Myanmar's backslide: An un-Buddhist-like movement threatens progress

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The rebirth of respectability that Myanmar, formerly known as Burma, has enjoyed as it pursues democratization now risks evaporating as the government stands by while members of the Buddhist majority persecute the Muslim minority.

As Myanmar took steps to shed its outlaw image, the United States and the European Union relaxed some economic sanctions they had imposed.

With a population of 50 million, Myanmar has an overwhelming Buddhist majority, 89 percent. Muslims represent 4 percent or more and Christians account for about 4 percent. In such a poor country, being Buddhist provides the religion's adherents with employment advantages in government and the military.

That might be normal, but there is also an extreme Buddhist and nationalist movement called "969" that has been attacking Myanmar Muslims, sometimes called Rohingya. The 969 campaign includes burning villages, driving thousands into exile in Bangladesh and Thailand and killing close to a hundred over the past year.

Some might call this ethnic cleansing. Either way, it falls in the category of religious warfare, as seen between Sunni and Shiite Muslims in the Middle East and between Uighur Muslims, Tibetan Buddhists and the Beijing government in China.

The 969 movement bases its name on a variety of Buddhist religious precepts and is led by a senior monk named Bhikkhu Wirathu, based in Mandalay. Myanmar President Thein Sein, who was received by President Barack Obama at the White House in May, has praised the monk and let the 969 thugs run loose instead of using security forces to bring the movement under control and end the persecution of Muslims.

At this point it would be appropriate for Mr. Obama to contact Mr. Thein directly and tell him that Myanmar's arc toward improved world standing is in jeopardy, and that he needs to impose law and order on the un-Buddhist-like movement before it destroys the country's progress.

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