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Tuesday, October 02, 2007

The mess that is Myanmar

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Myanmar - or TCFKAB[2] - is currently in turmoil. Okay, you may ask, they've been under military rule for 45 years, and have always been in turmoil, right? So what's new?

Map image originally from Wikimedia Commons, modified by myAsylum, and hosted by PhotobucketQuick backgrounder: Myanmar gained independence from Britain in 1948, and actually had a democratic government until 1962 when the military staged a coup. In 1988, the military forces quelled widespread pro-democracy demonstrations by killing hundreds of demonstrators, and this was followed by a coup by General Saw Maung, which led to the formation of the SLORC (State Law and Order Restoration Council). In 1989, the SLORC renamed the country Myanmar. The following year, the government held free elections, in which the National League for Democracy (NLD) won by over 80% of the seats - the SLORC annulled the elections and refused to hand over power back to the people.

ASEAN (Association of South East Asian Nations) admitted Myanmar into the collective in 1997, amidst protests over their human rights records. This was prrobably done with the hope that Myanmar would, in due time, restore democracy, and was in line with ASEAN's stand on "positive engagement".

One of Walski's former bosses told him once - hope is NOT a strategy. And just as in business, true enough, ASEAN has done little to persuade Myanmar to return to a democratic form of government. What doesn't surprise Walski, however, is the SLORC (now renamed as State Peace and Development Council, or SPDC) not willing to step down from power, after ruling the nation for a very long time.

Sound familiar, and like any other government you know?

The latest crackdown in the military government's long and glorious history of suppressing the voices of its own people using any means necessary came as the result of the SPDC raising the price of fuel by 500% in August of this year. This lead to widespread protest marches, led by the country's Buddhist monks (a.k.a. Sangha).

It's pretty obvious that things in Myanmar must be extremely shitty when even Buddhist monks take to the streets...
(nation-wide multi faith prayers, what TCFKAB means, and more, in the full post)

As it is, the government has cut off internet access, and has prohibited the media from covering any protests. Foreign news reports use images smuggled out of the country, and interviews are probably done via secured channels.

BBC News today reported that UN special envoy Ibrahim Gambari has finally managed to meet General Than Shwe, after having to wait for four days. No details of the meeting have been released thus far. Meanwhile, the same news report has stated that Myanmar's Foreign Minister Nyan Win has squarely put the blame on "political opportunists" for escalating the unrest, supposedly started by a "small group of activists".

He said "neo-colonialism has reared its ugly head" by trying to spread disinformation about human rights abuses in Burma.

"The situation would not have deteriorated had the initial protest of a small group of activists against the rise in fuel prices had not been exploited by political opportunists," he said.

"They sought to turn the situation into a political showdown aided and abetted by some powerful countries.

"They also took advantage of protests tagged initially by a small group of Buddhist clergy demanding apology for maltreatment of fellow monks by local authorities."

He said that security forces had exercised "utmost restraint" when they stepped in after "the mob became unruly and provocative".

"Normalcy has now returned to Myanmar [Burma]," he said.

[source: BBC News]

Image taken from Burma Campaign UK, hosting by PhotobucketAny sane person would probably also want to return to normalcy if protests are met with deadly force, as they had been in the past few weeks, where as many as 9 people are thought to have been killed, with many more injured - including Buddhist monks. Al-Jazeera has reported that many Buddhist monk leaders have have been arrested, and that the monks have vowed to return to the streets in protest.

With the arrogance exhibited by the military government, it would appear that maybe some spiritual help might be needed. And there is a way you can assist.

Walski received notification over the weekend that the Buddhist Maha Vihara (in Brickfields, KL) will be hosting multi-faith prayers tonight, in honor of the Sangha and people of Myanmar in this, their hour of strife. The following comes from a news release that Walski received.


A special Nationwide prayers will be conducted by The Most Venerable K Sri Dhammaratana Maha Nayaka Thera, Chief High Priest of Malaysia in a simple and meaningful Metta (Loving Kindness) prayers at the Buddhist Maha Vihara in Brickfields for members of the Sangha (Monks) & Citizens of Myanmar on October 2 2007 (Tuesday) at 8 pm.

