Sri Lanka could intervene in Myanmar crisis | Sunday Observer

Sri Lanka could intervene in Myanmar crisis

21 March, 2021

The ties between Sri Lanka and Myanmar go back to generations with friendly and cultural bonds on religion and culture.

The cultural, religious and political relationship between Myanmar and Sri Lanka spans around thousand years.

The relationship has been mutually beneficial for both countries on many fronts. With the rise of Asia as the central political and economic force of the world we can make Buddhism the unifying force in Asia as well. We can make the Buddhist way of life a collective reality so that the world, at large, could gain long lasting solutions.

Sinhala bhikkhus resolved conflicts between Sri Lanka and Myanmar on trade during King Parakramabahu (1153-1186) and Alanungsitha (1113-1165).

Myanmar Sanjaraja sought refuge in Sri Lanka in 1167. The Sanjaraja stayed in Sri Lanka for six years. Sanjaraja Uttarajiva after his return to Myanmar was hailed as the first pilgrim from Sri Lanka. Chapata returned to Myanmar along with four other bhikkhus so that they could perform ecclesiastical acts separately.

Maha Kassapa

According to the Burmese chronicle Hmanan Yasawinkly (1112-1167CE) the king of Burma visited Sri Lanka and married a daughter of a Sinhalese king and returned with the image of Maha Kassapa together who was highly venerated at the time in Sri Lanka.

Even in the recent past Sri Lanka had close trade ties with Myanmar on the exchange of tea and purchase of paddy among many other trade practices. Practices and customs of both countries are somewhat similar with the influence of bhikkhus in politics that has influenced the electing of governments and what has been termed by the West as the ‘Sanga’ Saffron Revolution’ since the influence is so effective.

Today bhikkhus are in the forefront of the pro-democratic movement in Sri Lanka. These are the traditional, religious and cultural ties apart from trade and business that has bonded the two nations starting from the era of the kings.

In international relations Myanmar is a member of the Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral and Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC) and the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) both of which are sub regional international organisations with a population of 1.5 billion people.

Myanmar is a silent member of many groupings as well as a member of UN agencies. They remember with pride of U. Tang a former Secretary General of the United Nations.

Close relations between Sri Lanka and Myanmar continue to date and this gives us the opportunity to offer our good office in whatever assistance that be needed.

Currently Myanmar is going through a difficult patch again with the introduction of military rule which is not attractive to the West mainly on human rights issues.

Myanmar was popular and liked by all members of BIMISTIC, ASEAN, SAARC and most UN member nations and international organisations but this has now diminished owing to the intervention of the military.

The country has enormous wealth deposits on the ground which the world is aware and awaiting to explore and so one cannot rule out discreet involvements with hidden agendas.

Army influence

Myanmar needs genuine and good friends and the best friend may be Sri Lanka owing to the historic, religious and cultural bonds between the two nations that have remained for thousands of years.

Sri Lanka has a proud history of negotiating previously on many crisis situations in the world.

When India and China had issues Mrs. Sirimavo Bandaranaike offered her good office as leader of the Non Aligned Movement (NAM) to negotiate since Sri Lanka was respected by others as well.

She used her personal goodwill and charm with Indira Gandhi in resolving the Kachchitivu issue and the festering Indian labour issues in the country. On the other hand military rule is not alien to our region.

Bangladesh and Pakistan were both ruled with an iron fist by the military before reverting back to function as democracies.

Military rule in Myanmar which has come under immense world pressure would be difficult to sustain owing to the Covid-19 pandemic and a down turn in its economy thereby making negotiations easier.

Army rule is inevitable but some countries are fortunate to get away from this menace. Pakistan had military rulers but today it is fortunate to have one of the best democratic systems.

Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan who visited Sri Lanka recently behaved like a statesman unlike some leaders of West who made ugly undemocratic remarks on the country.

In the USA many Presidents served in military prior to being elected to office. Thirteen out of 45 US presidents were ex-serviceman. Vladimir Putin of Russia is also a former intelligence officer.

The President, the Secretary of Defence, Customs Chief, many Secretaries including the Foreign Secretary are ex-Army personnel doing an excellent job while maintaining democratic values and this proves that Sri Lanka is the best candidate to use its good office to bring back normalcy and democracy to ailing Myanmar which in need of help.

BIMSTEC Grouping

BIMSTEC has five members from South Asia and two from South East Asia with 1.5 billion people that make up 22 per cent of the world population.

India, Bangladesh, Nepal, Bhutan Sri Lanka, Myanmar and Thailand that make up BIMSTEC are like-minded friends who will be meeting in Sri Lanka to discuss matters of mutual interest mainly on the economic front with no political agendas.

The Group is meeting in Sri Lanka under a friendly atmosphere to discuss only economic issues and to resolve them amicably.

It is also advisable to use the good office of the bhikkhus who are always in the forefront since the time of the kings and from time immoral.

Ground situation

The ground situation in Myanmar is different from the outward appearance since the military has substantial power under the 2008 Constitution that is still in force.

The military represents quarter of the parliament and has powers over oil and gas income and also has important portfolios in the Cabinet.

From 476 MP’s 396 belong to the Democratic Party that has an overwhelming majority but 400 sitting MPs who have been democratically elected are currently under house arrest. Protests are widespread in that country and some 184 people have already been killed by the police and Security Forces with another 18,000 in detention.

Maha Sangha

There is resentment all over the country and professionals and academics too have come to the forefront in support of the pro-democracy movement.

What is immediately needed is a drastic constitutional change.

The Maha Sangha in Sri Lanka has played a role in matters of good office and propagation and enhancement of Buddhism and they are the best ambassadors to intervene in the Myanmar crisis.

This will be a new experience for both countries and if both parties use the historic bonds shared between both nations it could be a good start.

There are leading businessmen who have invested in Myanmar with lot of hopes. One must think in terms of economic diplomacy and the other areas such as tourism with tremendous potentials to both countries.

All these together will have a collective effort with new hopes and friendship.

The media too will have a major part to play in these innovative propositions which may be attractive both to the Military government and the people of Myanmar.

The Maha Sangha in Sri Lanka is organised but somewhat misdirected with lack of leadership from the Mahanayakas and it is in need of a leader such as the Dalai Lama who is a symbol of peace, power and a force to reckon with.

We pray this message will reach the Dalai Lama too. We pray and urge Myanmar to be democratic for the good of the world over.

It is also a good idea for the Bar Association in Sri Lanka (BASL) and the Organization of Professionals Association (OPA) to communicate with their counterparts in Myanmar with concrete proposals.

Do it in good faith and trust with the intention of helping our friendly nation and of course ourselves as if and when they do well we too will be benefited.

Urgent need

The urgent need in Myanmar is a drastic constitutional change that has given enormous powers to the military. It also appears that some world forces and powerful nations are aiming at troubled Myanmar to plunder its resources like vultures for personal benefits.

We should render a great service to save and serve our friends who are in need of international assistance. May they be free from trouble soon and prosper as a happy nation again.

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Sarath Wijesinghe President’s Counsel, former Ambassador to United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Israel and President of the Ambassadors’ Forum