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DAILY NEWS – 23 April 2014

News – Ethnic nationalities/Border conflict/ Ethnic Armies

KIA urges gov’t to amend constitution - Eleven News Media - 22 April 2014

Myanmar’s Kachin General Wants Foreign Involvement in Peace Talks - RFA - 22 April 2014

Ongoing clashes will delay nation-wide ceasefire deal - Eleven News Media - 22 April 2014

UNFC meets in Thailand to discuss ceasefire negotiations - Mizzima - 22 April 2014

UK pushes for humanitarian access to Kachin State - Eleven News Media - 22 April 2014

‘Urgent help’ needed in Kachin State: UNICEF - Mizzima - 22 April 2014

In North Burma, ‘Tatmadaw Only Fights to Defend Itself’: Govt - Irrawaddy - 22 April 2014

Karen Groups To Hold National Conference On Politics, Arms And Unity - Karen News - 22 April 2014

Ministry plans to continue census in KIO areas - Eleven News Media - 22 April 2014

News – Government / Political Parties

NLD, 88 Generation movement back strategy to educate public on constitutional reform - Mizzima - 22 April 2014

MPs to question judicial corruption in parliament - Eleven News Media - 22 April 2014

News – General& International

Mourners turn out for Win Tin’s funeral - DVB - 23 April 2014

In Burma, a Spirit Unbowed by Torture - Irrawaddy - 22 April 2014

Project to Tell Stories of Thousands of Political Prisoners - Irrawaddy - 22 April 2014

Burmese Migrants Strike Over Pay at Thai Seafood Employer - Irrawaddy - 23 April 2014

Monks nabbed smuggling migrants - Bangkok Post - 23 April 2014

Human trafficking cases still unresolved - Eleven News Media - 22 April 2014

Agency to examine workers found carrying fake certificates - Eleven News Media - 22 April 2014

Over 900,000 acres deforested annually - Eleven News Media - 22 April 2014

News – Rakhine /Rohingya/Communal Conflicts & International Response

Al-Azhar denounces violence practiced against Myanmar's Rohingyas - Kuwait News Agency - 22 April 2014

News – Business / Economy / Industry

Thai firms urged to tap GSP privileges in Myanmar - The Nation - 23 April 2014

Right local partner key for Thai SMEs looking to Myanmar - The Nation - 23 April 2014

Private banks open more branches - Eleven News Media - 22 April 2014

Analysis / Opinion

Commentary: Don’t Be Afraid to Honor a Burmese Hero! - By Ko Aung  - Irrawaddy - 23 April 2014

‘They Must Apologize to the People’ – Interview with the late U Win Tin, patron of the National League for Democracy – By Kyaw Swa Moe - Irrawaddy - 23 April 2014

Ethnic Women ‘Ignored, Abused And Victimized’ : Interview with Secretary of the Karen Women’s Organization (KWO) Naw K’nyaw Paw - Karen News - 22 April 2014

Study shows military pulling strings from behind state/region governments - S.H.A.N. - 23 April 2014

Editorial: The curse of Shan unity/disunity  - S.H.A.N. - 22 April 2014

Feature: How the current Ceasefire Talks in Myanmar can bring about National Reconciliation? – By Sai Oo - S.H.A.N. - 21 April 2014

Channelling Diversity into Democracy: Myanmar's Unfolding Nemesis – By Mike Joseph - Salem News - 22 April 2014

This Is Where the Real Work in Myanmar Begins - By Erin Murphy  - Huffington Post (Blogs) - 22 April 2014

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News – Ethnic nationalities/Border conflict/ Ethnic Armies

KIA urges gov’t to amend constitution
Eleven News Media - 22 April 2014

The deputy commander of the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) has urged the government to amend the 2008 Constitution, saying that ethnic groups are not ready to participate in an election.

Deputy Commander-In-Chief Guan Maw was speaking at a meeting with ethnic Chin exiles living in the United States, after prolonged military attacks on Kachin rebel bases.

“Amending the constitution is lifeblood of our country. They [the government] don’t need the ethnics to sign ceasefire agreement if they amend the constitution as all ethnic groups desire,” said Guan Maw, adding that he was sceptical that any constitutional amendments will take place.

The parliamentary Implementation Committee for Constitutional Amendments is being chaired speaker Thura Shwe Mann. He has told parliament to enact laws regarding constitutional amendments within six months before the 2015 election.

The public have held protests to amend Section 436 and 59 (F) of the military-drafted constitution which currently ban opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi from running for office.

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Myanmar’s Kachin General Wants Foreign Involvement in Peace Talks
RFA - 22 April 2014

A leader of Myanmar’s ethnic Kachin rebels battling government troops has called for foreign participation in ongoing talks aimed at forging a nationwide cease-fire agreement with more than a dozen armed ethnic groups to bring an end to decades of conflict.

Questioning the government sincerity in the peace process, the deputy commander-in-chief of the Kachin Independence Army (KIA), General Gun Maw, called for participation of the United Nations and key powers such as the United States and China in negotiations for the much delayed cease-fire deal.

He said that President Thein Sein's government had stepped up its military offensive in Kachin state in recent days even as negotiations were underway to militarily weaken the KIA before any cease-fire is signed.

“I found two points in the recent rise in clashes between government and KIA forces – [they want] to pressure us militarily and place control over the KIO after having a cease-fire agreement,” he told RFA’s Myanmar Service in an interview late Monday as he wrapped up a trip to Washington and New York where he met with senior U.S. and U.N. officials.

“I think they [the government] are applying pressure so that the KIO would give in at a time when a political dialogue is going on," he said, referring to planned political discussions once a nationwide cease-fire deal is signed and in which ethnic groups are planning to demand greater autonomy.

The Kachin Independence Organization is the political wing of the KIA, which has been embroiled in intermittent fighting with government troops since June 2011, when a 17-year ceasefire was shattered. More than 100,000 civilians have been displaced in the clashes since then.

In the latest bout of fighting, more than 20 people have died and hundreds of villagers have been forced out of their homes and fled into neighbouring China, state media reported.

Lackluster peace talks

Gun Maw said the peace negotiations had been lackluster purely because the Thein Sein administration refused to recognize the armed groups as genuine representatives of ethnic nationalities and refused to be upfront about the political process once a ceasefire pact is signed.

“We can’t get any agreement on what the armed ethnic groups should do in the political process that will follow if a ceasefire agreement is signed,” he lamented.

Nearly two years ago, he said, the government was asked whether it regarded the groups as “representing the various ethnic nationalities or as armed rebels but we haven't gotten any answer yet."

The KIA is one of Myanmar’s largest rebel groups and one of two that has not yet signed a full individual cease-fire with the authorities.

Gun Maw said he met with U.N. special envoy Vijay Nambiar last week and briefed him on the latest situation in relation to the peace talks, and also held talks with U.S. State Department officials.

He called on Washington to be more actively involved in the peace process.

"We approached them first, telling them we want the U.S. to fully understand the true picture of our situation and what the NCCT is working on to achieve a ceasefire pact. And they accepted [my trip] I think to better understand us,” he said.

The rebel groups' 16-member National Ceasefire Coordination Team (NCCT) and the government agreed in March to form a joint committee to draft a single text for a nationwide cease-fire agreement.

Involvement of big powers

Gun Maw told the Associated Press in a separate interview that the involvement of big powers was critical for the peace talks to move forward.

"Our hope is that by involving big countries like the United States, both sides may be more committed to resolving this conflict," said Gun Maw, who is among the ethnic negotiators. China, Britain, and the United Nations should also be observers, he said, helping to ensure any deal is adhered to.

Gun Maw said an invitation was first extended to the United States, Britain, China, and the United Nations to be involved in the peace efforts in February last year.

"This trip, I reaffirmed that invitation," Gun Maw told Reuters news agency. "We would like to have the U.S. present at the peace process as a witness, so this agreement will become strong," he said.

"At present, we are still asking the U.S. to be involved. Whether they will be, we don't know yet."

After meeting Gun Maw last week, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State of Democracy, Human Rights and Labour Tom Malinowski said he had expressed "firm U.S. support for the post-ceasefire peace process, which will have to tackle long unresolved political grievances," Reuters reported.

"The balance between central and local authority, inclusion for all in national and local political processes, constitutional reform, equitable sharing of natural resources, and humanitarian access to internally displaced people are just a few of the issues that must be negotiated in good faith for a ceasefire to lead to durable peace," he said.

Third quarter target

Hla Maung Shwe, special adviser to the government-affiliated Myanmar Peace Centre (MPC), told RFA that he expected a nationwide cease-fire agreement to be signed by the end of the year.

"I believe we can have a cease-fire agreement concluded before the third quarter of 2014. Political dialogue could start soon after that," he said.

Hla Maung Shwe also said that resolving the ethnic conflict in Myanmar was an internal matter but left open the prospects of participation by the United States and other powers if the deadlock cannot be broken.

"This is an internal issue of our country that has been going on for decades and as there is a lack of trust on both sides, there could be expectations for help from foreign observers,” he said.

“No international observers are present in our current NCCT negotiations. They might be needed if we ourselves cannot get a solution at all. Right now, the talks are going alright and we don’t need outside help."

Hla Maung Shwe said “it would be difficult at present to accept” the foreign players “as mediators, or as referees between the two sides.”

