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[ReadingRoom] News on Burma - 16/2/10

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  • CHAN Beng Seng
    Myanmar junta chief confirms election to be held this year ILO to begin Burma child soldier campaign Tens of thousands of child soldiers in Myanmar World must
    Message 1 of 1 , Feb 16, 2010
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      1. Myanmar junta chief confirms election to be held this year

      2. ILO to begin Burma child soldier campaign

      3. Tens of thousands of child soldiers in Myanmar

      4. World must not be misled by Burma’s sham elections

      5. Broken promises and a broken nation

      6. Union of Burma remains a dream, as civil war rages

      7. Burma army burns over 70 houses & intensifies offensive over Karen

      8. Karen villagers flee as Burma army escalates attacks

      9. Jailed and tortured in Myanmar

      10. Understanding the ‘Union Day’ of Myanmar

      11. Myanmar’s Suu Kyi undecided on junta’s elections

      12. Sixty villages to be relocated for hydropower projects

      13. Facing rampant inflation, Myanmar turns to bartering

      14. Elections mean nothing to Myanmar’s ethnic armies

      15. At her Thai border clinic, Cynthia Maung treats victims of war from her native Burma

      16. Transform to peoples militia or face action; junta to SSA

      17. UN report on Burma’s recovery from 2008 Cyclone points to progress in key areas

      18. ‘Burma VJ’ wins Mumbai prize

      19. Myanmar authorities hinder disaster-relief projects

      20. Australia to increase aid to Burma

      21. The case for China’s intervention in Burma

       



      Myanmar junta chief confirms election to be held this year

      Deutsche Presse-Agentur: Fri 12 Feb 2010

      Yangon – Myanmar military supremo Senior General Than Shwe confirmed Friday that the junta will hold a general election this year, honouring previous commitments to the international community.“A free and fair general election will be held this year in accordance with the seven step road map,” Than Shwe said in a speech commemorating the 63rd anniversary of Union Day in the military capital of Naypyitaw, 350 kilometres north of Yangon.

      The junta’s road map lists a general election as one of the steps towards a “discipline-flourishing democracy.”

      Burmese Union Day commemorates the signing of an agreement in 1947 among various Myanmar ethnic groups and factions to create the independent republic of Burma.

      Now known as Myanmar, the country was granted independence from Britain after a century of colonial rule in 1948.

      In Yangon, the opposition National League for Democracy (NLD) party used the occasion to reiterate calls for the release of all political prisoners, including Nobel laurate Aung San Suu Kyi, prior to the polls.

      Suu Kyi, who has spent 14 of the past 20 years under house arrest, was sentenced in May to another 18 months detention, effectively preventing her participation in any elections in 2010.

      The party also called for the release of NLD Vice Chairman Tin Oo, who has been detained in his home for the past seven years. His detention period is due to expire on Saturday.

      Rumours circulated in Yangon that Tin Oo, 84, is to be released late Friday or Saturday.

      “U (Mr) Tin Oo has paid dearly for his courageous opposition to military rule,” Human Rights Watch’s Asia director Brad Adams said.

      “His release on schedule will be an important test of whether Burma’s generals will allow even modest pluralism before the elections this year,” he said in a statement issued from HRW’s New
      York headquarters.

      Myanmar authorities arrested Tin Oo in May 2003 on politically motivated charges of disturbing public order after pro-government militias attacked the convoy carrying him and Suu Kyi near Depayin, in Upper Myanmar.

      Tin Oo, a former military officer, was one of the founders of the NLD, which won Myanmar’s last election in 1990.

      The military has denied the NLD power for the past 20 years.

      Myanmar has been under military rule since 1962.


      ILO to begin Burma child soldier campaign – Nay Too

      Democratic Voice of Burma: Fri 12 Feb 2010

      The International Labour Organisation will begin circulating leaflets on forced labour and child solider recruitment across Burma, but not before it is passed through the regime’s notorious censor board.Burma is thought to have one of the world’s highest counts of child soldiers, and the UN’s International Labour Organisation (ILO) is the only body officially mandated to tackle the problem in the pariah state.

      Steve Marshall, ILO liaison officer in Rangoon, said that a draft of the leaflet had been submitted to the government’s labour ministry for approval.

      The campaign, he said, was raised during talks in Burma last month between ILO executive director Kari Tapiola and labour minister Aung Kyi.

      The talks also resulted in an extension of the ‘supplementary understanding’ between the government and the ILO, which acts as an agreement that the Burmese junta will not avenge those who complain to the ILO about forced labour and child solider recruitment.

      “There will need to be an extensive printing of these [leaflets] in various languages, with a wide distribution,” said Marshall.

      Many complaints of forced labour and child solider recruitment come from Burma’s border regions where the army has been fighting decades-long conflicts with various armed ethnic groups.

      “The first print run will clearly be in Myanmar [Burmese] language, but it would be silly not to produce it in the major ethnic languages,” he said, but added that the translation would take more time.

      The ILO has struggled since the first supplementary understanding was signed in February 2007 to curb the recruitment of child soldiers and use of forced labour, which includes land disputes, by the Burmese government.

      It has also expressed “serious concern” about the jailing of labour activists and forced labour complainants.

      A landmark Human Rights Watch report in 2002 found that an estimated 70,000 child soldiers made up around 20 percent of the Burmese army. Another report last year by the Watchlist on Children and Armed Conflict claimed that children as young as nine were serving in the military.


      Tens of thousands of child soldiers in Myanmar – Bernd Musch-Borowska

      Deustche Welle (Germany): Fri 12 Feb 2010

      Feb. 12 is Red Hand Day. There are some 250,000 child soldiers according to the UN fighting in armed conflicts. The junta and rebel armies in Myanmar, also known as Burma, are notorious for recruiting child soldiers.They are sometimes as young as 10 and they fight not only in the official army but for various rebel groupings across the country.

      NGOs such as Terre des Hommes and Human Rights Watch estimate that there are up to 80,000 of them. Although it is difficult to acquire exact figures, Human Rights Watch calculates that every fifth soldier is under 18.

