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Despite Buddhist links Lanka is silent on monks' stir in Myanmar

world Updated: Sep 28, 2007 18:25 IST
PK Balachandran
PK Balachandran
Hindustan Times
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The Sri Lankan government, the Buddhist clergy and the media, are all observing a resounding silence on the cataclysmic monks stir in Myanmar, the nearest Buddhist country, which also follows the Theravada school of Buddhism.

Most of those who conduct foreign relations are currently in New York attending the UN General Assembly session. Therefore, they may be too busy to react to the developments in Myanmar. But the silence of the Buddhist clergy and the local media cannot be explained so easily.

When asked for a comment, the Venerable Athuraliye Rathana Thero of the Jathika Hela Urumaya (JHU), a Buddhist monks' party, said that he was unable to establish contact with his sources in Myanmar to know first hand, what was happening there.

The media in Sri Lanka has been reporting the events in Myanmar using wire copy, but there has been no editorial comment yet. There have been only a couple of articles by foreign affairs columnists. Even here, there was no Sri Lankan perspective as such.

China factor

Is there a China factor working here? It cannot be denied that Colombo is sensitive to Beijing's views. And China has been against international intervention in internal conflicts. It has said so in the Myanmar case also, even as it asked the junta to take a softer line towards the rebellious Buddhist monks. China's stand in this regard strikes a chord in Colombo, which is also wary about international involvement or intervention in internal conflicts.

But most political observers rule out a China factor working in Colombo in regard to the Myanmar issue. Sri Lanka's relations with Myanmar have been good anyway, irrespective of who is ruling in Yangon. Relations have been based basically on the existence of a shared belief in Theravada Buddhism. Many Sri Lankans visit Myanmar as
pilgrims. Recently, there was a return visit from Mynamar in which the Myanmar delegation gifted an elephant to the Temple of the Tooth in Kandy.

Fight against terrorism

More importantly, the military rulers in Yangon and the government in Colombo share an antipathy towards ethnic militants and terrorists. If the Sri Lankan government has been battling the Tamil Tigers, the Myanmar junta has been battling tribal rebels in the northern hills.

Earlier, elements of the Myanmar junta had supported or winked at the existence of an LTTE base on the coast in Twante. But that base no longer exists. Today, it is important for Colombo to see that Myamnar military officers or officials do not re-establish any links with the LTTE.

In all likelihood, Sri Lankans will wait for the crisis in Myanmar to resolve itself one way or the other, and avoid making any comments till then.