He said that in peace negotiations held in Kachin state last year, U.N. and Chinese envoys were present as observers.

Reported by Tin Aung Khine and Thin Thiri for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khin Maung Nyane. Written in English by Parameswaran Ponnudurai.

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Ongoing clashes will delay nation-wide ceasefire deal
Eleven News Media - 22 April 2014

Renewed fighting in Kachin State will only delay the signing a nation-wide ceasefire agreement between the government and a dozen ethnic armed groups, a first step towards ending decades of civil war.

The statement came from Major-General Guan Maw, the deputy chief of staff of the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) during a meeting with ethnic Chin groups in the United States on April 19.

“There should not be military pressure while we are trying for nation-wide ceasefire agreement. If so, we won't sign the agreement. Although we look to encourage the agreement, these clashes are not good signs. They will only ensure to delay the peace process," said Maj-Gen Guan Maw.

The KIA is the armed wing of the Kachin Independence Organisation and has been in a protracted conflict with the Myanmar Army since the breaking of a 17 year ceasefire in 2011. Various meetings have ensued but none have managed to forge another ceasefire.

The KIA and the Taaung/Palaung National Liberation Army (TNLA) are the only armed groups currently without ceasefire agreements with the government. Fighting broke out between April 10 and 18 after the army began a series on incursions into KIA territory.

"We tried for that for three years. Some managed to sign the agreement and received promises after meeting with the president, the Commander-in-Chief of Defence Services and the Deputy Commander-in-Chief. Although the government said that clashes would be reduced, those are going on. How to keep reciprocal promises is of great importance," added Maj-Gen Guan Maw.

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UNFC meets in Thailand to discuss ceasefire negotiations
Mizzima - 22 April 2014

By Phanida

A coalition of 12 ethnic groups, the United Nationalities Federal Council, has begun a two-day meeting to discuss negotiations between the government and armed ethnic rebel groups on a nationwide ceasefire.

The meeting in Chiang Mai, Thailand, began on April 21, said Colonel Khun Okkar, the deputy secretary of the UNFC.

Colonel Khun Okkar is also a member of the Nationwide Ceasefire Coordinating Team, which is representing the armed ethnic rebel groups at the ceasefire negotiations with the government’s Union Peace-Working Committee.

The Chiang Mai meeting, being attended by the central executive committee of the UNFC, has been hearing reports from NCCT members on the latest round of ceasefire negotiations at the Myanmar Peace Centre in Yangon from April 5 to 8, he said.

As well as reviewing and considering the outcome of the Yangon negotiations, the meeting had also discussed ways of strengthening the NCCT, Colonel Khun Okkar told Mizzima.

There would also be discussion about the latest fighting in Kachin State between government forces and the Kachin Independence Army, Colonel Khun Okkar said.

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UK pushes for humanitarian access to Kachin State
Eleven News Media - 22 April 2014

The United Kingdom has urged the Myanmar government to allow for humanitarian access to all parts of Kachin State — including KIA-controlled zones — following recent fighting.

The UK is the largest aid donor to Kachin State. In July 2013 the Secretary of State for International Development, Justine Greening, announced they would provide £13.5 million to deliver food, shelter, water and sanitation to the war-torn region.

“To access the KIA-controlled zones, we need the permission from the government and the KIA. The lack of serenity makes it difficult to access. We can enter and support the region only when the peace is sustained,” said a Myanmar-based official from the United Nations on April 21.

Fighting resumed in June 2011 after a 17 year ceasefire between the government and the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) resulting in up to 100,000 displaced people according to a British Foreign Office report.

By the end of 2013, only few United Nations vehicles were able to access KIA-controlled areas. In November 2013, multilateral talks were held in Myitkyina in an attempt to reach a ceasefire.

Though unable to reach an accord, both parties agreed to continue negotiations and accepted to hold political discussions after a nation-wide ceasefire with other armed groups had been achieved.

The UK is has been promoting freedom of expression, assembly and the protection of human rights defenders, the release of political prisoners in Myanmar.

The UK will urge the Myanmar government to sign the deals assuring civil, political rights and to endorse the Declaration of Commitment to End Sexual Violence in Conflict and to terminate the recruitment of child soldiers.

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‘Urgent help’ needed in Kachin State: UNICEF
Mizzima - 22 April 2014

Support is being mobilised to assist the thousands of people displaced by the latest fighting in Kachin State but improved access is needed to assist affected populations, particularly children, the United Nations Children’s Fund said in an April 22 press release.

“We must provide urgent help,” UNICEF’s representative to Myanmar, Mr Bertrand Bainvel, was quoted as saying in the release.

It said the recent fighting between government forces and the Kachin Independence Army near Man Win Gyi and Momauk in southern Kachin State had forced thousands of people, including an estimated 1,000 children, to leave their temporary homes.

“For many of them it is the second or third time that they have been forced to take to the road in the past year” because of fighting, the release said.

“Although reports state that the fighting has slowed in the past few days, the situation remains tense,” UNICEF said.

“The fighting and associated displacement of families has increased the health risks that children face, including by reducing their access to safe, reliable water and sanitation facilities,” Mr Bainvel said.

The release noted that Kachin and northern Shan State were already among the most heavily mined areas in Myanmar and landmines continued to cause harm to vulnerable populations as well as inhibit the delivery of humanitarian aid.

“With the renewal of hostilities UNICEF is concerned that new minefields will further increase the dangers to children,” it said.

“It is an unfortunate fact that the heightened risk that children face does not disappear even after the fighting stops, because they face a significantly increased risk of falling victim to commonly used landmines and even to possible recruitment into the combatants’ armed forces,” Mr Bainvel said.

Along with other UN agencies and international non-government organisations, UNICEF was supporting local NGOs to help threatened children and their families, the release said.

Although life-saving aid was being mobilised it was not enough “because children need peace and stability to grow and develop,” Mr Bainvel said.

“For the sake of Myanmar’s children, all parties must immediately commit to do all they can to end the violence, to protect children from exposure to land mines and recruitment into the armed forces and to commit to peace,” he said.

“This is absolutely essential if children in Kachin are to experience the same hope and improved prospects that are now being experienced by so many other children in Myanmar as a result of the recent reforms.”

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In North Burma, ‘Tatmadaw Only Fights to Defend Itself’: Govt
Irrawaddy - 22 April 2014

By Lawi Weng | the Irrawaddy|

RANGOON - The Burmese government has blamed troops from the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) for an escalation of hostilities that has displaced thousands of civilians this month in Kachin State, amid claims by rebel leaders that government forces have repeatedly been the first to attack.

Ye Htut, the presidential spokesman in Naypyidaw, accused the KIA of violating a ceasefire agreement during the recent surge in fighting, which has left 22 soldiers dead and 5,000 people displaced.

“Ground troops from the KIA need to follow regulations of the ceasefire agreements. There is no fighting from other ethnic armed groups such as the Karen, the Mon, the Kayah and others because they respect their ceasefire agreements,” Ye Htut told The Irrawaddy on Monday.

Unlike almost all other major ethnic armed groups in Burma, the KIA does not currently have a ceasefire agreement with the government. A ceasefire signed by both sides in 1994 broke down three years ago when government forces launched offensives in the state. Earlier this year the KIA and the government agreed to de-escalate hostilities, but a formal ceasefire remains elusive.

“The Tatmadaw only fights to defend itself, and they have been instructed not to attack first,” Ye Htut added, referring to the government’s army. It is important to stop the secret shooting of our troops, which was responsible for the killing of our one of our majors.”

A major from the Tatmadaw was killed by the KIA on April 4 while stationed in a KIA-controlled area of northern Shan State to offer security during the nationwide census. The KIA said he was killed because he had not informed the rebel group that he would be working in their territory.

The political wing of the KIA, the Kachin Independence Organization (KIO), says the Tatmadaw has gone beyond defense. “They are using strong military offensives to attack us and invade our land,” Daung Khar, a member of the KIO’s technical consultancy team, told The Irrawaddy.

“They have not respected our border line. The troops cross the line without informing us. It’s not only the Kachin who would shoot in this situation. Even the Wa or the Shan would shoot if someone crossed the border line without informing,” he added, referring to two other ethnic armed groups.

Regarding the case of the Burmese major, he said, “Our troops tried to stop his car, but he would not stop, so they fired inside the car. This wasn’t secretive shooting, we did it in public.”

Following the death of the Burmese major, a wave of clashes started on April 10 and appear to be the most serious fighting since early 2013. Fourteen government soldiers and eight rebels have been killed, while more than 5,000 people have been displaced in eastern Kachin and neighbouring Shan states. They join about 100,000 others who have fled from their homes since the ceasefire broke down in 2011.

“This is the second time they have started major hostilities,” Daung Khar said, referring to government attacks on KIA headquarters in Laiza in early 2013. “Because of the fighting, our KIA and the Kachin people are losing trust in the Burmese army and the Burmese government.”

The clashes this month seem to be linked to the deployment of more Burmese troops in Kachin State during the census, which ended on April 10. The government said it sent soldiers for security, as the census was controversial among many ethnic groups including the Kachin. The population count was not carried out in KIA territory after the rebel group declined to take part.

The fighting also comes as the government continues to engage more than a dozen ethnic armed groups in peace talks. The government has signed individual ceasefire deals with all but two groups, the KIA and the Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA), which operates mostly in northern Shan State. Officials in Naypyidaw are pushing to consolidate the individual ceasefires into a nationwide ceasefire pact.