      Bildunterschrift: Großansicht des Bildes mit der Bildunterschrift:

      Jo Becker, the Children’s Rights Advocacy Director for Human Rights Watch, co-authored a report entitled “Sold to be Soldiers: The Recruitment and Use of Child Soldiers in Burma.”

      11 years old and only 1.3 meters tall

      She said that children were recruited regardless of age or physical capability. “We interviewed one boy who was recruited when he was only 11 years old. He was only 1.3 meters tall and weighed only 31 kilograms yet the army still accepted him.

      “They go through the same training as adults in most cases and they may be deployed into combat situations from the age of 12. They are used to fight against ethnic armed opposition groups in the country and they’re also used to commit human rights abuses such as burning villages or rounding up civilians for forced labor purposes.”

      The conditions in the army are reportedly atrocious. One reason why children are used is that there is a lack of adult volunteers and high desertion rates. So despite Red Hand Day and countless other initiatives campaigning against the use of children in armed conflict, in Myanmar the number of child soldiers continues to rise.

      Trapped by recruiters

      Becker explained how easily boys were trapped into joining the army: “Recruiters will typically approach children who are on their own; boys who are in public places like the marketplace, train or bus stations.

      “One of their typical tactics is to ask a boy to produce his identity card and if the boy can’t produce his card the recruiter will say ‘Well you have to go to jail or you can join the army.’ So in this way many boys are coerced.”

      The recruiters themselves receive cash payments for each new recruit. The children’s records are then often falsified because the official minimum recruitment age is still 18.

      Bildunterschrift: Großansicht des Bildes mit der Bildunterschrift:

      United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has called on the Myanmar junta to do more to ensure that children are not recruited into the army. He has also insisted that children should not be arrested and imprisoned for deserting. So far, his demands have fallen on deaf ears.


      World must not be misled by Burma’s sham elections – Naw Zipporah Sein

      The Nation (Thailand): Fri 12 Feb 2010

      THIS WEEK in 1947, our ethnic leaders signed the historic Panglong Agreement, which envisioned a free Burma in which our people could live together in peace. Within a year, Burma gained its independence from the British. Yet, half a century later, Burma is still not free. Successive military regimes have, over the past 50 years, attempted to achieve “unity”, not through dialogue, but with the barrel of a gun. This year, while preparing for the 2010 elections, the junta is trying to achieve a sham democracy through force.There are those in the international community who believe the elections will provide an opportunity for change. Even if there was the chance for “free and fair” elections, the regime has guaranteed its hold on power through its self-crafted 2008 constitution. The constitution, to be enacted through the elections, will create a new parliament with a civilian facade, while entrenching the current structure where the non-elected commander-in-chief is the most powerful person in the country. Any hope for change is made impossible with the military’s approval needed for constitutional amendments.

      Most critically, the constitution and elections will provide no respite from suffering for our people. While preparing for the first elections in 20 years, the junta has shown no desire to resolve conflicts through peaceful means. Instead, it is taking extreme measures to destroy the opposition – adding to the more than 2,100 political leaders and activists already in prison and stepping up attacks to wrest power from ethnic armed and unarmed groups. The new constitution will only further systemise this discrimination against ethnic people.

      These elections, the last step in the military’s sham “roadmap to democracy”, are the biggest threat yet to the vision of Panglong. People may ask, why can’t we go along with the regime’s plan and participate in these elections? This is because they deny the things we have been fighting for all these years – equality and federalism.

      In the half century of military rule, it is our people who have paid the highest price. This is why we cannot accept a false democracy that legitimises the military’s control and subjugation of the Burmese people. Since independence, our myriad ethnic groups – which make up over 40 per cent of Burma’s population – have never enjoyed political or economic equality with the majority. Since the first military coup in 1962, the junta has systematically implemented a policy of “Burmanisation”, inundating our culture with the mainstream Burmese culture, and tightly restricting the freedom to teach our languages in schools and practice our traditions.

      As leaders of Burma’s ethnic resistance, we have seen the devastating consequences of the regime’s tactics against our people. Now, it is only hastening efforts to wipe out any remaining resistance prior to the 2010 elections. Just last year, military offensives in eastern Burma forced more than 43,800 ethnic people to flee the country, just the latest wave of refugees streaming over Burma’s borders. Some of these attacks were part and parcel of the regime’s ongoing policy of targeting ethnic civilians in order to undermine its opposition. The junta’s tactic, often referred to as “draining the ocean so the fish cannot swim”, has destroyed more than 3,500 villages in eastern Burma in the last 10 years.

      The regime has also increased hostility against ethnic ceasefire groups, to further consolidate control before the elections. It wants to force them to join a new Border Guard Force under the command of the SPDC army. Its strategy? A continuation of its divide-and-rule policy, which mobilises proxy ethnic forces to help the military regime attack and commit crimes against their own ethnic people.

      Already, preparations for the elections have only served to aggravate the explosive situation in Burma and the racist constitution will only foment further chaos. Much like the 1983 apartheid constitution of South Africa, the Burmese constitution aims to legitimise majority rule through the token participation of ethnic people in a new parliament. Like its apartheid South African counterpart, Burma’s new constitution deprives ethnic people of fundamental rights, and makes it virtually impossible for them to have any real political representation. Instead of recognising our demands for equality and federalism, the regime is trying to cement its control over ethnic areas, to guarantee its continued profit from the rich natural resources in these areas. And by providing the regime blanket immunity for past war crimes and crimes against humanity, the constitution sanctions the continuation of these atrocities.

      As leaders of the ethnic resistance movement, we know that this election is not a solution to the crises faced by our people. More than ever, we are working closely together with our pro-democracy brothers and sisters on the path to true national reconciliation. We believe that to even begin to hope for democratic progress, three essential benchmarks must be met:
      • The release of all political prisoners, including Aung San Suu Kyi, who still commands deep respect and admiration from ethnic groups;
      • The cessation of attacks against ethnic communities; and
      • Dialogue with all stakeholders, including a review of the 2008 constitution.

      These demands are in line with Suu Kyi, the NLD and other pro-democratic forces inside and in exile and were echoed by the UN General Assembly in a Christmas Eve resolution.

