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World: World celebrates resilience and older people

13 October 2014 - 3:22pm
Source: UN International Strategy for Disaster Reduction Country: Bhutan, Lao People's Democratic Republic (the), Myanmar, Thailand, Viet Nam, World

By Denis McClean

GENEVA, October 13, 2014 - A tsunami of 4.5 million tweets rolled out across the world today in support of the 25th International Day for Disaster Reduction as UNISDR and HelpAge International joined forces to launch Charter 14 for Older Persons in Disaster Risk Reduction.

UN Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon said: “Disaster planning must take account of the reduced mobility experienced by many older persons…[Their] needs should also be taken into account in early warning systems, social protection mechanisms, evacuation and emergency response plans, and public awareness campaigns.”

Governments and civil society organizations were today urged to give their backing to Charter 14 and to ensure that older people are specifically mentioned in national disaster management and climate policies and their knowledge and experience are taken on board.

Charter 14’s Minimum Standards call for older people to be represented in DRR management and governance from the community to the national level “to ensure that their voice is heard.”

Asia has responded in force to Charter 14. Bhutan, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand and Vietnam have already signed up. "Setting minimum standards for involving older persons in disaster risk management, is important to ensure that their needs are understood and fully met. The Government of Thailand is happy to commit to the implementation of these minimum standards and to sign up to the Charter 14 for a fully inclusive disaster risk management in our country" said Mr. Chatchai Phromlert, Director-General of Department of Disaster Prevention and Mitigation, Ministry of Interior from the Government of Thailand at a major event in Bangkok yesterday.

UNISDR head, Margareta Wahlström, today personally handed out copies of Charter 14 to diplomats and government representatives participating in consultations on the post-2015 framework for disaster risk reduction in Geneva. The new framework will be adopted at the Third UN World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction in Sendai, Japan, next March. She stressed that while people over 60 comprise 11% of the population today, they would outnumber children aged under ten by the year 2030.

Ms. Wahlström said as demographics change and older persons remain more active in their communities and improve their physical fitness, they should be seen not just as a vulnerable group but as an important resource to strengthen disaster risk reduction at community level.

At the same action, she said, action is needed to reduce the death toll among older persons in major disaster events even in developed countries.

It has been a long weekend of celebration in some parts of the world where International Day came early. Over 3,000 runners ran through the streets of Cairo on Friday in a resilience run and on the same day Canada’s Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness, Steven Blaney, endorsed “The Resilience is For Life” theme of International Day and stated that resilience means the capacity of all citizens to cope and recover during an emergency.”

Minister Blaney recalled a number of recent tragedies including a fire at L’Isle-Verte seniors’ residence which claimed 32 lives, and said: “While all disasters cannot be prevented, we can strengthen the physical and social structures in our communities to reduce their impact, and improve our ability to recover from them.” Public Safety Canada will host the Fifth Annual Roundtable of Canada’s Platform for Disaster Risk Reduction on October 21 in Toronto.

Over 250 organizations, UN agencies, NGOs, businesses and individuals signed up to today’s Thunderclap announcement on the Twitter platform, calling for age inclusive disaster risk management. They reached 4.5 million followers, many of whom have re-tweeted the message to their followers.

All members of the disaster risk reduction community are encouraged to keep us posted on their events. We welcome photos, videos and stories about your efforts for our special web page: http://www.unisdr.org/2014/iddr/#.VDwMHPmSzy4

Date: 13 Oct 2014

Sources: United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNISDR)

India: Asia and the Pacific: Weekly Regional Humanitarian Snapshot (8 - 13 October 2014)

13 October 2014 - 5:50am
Source: UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs Country: China, India, Indonesia, Japan, Myanmar, Philippines, Sri Lanka preview

INDIA

On 12 Oct, Cyclone Hud Hud made landfall in the vicinity of Visakhapatnam City in the state of Andhra Pradesh with wind speeds of between 180-195 kph and 2-3 metre waves pounding the coast. At least six people have been killed and 150,000 people have been evacuated and sheltered in relief centres and schools. The National Crisis Management Committee will launch a detailed assessment shortly, though preliminary information indicates widespread damage in the four affected districts.

6 people dead

150,000 people evacuated

PHILIPPINES

From 7-8 Oct, flash floods have affected more than 9,000 families in Sultan Kudarat municipality in the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao. Local Government rescue teams were dispatched to assess the damage and have prepared and distributed up to 3,000 food packs to the affected areas.

9,000 families affected

CHINA

One person was killed and 324 injured after a 6.6M earthquake rattled Jinggu County in Yunnan Province on 7 Oct. Nearly 93,000 were affected of whom 57,000 have been relocated.

1 person dead

324 people injured

SRI LANKA

Over 3,400 people are affected in the southern parts of Sri Lanka due to high winds, heavy rain and landslides. Currently, 85 people are in three welfare centres in Rathnapura district due to floods and landslides. In total, 15 houses are reported as partially damaged.

MYANMAR

On 11 October, four civilians were killed and several wounded when a mortar bomb hit a crowded road near the towns of Kawkareik and Myawaddy, Kayin State. There have been clashes in Karen State for more than a fortnight between the Myanmar military and rebels from the Democratic Karen Buddhist Association (DKBA), a splinter group of the larger Karen National Union.

4 civilians killed

Between 27 Sep and 8 Oct, 234 people have tested positive for cholera out of 380 presented patients in Yangon’s South Okkalapa township. Township and health authorities have been conducting hygiene checks and urging people with symptoms to seek medical assistance.

234 patients with cholera

JAPAN

Tropical Cyclone Vongfong is expected to make landfall on 13 Oct. The storm previously reached Category 5 status, the highest possible, but has weakened significantly and is currently a tropical storm.
Preliminary reports from Japan indicate 45 people injured and one missing. The local authorities in five prefectures have issued evacuation advisories for more than 44,000 people.

45 people injured

44,000 people evacuated

INDONESIA

Mt. Sinabung continued erupting though no casualties or displacement have been reported.

Myanmar: Information Ecosystems in Transition: A Case Study from Myanmar

13 October 2014 - 1:17am
Source: Internews Network Country: Myanmar preview

How to Inform, Empower and Impact Communities

Myanmar’s recent relaxing of political, economic, and social restrictions has provided a unique opportunity to conduct research in Myanmar’s ethnic states. This report on Mon State’s information ecosystem is the first in a planned series of studies into the demographic, news media, and information dynamics that characterize Mon State as well as Myanmar’s six other ethnic states—Chin, Kachin, Kayah (Karenni), Kayin (Karen), Rakhine (Arakan), and Shan.

