Monday, March 30, 2009

Ethnic Karen armed group announces new, official presence in Three Pagodas Pass

By Mon Son and Blai Mon, IMNA

An ethnic Karen armed group has opened a new office in Three Pagodas Pass. The new presence in the border town follows reports that the group would be given control of territory for a new “economic development zone” after agreeing to turn its soldiers into a border guard force for the Burmese army.

Yesterday morning, the KNU/KNLA Peace Council (KPC) formally opened an office at a meeting with other armed ceasefire groups and officials from the Burmese government. The meeting, held at an office announced as the “KPC Communications Office” on a signboard outside, began at 8am and ended before lunch.

Prior to opening the office, the KPC had no official presence in Three Pagodas Pass. How the opening of the office was related to recent reports of the economic zone and border force agreement could not be confirmed; IMNA could obtain no comment from the KPC.

Details of the economic zone have also remained sketchy. Last month, sources in Three Pagodas reported to IMNA that the group had been granted 100 acres adjacent to territory officially controlled by the New Mon State Party (NMSP) since the Mon group agreed to a ceasefire in 1995. The agreement followed reports published by the Irrawaddy that the KPC would act as government controlled border guards.

The KPC said that their new office will be for economic activities, said a source at the meeting. No mentions of the levying of taxes or creation of KPC border guards were made, added the source.

Three other ethnic cease-fire groups operate with official sanction in the Three Pagodas area, raising questions about how the new KPC will fit into the existing order. Representatives of the groups, known as the Democratic Karen Buddhist Army (DKBA), the Karen Peace Front (KPF) and the NMSP all attended the meeting, along with officials from the Three Pagodas Pass Township Peace and Development Council and the Sa Ya Pa Military Intelligence.

The DKBA and the KPF collect taxes inside Three Pagodas Pass Town, while both groups plus the NMSP and Karen National Union/Karen National Liberation Army (KNU/KNLA) – which has yet to agree to a ceasefire – operate checkpoints and tolls along area travel routes. The NMSP, too, has officially controlled territory near Three Pagodas Pass since agreeing to a ceasefire in 1995.

The DKBA, KPF and KPC were all formed after splitting from the KNU/KNLA in 1994, 1997 and 2007 respectively; the KNU/KNLA continues an armed insurgency began at the dawn of Burma’s independence in 1948.

“The KPC opening a new office will not make a problem,” said a source in the KPF. “The KPC will also have a chance to do their own economic activities in Three Pagodas Pass. The NMSP, KPC, KPF and DKBA will all do their own projects too – there does not need to be conflict.”

Three Pagodas Pass residents are less sanguine, at least about the prospects of paying taxes to group on top of already steep demands by government and cease-fire groups alike. “If they open an office, they will open a checkpoint later. It is sure,” a truck owner who makes his living transporting goods to and from Three Pagodas Pass told IMNA. “And we will have to pay more taxes than before.”

“The KPC does not only want to open an office and do business,” said another resident. “They also want to extend their area.”

Space for operation of new groups was not so freely abundant just 6 months ago, however, when the KPC was unable to get permission to set up a road checkpoint to tax travel about 50 miles away near Kya-inn-seik-kyi, Karen State. “We can’t allow the council to set up a checkpoint. There are already too many groups operating in the area,” IMNA quoted a government military source in Three Pagodas Pass during the first week of October. “The peace council delegation already left Three Pagoda Pass, and will retreat from the Kya-inn-seik-kyi area.”

There have also been rumors in Three Pagodas that the KPC has been struggling to finalize its special economic zone, for which there has been no official announcement.

Earlier this month, a source in the KPF told IMNA that the KPC delegation that traveled to Moulmein to obtain official permission for the economic zone was refused on the grounds that the government does not control the territory in question. A source in the NMSP next door, however, maintains that the land is in fact government controlled.

