YANGON, Myanmar – Former U.S. President Bill Clinton said sectarian violence in newly opened Myanmar sickens the world as he met with political and civic leaders Thursday to discuss challenges facing the emerging democracy following a half-century of military rule.
The attacks on Muslims are a topic many in this predominantly Buddhist country of 60 million try to avoid. Soon after President Thein Sein formed a quasi-civilian government in early 2011 and began making sweeping political and economic changes, deep-seated prejudices against the Muslim minority started to surface.
In the last year, more than 240 people have been killed and 240,000 others forced to flee their homes, most of them Muslims hunted down by stick- and machete-wielding Buddhist mobs. Members of the security forces have been accused of standing by, at times even abetting rioters, but none has been punished.
And the government – together with much of the population – has been largely silent.
Clinton said the world has been pulling for Myanmar.
“The whole world cheers every piece of good news and is sick every time they read about sectarian violence,” he said. “Because everywhere on earth, people are tired of people killing each other and fighting each other because of their differences.”
While Clinton acknowledged that Myanmar’s situation is unique, its history its own, he said other countries have been ripped apart by their differences, including some during his own presidency -- Kosovo and Bosnia, Rwanda, Northern Ireland, Israel and the Palestinians.
“Some lessons are applicable to everyone,” he said.
No one is right all the time and complicated problems are best solved by large groups with diverse experience and knowledge, he said.
“I don’t think you can possibly underestimate how many people there are who have never been here, who will never come here, who just want you to succeed,” he said.