There can be few places left in the world where almost half the population does not know what the Internet is. The Mon State pilot research has particular value in attempting to describe the information ecosystem of a target community situated at an unprecedented tipping point in the history of a closed society. Key structural factors (governance, technology, economy) are changing suddenly, simultaneously exerting profound change in the ways in which citizens access and use information. Whilst experience drawn from other political transitions may be indicative of future trends in Myanmar, there has rarely been an opportunity to track and chart such sudden and extreme change.

An information ecosystem is not a static entity; it is by nature constantly evolving and changing. Nor is it a discrete form; it can be defined at many levels, from global to national to community to interest-based groupings within communities. Any examination of an information ecosystem goes beyond traditional audience research on media access and consumption; it adds considerations of information needs and information creation and distribution as fluid systems that adapt and regenerate according to the broader developmental challenges and needs of a given community.

The research focuses on three themes. Firstly, it identifies and maps the information environment in Mon State in terms of technology and media use across urban, rural, non-conflict, and former conflict geographic areas. Secondly, the flow of news and information is examined to see how individuals receive information and then make decisions about sharing it with others. Thirdly, the report examines the dynamics underlying the trust and influence of news and information among individuals in Mon State.

The report draws from quantitative and qualitative research commissioned by the Internews Center for Innovation & Learning (ICIL) from December 16, 2012 to January 5, 2013 in Mon State, Myanmar. The research sampled respondents from across Mon State, and combines quantitative data from a 500 household survey covering urban, rural, non-conflict, and former conflict areas, with qualitative data from 12 focus group discussions and 24 key informant interviews in both non-conflict and former conflict areas.

Some of the key findings of this report are consistent with the current image of Myanmar opening its doors and airwaves to a brave new influx of information. More frequently there emerges a mixed picture as to access, and some thought-provoking findings around trust and flow of information. In Myanmar today there exists the risk that under the guise of increased media access, the formerly “information dark” ecosystems which prevailed across much of the country under military rule may be seamlessly replaced with “information lite” ecosystems in which unsophisticated media audiences consume primarily entertainment and “managed” news content. This sleight of hand would replicate the information ecosystems of the “disciplined democracies” of Singapore, Malaysia and China - to which Myanmar aspires - by (at best) doing nothing to foster the development of an informed citizenry and (at worst) perpetuating state influence over the architecture of public information and discourse.

For those who wish to see an increase in both the quantity and quality of content feeding into local information ecosystems as a way of enhancing development or democracy/governance goals, it will be important to temper runaway excitement about Myanmar’s “opening” with an understanding of some of the constraints and idiosyncrasies in the country’s national and local information ecosystems. It is the contention of this paper that a better understanding of the information ecology of any given community or population will be helpful in developing holistic strategies that harness dynamics in that ecology to improve the chances of information actually reaching its destination.

Myanmar: Four civilians killed in explosion in troubled Myanmar region

12 October 2014 - 5:18am
Source: Agence France-Presse Country: Myanmar

10/12/2014 - 07:40 GMT

Four civilians including a 12-year-old boy were killed and several wounded when a mortar bomb hit a crowded road in conflict-hit eastern Myanmar, witnesses and police said on Sunday.

The incident happened on Saturday in an area of Karen state near the Thai border, which residents say has been rattled by fighting in recent weeks between troops and a rebel splinter group representing the ethnic Karen minority.

The latest round of talks aimed at securing a nationwide ceasefire in a nation beset by ethnic insurgencies ended in deadlock late last month -- leaving the government still short of its target of reaching peace before elections next year.

A "heavy weapon" hit the road between the towns of Kawkareik and Myawaddy on Saturday morning, a local police officer told AFP on condition of anonymity.

"Three men and a 12-year old boy were killed. Another two women and eight more men -- including an abbot from a nearby monastery -- were wounded," the policeman said.

A local hospital official, also asking not to be named, confirmed the death toll but put the number of wounded at eight.

It was not clear who fired the weapon. Witnesses told AFP a mortar bomb struck a group of passengers who had left their vehicles which were blocked by a broken-down lorry.

Residents said the attack was probably linked to recent fighting between troops and rebels from the Democratic Karen Buddhist Association (DKBA), a splinter group of the larger Karen National Union.

Neither side was immediately available for comment but the army has a position near the road.

There have been clashes in Karen state for more than a fortnight after the DKBA apparently baulked at the movement of soldiers in the tense area -- even though the group signed a peace accord with the army more than a decade ago.

Efforts to negotiate a nationwide end to decades of civil conflicts in minority borderlands have been a government priority.

Myanmar has so far signed ceasefires with 14 of the 16 major armed ethnic groups.

The Karen National Union has joined peace talks and a new round is scheduled for late October.

hla/apj/sm

© 1994-2014 Agence France-Presse

Myanmar: New Database to Help Myanmar Better Assess Loss and Damage Risks from Disasters

12 October 2014 - 4:47am
Source: UN Development Programme Country: Myanmar

[Pathein – Oct 7] Myanmar is one of the most disaster prone countries in the world and the risk of hazards turning into disasters is predicted to further increase because of global warming.

Detailed information on the destructive nature of past disasters in Myanmar is scattered or missing.

The Government of Myanmar, through its Relief and Resettlement Department, together with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and UN-Habitat have set out to create a database to capture the losses and damages from past disasters, and put in place systems to continue updating the resulting Myanmar Disaster Loss and Damage Database.

Last week, the Relief and Resettlement department met with more than 20 other governmental units in Ayeyarwaddy Region to pilot data collection on disasters at a township level. Some of these government units collect information about the damages and losses caused by disasters such as human casualties, destroyed farmlands and buildings, for their departmental use.

The meeting marked the first step towards extracting data from past damages and losses caused by disasters in the Ayeyarwaddy region.

U Than Soe, the Director of RRD in Pathein expects the full participation of government departments in sharing data from their archives that could improve policies to reduce the risk of disasters. “This meeting was held so that other departments come to appreciate the importance of data collection”.

“A first step towards a better understanding of risks is to study the losses and damages incurred during past disasters. In Myanmar, the losses and damages from disasters are not systematically recorded, resulting in poor understanding of the emerging pattern and trends of disaster risks. This contributes to the lack of targeted action,” said Lat Lat Aye, the Team Leader for Environmental Governance and Disaster Risk Reduction at UNDP Myanmar.

The available information is sometimes incoherent, as the existing reports were not originally compiled into one single database. An additional impediment is that the information is only available in printed copies.

Following the meeting in Pathein, the government departments will extract data from their existing records. Data will eventually be entered into the DesInvenar database, a system which UNDP is already using for similar purposes in more than 60 countries.

The Myanmar Disaster Loss and Damage Database will develop national capacities for monitoring and analyzing risks and vulnerabilities to support disaster risk reduction, mitigation, preparedness, response and recovery. Data on disasters will therefore serve to generate risk information and contribute to informed decision-making and planning at national and sub-national levels. This is particularly so in the case of small and medium disasters, which, unlike major catastrophes, are typically absent from public consciousness.