Rumors about the location of the proposed zone continue, with sources in Three Pagodas Pass saying it is now to be near Taung Wine quarter, just outside of Three Pagodas Pass Town. In February, a KPC officer had told IMNA that the group had been granted the “full amount” of what it wanted, including the territory adjacent to the NMSP.

READ MORE---> Ethnic Karen armed group announces new, official presence in Three Pagodas Pass...

Political prisoners transferred despite worsening health

(DVB)–Imprisoned National League for Democracy member Win Mya Mya has undergone a prison transfer for the second time in a week amid reports that she is in declining health.

She was imprisoned in September 2007 along with five others under charges of sedition after joining the monk-led protests. She was sentenced to 12 years in prison after a court case held inside Mandalay jail.

She was transferred from Mandalay jail on 22 March and then transferred again last Saturday to Pu-tao jail in the far-north of Burma.

Her family members were notified of the transfers but learnt of them from local people, her brother Ba Soe said.

"NLD members living along the Mandalay-Myikyina railroad said they saw Daw Win Mya Mya on the train,” her brother Ba Soe said.

“She is suffering from nerve diseases caused by the [2003] Depayin massacre and her blood level is low and she has diabetes."

The Depayin massacre occurred in May 2003 when around 70 NLD members were killed by a government-backed militia.

Win Mya Mya maintains her defiance despite her appeal being rejected, he added, claiming she said:

"I am being sent to where I deserve for my works. You live one day, you die one day. I don’t care if they sent me to the moon."

Meanwhile, 88 generation student leader Min Ko Naing is suffering from immobility in his hands and high blood pressure due to lack of exercise, his sister Kyi Kyi Nyunt said.

“He is not allowed to take a walk,” she said. “He is not sweating, so they ask him to jump.

“He only develops pains, but no sweats, he said in a letter.”

There is no regular doctor at Kengtung jail in eastern Burma where he is being held, Kyi Kyi Nyunt said.

In other news, 13 people including members of National League for Democracy, the 88 generation students and aid-workers for victims of cyclone Nargis were given prison sentences last Monday ranging from three to seven years.

Four cyclone aid-workers, Yin Yin Wai, Tin Tin Cho, Myat Thu and Nemo Hlaing, were sentenced to three years each under the Unlawful Association Act.

88 Generation Students member Myo Thant was sentenced to two years’ imprisonment under sedition charges.

Three people who were arrested in links with the 88 generation students; Htin Aung, Than Htun Zin and Tin Htun, were sentenced to five years’ imprisonment each under the unlawful association act for allegedly forming an unlawful association.

All sentences were passed during court cases held inside Insein prison.

Reporting by Ye May Aung and Nam Kham Kaew

READ MORE---> Political prisoners transferred despite worsening health...

Lawyers group request abolition of Unlawful Association Act

(DVB)–A Thailand-based Burmese lawyers group has requested that Burma’s ruling junta abolish the Unlawful Association Act under which many political dissidents have been sentenced to imprisonment.

According to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners-Burma, the Act has so far been used by the ruling State Peace and Development Council to sentence 365 political activists.

It is used as a charge against people alleged to have connections with groups deemed illegal under Burmese law. Even members of parties not listed as unlawful, however, were being targeted, said U Myo, a legal analyst for Burma Lawyers Council.

“The SPDC is also jailing people [under the Act] from groups that are not listed as unlawful associations, such as [opposition party] National League for Democracy,” he said.

“That is highly inappropriate under legal terms.”

U Myo added that the Act, which was endorsed by the British occupiers of Burma in 1908, was no longer suitable.

Furthermore, he said, the junta is yet to revoke declaration of Unlawful Association upon armed groups that have cease-fire agreements with the government.

“According to what was written in the law, the junta has to declare that these groups are no more listed under Unlawful Associations when they make a cease-fire agreement them,” said U Myo.

“They have not done it yet and that shows they are being dishonest.”

On 18 March, lawyer Pho Phyu was sentenced to four years imprisonment under the Unlawful Associations Act.