“The ongoing peace process will not be set back because of the fighting,” Ye Htut said.

“The clashes are continuing because there is no agreement on a border line between the two sides,” he added. “This is proof for why we need regulations through a ceasefire agreement.”

Last week the KIA deputy chief of staff, Gen. Gun Maw visited Washington, where he reportedly asked US officials to get involved in Burma’s peace process. The popular Kachin leader is his group’s point man in ongoing peace negotiations with the central government and appears to be the most senior KIA official ever to visit the United States.

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Karen Groups To Hold National Conference On Politics, Arms And Unity
Karen News - 22 April 2014

By S Phan Shaung

Karen political and community groups representing Karen communities from across Burma will hold a Karen National Convention in 2014 to discuss the cooperation between Karen armed organisations and political parties in ensuring there is unity going into the future.

The Karen Unity and Peace Committee (KUPC) held a meeting on April 10 in Pyin Oo Lwin that led to the decision to hold a Karen National Convention.

Naw Susanna Hla Hla Soe, director of Karen Women’s Empowerment Group, who was privy to the negotiations, explained to Karen News.

“What agreement we reached from today’s forum’s discussion is to hold an inclusive Karen Nationwide Convention during this year. The schedules for time and place are yet to be fixed. However, there is one thing we can assure that the discussion issues will include how the Karen people will work politically together, how the Karen (Kayin) parties will cooperate together, and how the Karen armed organizations will cooperate together.”

Padoh Saw Hla Tun, a member of Karen Unity and Peace Committee (KUPC) said that the Karen National Convention will also be an opportunity to discuss issues raised by the Karen community during previous forums held in the Irrawaddy division, Bago division, Taninthayi division, Yangon division, Mon state, Karen state and Thai-Burma border refugee camps such as Mae La and Umpiem Mai refugee camps.

Speaking to Karen News, Padoh Saw Hla Tun said.

“We need to discuss a wide range of issues raised by our Karen people from different regions in Burma. We need a platform to share and discuss the issues together. We have to look at all the issues and come up with a [political] concept that is acceptable by all the Karen people. Then the Karen National Convention will be held in order to set the same future for all Karen people.”

The KUPC’s forum was attended by Karen leaders that included, the Karen National Union (KNU) general secretary Padoh Saw Kwe Htoo Win, General Bo Paw Doh, secretary of the Karen Armed Organizations Unity Committee and Mahn Aung Pyi Soe, vice chairperson of the Phalon-Sawaw Democratic Party (PSDP).

Saw Win Naing, a representative from Pakant city in Kachin State who took part at the forum said.

“I joined the forum in goodwill and for the unity of Karen people. This is the first time we joined in such kind of forum. We will try to be involved in the upcoming conference as much as possible.”

Karen Unity and Peace Committee (KUPC) was formed on May 2013 with 57 members with the aim to work towards securing a better future for all Karen people. Its members include representatives from Karen armed organizations, Karen Affair Ministers, Karen religious leaders, Karen community based organizations and Karen political party.

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Ministry plans to continue census in KIO areas
Eleven News Media - 22 April 2014

The Ministry of Immigration and Population is planning to continue the national census in villages neighbouring Laiza, the headquarters of the Kachin Independence Organisation (KIO).

Fighting has erupted between the Kachin rebel group and the Myanmar Army around the Mansi area since the official ending of the nation-wide census on April 10. The ministry has announced that it needed eight more weeks to reach remote areas.

“We are now discussing to continue the census taking in villages near Laiza area. Currently, we have 90 villages remaining to collect the census. But the population is not much. The KIO’s troops are stationed at the remaining villages. That’s why we are now discussing with them because we have worries about incidents,” said Myint Kyaing, director-general of the ministry of immigration and population.

The KIO has responded saying they received a letter from the government requesting them to support the census taking. They agreed in principle, but say that it is difficult when the army are continuing military operations in their areas.

“The KIO has no objection the nationwide census taking as it is needed for the country. But the difficulties we face taking the census in KIO controlling areas and places controlled by the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) is due to the current regional situations,” said KIA Deputy Commander-in-Chief Guan Maw, referring to the ongoing fighting.

Maj-Gen Guan Maw attended the nationwide ceasefire discussion between the government and ethnic armed groups held in Yangon in early April.

Recent clashes between Myanmar army and KIA took place on a between Manweinggyi and Kaunghmuyan on April 4 and left 8 dead and 17 injured from the army, while the KIA lost 14 soldiers, according to the reports from the Ministry of Defence.

Related news:

Burma’s Census: Nation Building Needs To Start Somewhere
Karen News - 22 April 2014

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News – Government / Political Parties

NLD, 88 Generation movement back strategy to educate public on constitutional reform
Mizzima - 22 April 2014

By Nan Lwin Hnin Pwint

The National League for Democracy and the 88 Generation Open Society movement have agreed on a strategy to educate the public about the importance of constitutional reform, an 88 Generation leader, Ko Min Ko Naing, said on April 21.

“The success of constitutional reform depends on the motivation of the people; first we must engage the public before achieving their cooperation,” said Ko Min Ko Naing, who was speaking after a meeting at NLD leader Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s University Avenue residence.

“Throughout history, this has been the only effective method to deliver change,” he said.

The meeting, the third between the NLD and the 88 Generation Open Society movement on constitutional reform, agreed that the education campaign must begin within months.

“We don’t want the blind support of the people,” Ko Min Ko Naing said. “We want the public to fully appreciate why they want change and what is required to make that a reality, only then can we expect their cooperation.”

U Min Ko Naing said constitutional reform was essential. He referred in particular to Article 436, which provides for 25 percent of hluttaw members to be appointed members of the military, giving them an effective veto over charter change, which requires the support of more than 75 percent of the Union parliament.

The NLD and the 88 Generation Open Society movement first met to discuss constitutional reform on February 4, before releasing a statement a week later announcing their plans to work closer together on the issue ahead of the elections due to be held late next year.

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MPs to question judicial corruption in parliament
Eleven News Media - 22 April 2014

Opposition MPs will raise questions regarding corruption in the judicial system in the next parliamentary session.

The Lower House representatives are compiling complaint letters to send to the Chief Justice via the legal affairs complaints and appeals committee. Evidence will be sent on to the Anti-Corruption Commission.

“We have plan to deal with this affair in depth. Due to the lack of better judicial system, the situation people face is becoming worse. Our party is receiving a lot of complaint letters,” said Lower House MP Thein Nyunt.

Over 90 percent of 10,000 complaints received by the legal affairs complaints and appeals committee concern corruption and bribery of judges, according to committee chairperson Thura Aung Ko.

“Yangon stands top in the corruption and bribery cases, followed by Mandalay. The commercial hubs see more corruption cases,” said Thura U Aung Ko.

Recently, a woman involved in a drug case had to pay up to Ks 1.5 million in bribes for a minimum sentence to Kamaryut Township court, in Yangon Region.

A case in Ayeyawady Region was dismissed after the judge asked for Ks 1 million in charges. The defendant lodged a complaint after paying Ks 150 million to the deputy judge of Yangon west district court. He alleges to have CCTV footage of the judge’s wife taking the bribe money.

MP Min Thu from the National League for Democracy criticised the handing down of stiff penalties to journalists while other criminals get off free after bribing a judge.

 “This will cause damage not only to the country’s democratic opening, but also to national unity. Taking a look at the cases across the country, it is evident that the administrative body of Magway Region has influence over the judicial system. It is not in conformity with the constitution. It obviously shows that some from the judicial sector are in urgent need of mindset changes,” said Min Thu.

He added that the country’s judicial system should be aimed at educating those convicted rather than penalising them. Supreme Court Judge Myint Aung admitted that corruption was deeply rooted in the judicial sector during a meeting with legal organisations and parliamentary speaker Thura Shwe Mann.

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News – General& International

Mourners turn out for Win Tin’s funeral
DVB - 23 April 2014

Hundreds of mourners have turned out for the funeral of National League for Democracy (NLD) co-founder and veteran journalist U Win Tin, which is taking place at the Yay Way Cemetery in Rangoon on Wednesday afternoon.

Win Tin passed away at Rangoon General Hospital on Monday, 21 April, from kidney failure.

Among those in attendance for the veteran politician’s burial in North Okkalapa Township are fellow NLD party members and representatives of other political parties in Burma, and faces from the world of entertainment and media.

The funeral ceremony is scheduled to run from 12 noon until 5pm.

Win Tin, former editor of the renowned Hanthawaddy Daily newspaper, co-founded the NLD along with Aung San Suu Kyi before being imprisoned in 1989. He spent 19 years behind the bars, the majority of that time in solitary confinement. He was eventually released under an amnesty in 2008. He continued to wear his blue prison uniform after his release as a symbolic protest against the military dictatorship and in solidarity with other political prisoners who remain behind the bars.

A book published by Win Tin after his release, A Human Hell, described sobering details of the physical and psychological torture that political inmates were subjected to.

While being one of the closest-aides to party leader Suu Kyi, he was also known for his straightforwardness in expressing disagreement with her.

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In Burma, a Spirit Unbowed by Torture
Irrawaddy - 22 April 2014

Win Tin, one of Burma’s most dogged democracy campaigners, endured physical and mental abuse for the cause as a political prisoner for nearly 20 years.