      If the regime refuses to meet these benchmarks, we need world leaders to take their efforts one step further, as they did when South Africa held its apartheid elections in 1984. Back then, the UN Security Council rallied to the cause of black South Africans, by declaring its racist constitution “null and void”, and calling on governments not to recognise the result of the elections.

      South Africa’s road to freedom was a long and tortuous one, but a people’s movement, supported by the world, was able to bring the racist regime to an end. Our struggle for equality and freedom in Burma has been long, but we are more united than ever before. Instead of calling for “free and fair” elections, which simply buys into the regime’s plan, the international community should call on the junta to meet the benchmarks, and if they do not, denounce the elections and not recognise the results.



      Broken promises and a broken nation – Editorial

      Irrawaddy: Fri 12 Feb 2010

      Sixty-three years ago, Burma’s independence leader Gen Aung San and leaders from the country’s main ethnic groups gathered at the city of Panglong in southern Shan State to sign an historic agreement, determining their future by achieving absolute independence from the British.The representatives from the central government, known as the Executive Council of the Governor of Burma at that time, met with leaders from the Shan, Chin and Kachin minorities and signed an agreement to guarantee equal rights for ethnic people. They were assured that Burma would be a federal union with power sharing, and were even granted the right to secede.

      Ever since then, this event has been commemorated annually on Burma’s Union Day, an occasion for recalling the “Panglong spirit,” which emphasizes the shared benefits of mutual trust between the Burman majority and ethnic minorities.

      However, this historic agreement has been largely ignored since Burma gained its independence in 1948. The government in Rangoon assumed power at the central, state and local levels, leaving non-Burman ethnic groups with no power at all.

      To mark Union Day, the leader of Burma’s ruling military regime, Snr-Gen Than Shwe, called on all of Burma’s ethnic groups to renew their “sense of Union Spirit” wherever they live in across the nation, “to ensure perpetuation of the motherland, and independence and sovereignty will not be lost again.”

      Burma’s successive military regimes have long acted on the assumption that the federal system promised in the Panglong Agreement was a formula for disintegration. In fact, Burma’s era of military rule began when Gen Ne Win seized power in 1962 to prevent ethnic leaders and members of Parliament from carrying out constitutional reforms to create a genuine federal union.

      According to Than Shwe, the national and regional parliaments that will be formed after this year’s election, to be held in accord with the 2008 Constitution and the “road map” to democracy, will satisfactorily address all the legitimate needs of Burma’s ethnic minorities. That is why he has repeated his promise to go ahead with the election while continuing to call on ethnic cease-fire groups to disarm or join a national border guard force under Burmese military control.

      Most of the ethnic armed groups have refused to accept the plan, however, saying that they have nothing to gain from it. Several ethnic leaders have also said that they don’t have any faith in the new Constitution, which was approved by a farcical referendum in 2008. They point out that real power under the Constitution resides in the national parliament, where the Burmese military will take 25 percent of all seats.

      At the same time, Burmese military authorities have kept several key ethnic figures in notorious prisons, including Sao Hso Ten, the president of the Shan State Peace Council, and Hkun Htun Oo and Sai Nyunt Lwin, the chairman and secretary, respectively, of the Shan Nationalities League for Democracy. The three Shan leaders are serving prison terms of between 75 and 106 years on charges that included defamation and high treason.

      Even worse, the Burmese junta has not relented in its persecution of civilians in ethnic minority areas. Some 140,000 ethnic refugees live in official camps along the Thai-Burmese border, according to the United Nations refugee agency, while many more cling to survival as internally displaced persons. Last August, another 37,000 refugees fled into China after Burmese regime forces routed an ethnic army in the Kokang region. The potential for a further exodus remains amid the constant threat of conflict in many areas around the country.

      This is why Union Day is not an occasion to celebrate, but rather a time to reflect on the legacy of decades of broken promises. What we find when we look at Burma today is not unity or strength, but the misery of a country constantly at war with itself. Only when all ethnic nationalities enjoy genuine equality and self-determination can Burma hope to build a stable and united nation.


      Union of Burma remains a dream, as civil war rages – Phanida

      Mizzima News: Fri 12 Feb 2010

      Chiang Mai – Today is the 63rd anniversary of the Panlong Agreement, which envisaged a Union of Burma promising equality among all ethnic people in the hills and plains.But the Union that the architects of the Independence struggle wanted is yet to take shape. Instead civil war rages. Now, the ruling military regime is promising incentives to the ethnic people by way of autonomous rights in its 2008 constitution.

      The provisions in the 2008 constitution are quite contrary to the historical Panlong Agreement which was signed on 12 February 1947, some ethnic leaders and National League for Democracy (NLD) party said.

      The Zomi National Congress (ZNC) Chairman Pu Tsian Cing Thang said, “The Union must provide for equality among all ethnic people without discrimination but in the 2008 constitution, there is not a single provision which can guarantee the rights of ethnic people so it cannot be called a Union”.

      In democratic countries, members of armed forces, who wish to join politics, must resign from military posts, but in Burma, the 2008 constitution allows Burmese Army personnel to join politics in uniform. It is ridiculous, he said.

      He referred to Article (6) Basic Principles, sub-article 6(f) (of 2008 Constitution) which says ‘enabling the Defence Services to be able to participate in national political leadership role of the State.’

      Similarly the ‘Ethnic Nationalities Council’ (ENC) in exile, Joint Secretary Salai Sui Khar said that the 2008 constitution does not guarantee autonomous rights and equality agreed and mentioned in paragraph 5 and 7 of the Panlong Agreement that ethnic people aspire for.

      NLD party spokesman Ohn Kyaing said that successive governments of AFPFL (Anti-Fascist People’s Freedom League), BSPP (Burma Socialist Programme Party), SLORC (State Law and Order Restoration Council) and ruling SPDC (State Peace and Development Council) have ignored the Panlong Agreement but the undemocratic provisions are included in the 2008 constitution. These have to amend.

      “The Panlong Agreement reportedly had nine points. The main point was there has to be equality among all ethnic people. It guaranteed freedom of religion and self-determination in local States and Divisions,” he said.