Once set up, Government Departments in Myanmar will continue to update the database.

UNDP’s disaster risk reduction project in Myanmar aims to build disaster resilient communities by enhancing the country’s disaster risk management institutions, systems and networks. The project is designed to build preparedness, mitigation, recovery capacities of communities, as well as the civil society and local and national institutions to manage the impact of disasters, as well as the capacity to incorporate DRR into development planning.

Myanmar: Heavy shelling during renewed Burma Army offensive causes civilian deaths and further displacement of hundreds in central Shan State

10 October 2014 - 12:11pm
Source: HART Country: Myanmar preview

Burma Army operations against the Shan State Progress Party/Shan State Army in central Shan State since early October have caused widespread damage, loss of civilian lives, and further displacement of hundreds of villagers in Ke See township.

Between October 2-4, 2014, deploying a combined force of nine battalions with at least 2,000 troops, the Burma Army launched a renewed offensive against SSPP/SSA positions in Ke See. Hundreds of artillery shells (60, 81 and 120 mm) were fired, including at civilian targets. Two elderly villagers were killed and one severely injured. Two other village leaders were shot and killed on their way to market. Burma Army troops have also committed abuses such as beating and looting of villagers’ property.

Myanmar: Chin law to address women’s issues

9 October 2014 - 11:11pm
Source: Mizzima News Country: Myanmar

Written by Nang Lwin Hnin Pwint

Chin national organizations have agreed to amend some sections of the out-dated Chin Special Division Act at a meeting held at the National Brotherhood Federation Office in Yangon’s Lanmadaw Township October 8.

Some Chin national legal experts, political representatives and women’s groups representatives claimed certain provisions in the act, adopted in 1948, are out of tune with the present day and oppress Chin women.

According to the act, Chin national women are unable to receive the property of their parents or the house of their husband when they die. Moreover, Chin women are still legally entitled to only four kyat as a bride price in their tradition, said Chin national lawyer Salai Thang Cung.

Salai Naw Saw, a Chin historian, said, “Each Chin woman suffers much loss but can also enjoy privileges in her life.”

The law states Chin women have the opportunity to pick and choose their husband, as well as divorce him.

The meeting agreed to amend some provisions concerning women that are inappropriate today, amend the title “Chin Special Division” to “Chin State,” and recognised that sections on tackling illegal drugs overlapped federal law.

More meetings will be held to review the different traditions and customs of the many ethnic groups under the Chin nationality.

Myanmar: Silent Offensive: How Burma Army strategies are fueling the Kachin drug crisis

9 October 2014 - 10:28pm
Source: Kachin Women's Association Thailand Country: Myanmar preview

A new report exposes how anti-insurgency strategies of the Burma Army are fuelling the drug crisis in Kachin areas, particularly since the renewal of conflict against the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) in 2011.

“Silent Offensive” by the Kachin Women’s Association Thailand (KWAT) reveals how the Burma Army is allowing its local militia to grow opium and produce heroin and other drugs in exchange for fighting against the KIA. As Burmese troops and their allies have progressively seized control of KIA areas, drug production has been increasing.

The main opium growing areas in Kachin State are now in Chipwi and Waingmaw townships, under the control of the Burma Army and its local Border Guard Forces led by Zakhung Ting Ying, a National Assembly MP. In northern Shan State, opium is booming in areas under the Burma Army and thirteen government militia forces, four of whose leaders are MPs in the Shan State Assembly.

Opium, heroin and methamphetamines are flooding from these government-controlled areas into Kachin communities, worsening existing problems of drug abuse, particularly among youth. It is estimated that about one third of students in Myitkyina and Bhamo universities are injecting drug users.

The report details the harrowing impacts of the drug crisis on women, who struggle to support their families while husbands and sons sell off household property and steal to feed their addiction. Frustrated with the authorities’ lack of political will to deal with the drug problem, women are taking a lead among local communities in setting up their own programs to combat drugs.

KWAT critiques UNODC and other international donors for not focusing on the role of the war, and particularly the anti-insurgency policies of the government, in fuelling the drug problem in Burma. KWAT urges all stakeholders to focus on finding a just political settlement to the conflict as an urgent priority in tackling the drug crisis.

“The future of the Kachin people is at stake. We need urgent action to tackle the drug problem before it’s too late,” said Shirley Seng of KWAT.

Press Release Download here: English / Burmese

Full Report Download Here.

Contact persons;
Shirley Seng + 66 (0) 86 923 8854 (Thailand)
Moon Nay Li + 1 929 261 2647 (United States of America)
Email: kwat.secretariat@gmail.com
Website: www.kachinwomen.com

Lao People's Democratic Republic (the): Laos: ASEAN discusses strategies to strengthen assistance for victims of unexploded ordnance

9 October 2014 - 8:46am
Source: International Committee of the Red Cross Country: Cambodia, Lao People's Democratic Republic (the), Myanmar, Viet Nam

Luang Prabang (ICRC) – Twenty-four experts from Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar and Viet Nam gathered in Luang Prabang today to discuss national policies and best practices that could benefit people injured in accidents involving unexploded ordnance and improve their lives, as well as prevent new victims in the future. The one-day workshop was organized by the Ministry of Labour and Social Welfare in cooperation with the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).

"As our leaders adopted the ASEAN Declaration on Strengthening Social Protection at the 23rd ASEAN Summit last year, we are reminded that social protection is the right of everybody, including victims of unexploded ordnance, whose livelihood may be compromised owing to disabilities or other impediments," said Chomyaeng Phengthongsawat, deputy director-general of the Planning and Cooperation Department of the Ministry of Labour and Social Welfare. "Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar and Viet Nam remain committed to provide social assistance to the victims through various ongoing programmes and strategies. Facing similar challenges, we could learn from each other and collaborate closely in responding to the needs of victims of unexploded ordnance in our respective countries."

Participants met to share experiences in delivering assistance to victims, such as by helping them obtain access to special schools and the job market, or by providing vocational training, rehabilitation, mine-clearance activities and community awareness programmes. They also identified the challenges involved in providing comprehensive assistance for victims, especially those living in remote areas. The workshop was a regional activity planned under the ASEAN Strategic Framework for Social Welfare and Development 2011-2015.

Laos alone is estimated to have had over 50,000 landmine and explosive remnant of war casualties up to the end of 2012, according to the Landmine and Cluster Munition Monitor, the vast majority of victims being civilians. Unexploded ordnance also poses a serious threat to future generations. "Unexploded ordnance has a devastating effect on societies, continuing to maim and kill civilians long after armed conflicts have ended," said Beat Schweizer, head of the ICRC’s regional delegation in Bangkok. "The long-term implications can deprive people of economic activities, health care and education."

