Rajpaska and Buddhist leaders criticised for welcoming Burmese dictator Than Shwe

by Melani Manel Perera, AsiaNews, Nov 16, 2009

The Sri Lankan government is criticised for giving “a ruthless murder the red carpet treatment.” Buddhist monks are also slammed for giving their “blessing to the junta leader” even though he murder hundreds of monks in Myanmar.

Katunayake, Sri Lanka -- About 50 people organised a silent vigil on Sunday at Katunayake International Airport to protest against General Than Shwe head of Myanmar’s ruling military junta, who was leaving the island nation after a three-day visit.

Members of groups like Platform for Freedom and Right to Life, the fishermen association NAFSO, the Meepura newspaper and private citizens gathered in front of the airport in response to an appeal by The Friends of the Third World.

Police at the airport was none too happy about the protest. Negombo Police Chief Ajith Wickremarathna ordered the protesters off airport ground, saying they had no permit to demonstrate in the airport’s security perimeter.

Demonstrators carried banners and posters denouncing the murders of hundreds of Buddhist monks by Myanmar’s junta and demanding the release of Aung San Suu Kyi. “We express our strong protest [at the government] for inviting such a cruel Leader,” Platform for Freedom representative Brito Fernando told AsiaNews.

General Than Shwe was not in fact the only target of protesters, who vented their anger at the Sri Lankan government for giving “a ruthless murderer the red carpet treatment.”

“Disgusting” and “shame” were the words that best described the state of mind these non-violent protesters had towards general’s VIP treatment.

General Than Shwe’s visit was a sign however of the good relations between Myanmar’s military junta and the government of President Mahinda Rajapaksa.

For Myanmar’s strongman, this was the first trip in the past five years, and the first by a Burmese leader to Sri Lanka in more than 40 years.

The country’s top Buddhist leaders were also not spared criticism for “blessing the junta leader” and allowing him to visit the Dalada Temple in Kandy despite the fact that the Burmese military murdered hundreds of monks.

In Sri Lanka, Buddhists are about 70 per cent of the population and centuries-old ties link Sri Lankan and Burmese Buddhists.

Today many monks who fled Myanmar’ repressive regime are studying in Sri Lanka. The Myanmar Student Monks Association (MSMA) issued a statement in relation to General Shwe’s visit. In it, they expressed their “solidarity with our fellow monks in Myanmar” and reiterated their condemnation of the junta and opposition to any offer of conciliation.

For MSMA, Than Shwe and Myanmar’s military have denied Burmese people their democracy. They are also guilty of killing thousands of people and holding more than 2,000 political prisoners whose only crime is “speaking the truth”.