He had been representing four farmers who were arrested in January after they complained to the International Labour Organisation of land seizures by the military.

According to AAPP there are around 17 lawyers serving sentences in Burmese prisons.

Reporting by Aye Nai

READ MORE---> Lawyers group request abolition of Unlawful Association Act...

General’s Promotion Signals Power Struggles at the Top

The Irrawaddy News

Burma’s top-ranking generals know that they must hang together or risk hanging separately. But that doesn’t mean that there are no real rivalries among the men who rule the country with an iron fist.

When Snr-Gen Than Shwe promoted Thiha Thura Tin Aung Myint Oo to the rank of four-star general last Wednesday, two days before Armed Forces Day, he was not just rewarding a junior colleague for his loyal service: he was undercutting potential rivals for power.

Burma’s three four-star generals: Shwe Mann, Thein Sein and Tin Aung Myint Oo (Photo: AP)

Tin Aung Myint Oo, who is now one of only three four-star generals in the country, is reportedly close to the regime’s second-most powerful figure, Vice Snr-Gen Maung Aye. By promoting him, however, Than Shwe has ensured that Tin Aung Myint Oo’s first loyalty will now be to the senior general.

“This is a power struggle between Than Shwe and Maung Aye,” said an observer in Rangoon.

Tin Aung Myint Oo’s promotion comes as no surprise. He was often seen accompanying Maung Aye and powerful commanders, including the air defense department and intelligence chiefs, on trips around the country.

Burmese military observers suggest that Tin Aung Myint Oo’s promotion marks the rise of a third powerful faction to rival those led by Gen Thura Shwe Mann, the coordinator of Special Operations, Army, Navy and Air Force, and Lt-General Myint Swe, chief of the Bureau of Special Operation No 5.

All three groups now vie for Than Shwe’s favor, even as they seek to keep each other from rising any higher within the inner circle.

Tin Aung Myint Oo, who is in his early 60s, is the fifth-ranking general in the military hierarchy. More importantly, he holds the title of Secretary 1 of the ruling military council and has long been groomed for a prominent position in the junta.

In 1995, he was appointed head of the No 1 Military Operation Command, based in Kyaukme Township in northern Shan State, as a brigadier-general. He became commander of the Northeast Military Region in Lashio in 1997. Ten years later, when Gen Thein Sein became prime minister, Tin Aung Myint Oo took over as Secretary 1.

Burmese observers say that Tin Aung Myint Oo is a hardliner who is skeptical of offers of foreign humanitarian assistance and UN involvement in the Cyclone Nargis relief effort. He recently visited the cyclone-hit Irrawaddy delta and has been named deputy head of the National Disaster Preparedness Central Committee.

According to these observers, Than Shwe watches Shwe Mann, Tin Aung Myint Oo and Myint Swe closely to decide who will become the next Burmese military chief.

Sources inside Burma have noted that all three are close to Than Shwe’s family and loyal to the top commander, making it unlikely that any one of them would stage coup against him.

But Than Shwe doesn’t just prize loyalty towards himself: he also likes to cultivate mutual mistrust among his protégés.

At the moment, the most noteworthy rivalry is that between Tin Aung Myint Oo and Shwe Mann, another Than Shwe favorite who is said to be close to several businessmen and scholars involved in getting humanitarian assistance to the cyclone-affected areas of the delta.

Nyo Ohn Myint, head of the foreign affairs office of the National League for Democracy (Liberated Area), said that Tin Aung Myint Oo’s promotion was a classic Than Shwe maneuver.

“He wants to make competition between Shwe Mann and Tin Aung Myint Oo,” said Nyo Ohn Myint. “Than Shwe doesn’t want to rely on just one person, Shwe Mann.”

READ MORE---> General’s Promotion Signals Power Struggles at the Top...

