Sunday, July 12, 2009

Addressing ethnic grievances the key to Burma’s future

Vientiane (mizzima) – The imperative of addressing longstanding grievances held by a multitude of ethnic groups in Burma is the critical obstacle to overcome if the country is to stand any chance of a peaceful and stable transition to democracy, according to a new study by an international think-tank.

The Dutch-based Transnational Institute (TNI), in a July 2009 report entitled Neither War Nor Peace, argues that democracy is likely to remain elusive for all of Burma’s citizens as a result of the lack of political development and pervasiveness of corruption in ethnic regions.

Examining the situation on the 20th anniversary of the initial ceasefire agreements reached between the Burmese military and ethnic insurgents, author Tom Kramer argues “The single most important factor to achieve peace in Burma is the need to find a lasting political solution for the repression and lack of ethnic rights.”

The issue is said to be of pivotal importance at present as Naypyitaw attempts to persuade the various ceasefire groups, seventeen by official tally, to accept a role as “border guards” in a reconfigured Burma following the scheduled 2010 general election.

However, concludes the study, ceasefire groups are likely to remain highly skeptical of the scheme as long as the prevailing environment is perceived as being characterized by an increasing Burmanization of ethnic areas, a lack of input in the political decision making process and insufficient development.

The report is mildly critical of popular sentiments expressed by the Western media and pro-democracy activists, including the debunking of the Panglong Agreement as a missed opportunity for national unity.

Instead, Kramer prospers that in its non-inclusive form and ill-defined statutes, the Panglong Agreement of 1947 actually abetted in paving the way for the eventual ethnic hostility that has come to ravish the history of modern Burma.

Additionally, ethnic parties are said to be wary of the main pro-democracy leadership in the form of Aung San Suu Kyi and her National League for Democracy, while remaining appreciative and supportive of her general line.

“[T]hey [ethnic groups] feel that her [Aung San Suu Kyi’s] party doesn’t see the ethnic issue as a central element to the political future of Burma, and has failed to formulate appropriate policies to address the issue,” TNI summarizes.

However, the ceasefire groups are themselves not spared partial blame for the ongoing state of affairs, with Kramer asserting “few have developed a clear political vision for the future,” a sentiment seen both as a reflection of poor leadership and an effect of persistent government harassment.

Though opportunities for economic development were central in the formulation of ceasefire agreements, of which only the Kachin Independence Organization is in possession of a written document, TNI nevertheless puts forth that the “real problem in post-ceasefire economies is a lack of economic opportunity.” It is a situation said to be exacerbated by the perceived necessity of all parties to then turn to illicit or short-sighted economic undertakings such as drugs and unsustainable logging.

Despite the ceasefire agreements having failed to meet political grievances and inadequately addressing development concerns, the study does point to relative gains in ceasefire zones in the areas of armed violence, human rights violations, travel and the nurturing of civil society organizations.

Kramer points out that the Metta Foundation, a post-ceasefire civil society organization founded in Kachin State, was one of the few organizations able to effectively operate in a timely fashion in the country’s devastated delta region following the cyclone of May 2008.

The fall of the Communist Party of Burma at the close of the 1980s, in conjunction with the wider collapse of communism, along with the removal of former Prime Minister Kyin Nyunt in 2004 are detailed as critical events in the history of ceasefire agreements; with the former ushering in the first opportunities for Rangoon to reach such understandings with armed ethnic groups and the latter removing the principle architect of the ceasefire agenda from the scene.

And though the author goes to some length to highlight the extensiveness of division and difference across Burma’s ethnic kaleidoscope, he nonetheless reaches a similar conclusion to the longstanding argument that the country’s political imbroglio can essentially be broken down into three components: the Burmese army, the National League for Democracy and the country’s ethnic groups – maintaining that despite the many fissures “their [the ethnic groups] main goals are similar.”

Ultimately, TNI finds that little will change in Burma in terms of peace and security in the wake of the 2010 general election, with ethnic grievances remaining unaddressed and hostilities continuing to simmer under a veneer of ill-stipulated political relationships.

