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Myanmar: 277 servicemen punished for child soldier recruitment

9 April 2015 - 12:46am
Source: Democratic Voice of Burma Country: Myanmar

Two hundred and seventy seven servicemen of the Burmese military, including 50 officers, have had action taken against them for recruiting child soldiers, according to Deputy Home Affairs minister Brig-Gen Kyaw Zan Myint.

Speaking to the lower house on Wednesday, the minister made the comments while responding to a formal question from MP Khine Maung Yee of Rangoon’s Ahlone Township. The MP requested information about the provision of birth certificates for children in both urban and rural areas to protect them from forced labour, abandonment and human trafficking, and recruitment into the military.

Kyaw Zan Myint also said that while there were no specific plans on the prevention of these issues, when perpetrators of abandonment of a child under 12 are caught they can be punished by up to seven years, while traffickers can be sentenced from 10 years to life imprisonment.

Burma’s government has previously been accused of inaction, and even complicity, on the matter of child soldiers.

Child Soldiers International (CSI), who released their latest report in January, have characterised Burma’s political crossroads as an “unprecedented opportunity” to solve the country’s child soldier crisis.

It is nearly impossible to get an accurate view of the scale of the child soldier problem in Burma. Low rates of birth registration, an inaccurate and decentralised military record system, and a lack of government forthcoming – factors that lend themselves to easily recruiting minors – make it hard for observers to gauge the numbers affected. Since the International Labour Organisation’s Complaints Mechanism on Forced Labour was established in 2007, it has received 1,293 complaints regarding child soldiers in Burma, but CSI say that this is not representative of the real numbers.

Myanmar: Government takes measures to prevent child labour, recruitment as soldiers

9 April 2015 - 12:46am
Source: New Light of Myanmar Country: Myanmar

Deputy Minister for Home Affairs Brig-Gen Kyaw Zan Myint.—mna

Nay Pyi Taw, 8 April — The government is taking measures to prevent child labour and the employment of children in dangerous or illegal work, including the recruitment of minors into armed forces, Deputy Minister for Home Affairs Brig-Gen Kyaw Zan Myint told the Pyithu Hluttaw session on Wednesday.

Those who abandon or traffic children, or force them to beg, will also be targeted, the deputy minister said, in accordance with criminal and juvenile laws.

Those who abandon a child under 12 are liable to a maximum seven-year sentence. Trafficking children for forced labour is subject to a life sentence under the anti-human trafficking law, according to the deputy minister.

The ministry of health is also trying to issue birth certificates when newborns are discharged from hospitals to prevent abandonment of children, the deputy minister added.

Concerning child soldiers, the deputy minister said that armed forces have their own rules and regulations for recruiting new soldiers who are required to be between the ages of 18 and 25.

Armed forces have released 594 child soldiers who were recruited improperly, while action was taken against 50 officers and 277 other personnel who recruited child soldiers.—MNA

World: Global Emergency Overview Snapshot 1 - 8 April 2015

8 April 2015 - 8:34am
Source: Assessment Capacities Project Country: Afghanistan, Angola, Bolivia (Plurinational State of), Burundi, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Chad, Colombia, Democratic People's Republic of Korea, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Djibouti, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Gambia, Guatemala, Guinea, India, Iraq, Jordan, Kenya, Kiribati, Liberia, Libya, Malawi, Mali, Mauritania, Myanmar, Niger, Nigeria, occupied Palestinian territory, Pakistan, Philippines, Rwanda, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan, Syrian Arab Republic, Turkey, Uganda, Vanuatu, World, Yemen

Snapshot 1–8 April 2015

Iraq: Violence, looting and serious human rights violations were reported as Iraqi forces and affiliated groups recaptured Tikrit. There are numerous booby traps and tensions are reportedly rising between government forces and militias. Elsewhere, IDPs are returning: tens of thousands have gone home to Diyala, Ninewa and Al Alam in Salah al Din since February.

Syria: Islamic State has taken large parts of Yarmouk Palestinian refugee camp after days of intense fighting. 2,000 of the 18,000-strong population are thought to have escaped the camp. 15,000 people have fled Idleb since its takeover by Jabhut al Nusra and Ahrar al Sham.

Yemen: More than 100,000 are reported displaced since the Saudi-led coalition began airstrikes on 26 March. Access, already difficult, is worsening. It is very difficult to move within the country, and port and airport access is restricted.

Kenya: An Al Shabaab attack on Garissa University left 147 dead and 79 injured. The Kenyan Government ordered the recruitment of 10,000 more police, and sent fighter jets to bomb Al Shabaab bases in Somalia. In Dadaab refugee camp, Garissa, suspected Al Shabaab stormed the premises of an NGO, killed one person and injuring three.

Updated: 08/04/2015. Next update: 14/04/2015

Global Emergency Overview Web Interface

Thailand: 3,000 lose homes after camp blaze

8 April 2015 - 1:01am
Source: Bangkok Post Country: Myanmar, Thailand

Republished with permission. © Post Publishing Plc. www.bangkokpost.com

Fire swept through a Myanmar refugee camp in Mae Hong Son province shortly before noon yesterday, leaving more than 3,000 people homeless.

Some 250 living quarters at the Ban Mai Nai Soi camp in Muang district of the northern province were reduced to ash.

There were no reports of serious casualties, said district chief Sarawut Thaichaoren, who was alerted to the blaze about 11.30am.

Fire engines and firemen from the Pang Mu tambon administration organisation, Muang municipality, and an infantry task force were sent to the scene.

The blaze was brought under control by 1pm.

Pol Maj Gen Jaruek Limsuwan, commander of Mae Hong Son police, said no official word on the cause was available.

However, Mr Sarawut said the fire started in the living quarters of a woman identified as Pamae who was boiling water at the time.

The flames spread quickly, fanned by strong winds. The fire sent thousands of refugees fleeing for their safety.

One person's arm was broken but there were no reports of deaths.

About 3,500 refugees were left homeless.

Authorities have turned Nai Soi School and a local temple into temporary shelters for the refugees while authorities determine where to house them.

Non-governmental organisations yesterday sent supplies of drinking water and basic necessities to help the refugees, he said.

Mae Hong Son governor Surapol Panas-amphon toured the camp around 1.30pm and ordered that help be given.

The fire broke out despite authorities, including soldiers, police, and officers from the Interior Ministry last week organising anti-fire training sessions at the camp which is home to a total of 10,428...

On Monday night, a fire broke out at Mae La Oon refugee camp in Sop Moei district of Mae Hong Son which damaged five living areas affecting 27 refugees.

Myanmar: Authorities step up temporary ID card collection

7 April 2015 - 9:33pm
Source: Mizzima News Country: Myanmar

The Myanmar authorities have collected about 40,000 temporary identification cards from displaced and stateless Rohingya Muslims in restive Rakhine State, part of the process of applying for citizenship, reports Radio Free Asia on April 6.

