Myanmar - ReliefWeb News
Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia | AFP | Sunday 11/30/2014 - 04:54 GMT
by Julia ZAPPEI
Bibijan Rahimullah stepped aboard a small boat in Myanmar in October for what she was told would be a week-long journey to Malaysia to escape violence and discrimination afflicting her Rohingya ethnic group.
Instead, she and her three young children endured a harrowing, month-long odyssey by sea and land, packed "like sardines" on a series of vessels and watched several fellow migrants die or be beaten to death, their bodies tossed into the sea like garbage.
"I didn't expect the tragedy we faced on the way to come here. If I had known, I would never have come. I would rather die in my home," said Bibijan, 27, during an interview in Malaysia's capital Kuala Lumpur.
Muslim Rohingya -- labelled by the United Nations as one of the world's most persecuted minorities -- have for years braved the dangerous passage down the Andaman Sea and Thai coast to Malaysia.
They flee discrimination and repression in predominantly Buddhist Myanmar, where authorities view the roughly 1.3 million Rohingya as foreigners, denying most of them citizenship and placing restrictions on their movement, marriages and economic opportunities.
But the flow has accelerated into a growing exodus two years after deadly clashes erupted between Buddhists and Rohingya in Myanmar's Rakhine state, activists said.
Chris Lewa of Rohingya rights group Arakan Project, which monitors departures, said an estimated 19,000 have fled since early October.
The exodus comes partly as conditions deteriorate in squalid Rakhine camps where roughly 140,000 people, mostly Rohingya, live after being displaced by the violence.
- Bodies tossed overboard -
Increasing numbers of women and children are risking a journey previously taken mostly by men, activist said.
Bibijan, her five-year-old son and daughters aged two and three, left their home in northwestern Rakhine to join her husband, who fled to Malaysia two years earlier.
She paid people-smugglers $2,500, some of it borrowed.
A small boat packed with dozens of people took them down a river to a ship anchored at sea, where they waited several days in cramped conditions as hundreds were brought aboard, leaving space only to sit.
"It was very crowded. People became like fish, like sardines," said Bibijan.
Wracked by sea-sickness, she would pass out between bouts of vomiting.
Women were fed twice daily, a meagre meal of rice and three dried chillies, and some water. Men ate once, or not at all.
"(The men) became very weak. When they asked for more food, they were beaten with rifle butts and iron rods," Bibijan said, her big, fearful black eyes peering out under a black Muslim headscarf as her children clung to her.
About a dozen people died at sea, some beaten to death by smugglers, others succumbing to hunger, dehydration or illness, said Bibijan, who saw corpses thrown overboard.
Activists said larger ships were being used to accommodate growing numbers, and accuse authorities in Myanmar, Malaysia and Thailand of looking the other way or profiting from the illegal people-smuggling.
Once, Myanmar authorities boarded, shining torch lights into the faces of Bibijan's terrified family. They let the boat proceed.
Rohingya activists allege a coordinated campaign to chase the group from Myanmar.
"They want to drive all the Rohingya out of the country," said Saifullah Muhammad, a Rohingya activist in Kuala Lumpur, adding that Rohingya smugglers were aggressively soliciting new passengers in a drive for profit.
The United Nations in November passed a resolution urging Myanmar to allow equal access to citizenship for Rohingya.
But President Thein Sein last week dismissed the allegations that Rohingya were fleeing abuses as "media exaggeration".
Near the Thai coast, Bibijan's cohort was shifted to another vessel and forced to wait at sea for a number of days as still more human cargo was brought in, including Rohingya and migrants from impoverished Bangladesh.
After nearly a month at sea, they finally set foot in Thailand, walking through jungle for several hours to a makeshift camp where discipline was enforced with beatings.
"They didn't do anything to us. But we heard women are being harassed. I myself saw (women being taken away). They use women like slaves. At night they are taken one by one (and abused). We were scared," Bibijan said.
- 'Scared in our hearts' -
After another move, the exhausted family finally piled into a van in early November to be driven to Kuala Lumpur.
Rights groups have criticised Thailand for pushing Rohingya back out to sea, holding them in overcrowded facilities or complicity in the smuggling.
Thailand said last year it was investigating allegations that some Thai army officials were involved.
Dimitrina Petrova of London-based group Equal Rights Trust, which recently launched two reports on Rohingya, called the situation for fleeing Rohingya "inhumane".
"Both Malaysia and Thailand have failed in their international obligation to provide protection to Rohingya. Even young able-bodied men sometimes don't survive the journey," she said.
Some are promised jobs in Malaysia but get cheated by the traffickers and end up in forced labour or prostitution in Thailand unless they can buy their way out, which Human Rights Watch called a "horrifying new twist" to the "systematic abuses of Rohingya boat people".
More than 40,000 Rohingya refugees, registered with the UN, are in Malaysia. Rohingya activists say there are roughly equal numbers of un-registered Rohingya.
Muslim-majority Malaysia has no laws to protect refugees though it accepts them temporarily. Those who are un-registered face arrest and languish in detention unless granted coveted UN refugee status.
More are expected due to conditions in Myanmar.
Doctors Without Borders, which provided healthcare to hundreds of thousands across Rakhine, was expelled early this year by Myanmar's government. It is awaiting permission to return.
The World Food Programme, which provides almost all food for the camps, warned last month funding woes could force it to reduce rations.
Bibijan's family now struggles to eke out a living in Malaysia, with her pharmacist husband cutting grass and performing other odd jobs for about 50 ringgit ($15) a day.
They live in fear of arrest, but are relieved to have escaped.
"In Malaysia we are safe. In Myanmar we are always scared in our hearts," Bibijan said.
© 1994-2014 Agence France-Presse
By SITHU ZEYA
Representing the Burmese government, representatives from the Myanmar Peace Centre (MPC) sat down with the ethnic armed groups’ Nationwide Ceasefire Coordination Team (NCCT) in Chiang Mai on Thursday to continue discussions about the peace process; however any talk of a ceasefire was overshadowed by the recent shelling of a Kachin training camp by the Burmese army, which left 23 cadets dead and 20 injured.
NCCT Vice-chairman Nai Hongsa said it would now be “completely impossible” to sign a nationwide ceasefire agreement by the end of this year following the Burmese army’s deadly assault on the boot camp which was located near Laiza, headquarters of the Kachin Independence Army (KIA).
He said the killing has effectively brought negotiations to a standstill.
Nai Hongsa said Thursday’s meeting in northern Thailand focused on mending the growing level of distrust between the ethnic armed groups and the government.
“The level of trust has plummeted to a new low,” said the NCCT vice-chairman. “Now we must focus on mending the relationship to keep negotiations from breaking down completely.”
