Obama praises reforms, but violence continues in Kachin state, Catholic activist says
President Obama’s visit to Burma last week marked a unique opportunity for the United States to comment on the continued persecution of the country’s ethnic Christians. Even as the president gave his speech in the capital praising the government’s reforms (which have been significant) a small war is raging in the countries northern Kachin state. The Kachin, as well as the Chin and Karen, are pre-dominantly Christian tribes that have suffered decades of discrimination at the hands of the overtly Buddhist military. In addition restrictions on Christian places of worship remain and local officials are still hostile most forms of evangelism.
By Francis Khoo Thwe
11/19/2012 Burma (AsiaNews.it)- US President Barack Obama's short trip to Myanmar has provoked mixed emotions but also pride for his support to the country's process of democratisation; however, some observers are concerned about the hasty legitimisation of the current government.
Khon Ja, a member of the Kachin Peace Network, is one of them. His organisation is involved in promoting peace in an area affected by ethnic conflict. Speaking to AsiaNews, the Catholic activist noted that the most significant passages in Obama's 30-minute speech contained references to political prisoners, child soldiers and violence against minorities. Such violence and suffering continues in Kachin state, on Myanmar's border with China, without a let-up in the heavy fighting and mounting casualties among the civilian population.
Obama's visit to Myanmar is part of a tour to Southeast Asia. In Yangon, Barack Obama gave an historic speech to Yangon University, one of the symbols of the 1988 student protest that was crushed in blood by the then ruling military junta.
Welcomed by about a thousand people, and accompanied by Nobel Prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi and US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, the US leader highlighted the "remarkable journey" Burma has made on the path of reform. He also mentioned the conflict between Burmese Buddhists and Rohingya Muslims in the state of Rakhine.
At the university, the US leader met with students. Earlier, he had met with President Thein Sein and opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi. He also made a stop at Shwedagon Pagoda, before leaving for Cambodia and the ASEAN summit.
In his address, he confirmed Washington's support for reforms and the rebuilding of Myanmar's economy. In so doing, he used the country name imposed by the military junta that held power until last year.
Kachin Peace Network (KCN) Catholic activist Khon Ja was among the thousands of people who heard Obama's speech. In his view, the president used direct language, indicating "elements for real change" in the country. However, as "Air Force One was landing at Yangon Airport, heavy fighting was underway in Kachin state with important losses among civilians," Ja said.
For the KCN activist, the president's support for the rule of law, for an end to the imprisonment of political dissidents and the scourge of child soldiers, and his call for a stop to violence against women were the highlights of the speech.
Also significant was the passage in which the president expressed hope that the military would serve the people and that the country's constitution would respect its will.