Often, but a little less than in the past, there are also Buddhist monks and nuns with them.

There are bishops who explicitly support the demonstrations; others such as Card. Charles Maung Bo [1], president of the Burmese bishops' conference and archbishop of Yangon, who try not to blame the junta too much to leave a path of dialogue open. Many priests and faithful consider this position as "too neutral". However, he too denounces the killings and abuses.

The military response is increasingly violent.

To date, the army and police have killed at least 60 people; a third of them were young people under the age of 18, killed with lethal gunshots to the head in execution style or beaten to death. Then there are night disappearances and arrests, at least 2 thousand. Some of those arrested died in prison from torture. Three days ago Aung San Suu Kyi's adviser, U Zaw Myat Lin, was buried. Photos of his scarred corpse show the merciless torture he endured.

The stakes

Western countries immediately condemned the coup and imposed targeted sanctions against military leaders. The UN secretary general condemned the coup; the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva said the junta was carrying out crimes against humanity.

But a Security Council motion was stopped by Russia, Vietnam, India and China. The latter is suspected of supporting the junta - as it has done for many decades. It is true that for the first time Beijing has publicly denied offering any help to the generals. But it is also true that it had relations with the generals to ensure the safety of the pipeline that carries oil and gas from Myanmar to Kunming.

The countries of the ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) say that they do not intervene in the "internal facts" of a country and at the most they can "guarantee new elections" (just as the junta wishes).

All these fear that the "stability" guaranteed by the army will fail, without which there would be an avalanche of refugees and economic problems even in their borders.

But through the strikes, the civil disobedience, their unity, the people of Myanmar are telling the world that they will continue even risking their lives. Myanmar is the playing field for a game of vital importance for the entire world:  between democracy and authoritarianism; between stability and human rights. But stability without the participation of the people is like keeping a skeleton in prison. And yet these protesters show that they are alive and they want to live.

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