The Chiang Mai round of talks was attended by the MPC’s Min Zaw Oo and Hla Maung Shwe, while the KIA’s Vice chief-of-staff Gen Gun Maw Sumlat and the New Mon State Party leader Nai Hongsa headed the 16-member ethnic team.
Although the training camp was run by the KIA, the 23 young cadets who were killed on 19 November were not Kachins, but members of other affiliated militias. Eleven were from the Palaung State Liberation Front, eight from the Arakan Army, two from the Chin National Front, and two from the All Burma Students Democratic Front.
The Burmese military has claimed that the artillery shell that killed the cadets was a warning shot which inadvertently hit the camp.
By HNIN YADANA ZAW
RANGOON — The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) on Thursday announced a record US$30 million budget for work in Burma over the coming year, as the organization plans to spend a full 25 percent more worldwide than it did last year to meet “vastly expanding needs.”
The ICRC told reporters in Rangoon this week that the funds will largely be allocated to projects in Arakan, Kachin and Shan states, where armed and communal conflicts have displaced enormous numbers of civilians in recent years.
“We will focus on conducting humanitarian activities and development of refugee camps in Rakhine [Arakan], Kachin and Shan states in the coming year,” said Moe Myint Aung, a senior public relations officer for the ICRC. He added that the ICRC 2014 budget in Burma was just over $24 million.
The new budget will accommodate several projects including the upgrading medical equipment, streamlining hospitals and increasing access to healthcare in camps for internally displaced persons (IDPs) in the three states.
“We will use some of the budget for other conflict [affected] areas if necessary, and we plan to act jointly with all stakeholders of the conflicts,” Moe Myint Aung said.
The ICRC was recently granted permission from the Burmese government to establish sub-offices in Myitkyina, that capital of Kachin State, and Kengtung in eastern Shan State. The office in Myitkyina opened in March 2014, while the new facility in Kengtung is set to open in January 2015.
Michael O’Brien, an ICRC spokesperson, said the ICRC will work closely with the Ministry of Health and the Myanmar Red Cross Society, which already has an established nationwide network.
“We work very closely with the Ministry of Health and the Myanmar Red Cross Society. They have branches all over the country, so we do a lot of our activities through them,” he said.
There are six ICRC offices operating in Burma, located in Hpa-an, Mandalay, Mrauk U, Myitkyina, Sittwe and Rangoon. The ICRC in Burma has a staff of about 300.
An independent association based in Geneva, Switzerland, the ICRC carries out humanitarian assistance in conflict-affected areas worldwide. The overall 2015 budget for ICRC operations worldwide is $1.8 billion.
The ICRC has been present in Burma since 1986, conducting activities including IDP assistance and detainee welfare, though access to Burma’s prisons is still highly restricted since visits resumed in 2013 after a long hiatus.
The ICRC was among the organizations affected by mob violence in Arakan State earlier this year, when local communities accused foreign aid workers of favoring Muslim communities in the predominantly Buddhist state. All foreign aid workers were temporarily evacuated when locals attacked their offices and warehouses.
Some services have returned to the area—which was devastated by communal violence between Arakanese Buddhists an Rohingya Muslims that began in mid-2012—but only a fraction of former aid to the region has yet been restored.
This World AIDS Day (1 December 2014) we are warning of the urgent need to prioritise HIV and sexual and reproductive health services for adolescents, particularly in the global south where they are slipping through the cracks when it comes to healthcare.
Pacifique, 20, (second from right) was born with HIV but didn’t find out his status until he was ten years old. “My mum refused to disclose my status to me. She told me I had a heart problem but that I would get better. When I first found out, I thought I was someone who won’t live for very long. I thought I couldn’t even get married, I was just here waiting for my death,” he said.
There are an estimated 2.1 million adolescents living with HIV, with more than 80% of them living in sub-Saharan Africa. Many don’t know their HIV status.
The Alliance, together with a consortium of international and national non-governmental organisations, is currently spearheading an ambitious three year country programme – Link Up - which aims to improve the sexual and reproductive health and rights of more than a million young people aged 24 and under who are living with and affected by HIV in Ethiopia, Bangladesh, Burundi, Myanmar and Uganda.
In Burundi, where Pacifique is from, more than half of the population is under 17. Link Up is focusing on young people living with HIV, young men who have sex with men and young women who sell sex and aims to reach 175,000 young people and adolescents with tailored HIV and sexual and reproductive health services that reflect their specific circumstances.
A safe space
Earlier this year, with support from Link Up, community organisation RNJ+ launched a new youth centre in Bujumbura offering services including counselling and testing to support these vulnerable groups to get better education on HIV, sexual health and contraception. It is the first youth-led centre of its kind in Burundi, providing a safe space in a conservative and religious society.
Initially bullied at school for his HIV status, Pacifique can be himself at the youth centre. “RNJ+ is my second family. It’s where I can meet young people who share the same views, who have the same way of seeing the world, and they’re the ones who support me.”
Executive Director, Cedric Nininahazwe, 27, has known Pacifique and many of its other 400+ members for years. He too recalls how “I felt safe when I joined RNJ+”.
Cedric and his sister Nadia were orphaned when Cedric was 11. Both parents died from HIV-related illnesses, and Cedric would later find out that he was born with HIV at age 15, and his sister would test positive at age 25.
All three are contributing to a HIV free future, and in doing so showing what’s possible when you engage people who are most affected by HIV. Pacifique is the director of a theatre group which raises awareness of HIV and related issues within the community, and Nadia, supported by Link Up, has initiated a female condom project which will initially benefit young women living with HIV and sex workers.
Globally, the majority of new HIV infections are among young people which is why engaging young people in the HIV response and reducing stigma is critical to halting the epidemic.
With this in mind we have developed Cell Survivor in conjunction with Developing Dreams to mark World AIDS Day. This original online game is intended to engage new audiences with some of the issues that adolescents living with HIV in the global south face.
Aimed primarily at young gaming enthusiasts, the aim of the game is to help protect a single CD4 cell from pathogens including the HIV virus. The final level challenges gamers to survive without condoms or antiretroviral tablets, which is the reality for many young people living with HIV around the world who do not have access to such life-saving support.
Rakhine state in Myanmar/Burma has long suffered from ethnic tensions between different ethnic groups in the region, resulting in approximately 140 000 internally displaced persons (IDPs). Lutheran World Federation implements Finn Church Aid’s Education in Emergencies, a programme funded by the European Commission's Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection department (ECHO). In the first of this two-part series, Finn Church Aid's Eeva Suhonen gives us a taste of life for 17-year-old Hla Tin, who just recently enrolled in formal education for the first time.
The violence which erupted between Muslims and Buddhists in 2012 forced Hla Tin, 17, and his family to leave their home. Life in temporary camps is hard without meaningful activities, but he is now attending non-formal education classes for two hours a day and dreaming of a future profession.
