Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Equal rights essential to revive Union Spirit: Ethnic leaders

By Salai Pi Pi

New Delhi (Mizzima) – Burma's ethnic leaders have said the essence of Unions Day has been degraded and have urged the ruling junta to revise the Constitution to ensure the rights of ethnic people, which will re-establish the true spirit of Union Day.

Dr. Lian Hmung Sakhong, Vice-president of the Ethnic Nationalities Council (ENC) in exile, said the revision of the Constitution and tripartite dialogue with the National League for Democracy (NLD) and ethnic nationalities could revive the true spirit of the Union Day in Burma.

"If the regime wants to see unity, they must revise the junta drafted and endorsed Constitution to ensure the rights of ethnic nationalities," Dr. Sakhong told Mizzima, adding, "The junta should also call for tripartite dialogue with NLD and ethnic groups."

However, in order to hold a tripartite dialogue, Sakhong said, "Initially, the regime must release all political prisoners, including Nobel Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi and Shan ethnic leader Khun Htun Oo."

The ethnic leader's call came following Burmese military supremo Senior General Than Shwe's message on the 62nd anniversary of Union Day, published by the state-run newspaper New Light of Myanmar yesterday.

In his message, Than Shwe said the Union Day marks the signing of the 'Panglong' agreement between Burmese independence architect General Aung San and ethnic leaders to form the Union of Burma in 1947 and urged the people to nurture the Burmese spirit regardless of where they were.

"Only the Union Spirit is true patriotism that will ever protect and safeguard all the national races," the paper quoted Than Shwe as saying.

Sakhong, however, said the Union Spirit could not be obtained in the absence of equal rights for ethnic nationalities. "Words are not enough, and action needs to be taken," he said.

Meanwhile, veteran Arakanese politician Aye Thar Aung said, with the military junta's Constitution, which largely fails to recognize the rights of ethnic nationalities, unity among all nationalities in Burma is be a dream, which cannot be realized.

"The Constitution will not lead to unity as it failed to include self-determination rights of ethnic groups," said Aye Thar Aung, who is also the Secretary of the Committee Representing People's Parliament (CRPP), a group formed with the Members of Parliament elected in the 1990 election.

"If they [the junta], really want to build unity, the Constitution must include the equal rights of ethnic nationalities," Aye Thar Aung added.

He added that the regime by refusing to accept proposals from ethnic representatives on equal rights at the National Convention, proved their unwillingness to recognize the rights of ethnic nationalities.

Burma, on February 12, will mark the 62nd anniversary of the Union Day, on which date General Aung San and ethnic leaders in Panglong Town of Shan state, signed the historic 'Panglong Agreement' to form the Union of Burma.

General Aung San along with his eight other colleagues were assassinated on July 19, 1947. However, Burma gained independence from the British colonial rule on January 4, 1948.

Barely a month later, the ethnic Karen group began to revolt demanding rights of self-determination. Burma has been plagued with civil war since then.

The ethnic nationalities' aspiration of a federal state was further crushed in 1962, when General Ne Win took over in a military coup and re-wrote the Constitution in 1974. The new Constitution introduced a unitary system and denied the existence of a multi-party system, giving way only to Ne Win's Burmese Socialist Programme Party (BSPP).

"We do not want a unity that is forcibly built without regard for the rights of ethnics' self-determination," Sakhong said.

READ MORE---> Equal rights essential to revive Union Spirit: Ethnic leaders...

Humanism is more important than the term 'Rohingya': NCUB

By Ko Wild

Chiang Mai (Mizzima) – There is debate among Burma's military regime, some activists and some sectors of the ethnic nationalities on the existence of 'Rohingya' in Burma.

The Rohingya reached Thailand, Indonesia and India from Burma by crossing sea in small boats. They claimed that they took the risk of their lives for seeking a better life after suffering unbearable racial, religion, social and economic repression inflicted upon them by Burmese junta.

Despite the denial by the Burmese junta on the existence of Rohingya as an ethnic race in Burma, Thai government is now saying it wants to discuss the issue of Rohingya coming from Burma informally at ASEAN meeting to be held in Thailand in the last week of this month.