An immigration officer in the state capital Sittwe told RFA that more than 10,000 of the “white cards” were being collected daily in the western Myanmar state, following a declaration by President U Thein Sein in February that they would expire on March 31.

The controversial move came about because of a bill that would have allowed white card holders to vote in a referendum on constitutional amendments, which drew sharp opposition from Buddhist nationalists.

Most of the temporary identification card holders are Rohingya, a Muslim minority of around 1 million people who live in Rakhine State. The Myanmar government refers to them as “Bengali” because it views them as illegal immigrants from Bangladesh, although many have lived in the country for generations.

Myanmar: Annual Drought Plagues Inle Lake

7 April 2015 - 9:25pm
Source: Irrawaddy Country: Myanmar

By ZARNI MANN

MANDALAY — Southern Shan State’s famed Inle Lake is again facing drought conditions that have seen many of the area’s waterways dry up and access to clean water reduced.

Though boating through the lake’s central reservoir remains possible, water levels are significantly lower at the villages of Ywa Ma and Nant Huu, located on the southwest end of the lake near the Phaung Daw Oo Pagoda, and at the waterway south to Nang Pan village.

“To restore the waterways, dredging the silt is urgently needed,” said Thar Gyi, a resident of Thale Oo village. “Many of the waterways of the villages on the eastern and western banks are mostly dried up. The worst-hit villages are on the western bank.”

High temperatures and the failure of pre-monsoon rains to materialize this year are being blamed for the drought, which can cause particular headaches in an area that largely relies on water transport. Currently, water levels in the channel linking the lake to the tourist town of Nyaung Shwe and the entrance to Phaung Daw Oo Pagoda, the lake’s most famous shrine, are down considerably but motorized boats are still able to pass through.

“We’ve informed the local authorities to dredge the waterway before summer. It was done only for the waterway to the pagoda and for the VIPs’ waterway—the routes to major attractions and hotels,” said a member of the pagoda’s board of trustees.

According to locals, many villagers are taking the channels on foot on water routes that are too shallow or have completely dried up and can no longer accommodate boats.

“Climate change is affecting us a lot. Given the drought, we are now struggling to find clean water,” said U Damadaza, an abbot from Phaung Daw Oo Pagoda.

Many of the area’s residents rely on lake water for cooking and other household tasks.

“Those who can’t afford bottled water have no choice,” U Damadaza explained. “We hope that conservation of the forests around the lake will work as soon as possible to protect the lake.”

Unrelated to the drought, lake dwellers were told by local authorities through a letter of notice that water from the lake was not suitable to drink, especially during the summer months. The notice said the water’s PH level, an indicator of acidity, was measured in February exceeding 8.2—a level beyond what is considered potable—and was likely to rise further in the summer.

The notice also urged lake dwellers to reduce their use of chemical fertilizers on the many floating gardens that the lake hosts, with local authorities warning that consequences of unrestrained use of fertilizers included water toxicity and attendant negative impacts for the area’s flora and fauna.

In the summer of 2010, high temperatures and an irregular monsoon season blamed on climate change resulted in severe drought in the area, a popular tourism destination. Every year since, Inle Lake has been plagued by similar problems.

“Support from authorities is needed for environmental protection of the lake. The lake dwellers also need to be educated about excessive use of chemicals on crops to protect clean water as well,” said U Damadaza.

“We hope the summer won’t last long,” he added.

In Shan State, a bout of showers preceding the monsoon rains typically arrive in mid-March, with the rainy season fully setting in by June and lasting through September.

Myanmar: Report on the Human Rights Situation in Burma (July- December 2014)

7 April 2015 - 6:05am
Source: Network for Human Rights Documentation-Burma Country: Myanmar

Introduction

Throughout the period from July to December 2014, ND-Burma documented 107 human rights violations across Burma. The violations documented during these six months occurred in areas of armed conflict but also in areas covered by ceasefires. Each violation is a specific incident, but it may involve any number of victims, from one victim of killing, to forced labor involving many victims, to the forced displacement of an entire village. ND-Burma’s findings demonstrate that, despite progress in reaching ceasefire agreements with non-state armed groups, the government has made little progress protecting the human rights of its citizens.

Furthermore, continued arrests of human rights defenders demonstrate that the government is not serious about working with civil society to protect human rights.

During this period, people in Burma, especially activists, communities, and victim’s families have dared to raise the issue and demand the truth of what actually happened to their loved ones. For instance Ko Aung Kyaw Naing, also known as Ko Par Gyi, was a freelance journalist who went missing while he was in Mon State. In October, the Burma Army announced that Ko Par Gyi was fatally shot when he attempted to grab a weapon and flee while being investigated in military custody.1 Later Ma Thandar, an activist and wife of Ko Par Gyi, tried to demand that the Burma Army state the truth regarding what happened to Ko Par Gyi. Finally the Myanmar National Human Rights Commission (MNHRC) agreed to investigate the case, however the commission’s report was unsatisfactory to the victim’s family and activists who had seen Ko Par Gyi’s body and believed that he was killed following brutal torture.

This period also marked the three year anniversary of the disappearance of Samlut Roija, a 28 year old ethnic Kachin woman who was abducted by the Burma Army from Light Infantry Battalion 321 along with her husband and father-in-law, near their farm in Hkaibang village, Momauk Township, Kachin state in 2011. Her husband and father-in-law escaped while she was brought to the army camp.

Later Samlut Roija’s family submitted a letter asking authorities about her fate. Both the military and civilian authorities refused to supply an answer. In March 2012, her husband submitted a letter to the Supreme Court, which was also rejected. Therefore on the third anniversary of her disappearance, over 100 organizations signed a petition and demanded the Burmese government fully investigate her forced disappearance and hold the perpetrators accountable.

In 2012, Ja Seng Ing, a ninth grade Kachin school girl who lived in Maw Wan quarter No.1, Sut Ngai Yang village of Hpakant was shot and killed by the Burma Army while she and her friends hid during fighting between the Burma Army and Kachin Independence Army (KIA).3 Mr. Brang Shawng, the father of Ja Seng Ing, submitted a petition to authorities asking them to investigate this incident. However Mr. Brang Shawng was instead charged under Article 211 of the Myanmar Penal Code for making “false charges” against the Burma Army in a letter he sent to the Myanmar National Human Rights Commission (MNHRC) in October 2012.4 On December 6, 2014, the Ja Seng Ing Truth Finding Committee (the Committee) released a 42 page report titled “Who Killed Ja Seng Ing?” which documents the testimonies of 16 individuals with knowledge of the events surrounding Ja Seng Ing’s death. The committee also called on the Burmese Government to initiate an investigation into her death.5 At the Letpadaung copper mining project in Sagaing Region, 56 year old Daw Khin Win was fatally shot by the police in December while she and villagers gathered to protest against a Chinese mining firm, Wanbao, which attempted to fence off an area which the company had not yet legally acquired.6 While human rights defenders and activists call for the truth about how victims suffered and for perpetrators to be held accountable, they were met with repressive laws such as well-known controversial Article 18 of the Peaceful Assembly and Peaceful Procession Act and Article 19, the sister clause.