Following the request of the Chief High Priest of Malaysia to other members of the Buddhist faith, simultaneous prayers will be conducted by the Chief High Priest of Taiwan, Sri Lanka & Singapore with their devotees.

The Buddha gave a beautiful teaching on the development of loving kindness called the Metta Sutta (also known as the Karaniya Metta Sutta). The function of prayer is to connect us with that which is greater than our small self. Metta does exactly that.

The function of the prayers is to send positive energies by galvanizing Buddhist around the countries stipulated to end the sufferings experienced by the people in Myanmar.

The stipulated time frame will be after the Buka Puasa time in respect for our Muslims friends:

Time : 8.00 pm – 9 pm

Date :
October 2 2007 (Tuesday)

Venue: Buddhist Maha Vihara (123 Jalan Berhala, Brickfields, Kuala Lumpur)

All Buddhist at large who cannot attend the special prayers at their respective temples are requested to conduct their own prayers convenient to them be it at home or their office.

Representatives of the other faiths are expected to be conducting prayers for the night.

May the Triple Gems continue to bless everyone in Myanmar and all of us.

Regardless of what faith you may profess, it's really a no-brainer to see that what's currently happening in Myanmar is immoral and downright wrong. Walski, as many other Malaysians are, is disappointed that the Malaysian government has not taken a stronger stance in this issue. Neither has ASEAN, for that matter.

Although he's very disappointed, it doesn't surprise Walski one iota. Malaysia has business interests in Myanmar, particularly in the area of oil exploration and production. In 2002, Premier Oil sold its interests in Myanmar to Petronas (source: Wikipedia), which now operates there as Petronas Carigali Myanmar II Inc.

Original images from Burma Campaign UK, montage hosting by PhotobucketMontage of images of the recent protests in Myanmar
(Original images are from Burma Campaign UK)

Of course, Petronas is not alone. It is only one of the numerous worldwide corporations that still operate in Myanmar, and which through their activities, indirectly support the ruling military government.

The Burma Campaign, a UK-based activist group, maintains what it calls The Dirty List, a catalog of corporations (complete with contact info) that continue to operate in the country. And boy, is it a long list. Not exactly good company for Petronas to be in, given the circumstances.

And while sanctions may hurt the people of Myanmar in the short run, it appears to be the only way to pressure the current government to restore democracy, given that this is the same government that essentially said "Fuck You" to its own people in 1990 when they (via the SLORC) annulled the elections and decided to stay on in power.

It would appear that the human conscience, again, has been tainted by the almighty dollar... or ringgit, or renminbi... or whatever the currency earned by these corporations. These corporations (and governments) will argue that the business done in Myanmar actually helps the people of Myanmar...

Walski says hogwash. The only party really benefitting from it is the military government that this foreign investment helps fund. The same government that has no qualms in silencing their own citizens using violence and death. The same government that Malaysia, via ASEAN, hopes will return power to her people. Through positive engagement...

Well, the Myanmar military government has indeed positively engaged the monks and other citizens that don't like the way things are there... positively used firearms to quell any unrest, and positively killed at least 9 - that we know of. Engagement doesn't get anymore positive than that, boys and girls.

So, tonight at 8pm, spare a little prayer for the monks and citizens of Myanmar. Better still if you can attend the multi faith prayers yourself. But if you can't, spare an hour of your own salvation, and give a little prayer, in your own way, per your own faith.

Sometimes, all that's left is prayer... nothing more, nothing less. And while hope may not be a strategy, the strength and positivity that prayer brings may just help.

As messy as Myanmar may be.

[1] Walski's activism note: There are other ways you can help, apart from prayer. If you are a Facebook user, you can join the "Support the Monks' Protest in Burma" group. Through it, you can find out some of the other ways you can assist, like donating to the

[2] Walski's made-up acronym explanatory note: Since you've taken the time to read this far, TCFKAB stands for The Country Formally Known As Burma. Some countries, however, still call the nation Burma, and do not recognize the name Myanmar (by virtue of not recognizing the military junta that changed the name). Whatever you wish to call this nation, it's still a mess, no matter how you look at it. And the continued "do nothing to offend" stance of Malaysia and ASEAN isn't helping the situation one bit.