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Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Burma (Myanmar): Interests, smokescreens & ethnic cleansing
-- a call to pray for the Christian Kachin of northern Burma

By Elizabeth Kendal
Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin (RLPB) 132
Special to ASSIST News Service

AUSTRALIA (ANS) -- Burma has been subject to Western political and economic sanctions for decades because of its repression of democracy. However, since the mid-1990s ascendant China has been taking Burma into its embrace, supplying it with loans and commodities, trading freely and building infrastructure -- but not out of benevolence. China is pursuing its own interests, in particular it interest in gaining access to Burmese ports on the Bay of Bengal, where there has long been a power vacuum. Motivated by this threat, the US is now pursuing engagement with Burma. Consequently Burma's geo-strategic value is rising in line with China's economic and military ascendancy, which means Burma (like Indonesia -- RLPB 119) can now play geo-politics to its own advantage. To this end, the regime is welcoming the US overtures as they offer a way to counter the anti-China sentiment rising inside Burma.

The West is highly excited over Burma's recent reforms: the release of some 200 political prisoners (despite over 1000 still behind bars); talks held with Aung San Suu Kyi; improvements in press freedom and the introduction of debate into its parliament. Burmese generally are highly sceptical of the reforms which need to be seen in the light of Burmese domestic realities. Domestically the regime needs to lessen its dependence on China, and it wants to chair the Association of Southeast Asian Nations in 2014 (which will be decided this month). The only reform that has really captured the imagination of the Burmese is the regime's 30 September decision to suspend until 2015 the immensely controversial Myitsone Dam Project in Kachin State. A joint project between the previous Burmese junta and the China Power Investment Corporation, the Myitsone Dam project was not only opposed by the Kachin -- a Christian people whose lands would have been decimated -- but by many Burmese. Not only would 90 percent of the output and 70 percent of the profits go to China, but the impact on the Irrawaddy River -- Burma's life source -- would be catastrophic. So even this move must be seen in the context of the regime's survival strategy amidst Burma's internal reality of soaring anti-China sentiment.

Whilst the regime has suspended the Myitsone Dam Project, its war on the Christian Kachin -- a war triggered in part by the dam project -- continues unabated. In an 18 October report, Human Rights Watch estimates 30,000 Kachin are now displaced. While UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has inexplicably downplayed the situation, the UN Special Rapporteur on human rights in Burma, Tomas Ojea Quintana, told the UN General Assembly on 19 October that recent fighting had resulted in more than 15,000 displaced Kachin being confined to a remote mountainous area on the Chinese border in conditions that can only be described as 'perilous'. According to Quintana, the UN informed the Burmese authorities that it was willing to help these Internally Displaced Persons but Thein Sein's government declined the offer.

Furthermore, it is being reported that China is blocking the delivery of food, emergency shelter and medicines, leaving some analysts wondering if Kachin State is being ethnically cleansed at China's behest. Is the suspension of the dam project just a smokescreen behind which Burma will have three years to ethnically cleanse Kachin State? With the US working to bring Burma out of China's embrace into its own, will the US reward the tokens while ignoring the genocide (exactly as is happening in Papua, Indonesia)? No matter what the world does, the Church must not ignore the persecution of her sisters and brothers.

With the Kachin people being over 90 percent devout Christian, the Church is being hit hard. Churches in Kachin State have been attacked, seized, used as prisons and burnt. The Christian Kachin are being raped, brutalised, enslaved, starved and slaughtered. Christian Solidarity Worldwide reported on 31 October that in Maw Wan Ward, Phakant Township, the town administration is now requiring Christians to seek official permission to read the Bible, pray and fast, amongst other Christian 'cultural' activities. Requests must be accompanied by recommendations from other departments and must be submitted to the Township Administration Office 15 days in advance.

With war and repression escalating behind a smokescreen of token reforms from a Burman-Buddhist-supremacist regime operating from a position of increasing geo-strategic significance, the Christian Kachin need our prayers for God's intervention now more than ever.

PLEASE PRAY SPECIFICALLY THAT --

  • the LORD will rise up in defence of his own people (Isaiah 59:15b-19); may their enemies 'be scattered' (Psalm 68:1), 'be put to shame and confusion' and 'turned back and brought to dishonour' (Psalm 70:2 ESV).

  • the God who provided manna in the wilderness (Exodus 16) and water from the rock (Exodus 17), who instructed the ravens to feed Elijah and resupplied the widow each night (1 Kings 17), who performs miracles (Matthew 14:13ff) and opens and closes doors definitively and at will (Revelation 3:7) will meet the needs of all the displaced Christian Kachin.

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SUMMARY TO USE IN BULLETINS UNABLE TO RUN THE WHOLE ARTICLE
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ETHNIC CLEANSING IN BURMA BEHIND TOKEN REFORMS

Whilst the West is lauding Burma for its reforms, these reforms are not about democracy but regime survival and advancing the regime's interests as anti-China sentiment inside Burma is soaring. Burma's duplicity is evident in that its war against the Christian Kachin people continues unabated. The regime appears intent on ethnically cleansing Kachin State where China wants to build a massive dam and hydro-power scheme. Some 30,000 Kachin are displaced, most without food, shelter or medical aid. The regime is imposing severe restrictions on Christianity in some Kachin towns. War and repression are escalating behind a smokescreen of token reforms from a Burman-Buddhist-supremacist regime operating from a position of increasing geo-strategic significance. The Christian Kachin need our prayers for God's intervention now more than ever.


Elizabeth Kendal is an international religious liberty analyst and advocate. This prayer bulletin was initially written for the Australian Evangelical Alliance Religious Liberty Commission (AEA RLC).

Elizabeth Kendal's blogs:
Religious Liberty Monitoring and Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin

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