In July, Chin State, eight Chin activists – were charged under Article 18 of “The Right to Peaceful Assembly and Peaceful Procession Act” for protesting without permission after they organized a demonstration in protest of the beating and attempted rape of a 55 year old woman from Rezua sub-township in Matupi Township, Chin State by a soldier from the Burma Army. Even though these Chin activists applied in advance to the respective police station requesting to hold a demonstration, they still faced threats and intimidation from local officials according to Chin Human Rights Organization (CHRO) statement.

Following the death of 56 year old Daw Kin Win at the site of the Letpadaung copper mine, activists Daw Naw Ohn Hla, U Nay Myo Zin and Daw Sein Htwe, who led demonstrations calling for an investigation into and accountability for the killing, were arrested.

Political and rights activists are still behind bars according to the monthly chronology issued by Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (Burma) in December 2014. By the end of December, 81 political activists remain in prison, with 78 farmers in jail and 203 people awaiting trial. As another year passes by the government’s promise to release all political prisoners by the end of 2013 is once again left unfulfilled.

Since 2011, the government has attempted to negotiate ceasefire agreements with the 16 non-state-armed groups in Burma. Although preliminary ceasefires have been signed with 14 of these groups, fighting between government troops and the two remaining groups without ceasefires continues, as well as clashes between parties to ceasefires. Armed clashes between Ethnic Armed Organizations (EAO) and the Burma Army in 2014 are stated below:

Clashes recorded as following:

Kachin State 73 clashes, KIA and Myanmar army, Karen State 13 clashes, Karen National Union (KNU) 3, Democratic Karen Benevolent Army 10 (DKBA), Mon State 3 clashes (DKBA), Rakhine State 3 clashes, Rohingya Solidarity Organization (RSO), Shan State 143 clashes, Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA) 113, Shan State Progress Party (SSPP) 17, Restoration Council of Shan State (RCSS) 13, Taninthari Region 1 clash (KNU), Bago region 1 clash (KNU)

Even though the government has held negotiations and other meetings with ethnic armed groups, they have not yet reached a genuine political solution. Offensives continue in ethnic areas such as Kachin state and in the Palaung areas of Northern Shan State. As a result of the fighting, almost 100,000 people have become internally displaced in Kachin and Shan States.

Micronesia (Federated States of): Asia and the Pacific: Weekly Regional Humanitarian Snapshot (31 Mar - 7 Apr 2015)

7 April 2015 - 5:29am
Source: UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs Country: Bangladesh, Micronesia (Federated States of), Myanmar, Philippines, Vanuatu

VANUATU

As of 3 Apr, 166,000 people remain affected on 22 islands. 50,000 people received emergency shelter assistance, 20,000 received hygiene kits, and nearly 11,000 children were vaccinated against measles. Despite the provision of assistance across all sectors, needs remain, with an estimated 110,000 people are in need of drinking water. On 2 Apr Government-led teams completed a round of assessments to ascertain humanitarian and early recovery needs across several sectors. A Flash Appeal for nearly US$30 million remains 64 percent unfunded.

166,000 people affected

110,000 people in need of water

BANGLADESH

On 5 Apr a severe local storm affected 14 districts across the country. The storm killed at least 40 people, and injured nearly 300. Casualties were caused by collapsed homes, landslides, and lightning strikes. Bogra district is the worst affected. Reports indicate that nearly 92,000 families are affected, and that 29,000 homes are destroyed with another 70,000 damaged.
The Government is providing assistance.

92,000 families affected

29,000 homes destroyed

PHILIPPINES

Typhoon Maysak weakened into a tropical storm as it made landfall on northern Luzon on 5 Apr. The storm affected 2,800 people in Isabela and Aurora provinces. There are no reports of casualties.

FEDERATED STATES OF MICRONESIA

The Government and humanitarian partners continue to deliver food, water, medical supplies, and temporary shelter to the islands and atolls affected by Typhoon Maysak. The Ulithi atoll took the most direct hit from the typhoon, with the majority of homes destroyed and reports of significant damage to crops and infrastructure as well as contamination of food and water sources. The affected populations in Chuuk and Yap are highly reliant on subsistence farming and damage to crops was significant. School buildings were also damaged and classes in Chuuk are temporarily suspended. Power is being restored in Chuuk and the main Yap island, however the outer Yap islands are still without power. The dispersed nature of the affected communities across many small islands and atolls – spanning hundreds of kilometres – will increase the complexity of the humanitarian response.
At the request of the Government, OCHA deployed a five-person UNDAC team to provide support in response coordination, assessments, and information management. IOM and the Micronesia Red Cross Society are also supporting the Government with logistics support, humanitarian coordination, and needs assessments.

Myanmar: Myanmar Authorities Step Up Collection of Temporary Identification Cards

7 April 2015 - 12:52am
Source: Radio Free Asia Country: Myanmar

Myanmar authorities have collected about 40,000 temporary identification cards from displaced and stateless Rohingya Muslims in restive Rakhine state, part of the process of applying for citizenship, an official said Monday.

Khin Soe, an immigration officer in the state capital Sittwe, said more than 10,000 of the “white cards” were being collected daily in the western Myanmar state, following a declaration by President Thein Sein in February that they would expire on March 31.

The move came about because of a bill that would have allowed white card holders to vote in a referendum on constitutional amendments, which drew sharp opposition from Buddhist nationalists.

Most of the temporary identification card holders are persecuted Rohingya, a Muslim minority of around 1 million people who live in Rakhine (Arakan) state. The Myanmar government refers to the Rohingya as “Bengali” because it views them as illegal immigrants from Bangladesh, although many have lived in the country for generations.

“From April 1 to April 5, we collected 44,651 cards,” Khin Soe told RFA’s Myanmar service. “According to that rate, we will collect all white cards within a monthly or slightly longer.”

There are a total of about 700,000 white card holders in Rakhine state, and 37 immigration groups have been collecting the cards around the state, he said.

The Rohingya must turn in all the cards by May 31 so they can apply for Myanmar citizenship by June 1, according to the citizenship law of 1982, he said.

The citizenship law does not recognize the term Rohingya as an ethnic minority of Myanmar, so that members of the group cannot obtain government documentation by using the term to identify themselves.

Khin Soe said white card holders would have to show proof of a long family history in Rakhine state if they wanted to obtain Myanmar citizenship and have an identity card again, according to a report last week in The Irrawaddy online journal.