Any renewed fighting between government and ethnic forces is assessed to most likely result from the activities of youth and splinter groups to the prevailing ceasefire outfits.

Approximately 40 percent of Burma’s overall population is believed to be comprised of ethnic minorities.

READ MORE---> Addressing ethnic grievances the key to Burma’s future...

Counter people with people: Home Minister Maj. Gen. Maung Oo

by May Kyaw

Chiang Mai (Mizzima) – The Home Minister of the Burmese military junta had at a point of time exhorted the staff members of the General Administration Department at a meeting to ‘counter people with people and counter politics with politics’.

In the Home Ministry’s directive, a copy of which has been leaked and is with Mizzima, the Home Minister Maj. Gen. Maung Oo had given such a blatant instruction to officials of the General Administration (GA) Department at a meeting in Naypyitaw Home Ministry’s Meeting Hall on 20 January 2007.

“Counter people with people, counter politics with politics. There is no need to get involved personally. Do it carefully and do it daringly,” he had directed.

In the six-page directive, he had instructed organizing of NGOs so as to be pro-government, to mobilze people, not to confront the army, to go in for fund raising for the welfare of the Home Ministry staff members and to monitor the activities of the ‘National League for Democracy’ (NLD).

Moreover Maj. Gen. Maung Oo had also said that the staff of the Home Ministry should use their power for their livelihood instead of begging.

Regarding smuggling, arrest them. Report to the authorities, anything you seize from them, either a car or a motorcycle. Surrender them to the customs department. You will get 50 per cent reward money from these goods. So you don’t need to beg, but arrest them for your living,” the directive says.

He had also talked of the junta’s plan of holding mass rallies against the opposition forces in late 2007 to senior officials in the GA Department across the country.

Following the saffron revolution in September 2007, protest rallies were organized by the junta backed civilian organisation - ‘Union Solidarity and Development Association’ - in some States and Divisions across the country.

The meeting presided by the Maung Oo was also attended by the Burmese Deputy Home Minister and Director General of the General Administration.

During the meeting, Deputy Minister Brig. Gen. Phone Swe advised GA officials to build trust and win the respect of ethnic people in their respective regions and to prepare for joining a political party.

Director General Myat Ko also informed the ‘District Peace and Development Council’ (DPDC) Chairmen and ‘Township Peace and Development Council’ Chairmen to thoroughly scrutinize before giving recommendations to establishment of social organizations and to make office expenses frugally.

The DPDC and TPDC are under the jurisdiction of the Home Ministry’s GA Department. While most Chairmen of DPDC has military backgrounds, a few are selected from the civilians and there are a total of 62 districts in the Burmese administration.

Divisional and State level PDC are controlled and are under the charge of the commander of the military regional command in their respective regions.

READ MORE---> Counter people with people: Home Minister Maj. Gen. Maung Oo...

Ragtag rebels vow to fight on in Myanmar

Orphans are having to fend for themselves at a makeshift
Thai camp after joining some 4,000 refugees fleeing a fresh
offensive by Myanmar's military against ethnic Karen rebels.

by Claire Truscott Claire Truscott

ON THE THAILAND-MYANMAR BORDER (AFP) – They prowl their jungle battleground in sneakers and have to steal their weapons, but Myanmar's ethnic Karen rebels say they will never quit their struggle against the junta.

The ragtag Karen National Liberation Army (KNLA) has been fighting Myanmar's military government for 60 years -- marking the country's eastern border as the stage for one of the world's longest running conflicts.

But a renewed crackdown by government forces in early June caused 4,000 of the mainly Christian Karen to flee to neighbouring Thailand, the largest group of refugees to cross in more than a decade, aid groups say.

The offensive comes as Myanmar's generals try to stamp out the last of the more than two dozen ethnic uprisings that have riven the country since shortly after independence in time for elections due next year.

Despite the overwhelming firepower against them, the KNLA say they will not quit.