For a very long time there have been tangible tensions in the state of Rakhine in Myanmar. Approximately 140 000 people were forced to leave their homes when the ethnic tensions burst into fully-fledged violence two years ago. Now the displaced people are living in camps; Muslims among Muslims and Buddhists among Buddhists. The troubled situation has lasted nearly two years.
Teachers love their students
Last spring, a big change came for Hla Tin, whose life had been full of frustration and idle time. With the help of Finn Church Aid, temporary schools made out of bamboo were constructed, teachers were trained, pupils were selected and they received school materials. For the very first time in his life, he got a chance to attend a school class.
“Writing words was very difficult at first. I was actually a little depressed at how challenging it was and when I couldn’t write everything. But the teacher encouraged me and said no-one can learn everything in a day. I just had to practice more”.
The non-formal education class has pupils of different ages and skill levels. On average, they are between 13 and 17 years old. Youth who never had the chance to attend school before now have the opportunity to learn to read, write, and calculate -- skills which will surely be useful later in life. In each class, there are two teachers, who also have time to guide each student personally when needed.
Hla Tin says that the teachers in his class are good – they take care of the students constantly and help out with the exercises. “Teachers love us. They are like my own family”.
The interagency camp profiling process is an on-going activity promoted, coordinated and delivered by the Shelter/NFI/CCCM Cluster. The information is collected from a number of sources and compiled into a series of a single camp profiles. This document represents single camp profile. The source of information are cluster focal points.
Note: The document contains 23 pages
MANILA, PHILIPPINES – An $80 million Asian Development Bank (ADB) loan will upgrade a road providing a key link in and out of Myanmar’s agriculturally rich but underdeveloped Ayeyarwaddy Delta.
“Upgrading the Maubin-Phyapon road which traverses the southeast of the delta will dramatically improve connectivity, cut travel times, reduce transport costs, and support economic development and livelihood opportunities for many poor communities,” said Jamie Leather, Principal Transport Specialist in ADB’s Southeast Asia Department. “It will also help Myanmar establish new business opportunities in rural areas which are expected to emerge as a result of the country’s ongoing economic liberalization program.”
The delta is Myanmar’s main rice growing region and has significant potential for large scale agribusinesses and seafood industries. However the road network’s poor condition, due to years of neglect and the impact of Cyclone Nargis in 2008, deters enterprises like cash crops and high-value seafood products which require decent roads to get goods to market on time and in good condition.
The project will upgrade a 54-kilometer north-south section of the road and bridges along the route, as well as finance new testing facilities for the Ministry of Construction and its Public Works department. Climate-resilient features have been incorporated in the project design, including an increase in the height of parts of the road to improve clearance during seasonal floods and to cope with any climate-related storm surges. Surfaced shoulders to be built on both sides of the route will allow safe travel for non-motorized traffic and pedestrians and connections to the local waterway network will improve access to the more remote areas of the delta.
The project’s targets include reducing travel time along the route by 20%, tripling traffic volumes, and supporting new agribusinesses and agricultural processing facilities by 2022. The project is part of ADB’s broader engagement with Myanmar in the roads sector and is a pilot initiative to demonstrate best practices for future road network improvements. It will run for around 3 years with an expected completion date of September 2018.
ADB, based in Manila, is dedicated to reducing poverty in Asia and the Pacific through inclusive economic growth, environmentally sustainable growth, and regional integration. Established in 1966, it is owned by 67 members – 48 from the region. In 2013, ADB assistance totaled $21.0 billion, including co-financing of $6.6 billion.
Larkin, John Gerard
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Transit Centre No. 1, Yangon, 24 November: Wearing traditional Myanmar checkered lungyis and starched white shirts with rounded collars, the young people sit down in rows of chairs and wait for further instruction. Most of them sit quietly but some fidget nervously and shift in their seats, craning their necks forward to see how the ceremony is progressing.
They are 80 children and young people, all once recruited and used in the Tatmadaw. It is their final roll call as they prepare to leave the armed forces, discharged on the grounds that they should never have been enlisted in the first place. This is the eighth round of children released since June 2012 when the Government of Myanmar signed an Action Plan with the United Nations to end and prevent the recruitment and use of children in the Tatmadaw.
Kyaw Thu*, 19, is one of the young people being discharged. He was recruited in 2013 when he was 17, yet under the Myanmar Military Act it is illegal to recruit children into the armed forces if they are aged under 18.
An outstanding student, Kyaw Thu had just finished 10th grade with top marks at his school in a remote delta region in Southeast Myanmar. Recruiters had come to his village after the final year high school exams had taken place.
The promise of escaping grinding poverty and being employed with a good salary was appealing to Kyaw Thu. He agreed to visit the cadet facilities in Yangon with his mother when the recruiters suggested he see for himself what was on offer.
“When I saw the training grounds and wanted to leave, they demanded that I had to stay otherwise I would have to pay back the money they had spent to get my mother and I there.”
“My mother and I didn’t have any [money] between us. I had to stay.”
Kyaw Thu’s one year in the navy was difficult. He worked menial jobs cleaning the rust from navy boats. Having never been away from his family before, he missed his parents terribly.
Finally, Kyaw Thu’s egress came via a friend who was previously discharged. His friend passed along a public hotline number to call, where he could inform the United Nations led Country Task Force on Monitoring and Reporting (CTFMR) about his situation.
The public hotline is a crucial tool that will help reach zero recruitment of children in the armed forces and is endorsed by the Tatmadaw. The hotline is operated 24 hours a day to report the recruitment and the use of children in the Tatmadaw including Border Guard Forces.
The Myanmar government has also launched joint mass information campaigns with CTFMR since November 2013 to support the implementation of the Action Plan that aims to prevent and end the recruitment and use of children in the Tatmadaw. Under the agreement, the Tatmadaw committed to identify and discharge all children in their ranks, to strengthen recruitment procedures and to take actions against perpetrators, among other activities for the protection of children.
Kyaw Thu telephoned the hotline in late October 2014. The CTFMR then informed the Myanmar government and after an investigation, he was discharged just over a month after notifying the hotline.
To date, a total of 553 children have been released from the armed forces, with 376 released in 2014.
Aung Thura* said he had no idea what was in store for him when he joined the ranks aged 14, after running away from home.
“Being a cadet soldier was much more difficult than being at home,” he said, speaking softly. His gentle manner seems amiss with the wayward character he describes himself as being.
Aung Thura, now 19, is keen to attend school again but is aware that there has been a massive gap in his adolescence and that he has missed out on crucial years of schooling and on leading a normal childhood.
“It’s a bit embarrassing because I’m so much older now but I do want to attend school so that I can do other things.”
“Also, I want to learn how to drive a car,” he added with a grin.
