President’s denunciation of communal attackers is not sincere
Burma Times Desk Report: January 20, 2015
President Thein Sein’s claim that the government is wary of religious extremism might once again give the floor to his backers in the international community that the regime is genuinely trying to pursue reform. The last few months have been a little tough for the military backed government, after the opposition leader Aung Saan Suu Kyi complained that reforms have stalled. This was followed by concerns expressed on religious intolerance by the US and UN. The president had to say something.
In an interview to the Sunday Times, Thein Sein said, “Our people have shown great religious tolerance; we co-exist side by side. In Yangon, around the vicinity of Sule Pagoda, you can see churches, temples and mosques.
“But nowadays, we have seen some quarters domestically and internationally spreading extremism based on religion and ethnicity. They have used the media in spreading extremism. It is quite dangerous. We have established interfaith groups to spread the message of religious tolerance.”
For one thing, Thein Sein is not stating the ground realities. There is little religious tolerance in Burma today, in Yangon or elsewhere. Also the extremist message is not international, it is very Burmese and the interfaith groups spreading message of religious tolerance are quite invisible. Also Thein Sein’s claim that calm has been restored to the Arakan is preposterous.
Even in his condemnation of religious extremism, carefully timed to stave off international condemnation, Thein Sein did not mention the identity of this people e.g. the Buddhist nationalists promising doomsday for the Muslims. They are close allies to the government. Some theories suggest that it is the military rulers who have created groups like 969 and their spiritual leader Wirathu to advance their own political agenda.
Thein Sein is walking a tight rope by attempting to appease the international community and at the same time, maintaining a close alliance with groups like 969 and Ma Ba Tha. For the moment it is working. Fortunately for Thein Sein, interviews like this one will be paraded by some of the most advanced nations in the world who are eager to invest and trade with this extremely resource rich country. Western governments of this day even when criticising Burma’s appalling human rights record are always careful to mention the improvements.
As for the Buddhist nationalists, they have been firmly in Thein Sein’s camp for some time.