The ICRC has been working since 1960 in South-East Asia, where it supports physical rehabilitation programmes for victims of unexploded ordnance and other remnants of war in Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar and Viet Nam. In June, it provided trauma-care and first-aid training for health-care personnel working with ordnance disposal units in Laos.

For further information, please contact:
Jean-Pascal Moret, ICRC Bangkok, tel: +66 (0) 950 12 70

World: Food Outlook - Biannual Report on Global Food Markets, October 2014

9 October 2014 - 4:39am
Source: Food and Agriculture Organization Country: Bangladesh, Benin, Brazil, Burundi, Cambodia, Central African Republic, China, Colombia, Côte d'Ivoire, Cuba, Egypt, El Salvador, Ethiopia, Guinea, India, Indonesia, Iran (Islamic Republic of), Iraq, Japan, Kenya, Liberia, Madagascar, Mexico, Myanmar, Nepal, Nicaragua, Nigeria, Pakistan, Panama, Philippines, Republic of Korea, Rwanda, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Somalia, Sri Lanka, Sudan, Syrian Arab Republic, Thailand, United Republic of Tanzania, Venezuela (Bolivarian Republic of), Viet Nam, World preview

Biannual FAO Food Outlook report and new Food Price Index released

9 October 2014, Rome - Food markets are more stable and prices for most agricultural commodities are sharply lower than they have been in recent years, according to the latest edition of FAO's biannual Food Outlook report and a new update to the Organization's monthly Food Price Index, both out today.

Bumper harvests and abundant stockpiles are key factors helping drive down international cereal prices, according to the report.

World wheat production in 2014 is forecast to reach a new record, it says.

For coarse grains, prospects for near-record production levels, combined with already-high inventories point to a very comfortable world supply and demand balance in 2014/15, especially for maize.

While rice outputs could decline slightly this year, stockpiles remain "huge" and are sufficient to cover over one-third of projected consumption during the 2015-16 period.

All told, world cereal production in 2014 is anticipated to reach 2 523 million tonnes (2.5 billion tonnes) — an upward revision of 65 million tonnes from FAO's initial forecast in May. World cereal stocks should hit their highest level in 15 years by the end of the cropping season in 2015.

Global output of oilseeds is also forecast to exceed last season's record due to further expansion of soybean production.

Meanwhile, world production of cassava looks to be on track to achieving another record high, driven by sustained growth in Africa, where the tuber is a strategic crop for food security and poverty alleviation.

Today's Food Outlook anticipates that world sugar production will increase in 2015-16, as well.

Meat production is set to grow moderately in 2014, but not enough to ease prices from their current high levels, while milk production continues to grow steadily in many countries.

Production of fish is also on the rise, driven largely by aquaculture and less-than-expected El Niño impacts.

Price drops across the board - almost

The FAO Food Price Index (FPI), also released today, has registered its sixth consecutive monthly drop — the longest period of continuous decline in the value of the index since the late 1990s — averaging 191.5 points in September 2014.

Among the FPI sub-indices, sugar and dairy fell most sharply, followed by cereals and oils, while meat remained firm (more).

Although meat prices remain high they could be stabilizing: the September Meat Price index remains 22 points up versus the same time last year, a historic high, but registered only a slight increase over August (0.3 of a point) after months of steady hikes.

High meat prices and large trade volumes for products in the animal protein category, including meat, dairy and fish, mean that the global food import bill — that is, the aggregate amount that all countries spend on imported foodstuffs — will surpass $1 trillion again this year, for the fifth year in a row.

The FAO FPI is a trade-weighted index that measures prices of five major food commodities on international markets.

While price trends for these commodities at the macro level are a useful indicator of global trends and can signal when consumer food prices might be at risk, they are not always directly mirrored in national, regional and local markets.

Regional differences highlighted in second report

To help spot food price spikes affecting consumers in the developing world, particularly in low-income food-deficit countries (LIFDCs), FAO recently launched a new website that reports abnormally high prices of staple foods in markets in 85 different countries.

Additionally, the Organization produces a quarterly report, Crop Prospects and Food Situation, that focuses on developments affecting food security in developing countries and LIFDCs.

The latest edition, published today alongside Food Outlook and the October FPI, highlights a number of hot-spots of particular concern.

The Ebola virus disease outbreak in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone has disrupted markets, farming activities and livelihoods, seriously affecting the food security of large numbers of people, it says. And irregular rains in several areas of the Sahelian belt will result in mixed production prospects.

Food crop production in the Central African Republic is up from 2013's sharply reduced output, but still remains well below average due to the impact of widespread civil insecurity, the report adds.

In Eastern Africa, the overall food security situation is improving as harvesting has started in several countries. But while food prices in the region are generally stable or declining, they are at record high levels in Somalia and the Sudan.

Meanwhile, drought conditions in Central America have significantly reduced the 2014 main first season harvest in key producing countries.

Drought conditions have also been a problem in the Near East, leading to a below-average cereal harvest for the region, while the conflicts in Syria and Iraq continue to significantly degrade food security.

Myanmar: Myanmar’s embattled Palaung minority call for aid partners

8 October 2014 - 8:26pm
Source: IRIN Country: Myanmar

NAMKHAM TOWNSHIP, 8 October 2014 (IRIN) -

Protracted fighting in northern Myanmar is displacing entire villages, including those of ethnic Palaung, who say they need more help to build up local civil society groups to allow aid to flow more effectively to their people.

No Palaung NGOs are currently working with international aid groups.

“Our funding is very limited so it’s very difficult [to help internally displaced persons - IDPs],” Aye Nang, co-founder of the Palaung Women’s Organization (PWO), told IRIN. “[But] in terms of institutions, we are able to receive funding and give that support to the IDPs. What [NGOs] need is a humanitarian agency that would provide them support.”

The Palaung (also known as Ta’ang) are a Buddhist minority of around half a million living in the rugged hills of northern Shan State and the southern part of Kachin State, along the Myanmar-China border where violence re-ignited in 2011 after the collapse of a 17-year ceasefire between the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) and the Myanmar government.

In 2011, the Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA), a rebel force of an estimated 800 fighters, allied itself with the KIA, which has some 5,000. The two groups are the only armed rebels not to have struck bilateral ceasefireswith the government.

Like other ethnic minorities in Myanmar, the Palaung feel oppressed by the Burman-dominated government and seek greater autonomy for their region, which suffers from poverty, isolation and rampant drug use and cultivation.

Fighting between the TNLA and government troops intensified in the northern part of Shan State in 2013 and 2014: There were more than 100 clashes from January to June this year, leaving nearly 200 dead.

As a result of fighting, Palaung IDP numbers have been on the rise. A PWO report said the number of IDPs grew from 3,000 to 4,294 in 2013 after government troops in Palaung areas swelled from 16 to 30 battalions that year.