Aung Thura and the others discharged will receive continuous individual support tailored for their needs from the CTFMR partners, with the support of donors such as the Australian Government, Canadian International Development Agency, European Union, Government of Denmark, Swiss Development Cooperation, the Swiss Committee for UNICEF, and the UN Peace Building Fund.
As they return to normal civilian life, they will receive regular follow-ups from the social workers who initially conducted their case study interviews, with ongoing support provided through local partner NGOs. The CTFMR reintegration support programme offers avenues to return to education, helping to also provide access to the job market though vocational training and mentoring.
Myanmar’s Ministry of Health is also providing support, ensuring that the children and young people have access to health care and medication once they are back in their communities.
Bertrand Bainvel, UNICEF Representative to Myanmar and co-chair of the CTFMR, has praised Myanmar’s government and armed forces for their accelerated efforts toward ending the recruitment and use of children in the armed forces:
“War is no place for a child, and neither is an army. It is important that we all work together to send this practice back where it belongs – in the past.”
*Names have been changed to protect identity
Manny Maung is a freelance journalist and consultant for UNICEF Myanmar. This story originally appeared on the UNICEF Myanmar blog.
Myanmar: Attack on KIA a Setback for Nationwide Ceasefire, Negotiators Say Attack on KIA a Setback for Nationwide Ceasefire, Negotiators Say
CHIANG MAI, Thailand — The recent deadly attack on a Kachin rebel training school has been a significant setback for the nationwide ceasefire process and it seems unlikely that a breakthrough can be achieved before the end of the year, negotiators on both sides said on Thursday.
“The attack is a big obstacle for the peace process,” said Nai Hong Sar, the head of the Nationwide Ceasefire Coordination Team (NCCT), which represents an alliance of 16 ethnic armed groups that have been discussing a nationwide ceasefire agreement with the Burmese government and army.
On Nov. 19, the Burma Army surprised cadets carrying out exercises when it fired several shells at a Kachin Independence Army (KIA) training school. Four Kachin commanders were injured, while 23 trainees were killed belonging to KIA allies, the All Burma Students’ Democratic Front; Arakan Army; Chin National Front and Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA).
The army claimed it fired the shells into the grounds in response to a KIA attack on a road construction site, but the KIA denied it had carried out an attack.
Nai Hong Sar was speaking after a meeting in Chiang Mai, northern Thailand, where the NCCT held discussions with the Myanmar Peace Center (MPC), a government-affiliated institute involved in ceasefire negotiations.
He said he believed that there is only a small chance that the NCCT and the government can reach an agreement before the year’s end, adding that a meeting between the NCCT and Minister Aung Min’s Union Peace-making Work Committee planned in the days before Christmas would be an important moment to assess how fast the ceasefire process could move forward again.
Hla Maung Shwe, a government advisor at the MPC, acknowledged that the attack on the KIA base had affected the ceasefire negotiations, but he still held out some hope that a breakthrough could occur at the upcoming meeting and lead to a nationwide ceasefire this year.
“There will be some difficulties to move forward with the nationwide ceasefire agreement. But the nature of politics is like the tide; it goes up and down,” he said. “Instead of highlighting this [attack on the KIA], it is important that we move forward to a political dialogue.”
The meeting in Chiang Mai did not result in any concrete agreements as the MPC plays an advisory role and has no authority to negotiate on behalf of the government and Burma Army.
Observers at the meeting said the recent attack had damaged trust between both sides and that the ethnic groups—and especially the KIA, which is one of the largest armed groups and influential within the NCCT—were wary of the government and army’s intentions, a situation that is likely to slow down the process.
One observer, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said he believed that the Kachin rebels were preparing for the conflict to escalate again if no breakthrough in the ceasefire talks is reached soon.
“One [road] is to going to political dialogue, and another one is to go back to war,” he said.
More than a dozen ethnic armed groups have signed bilateral ceasefires with the government since President Thein Sein’s nominally-civilian administration took office in 2011, but attempts to reach a comprehensive nationwide ceasefire hit a deadlock in recent months.
Bouts of deadly fighting between the army and the KIA and TNLA have occurred frequently in northern Burma in recent months.
The KIA and the Burma Army fought an at times intense war in northern Burma’s Kachin and northern Shan states since a 17-year-old ceasefire broke down in June 2011.
Fighting peaked in late 2012 and early 2013, but quieted down in February 2013 when the first rounds of bilateral ceasefire talks began. These have, however, not led to an agreement and the KIA and the TNLA are the only groups that have no agreement with the government.
The Pa-Oh National Liberation Organization (PNLO) and its armed wing, the Pa-Oh National Liberation Army (PNLA), pledged to protect children from the effects of armed conflict by signing a “Deed of Commitment” (DOC) in Geneva on 17 November, according to a statement issued by NGO Geneva Call.
The PNLA/PNLO signed the DOC at a conference called the “Third Meeting of Signatories to the Deeds of Commitment”, where 35 armed non-State actors (ANSAs) from 14 countries gathered in Geneva from 17-20 November.
In its statement following the conference, Geneva Call quoted PNLO Chairman Khun Myint Tun as saying, “To protect our children is to protect the future of the Pa-Oh people.”
DOCs are similar to international treaties which bind countries to international humanitarian norms, except that they are designed for ANSAs, which generally cannot sign international treaties. Geneva Call’s website on Burma indicates that the PNLA is now the fifth armed ethnic group in Burma to sign the DOC on protecting children from the effects of armed conflict.
The other four groups that have signed the document are: the Chin National Front/Army (CNF/CNA); the Karen National Union/Karen National Liberation Army (KNU/KNLA); the Karenni National Progressive Party/Karenni Army (KNPP/KA); and the New Mon State Party/Mon National Liberation Army (NMSP/ MNLA), according to the Geneva Call website.
The international NGO says it was initially established in 2000 to engage with ANSAs worldwide on landmine issues and encourage them to sign a landmine DOC called the “Deed of Commitment for Adherence to a Total Ban on Anti-Personnel Mines and for Cooperation in Mine Action.”
So far, 48 ANSAs from various countries have signed Geneva Call’s landmine DOC, including six armed ethnic groups in Burma. However, only two ANSAs in Burma are still active signatories of the landmine DOC— CNF/CAN and the PSLF.
Among all of Burma’s non-state actors, CNF/CAN is unique because it is the only group that has signed all three of Geneva Call’s DOCs: the landmine DOC; the child protection DOC; and the DOC prohibiting sexual violence and gender discrimination.
In August 2012, DVB reported that both the KNPP/KA and the NMSP/MNLA signed the children protection DOC not long after Burma’s government decided to sign a Joint Action Plan with the UN to stop the recruitment and use of child soldiers in the Burmese military on 27 June 2012.