The Consequences of Elitism

The Irrawaddy News

In the mid-1990s, Burma began to see the emergence of a new class of foreign-educated civilian elites at home and abroad. Many Burmese youths on the border had decided to settle in a third country and Western embassies in Rangoon started to sponsor study trips and professional training for notable local personalities in media and social work who would later be known under the banner of “civil society.”

By the early 2000s, the ruling junta had learned how to cleverly manipulate different stakeholders for its own strategic interests by allowing them well-calculated and limited political space instead of merely using crude methods of oppression.

After Depayin, a few leading Western-trained Burmese activists came to reckon that there was no prospect of ending the deadlock in the traditional paradigm of the conflict between the junta on one side and the mainstream opposition led by Aung San Suu Kyi on the other.

Renouncing sanctions and advocating Track Two diplomacy, they came to highlight the role of moderates in national reconciliation. This, in effect, seemed to be the beginning of a movement which would be joined a few years later by like-minded intellectuals, veteran bureaucrats, media people, NGO careerists, ethnic peacemakers and business people in and outside Burma.

Regular scholarly seminars and increased networking among the best-trained Burmese have finally given the movement an air of elitism. Ideological underpinnings can influence elite behaviour and ambitions. Is this movement just an elitist maneuver of masterminding strategic assumptions in closed-door meetings? How much are these new elites prepared for different scenarios of political and social change in Burma?

The movement obviously is not monolithic. Media organizations have attempted to pin down some of its voices as Third Force or Third Group. Policy circles want to promote it as “emergent civil society” or “alternative elites” that differ from military and opposition elites.

The third force can be understood in two different ways. The first one is to see it as a movement that is agnostic about the traditional power struggle between the military regime and pro-democracy oppositions. The second is to understand it as a force which would pursue its interests by collaborating (or cooperating) with status quo powers in a “given” political process. Two other forces are hardliners refusing to work with the regime and hardcore activists aiming to participate in the process as a battleground for further confrontations.

The third force therefore shows more political ambition in the second interpretation. Empirically, the process means the Road Map and 2010 elections. Several third forcers accordingly view the 2008 constitution as a “transitional document,” and the future legislature as a substantial political platform.Their optimism has been reinforced by certain theories of “pacted transition” that focus on agency in the context of elite bargaining. They apparently take structural conditions only lightly and argue that 2010 will be a “structural shift.”

This second definition of the third force not only presents analytical problems, but also makes it unattractive. For one reason, the idea can accommodate a myriad of agents ranging from pro-Road Map clans, disgruntled former opposition members, veteran and seasoned politicians to ambitious kingmakers and power brokers of all stripes who would receive relative gains in the new system. This conceptual ground will be untenable if one group wants to exclude the others on value judgement.

For another, political leanings and independence of these groups vary greatly, raising the question of the definition of “moderates.” In a democratic transition, moderates will not be marked with “moderate” sign on their foreheads. Were the handful of former National League for Democracy MP-elects who decided to remain at the National Convention moderates? Will an outspoken, democratic representative highly critical of the regime’s dishonourable policies be considered too confrontational and branded as a hardliner? Will institutional contexts allow such a citizen to make it to Burma’s legislature and survive?

The regional political atmosphere indicates that Burma is moving in the direction of an “authoritarian transition”, but without enlightened leadership and respect of liberal values. Against this backdrop, domestic civilian elites will have a role to play. However, the reality on the ground may not be as simple as a few select strands of strategic thoughts, speculations, and wishful thinking that some of them have chosen to believe.

One of the striking features of the third force intellectualism is its optimism about Burma’s new constitution. Many third forcers choose to overlook the fact that the 2008 constitution was never meant to be a “transitional document” by the ruling military. Burma’s constitutional conundrum actually runs deeper than conceding 25 percent of legislative seats to the armed forces. The amendment procedure is purposely made rigid and difficult. Even if an amendment in favor of further democratization is procedurally successful, the commander-in-chief can stage a coup d’état under the pretext of preserving the constitution.