Authorities backed by security personnel visited nearly a dozen camps where the Muslim Rohingya have been housed since they were displaced by a violent and deadly clash with majority Buddhists in 2012, Agence France-Presse reported last week. About 140,000 Rohingya have been displaced by violence since then.

It was unclear whether those who surrendered their cards would be able to begin the citizenship process, the report said, because they do not have any other form of national identification.

But those who give up their white cards receive a “receipt” to prove they had a temporary identity card and can begin the citizenship verification process in June, Khin Soe said, according to The Irrawaddy report.

U.N. criticism

Yanghee Lee, the United Nations special rapporteur on Myanmar, said the expiration of the temporary white cards raised more uncertainties about the status of the Rohingya and further increased their vulnerability, according to a news release by the Burmese Rohingya Organization UK following a Rohingya panel discussion at the U.N. Human Rights Council in Geneva on March 18.

Lee also warned that Myanmar was backsliding because of continued discriminatory restrictions on the freedom of movement of Muslim internally displaced persons, which also infringed on other basic fundamental rights, the news release said.

Chris Lewa, director of the Arakan Project, a research and advocacy group that focuses on the northern part of Rakhine state, denounced the citizenship verification process and the cancellation of white cards, because it could lead to a total exclusion of the Rohingya in Myanmar, the news release said.

She believes that the withdrawal of the white cards goes beyond denial of the right to vote and risks leaving the Rohingya without any legal documentation and the right to reside in Myanmar, it said.

White cards were issued by Myanmar’s former military junta for the 2010 elections, which saw Thein Sein’s nominally civilian government take power from the regime. An army-backed political party won seats in areas with sizable numbers of white card holders.

White card holders in the process of applying for citizenship include members of other ethnic minorities such as the Kokang and Wa, and people of Chinese and Indian descent, in addition to roughly half a million Rohingyas.

In early February, the Myanmar parliament approved a proposal by Thein Sein to allow people with temporary identification “white cards,” most of whom were Rohingya, to vote on a referendum on constitutional amendments to the country’s junta-backed constitution, which could come as early as May.

Hundreds of people took to the streets in Myanmar’s commercial capital Yangon on Feb. 11 to protest the government’s decision to allow people without citizenship, including Rohingya, to take part in the referendum.

Reported by Min Thein Aung of RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khet Mar. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.

Myanmar: Political Prisoner Count Soars During Month of Arrests

6 April 2015 - 10:27pm
Source: Irrawaddy Country: Myanmar

By NYEIN NYEIN / THE IRRAWADDY| Monday, April 6, 2015 |

RANGOON — The number of political prisoners in Burma has increased to nearly 470, according to a rights group, in a major backslide after a series of amnesties in recent years geared toward ridding the countries jails of prisoners conscience.

The Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP), among Burma’s most active advocates for prisoners of conscious since it was founded on the Thai-Burma border in 2000, said that 172 people are now serving prison terms for politically motivated charges, while 296 others are awaiting trial.

Those currently in prison include political and land rights activists, farmers, journalists, members of ethnic armed organizations and students, the AAPP said in its monthly bulletin. The charges include various controversial clauses such as unlawful assembly, incitement, unlawful association and rioting.

The group said that a spike in arrests over the past month indicate that there is “no sign of abating” in political imprisonments, particularly in light of the detention of more than 100 people during a crackdown on demonstrators in Letpadan, central Burma, early last month.

AAPPP Secretary Bo Kyi told The Irrawaddy that the incident proved there is “no political stability in Burma yet,” urging the government to hold officers accountable for violence against and wrongful arrest of the demonstrators.

“If actions are not taken against those [police officers], it shows that this is the government’s policy [to use violence against peaceful protesters],” said Bo Kyi.

The group said that individuals on the roster are identified by using criteria established by the AAPP and the Rangoon-based Former Political Prisoners Society in August 2014.

While the AAPP once participated in a government committee tasked with identifying and releasing prisoners of conscience, which made recommendations throughout a series of presidential amnesties, the committee was reconstituted early this year, controversially excluding the AAPP.

Bo Kyi described the new committee as “just for show,” adding that it is ultimately under the control of Home Affairs Minister Lt-Gen Ko Ko, a controversial figure who was recently fingered as a potential war criminal by a Harvard-based legal clinic.

During his time on the committee, the number of political prisoners dropped to just 33 by the start of 2014. President Thein Sein, however, had promised to free all political prisoners by that time, which he failed to accomplish.

Myanmar: Ethnic Groups Consider Holding Ceasefire Conference in Wa Rebel Area

6 April 2015 - 4:48am
Source: Irrawaddy Country: Myanmar

By LAWI WENG / THE IRRAWADDY

RANGOON — Burma’s ethnic armed groups are considering convening at the headquarters of the powerful United Wa State Army (UWSA) in northern Shan State to discuss the potential signing of a nationwide ceasefire accord, a UWSA representative said on Monday.

“Some [ethnic] leaders told us that they will come if the meeting is held in our area, but for some leaders we are not sure yet as we do not have a chance to talk to them,” said Aung Myint, a UWSA spokesperson.

“We have not sent an invitation yet to all ethnic armed groups. [But] we told them that we would welcome holding a meeting in our area of control,” he told The Irrawaddy.

Aung Myint said some leaders of Nationwide Ceasefire Coordination Team (NCCT), which represent 16 ethnic groups engaged in nationwide ceasefire talks with the government, had contacted the UWSA to ask whether they could hold the conference at Wa headquarters in Panghsang, a town located on the Burma-China border.

NCCT representative Lian H. Sakhong told BBC Burmese language that the ethnic groups are considering convening in either the UWSA area, the Kachin Independence Army’s Laiza headquarters, or at the Karen National Union (KNU) area of control.

Last week, the NCCT and the government’s Union Peacemaking Working Committee (UWPC) succeeded in negotiating an in-principle agreement on the content of a ceasefire accord text. The understanding between the sides represents a potential breakthrough if the government, the Burma Army and a significant number of ethnic armies can sign the ceasefire in coming weeks.

NCCT representatives have said they need to hold a conference with the leaders of their ethnic groups to discuss if each group can accept the content of the more than 100-point text, which has been kept under wraps.

State media have celebrated the in-principle agreement as a historic breakthrough and government negotiators have said Naypyidaw is ready sign an accord that could help end Burma’s decades-old ethnic conflict.

It is understood, however, that a number of key political differences—such as disarmament of ethnic armies, federal autonomy for ethnic regions and the army’s demand that the groups come under the 2008 Constitution—have been left out of the text. These issues will have to be discussed in the extended political dialogue phase that is supposed start soon after the accord’s signing.

The UWSA are Burma’s most powerful rebel army, with an estimated 20,000 soldiers under arms and sophisticated Chinese-supplied weapons. The Wa have had a fairly stable ceasefire with the government for more than two decades. The group controls are large swathe of territory between the Salween River and the Burma-China border called the Wa Special Region.