DVB reported that the recruitment and use of children by both sides of the armed conflict between ethnic groups and the Burmese army has been a recurrent feature in Burma’s post-independence history.
The Bangladeshi government’s announcement that it will move two camps housing some 30,000 officially documented Rohingya refugees has heightened concerns among the Muslim minority, which fled persecution in neighbouring Myanmar. Observers welcome the possibility of improving camp conditions, but are concerned the move could also increase insecurity.
On 6 November, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, in a meeting with the Disaster Management and Relief ministry, said the camps would be moved to a “better location”, which was later described by her press secretary as a larger space, acknowledging that the current camp conditions are “inhumane”.
In the two registered camps of Kutupalong and Nayapara details remain unclear and distrust high.
“We are worried and confused about the government move to shift the camps”, said Mohammad Ismail, secretary of Kutupalong refugee camp. “If the relocation is to better places, we welcome the move as we are leading a miserable life here. But we can’t be sure”.
“An actual move of the camps would entail substantial financial commitments which may be hard to secure during a time when UNHCR (UN High Commission for Refugees) is facing multiple crises and more displaced people than ever, all over the world”, commented Stina Ljungdell, UNHCR country representative in Bangladesh.
“If the government shifts the camps, they will shift the registered camps. Where will we go then?” questioned Abdul Hafez, chairman of the non-registered Rohingya committee in Kutupalong camp. Around 42,000 unregistered Rohingyas live next to the Kutupalong refugee camp in appalling conditions. According to UNHCR, for much of their stay in Bangladesh, in some cases even decades, unregistered Rohingyas borrowed food rations from registered camp residents, resulting in malnutrition among both groups. “We welcome any move if the unregistered Rohingyas are also shifted”, added Hafez.
Two years after police used incendiary weapons against monks and villagers protesting a mining project in central Myanmar, no one has been held accountable, Amnesty International said ahead of the anniversary of the attack.
The organization also highlights ongoing problems with the way the Letpadaung mine is being developed and the risk of further abuses. Construction is proceeding without resolving ongoing environmental and human rights concerns. Thousands of farmers remain under the threat of forced evictions since their lands were acquired for the mine in a flawed process characterized by misinformation.
On 29 November 2012, police used white phosphorous munitions in their attack on a peaceful protest against the Letpadaung copper mine in Sagaing Region, injuring at least 99 monks and nine other protesters. Many suffered extremely painful burns and some have been left with lifelong injuries and scarring.
“Two years after this brutal attack, it is completely unacceptable that the scores of people injured while protesting are still waiting for justice and reparations. White phosphorus munitions should never be used by the police – the use of such weapons against peaceful protesters is a flagrant violation of international law,” said Audrey Gaughran, Director of Global Issues at Amnesty International.
“No police officer or official who was involved in the attack has been investigated, prosecuted or sanctioned, while the government has failed to provide victims with effective remedies and adequate reparation.”
The mining project is being developed by a subsidiary of the Chinese mining company Wanbao Mining Ltd and the Union of Myanmar Economic Holdings Limited (UMEHL), the economic arm of the Myanmar military.
The underlying human rights and environmental issues have also yet to be resolved. Protests in the region continue as hundreds of families resist forced evictions from their land to make room for the Letpadaung mine.
Four villages, made up of 441 households, are supposed to be completely relocated for the Letpadaung mining project. Of these, 245 have been moved to resettlement sites, while the remaining 196 have refused to leave their homes.
Land, largely used for farming, has also been acquired from 26 other villages for the project. According to the Environmental and Social Impact Assessment (ESIA) for the project, as of May 2014 almost half of the villagers (44 per cent) had refused to relinquish their lands.
The authorities misinformed the villagers about the acquisition process – making it appear that they were compensating them for damage to their crops – while in reality using this process to permanently acquire their land.
“The authorities should urgently set up a genuine consultation with the affected villages on the land acquisition and proposed evictions. They must guarantee that no one will be forcibly evicted,” said Audrey Gaughran.
“The construction of the Letpadaung mine must be halted immediately until a thorough environmental and social impact assessment has been carried out, which genuinely consults all the people affected.”
The ESIA – commissioned by Myanmar Wanbao Mining Copper Limited (a subsidiary of Wanbao Mining Ltd.) – for the project has critical gaps, including the failure to include the final designs of waste storage and other environmentally sensitive infrastructure.
The assessment also ignores community concerns about the nearby, existing Sabetaung and Kyisintaung copper mine, operated by another subsidiary of Wanbao, and the Moe Gyo Sulphuric Acid Factory, owned by UMEHL, which supplies acid to the mine.
“More than 25,000 people live in 26 villages in the five kilometre distance between the two mines, with the sulphuric acid factory also in close proximity. People who may be affected by pollution need more information on how cumulative risks from all three projects will be managed,” said Audrey Gaughran.
Amnesty International is investigating past and current human rights issues around the Letpadaung mine, and the Sabetaung and Kyisintaung copper mine as well as the Moe Gyo Sulphuric Acid Factory. The findings will be presented in a report due to be released early in 2015.
Myanmar Yang Tse Copper Limited (a wholly owned subsidiary of Wanbao Mining Ltd.) started operating the Sabetaung and Kyisintaung copper mine from 2011.
Under the current production sharing contract for the Letpadaung mine, Myanmar Wanbao Mining Copper Ltd. and the Union of Myanmar Economic Holdings Limited retain 49 per cent of the profits and the remaining 51 per cent are given to the Government of Myanmar.
Need to scale-up shelter repairs and maintenance in Rakhine and Kachin;
Pilot citizenship verification exercise for IDPs in Myebon, Rakhine;
Most vulnerable displaced people in Meiktila need blankets, mats and other assistance for the winter;
Some 174,000 school children and their families are at risk of food ration cuts before the end of the school year.
People targeted for humanitarian assistance in Rakhine State
Food insecure people 70,000
People in host or surrounding villages 100,000
People targeted for humanitarian assistance in Kachin and northern Shan states
IDPs in camps 86,000
People in host families 13,000
192 million requested (US$)
Kevin Woods Daniel Aguirre
Myanmar is in the process of formulating an investment law and a land use policy that when combined will lay the foundations of development for the country. As it stands, these proposed instruments could have an adverse impact on human rights, and in particular land rights.
With these texts being shaped by international financial institutions and foreign governments, the concern is that these instruments will undemocratically privilege the “rights” of the powerful over the rights of those affected by their investments.
The draft investment law would replace the Foreign Investment Law (2012) and the Myanmar Citizen Investment Law (2013), and would provide the basis for investment in the country. There was no civil society input into the draft law developed by the World Bank Group’s International Finance Corporation (IFC). The draft law advances both foreign and domestic investors’ interests, protecting them as “rights”, but without any protective measures for the people of Myanmar.
