The Sri Lankan Minister for National Heritage, Anura Bandaranaike, has lambasted the government and the Buddhists in the island for their silence on the developments in Myanmar, where a military government is ruthlessly crushing a pro-democracy movement spearheaded by Buddhist monks and the Nobel Peace Prize winner, Aung San Suu Kyi.
"What do our self-appointed custodians of Buddhism in parliament have to say? Not a word about the attacks on fellow Buddhist priests in Yangon, who took to the streets in utter desperation. Silence is the finest form cowardice. The silence of our Buddhists is deafening, especially the self-appointed custodians of the Dhamma and of course our Foreign Ministry," Bandaranaike said in a statement in Colombo on Friday.
A former Foreign Minister himself and son of former Prime Minister SWRD Bandaranaike, he recalled what his father said in the UN General Assembly in 1956. Defining non-alignment, "SWRD" had said that non-alignment did not mean that Sri Lankans would remain neutral out of fear of the two Super Powers. Non-alignment meant that they were committed to the hilt where injustice prevailed, SWRD had said.
"Let the mandarins of the Foreign Office re-read that speech," Anura Bandaranaike urged.
Bandaranaike probably had China in mind when he alluded to "fear of Super Powers". Some analysts think that Sri Lanka's silence on Mynamar can be attributed to sensitivity to China's view on the issue. China has been against international intervention in Myanmar. And China's stand in this regard strikes a chord in Colombo, because the latter is also wary about international involvement or intervention in internal conflicts.
But others point out that Sri Lanka's relations with Myanmar have other equally important parameters. Colombo's relations with Yangon have been good no matter who is in power in Myanmar. Relations between the two countries are based on the existence of a shared belief in Theravada Buddhism. Many Sri Lankans visit Myanmar as pilgrims. Recently, the Sri Lankan Prime Minister, Ratnasiri Wickramanayake, visited Myanmar and a high level Myanmar delegation visited Sri Lanka in August and gifted an elephant to the Temple of the Tooth in Kandy.
Writing in Groundviews Nishan de Mel says that trade between Sri Lanka and Myanmar have begun to boom. Last year, Sri Lanka's exports to Myanmar went up 20 times to be $.2.3 million, and Myanmar's exports to Sri Lanka went up to $ 5 million. Though still small in volumes, there is room for growth.
Fight against terrorism
More importantly, the military rulers in Yangon and the government in Colombo share an antipathy towards separatist 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. Though the base no longer exists, it is important for Colombo to see that Myamnar's 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.