After throwing him in prison, authorities searched Win Tin’s room in Rangoon, where they found books that were later displayed at a press conference used to accuse the veteran journalist of being “a communist.” This allegation was in keeping with the Burmese military regime’s style, fabricating charges in order to put dissidents or political rivals behind bars.

Win Tin was one such outspoken critic and victim of the junta, which launched a major crackdown against the pro-democracy opposition movement soon after government troops mercilessly gunned down hundreds of street demonstrators in 1988.

Less than a year later, he was blindfolded, handcuffed and tossed in a cell. During interrogation sessions that lasted several days without sleep, military intelligence officers routinely tortured him. The National League for Democracy cofounder would have been about 60 years old at the time.

The physical abuse caused Win Tin to lose almost all of his teeth. It took eight years to replant them in prison.

The regime pressed him to confess and at one point took him to an Armed Forces Day exhibition in Rangoon, where guards asked him to write down his feelings toward the military. As Win Tin remembers it, they provided him with dozens of sheets of paper and a pen. Win Tin walked to a corner and spent hours writing out his thoughts, handing over the papers to his captors when he was done.

Scanning Win Tin’s missive, the face of the chief intelligence officer present turned increasingly red until the man tossed the papers away in anger. Written on the sheets provided, Win Tin had simply told the army to stay out of politics, and asked the regime to solve political problems in Burma through political means.

So it was back to prison and more rounds of torture for the aging pro-democracy campaigner. It was a hellish life that he endured under Burma’s brutal military regime.

According to Gen. Kyaw Win, who served as deputy intelligence chief under Lt-Gen Khin Nyunt at the time, interrogations were usually rough, combining physical and mental torture.

Khin Nyunt, then the intelligence chief, routinely held early morning meetings at intelligence headquarters. The spy chief, who was somehow considered “reform-minded” by some Western watchers and government officials, would open the briefings with a question: “Have they confessed?”

He would then individually inquire with the senior staff officers assigned to handle political prisoner cases. His boss, Snr-Gen Than Shwe, would want to know of any and every breakthrough in breaking the opposition’s stubborn resistance.

There was no code of conduct and no supervision of interrogators. They were given a free hand to interrogate political activists and other detainees as they saw fit.

Due to maltreatment and harsh conditions at the prison where Win Tin was locked up for almost 20 years, he developed gastric problems and suffered a hernia. But regarding his health, Win Tin was relatively fortunate—other prominent writers, journalists and activists of his age died in prison. He underwent medical procedures for various health ailments while in prison, but with one particular surgery he was forced to wait five years before being granted approval for the procedure.

The regime wanted him to die, but Win Tin was well-known internationally, so pressure kept growing to free him.

In 1994, then US congressman Bill Richardson was permitted to visit him in prison. Win Tin was suffering from several medical ailments, but the American noted that his spirits were high. During his brief conversation with Richardson, Win Tin talked politics and stressed the need for a peaceful political solution in Burma.

In 2007, the UN’s Burma human rights rapporteur Paulo Sergio Pinheiro visited the country and also met Win Tin in prison. The UN diplomat was impressed by Win Tin, and later said he could not comprehend why the regime wanted such an intellectual man locked up for more than a decade. The regime did not provide any reading or writing materials to the journalist.

“Win Tin told me he is locked in his cell all day with the exception of one hour in the morning and one hour in the afternoon,” the Brazilian diplomat told Inter Press Service in November 2007.

At the time, the UN was attempting to persuade the regime to allow the International Committee of the Red Cross access to prisons in Burma. Khin Nyunt was no longer in charge, having been placed under house arrest three years earlier. Than Shwe’s team refused to free Win Tin, but did allow the ICRC limited access to some prisons.

According to former political prisoners, interrogations could last several days or weeks, without food or water. Detainees were usually kept in small, dark cells and forced to wear hoods. In the middle of the night, officers would slam the doors and enter cells before proceeding to punch and kick sleep-deprived prisoners. Win Tin was not spared this mistreatment.

But when international pressure would mount, authorities had sufficient cunning to ease up a bit, and would usually allowed some family, friends or high ranking diplomats to visit Win Tin and other political prisoners.

A former senior intelligence officer told The Irrawaddy in 2013, “There is no rule of law. They would pick up any suspects with the assumption that they were all political activists and would try to get a confession by any means.”

It was a strategy to humiliate and dehumanize people—to break their spirits. But when he was finally released from prison in 2008, Win Tin emerged unbroken.

And still, his supporters are left to wonder: If he had received better treatment and medical care in prison, might Uncle Win Tin have been with us for a few more years?

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Project to Tell Stories of Thousands of Political Prisoners
Irrawaddy - 22 April 2014

By San Yamin Aung | the Irrawaddy|

RANGOON - More than 2,000 people have already been interviewed as part of an ongoing project to record the experiences of political prisoners who were jailed in Burma over half a century of military rule, according to project leaders.

The Former Political Prisoners Society (FPPS) and the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP) have since January been compiling the country’s first comprehensive list of people who were imprisoned for political reasons between 1962 and 2013. The advocacy groups in the past have compiled limited lists of former political prisoners, but never across the entire country or over such a long period of time.

As part of the project they are also recording these prisoners’ experiences, with help from the opposition National League for Democracy (NLD) party and the Shan Nationalities League for Democracy (SNLD) as well as activists from the 88 Generation Peace and Open Society.

“We collected data from about 2,000 political prisoners over three months, but we expect it will take the entire year to finish collecting information from all of the political prisoners,” Bo Kyi, joint secretary of the AAPP, told The Irrawaddy.

He said political prisoners were encouraged to share a range of details, including memories from prison inspections to biographical information about themselves and their financial situations following their release from prison. Thus far, data has been collected in Kachin and Chin states as well as Rangoon, Irrawaddy, Sagaing and Magwe divisions.

“Some don’t want to give their personal information. They are afraid the data will be leaked to the government and could lead to their imprisonment again,” Bo Kyi said.

The AAPP, based in Thailand, says peaceful protesters continue to be detained in Burma under the current nominally civilian government, which came to power in 2011. The advocacy group said 21 activists were arrested in March, 54 activists were indicted and four were sentenced.

Aung Myo Kyaw, another spokesman from the AAPP, told The Irrawaddy in January that activist groups in the past lacked sufficient data to effectively advocate on behalf of political prisoners and former political prisoners.

“We haven’t had definite data while talking to the international community and the local government. Before this, nobody knew the number of political prisoners or their information,” he said.

Bo Kyi said he hoped the current project would support the adoption of new legislation to assist former political prisoners.

The AAPP says 30 political prisoners remain behind bars, despite a pledge by President Thein Sein to release all political prisoners by the end of 2013.

“Many activists were detained this year, including journalists and farmers,” Bo Kyi said. “This shows that the country is not on the right path to democracy.”

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Burmese Migrants Strike Over Pay at Thai Seafood Employer
Irrawaddy - 23 April 2014

By Nyein Nyein | the Irrawaddy|

CHIANG MAI, Thailand - More than 100 Burmese migrant workers at the Lee Heng Seafood company in Songkhla, southern Thailand, planned to return to work on Wednesday after staging a two-day strike to demand that their employer compensate them for unpaid overtime work.

Along with about a dozen Cambodian workers, 142 Burmese migrant labourers stopped working this week, claiming that they had been forced to work overtime without pay for months.

The labourers came to work at the seafood factory with the terms of their employment laid out in a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU), but they say rights guaranteed in the document, including provisions on overtime pay and healthcare benefits, were not being honoured.

“We only demand that they pay us the full overtime payment, despite the fact that there are some other violations from the industry, such as [a lack of] healthcare benefits,” said Ma Wah, who has been working at the factory for five years.

Ma Wah said it was female Burmese migrant workers who had borne the brunt of what amounted to forced labour over the last six months.

“On Monday morning, we stopped working, and instead sat in front of the manager’s office in the industry compound and raised our demands,” said Ma Wah, adding that their demand for overtime pay was not met.

“The manager said we can leave if we are not satisfied with his answer, but we would not get any of the compensation described in the contract,” added another worker, who asked to remain anonymous due to the sensitivity of the situation.

The workers have complained that irregular working hours have also made home life difficult. Their labour contract states that normal working hours are from 8am to 5pm, and that any work outside of those hours would be regarded as overtime.

Under Thai law, the standard daily wage is 300 baht (US$9), and overtime is paid at 56 baht per hour. The workers said that since about six months ago, they have been paid 300 baht per day, but have not been compensated for any overtime. They say management has justified the failure to pay by claiming that there were times during regular working hours when the employees had no work to do and sat idle.

“We usually work every day from 8 am to 8 pm,” said Ma Wah. “The managers would call us [into work] some days at about 3 pm and the eight hours’ working time is counted from this time. So we had to work until 10 pm or 11 pm.

“We said not to do like that. When we go to work in the morning at 8 am, some days the manger and supervisors said they would come and call us when the raw seafood materials arrived,” added Ma Wah, explaining that the workers live in the same compound as the factory is located. “The time that the material arrives varies from day to day. This did not happen under previous managers.”

The Burmese workers came to Lee Heng Seafood from Kawthaung, a town in southern Burma’s Tenasserim Division, via the employment agency Royal Golden Gate. Many of the workers have been sent by the Rangoon-based agency under one-year contract agreements.