The draft investment law would give investors the right to challenge new policies or laws in domestic courts and possibly in international arbitration. It would entitle them to full compensation if Myanmar government regulations impact their profits. International dispute resolution mechanisms potentially take important policy decisions out of the hands of elected governments and place them before an international arbitration panel. The concerns over the lack of human rights or social safeguards in this draft law are not idle fears: Investment protection can generate costly disputes – some arbitral awards run into the billions of dollars. In effect, investors’ interests become legally protected, while the people of Myanmar must rely on the underdeveloped national legal system that does not provide adequate access to justice.
There are a growing number of international examples where new laws and regulations passed by democratically elected governments to protect economic, social and cultural rights, such as for public health, have been challenged by foreign investors because they would decrease their profits. Myanmar lacks the legal and financial capacity to defend repeated challenges by deep-pocketed investors and may become unwilling or unable to pass stringent regulation to protect the human rights, including land rights, of the people of Myanmar.
The other new major development-related proposal is the draft National Land Use Policy (NLUP). The drafting process began as a follow-up to the 2012 land-related laws – the Farmland Law and the Vacant, Fallow and Virgin Lands Management Law – which were roundly criticised for denying land and resource rights to large segments of the population while allowing investors to legally acquire large land holdings from farmers.
In response, the draft NLUP has sought to streamline and harmonise land use management in the country on a more technically sound basis and, in some cases, to reassert the rights of more marginalised communities, especially upland cultivators relying on customary practices. Its approach to land use rights, however, is to enhance security for agribusiness investors at the expense of human rights and social justice. It refers to land use in purely economic, rather than social terms. Worryingly, like the draft investment law, the NLUP contains no reference to human rights or the terms social justice, redistribution, restitution or accountability, whereas the word “investment” appears a dozen times.
As with the process of adopting the 2012 land laws and the pending draft investment law, there was no input from civil society in the drafting of the NLUP, which was written behind closed doors by USAID. Only after the draft’s completion has the Myanmar government allowed for national consultations.
Instead of the year-long process recommended by those drafting the policy, these consultations have been reduced to just two weeks, with last-minute changes that have made it difficult for civil society to prepare for engagement. With the consultations under way, it remains unclear to what extent civil society can actually influence the content of the policy, particularly its core investment-friendly principles.
This is important because land rights disputes are one of the fundamental issues Myanmar faces. Nearly half of all submissions to the Myanmar National Human Rights Commission this year deal with land disputes. None of these have been resolved adequately. People whose rights are violated lack access to effective legal remedy. Instead of promoting social justice, these draft laws and policies focus on providing remedies for investors.
It’s also worth noting that any potential rights-based benefits within the proposed NLUP could be undercut by the dispute resolution mechanisms that are included in the draft
investment law. For example, if the NLUP recognised upland ethnic farmers’ cultivation practices and land claims, investors would be entitled to prior consultation and to sue for damages, potentially including for the loss of future profits. The draft investment law and other investment treaties could undermine the positive aspects of the NLUP, rendering it a hollow document with nothing left but its investment-friendly core.
Myanmar has a responsibility to protect human rights and the environment while upholding social justice. Any new laws and policies should be congruent with international human rights law, good governance – such as the 2012 Voluntary Guidelines for Responsible Governance of Tenure of Land, Fisheries and Forests – and international best practices pertaining to indigenous peoples, like free, prior and informed consent. In particular, development policy should ensure effective, accessible remedy for the marginalised and victims of rights abuses.
The NLUP should first address the discrepancies between protecting vulnerable peoples’ land use rights and claims before creating an enabling investment environment. The draft investment law, meanwhile, must be opened for civil society consultation and debate. The results of both should ensure that the people of Myanmar are the primary beneficiaries of investment and economic development. If these mechanisms are not carefully formulated with wide-ranging input from all stakeholders, there is the dangerous potential that they will be seen as illegitimate and undemocratic, and may prove an obstacle to the progressive realisation of human rights and social justice.
Kevin Woods is from the Transnational Institute (TNI) in Myanmar, and Daniel Aguirre is a legal adviser with the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) in Myanmar.
This article is also published in the Myanmar Times.
About the authors
Kevin Woods has worked on resource politics in mainland Southeast Asia’s uplands since 1999, including northern Thailand, Laos, and Burma. Since 2002 Kevin has focused his research in and on Burma, with particular focus on resource extraction and land rights in northern Burma’s ceasefire zones. Kevin received a master’s degree at Yale University on political ecology with a thesis on China-Burma cross border timber trade and ceasefire development. Since 2008 Kevin has been a doctoral student at UC-Berkeley in political ecology and geography of war. Kevin’s current research and advocacy with TNI is on Chinese agribusiness, drugs, and cross-border development; ethnic land rights in political transition; and ceasefires, post-war investments, and land conflict in the borderlands.
Myanmar: Agreement has been struck to discuss everything except seceding and matters undermining sovereignty
President U Thein Sein met leaders of political parties at the hall of the Yangon Region government here on Wednesday and said: Since taking office, the union government has been making efforts for a successful democratic transition covering political, economic and social reforms.
During the first wave, a number of measures for political reform were carried out for a smooth transition.
The administrative system was reformed so that it matches the democratic system. Reform measures have been taken as the first wave, the second wave and now the third wave is being implemented pragmatically.
The remarkable outcome of our efforts for political reform, national reconciliation and peace is the birth of a new political culture.
As the new political culture that places emphasis on finding solutions through negotiation instead of confrontation and mutual exclusion of political forces prospers, democratic transition has been on the right track so far. It is necessary for all to cooperate to accelerate the momentum.
I have always believed that the vitality of the current reform and the political process, which has reached a certain stage, resulted not just from the efforts of the union government, but also from the participation of all political forces such as the Hluttaws, political parties, the Tatmadaw and the entire people.
There are achievements as well as challenges, which are to be overcome, during the reform process currently being carried out. In overcoming these challenges, success can be achieved only through the cooperation of the political forces of Myanmar.
Concerning the amendment of the State Constitution, I have always expressed my stance that it is necessary to amend the Constitution so that it matches our country, our society, and changing political landscape.
Amendment of the State Constitution that reflects the political agreements of all national races’ political forces will also be included in political dialogues that will result from the current peace-making process.
It is true that everyone is responsible for amendment of the State Constitution. In this regard, the role of Hluttaw representatives, who are the major driving force of the legislative branch, are especially important. I would like to urge Hluttaw representatives to exert efforts with farsightedness and political goodwill as it is very important for the future of the nation and the people.
Concerning the peace process and skirmishes that are breaking out at present, as I have always said, I have been making efforts for peace with the view that we lose a citizen when a member of the armed forces of an ethnic national race or one from the Tatmadaw or from the general public is killed or injured in conflicts. With regard to the recent skirmishes, solutions will be sought through negotiation and by forming monitoring teams.
