Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Burma’s Own Potemkin Village

The Irrawaddy News

RANGOON — Nearly half the inhabitants of the village of Thayet Thone Bin died in Cyclone Nargis, but lucky survivors had double reason to thank their own good fortune. Burma’s Energy Minister, Brig-Gen Lun Thi, was born there—and his patronage appears to have guaranteed the village special attention in the post-cyclone relief and reconstruction effort.

Twenty new houses, a school and a library were built amid the ruins. Five mechanical plows, four fishing boats, water-purification equipment, two pumps and a community TV set were delivered to the village.

Relief teams were accompanied by TV crews, who created a propaganda success story reminiscent of the fake Potemkin settlements reputedly built to fool the Russian empress Catherine II during a visit to the Crimea in 1787.

Thayet Thone Bin, in Kunchankone Township, became such a showpiece that it served as the background for other TV reports about the success of the cyclone relief effort. Road signs at the entrance to the village were replaced by others bearing other names in a bid to show that villages throughout the region were also recovering well.

"Our village has become a kind of film studio,” said one woman. “People filmed for the TV reports are given new clothes to wear in front of the cameras. Soldiers are based here and are filmed helping us in the fields. We’re even filmed reading at the new library and watching the community TV.”

Apart from infrastructure assistance, the people of Thayet Thone Bin have received only basic relief items and are living on handouts of rice.

Daw Mya Mya has received two blankets, a mosquito net, a set of cooking utensils, a rain-water container and some other items. She has no money and says she might have to sell her relief supplies at the local market in order to raise cash for the merit-making ceremonies so important to Burma’s Buddhists.

The ceremonies involve making donations to local monasteries and monks to ensure peace for the souls of departed family members. The tradition is so strong that families often make severe financial sacrifices in order to make merit for dead loved ones.

One 60-year-old who goes by the name of Grandpa Nyo is so short of money that he is asking friends to contribute to his merit-making ceremonies on the first anniversary of the cyclone deaths of his two sons.

“I couldn’t afford to pay for their funerals, so I’d like now to make some offering to the monks on the first anniversary of their deaths,” he said.

His two sons, aged 30 and 14, died when their fishing boat sank in the cyclone.

Grandpa Nyo’s 50-year-old wife explained that merit-making ceremonies were necessary to assure the souls of their dead sons peace and a return to a better life.

The couple’s home was flattened by the cyclone and they live now under the tarpaulin roof of a makeshift hut in Rangoon Division’s Kun Chan Kone Township. Their daughter supports them with the income she receives from selling lottery tickets.

Ko Kyaw Khin and Ma Pyone Pyone Yi, who live in the Irrawaddy delta’s Dadeye Township are also saving money for merit-making ceremonies for their mother and daughter, victims of Cyclone Nargis.

Their family lost their fishing boat and its nets in the cyclone. Relief agencies gave them a replacement boat but no nets. Now they fish in cooperation with a family owning nets, but the meager income has to be shared. Their predicament is reportedly a common problem in fishing communities struggling to recover from the effects of the cyclone.

The importance of making merit on the first anniversary of the cyclone and the death of family members is forcing many survivors to overcome their resistance to returning to their devastated villages,

Ko Zaw Zaw left Padauk Kone village in Labutta Township for Rangoon after the cyclone destroyed his livelihood in the fishing industry. His father died in the cyclone, and he is forcing himself to face the pain of returning home in order to make merit.

“My younger brother, who still lives in the village, believes my father’s spirit cannot be released until we have made merit,” he said. “We couldn't do it after three months, nor after six months. But I will definitely do it on the first anniversary of his death.”

His determination to make merit, whatever the cost, is shared by a farmer who lost his sister in the cyclone. Most of his land was spoilt by sea water, reducing paddy yields by 75 percent, and he owes money to the bank. Nevertheless, he is putting money aside for merit-making.

READ MORE---> Burma’s Own Potemkin Village...

Junta meets leaders of ethnic ceasefire groups

by Myo Gyi

Ruili (Mizzima) – In a renewed effort to persuade ceasefire armed groups to join them, Burma’s military junta on Tuesday met with six Sino-Burmese border based ethnic armed ceasefire groups.

The junta’s Military Affairs Security (MAS) Chief Maj. Gen. Ye Myint and regional command commanders met ethnic leaders of six ceasefire groups on Tuesday, separately at the same time in their respective regions.

Northern Command Commander Maj. Gen. Soe Win met 'Kachin Independence Organization' (KIO) and the 'New Democratic Army' (Kachin) – (NDA-K) from Kachin State at its command HQ in Myitkyina, separately in the morning and evening respectively, political and military analyst Aung Kyaw Zaw, based on the Sino-Burma border told Mizzima.

The ceasefire groups from Shan State (North) namely 'United Wa State Solidarity Party' (UWSP), 'Shan State Army (North) (SSA-N), 'Myanmar National Democratic Allied Army' (MNDAA) and 'National Democratic Allied Army' (NDAA) met MAS Chief Maj. Gen. Ye Myint and the Northeast Command Commander separately.

The UWSP held its meeting in Tangyan, Shan State (North) and the 171st Military Region met in Kengtung, eastern Shan State separately. Aung Kyaw Zaw said that it was unusual and significant to see the UWSP meeting in Tangyan, rather than the usual venue of Lashio.

"The Northern Command Commander was due to meet KIA on April 28 in the morning at about 9 a.m. or 10 a.m. The Zakhung Teng Ying group will meet at about 1:30 p.m. As for the Northeast Command, the Command Commander will meet SSA-N at Ruili Guesthouse in Lashio and Laokaing Region Commander Brig. Gen. Win Maung will meet the Kokang group in Laokaing in the evening," he said.