The UWSA have observed the ceasefire talks but are not a NCCT member.

Aung Myint said the UWSA would consider joining the nationwide ceasefire accord after it was signed, adding, “We would need to talk about it more, before we could sign.”

Naypyidaw is likely to accept the Wa as a signatory to an accord, but has objected to several other groups that are considered NCCT members. It declines to recognize the Kokang rebels of the Myanmar Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA), the Arakan Army and several other small ethnic armed groups.

Since February, the Burma Army has been engaged in fierce fighting with the MNDAA is northern Shan State, where tens of thousands of civilians have been displaced and dozens of soldiers and rebels have been killed.

Myanmar: The Lahu yearn for better education for their children

6 April 2015 - 2:39am
Source: Mizzima News Country: Myanmar

By Ariana Zarleen

KYAINGTON, SHAN STATE – In the mountains of eastern Shan State, the Lahu are among the many ethnic groups who continue their traditional farming lifestyle in largely inaccessible remote mountain villages.

Lahu suffer from a disproportionate lack of education and development. As most Lahu live in remote villages, they often have restricted access to any services, including education. Most villagers are illiterate, traditional medicine is used widely, infrastructure is non-existent and there is limited access to electricity or water, say local activists.

The area around Kyaington, the main city in eastern Shan State, is surrounded by ethnic villages, some of them Lahu, and all are at least partly under government control. The Lahu have no army to protect them, and instead, many Lahu have joined militia groups that are directly under Tatmadaw control.

Local NGOs face double jeopardy when conducting training in the area as they say they fear not only the government but also their own people. Mary, a veteran Lahu politician and member of the Shan State parliament, told me there was no big Lahu political movement because of a lack of education.

Lahu people do not feel equal to other ethnic minorities, Mary told me in the living room of her home in Pan Lin village.

“Some Lahu people have difficulties as they look down on themselves in relation to other ethnic people, because other people are more educated and richer than them,” she said.

De Paw La Bo, a young Lahu woman who works for a local Lahu group and regularly conducts training, echoed Mary’s views. “Lahu people is lack of education,” she said in English. “They do not have a chance to study like other ethnic people.”

Lack of education

Isolated communities and widespread poverty create barriers for the Lahu to access education. In some remote Lahu villages, there are schools but no teachers, De Paw La Bo told me quietly in her office. The government sometimes expects poor villagers to pay for the teacher’s salary, she said.

Many Lahu people have no means of earning an income and are certainly unable to contribute towards anyone else’s salary. Most villagers farm rice and vegetables for their family’s survival. Some sell farm produce in towns, but for isolated villages four or five hours from the nearest town, accessing markets is hardly an option.

During a visit to Pan Lin, only an hour from Kyaington, I am told it is much more developed than remote communities. Houses in Pan Lin have tin roofs, the school has teachers and some of its pupils have study materials such as books, pens and school bags.

Na Ga, 60, is one of the Lahu residents of Pan Lin who grows her own food. Although her family has enough to eat, generating income is a significant challenge. “Very difficult,” she said when asked about making a living. “We cannot sell our products because we have no communication with other people.”

Na Ga had 10 children, of whom seven survived childhood. She has found ways to support her children to go to school, doing day labour for others. “Sometimes we go find something in the forest and sell it in the village,” she added.

Calling for more support

In a discussion with De Paw La Bo and her colleague, Eh Na, at their office, I realise that the locals are sometimes confused about the origin of the support provided to Lahu villagers.

Eh Na believes that the study materials for Lahu children came from the government but De Paw La Bo was quick to correct her that they were provided by the United Nations Children’s Fund, UNICEF. “Not government,” said De Paw La Bo. “Government didn’t support anything.”

The two women also explained that the support reaches a fraction of the children and only those living near townships. De Paw La Bo laughed at the memory of her nephew proudly showing a UNICEF school bag that only three other children had received in his village. She also laughed when asked if Lahu villages have electricity.

NGO-backed educational initiatives are also accessibly only near the towns, the women said. “Lahu people need to give a lot of knowledge,” said De Paw La Bo. “But now I see most NGO they go and they give [training] only near in township,” she said, emphasising the need to access remote areas.

In Kyaington, U Ye Sheh, the chairman of the Lahu National Development Party in the area, shares many of the women’s opinions.

He receives no salary for his work and the money he earns managing a farm supports his political activities.

“I want to say to the world please help our Lahu people in order to improve their education level,” said U Ye Sheh, who lives in a modest house and was the only one of eight siblings to receive an education.

Freedom from fear

Mary said a lack of education was one reason why the Lahu do not have a big political movement. “The current Lahu situation is that some Lahu people are afraid of participating in politics and not brave because they are uneducated,” she said.

“If others come and train Lahu people to have more confidence and courage to work for the Lahu people, they will also be free from fear to participate in politics,” Mary said.

Mary, who has been a member of the LNDP for 25 years, said she is the only Lahu woman in the 139-member Shan State parliament.

As a woman and a member of an ethnic minority, Mary has faced significant challenges during her long career. “I was told that ‘you are just a woman involved in politics and you can be captured and tortured,’” she said. Despite repeated threats and fears for her life, Mary never gave up the struggle.

In recent years, she has found more freedom to speak and write, although concerns remain. “We cannot do what we want to do if the ruling body doesn’t allow, like now even though they say we have democracy, they still constrain the power and oppress the people because they don’t rule it as a democratic country.”

U Ye Sheh has learned to let go of his fears. “I am not afraid [to participate in politics] because I work and stand for justice,” he said.

Personal sacrifice

De Paw La Bo, who conducts training in Lahu villages, said security is a major concern for her and her colleagues.

They have no protection and because they fear both the Tatmadaw and the Lahu militia providing political training can be nerve-wracking. “For security now we are not only afraid [of the government] but also we have to be afraid of our Lahu military, militia. Because Lahu militia already cooperate with the government,” De Paw La Bo said.

“We are worried, this a bit dangerous for security. But now is a bit better than before, a little bit better than before but we are still afraid when we give training or something like this,“ she said.

De Paw La Bo said Lahu militia sometimes attend their training, watching silently and creating anxiety among the trainer and the participants. “So this time we [are] still afraid [of] these two groups of people, not only government but also each other ethnic armed group… Really afraid.”

Despite the fear, and the loud objections that De Paw La Bo hears from her family against taking part in activities that compromise her security, this determined young woman continues her mission to share her knowledge.

Mary is also determined to continue her work. “We have to sacrifice our times with all that we have to lift up our Lahu people if we really want to work for our people. Nobody can work for the well-being of their own people without sacrifice.”