      On 12 February 1947, Bogyoke (General) Aung San got together with Shan, Kachin, Chin ethnic leaders to have a Union and signed the historical Panlong agreement in Panlong, Shan State.

      But junta supremo Senior General Than Shwe refused to recognize the efforts of national leaders in the independence struggle in his message sent to today’s Union Day celebrations. He chose to emphasize the proposed general election this year.

      Burma’s democrats pointed out that holding elections within the framework of the 2008 constitution, which will only legitimize military continuance and will not guarantee equal rights to the ethnic people, cannot stop the raging civil war.


      Burma army burns over 70 houses & intensifies offensive over Karen

      Christian Solidarity Worldwide: Fri 12 Feb 2010

      Over 70 houses, a mobile health clinic and two schools in eastern Burma have been burnt down by army patrols stepping up the offensive on Karen villagers, according to the Committee for Internally Displaced Karen People (CIDKP.) Most recently, Burma army allied troops set fire to 46 houses in Toe Hta area and 28 houses in Ka Di Mu Der area of Ler Doh township, Nyaunglebin District. A vital mobile health clinic, a middle school, and a nursery school in K’Dee Mu Der village and Tee Mu TaVillage were also destroyed by soldiers on 8 February. Other schools have been forced to close.

      Thousands of people have been displaced and are still in hiding following the attacks, according to Free Burma Rangers (FBR), a relief organization working in the conflict zones of eastern Burma.

      Benedict Rogers, East Asia Team Leader at CSW, said: “These latest attacks serve as clear evidence of a brutal plan of ethnic cleansing against the minorities, instigated by Burma’s military regime. Karen villagers have been subjected to severe human rights violations for far too long. Governments need to respond to these crimes against humanity by working to establish a United Nations commission of inquiry and an immediate and universal arms embargo”.

      For further information or to arrange interviews please contact Theresa Malinowska, Press Officer at Christian Solidarity Worldwide on +44 (0) 20 8329 0045 / +44 (0)78 2332 9663, email theresamalinowska@... or visit www.csw.org.uk.

      CSW is a human rights organisation which specialises in religious freedom, works on behalf of those persecuted for their Christian beliefs and promotes religious liberty for all.


      Karen villagers flee as Burma army escalates attacks – Saw Yan Naing

      Irrawaddy: Thu 11 Feb 2010

      Burmese government troops have stepped up their attacks on Karen civilians, burning down dozens of houses and a clinic and forcing schools to close and around 2,000 Karen villagers to flee into the jungle, according to Karen relief groups. The troops burnt down more than 70 houses in several villages in Kyaukkyi Township in Nyaunglebin District, Pegu Division, as well as one mobile clinic, said the Committee for Internally Displaced Karen People (CIDKP).

      Eleven schools—four nursery schools, four primary schools and three middle schools—were forced to close and children are hiding in the jungle due to the military activities, said the relief group.

      Saw Steve, a CIDKP team leader, told The Irrawaddy on Thursday: “The villagers cannot return home as long as the government troops are active in the area.”

      Troops from Light Infantry Battalions 362 and 367 and Tactical Operation Command 3, under control of Military Operation Command 10, are still patrolling in the affected areas, he added.

      The troops separately entered six villages from Feb. 3 -7, burning down 46 houses in the Toe Hta area and 28 houses in the Ka Di Mu Der area, according to the CIDKP. On Feb. 5, a villager, Saw Law Ray Htoo, was shot on the Salween River and later died at a hospital in the Mae La Oo refugee camp on the Thai-Burmese border.

      The attacks are the latest in a series of raids targeting civilians in the region. In January, government army troops raided ten villages in Nyaunglebin District, killing four villagers and forcing about 2,000 into hiding in the jungle, according to Aung Din, executive director of the US Campaign for Burma.

      “These attacks are further evidence of the urgent need for the United Nations to take effective action to stop war crimes and crimes against humanity in Burma, perpetrated by the regime with impunity,” said Aung Din in a press release on Wednesday.

      He said that mobile health clinics are always targeted by the Burmese government troops because they provide life-saving services to Karen and other ethnic minority villagers.

      “This is a clear violation of the Geneva Conventions and the principal of medical neutrality, further evidence of the regime’s crimes against humanity and war crimes,” said Aung Din.


      Jailed and tortured in Myanmar

      The Economist: Thu 11 Feb 2010

      IT TAKES great courage and commitment to translate for a foreign journalist in Myanmar. Two men who helped The Economist after Cyclone Nargis, which killed some 140,000 people in 2008, were rounded up last September for opposing the ruling junta.The men are held in Insein prison in the main city, Yangon. Information about their conditions and treatment is hard to come by. But the latest reports are horrifying. Khine Kyaw Moe has reportedly been hooded, half-suffocated, savagely beaten, half-starved and then fed contaminated food. He is said to be very sick. There is no recent news of another colleague, Tun Lun Kyaw. The two men were earlier seen together at the prison. They were weeping, and looked emaciated and broken.

      Both men are from the north-western state of Rakhine (formerly Arakan), which is rich in natural gas yet very poor, and home to some of Myanmar’s many oppressed ethnic minorities. Along with at least 13 other students arrested around the same time, they are accused of belonging to the All Arakan Students’ and Youths’ Congress, which the regime calls a terrorist organisation, but professes belief in a peaceful struggle for democracy. That they had helped the foreign press will have worsened their plight.

      Myanmar’s best-known political prisoner, the opposition leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, is detained at home in Yangon. Besides her, more than 2,100 other political prisoners are held, all in squalid and brutal conditions. Many are serving sentences of up to 65 years for peaceful political activities. Former detainees say that torture is routine, and that medical attention is often denied even when prisoners fall gravely ill.

      Under a “road-map for democracy”, Myanmar will this year vote in a “multiparty election”. Miss Suu Kyi’s party, the National League for Democracy, is deciding whether to take part. It is a difficult choice. Joining in would add legitimacy to a process with a preordained outcome—army dominance. But no other sort of change is on offer. This week a court sentenced a Burmese-born American activist, Nyi Nyi Aung, to three years in prison for forging an identity card and violating immigration law. One League precondition to taking part in the election is the release of all political prisoners. The regime, however, seems intent only on adding to their number.


