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Salvation for Myanmar at last?
Not many youngsters may know that Myanmar has abundant natural resources, especially timber, precious stones, oil, gas and fertile soil. Its rubies are amongst the best in the world. It was once called the rice bowl of Asia! What is its plight today?

POLITICALLY, Myanmar moved from a colonial administration to socialist government.  In 1988, it moved to a military regime known as the State Peace and Development Council.  Myanmar (formerly Burma) has been rotting under the junta since then.  The junta, which has managed so far to thwart all attempts at restoration of democracy, has suddenly awakened to the realisation that its days are numbered, what with the country’s peace-loving and unarmed monks (of all the people!) deciding to demonstrate over economic and political hardship!  What the country’s trade should have done, what the country’s industry should have done, what the country’s intelligentsia should have done and what the country’s masses should have done is being done by the monks (of all the people!) of the country. 

That some civilians have taken upon the task of protecting the marching columns of monks (during the demonstrations) proves that it is only a matter of time before the military junta is dislodged from power.  What the developed economies have not done or the emerging economies have not done is being done by this austere community of monks.  If the monks are supported directly or at least indirectly so the momentum picks up, one can safely bet that the soldiers will defect to the ranks of protesters sooner rather than later.  Remember, it is not going to be easy for the junta to crack down since monks are traditionally held in high esteem in Myanmar. 

Myanmar boasts of abundant natural resources, especially timber, precious stones, oil, gas and fertile soil. Burmese rubies are amongst the best in the world! But earthquakes, cyclones, floods and landslides have been wreaking havoc on its economy.  As a result, for a big chunk of the population there are few services or opportunities.  Forests cover more than half the country’s land area.  The country was once called the rice bowl of Asia, but expansion of the agricultural sector has not kept pace with population growth. Now most rice grown in the country is consumed locally.

Lack of industrial growth and migration from villages has contributed to a rapid increase in urban poverty. Employment opportunities are few and the majority of households eke out a living as daily wagers.  To make matters worse, much of the world’s illicit opium is grown in northern Myanmar, making it the world’s second-largest producer. Efforts have been made to stop this trade by introducing other profitable crops or forms of work for the hill tribe farmers who produce it. Some success has been achieved as a result.

Myanmar’s deteriorating economy and its proximity to the Thai border expose girls and women to sex trafficking. Many of these girls and women work in the border areas of Thailand, only to return to their villages in Myanmar, contributing to the country’s burgeoning HIV and AIDS problem.  According to UNICEF (The State of the World’s Children 2007), Myanmar’s per capita income is only USD 220, although its adult literacy is 90%!

Developed as well as emerging democracies (in its immediate neighbourhood) have been a mute witness to the suppression being unleashed by the junta in Myanmar for close to 20 years.  Although suppression in countries like Iraq, North Korea and China were often discussed in international fora, the state of affairs obtaining in Myanmar has seldom attracted the attention it warrants.  Finally, it needed some prodding from the austere and peace-loving monks to sensitize the world community to the suppression let loose by the oligarchic regime in Myanmar. 

The USA, which misses no opportunity to project itself as the guardian of democracy and human rights across the world has always closed its eyes to what is happening in Myanmar.  Perhaps it has some understanding with the ruling junta which has led to democracy or human rights being defined differently in the case of Myanmar – the kind of understanding that USA already has with countries like Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, etc. 

Democracies like India, Japan, UK (including other democracies in Europe), Canada, USA and Australia should bow their head in shame for remaining insensitive to the sufferings of the unfortunate people of Myanmar. 

After all, Myanmar shares its border with India, China, Bangladesh and Thailand. 

Also see
Myanmar on fire- crimson robes stained with blood
Myanmar junta supremo's family leaves country
Burma violence: India cautious, China worried
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