In terms of rights and freedom, the constitution adopts a parsimonious approach. Even the most fundamental rights are at the mercy of the whim of the regime which it vaguely refers to as “laws”. In post-colonial, developing countries, the most disturbing problem is the system of “rule by law” in the guise of “rule of law.” In such a system, governments may use any law, colonial or post-independence, arbitrarily to suppress political dissent. Mainly identifying democracy with elections and constitutions, some third-force strategists make irrelevant comparisons between consolidated democracies and illiberal regimes, magnifying checks and balances, real and imagined, in the latter.

Commonsensical reading of the country’s history implies that structural conditions and the essence of the Union Parliament after 2010 will be similar to those in the National Convention or in the Burmese Socialist Programme Party-era People’s Assembly. The most likely scenario will be representatives or delegates reading out the scripts that have been prepared in advance and authorized by centralized committees. The constitution requires a minimum of only one session of the Union legislature per year. With military representatives who also are public servants, one session might not be able to run for more than a few months. In fact, the constitution does not even need legislators to make laws. Union level organizations can also initiate a bill.

Thus, in the years that follow 2010, Burma’s alternative elites will be judged not by how much fascinating ideas about elite agreement they possess, but by how much they can achieve inside rigid and illiberal institutions. It is the essence which really matters. The ideas that disproportionately pay attention only to the form will be no more meaningful than those of Burmese exiles writing one constitution after another or forming one parallel government after another.

Indeed, a variety of elite groups that can closely associate with policy circles have gradually emerged over the past decade. Some enjoy cosy relationships with the military top brass and have come to believe they can actually influence the men in uniform. Overestimating their own ability and underestimating the psychological game the regime plays with them, they ignore important aspects of societal attitudes and mindsets which constitute the nation’s political culture. For these pseudo-political Brahmans, lobbying, networking, and tea-leaves reading on military elites have become rites and rituals.

Elitist movements downplay mass preferences, and the correlation between politics and passion. Yet, how will it be possible to explain the choice of political prisoners prepared to spend several years in prison for their beliefs? Why are some activists taking great personal risks to engage in specific civic movements?

Burma has a paradoxical political culture that oscillates between two extremes. At one end lies the “zero sum” mindset which sees everything from an “absolute gain” perspective. On the other, there is lax accommodation which allows ample space for contradictory thoughts and actions. The tension between them seemed to have created both radical breaks and unresolved conflicts in the nation’s history. Under oppressive regimes, Burmese political elites who tried to change or undermine the system from “within” never had much success. They mostly became ineffective and unresponsive to the people’s inputs with time.

Burmese political culture also has been marked by populism exploited by paternalist elites. A number of pre-war Burmese politicians, who also were elitist conservatives, shrewdly ran their campaigns on populist platforms. The electoral victories of late prime minister U Nu and Aung San Suu Kyi came from their direct appeal to populist roots.

Democratization is a long, evolutionary process. Western consolidated democracies also had to undergo elite-monopolized stages of transition until this was effectively challenged by civil and political rights movements of the 1960s. The fact that there are dynamics of social movements in every political development should not be overlooked. Such dynamics were recurrent about every ten years in Burma under colonial administration and authoritarian regimes. Burma’s road to democracy will be long, but civilian political elites will not have an indefinite tenure to reform decades-old structural conditions. In a future government, they will also be countered by their military colleagues, a highly-opinionated class mostly trained in authoritarian political cultures.

Furthermore, the constitution carries inherent seeds of endless conflicts. The largest and major ethnic groups are left out from the process and military domination has been institutionalized. If third-force elites cannot prevent further escalations of conflicts, violations of human rights, outflows of refugees, and improve livelihoods of the masses over the next ten years, the intellectual excitement they are currently showing for 2010 will be completely in vain.