      Understanding the ‘Union Day’ of Myanmar – Nehginpao Kipgen

      Korea Times: Thu 11 Feb 2010

      Feb. 12, 2010 is the 63rd anniversary of Myanmar’s “Union Day.” It was this day in 1947 when 23 representatives from the Shan states, the Kachin hills and the Chin hills, and Aung San, head of the interim Myanmarese (Burmese) government, signed an agreement in Panglong (in the Shan states) to form the Union of Burma.The State Law and Order Restoration Council, the former name of the military junta, changed the country’s name from the Union of Burma to “Union of Myanmar” in 1989. However, the Myanmarese opposition and the Western nations still continue to use Burma while the Eastern nations and the United Nations use Myanmar.

      The Panglong agreement was a turning point in the modern history of Burma. General Aung San, father of Aung San Suu Kyi, played a pivotal role in bringing together leaders of the Frontier Areas (ethnic nationalities) to the negotiating table. Thereafter, the 32-year-old Aung San was assassinated on July 19, 1947.

      Not only was the Union Day a precursor to Myanmar’s independence from the yoke of British colonial rule in January 1948, but also the hallmark of ethno-political conflicts in the country. The significance of forming the Union Day was that Myanmar became a home to multiethnic nationalities.

      When Aung San and his delegation went to London to negotiate Myanmar’s independence, no delegates from the Frontier Areas were present. During the meeting, Clement Attlee, the British prime minister, insisted that Myanmar proper should not coerce leaders of the Frontier Areas to join the Union of Burma against their will.

      Aung San, however, argued that it was the British who kept the peoples of Myanmar apart. Aung San was quoted in The Times (London) on Jan. 14, 1947, as saying: “We can confidently assert here that so far as our knowledge of our country goes, there should be no insuperable difficulties in the way of a unified Burma provided all races are given full freedom and the opportunity to meet together and to work without the interference of outside interests.”

      In an attempt to allay the doubts and lingering fears of the British government regarding unequal treatment in the Frontier Areas in the future Union of Burma, Aung San assured the Frontier peoples in his unforgettable remark that: “If Burma receives one kyat, you will also get one kyat.” Kyat is the Myanmarese currency.

      After receiving assurances from Aung San, leaders of the Chin and Kachin hills, and the Shan states agreed to cooperate with the interim Myanmarese government. The attending Frontier leaders believed that freedom would be more speedily achieved by immediate cooperation with the interim government.

      The Shans, the Kachins and the Chins agreed to the formation of the Union of Burma in return for promises of full autonomy in internal administration and an equal share in the country’s wealth. The Karens still believed that the British would grant them an independent state.

      One most notable agreement of the Panglong Conference was granting full autonomy to ethnic nationalities, which has not materialized to this day. The agreement was basically for establishing a unified country, and was not aimed at putting an end to the traditional autonomy or self-rule of the Frontier Areas.

      Failing to implement this agreement has increased mistrust and misunderstanding between the majority ethnic Burma-led central government and other ethnic nationalities. Autonomy has been a core demand for minorities since 1947, and continues to remain the fundamental issue.

      The ongoing ethno-political conflicts, including armed confrontations, are largely the consequences of the failure to implement the Panglong Agreement. As long as minority concerns are not addressed, conflicts in Myanmar are likely to remain even if democracy is restored.

      Autonomy is a political solution that can serve the interests of the erstwhile Frontier Areas. However, the military junta sees it as something that would disintegrate the Union of Burma.

      Political autonomy is not tantamount to secession. In other words, Myanmar’s ethnic minorities are neither secessionists nor separatists. They believe that autonomy or self-determination will give them an opportunity to preserve their culture, language and tradition.

      The minorities occupy roughly two-thirds of the country’s total land area, and constitute over 30 percent of the population. They have long advocated tripartite talks involving the military, the National League for Democracy led by Aung San Suu Kyi and ethnic nationalities, as endorsed by the United Nations since 1994.

      Had Aung San not promised political equality and autonomy to the Frontier Areas, the Union of Burma might have never been born.

      The Union of Burma/Myanmar can become a cohesive and vibrant society when the rights of all ethnic nationalities, regardless of the size of population, are treated equally. Each ethnic group must be given the right to practice and promote its own culture and literature, among others.

      Any deliberate attempt by the military junta to annihilate any group of the multiethnic nationalities, militarily or culturally, is against the spirit of the Union Day. Despite the observance of its 63rd anniversary, the essence of the Union Day is still denied to Myanmar’s ethnic minorities.

      Nehginpao Kipgen is a researcher on the rise of political conflicts in modern Myanmar (1947-2004) and general secretary of the U.S.-based Kuki International Forum (www.kukiforum.com). He has written numerous analytical articles on the politics of Myanmar and Asia that have been widely published in five continents.


      Myanmar’s Suu Kyi undecided on junta’s elections

      Associated Press: Wed 10 Feb 2010

      Yangon, Myanmar — Myanmar’s detained opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi says that the military-run country’s upcoming elections cannot be credible unless the government allows freedom of information, her party said Wednesday. The Nobel Peace Prize laureate — who is serving a new 18-month sentence of house arrest — also said she hasn’t decided whether her party will contest this year’s planned polls, said Nyan Win, her lawyer and spokesman for her National League for Democracy party.

      “Aung San Suu Kyi said if freedom of information and freedom of expression are not allowed, the elections will neither be free nor fair nor credible,” said Nyan Win, who met Suu Kyi at her house Tuesday.

      Myanmar’s military government has said it will hold a general election this year, but has not yet set an exact date or passed the necessary laws. Suu Kyi’s party won the last election in 1990, but the military refused to allow it to take power.

      The junta tightly controls information in the impoverished Southeast Asian country.

      An election boycott by the NLD would deal a blow to the government’s promotion of the polls as part of a “roadmap to democracy.”

      Suu Kyi’s party has not yet committed itself to taking part in the polls because it claims the new constitution of 2008 is unfair. It has clauses that would ensure that the military remains the controlling power in government, and would bar Suu Kyi from holding office.

