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World Leaders Meet in Burma While Ethnic Unrest Boils


Thanks to a spate of reforms, Myanmar is hosting the 2013 the World Economic Forum on East Asia, which begins today. Burma’s position as host highlights how quickly it has been brought into the good graces of the international community and the West; only two years ago, it was an international pariah.

Burma’s democratic revolution, however, still coexists with a number of social and ethnic tensions that are ravaging the country far from the international hobnobbing of the summit. As the conference begins its first day in the capital city of Naypyidaw, a group of Buddhist demonstrators in the state of Rakhine is marching in support of a policy restricting the number of children Muslims may have. The child ban is the latest instance of official discrimination against Rohingya Muslims. The Rohingya’s protests against the measure quickly encountered violence from government forces, as BBC News reports:

“At least three women from the Rohingya minority were killed when police fired on protesters in Burma’s Rakhine state.

The women—one of whom was pregnant—were protesting because the authorities were planning to move them to another temporary camp, local people said.”

In the past, the media has been fond of portraying Burma as a triumph for human rights and democracy. And Burma itself is looking to change its image in an effort to increase its international appeal and boost international trade. But the stark contrast between the Western fairy tale of Burma’s democratic “revolution” and the tragic shooting of a pregnant woman from an ethnic minority serves as a reminder that social and ethnic tensions are still a serious problem that may even grow as the political culture gradually opens up.

The recent rounds of democratic reforms are only one small aspect of Burmese society. It would be a mistake to focus on the fairy tale while ignoring the deep ethnic tensions that are tearing the country apart. There are still plenty of reasons to be skeptical of the health of the country, no matter how many global talking shops it hosts.

[Myanmar photo courtesy of Shutterstock]

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  • Pete

    “World Leaders Meet in Burma … ”

    The thought police will be after you.

    What’s next, recognizing that the year is 2013 AD?

  • bpuharic

    Well I think we have to be a BIT more patient. Yes there are ethnic tensions but that happens after decades of economic mismanagement, corruption, oppression, etc. We here in the US are still suffering ethnic tensions as a result of past racist policies of federal, state and local governments.

    I admire what the Burmese have done and hope the world is willing to work with them in developing their country.

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