Ei Ko, a 50-year-old widow and one of the roughly 370 Palaung residents in Nay Win Nee IDP camp near Namkham town who fled southern Kachin State in late 2012, said: “There is still fighting in our village… Now the area is more dangerous than before.”

Limited international support

International aid organizations have been providing food, water, shelter and sanitation assistance to IDP camps in government-controlled areas of northern Shan State where around 10,000 Kachin, Palaung and Shan civilians live, according to Pierre Péron, spokesman for the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) in Myanmar.

Following clashes in June 2014 which displaced 800 Palaung for about a month, the World Food Programme (WFP) and Save the Children also joined the Kachin Baptist Convention (KBC), a large Christian organization, in distributing food and non-food items to the group who fled to Namkham town.

However, Palaung NGO leaders argue that their increased involvement in aid operations could bolster both their organizational capacity and access to people in need inside the war zone.

“The Palaung NGOs are still more like CBOs [community-based organizations]. They’re very small; we don’t have big groups to help our people,” said PWO’s general secretary De De Poe Jaing.

“The Kachin have institutions to channel international aid through. With the Palaung we don’t have that,” added Aye Nang.

The Kachin, a predominantly Christian minority of around 1.2 million people, are supported by many local NGOs - most prominently the KBC, which is 100 years old - that provide aid to tens of thousands of Kachin civilians in both rebel- and government-controlled areas, often in partnership with international organizations.

By comparison, the Palaung have only a few small civil society groups. The two most prominent organizations, PWO and the Ta’ang Students and Youth Organization, were both founded in a refugee camp in Mae Sot, Thailand, and have only been able to work openly in Shan State since 2012.

A 2014 report by The Asia Foundation argued that more international aid should go to supporting social services by specific ethnic organizations in Myanmar as they are often more effective than the government or international aid agencies in providing relief and social services, particularly in conflict areas.

“There are practical reasons, ethnic organizations have advantages based on their local knowledge of needs and understanding of the situation and language, and there are political reasons because they are better trusted by the local population,” the report’s author, Kim Jolliffe, told IRIN, adding that NGOs and social service organizations affiliated with ethnic armed forces have long played a vital role in providing relief, health care and local-language education for communities and IDP camps in conflict areas.

“The most important issue that local NGOs are needed for is supporting communities in hard-to-reach areas, especially for emergency care, government services are very poor at providing this,” he said.

Improved access, increased capacity

De De Poe Jaing said Palaung NGOs collect private donations and are able to offer support such as setting up camp committees in Palaung IDP camps, and providing emergency relief for people who temporarily flee ongoing violence in their home villages.

“There is daily fighting in northern Shan State. There are many villagers who have to leave their villages for three, four days and hide in the forest, and when they come back their homes are broken and looted,” she said, explaining that PWO provided support for such communities to return after fighting quietened down, for example by donating wood to repair damaged houses.

She said PWO would like to work with UN agencies to provide emergency aid to conflict-affected communities in these remote, dangerous areas - some of which are categorized as “black zones” by the Myanmar army, where access for foreign aid groups is restricted.

De De Poe Jaing said whole Palaung villages, home to hundreds of residents, are being temporarily displaced by ongoing conflict in northern Shan State at any given time.

“International groups cannot reach there because there is still fighting going on, but we can reach those unofficial camps,” she said. “We know the areas people go to hide and can go there to help them. We can take WFP emergency aid to them.”

She said international support would also serve to build up her organization’s capacity to provide much-needed services as fighting and displacement continue: “We still want and need more capacity-building to become more effective.”

pv/kk/cb

Cambodia: ASEAN to strengthen assistance for victims of unexploded ordnance

8 October 2014 - 8:00pm
Source: Association of Southeast Asian Nations Country: Cambodia, Lao People's Democratic Republic (the), Myanmar, Viet Nam

LUANG PRABANG, 9 October 2014 - The Ministry of Labour and Social Welfare of Lao PDR, in collaboration with the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and the ASEAN Secretariat, organised a workshop on children and families who are affected by unexploded ordnance (UXO) contamination.

Twenty-four officials from the line agencies in charge of social affairs, assistance to victims and de-mining of Cambodia, Lao PDR, Myanmar and Viet Nam participated in the workshop. They exchanged and discussed national policies and best practices that will ultimately benefit victims of UXOs and improve their lives, as well as prevent new victims in the future.

"As our Leaders adopted the ASEAN Declaration on Strengthening Social Protection at the 23rd ASEAN Summit last year, we are reminded that social protection is the right of everybody, including victims of unexploded ordnance, whose livelihood may be compromised owing to disabilities or other impediments," said Chomyaeng Phengthongsawat, Deputy Director-General of the Planning and Cooperation Department of the Ministry of Labour and Social Welfare. "Cambodia, Lao PDR, Myanmar and Viet Nam remain committed to provide social assistance to the victims through various ongoing programmes and strategies. Facing similar challenges, we could learn from each other and collaborate closely in responding to the needs of victims of unexploded ordnance in our respective countries."

Participants shared experiences in delivering assistance to victims including on access to special schools, access to the job market, vocational training, rehabilitation, de-mining, and community awareness programmes. They also identified the gaps and challenges in providing comprehensive assistance to the victims especially those who are living in remote areas.

Among countries affected world-wide, Lao PDR alone is estimated to have had 50,525 mines and explosive remnants of war casualties up to the end of 2012, according to the Landmine and Cluster Munition Monitor, the vast majority of victims being civilians. Unexploded ordnance also poses a serious threat to future generations. “Unexploded ordnance has a devastating effect on societies, continuing to maim and kill civilians long after armed conflicts have ended. The long-term implications can deprive populations of economic activities, healthcare and education,” said Mr. Beat Schweizer, head of the ICRC’s regional delegation in Bangkok.

The workshop is a regional activity planned under the ASEAN Strategic Framework for Social Welfare and Development 2011-2015.

Myanmar: International disaster response law makes headway in Myanmar

8 October 2014 - 4:39pm
Source: International Federation of Red Cross And Red Crescent Societies Country: Myanmar

By Lucia Cipullo and Kevin Wirasamban

A severe cyclone hits the lower regions of Myanmar, affecting over 2 million people across highly populated areas, including the Yangon and lower Rakhine regions. Despite early warning actions, the impact and needs are immense.

Myanmar is in the throes of an emergency and the government requests international assistance. But how quickly can international assistance be mobilized? What barriers might prevent the swift delivery of aid?

These issues were played out during the last week of September, where over 50 representatives from the government and humanitarian sector gathered together against the idyllic backdrop of Inle Lake, in order to test systems for disaster preparedness and response in Myanmar.