      Nyan Win said Wednesday that Suu Kyi said she cannot decide whether her party should take part in elections as long as she is under house arrest.

      “Aung San Suu Kyi said she is in no condition to decide whether the NLD should participate in the elections or not as she cannot follow up on her decision if she remains detained,” said Nyan Win.

      Suu Kyi’s position does not necessarily rule out her party taking part in the polls, since other party officials could make the decision to contest the election. Nyan Win pointed out that that in 1990 elections, which also were held while she was under house arrest, the National League for Democracy decided to take part in elections during her absence and she supported the party’s decision.

      According to Nyan Win, Suu Kyi also said the international community should understand that the elections in Myanmar cannot be considered as similar to those in other countries “as everything has to start from scratch,” without any new parties being approved yet and her own party not yet allowed to reopen its district offices.

      Suu Kyi, who has been detained for 14 of the past 20 years, was convicted last August of violating the terms of her previous detention by briefly sheltering an American who swam uninvited to her lakeside home. She was sentenced to 18 months’ house arrest, less three months spent in detention awaiting the end of her trial.


      Sixty villages to be relocated for hydropower projects – Salai Han Thar San

      Mizzima News: Wed 10 Feb 2010

      New Delhi – The Burmese military junta authorities are gearing up to relocate about 60 villages from the site of hydropower projects at the confluence of May Kha and May Likha Rivers, an environment group said.
      The Kachin Development Networking Group (KDNG) said that the Asia World Company is constructing houses for villagers to be relocated from the project sites. Villagers have been told to move to this new place soon.

      “We have heard that about 100 houses have been built and junta officials have already instructed local residents to move to the new place,” KDNG Chairman Awng Wah told Mizzima.

      The Asia World Company built houses for project workers, conducted hydrology tests and other survey works downstream of Irrawaddy in early December 2009. The company built houses at the site near the Kyinkhan Line Ka Zup village.

      The relocated villages upstream of hydropower plant projects include Tan Paye, Myit Sone, Kyein Khayan, Dau Pan, Khan Bu among others.

      Moreover, Asia World Company, a partner of China Power Investment Corporation (CPI) in the hydropower projects, also built concrete roads in the valley near Tan Paye village and Inn Khai Lwan mountain range, and heavy concrete mixers near Oo Byit village, 13 miles from Myitkyina, capital of Kachin State.

      Awng Wah predicted that thousands of Chinese engineers and skilled workers will arrive at the dam sites after the forthcoming Chinese lunar New Year or spring festival.

      “The hydropower project is creating a lot of trouble for local villagers and will severely impact the environment and ecology. Worse there is the danger of heavy flooding if the dam collapses. Then the scale of destruction will be terrible,” he added.

      Anti-dam activists estimated that about 20 villages between Myit Sone (the river confluence) and Myitkyina besides Myitkyina itself, which is about 27 miles downstream from the dam site, will be inundated if the dam breaks.

      Given the potential of such large scale catastrophe, ethnic Kachin organizations in exile as well as the Kachin Independence Organization (KIO), which has a ceasefire agreement with the Burmese regime, are protesting against the Myit Sone hydropower project.

      “We have been opposing the project for over a year. Our central committee sent the objection letters to the authorities concerned as we continue opposing the project,” a regional development committee member of the KIO in Laiza, Kachin State told Mizzima.

      Ethnic Kachin people in exile launched a worldwide campaign against the project on the 49th Kachin Revolution Day which fell on February 5.

      The hydropower project comprises five dams on May Kha River and two more dams on May Likha River. It is expected to generate 3,600 MW of electricity

      The hydropower implementation department under the No. 1 Electric Power Ministry and the Chinese firm CPI concluded an agreement to build seven hydropower projects including Myit Sone. The expected total generation from these projects is 13,360 MW, the state owned ‘New Light of Myanmar’ reported in May 2007.

      Six other hydropower projects are Chi Bwe (2,000 MW), Pa Shi (1,600 MW), Lar Kin (1,400 MW), Phi Zaw (1,500 MW), Khaung Galan Phu (1,700 MW) and Lai Zar (1,560 MW).

      This is the biggest ever hydropower project in Burma. The second largest project is the Tahsan Dam project in Shan State with an installed capacity of 7,100 MW.

      Though the precise investment in the Myit Sone project is not known, it could touch about USD 3.6 billion. The power generated is likely to be sold to China and has the potential of earning USD 500 million every year, according to a report prepared by the KNDG and released in October 2007.

      The World Commission on Dams estimates that 40 to 80 million people have been relocated due to dam projects worldwide.

      River Irrawaddy with two main tributaries called May Kha and May Likha, which originate from the Himalayan mountain range, is the main waterway in Burma and is about 1,450 miles long. The endangered Irrawaddy dolphins can be seen in this river.


      Facing rampant inflation, Myanmar turns to bartering – Aung Hla Tun

      Reuters: Wed 10 Feb 2010

      Yangon – Faced with a shortage of small banknotes, people in Myanmar are resorting to bartering cigarettes, shampoo and other items.
      The bartering illustrates the effects of sanctions on one of the world’s most isolated, repressive countries, along with surging inflation and the military junta’s curious decision to stop printing small notes, experts say.

      “How shall I give it to you? You want coffee-mix, cigarettes, tissues, sweets or what?”

      That question is heard often in shops and restaurants in the former Burma, where coins and small notes disappeared years ago and other notes have now started to follow suit.

      State banks were main source of small notes for shop-owners, but they stopped issuing new currency several years ago. Today, beggars who collect money on the street now provide shops with the bulk of their small notes, often in return for food.

      Rampant inflation also plays a role. Consumer prices rose by an average 24 percent a year between 2005 and 2008, according to the Asian Development Bank. That has taken a toll on Myanmar’s currency, the kyat.

      Officially, the kyat is pegged at 5.5 per dollar. But it fetches nowhere near that, trading instead at about 1,000 per dollar. The cost of printing small notes is now far more expensive than the face value of the notes themselves.

      A Yangon government high school teacher said most of her pupils had never even seen coins or small notes.