“When we arrived to the factory, some points in the contract agreement were no longer consistent,” the anonymous male worker said. “We are now told to work under a two-year contract, and if we leave before two years, the workers have to reimburse money for their passport fees.”

A common practice among Thai companies that employ labour from Burma is to pay for the issuance of workers’ temporary passports and deduct the money from their salary over time.

The workers said some labourers had already left Lee Heng Seafood due to the labour conditions, and were required to pay 3,000 baht for the return of their passports, on top of management having already taken at least 12,000 baht from their salaries for the cost of the passports.

Lee Heng Seafood did not immediately respond to an emailed request for comment.

Burmese labour rights groups including the Foundation for Education and Development, the Migrant Association in Thailand and the Migrant Assistance Program are helping the workers to negotiate their demands with the employer.

On Tuesday, Htoo Chit, the director of the Foundation for Education and Development, told The Irrawaddy that the coalition has been in talks with Thai labour protection officials about the situation at the seafood processing factory.

“We encouraged them [the striking workers] to raise their demands in accordance with Thai labour law, so we advised them to get back to work,” Htoo Chit said.

The workers said they would return to work on Wednesday, because Thai labour law stipulates that any contractual benefits are forfeited by workers who participate in a strike lasting more than two days.

“We have to get back to work after two days of protest, even though we have not yet gotten any of our demands. But, we will maintain our demands,” said another worker, Ko Aung.

“In the meantime, we are helping them to get to talk with the officials,” Htoo Chit said.

Thai labour officials met with Lee Heng Seafood representatives on Tuesday evening, but not with the workers.

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Monks nabbed smuggling migrants
Bangkok Post - 23 April 2014

Tak immigration police have arrested two monks reportedly from the controversial Wat Phra Dhammakaya sect for allegedly smuggling 30 illegal immigrants into Thailand.

The monks, Phra Surapol Boonsripanich, 53, and Phra Surasak Wongduangpa, 48, were travelling in two vans on the Tak-Mae Sot Road in tambon Mae Pa of Mae Sot district early Tuesday morning when a combined immigration police-military task force stopped their vehicles.

The team was acting on a tip-off that a gang would try to smuggle Karen and Myanmar illegal immigrants from the Thai-Myanmar border in Mae Sot to Bangkok and that they would be accompanied by Buddhist monks.

An inspection of the vans, each carrying an emblem of Wat Phra Dhammakaya, found a total of 30 Myanmar and Karen nationals on board, 12 males and 18 females — all dressed in white clothing as Dhamma practitioners. The group was taken to Tak immigration office for questioning after they failed to show entry documents.

The van drivers were identified as Sawang Promdee, 51, and Spornchai Khankang.

Phra Surapol and Phra Surasak told police they were taking the Karen and Myanmarese to practice Dhamma and meditation at Wat Phra Dhammakaya in Khlong Luang district of Pathum Thani.

Police charged them with helping aliens enter the kingdom illegally and avoid arrest.

Wat Phra Dhammakaya has been embroiled in controversy over its donation campaigns and claims of miracles. Abbot Phra Dhammajayo is a controversial figure who was once charged with embezzling donated funds, but the public prosecution later dropped the charge against him.

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Human trafficking cases still unresolved
Eleven News Media - 22 April 2014

Only six out of 32 Myanmar nationals trafficked to Thailand and China have returned home according to anti-trafficking police.

In 2013 there were 102 human trafficking cases and more than 250 victims reported to anti-trafficking police. Police count 32 cases that have still not been resolved with 26 individuals still being held captive.

“We have no clue where to find some of the victims. These people who have been transferred fled while getting into the problems,” Captain Min Naing from anti-trafficking police force told Eleven Media.

“In Thailand human traffickers are sued in court. But in China no action is taken against the men who married the victims,” he added.

Many of the victims are women who are sold to wealthy Chinese men as brides. In April two women from Shan State and Yangon Region were returned by Shweli anti-trafficking police.

Many others are used as cheap labour by factory owners. Four men escaped from factory in Thailand after being trafficked last year and were kept in safe houses before being transferred back home at the beginning of April.

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Agency to examine workers found carrying fake certificates
Eleven News Media - 22 April 2014

A dozen Myanmar workers caught travelling to Singapore carrying fake graduate certificates are to be examined by an employment service agency.

Airport authorities interrogated eleven workers who returned home on April 12 and another on April 20 discovering that the counterfeit certificates were issued by a two licensed agencies.

“We are examining the workers who counterfeited the documents and went to Singapore. Now we have asked their identity cards and passports. We will scrutinise them to answer whether they counterfeited the documents by themselves or through brokers or agencies,” said Min Hlaing, the chairman of the overseas employment service entrepreneurs association.

He promised to take action against any agency found counterfeiting certificates, adding that they would lose their licence if found engaging in fraudulent activities.

The airport authority transferred the workers to the overseas employment service entrepreneurs association for further scrutiny, but they had to delay the investigation because of the Thingyan water festival.

The Singaporean government has sued 16 Myanmar workers carrying fake graduate certificates in February.

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Over 900,000 acres deforested annually
Eleven News Media - 22 April 2014

YANGON - Over 900,000 acres of forest are cut down annually according to the Ministry of Environmental Conservation and Forestry.

The government has banned the export of raw timber in a bid to stem the rate of deforestation and encourage local wood industries but illegal logging continues in many remote parts of the country.

Deputy Minister Aye Myint Maung was addressing a meeting at the 9th session of the Upper House of Parliament.

According to the deputy minister, Myanmar has allowed private teak and hardwood plantations since 2006 but only 107,453 acres of teak and 46,180 acres of hardwood have been planted over the past six years.

Private cultivation is nowhere near keeping up with the rate of deforestation in Myanmar which stands eighth among the top ten most deforested countries in the world.

The timber extraction is now being operated by the state-owned Myanma Timber Industry and the government is also giving the permission to private timber companies and entrepreneurs.

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News – Rakhine /Rohingya/Communal Conflicts & International Response

Al-Azhar denounces violence practiced against Myanmar's Rohingyas
Kuwait News Agency - 22 April 2014

CAIRO - Al-Azhar has expressed deep concern over prosecutions carried out by Myanmar authorities against Muslim citizens (Rohingyas) and the violation of their rights, stressing that such practices were contrary to the principles of human rights and international conventions.

Al-Azhar urged, in a statement, the international community to bear its responsibilities and protect Muslim citizens of Myanmar from the violence practiced by the authorities which include burning of their homes and detention of their women.

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News – Business / Economy / Industry

Thai firms urged to tap GSP privileges in Myanmar
The Nation - 23 April 2014

By Petchanet Pratruangkrai and Sirivish Toomgum

Thai enterprises should invest in many potential industries such as consumer manufacturing, garment, food processing, and tourism service to benefit from the reinstatement of the European Union Generalised System for Preferences, and tax privileges expected to be provided soon by the US to Myanmar, experts said at a seminar yesterday.

The Siam Commercial Bank organised "SCB First Open AEC: Penetrating Myanmar around 360" seminar was held at Siam Kempenski Hotel yesterday.

The seminar also told Thai investors and traders that there were tremendous opportunities for Thais to explore in Myanmar, although they should be prepared for some challenges before penetrating the market.

U Win Aung, president of the Union of Myanmar Federation of Chambers of Commerce and Industry, said that many Thai industries have higher opportunities to set up operations and expand in Myanmar, particularly in industries that will get tax privileges from the EU's reinstatement of the GSP.

"Everything but arms products will get tax privileges to the EU. Many manufacturers in Myanmar are benefiting from the tariff privileges," said Win Aung, adding the US was also expected to reinstate the GSP for Myanmar soon.

He said Thai enterprises could invest in Myanmar in many industries such as garment, food processing, consumer products manufacturing, and other services especially tourism service, education, and medical service. Machinery industries, mainly agricultural machinery, and infrastructure development should also have bright future in Myanmar as the country is focusing on agricultural sector development.

Not only tax privileges, but also investors will get advantages from the low cost of labour compared with other Asean countries, and the rich source of raw material supply in Myanmar. To start a business in Myanmar, he suggested that Thais find the right local partner so that they would have a better understanding of the demands of local people.

Damrong Kraikruan, director-general for East Asian Affairs at the Foreign Ministry, said that as funding in Myanmar was not yet ready for investors, Thai investors should take capital from their own country first. To ensure efficient financial and investment capital management, investors need to carefully consult experts and banks on exchange rate.

He warned that although Thai investors need to urgently consider investments and trade with Myanmar, they should consult embassies and Thai agencies such as the chamber of commerce, or other responsible agencies before going to Myanmar alone.

Speaking on "Make it big in Myanmar", Vichai Kemtongkum, director of G Business Link Co (GBL), said there are both opportunities and obstacles in Myanmar. While the country has abundant unskilled labour and business operators there have limited capital sources, the country has experienced a steep rise in the cost of doing business, such as land rent and office rent.

He suggested that those who want to tap the Myanmar market should create their own strong brands. GBL has exported products such as construction materials and agricultural machinery to the Myanmar market.

Nattawin Phongsphetrarat, managing director of Tharaphu Decor, which has done business in Myanmar for over 40 years, said the key to success for those seeking to enter Myanmar is to find strategic partners and create synergies with them. The company's businesses in Myanmar at present range from furniture to providing total solutions for construction.

