Buddhists vs. Christians
Burma, now known by the name Union of Myanmar, is the largest country in Southeast Asia. It had achieved independence from the United Kingdom in 1948 after more than 100 years of British rule, under the name of “Union of Burma”, only to become the “The Socialist Republic of the Union of Burma” in 1974, but reverting back to “The Union of Burma in 1988. Then a year later it adopted the official name of the “Union of Myanmar”, by which it is known today by the United Nations, but not the USA or the UK.
The Buddhists, make up nearly 90% of the more than 60,000,000 Burmese, or Burman. The Christians, many of them Karens, an ethnic minority who have their own history, language, culture and economy and who live mostly nearly the border with Thailand, compose approximately 5% of the population. There are also the Chin on the other side of the country.
News reports, which are sketchy at best, seem to indicate that the Buddhist majority is in conflict with the Christian minority – this conflict often leading to violence – with the Christians the main sufferers.
Facing destruction of their churches and restrictions on their worship, attacks on their villages as well as periods of forced labor to help the Burmese military fight their own people, many Karens have fled from Burma. According to news reports, more than 80,000 have crossed the border to live in Thailand – 70,000 having arrived in the past 10 years. The vast majority live in 13 crowded refugee camps. As we learn more we’ll report it, but at the moment, the situation appears to be deteriorating.
On the western side of Burma, along the country’s border with India, lies Chin state, where most of the indigenous Chin minority also identify as Christians. Like the Karen, the Chin have been subjected to brutal treatment at the hands of the military regime. Tens of thousands of Chin are now refugees in India and Malaysia.
Two British lawmakers reported in the fall of 2007 stories of atrocities against Chin Christians, including torture, forced labor, rape and religious persecution. One witness described how prisoners were shackled and chained, yoked like oxen and forced to plough fields and if they attempt to escape they are placed on a fire to burn, stabbed with knives, and then forced into a tub of salt water.
We note that the US State Department since 1999 has named Burma as a “country of particular concern” for religious freedom violations. This designation was made under the International Religious Freedom Act.
Buddhists vs. Muslims
Muslims make up approximately 5% of the population in Myanmar where their conflict with the majority Buddhist majority continues. In late May, 2013 this conflict again exploded in the northern city of Lashio when a Muslim man poured gasoline on a Buddhist woman and set her on fire. This act initiated days of violence between the people of these two religions resulting in a Muslim religious school and a number of shops being gutted by fires which had been started by angry Buddhists who rampaged after hearing reports of the burning. Many Muslim homes were burned down and at least one person was killed in this violence.