      SWEET CURRENCIES

      In the commercial capital, Yangon, 100 kyat (around 10 U.S. cents) is worth a sachet of coffee-mix or a small container of shampoo. Tissue packets or a cigarette or sweets are the equivalent of 50 kyat.

      “The shopkeeper gave me three sweets for change of 150 kyat when I bought a bottle of cough mixture last week,” said Ba Aye, a Yangon taxi driver.

      “When I told her that sweets would make my cough worse, she offered me a Thai-made gas lighter. When I said ‘I don’t smoke’, she then asked me to accept three packets of tissues that would be useful for my runny nose.”

      General-store owner Daw Khin Aye said most of her customers preferred small items like sweets to notes.

      “The small notes that are in circulation are in very bad shape — worn out, torn, stained, dirty and in most cases stuck with tape,” she said.

      In Sittwe, the capital of western Rakhine State, teashop owners manufacture their own coupons to use as currency.

      “It’s far more convenient to use these self-circulated notes instead of small items,” teashop owner Ko Aung Khine said.

      “But you need to make sure coupons can’t be forged. Mostly we use a computer to print it with the name of the shop, face value and signature of the shop owner,” he added.

      Officially there are 13 denominations of notes in circulation — starting from 50 pya (one cent) up to 5,000 kyat. But only the three big notes (200, 500 and 1,000 kyat) are common. The rest are growing scarcer by the month.

      “So far as I know, they print only 1,000 kyat notes now,” said a retired economist from Yangon University. “The cost of printing is far higher than the face value of most small notes… so they now print just the biggest ones.”

      How much money is in circulation is anyone’s guess. Myanmar has not publicly released money supply data since 1996-97, when it put the value at 179.82 billion kyat.

      Asked by Reuters for the latest figure, a senior government official replied: “We cannot tell you. It’s a state secret.”


      Elections mean nothing to Myanmar’s ethnic armies

      Reuters: Wed 10 Feb 2010

      Loi Tai Leng, Myanmar – Whether the country is ruled by brutal military dictators or democratically elected civilians, rebels who control this jungle enclave have made one thing very clear: they want nothing to do with Myanmar.
      The country once known as Burma is preparing for its first elections in 20 years, the final step in a democratic “road map” it says will end almost half a century of unbroken army rule.

      But the ethnic groups who have fought for more than 50 years to defend this mountainous region sandwiched between Thailand and China have little interest in the political process.

      Myanmar, they say, has never been their country.

      “We are Shan, we are not Burmese. We have a different language, a different culture,” said Yawdmuang, the Shan State army’s foreign affairs chief.

      “We will not participate in elections — they are their elections,” he said.

      The views of this group are echoed by other ethnic armies in Myanmar, which have also resisted the military regime’s demands to disarm, transfer their fighters to a government-run Border Guard Force (BGF) and join the political process.

      The State Peace and Development Council (SPDC), as the junta calls itself, has failed to assert its control over the ethnic groups but wants to claim the entire country is behind its elections, a date for which has not yet been set.

      The polls have already been derided as a sham by critics. They say the generals, who ignored the result of the 1990 elections, will continue to wield power from behind the scenes.

      But after years of bloody conflict and deep distrust, the junta’s pledges of autonomy in return for their cooperation ring hollow and have cut little ice among these ethnic groups.

      “We cannot work with the SPDC, we are their enemies,” Yawdmuang said. “We are prepared to talk but the SPDC cannot accept our proposal. They say we must lay down our weapons, nothing else.”

      Huge crowds of Shan people gathered on a remote mountain plateau to watch well-trained and disciplined troops celebrate the state’s 63rd National Day on February 7 with a parade of pomp and military might to rival the junta’s vast “Tatmadaw” armed forces.

      ALL-OUT CONFLICT

      The Shan accept their refusal to play ball with Myanmar’s stubborn generals could lead to an all-out conflict with the Tatmadaw, which has so far convinced, or forced, six smaller armed groups to join their BGF.

      Compared with mainstream Myanmar people, the Shan say they have their freedom and enjoy their self-sufficient existence, trading with other groups and neighboring countries and running their own communities with farms, schools, and hospitals.

      They are not prepared to give that up.

      “We’ve been fighting for our independence for more than 50 years and we won’t stop until we win,” said Lieutenant-General Yawd Serk, the long-serving chief of the Shan State Army (SSA).

      “We will try to negotiate. But if this fails, we have no other option than to settle this with military means.”

      Analysts and diplomats say the biggest hurdle preventing the junta from seizing control is the neighboring United Wa State Army, a battle-hardened force dismissed as warlords and drugs barons by the United States.

      Once backed by China, the Wa has an estimated 36,000 troops with arms funded by revenues generated from the sale of opium used to make heroin. Analysts say a conflict with the Wa, whose territory borders Myanmar’s key economic ally, China, could be protracted and bloody and would spark a refugee crisis.

      The Wa have long been in conflict with other ethnic groups but with the junta’s mooted February 28 disarmament deadline approaching, the far smaller SSA now faces a big dilemma.

      Despite its strict anti-narcotics stance, it realizes it needs to bury the hatchet and form an alliance with the Wa — or face the full force of the Myanmar army alone.

      “The junta is their enemy, it is our enemy and to survive against them, we must have unity,” Yawdmuang said.

      “Our aims are the same, we can work together. We can let bygones be bygones if the Wa accept our anti-narcotics policy.

      “But if they don’t accept it, we cannot have unity,” he said.

      (Writing by Martin Petty in Bangkok; Editing by Jason Szep)


      At her Thai border clinic, Cynthia Maung treats victims of war from her native Burma – Tibor Krausz

      Christian Science Monitor: Tue 9 Feb 2010

      Dr. Cynthia Maung escaped from Burma two decades ago and now trains others at her clinic in Thailand to help refugees from the violence in her homeland. Mae Sot, Thailand – After two decades, the ramshackle scrap-wood hut here that Cynthia Maung turned into a temporary clinic for destitute refugees is still in use.