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Right local partner key for Thai SMEs looking to Myanmar
The Nation - 23 April 2014

By Sucheera Pinijparakarn

Thai small and medium-sized enterprises looking to establish a footprint in Myanmar should find the right local distribution partners, and their products should not be dependent on the country's currently underdeveloped infrastructure, according to experts in doing business there.

Speaking at the second session of the "Thailand-Myanmar Trade Investment Relations in the Age of AEC" seminar, Michael Lim, chairman of Today Group Myanmar - a leading marketing communications and media business network - said enterprises should understand Myanmar people's behaviour before selling their products in the market.

In his view, Myanmar citizens are loyal to brands, and especially to products from Thailand, therefore Thai SMEs need to build up brand efficiency before penetrating the market.

He suggested to SME members of the audience that they should find reliable local partners for distribution, rather than relying on border traders or cronies close to those with influence among the military, as proper distributors in Myanmar can access more consumers, which helps generate healthy revenue for Thai businesses.

Apart from brands and strong distribution partners, Thai producers should maintain prices and quality in order to ensure sustainability in Myanmar, he added.

Lim also recommended that SMEs wanting to do business in Myanmar should have good logistics and good public relations, and should understand what kind of media best access Myanmar consumers. Social media has become increasingly powerful in communicating with local consumers, he said.

Manop Sangiambut, executive vice president and head of International Banking Business at Siam Commercial Bank, said that although Myanmar was a potential market for Thai operators, there were risks involved in doing business there, too. Enterprises should, therefore, have strategies in place to achieve their business goals, while at the same developing tactics to defend against inherent risk.

SCB, which has a representative office in Myanmar, sees consumer products and hotels as the first two opportunity businesses for Thai operators in the country, he said.

Consumer products are a basic business with good prospects because they do not rely on infrastructure problems in Myanmar, which still faces power-supply issues.

At the onset of doing business there, firms' financial costs should not be too high and they should have not to rely heavily on transportation, the executive said, adding that Thai operators should also consider the joint-venture model in order to reduce costs involved in renting office buildings.

Manop said that Thai enterprises not yet considering Myanmar, should start thinking of penetrating the market because gross domestic product is set to grow by 7-8 per cent per year, while monthly per capita income will climb to US$200 (Bt6,470) in the near future, which will boost consumption and the need for more Thai goods.

Siriporn Nurugsa, executive vice president of Thai Overseas Investment Promotion Division of the Board of Investment (BoI), told the event that that the agency had to broaden its role from inbound foreign direct investment to include outbound FDI, in order to deal with the trend of overseas investment by Thai companies.

The BoI needs to prepare investment privileges and provide information to serve the trend of Thai companies in the manufacturing sector that are planning to set up plants abroad, especially in Myanmar, she said.

"Thai firms in the manufacturing sector have to go outside [the Kingdom] to find lower-cost resources and labour, and Myanmar is one such presence for them," she added.

Thailand's western neighbour will be changing its status from that of an agricultural country to that of an industrial country in the next 20-30 years, and its government has announced the creation of 1 million jobs by the end of this year, she pointed out.

The move by the Myanmar authorities - via the foreign investment law and the Myanmar Investment Commission - in opening up the country to more foreign companies presents a good opportunity for Thai businesses, said Siriporn.

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Private banks open more branches
Eleven News Media - 22 April 2014

A total of 366 private bank branches have opened in Myanmar since 2011 when the government initiated a series of political and economic reforms.

The Central Bank of Myanmar is cooperating with World Bank and international organisations like International Monetary Fund Organisations to modernise financial services in Myanmar.

During March 2011, the total number of private bank branches numbered only 292. The number has grown to 658 by January 2014.

The Central Bank of Myanmar is working together with Daiwa Institute Research and JICA to modernise payment and settlement systems. The IMF, German International Cooperation, Central Bank of Malaysia and Central Bank of Thailand are also helping.

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Analysis / Opinion

Commentary: Don’t Be Afraid to Honor a Burmese Hero! - By Ko Aung
Irrawaddy - 23 April 2014

Today, Burma will put Uncle Win Tin, the fearless defender of the rights of the oppressed, to rest. To honour him, we should all be equally courageous and show no fear in paying him the respect he is due.

Of course, most Burmese will not hesitate to pay tribute to this fallen hero. But do the country’s past and present rulers have the nerve to honour a man they imprisoned for nearly 20 years?

It’s no good for the present “reformist” government to act as if bears no responsibility for the way Uncle Win Tin and countless others like him were treated by the former regime. The whole country knows that our president is no Gorbachev, but just a puppet of the old Than Shwe dictatorship.

Let’s see if the self-styled “reformists” now in power have the audacity to say that Uncle Win Tin was a great man—a man who should have been treated like a national hero, not a common criminal.

Those who admire Uncle Win Tin will attend his funeral, or sing songs in his honour and pray for him. Will any Western or Asian government officials who have embraced the ex-military government turn up? How about the former spy chief Khin Nyunt, the man who had Uncle Win Tin locked up and tortured for his political convictions? Will he attend? Let’s wait and see.

How will the United Nations and the governments of Norway, Australia, Germany and other countries that have applauded the Thein Sein administration’s “reforms” respond to the outpouring of grief at the loss of Uncle Win Tin? Will they share the Burmese people’s sadness, or just shed crocodile tears and continue doing business as usual with Naypyidaw’s wolves in sheep’s clothing when the funeral is over?

Today is a sad day for Burma, but it is not a day to stay silent. The only way to honour Uncle Win Tin is by clearly standing with him and the principles he spent a lifetime trying to defend. It is the least we can do for a man who has given so much for his country.

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‘They Must Apologize to the People’ – Interview with the late U Win Tin, patron of the National League for Democracy – By Kyaw Swa Moe
Irrawaddy - 23 April 2014

In December 2013, Kyaw Zwa Moe, editor of the English edition of The Irrawaddy Magazine, held a discussion with the late Win Tin, patron of the National League for Democracy (NLD) and Hnin Hnin Hmway of Democratic Party for New Society (DPNS) about the arrest, torture and imprisonment of dissidents and political activists when former Chief of Military Intelligence Unit General Khin Nyunt was in power.

The discussions were recorded for Dateline Irrawaddy and broadcast on DVB. The video, with English subtitles, can be found here. The following text is an English translation of the transcript of the discussions with Win Tin.

Kyaw Zwa Moe: Former Chief of Military Intelligence Unit General Khin Nyunt once said that he is not accountable for the arrests and imprisonments because he was just following orders and thus he can’t apologize to anyone.

U Win Tin, you were arrested in 1989 by the Military Intelligence and underwent torture that resulted in loss of your teeth and you spent 19 years in prison. How do you want to respond to General Khin Nyunt’s remarks?

Win Tin: I met him by chance at the funeral of Guardian [journalist] U Sein Win [in November 2013]. He told me to let bygones be bygones. I didn’t reply anything because there were many people around and I didn’t want to argue with him. However, our brief meeting was photographed and the news spread across the media and online.

When the media interviewed me how my response would be on his remarks, I answered in three points. Point one is that these Military Intelligence personnel, including their seniors and those who ordered them, must apologize to us, former political prisoners, the people and also themselves.

Because what they did was wrong. Point two is to correct the wrongs and prevent any transgressions in the future. The intelligence personnel might still be active in current governance mechanisms, so we must prevent intelligence personnel from committing any such deeds; they must apologize and correct their transgressions.

Point three is related to rehabilitation of the former political prisoners, which is what we have been doing already. Those former generals with their enormous treasure troves, obtained either from the state or through their powerful roles, should consider contributing to the rehabilitation activities for former political prisoners or establish funds for that. These are the points I mentioned to the media. However, Khin Nyunt said, “To whom should I apologize?” in another case. So my response for that was first: The political prisoners, former intelligence prisoners, and exiles, and second: The people, and third: themselves.

KZM: Can you tell me about your experience of the interrogation and torture you endured in prison?

WT: They used a lot of torture methods and there are many people who have experiences like me. I want to tell you about an exceptional experience. They interrogated me on my first night in the prison. They interrogated me for six days and I had to scream when they tortured me. While they were doing this they wore masks, so that we didn’t know who they were. I strongly objected to that because I am a politician and a leader of a political party. I lost all of my teeth within a year because of the torture. In 1991, when they started to release some prisoners, they had people with missing teeth receive implants and receive medical service. By then, I had no more teeth and I had to eat with just my gums.

KZM: Was the rice served in prison hard?

WT: The rice was hard and I couldn’t even chew it with my gums. My suffering lasted for 7 years and they only implanted my new teeth in 1998. That was an exceptional experience. There might be people who underwent similar or much worse experiences then my own. No one can bear such torture and no one is willing to endure torture.

KZM: U Win Tin, who do you consider responsible for the [1988] coup? Was it General Khin Nyunt, Senior General Than Shwe, or Senior General Saw Maung? Was General Khin Nyunt the right hand man of General Ne Win at that time?

WT: I don’t know what exactly was going on in the army at that time. But there is a word I always use in talking about the coup, which is that the bones will crow one day and tell the real story, because the truth can’t be hidden all the time. It will be revealed one day. I didn’t know what the military intelligence were doing back then, but now we are getting some picture of what they were doing from what they say now in the media from people like General Khin Nyunt, or the grandsons of U Ne Win who were just released from prison.