An important foundation of the current peace process has been laid. Major agreements have been reached to-
(1) Sign a nationwide ceasefire agreement
(2) Found ceasefire monitor teams
(3) Establish a union based on federalism
(4) Hold political dialogues with the participation of all those who should do so.
Negotiations between the Union Peace Making Work Committee and Nationwide Ceasefire Coordinating Team are still ongoing.
After the nationwide ceasefire agreement has been signed, the required deployment of armed forces, discipline of armed forces, prevention of conflicts and monitoring will be carried out more effectively and unnecessary conflicts can be avoided forever.
A sound political agreement has been reached to build a federal union which is essential for internal peace. With these sound foundations, an agreement has been struck to discuss everything necessary in political dialogues except seceding and matters that undermine the sovereignty of the nation.
It is also found that political parties are drafting a framework for political dialogues. I am very pleased about this. I would like to urge them to exert efforts for constructive and popular outcomes in drafting the framework.
With regard to the National Education Law, we have found that there have been disputes and disagreements on the law, which has been approved by the Pyidaungsu Hluttaw. I suggest that this matter be discussed in line with existing laws.
Opportunities on independent learning and the formation of student unions are important for universities. We understand this concept. We will support the formation of student unions. So I would like to suggest the setting up of a communication mechanism among students, academics and the administrative sector.
As the National Education Law was approved by the Pyidaungsu Hluttaw, amendments or additions must be carried out in line with legislative procedures of parliament. The reform process for the whole education system will take time, and this process will be developed gradually.
With regard to this matter, the present National Education Law can be regarded as a starting point, and a cooperative mechanism will be needed among the government, the Ministry of Education, universities, students and academics and educational organizations for the amendment and development of this law.
On the four-party talks, we discussed with the leaders of political groups of the country on 31 October 2013. We had some difficulties in that meeting.
However, it has motivated the leaders of the respective institutions to work for political agreements and implementation processes, and it has served as a fundamental step to ensure political stability. It also helped acquire a diversity of views and opinions of political parties, which are fundamental for future attempts. It is also believed that a good channel of communication could be established after that meeting.
Political agreements from that meeting are very important for national reconciliation efforts. The aforementioned four points of agreement and the results which will come out from this meeting resulted from political dialogue.
This proves that we are heading down the path of political dialogue in which all suitable persons are included.
Whenever I met with the participants of today’s meeting in the past, I listened to and discussed the suggestions of political parties. We need to hold dialogues of political forces, and we will convene these dialogues like the summits held in Nay Pyi Taw. We have probably missed some points when we invited relevant parties.
Therefore, we will try our best at the next meeting. We promise it.
I want to emphasize one thing here. We all must understand different political views in the nature of the democratic system.
However, as our country is still on the democratization process, political parties are advised to consider more about the national interest, rather than their political interests in the transitional process.
The 2015 general election will be a major turning point for the democratization process of the country. In this circumstance, political parties are advised to have a wider view and pragmatism for political stability during this transition period to be able to successfully elect a government. Therefore, I call on your open suggestions and opinions.
Leaders of 41 political parties and officials discussed a greater number of national race participants in political, economic, peace and political talks and regional development.
After replying to the questions and discussions of political parties, the president thanked everyone for their suggestions with a positive attitude in the third talk. The government is implementing peace and stability and development of the social economy, which are two desires of the people, while the political parties represent public desires. Thus, a mechanism will be set up to coordinate between the government and political parties for their cooperation. He urged all to be tolerant of a peace process with the participation of political parties. He expressed thanks for emphasis of the political parties on the peace process and pledged to tackle the issue of land management.
After the meeting, the president cordially greeted leaders of political parties.
The president met the leaders of five political parties at the hall of the Presidential Palace in Nay Pyi taw on 31 October 2014.
The meeting was attended by vice presidents Dr Sai Mauk Kham and U Nyan Tun, Speaker of the Pyidaungsu Hluttaw Thura U Shwe Mann, Speaker of the Amyotha Hluttaw U Khin Aung Myint, Commander-in-Chief of Defence Services Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, Chairman of UEC U Tin Aye, Deputy Commander-in-Chief of Defence Services Commander-in-Chief (Army) Vice-Senior General Soe Win, 14 people from the Union Solidarity and Development Party, the National League for Democracy, the National Unity Party, the Union Nationalities Alliance (UNA), the Nationalities Brotherhood Federation-NBF and FBA.
The meeting was attended by leaders of 67 political parties.
Myanmar’s rice price fluctuations are much more pronounced than those in neighboring rice exporting countries, such as Vietnam, Thailand, or Cambodia.
Most of the rice is harvested within two months of a year, which causes sharp price drops after cropping and spike ups during the dry season.
Lowering price volatility is possible through investments in agriculture, infrastructure and improved business environment.
Yangon, Myanmar – U Myo Myint, who graduated from a prestigious Myanmar university, once aspired to become a successful rice farmer. The Oak Kan Town farmer bought a big plot of land and- in spite of doing everything by the book and using all the local farming wisdom passed on to him- couldn’t turn a profit.
“I have a bachelor degree in Agricultural Economics and 75 acres of cultivated land,” U Myo Myint says, “However, I am poor to the bone”.
He breaks down his expenses from the last rice-growing season and reveals his meager profit: $50 per acre (or a total of $3,750 from all his 75 acres). This isn’t enough to cover his family’s food, living costs, education fees, and hospital expenses.
Most farmers in Myanmar make even less than him. U Phyo of Zeegon Town owns nine acres of land where he grows rice. With his income, he could barely make ends meet.
The vicious circle of poverty is hard to break
U Myo Myint and U Phyo both own land without an irrigation system. They have no choice but to grow rice during the monsoon season only.
Their access to additional financing is also very limited. The Myanmar Agricultural Development Bank provides credit for six months only. This means that farmers have to sell their entire rice stock immediately after harvesting--- when the prices are at their lowest--- to repay their debts. Borrowing from private lenders, although expensive, becomes necessary to sustain their business. As a result, all farmers are heavily in debt.
“All farmers are struggling with the same challenges. We are faced with very low prices after harvesting, the rising cost of rice production, and hardly any access to bank loans that are suitable for farmers like us,” said U Phyo.
Nearly half of Myanmar’s population of 51 million is engaged in rice production. A majority of them live close to the poverty line and risk falling into poverty when rice prices change unpredictably.
Rice prices are volatile
Over the last five years, rice prices have increased by 40% for customers. Changes in rice prices have also been more sudden and pronounced than those in neighboring rice export competitors, like Thailand, Vietnam, and Cambodia.
The World Bank’s “Myanmar: Rice Price Volatility and Poverty Reduction” report finds that high rice price volatility is mostly due to internal causes.