Mizzima reporter Ko Wild interviewed an exiled umbrella orgnization 'National Council of Union of Burma' (NCUB) Joint General Secretary (1) Myint Thein on his opinion on the use of term 'Rohingya' and how to treat them and how to tackle the consequences of the boatpeople. This interview:

Q: The Rohingya boatpeople coming from Burma and Bangladesh arrived in Thai, Malaysia, Indonesia and India. The news reports said some of them were arrested and some tortured. And also we can see some countries do not want to accept them. What is the opinion of NCUB on this issue?

A: Whatsoever they said, they are human beings. They are not animals regardless of their name, Rohingya or whatever they are. I would not like to focus on this term. We should focus on this issue on the fundamental causes such as why they suffer, why they face such an unfortunate situation etc. The fundamental causes mean these people are seeking their way out by all possible means under the current circumstances of objective political situation, crises and difficulties they are facing. This is the main point.

Many of them faced trouble in Thai territory recently. Some of them died. This issue is really a humanitarian issue. We should rescue them on the basis of humanitarianism. And also the fundamental and root causes of this issue should be searched in a concerted effort among all the countries concerned, Burma and regional countries, through negotiation and consultation.

Moreover the UN Human Right Commission should take all necessary action by emphasizing on this issue. We see this issue like not on Rohingya, Muslim and Buddhism. We don't want to see this issue in this way.

Q: One of the ethnic leaders in the democracy struggle told Mizzima that the 'Rohingya' appeared only in 1950s based on 'Mujahit' rebels from western Burma. But nowadays the media, UN and other countries use the term 'Rohingya'. What is your opinion on the usage of the proper term?

A: As for NCUB, we have not yet adopted concrete policy on this issue of Rohingya, the usage of the term Rohingya and whether they are Rohingya or not. But in our opinion, there are many ethnicity and racial issues in Burma inherited from the past and history, some of which were deliberately created by sowing confusion and complexity. All these issues can be resolved only when we can restore genuine peace in our country. If we emphasize these unresolved issues first, we will ignore and overlook the ground reality of people who are currently in trouble. We should not see this issue based on racial and religious grounds. We must do our best to resolve the current sufferings they are facing. This is the common phenomenon for the people who are migrating between two countries to and fro then later produced confusion and complexity on their ethnicity. By focusing and overemphasizing on this issue in this way, we will lead to communal riot. It should not be like that.

Q: Both naturalized citizen in Muslim faith and those who have not yet been granted citizenship living in Rakhine State are suffering severe repression unleashed by the SPDC. What type of works the humanitarian workers should do to stop racial hatred and repression?

A: This is the work we are consistently doing. Any raceregardless of where they are living, in Burma or in any other country, should not lose their fundamental rights. All human beings shall enjoy the human dignity and all human rights they are entitled to. Resolving their racial issue left by history is another case. All these issues will remain unresolved until they can exercise the democratic procedure in resolving these issues. I think UN should handle all these disputed ethnicity issues.

Q: Currently the Rohingya reports are making headlines in the media. There are both optimistic and pessimistic views on them and heated debate among them. Under these circumstances, do you think SPDC can start a communal riot by exploiting the current situation?

A: We absolutely believe the SPDC will do whatever things which will benefit to them in perpetuation of military dictatorship and clinging to power. If they see the current situation and circumstances are the best opportunity for them, they will exploit them certainly. That's what I see in this situation.

Q: Like other fallouts of Burma problems and controversies such as refugees and migrant workers, do you think the Rohingya issue has also become the regional issue and regional threat?

A: It's difficult to say exclusively on the Rohingya issue. But it is very clear to see that under the current situation and circumstances in Burma, there are many refugees who take refuge on foreign soil, millions of migrant workers working in Thailand alone and illegal and undocumented immigrants in those countries. All of them are of different faiths and races. All of these illegal migrant people will certainly be a burden to the host countries to some extent. We cannot say who will give trouble to the host countries and who will not. We see the root cause of all these problems originated from the problems in Burma.