Replicating a disaster

Like many of the simulation exercises that have taken place across the region, this initiative sought to clarify roles and responsibilities of all key actors involved, and addresses how the international humanitarian community is integrated into national disaster response. It also included a strong focus on international disaster response law (IDRL) issues.

In July 2013, a new law on disaster management was adopted in Myanmar, followed by the ongoing development of a set of implementing disaster management rules. Legal issues in international disaster response are being given increasing visibility in Myanmar, largely due to the advocacy work of the Myanmar Red Cross and the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies. In May 2014 for example, the Red Cross hosted a high-level advocacy workshop on international disaster law in Nay Pyi Daw.

The recent disaster preparedness and response exercise at Inle Lake provided participants with a critical opportunity to test the new law. IFRC Regional Disaster Law Delegate, Lucia Cipullo, delivered insight on the legal issues that can arise in international disaster response operations and IDRL. She outlined how key legal barriers can arise with the facilitation and regulation of international assistance – issues which were tested throughout the exercise.

“Participants were furiously looking through copies of the new DM law in order to identify the relevant procedures for expedited visa processes, customs clearance, and provisions on how to recognize foreign medical qualifications,” Cipullo said.

Right aid at the right time

Hosted by the Ministry of Social Welfare, Relief and Resettlement, the simulation was run in collaboration with the ASEAN Centre for Humanitarian Assistance, Myanmar Red Cross, and various UN agencies including OCHA, WFP and UNDP. It has not only helped reinforce the valuable role of the Myanmar Red Cross during disasters, but it also emphasized the importance of international disaster response law with government, regional and humanitarian actors.

The region has seen great changes in disaster management, especially in countries like Myanmar. With the adoption of the new disaster management law, and the inclusion of a chapter on international assistance in the draft disaster management rules (based on the IDRL Guidelines), Myanmar is well on its way to being legally prepared to respond swiftly and effectively to large-scale disasters, and ensuring that vulnerable communities receive the right aid, at the right time.

Myanmar: Myanmar Prisoner release ‘empty gesture’ as repression continues

7 October 2014 - 11:50am
Source: Amnesty Country: Myanmar

An amnesty of thousands of prisoners in Myanmar is essentially an empty political gesture as scores of peaceful activists are believed to remain behind bars, Amnesty International said.

The Myanmar authorities today announced that some 3,000 prisoners would be released in an amnesty, but none of the country’s prisoners of conscience – activists detained solely for peacefully expressing their views – will be included in the release.

“This is nothing but an empty gesture on the authorities’ part. The timing, so close to the ASEAN summit in Myanmar in early November, smacks of political opportunism,” said Richard Bennett, Amnesty International’s Asia Pacific Director.

“If the Myanmar authorities were genuine about improving respect for human rights, they would follow through on the long-standing promise to clear the country’s jails of the dozens of peaceful activists still behind bars.”

“Myanmar’s authorities continue to rely on repressive laws to silence dissent and to target those who peacefully oppose the government. We are still receiving reports of human rights defenders, land rights activists, journalists, political activists and others being imprisoned for nothing more than expressing their opinions. As long as these detentions continue, amnesties like the one today do nothing to improve Myanmar’s human rights situation.”

Background

On 15 July 2013 President Thein Sein, speaking at the independent policy institute Chatham House in London, publically pledged that there would be no more prisoners of conscience in Myanmar by the end of the year. However, despite a series of presidential amnesties and pardons, prisoners of conscience remained behind bars at the end of 2013; while in 2014, new prisoners of conscience – many of them human rights defenders, journalists and land rights and environmental activists – continue to be jailed.

Among the new prisoners of conscience in Myanmar in 2014 is Ko Htin Kyaw, the leader of community-based organization Movement for Democracy Current Force (MDCF) who is currently serving 11 years and four months in prison for taking part in a series of peaceful protests and for making speeches and distributing leaflets critical of the government. Community leader U Sein Than has also been imprisoned for the peaceful exercise of his right to freedom of expression. He is currently serving two years in prison for peacefully protesting against an alleged land confiscation.

World: Global Emergency Overview Snapshot 01–07 October

7 October 2014 - 8:50am
Source: Assessment Capacities Project Country: Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bolivia (Plurinational State of), Burundi, Cambodia, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Chad, Côte d'Ivoire, Democratic People's Republic of Korea, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Djibouti, El Salvador, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Gambia, Guatemala, Guinea, Haiti, Honduras, India, Iraq, Jordan, Kenya, Lebanon, Lesotho, Liberia, Libya, Mali, Mauritania, Myanmar, Namibia, Nepal, Nicaragua, Niger, Nigeria, occupied Palestinian territory, Pakistan, Paraguay, Philippines, Rwanda, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Somalia, Sri Lanka, Sudan, Syrian Arab Republic, Uganda, Ukraine, World, Yemen, South Sudan preview

Ebola in Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone: At 1 October, the total cumulative number of reported Ebola cases across the three countries had reached 7,470, including 3,431 deaths. However, the Centers for Disease Control estimates that only 40% of cases are being reported in Liberia and Sierra Leone. Social tensions and insecurity are growing. Many of the 3,700 children who have lost parents to Ebola are being rejected out of fear of infection.

Nigeria: The national emergency agency estimates 1.5 million people are displaced in the northeast, almost triple the 647,000 estimated in a May assessment. IDPs are in urgent need of assistance. More than 150,000 have fled to neighbouring countries, with 27,000 people crossing into Niger over August and September alone.

Afghanistan: 200,000 people have crossed into Afghanistan from Pakistan since June. September saw more refugees arriving at remote locations, where communities are stretched beyond capacity. Food, health, WASH, and shelter are all urgently needed. In addition, the number of IDPs is rising: 702,000 people are estimated displaced across Afghanistan.

Updated: 07/10/2014. Next update: 14/10/2014

Global Emergency Overview Web Interface

Myanmar: Myanmar frees 3,000 prisoners, including ex-military intelligence figures

7 October 2014 - 7:11am
Source: Agence France-Presse Country: Myanmar

10/07/2014 10:47 GMT

YANGON, October 7, 2014 (AFP) - Myanmar began releasing hundreds of prisoners -- including a political detainee and former military intelligence figures -- on "humanitarian" grounds, officials said Tuesday, in the latest large-scale amnesty in the once pariah nation.

The reformist regime, which is in the process of preparing to host a landmark November meeting of international and regional leaders, has granted a series of amnesties as part of dramatic reforms since the end of outright military rule in 2011.

President Thein Sein pardoned some 3,073 people, including 58 foreign nationals, citing "stability of the state, the rule of law" and "humanitarian" grounds, according to a Facebook post Tuesday by Information Minister Ye Htut.

One prisoner held on political grounds was among those freed, according to Ye Aung, a representative of the Former Political Prisoners Support Group, which is working closely with the government on negotiating the release of remaining dissidents.