      She found shelter in the Thai border town of Mae Sot herself as a refugee in 1989, following the Burmese junta’s brutal crackdown on pro-democracy demonstrations the previous year. She’d fled through land-mine-infested jungles from the region of eastern Burma (Myanmar) where she’d worked as a village doctor among the indigent hill tribes.

      Appalled by the misery of impoverished Burmese exiles in Thailand, Dr. Maung set up a free clinic for them. She scrounged medicine from foreign aid agencies and used a rice cooker to sterilize her instruments in boiling water.

      She expected to go home within months.

      Twenty years later, like hundreds of thousands of other Burmese migrants, Maung remains illegally in Thailand, living within sight of a homeland to which she can’t return.

      Yet she hasn’t been idle. Her former clinic now houses volunteer medics and stands beside several concrete-block buildings with corrugated iron roofs in the self-contained leafy squatters’ village that has grown up around it.

      Her Mae Tao Clinic today boasts a trauma unit, a laboratory, and several patient wards, where emaciated men and women lie wrapped in their longyis, or Burmese sarongs, on simple wooden trestles covered with linoleum and bamboo mats. Relatives hold vigils by their sides, performing simpler nursing duties.

      The conditions may not be ideal, yet Maung’s clinic saves lives and limbs daily by providing treatment to those who couldn’t get it anywhere else. “People come here with a lot of pain and suffering,” she says. “Some of them arrive on their last legs in search of help.”

      “Dr. Cynthia,” as the ethnic Karen physician is known here, is an unassuming woman who shuns jewelry and cosmetics, even the beige ground-bark paste that Burmese women smear on their cheeks. Dressed simply without a white coat or stethoscope, she mingles among patients with casual familiarity. A mother of four, she lives at the clinic with her family. She has adopted two of her children from its Bamboo Children’s Home orphanage.

      “In 20 years here, we still haven’t been able to register the clinic” with the government, Maung notes. She adds wryly: “But at least we have regular electricity.”

      In Burma, even that wouldn’t be a given. Ruled by an iron-fisted military regime, the country is among the world’s poorest nations, ranked by the World Health Organization as next to last among all nations in the availability of healthcare.

      In isolated rural areas, where the annual per capita income is $200, disease and malnutrition are endemic. Burma’s infant mortality rate is the highest in Asia, and 1 in every 5 children that survive birth die within a few years.

      At Maung’s health center, tens of thousands of the neediest – acutely ill people, single mothers, children – receive treatment free of charge each year. Her staff consists largely of Burmese civilians trained as medics by volunteer physicians.


      Transform to peoples militia or face action; junta to SSA – Myo Gyi

      Mizzima News: Tue 9 Feb 2010

      Ruili – In a major development the Burmese military junta has delivered an ultimatum to the Shan State Army (SSA) on February 6 to either respond to the Border Guard Force (BGF) issue by the end of this month or face military action, an observer said.A junta delegation led by Military Affairs Security (MAS) Chief Lt. Gen. Ye Myint met a SSA delegation in Lashio, northern Shan State and made this observation, Sino-Burma border based military observer Aung Kyaw Zaw told Mizzima.

      “The Shan delegation met Bo Ye Myint in Lashio on February 6. The Shan delegation was led by Chairman Lwe Maung and Vice Chairman Kai Hpa. The discussion on transforming Shan forces to a People’s Militia failed. Using strong words Bo Ye Myint asked them to accept the junta’s proposal by the end of February or face military action,” he said.

      After being told by the regime to convert their forces into the People’s Militia, SSA Commanding Officers (CO) met in December last year. But there was no outcome. The Wan Haing based 1st Brigade and other battalions and units did not accept the proposal, a local resident close to SSA said.

      The SSA told the junta about its own proposal to form a People’s Militia with 300 personnel but the junta turned it down.

      During discussions for a ceasefire agreement with the junta in September 1989, SSA leader Gen. Hsay Htin agreed with the regime to discuss political issues with a future government only.

      The SSA headquarter is based in Hsipaw Township in northern Shan State.

      The military regime charged SSA Gen. Hsay Htin with many cases including high treason and sentenced him to 106-years in prison in November 2005.


      UN report on Burma’s recovery from 2008 Cyclone points to progress in key areas – Ron Corben

      Voice of America: Tue 9 Feb 2010

      A United Nations report on Burma’s recovery from Cyclone Nargis says progress has been achieved in key areas such as child development and health care. But communities in the Irrawaddy Delta still struggle to sustain their livelihoods and rebuild homes lost in the 2008 storm.The report issued Tuesday provides an upbeat assessment of recovery in the Irrawaddy Delta less than two years after Cyclone Nargis swept through the region in May 2008.

      Cyclone Nargis left up to 140,000 people dead or missing. Over two million people were affected by the storm. Total losses were estimated at over $4 billion.

      The Association of Southeast Asian Nations, Burma’s military government and the United Nations formed the Tripartite Core Group shortly after the storm to assess and coordinate the recovery effort.

      The group’s latest survey covered 1,400 households, and particularly focused on the most vulnerable, such as landless families and those headed by women.

      The survey reported improvements in child mortality, and child nutrition, as well as greater access to health care and clean water.

      Esben Harboe, a special assistant in the office of the U.N.’s resident coordinator in Burma, says the survey shows despite the gains, there is still much to do.

      “The key message is progress is evident but there’s still a lot more to do in terms of recovery and especially within two areas, which is [are] livelihood and shelter. These are the areas where the respondents in the survey said that they still need assistance,” said Harboe.

      The survey found that 50 percent of the shelters surveyed were judged to be safe, but over 80 percent of surveyed households considered their homes to be of poorer quality than before the cyclone.

      Harboe says the delta region still faces challenges because of its lack of development and poverty. Burma is one of the poorest countries in Southeast Asia.

      “It’s very positive we can record improvements within a number of areas but there’s still – even it is back to a pre-Nargis situation – pre-Nargis it was very bad. So it’s not to say that there’s nothing more to do even if it’s back to normal so to speak,” said Harboe.

      A reconstruction plan by the United Nations, ASEAN and Burma’s military government has called for $690 million in aid. Aid workers have also say that additional international funds will be needed to fully rebuild Irr

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