Date: March 9, 2016
by Elizabeth Kendal
Burma is home to more than 135 ethnic groups, the largest of which is the Bamar (Burman) nation, which comprises 60 percent of the population. The Bamar are Buddhist. However, 57 percent of the land mass of Burma is occupied by ethnic minority nations, most of which are not Buddhist. The Chin (in the west) and the Kachin (in the north) are Christian nations, while Burma's largest ethnic minority nation, the Karen (in the east) is up to 30 percent Christian. Most of Burma's Christians are Baptist, the legacy of pioneer missionary Adoniram Judson.
After World War 2 General Aung Sun (father of Aung Sun Suu Kyi) united the ethnic nations, founded the Union of Burma, headed a parliamentary democracy and secured independence from Britain, before being assassinated in July 1947. Profound ethnic and religious differences made the Union fragile, and infighting left the government weak. On 2 March 1962 Army Chief of Staff, Ne Win staged a coup d'etat and declared himself head of state. Blending Marxism and Buddhist superstition, Ne Win advanced a Soviet-style nationalisation which brought all elements of society under the control of the military junta. It was a catastrophe from which Burma has yet to recover, especially as so many repressive and unjust militarist policies remain thoroughly woven into the fabric of the State.
In Burma all land still belongs to the central government and, though the government grants farmers tillage rights, it will also grab land back illegally if it wants it. Consequently, struggles rage between the central government, which is desperate for resources and foreign investment, and indigenous ethnic nations who would rather die fighting than surrender their ancestral lands. Motivated by greed, emboldened by power and impunity, and fuelled with ethnic-religious hatred, the Bamar-Buddhist Burmese military engages in ethnic cleansing and persecution of unfathomable cruelty.
UNFATHOMABLE CRUELTY WITH IMPUNITY
On 19 January 2015 Burmese soldiers savagely tortured, gang-raped and then murdered two Kachin missionaries. Maran Lu Ra (20) and Tangbau Hkawn Nan Tsin (21) had been asleep in the house in the Kachin Baptist Convention (KBC) church compound when attacked. The savagery was such that it remains the most heinous crime ever committed in the area [see RLPB 310 (20 May 2015)]. Despite an abundance of forensic evidence, and despite compelling circumstantial evidence that the perpetrators were soldiers from the Light Infantry Regiment No. 503, nobody has been charged. A report by the Kachin Women's Association Thailand (KWAT) and Legal Aid Network (LAN), released on the anniversary of the attack (19 January 2016), exposes a systemic cover-up of the Army's involvement. The report draws on the findings of the KBC's investigation team, which was comprised of 15 members and was led by the General Secretary of the KBC, Rev Dr Samson. Fear has escalated, for there is nothing more dangerous than impunity, and the Burmese Military has had too much impunity for far too long.
DRUGS: A QUIETER WAY TO KILL
Whilst Burma has long been a centre of drug cultivation and trafficking, it seems drugs have now become central to a new military strategy of 'covert genocide'. Since the resumption of conflict in mid-2011, ethnic minority leaders have observed unprecedented quantities of drugs invading their regions. Two years ago in Kachin State, with the problem reaching catastrophic levels, the KBC formed a group called Pat Jasan (literally Prohibit Clear), a Kachin community-based drug-abuse eradication network. With some 100,000 members, Pat Jasan operates with full government support. Pat Jasan units slash poppy fields before they can be harvested, often beating poppy farmers and dragging them off to faith-based drug rehabilitation centres. (Baptist and Catholic leaders are working together to create a more disciplined and compassionate force.) It is dangerous work, for the anti-drug activists face opposition not just from poppy farmers whose livelihoods are at risk, but from police and military personnel accustomed to taking bribes and receiving kickbacks. Ethnic minority leaders are convinced that the military is directing poppy production into ethnic regions as part of a strategy to divide and destroy the ethnic nations quietly. 'They want to kill [us] indirectly,' says a Karen leader. 'They are putting a lot of drugs into our territory, [so as to] make the up-coming generation so stupid that they cannot really think about politics ... or their motherland.' [See blog for YouTube footage and Religious Liberty Monitoring (9 March 2016) for a more detailed report entitled 'Burma: Covert Drug Genocide'.]
PLEASE PRAY SPECIFICALLY THAT GOD WILL
* empower the new government, led by Aung Sun Suu Kyi and the National League for Democracy, to rein in the military, end corruption, eradicate drugs and defend the rights and interests of the ethnic nations; may Aung Sun Suu Kyi be Burma's 'Cyrus' (Isaiah 45:1-13). 'I equip you [Cyrus, king of Persia], though you do not know me, that people may know, from the rising of the sun and from the west, that there is none besides me; I am the Lord, and there is no other.' (v5c-6 ESV)
* direct and empower the new government to institute justice and bring the era of impunity to an end. Recognising that this is an exceedingly dangerous business, pray for God's intervention and protection of all who pursue justice, righteousness, truth and life; may the Lord of Hosts go before them. (1 Timothy 2:1-4)
* bless the Christian leaders of Burma's ethnic nations with divine wisdom and insight, strength and grace, so their nations will know healing.
* intervene in the lives of multitudes of drug-dependent youths now in Chin, Kachin and Karen States, that they will know the healing power of our loving, forgiving, merciful Saviour.