"We only can confirm the release of one political prisoner from Myitkyina prison. He was sentenced to five years imprisonment under the Explosives Act in 2013," said Ye Aung, estimating that some 75 political prisoners remain behind bars.

"Releasing the prisoners is good. We welcome it. But we want the government to release more. Politically, it is meaningless without the release of many political prisoners."

Before Myanmar's reforms, rights groups accused the country of wrongfully imprisoning about 2,000 political detainees.

Most have since been pardoned in sweeping amnesties that campaigners have said were often linked to high profile visits by international figures.

  • 'Having a top day' -

In December the country declared that there were no more political prisoners after freeing inmates arrested under a host of draconian junta-era laws restricting dissent.

But campaigners say dozens of people have been arrested under more recent legislation, mainly for protesting without permission, while several journalists have been jailed this year in trials that have drawn international concern.

Many former political prisoners have also suffered repeated arrest for continuing their activities.

Ye Aung said eight former military intelligence figures were among those freed Tuesday.

Arrested in a 2004 purge on the department as part of the overthrow of former spy chief-turned-prime minister Khin Nyunt in a junta power struggle, the former officials were thought to be serving sentences of up to 100 years.

Among those freed was Brigadier General Thein Swe. His son, well known media businessman Sonny Swe, announced the release on social media, saying "Having a top day with great news. I'm heading to Myingyan to pick up my dad".

Dozens of former military intelligence staff, who are not generally considered to be political detainees, are thought still to be behind bars.

Khin Nyunt himself was released from house arrest in 2012 and has since opened an art gallery in Yangon.

Arbitrary imprisonment was a hallmark of nearly half a century under a junta that denied the existence of political prisoners, even as it imposed harsh punishments on rights activists, journalists, lawyers and performers.

Some activists have expressed caution at the government's high profile amnesties, particularly large-scale releases of ordinary detainees.

"The release of many criminals could harm stability. We have to question the government on what they are thinking with the release," former political prisoner Toe Kyaw Hlaing told AFP.

klm/hla/apj/jta

© 1994-2014 Agence France-Presse

Myanmar: Tensions in Myanmar’s Kachin State Forces Thousands to Flee

7 October 2014 - 6:35am
Source: Radio Free Asia Country: Myanmar

More than 5,000 people in a township in northern Myanmar’s Kachin state have fled their homes amid concerns over possible renewed fighting between local armed rebels and government forces following a key rebel group’s controversial recruitment drive, sources said Monday.

They fled after unconfirmed reports said that government troops would launch an offensive against the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) after accusing the rebel group of forcing locals to join its ranks under the pretext of drug-control efforts.

Many who fled Tanaing township in Kachin’s capital Myitkyina were mine workers.

Tensions between the KIA and government forces in Tanaing had risen after government forces sent a warning letter to the rebels to stop arresting locals on drug charges and to release by Oct. 3 those already in their custody, a local source said.

“KIA ‘arrested’ people who used drugs but the government army saw it as recruitment,” a local source told RFA’s Myanmar Service.

“We heard that the government army has sent a letter to KIA warning that it would clear all KIA troops [from the area] if KIA didn’t release [those held in their custody] in three days.”

Administrative control

The KIO, the military wing of the Kachin Indpendence Organization (KIO), still has administrative control over several key areas in Kachin State and is among only a few main rebel groups that has not entered into a cease-fire agreement with the government.

Lamai Gum Ja, a leader of the Myitkyina-based Kachin Peace Creation Group, which acts as a go-between for the KIA and the Kachin state government, told RFA that his group had received an unsigned warning letter dated Oct. 3 linked to the tensions.

Both the military and the rebels had denied they were behind the letter.

Clashes between the KIA and government army have flared on and off since the termination of a 17-year cease-fire in June 2011.

Since then, fighting in Kachin state has forced thousands of civilians to flee their homes.

In late August, the KIA and army troops clashed in a five-hour fight in Mayan, a railway station village between Myitkyina and Namti in Kachin state, according to a report by Kachin News Group.

Houses in a military base were partially damaged and a woman suffered a leg injury after being hit by gunfire, it said.

Skirmishes

The tensions in Tanaing followed a number of recent skirmishes between armed ethnic rebels and government troops in Shan state in eastern Myanmar and Kayin and Mon states in the southeastern part of the country, amid negotiations to a nationwide ceasefire agreement.

In Shan state, five government soldiers and two Shan ethnic rebels had died, rebel groups said Friday.

About 50 government troops and three Shan insurgents were also wounded during the clashes in Kyethi township since Thursday in central Shan state, they said.

In Mon state near the border with Thailand, five ethnic Karen armed rebels were killed in fighting last week with government troops, raising tensions that have forced civilians to flee villages and schools to close, police said.

Talks last month between the government’s Union Peacemaking Work Committee and the Nationwide Ceasefire Coordination Team, representing more than a dozen armed ethnic rebel groups, were stymied by disagreements over military and other issues.

The two sides, however, agreed to a fourth draft of a nationwide cease-fire agreement, whose points would require internal discussion before they meet again this month.

Reported by Kyaw Myo Min for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khet Mar. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.

Myanmar: No Rush to Return for Kayin's Displaced

7 October 2014 - 12:35am
Source: Refugees International Country: Myanmar, Thailand

By Jeff Crisp

"Thailand’s pledge to repatriate 100,000 Burmese refugees sparks concern.” “Refugees fear forced return to Myanmar.” “Thai and Burmese armies to discuss refugee repatriation in August.” According to these recent news reports, the 140,000 refugees from Myanmar who are currently exiled in neighboring Thailand are about to go home, whether they like it or not.

Refugees International traveled to Myanmar’s Kayin State to test the validity of such assertions, and found the reality of the situation to be quite different.

Located in southeastern Myanmar, Kayin State has an estimated population of around 1.7 million people. Due to a long armed conflict between the country’s central government and an ever-changing assortment of local rebel groups, more than 50,000 Kayin residents fled to Thailand – the largest number of refugees from any state in Myanmar. In addition, Kayin State has a population of around 90,000 internally displaced people(IDPs).

The displacement crisis in Kayin State began in the early 1980s and continued until 2012, by which time most of the region’s rebel groups had negotiated tentative ceasefire agreements with Myanmar’s central government. So why does the return and reintegration of Kayin State’s refugee and IDP populations seem unlikely in the immediate future?

To answer that question three issues have to be taken into account.

First, Thailand’s recently installed military government would certainly like to see the end of the Myanmar refugee situation on its western frontier. But it is aware that forced repatriation would bring renewed instability to the border region, and that violating the principle of voluntary returns for refugees would incur the disapproval of the international community.