What we understand from these is that on September 17, one day before the coup, U Kyawt Maung and Colonel Tin Hlaing, I am not sure if it was him, put General Khin Nyunt in charge and they went to meet General Ne Win to present the [88 Uprising] situation and push for a coup. Ne Win replied them that they must inform the leaders before the coup as it is a military procedure and asked them to inform the leaders like Colonel Aye Ko, U Than Oo and Colonel Kyaw Soe. When they came back the next day after informing these leaders, General Ne Win asked them to do what they have to “go and arrest who you need to arrest”, even him if they have to. By saying this, General Ne Win gave them permission to arrest anyone they wanted and stage a coup. What I understand from this is that it was General Khin Nyunt who pushed for the coup and General Ne Win gave the order.

KZM: As you have lived through different ages like the Japanese occupation and the like, I would like ask: Do you consider the era of General Khin Nyunt after the 1988 coup the most terrible period in Burmese history?

WT: It can be said it was the most terrible, the cruellest and the worst period in our history. At the time of Japanese occupation, I was very young and I can’t remember the atrocities of Japanese Kempeitai. What I can say is that I have lived through that era, [the Anti-Fascist People's Freedom League] era and the following eras; so of all the eras I have lived, the era of the Military Intelligence Unit was the harshest, the most lawless, and the worst among all these eras.

When they put me on trial at the Military Court, they produced some witnesses whom I didn’t know and they didn’t know me either. I objected to that at the trial. When they brought me at the court, they handcuffed me tightly and I screamed. After sentencing me to 10 years, the military intelligence officers who were there called the judge to leave the trial for a while. When the judge came back, he added one more year to my sentence, because I screamed. The total sentences I received amounted to 21 years, not just 20 years. There were a seven-year sentence, a three-year sentence and an eleven-year sentence handed to me. And they reduced a year from my total sentence only later. The Military Intelligence Unit was behind the Military Court in sentencing me, including sentencing me to a year more for screaming at the court.

KZM: What about your experience U Win Tin? You had an operation while you were in prison?

WT: Let me explain a bit about what Ma Hnin Hnin Hmway just mentioned about sleeping on the concrete floor with just a mat. When I was in the interrogation camp it was January, during the winter. They didn’t provide us mats. Because Ko Thet Khaing tried to commit suicide by slashing his veins with a blade the authorities tried to suppress the news for fear that they will face blames from superiors and told them that he used the bamboo slats instead.

As a result, they took all the mats from us to prevent any more cases like that. That’s why we had to sleep on the bare concrete floors. Although General Khin Nyunt said he was acting in accordance with the orders from above, he himself was among those who gave such orders to those below him. He must apologize for that as well. I went through operations for hernia and was hospitalized for heart problems and benign prostatic hypertrophy, but they delayed the operation many times. In January 1990, while I was suffering from hernia and lying in my bed, they just gave me some shots instead of sending me to the hospital. I suffered from these problems for five years and only in 1995 they sent me to hospital.

Than Shwe alone is not responsible for all these violations. Khin Nyunt and his underlings also played their roles in ignoring cases like these, as they wished us to die. So Khin Nyunt and others are responsible for these and they can’t just blame the top man Than Shwe.

KZM: They played a major role in crushing political activists?

UT: They all are responsible.

KZM: There are 162 recorded cases of death in custody after 1988 as far as I know. And during the years 1988, 1989 and 1990, there were about 3,000 to 4,000 political prisoners. How many political prisoners do you think they held through their reign? Can it be about ten thousands political prisoners during their reign until 2004?

WT: I don’t know about this statistically because I am not responsible for political prisoners’ affairs institutionally. But I always tell the media that there could have been about 10,000 political prisoners. And there will be hundreds of thousands of family members related to these political prisoners. Those who are responsible for these deeds must also take care of them and apologize to them. I am happy to see that my estimation of the numbers of political prisoners is close to the assumptions of institutions working for the affairs of the political prisoners.

KZM: There were people imprisoned from all walks of lives, starting from 14, 15 year-olds to educated doctors, lawyers, engineers to people like you who are political party leaders and journalists. That’s why some people are accusing them of committing crimes against humanity. What do you think about this accusation?

WT: Accusations like these emerged around 2009 in places like United States, at the United Nations and among human rights organizations.  And they are suggesting to prosecute those responsible. I’ve also commented that they committed crimes against humanity. By ‘they’ I mean people like General Khin Nyunt, Than Shwe and even Thein Sein. He was also a member of that group that committed such crimes.

KZM: But he released many political prisoners under his administration.

WT: They can’t compensate for their crimes so easily. It depends on the severity of the crimes. I think these two are not related. There were those in the international community who were working back to prosecute them in 2009, like Ko Aung Din from the US, and people in about 13 countries, including the US. The army knew that and they had to change their course or face the consequences. They benefited from the change they carried out and tried to free themselves from the accusations.

However, they are still responsible for what they did and they will still be recorded in history as those who committed crimes against humanity. History is not a judge and it can’t give them any punishments. However, history will never forget what they did; their atrocious crimes against humanity will remain in history. That’s what I want to say.

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Ethnic Women ‘Ignored, Abused And Victimized’ : Interview with Secretary of the Karen Women’s Organization (KWO) Naw K’nyaw Paw
Karen News - 22 April 2014

In an exclusive interview with Karen News, the Secretary of the Karen Women’s Organization (KWO), a community based organisation representing more than 49,000 women including refugees in Thailand and internally displaced persons inside Burma, said that ethnic women were second-class citizens in their own country.

“We are not only ignored, we are being abused and victimized. The peace talks don’t include a significant or meaningful level of women participants on the Burmese side or the ethnic side. We have helped hold our community together over the many years of fighting. We are leaders in the struggle for justice for the Karen people. It is time we had a seat at the table for peace,” the secretary of the KWO, Naw K’nyaw Paw, said.

Naw K’nyaw Paw maintained that an international investigation into rape and sexual abuse perpetrated by the Burma Army was “essential for justice.”

“[The] KWO and all the ethnic women’s groups believe there is a need for an international investigation. Burma cannot conduct its own transparent investigation for many reasons: first they are part of the conflict, they do not have access to all areas where the abuses are taking place, ethnic women and girls who suffer sexual violence will never [have enough] trust to talk to Burmese people openly about the abuse and there is no guarantee of the safety of people speaking out or telling the truth about abuse.”

Naw K’nyaw Paw claimed that the military was still the decisive power in Burma. “The military is responsible for the abuse and clearly still runs the government. An outside investigation is essential for justice.”

The KWO joins a growing group of human rights organisations and ethnic political parties calling for an international investigation into acts of sexual violence perpetrated by the Burma Army.

The Kachin National Organisation said it had documented cases of sexual violence as recently as April 10, when a 17 year-old schoolgirl in Kachin State was allegedly gang-raped by soldiers from Light Infantry Battalion 320.

Naw K’nyaw Paw alleged that responsibility for military perpetrated sexual abuse went to the top levels of command.

“There are individual commanders who are included in the gang rape reports by Kachin Women’s Association Thailand and the Women’s League of Burma. The top levels of the military are responsible for the culture of impunity.”

Burma’s constitution, which guarantees a quarter of seats in parliament to the military and cannot be changed unless 75% of the parliament votes in favour – thereby making it all but impossible to reform without military approval – also prevents Aung San Suu Kyi from becoming President. Naw K’nyaw Paw said it was a fundamental barrier to achieving justice for military perpetrated abuses.

“There must be a genuine civilian government, which is over the military and can hold them accountable. The constitution must be changed to achieve that. We need a democratic process where people could express themselves freely, an independent complaint mechanism, enforcement of the rule of law, and serious actions taken against soldiers or anyone who is guilty of sexual violence. We need the International Community the pressure the Burmese Government and the Army to follow UNSCR 1325 and 1820.”

A January 2014 report by the Women’s League of Burma, a multi-ethnic umbrella group representing 13 Burma women’s organisations, concluded that sexual violence was a wartime strategy employed by the Burma Army.

“These crimes are more than random, isolated acts by rogue soldiers. Their widespread and systematic nature indicates a structural pattern: rape is still used as an instrument of war and oppression.”

The report documented more than 100 cases of military perpetrated sexual violence since 2010 with victims as young as eight – Of the cases identified, 47 were gang rapes with 28 women either killed or later dying of their injuries.

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Study shows military pulling strings from behind state/region governments
S.H.A.N. - 23 April 2014

There’s a well known Burmese saying:

Given but not received,

Fed but not adequately

In Burma’s case, the study from Asia Foundation: State and Region Governments in Myanmar, published September 2013, has a clear answer for it: That all that has been given by the military at the front door is being taken back by it behind the door.

The presentation in Chiangmai on Monday, 21 April, organized more than six months after the paper was published, was attended by representatives from Restoration Council of Shan State (RCSS), Women’s League of Burma (WLB), Shan Women’s Action Network (SWAN), PaO Youth Organization (PYO) and Kachin Women’s Association Thailand (KWAT). Other armed resistance movements were unable to make it, as it coincided with their 2-day meeting.