Maj. Gen. Ye Myint met the most powerful ceasefire group UWSA, in Tangyang in the morning and met the 171st military region in southern Wa State and arranged to meet NDAA in Kengtung, it was learnt.

The junta informed these ceasefire groups in advance to bring the military commanders of their groups along with their leaders.
(JEG's: the junta gave them an order :) )

Aung Kyaw Zaw said that it had been suggested that the discussions between them would focus on military affairs before the ensuing 2010 elections and there would be no concrete results from these meetings. These ceasefire groups would continue in keeping with their own plans in the meantime.

The speeches delivered at the functions by their respective leaders revealed that the ceasefire groups were unlikely to accept being disarming and reorganization of their forces. The unilaterally drafted and approved 2008 Constitution was also totally unacceptable to them.

They would discuss only the general issue of reorganizing the ethnic armed forces as border security and administrative forces under the respective military commands. This is one step lower than the junta's previous demand of laying down arms. The conclusion drawn from the non-existence of open confrontation by the ceasefire groups against the junta, that they would do whatever the junta said, is totally wrong, Aung Kyaw Zaw said.

"It is likely that some leaders will be alienated from their respective organizations and they will enter politics by forming a political party. Some would be with their forces and it is unlikely that they will surrender their forces to the junta within 1 or 2 years. Some organizations such as KDA and Zakhung Teng Ying would do such a thing. But I do not think other organizations would do any such thing," he said.

Some leaders from ethnic Kachin armed groups in Kachin State are planning to form a Kachin State Progressive Party and those who join this party must resign from their mother organizations.

The current meetings suggest the dilemma among them. For the ceasefire groups, reigniting armed resistance at this moment is both impractical and impossible.

The ceasefire groups were unavailable for comment.

READ MORE---> Junta meets leaders of ethnic ceasefire groups...

NLD sets pre-conditions for role in elections

by Mungpi

New Delhi (Mizzima) - Burma’s main opposition party – the National League for Democracy – on Wednesday said it was willing to contest the forthcoming 2010 elections if the military regime releases political prisoners, and makes proper amendments to its Constitution.

Nyan Win, the NLD spokesperson, said the party would decide on contesting the 2010 elections only if the government unconditionally released political prisoners, including Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, Tin Oo Khun Tun Oo, Sai Nyunt Lwin, Min Ko Naing and Ko Ko Gyi, and reviewed and amended the 2008 Constitution.

“We reiterate our call to the junta to amend the Constitution and for the release of political prisoners, and then we will decide on contesting the 2010 elections,” Nyan Win told Mizzima.

The NLD voiced its stand in the “Shwegonedine Declaration” released on Wednesday, at the conclusion of a two-day plenary meeting between party leaders in Rangoon on April 28 and 29.

The NLD, which won a landslide victory in the last general elections in 1990, said so far they had not prepared for the ensuing elections, but would do so once the government responded to their request of reviewing the Constitution and amending the contents that were undemocratic.

“These points are the pre-conditions for us to be able to contest the elections,” Nyan Win added.

The party also called on Junta supremo Snr. Gen Than Shwe to embark on a dialogue with detained opposition leader Daw Aung San Suu Kyi.

Burma’s ruling military junta, as part of its seven-step roadmap, approved a new Constitution in a referendum in May 2008 and declared it would hold a general election in 2010.

However, the opposition, including the NLD have said, the junta’s Constitution was drafted unilaterally and does not reflect the peoples’ aspirations. The NLD has called for a review of the Constitution and the amendment of its contents.

But a few critics have said, the NLD should realize that it needs to take a clear-cut stand on the junta’s proposed 2010 elections, as the current stand could confuse the people.

Aung Naing Oo, a Thailand-based Burmese political analyst, said, the NLD should take a clear stand on whether they would contest the 2010 elections, because having no clear stand reduces their credibility.

Aung Naing Oo said, “If the NLD considers itself a revolutionary group, then they should clearly reject the junta’s elections on grounds that it would be manipulated, but if they consider themselves a political party, it would be wise for them to contest the elections.”

But, with the junta not wanting the NLD to take part in the election, the party’s pre-conditions for joining the elections could be serving the junta’s interest, as the junta was unlikely to fulfill them, Aung Naing Oo added.

“The junta would obviously prefer not having the opposition contesting the elections. So the NLD’s current stand of demanding pre-conditions could be serving the junta’s interests,” he said.

But Nyo Ohn Myint, in-charge of the exiled NLD-Liberated Area’s Foreign Affairs Committee, said going ahead without the NLD would put a big question mark on the junta’s legitimacy, as the NLD was the legitimate winner of the 1990 elections.

“The junta would lack legitimacy, if the NLD does not contest the elections,” he said.

He said, the NLD was clear in its stand in setting pre-conditions before it could decide on joining the elections, as there was no guarantee that the junta would honour the election results.

“Without all these pre-conditions, nobody can assure that the junta will honour the election results just like they did not in the 1990 elections,” he said.

He said, with the NLD declaring their pre-conditions, it was only fair to give some space and time to the junta to think it over before the NLD could make another move by declaring their stand on the elections – to reject or to contest.

Aung Shwe, NLD’s Chairman, in his opening speech on Tuesday urged NLD members to brainstorm on the junta’s elections and to decide what the party should do.

Nyan Win said, the two-day meeting at the party headquarters in Rangoon’s Shwegonedine had been crucial as they were able to come up with a unified stand. He said, it was the fifth such meeting that the NLD had been able to hold in the past 20 years.

READ MORE---> NLD sets pre-conditions for role in elections...

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