The world of the Lahu

The Lahu ethnic group is believed to have originated in China and lives in villages scattered throughout mountainous areas of China, Myanmar, Laos and Thailand. There are several subgroups of Lahu, including the Lahu Na, Lahu Shi Ba Lan, Lahu Ban Keo, Lahu Nan Keo, and Lahu Ku Lao, each with their own traditional dress. Most Lahu are animist and even those who are Christian and Buddhist often mix their religious beliefs with traditional animist practices. Lahu throughout the four countries speak Lahu and can usually understand each other, although dialects vary. Birth dates are often unknown and birthdays are not celebrated. Instead, Lahu people get together for the most important celebration across the regions, the Lahu New Year, held at different times in different countries, but revered all the same.

The most important celebration

The most important celebration for the Lahu is the Lahu New Year, which is often celebrated at different times not only throughout countries but also from village to village.

In Pan Lin, the villagers celebrated for seven days during the first week of January, while most villages in the area placed the special day on January 20. In Kyaington, the three-day celebration was held from January 27 to 29.

Lahu New Year is one of the only times each year that Na Ga, a Lahu farmer in Pan Lin, leaves her village. “I go to Kyaington maybe once a year, especially for the New Year to dance,” she said, adding that her husband is one of the leading dancers in her village. This year, it was Na Ga’s turn to provide the costly pig for the village’s New Year feast and she did not make her annual trip to town.

U Ye Sheh, the Lahu National Development Party’s leader in the Kyaington, remembers celebrating New Year in the town since he was a child. He was hoping to be involved in the organising committee this year but was not allowed. It is because “they are afraid of politics,” he said.

U Ye Sheh said Lahu New Year is a special time for everyone to come together and celebrate the ending of the old year and the beginning of the new.

Although the celebration has different meanings to different people, “the Lahu pancake (made of sticky rice) and pork is compulsory,” U Ye Sheh said.

Other similarities across families and regions include traditional dancing, rituals to show respect to elders and forgiving mistakes.

In Kyaington, Lahu militia was a conspicuous presence during the three-day celebration, walking through the crowds and sometimes participating in activities such as gambling. The militia is under the command of the Tatmadaw, which has camps in villages throughout the area, including at Pan Lin.

“Last year in New Year, also there was fighting over there, under the mountain range,” U Ye Sheh said, pointing at nearby peak from his living room window. Lahu people are often trapped in conflicts between the many armed groups in the area, sometimes even during their most important celebration of the year.

*The names of some people in this article have been changed to protect their identity. (Ariana Zarleen is a co-founder of Burma Link, a non-government organisation based in Mae Sot, Thailand, that works to amplify the voices of Myanmar’s ethnic nationalities and displaced people).

Myanmar: Govt forces ‘kill civilians’ in Kachin State: NGO

6 April 2015 - 2:34am
Source: Mizzima News Country: Myanmar

Free Burma Rangers, a frontline provider of medical aid to displaced civilians in Myanmar, has highlighted continued incidents of aggression by government forces despite the signing of a draft peace agreement between the opposing forces, according to a report in Karen News on April 3.

FBR said attacks are continuing including an incident on March 23 in which soldiers from the 10th Infantry Battalion allegedly killed a father, his wife and their son at Du Hku village, Kachin State. The village is located close to Kachin Independence Army positions.

The Kachin conflict erupted in June 2011 when the Myanmar military attacked Kachin Independence Army positions, shattering a 17-year-long ceasefire.

“Despite recent meetings between senior representatives of the Kachin Independence Organization, President U Thein Sein and Burma Army military head Min Aung Hlaing to discuss a potential ceasefire agreement, incidents of aggression by the Burma Army have increased to levels not seen since initial fighting in 2011,” FBR said in a media statement.

FBR said it witnessed repeated air attacks from helicopter gunships and jet fighters throughout March.

A 2012 report by Human Rights Watch estimated that fighting in Kachin State had displaced 100,000 civilians. It also accused government forces of raping, torturing and killing civilians.

Bangladesh: BGB push back 514-Rohingya within one month

6 April 2015 - 2:30am
Source: Kaladan Press Network Country: Bangladesh, Myanmar

Teknaf, Bangladesh: Border Guard Bangladesh (BGB) pushed back 514 Rohingyas including 319 men, 129 women and 68 children to Burma within one month—March, 2015,-- according to second commander Abu Rasel Siddique of BGB Battalion No.42 of Teknaf, Bangladesh.

“They are arrested by BGB while illegally entering Bangladesh from various points of Burma-Bangladesh border. Later on, they were pushed back to Burma by BGB after giving some food and medicines.”

The fate of the pushed back Rohingya is unknown, Alamgir, a Rohingya from border said.

Besides, the BGB personnel also seized a lot of Yaba tablets worth Taka over 123.75 million from Burma-Bangladesh border within last month (in March), the BGB official more added.

Especially, the BGB and coast Guard of Bangladesh have been trying to curb the Yaba smuggling from Burma since long, but failed. Though the BGB out-posts in border area are closely built one after another to watch the Yaba smugglers, they are not able to stop the Yaba smuggling to Bangladesh, a local trader from Teknaf said on condition of anonymity.

Another man from border area said, “The villagers who are living in border areas quickly become rich after involving in Yaba smuggling. So, the people who are not involved in Yaba before are also interesting in Yaba smuggling.”

The big smugglers carry Yaba to Chittagong by water way from Akyab (Sittwe), the capital of Arakan State, according to a trader from Teknaf preferring not to be named.

Thailand: Pala U Noi Medical Update March 2015

6 April 2015 - 12:29am
Source: Jungle Aid Country: Myanmar, Thailand

Meeting at our usual time of 7am in Hua Hin, loaded up with many donated clothes, shoes, tooth brushes, soap and mosquito nets we set off in our newly donated truck from the Rotary, Rivers Foundation and several private sponsors all making our medical trips possible. Our team included our dedicated translators, Area manager and nurse, plus 7 students from Webster Universirty who will be supporting us with the field trips and also with fund raising through crowd funding which we are hoping is going to start next month.

Our first stop was at the Home for Students only 1 hour away where we have 29 orphans living together. There were many sick people who had walked to this location to be seen by our nurse Emma who was able to assess and treat them. The Webster students did a great job supporting with translation enabling us as a team to see as many people as possible. From the home for students we continued to drive 1 hour through dense jungle and riverbeds to the village of Pal u noi.

The assessment team was able to obtain a lot of information and was able to discuss their current needs:

  • Health promotion-village representatives to take on the role for maternal health and environmental health including waste disposal

  • Water tanks to be installed, repair current water pump and install additional pump

  • Pilot the use of small solar panels to replace oil lamps

During the assessment, the medical clinic continued. In total 36 people were seen by our nurse. There were many young adults with many different problems such as cataracts, tuberculosis, spinal injury, many skin infections and support needed with family planning. There were at least 7 patients who will be seen at Hua Hin hospital this week for follow up. One of the students that were able to translate will also help with the visits at the hospital where it is often difficult to support all the patients in different departments of the hospital.