READ MORE---> Humanism is more important than the term 'Rohingya': NCUB...

Rogue Agent betrayed Burmese rebels

By Salai Pi Pi

New Delhi (Mizzima)- India's leading Human Rights lawyer Nandita Haksar said there are more political motives than legal reasons for India to have detained 34 Burmese rebels, who are currently lodged in Kolkata's Presidency jail. They have been in Indian jails for the past 11 years.

Haksar, who have been advocating the case of the Burmese rebels, said, "I have tried to explore the politics of this case, I don't think that they are in jail for legal reasons but for political reasons."

Haksar's comment came in a form of a book, titled 'Rogue Agent', which details the case of the 34 Burmese rebels and the politics behind their arrest and accusations of India's betrayal to the rebels.

Speaking after the formal release of her book by Burmese exiled Member of Parliament, Dr. Tint Swe, Haksar said an Indian military intelligence officer had played a vital role in betraying the Burmese rebels, who were arrested by Indian authorities in February 11, 1998 at Landfall Island of the Andaman and Nicobar islands.

"It is India's military intelligence officer, who betrayed the Burmese freedom fighters," said Haksar adding that the rebels on Wednesday completed 11 years in detention without proper trial.

Gathered at New Delhi's Jantar Mantar Park near the Parliament, at least a hundred Burmese pro-democracy activists on Wednesday staged a protest demanding India provide a fair trial to the Burmese rebels and release them immediately.

Leech Operation
The rebels, belonging to Burma's Arakan and Karen ethnics, said they were betrayed by Indian Military Intelligence, who promised them a base at Landfall Island in Andaman and Nicobar.

According to the rebels, six of their key leaders were killed brutally by Indian Military Intelligence upon arriving at the landfall and the rest were arrested.

The Indian defence ministry later claimed that a huge consignment of arms and ammunition were seized during a joint operation codenamed 'Operation Leech' and charged the rebels with gun running.

The rebels were then kept at Port Blair without trial for eight years. But later in 2006 October, the Supreme Court of India, after the rebels' petition, ordered the rebels to be transferred to Kolkata and to conduct a day-to-day trial.

The Rogue Agent
Haksar, who has tirelessly followed the case of the 34 rebels, in her book – 'Rogue Agent' – reveals that an Indian Military Intelligence officer named Lt. Col V.S. Grewal as the man masterminding the plot to betray the Burmese rebels.

According to her Grewal had negotiated with the rebels, mainly the Arakanese resistant group, to allow them a base in an Island in Andaman and Nicobar Islands in return for monitoring Chinese naval bases in Coco Island.

But Grewal, who also had good relationship with the Burmese military regime, betrayed the rebels on their arrival at the Landfall Island and killed six of their leaders in cold blood and arrested the others.

According to the book, Lt. Col V. S Grewal, who is a resident of Chandigarh, is being spotted in Rangoon and is enjoying the military government's favour after the operation against the rebels.

Haksar, however, said with the Indian military establishment turning down requests to allow access to Grewal, he cannot be working alone in his plot to betray the Burmese rebels.

"If Grewal had been working alone why would the Indian Army want to protect him? Would it not be better to hand him over and put the blame on one rogue agent rather than get into this long-drawn controversy?" Haksar asked in her book.

Haksar in her book also details how India had switched its stand on Burma and abandoned its support to Burmese pro-democracy movement under its claimed 'National Interest'.

The Rebels
The 34 Burmese rebels, who are now on a trial in a court in Kolkata, reportedly went into a hunger strike on Wednesday to protest against 11 years of detention.

The trial, according to one of their lawyers Akshay Kumar Sharma, is nearing a close as the prosecution has several times failed to produce key witnesses as demanded by the court.

But with their case drawing to a close, the lawyer said the rebels will need a refugee status from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) or will likely be continued to be detained or face deportation to Burma under India's Foreigners Act.

Earlier the Czech Republic and East Timor has in principle agreed to accept them in their country but that would still require the UNHCR's recommendation.

READ MORE---> Rogue Agent betrayed Burmese rebels...

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