Second, the vast majority of Myanmar refugees in Thailand have little intention of returning to their country of origin in the immediate future. Many have been scarred by the violent events that forced them into exile. They are not convinced that Myanmar’s ceasefires and the country’s current process of political reform are sustainable. They have been living in camps for many years and have become accustomed to that way of life. And their community leaders have an interest in maintaining a status quo which allows them to act as the representatives of the refugee population.

There is growing evidence to suggest that Kayin State’s refugees and IDPs are visiting to their places of origin for days or weeks to assess whether the time is right for permanent return. But very few have made that decision.

Third, while the processes of political and economic reform in Myanmar are proceeding quite rapidly in places like Yangon, their impact in conflict and displacement-affected states such as Kayin are far more difficult to discern. According to an analysis prepared by the local office of the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), there continue to be numerous obstacles to the early return and long-term reintegration of Kayin State’s refugees and IDPs.

The state’s administration continues to be fragmented, with the central government and its rebel opponents controlling different and shifting areas of territory. While Kayin State has considerable economic potential, its development is being distorted by land grabs, as well as exploitative and illicit forms of economic activity, including illegal logging and drug trafficking.

To make things worse, land mines continue to litter Kayin State’s landscape. Public services such as health and education are woefully inadequate for the existing population, let alone a sudden influx of returnees. And the state’s infrastructure is extremely weak. The main road into Thailand, for example, is so narrow that the direction of traffic has to be alternated from one day to the next.

Confronted with these many challenges, UNHCR has taken the unusual step of initiating a very early-stage planning process for a voluntary repatriation and reintegration program – one that might take several years to materialize. Led by Vicky Tennant, a veteran of humanitarian operations in countries such as Afghanistan, Ethiopia, Pakistan, and Somaliland, the UNHCR team is confronted with a wide range of difficult questions.

When exactly and on what scale will the refugees and IDPs return to Kayin State? Will they return in an organized and collective manner, or go home in a more spontaneous and individual way? Will they go back to their villages of origin, or will they prefer to take up residence in urban areas? To what extent will they retain linkages with Thailand once they have repatriated?

What forms of assistance should be provided to them and the communities in which they settle? And how will humanitarian organizations such as UNHCR be able to work in together with the Myanmar authorities, which for many years have been ostracized by the international community as a result of their very poor human rights record?

Myanmar: Shan groups pledge common vision at Bangkok meeting

6 October 2014 - 9:53pm
Source: Democratic Voice of Burma Country: Myanmar

By SHWE AUNG

Three Shan armed groups and two major Shan political parties—the Shan Nationalities Democratic Party and the Shan Nationalities League for Democracy (SNLD)—wrapped up a meeting in Bangkok on Friday that was designed to craft a common vision to the peace process and Burma’s 2015 elections.

The event, entitled “Towards a Common Understanding – Shan Leaders Consultation”, was held on 2- 4 October. In addition to the two political parties the following Shan ethnic armed groups attended the conference: Shan State Army-South (SSA-S), Shan State Army-North (SSA-N), and a lesser-known Shan militia group allied with the government which is based in the northern Shan state town of Hsipaw.

The meeting was also attended by Aung Min, who has been leading peace negotiations with armed ethnic groups on behalf of the Union government as deputy head of the Union Peace-making Work Committee (UPWC).

Sai Lek, secretary of the SNLD, said the groups discussed the delays which have bogged down negotiations on the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement (NCA). The Shan groups also agreed that armed conflict can only be resolved through political dialogue, and that certain guarantees should be granted by the government prior to singing a ceasefire.

Sai Lek said one of the main causes of delays in the peace process has been a lack of trust between Burmese government forces and armed ethnic groups.

“One of the main reasons for delays in the peace process has been a breakdown of trust. The government—especially the Burmese army—doesn’t have much confidence in the Nationwide Ceasefire Coordination Team [the delegates negotiating the NCA on behalf of armed ethnic groups]. At the same time, armed ethnic groups have started to seriously doubt the sincerity of the government because its position has become more intransigent ever since Burmese army officersjoined the talks,” said the SNLD secretary.

Sai Lek also expressed doubts regarding the claim that continued fighting between the Burmese army and armed groups in Shan state was due to the absence of a code of conduct regulating the opposing armed forces, and he speculated that the government forces might be taking advantage of the peace process by deliberately launching attacks on armed groups.

“Some people cited the lack of an agreed-upon code of conduct as the reason for the continuation of clashes, but if that is the case then these clashes should only be sporadic. However, from what we are seeing they look more like a planned offensive, intentionally carried out by the Tatmadaw [Burmese army],” he said. “But it may or may not be true.”

On the second day of the meeting, the groups released an open letter to President Thein Sein denouncing an offensive last week in which over 1,000 troops Burmese troops attacked SSA-N positions in Ta Pha Saung Village in Shan state’s Kehsi Mansam Township as a violation of previously-signed tentative ceasefire agreements; and they called on the government to solve political problems via political means.

At the end of the meeting, the Shan groups released a joint statement containing the following a three-point agreement pledging: to join hands in negotiating with the government on matters relating to the future of the Union and Shan State; to cooperate for the purposes of enhancing peace-building efforts in Shan State and across the Union of Burma; and to continue negotiating and using political means to resolve political issues.

Myanmar: Karen delegates hold closed-door talks with government

6 October 2014 - 9:48pm
Source: Democratic Voice of Burma Country: Myanmar

Representatives from the Karen National Union (KNU) and the Karen Unity and Peace Committee (KUPC)—an assorted group of Karen MPs, civil society members and Karen armed groups—held a closed-door meeting with Burmese government officials on Saturday in Taungoo to discuss ways of bringing about unity and peace for the Karen people.

The meeting was attended by: members of the KNU central committee including Mahn Nyein Maung; Karen ethnic affairs ministers from various administrative regions in Burma; members of the Karen People’s Party, including the party’s deputy chairman; and Karen ethnic MPs.

KNU central committee member Saw Hla Tun said that the parties had reached an agreement on several issues by the end of the meeting, including a call by the Karen representatives for greater cooperation in bringing about unity and peace for the Karen people. The Karen attendees also reportedly agreed with the government on the need to end armed conflict and practice patience. Finally, Karen MPs agreed to make endeavours to ensure that basic human rights of Karen people are protected and Karen youths enjoy a bright future.

Meanwhile, the Democratic Karen Buddhist Army’s (DKBA) 5th Battalion—the only DKBA unit that refused to be absorbed into the government’s Border Guard Force, and which subsequently re-branded itself as the Democratic Karen Benevolent Army (also known as DKBA)—is expected to meet with government counterparts on Monday to negotiate the return of firearms the group seized from Burmese troops during a series of skirmishes last week.

Maj. San Aung from the breakaway Karen faction said last week’s gunfire “did not a signal a breakdown of the peace process; rather, it was designed to let the country and the world know about the oppression taking place at ground level in Karen State.”