The emergence and survival of democracy depends not only on economic development but also on certain cultural factors. The latter can be shaped by empowering the people in the form of civic education and democratic values. Burmese society must be transformed from one driven by fear into one driven by wisdom. Without these factors, as in many countries in the region, elites’ disregard or manipulation of the masses will only bring paternalism and crony capitalism, even if Burma can manage to have formal institutions of electoral democracy. In the worst case scenario, Burma will be as poor and unfree under despotic rulers as it is now. After all, third-force intellectuals should know even the worst-case scenarios are useful for strategic calculations.

Arthur Sim is an independent observer on Burmese politics and society.

Maung Wayban Wrote:

Elitism will always be there as long as there are states and political organizations that are designed to deal with millions of people. Even in the so-called ‘consolidated democracies,’ people of non-elite background hardly get into the highest echelon of government, despite the civil rights movement of the 1960s. Elite breeds more elite and that's the way politics is and will always be.

Elite are not called elite when they appeal to the masses, as Aung San or U Nu in the 1940s and the 1950s or Aung San Suu Kyi in the 1990s showed. Burmese political culture has largely been monochromatic. The country never has had a third-force elite as such. For the sake of democratic pluralism, the breakdown of the traditional, consolidated elite into fractured elite groups should be encouraged.

READ MORE---> The Consequences of Elitism...

Immediate talks unlikely between NMSP and junta

by Salai Pi Pi

New Delhi (Mizzima) – A Burmese ethnic Mon ceasefire group, New Mon State Party (NMSP), has denied a rumor of possible further talks in the near future between the organization and Burma’s military junta.

Speaking to Mizzima, Nai Ohn Mange, spokesperson for the NMSP, on Monday said the organization has no exact schedule for continuing talks with Burma’s generals following a secret meeting with junta officials in southeast Burma during the first week of March.

“At present, it is impossible that we are going to have further talks with them [Burmese regime],” Mange said.

The rejection by Mon officials of additional talks came after the exile-based Independent Mon News Agency (IMNA) on Friday carried a report that said the NMSP had decided to meet with Burmese generals on matters related to the upcoming 2010 election.

IMNA also said Lieutenant General Ye Myint pressed delegates of the NMSP to contest the forthcoming polls.

Mange said, regarding the upcoming 2010 election, the NMSP will continue to adhere to the electoral resolution passed at its party congress held on January. The resolution states the party will not consider contesting the election unless the regime allows a review of the newly adopted constitution.

“We will keep on holding to the resolution of the Party Congress,” Mange reaffirmed.

In the first week of March, some central executive committee members of the NMSP, led by party Chairman Nai Rotsa, quietly met with Lieutenant General Ye Myint at Southeast Command headquarters in Mawlamyaing, capital of Mon state.

“They [Burmese generals] asked about the results of the party’s conference. And what sort of help we need from them,” Mange said.

Moreover, he said the junta assured delegates of the Mon ceasefire group in a secret meeting that there would not be pressure for the NMSP to disarm.

“They said we should not be worried concerning disarmament,” maintained Mange. “It seems they were trying to console us.”

However, he added that the regime did not reveal how it expects to treat the NMSP in the future.

The NMSP was formed in July 1958 to fight for self-determination and reached a ceasefire agreement with the Burmese regime in 1995.

After originally attending the National Convention as a ceasefire group, which began in 1993 and only concluded in 2007, the NMSP later in 2005 only participated in proceedings as an observer after arguing that ethnic rights were being ignored during the convention’s proceedings.

Despite opposing the election slated for 2010, the NMSP pledged to maintain the ceasefire agreement with Burmese regime.

“We will keep on maintaining our ceasefire agreement. But, regarding talks, we will never start to offer [further talks],” said Mange.

Meanwhile, Thailand’s Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya said last week that he was asked by the Burmese junta in his last trip to the neighboring country to assist in persuading the Karen National Union, another ethnic army fighting for self-determination, to join the 2010 electoral process.

However, the KNU has since told Mizzima that while the organization is open to peace talks, they will remain firm in their demand for a revision of the junta’s constitution before agreeing to join in next year’s national polling.

READ MORE---> Immediate talks unlikely between NMSP and junta...

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