Most of the paddy rice is produced at the end of monsoon season (November and December) because of a shortage of quality seeds with different growth durations and harvest times. It’s also due to the lack of irrigation. As a result, the domestic rice market is overloaded with freshly cropped rice and prices drop.
Prices go even lower in January, when farmers have no choice but to sell their paddy. Myanmar doesn’t have enough warehouses where farmers can store their paddy rice until prices improve and allow earning bigger profits.
Investments needed in agriculture
The harvest season is the only time of the year when the Shwe Ryae Rice Mill can work on full speed. The 120-year-old wooden mill still runs on a steam engine. According to its owner, Daw Myint Mynt Thaung, the mill is servicing 29 nearby villages.
“If we don’t receive a $500,000 investment within the next six months to replace the mill’s equipment, we may be forced to shut it down,” said Daw Myint Mynt Thaung.
Nearly 85% of mills need capital to improve facilities and equipment and to improve the quality and efficiency of milling. An improved quality of rice is the key for bigger farm incomes and taking Myanmar’s rice to new and more profitable export markets.
In order to integrate Myanmar’s domestic rice market to the global rice market, investments in rural roads and the telecommunications sector are essential.
It takes time to impact price volatility
Efforts to reduce rice price volatility require commitment, time and resources in Myanmar as in elsewhere. According to a new report by the World Bank, opening the milling and warehouse sector to direct foreign investments is the way forward for Myanmar. Modernized rice mills and warehouses are better positioned to increase private stocks, which, in turn, will buffer price fluctuations. More efficient mills will trigger higher productivity and usher in quality improvements at the farm level.
Farmers also need greater access to irrigation and seeds of crops with different harvesting periods and good export potential. In addition, they need advice on modern farm technologies that will help to expand the production cycle and increase their rice production and profit.
For farmers like U Myo Myint and U Phyo, the ability to achieve a higher farm income is one of the key ways to achieve better food security and escape poverty.
Written by Yu Wai
A report from the Women’s League of Burma alleges the Myanmar armed forces have committed 118 incidences of gang rape, rape or attempted sexual assault in the States of Myanmar, during the tenure of President U Thein Sein.
The report entitled; “If they had hope, they would speak: The ongoing use of state-sponsored sexual violence in Burma’s ethnic communities”, was issued at a press conference held at the Myanmar Journalist Network’s office in Yangon on November 25.
The report covering the period from 2010 to 2014 was released on the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women.
According to the group, the number of cases of sexual assault is believed to be a fraction of the actual number of cases that have taken place.
Yein Han Pa, spokeswoman of a Shan women’s activist group, said that the victims of violence could not enjoy fairness and justice. Some military officers offered financial compensation over a case or threatened the victim.
She said women in the Shan, Kayin, Mon and Chin states face the biggest threat of sexual harassment and assault by government troops. Those troops who break the law are free from being prosecuted over their crimes.
Daw Lwei Po Pein, general secretary of Ta’aung Women’s Organization, said, “Due to increasing number of military units, villagers and women face a larger number of sexual and human rights violations.”
“The government of Burma has worked hard to show its reformist credentials to the world, but for women in Burma’s ethnic communities, human rights abuses and sexual violence at the hands of the Burma Army remain a constant threat,” said Daw Tin Tin Nyo, general secretary of the Women’s League of Burma in a statement. “Any positive changes coming out of Nay Pyi Taw have not improved the lived experience of women in Burma.”
By SAW YAN NAING
CHIANG MAI, Thailand — Representatives of the Nationwide Ceasefire Coordination Team (NCCT) have told officials from the government-affiliated Myanmar Peace Center (MPC) that they want the peace process to move forward despite last week’s deadly attack by the Burma Army on a Kachin rebel base.
During a two-day meeting in Chiang Mai in northern Thailand this week, the NCCT, a working group representing 16 ethnic armed groups in ceasefire talks with the government, told MPC members that the shelling of the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) base in Laiza had hampered ongoing peace negotiations.
Twenty-three cadets from other ethnic armed groups allied with the KIA who were training at the base were killed in the attack.
Since the shelling, described by Burma Army Commander-in-Chief Min Aung Hlaing as “warning shots” in response to an alleged earlier attack, tensions have continued to escalate. Over the weekend, the army fired more than a dozen mortar rounds close to KIA positions and camps for internally displaced persons.
“We told them [MPC members] that the attack [on Laiza] was not appropriate. It could slow down the peace process. But we don’t want the peacemaking program to come to a total breakdown,” said Nai Hong Sar, the chairman of the NCCT, who attended the Nov. 24-25 meeting.
The two sides also discussed the draft text of a nationwide ceasefire agreement as well as military and security affairs.
“We talked about obstacles on the path of the peace process, especially military and security issues such as troop positions, the issue of a federal army and political dialogue,” Nai Hong Sar said.
The NCCT chairman said that issues concerning disarmament, demobilization and reintegration that that have been pushed by the Burma Army were also included in the discussion. The NCCT has broadly rejected the Army’s demands that ethnic armed groups disarm.
No firm agreements were reached as the discussion was informal and the MPC members didn’t officially represent the government’s peace negotiation team, the Union Peace-making Work Committee (UPWC), according to Nai Hong Sar.
Other NCCT leaders including Kwe Htoo Win, who is general secretary of the Karen National Union, and KIA representatives were present at the meeting. Gen. Gun Maw, the KIA’s vice chief of staff, who is also a NCCT leader, did not attend the meeting as he was busy with internal deliberations concerning the Burma Army’s recent attacks. Min Zaw Oo and Nyo Ohn Myint attended the meeting on behalf of the MPC.
Since the NCCT’s last meeting with UPWC and Army officials in Rangoon in September, some observers have voiced concerns that national ceasefire talks have stalled. A statement released by a group of civil society representatives on Monday following a meeting with the NCCT noted that the military’s “uncompromising” position in negotiations had led to a “deadlock” over the language used in the most recent draft of a ceasefire agreement.
Disagreements have reportedly centered on the use of the words “federalism” and “revolution” in the draft agreement. During previous meetings, the UPWC had reached an agreement with the NCCT about the terminology, but it was roundly rejected by the military.
More than a dozen ethnic armed groups have signed bilateral ceasefires with the government since President Thein Sein took office in 2011. The KIA and the Ta’ang National Liberation Army have yet to do so and have frequently clashed with government troops in recent months.
Source: Reuters - Wed, 26 Nov 2014 20:59 GMT
By Andrew R.C. Marshall
MAUNGDAW, Myanmar, Nov 27 (Reuters) - For years, tens of thousands of Rohingya Muslim boat people have fled this remote corner of western Myanmar for nearby countries. But another huge exodus has grabbed far fewer headlines.
Read the full article on Reuters - AlertNet.