After both the medical and village assessment had been completed the clothes, shoes, children’s toys were gratefully received.

Without your support we cannot offer the help that is needed.

After an amazing day with the incredible volunteers and incredible people we work with we headed home.

Thank you for supporting the work we do

Myanmar: LWF Submits Parallel Reports to Human Rights Council

3 April 2015 - 3:42pm
Source: Lutheran World Federation Country: Myanmar, Nepal

(LWI) – Safeguarding human rights of disadvantaged groups in Myanmar and Nepal is a prime concern of The Lutheran World Federation (LWF). Therefore, the LWF has submitted two reports on the Human Rights Situation in Nepal and Myanmar to the UN Human Rights Council (HRC) for the so-called Universal Periodical Review (UPR) of those two countries. The reports are based on consultations LWF staff did with rights-holders and civil society organizations they work with in those countries.

“In general, the rights-holders in communities within which we work are not able to access their fundamental rights that are needed for their survival, such as right to land and right to water,” the Myanmar report states. For Nepal, the report recommends more actions to safeguard the participation of women, children, the elderly and people with disabilities. “In Nepal, Dalit, persons with disabilities, former bonded laborers, indigenous peoples and Muslims continue to live on the margins of society,” the summary reads.

The reports contribute to the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) process, a unique mechanism of the United Nations Human Rights Council (HRC) aimed at improving the human rights situation on the ground of each of the 193 United Nations Member States. Under this mechanism, the human rights situation of all UN Member States is reviewed every 4.5 years. As part of the process, non-governmental organizations are invited to submit firsthand reports, so-called parallel reports. The member states can take these findings into consideration when they present their list of recommendations to the country under review.

Consultations with Local Communities

The Lutheran World Federation (LWF) has been invited to submit these parallel reports for the UPR of Nepal and Myanmar. The reports were assembled by LWF country programs during a 3-month consultation process with communities and civil society actors in the respective countries. “The country programs have both spoken to a range of community members, local community-based organizations and authorities to put together these reports,” LWF Advocacy Officer Ojot Ojulu says.

The reports submitted by the LWF focus on land rights, non-discrimination, and the right to education, health, housing, water and food. The report on Myanmar also mentioned the lack of identity papers and registration of births as a major human rights concern. Without legal identity, people are not able to exercise their most basic civil rights and are denied services such as education and health care.

“We encourage civil society actors to use these reports and discuss the recommendations with their respective governments and authorities in the light of the upcoming UPR reviews for both these countries,” Ojulu says.

Long-Standing Commitment

LWF Myanmar is a country program of the LWF Department for World Service. Since 2009 it has been working with marginalized and disadvantaged communities in the areas of emergency preparedness and response, creating sustainable livelihoods, food security, water, sanitation and hygiene, disaster risk reduction and human rights.

In Nepal, the LWF country program has been working for over 30 years in the areas of refugee assistance, disaster risk reduction, emergency preparedness and response, sustainable livelihoods and community-led actions for governance and justice. LWF in Nepal has been advocating for the rights of Tibetan and Bhutanese refugees, (former) bonded laborers and members of the lowest Hindu caste, the Dalit.

The UPR for Myanmar and Nepal will take place during the 23rd session of the UPR Working Group in November 2015.

Myanmar: Fighting Reported Between Govt and Arakan Army

2 April 2015 - 11:45pm
Source: Irrawaddy Country: Myanmar

By LAWI WENG / THE IRRAWADDY

RANGOON — Fighting broke out on Sunday between government troops and the Arakan Army in western Burma, in what is believed to be the first time in a decade that ethnic Arakanese armed rebels in the region have come to blows with the Burma Army.

The Arakan Army is largely based in Laiza, Kachin State, where the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) is headquartered, but ethnic rebel soldiers from the group have begun returning to Arakan State in recent months. A report from the Arakan Information Department, which disseminates information about the Arakan Army on Facebook, said two Burma Army soldiers were killed and two were detained near Kyauktaw Township in the weekend fighting, during which the department said Burma Army guns and ammunition were also seized.

The fighting began at 3 am and continued until 7:30 am on Sunday, the report said, adding that the Arakan Army had suffered no casualties.

The Arakan Army formed in 2008 and has been active in Laiza, where it trains with the KIA. Most recently, the Arakanese armed group has been in the news since claiming its involvement in ongoing hostilities in northeast Burma that have primarily pitted the government against ethnic Kokang rebels.

Arakanese armed rebel forces belong to one of two groups, the other known as the Arakan Liberation Party (ALP), which last clashed with the Burma Army about 10 years ago and signed a ceasefire with the government in 2012. The ALP has participated in ongoing peace negotiations as a member of the Nationwide Ceasefire Coordination Team (NCCT).

The Arakan Army is also considered part of the NCCT by other ethnic rebel groups, but the government does not recognize its claim to membership.

A statement from the NCCT on Saturday said the group was concerned that ongoing hostilities between the Burma Army and a handful of ethnic armed groups was undermining the country’s stalled peace process.

The statement asked for the government’s “tolerance” and “cooperation” in working to resolve Burma’s long-running ethnic conflicts, saying: “While having negotiations to reduce fighting in northern Shan and Kachin [states], there is ongoing fighting, in which ground forces and the Air Force were used in fighting in northern Shan. Our work will be in vain, and it is sad to see that there is ongoing fighting there. Peace—expected by people in Burma and also internationally—will be far away by doing this.”

The statement was issued just one day after Snr-Gen Min Aung Hlaing said in a speech on Armed Forces Day that “in the implementation of a ceasefire and the peace process, the disarmament, demobilization and reintegration [of ethnic armed groups] is essential.”

The disarmament, demobilization and reintegration (DDR) term has been a contentious sticking point in peace negotiations, with ethnic groups preferring to address the issue as a matter of security sector reform (SSR). One of the essential unanswered questions in ongoing peace negotiations is the fate of the tens of thousands of rebel soldiers serving more than a dozen ethnic armed groups across Burma.

Peace talks are due to reconvene on Monday after a one-week pause, with the government speaking positively about prospects for a long-sought nationwide ceasefire agreement, while some ethnic leaders have expressed doubt about the ability of negotiators to bridge remaining differences.

Myanmar: Strategic Research into National and Local Capacity Building for DRM - Myanmar Fieldwork Report

2 April 2015 - 6:27pm
Source: Oxford Policy Management Country: Myanmar

1.1 Introduction to the research

In September 2013, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) contracted Oxford Policy Management and the University of East Anglia to conduct Strategic Research into National and Local Capacity Building for Disaster Risk Management. To date there has been little formal, empirical research that has been conducted on capacity building for disaster risk management (DRM), and as a result international actors lack robust, evidence-based guidance on how capacity for DRM can be effectively generated at national and local levels. The research project has been designed as an initial step towards filling that knowledge and evidence gap.

