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Burmese Academic’s Letter Draws Fire

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Burmese Academic’s Letter Draws Fire


Friday, June 13, 2008

A Burmese historian who wrote a letter to the editor of the Workers World newspaper charging that US foundations were behind the monk-led uprising last year has drawn critical reactions from Burma observers.

The newspaper is published by The Worker’s World Party, a communist political party in the US.

In the letter, “Exploiting a Human Tragedy,” published on June 1, Michael Aung-Thwin, a professor of Asian Studies at the University of Hawaii at Manoa, alleged US-based foundations, such as the Soros Foundation and the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), were behind the monk-led mass demonstrations last September.

As evidence, he cited their awarding grants of US $40,000 to Burmese monasteries.

“This was to be used for ‘education’ [of] Burmese monks about how to hold ‘democratic’ demonstrations,” he claimed. “Is it any surprise the riots led by a small group of bogus monks and ‘outlaw monasteries’ occurred shortly thereafter?

“The US even has a head of the Sangha-Buddhist Church ready to be installed if there is the regime change it wants,” he said.

Win Min, a Burmese political observer in Chiang Mai, Thailand, said he disagreed with Prof Aung-Thwin’s unsupported charges that the mass demonstrations were created by the US.

“The root of the mass demonstrations last September was mass outrage about the misrule by the Burmese military junta,” Win Min said. “So Prof Aung-Thwin’s writing on Burmese monks in the letter was quite groundless.”

Nyo Ohn Myint of the National League for Democracy in exile said Aung-Thwin’s calling the 1988 Burmese student uprising and the 2007 uprising “riots” was “wrong historically and academically.”

Gustaaf Houtman, a Dutch expert on Burma and editor of Anthropology Today, told The Irrawaddy by e-mail the letter lacked a legitimate “moral ground.”

“The weakness of his argument is [that it has no] compassionate statement of concern about the suffering in Burma, [but] is as an argument against the country he lives in so comfortably,” said the Dutch scholar.

“Why did Aung-Thwin not raise the need for the [Burmese] military to accept relief efforts from anyone who could remedy the suffering of the people he says he represents?” he asked.

A Burmese researcher on Burma’s civil society who is based in Rangoon said if Aung-Thwin thinks the situation in Burma is not bad and Western actions made it worse, he should come back to Burma and live as a normal Burmese citizen.

He said Prof Aung-Thwin allegations in an international media outlet offered support to the junta’s claim that the US attempts to directly interfere in Burma’s internal affairs and those who undertake pro-democracy activities in Burma are destructive elements.


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Written by Lwin Aung Soe

June 14, 2008 at 11:11 pm