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Burma's 'Human Hope'

Activist's release signals optimism as election spurs fear.

Christians in Burma fear continued violence after the country's November election, a process condemned by international leaders as neither free nor fair. Some observers, however, saw a glimmer of hope after pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi—whose party won the 1990 election—was released after 15 years of house arrest.

"The elections are a joke to the people here," David Eubank, founder of Christians Concerned for Burma, said by phone from Northern Karen state, where Christians are more prevalent. "People are hopeful that Suu Kyi's release could break things open. She is the greatest human hope in Burma right now."

The military-backed Union Solidarity and Development Party declared victory in Burma's first election in 20 years, while more than 10,000 refugees fled to Thailand due to election-related violence. The World Evangelical Alliance predicts that the new regime will launch a major military offensive against ethnic minorities.

Benedict Rogers, Christian Solidarity Worldwide's advocacy officer for South Asia, said he sees Suu Kyi's release as the regime's attempt to divert attention from the election.

"I see no indication of the widespread discrimination, and in certain areas persecution, improving," Rogers said by phone near the India-Burma border. "There is a window of opportunity now [that's] a carpe diem moment for Burma and for the international community. That opportunity will come only with sustained international pressure."

Some international observers speculate that sanctions against Burma could soon be dropped. Steve Gumaer, head of Partners Relief and Development, a Christian NGO working on the Thailand-Burma border, said that while military leaders are getting better international reception, Christians will face the same kind of violence.

"They're still killing people, they're still burning down villages, they're still doing things they've been doing for years," Gumaer said. "Christian leaders are targeted in particular to be made an example of and quickly dealt with."

A leaked document from government sources suggested that in 2007 the military regime wanted to wipe out the country's Christians. The U.S. State Department's annual International Religious Freedom report stated that tensions continued in 2010 between the country's Buddhist majority and Christian and Muslim minorities.

The report also stated that Christians claim authorities have not granted permission to rebuild churches destroyed by Cyclone Nargis, which killed 140,000 people in 2008. However, groups reported that church membership increased, even in heavily Buddhist areas, to an estimated 2.1 million of a population of 50 million.

Related Elsewhere:

Previous CT articles on Burma include:

Burma's Christians | The country's displaced minorities maintain their distinctive faith. (November 28, 2007)
Christians and the Burmese Crackdown | A Burmese Pastor speaks on the situation of the church. (October 28, 2007)
'Destroy the Christian Religion' | Campaign against Christians presses problem with refugee resettlement. (March 14, 2007)
Burma's Almost Forgotten | Christians find themselves battered by the world's longest civil war and a brutally repressive regime. (March 1, 2004)

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