Our central aim in the research is therefore to draw lessons and guidance on ‘how to’ build DRM capacity in a range of contexts. We will do this by analysing the characteristics, effectiveness and relative importance of a range of capacity building for DRM interventions across a variety of country contexts.

Our objectives are to research the following overarching issues of concern:

  1. How is capacity for DRM generated most effectively at both national and local levels?
  2. What factors enable or constrain the building of national and local capacity for DRM?
  3. How and why does this vary across different environments?
  4. How is the international community currently approaching the task of building national and local capacities for DRM?
  5. How can we identify and measure improving capacity for DRM?

The core research is based on a country case study approach. A pilot study was conducted in March / April 2014 in Ethiopia. The second case study was conducted in Pakistan in June 2014 using the refined standardised methodological framework for data collection and analysis. The third case study was conducted in Myanmar in November 2014. This report sets out the approach taken and the findings of the case study. Three further case studies will take place which will enable comparative analysis across countries and interventions. In each case study we look in-depth at 1- 3 programmes that involve capacity building for disaster risk management.

The Research Team is led by Dr. Roger Few, Senior Research Fellow at the School of International Development (DEV) in the University of East Anglia. The Project Manager is Zoë Scott who is a full-time staff member at Oxford Policy Management. The Fieldwork Leader is Kelly Wooster and the Research Assistant is Mireille Flores Avila, who both were assisted in Myanmar by national consultants Kyaw Myo Min and Kye Soe.

World: CrisisWatch N°140, 1 April 2015

1 April 2015 - 6:39pm
Source: International Crisis Group Country: Burundi, Colombia, Guinea-Bissau, Myanmar, Nigeria, South Sudan, World, Yemen

March saw significant improvements in resolving longstanding conflicts, particularly in Myanmar and Colombia. However, Yemen’s political crisis tipped into all-out war, and fighting increased again in South Sudan following suspension of the peace talks. In Africa, election-related tensions worsened ahead of Burundi’s June presidential elections, while renewed international support to Guinea-Bissau gave a lift to political stability and reform. In a significant development for West Africa and beyond, Nigeria witnessed, for the first time in its history, the ousting of a ruling party through national elections, with Muhammadu Buhari’s victory in the 28 March presidential elections.

Yemen is at war. On 26 March, Saudi Arabia and ten other (mostly Arab) states launched an air campaign against the Huthis and allied military units loyal to former President Ali Abdullah Saleh, with the aim of restoring President Hadi’s government. Since his escape from house arrest in February, Hadi had been cobbling together an anti-Huthi alliance in the southern city of Aden. Clashes are fragmenting the country and could spread, while the regional military intervention is augmenting sectarian divides and diminishing the possibility of a negotiated political solution. In our latest report, we call for a UN Security Council brokered and monitored ceasefire, followed by UN-led peace talks with backing from Western and Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) allies. In South Sudan, the conflict also worsened. Fighting increased following the early March suspension of peace talks between the warring parties. On 24 March, the UN Security Council threatened sanctions against “senior individuals” responsible for violence.

On a positive note, Myanmar’s government and ethnic armed group negotiators agreed on the text of an historic Nationwide Ceasefire Accord on 31 March, a significant step in bringing an end to six decades of armed conflict. The text now has to be ratified by the armed group leaders. Several contentious political and military issues have been left for a subsequent political dialogue process, including the shape of future armed forces; there is little time to address these issues before elections scheduled for later this year. The agreement followed a hiatus of almost six months in the talks, and comes despite ongoing serious clashes in the Kokang region between the military and Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army. In Colombia, the 33rd round of peace talks between the government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) ended on 7 March with an unprecedented agreement on a joint humanitarian demining effort. On 10 March, President Santos temporarily suspended bombardments on guerrilla camps in a bold move that reinforces the message of conflict de-escalation and helps stabilise FARC’s three-month-old ceasefire.

Elsewhere in Africa, political tensions over President Pierre Nkurunziza’s potential third term and social discontent rose in Burundi ahead of June presidential elections. Ruling CNDD-FDD party hardliners announced they would use “any means” to secure Nkurunziza’s candidacy, and reportedly launched a terror campaign against those who oppose it. Intimidation and repression of the opposition continued: on 15 March, the wife of opposition leader Agathon Rwasa survived an assassination attempt. In a significant step forward, Nigeria’s 28 March presidential elections resulted in a peaceful transfer of power. Opposition All Progressives Congress (APC) candidate Muhammadu Buhari defeated incumbent President Goodluck Jonathan, in a historic victory that saw the first ousting of a ruling party in a national election in Nigeria’s history. Electoral violence rose as the polls drew closer, but pressure from the international community and President Jonathan’s early acceptance of defeat significantly reduced post-election tensions. The international community together with national leaders will now need to keep stressing that any incitement to post-election violence will not be tolerated.

In Guinea-Bissau the highly-anticipated 25 March donor conference yielded positive results, as international partners pledged some €1.15 billion in aid over ten years. This influx of financial support prompted renewed optimism regarding the country’s long-needed wide-ranging reforms and economic development (see our new report on security sector reform in Guinea-Bissau).

Myanmar: President U Thein Sein witnesses signing of draft nationwide ceasefire agreement in Yangon

1 April 2015 - 6:29pm
Source: Government of Myanmar Country: Myanmar

Nay Pyi Taw,31 March

President U Thein Sein witnessed the signing of a draft nationwide ceasefire agreement between the Union Peace-making Working Committee and the Nationwide Ceasefire Coordination Team at the Myanmar Peace Centre in Yangon on Tuesday, according to officials.

Before the signing ceremony, the president cordially greeted members of both sides, calling them the builders of peace as desired by the people.

The draft agreement came after several rounds of talks, which the president described as a significant step towards the signing of the nationwide ceasefire agreement.

The signing will pave the way for political dialogue, he said, adding that potential obstacles can be overcome through negotiations between the two sides.

The move was seen as the “Second Panglong Victory”, which is historic and significant for national consolidation, he noted.

The draft nationwide ceasefire agreement was signed by the UPWC and NCCT. Signatories of the UPWC were U Aung Min, U Thein Zaw, Lt-Gen Myint Soe, Union Minister Lt-Gen Thet Naing Win and Member of Parliament U Khet Htein Nan. Signa tories on the NCCT side were U Naing Han Tha, Pado Saw Kwe Htoo Win, Maj-Gen Guan Maw, Dr Salai Lianmong Sakhoung and Col Khun Okkar.

President U Thein Sein enjoyed a luncheon with members of UPWC and NCCT and left for Nay Pyi Taw in the afternoon.