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FEER: Ethnic Scapegoat

                           Ethnic Scapegoat
                        Pent-up anger fuels anti-foreigner riots

                            By Bertil Lintner in Bangkok

                                 April 10, 1997
             March 27, Armed Forces Day in Burma, used to be a day of
             with civilians garlanding soldiers in the streets of Rangoon.
But since the
             army crushed a pro-democracy uprising in 1988, the soldiers
have been
             parading inside a sealed-off park, while citizens watch the
event on

             This year, the polarization was even more evident. Helicopters
             overhead and security was tight as the country recovered from
yet another
             bout of unrest, this time involving Buddhist monks. And yet
again, the
             ruling junta, the State Law and Order Restoration Council, has
             the crisis by refusing to address public grievances.

             According to a Slorc information sheet dated March 25, the
             erupted when "a Buddhist girl was molested by a Muslim youth"
in the
             northern city of Mandalay. Then, "elements bent on creating
             exploited the situation." The Slorc bulletin said that mosques
 were attacked
             to create misunderstanding between Burma and Muslim countries
             Asean, which the country is expected to join this year. As the
             spread to towns all over Burma, the authorities stepped in to
"maintain law
             and order" and to "protect Muslim communities."

             Local sources, however, tell a different story. They say the
trouble began
             earlier this year when the military decided to renovate the
             Pagoda in Mandalay. "But after the job was done, it looked
worse than
             before," says a source from Mandalay. Rumours circulated that
             stones were missing from the pagoda's Buddha image.

             The abbots then demanded a meeting with the Mandalay
             Maj.-Gen. Ye Myint. They took the opportunity to raise other
             among them the influx of foreigners to Mandalay. Since the
city opened up
             to foreign trade in 1989, thousands of Chinese have moved in,
taking over
             shops, property, hotels and restaurants. "Our city is being
swamped by
             foreigners," an abbot is reported to have told the general.

             Many Chinese arrive in Mandalay armed with Burmese identity
cards. "If a
             person in Mandalay dies, his or her relatives send the ID card
 to a broker in
             Yunnan, who in turn sells it to a would-be Chinese emigrant
who suddenly
             becomes a Burmese citizen," explains a Sino-Burmese who's
involved in the

             Other Chinese are former rebels of the defunct Communist Party
 of Burma.
             In exchange for making peace with the government, they've been
             to engage in any kind of business, the most lucrative being
the Golden
             Triangle drug trade.

             It was in the context of foreigners swamping Mandalay that the
             mentioned that a Buddhist girl was raped by some Muslims of
             origin, who were freed after a 30,000-kyat ($4,778) bribe to
the police. "But
             of all these issues, the military decided to announce only the
 last one," the
             source from Mandalay says. Pent-up frustration led to
widespread rioting,
             with the Muslim minority bearing the brunt of the attacks.

             The events show how sensitive the issue of Chinese migration
             Mandalay is, says an Asian diplomat based in Rangoon, and how
a minor
             incident can lead to nationwide unrest. Monks and other people
 took to the
             streets in Moulmein, Shwebo, Thazi, Amarapura, Sagaing and
even in
             isolated towns in the Irrawaddy delta. "It's not difficult to
divert the anger
             to the Muslims," says a Western diplomat in Rangoon. "The
Indians were
             brought in by the British during the colonial days, and
             sentiments have been strong in Burma ever since."

             The scapegoats were perhaps necessary to avoid a more serious
             involving the Chinese community in Burma. Close relations with
 China are
             the cornerstone of the regime's foreign policy. Burma and
China recently
             signed a new border-cooperation agreement, and Luo Gan,
             secretary-general of China's State Council, pledged a
             ($121,000) loan to Slorc.

             "We are aware of rising anti-Chinese sentiment," says one of
the many
             Sino-Burmese who have lived in the country for generations.
             December, several Sino-Burmese expressed their concern to the
             embassy in Rangoon after the army used tanks to intimidate
             demonstrators. "The tanks were Chinese-made, and any Chinese
             association with the brutal nature of the regime could
backfire on the
             Sino-Burmese community," says a Western visitor to Rangoon.

             This time, Muslims were the victims of public anger. But if
             grievances are met with the same attitude by Slorc, there
could be more
             trouble ahead.