"We never give up," said David Tharckabaw, a former soldier with the KNLA and now a leader of the political wing, the Karen National Union (KNU), based in a secret location on the Thai-Myanmar border.

"Yes, this is an asymmetric conflict, but overall we can still carry on."

In video footage AFP received from the Democratic Voice of Burma, a multimedia agency run by Myanmar expatriates that uses the country's former name, KNLA soldiers are seen fighting in rolled-up jeans and t-shirts.

A small guerrilla group rearms their rocket-propelled grenade launchers in the dense scrub -- Tharckabaw said most these weapons are stolen from government forces in raids because the KNLA obtains only sparse funds from logging and by levying cross-border trade taxes.

"We are operating on a shoestring so we rely heavily on guerrilla tactics and we have to be mobile and cause as many casualties as possible on the enemy," Tharckabaw told AFP.

"That's through ambushes... what we call 'battle of annihilation'," he said.

The struggling fighters are often forced to carry a week's worth of food, he said, as they attempt to take advantage of their superior knowledge of the tough terrain.

Some are based in their home villages while others are in camps for people internally displaced by the fighting in Myanmar, like one at Ler Per Her in eastern Myanmar's Karen state, where several mortars fell last month as it became the focus of the most recent offensive by the junta.

Inhabitants living nearby were forced to flee to uncertain refuge in Thailand and residents said they had been told they must work as minesweepers and porters for government forces.

Despite his belligerent talk and, in a sign that the strength of the rebels is waning, Tharckabaw, 74 -- who joined the KNLA aged 14 -- said they now actively discourage new recruits because they are more of a burden on resources than a help.

The Karen's struggle began alongside Myanmar's other ethnic minority groups seeking greater autonomy the year after British colonial rule ended in 1948.

General Ne Win, the dictator who seized control of the country in a 1962 coup, sought to crush the ethnic insurgencies with a "four cuts" policy: choking supplies of "food, funds, recruits and information" by razing villages.

It is a tactic that is still employed today.

"People have been writing off the KNU for years but unfortunately for people caught up in the middle of this, it could dribble on for quite some more time," said Myanmar analyst David Mathieson of Human Rights Watch.

He said the Karen rebels are probably at their lowest ebb militarily, while the junta's forces have gained in strength thanks to the defection to its side of a breakaway Buddhist faction of the largely Christian KNLA.

Myanmar's rulers now hope to use the defectors -- known as the Democratic Kayin Buddhist Army (DKBA) -- as part of a national border defence force ahead of the 2010 elections, said Zipporah Sern, head of the KNU.

"They (the junta) try to push the DKBA to attack the KNLA base camp... they use their tactics in a tricky way to persuade them (not to rejoin the rebels)" said Sern, who also spoke to AFP from a secret border location.

This sort of "divide and rule" strategy leaves no doubt that the fight must continue, says Tharckabaw, although he adds that the KNU are willing to talk with the authorities.

"We are always ready to negotiate and we have been there five times already, but they say you have to lay down arms first. But who would? Where's the trust?" Tharckabaw said.

READ MORE---> Ragtag rebels vow to fight on in Myanmar...

The Future of the Cease-fire Agreements in Burma

This year 2009, marks the twentieth anniversary of the first ceasefire agreements in Burma, which put a stop to decades of fighting between the military government and a wide range of ethnic armed opposition groups. These groups had taken up arms against the government in search of more autonomy and ethnic rights.

The military government has so far failed to address the main grievances and aspirations of the cease-fire groups. The regime now wants them to disarm or become Border Guard Forces. It also wants them to form new political parties which would participate in the controversial 2010 elections. They are unlikely to do so unless some of their basic demands are met. This raises many serious questions about the future of the cease-fires.

Report produced by:
Transnational Institute
can be obtained here
read it below...

Burma: Cease-fire Agreements

READ MORE---> The Future of the Cease-fire Agreements in Burma...

Neither War Nor Peace -

by Luke Dowdney

international comparisons of children and youth in organised armed violence

Download full book here

Neither War Nor Peace

READ MORE---> Neither War Nor Peace -...

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