Monks protesting in Burma

I’m nervously following the news on Burma on the net, amazed at the profound bravery of unarmed protesters on the other side of the world – in particular the Buddhist monks who have led the country’s rebellion. I’ve been looking information provided by the excellent Facebook group, which is rapidly mushrooming. Yesterday it had 46,000 members. This morning I see it has 80,000.

I’ve been learning why we’re calling it Burma, even though it’s officially Myanmar, and why there’s an environmental back-story to this struggle. Myanmar was the name given to it by the military rulers to as part of a campaign to promote the idea of national unity, and brush over the inconvenient fact that it’s a multi-ethnic nation.

Up in the forested hills there are many tribes, including the Karen. These tribes happen to live amongst some of the most valuable teak trees in the world. The junta there have been ruling the country since 1962, squirrelling away private fortunes, much of which is based based on the military’s uncontrolled teak logging. A lot of this teak ends up, surprise, surprise, in British garden centres as benches and garden tables.

The teak forests lie on traditional tribal land. That’s why the military junta have been forcing tribesmen out of their villages. Over decades they have been carrying out genocidal ethnic clearances against tribes like the Karen. It’s such a locked down country that it’s hard to get figures, but as far as I can gather, around two million people have been displaced by the clearances, and untold tens of thousands have been murdered.
Some of the stories of the genocide are horrendous.

Stories like this remind me how important it is to support ethical businesses that monitor their supply chain carefully. There’s something so ugly about the way our desire for cheap garden furniture has kept these monsters in power.

Grateful thanks to racoles for uploading the very recent photos of protesting monks to flickr.