The participants’ question, as outlined in the opening remarks, was to what extent the states and regions in Burma are realizing the promises of Panglong:

·        Full autonomy

·        Rights and privileges fundamental in democratic countries

·        Financial autonomy

·        (The other promise: that representatives of the Frontier/Border Areas would be responsible for the Frontier/Border affairs is not taken into consideration here)

Cover: State and Region Governments in Myanmar (Burmese)

The paper’s analysis, explained in 3 dimensions: administrative, fiscal and political, which all but dovetails with the question.

Administrative dimension

·        State/region governments has ministers, but no ministries

·        Only the municipal department comes directly under the state/region government

·        Health and Education are directly under the union government

·        Others are mixed. For instance, small scale mines are under state/region, but large scale mines are under union

·        Civil servants are appointed by the union government

Fiscal dimension

·        State/region governments pass own budgets but must be approved at the union level financial commission

·        States/regions receive only 3.6% of the total budget allocations (After the report came out, “causing widespread embarrassment”, President Thein Sein promised that the state/region’s budget would be increased to 12% for the 2014-15 fiscal year, but since some union departments would also be transferred to states/regions at the same time, it is unclear how much the increased budget allocation will benefit the states/regions)

·        No incentive for raising of revenues by states/regions, as they are allowed to apply for any deficits from the Union

·        Also not included in state/region budget are funds for chief ministers and state/region hluttaws (legislatures), which come from the General Administration Department of the union government’s home ministry. (The home ministry comes under the jurisdiction of the Commander-in-Chief and the state GAD officer also concurrently serves as the Chief Minister’s Secretary)

Political dimension

·        The legislature has 25% members of parliaments (MPs) appointed by the military

·        The state/region executive, called chief minister, comes from the state legislature but is appointed by the President

·        State/region judiciary is also appointed by and subordinate to the centre

The study, in conclusion, has graded the country from 1 (not at all satisfactory) to 10 (very satisfactory) this way:

·        Administrative decentralization 2

·        Fiscal decentralization 2.5

·        Political decentralization 4

“Decentralization to states and regions within current constitutional constraints cannot provide the degree of political autonomy, security or shore of national wealth that the non-state armed groups in conflict or ceasefire with the government desire in order to agree sustainable peace agreements,” concludes the paper.

Nevertheless, the military proxy party Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) may be under pressure to offer more carrots to the states as regions and the 2015 elections draw closer, according to the presenters.

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Editorial: The curse of Shan unity/disunity
S.H.A.N. - 22 April 2014

Last 9 April, 3,663 Shan monks together with elders from 52 townships in Shan State sent a signed appeal to 4 major Shan movements – 2 of which are political parties and the other 2 armed groups – urging them to merge into one single party and one single army.

Two other demands are that all 4 share one single political goal and uphold one single basic law. “Non-compliance will mean non-support from us,” it warns.

This unwanted historic heritage has been commented by several scholars, both Shan and non-Shan, among whom was Sir James George Scott, former Commissioner of Shan States.

The Shans, he wrote, possess “the national characteristic of a liking for small communities, in confederation with others of their race, but steadily averse to subordination to one central power, which would have given them the stability and the conquering force which might have made them masters of all Indo-China, to say nothing of possibly the hegemony of China itself. The Burmese have been given the reputation of having devised the sagacious policy of splitting up the Shan States, and so ruling them with ease, but the truth is that they would have had much more difficulty in persuading the people to submit to the rule of one or two chiefs of greatly extended territories.”

Indeed, another scholar W.W.Cochrane wrote that “A prince of Mao (Surkhanfa, 1291-1364) was the only Shan that ever united these squabbling states into one solid kingdom.”

Since then, one after another, several Shan leaders have successively tried to forge unity among them mostly without success, and if successful was brief. One of the historic instances was the unity at the 1947 Panglong Conference to join hands with the Burmans for independence.

Since then, everything has been downhill for the Shans.

No wonder to many, the Shans appear to be through, finished. The old ones are sick and the young ones are weaklings. As a result, the wolves and the buzzards are coming, each for a piece of its own. And in the end, nothing will be left for the Shans.

It would certainly be a sad story, because the Shans will be sinking within sight of their own next of kin: Laotian and Thais, who are independent, together with Ahoms, Dai, Zhuang, Yi and Tai who are dependents in India, China and Vietnam. And, inevitably, with the Shans’ demise, they would be next in line.

However, there is still one hope and that is the Committee for Shan State Unity (CSSU) formed last year by the said four movements with the lofty aim to speak in one voice with the country’s rulers. Their goal is to achieve the Right of Self Determination, meaning not independence as dreaded by their Burman masters, but having its own government, legislature and judiciary within a federal union.

Like Scott said, even without outsiders’ machinations, the job will be a full time one. But if successful, it will be for the good of everyone, both Shan and non-Shan alike. Indeed, what good has the Divide and Rule policy of successive Burmese governments brought, except war and worsening poverty?

SHAN therefore hopes everyone concerned, at least for one’s own sake, will chip in and help Shans restore their unity that has shunned them for so long. Give unity a chance

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Feature: How the current Ceasefire Talks in Myanmar can bring about National Reconciliation? – By Sai Oo
S.H.A.N. - 21 April 2014

Negotiation for the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement in Myanmar has reached a point where civil society organisations must take an active and robust role for finding new solutions to deep-rooted Myanmar’s armed conflict. The latest meeting between Armed Ethnic Organisations’ Nationwide Ceasefire Coordination Team (NCCT) and the government’s Union Peacemaking Work Committee (UPWC) from 9 to 10 March 2014 at Myanmar’s Peace Centre in Yangon, discussed both sides’ proposals for a draft Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement. Both sides expressed their satisfaction on the progress. Speculations among close observers indicated that the Agreement could be signed before the 1st August 2014, if everything goes well as planned.

Ceasefire agreements between armed ethnic groups and the Burma army or the Tatmadaw are nothing new. In the past, the Tatmadaw made a number of ceasefire deals with various armed ethnic groups but they have failed to address the root-cause of the ethnic conflict. Between 1989 and 1999, fifteen armed ethnic groups signed ceasefire deals with the Tatmadaw. In April 2009, all ceasefire groups were ordered to transform into Border Guard Forces (BGFs) as stipulated in the 2008 constitution. The scheme entailed that all armed ethnic groups entered ceasefire agreements to come under the partial control of the Tatmadaw. On the 1st September 2010, the government declared that all ceasefire agreements were invalid because none of the major ceasefire groups agreed to become BGFs. The Tatmadaw then re-newed its military pressure on the ethnic groups.

On 18 August 2011, the reformist government, led by President Thein Sein announced its desire to find new solutions to the country’s more than 60 years old civil war and has resumed negotiations with armed ethnic groups. At present, 14 major armed ethnic groups have signed ceasefire agreements with the government, but those agreements appear to be no more than a short-term fix that offers economic incentive through development projects. None of those agreements include concrete plan for the political dialogue to address the underlying political, economic and social cause of the on-going armed conflict.

Currently most armed ethnic groups have been collectively negotiating with the government for the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement that obliges the government committing to peace and political dialogues. The big question is will the ceasefire agreement lead to see the ending of the more than six decades civil war and how will a long lasting peace be achieved. Sustaining peace in Myanmar needs genuine political wills on all sides including the government, the Tatmadaw, ethnic armies, Burman and non-Burman political parties, civil society organisations, and concerned citizens. National reconciliation will only be meaningful if all key stakeholders are able to actively participate and make contribution at every level of the peace process. 

Ceasefire agreement without political dialogues taking place will only increase the risk of returning to armed conflict. In the past, the government seemed to see ethnic groups’ armed struggle for their political freedom as solely legal issue. The government tended to view the problem of armed conflicts within a purely legal framework- a position which challenged the legitimacy of non-state actors. This approach explained the government’s refusal to enter genuine political dialogue with armed ethnic groups and as well as its insistence on disarmament or turning the ethic armies into subordinate national forces or Border Guard Forces. The reluctance on the part of the government to enter political dialogue has created a deep sense of distrust among armed ethnic groups.

For ethnic groups, the goal of political dialogue is to achieve equality as member states in the Union of Myanmar, in which they see lacking equality since the beginning of its formation. There are real challenging issues such as federalism, security reform, the return of Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) and refugees who are largely members of ethnic minority groups with many living in refugee camps in neighbouring countries, and addressing human rights and community grievances. Some of these issues and their concepts have never been publicly contested. Federalism, for instant, is viewed by the Tatmadaw as fragmentation and lacking unity among different ethnic groups. For ethnic groups, federalism is about relationships and power sharing between the Central Government and the States; self-governance to manage their political, cultural, economic, financial and social matters, and those pertaining to economic development. More importantly, they have always seen federalism is the only solution to Myanmar’s ethnic conflict.  Another major challenge will be implementing security reforms involving formation of a federal army that all sides agree to, gradual demilitarization as the situation improved and reintegration of ex-combatants into the community. The Tatmadaw has neither shown its intension to accept members of armed ethnic groups equally as its own army nor willingness to reform the security institution. Instead, it has mounted military pressure on some ethnic groups.

Recently, the army launched a major offensive again the Kachin Independence Organisation (KIO) and deployed more than 1,000 of its troops in the areas under the KIO control in Southern Kachin State and Northern Shan State at the same time as the KIO’s delegation team was attending the negotiation meeting for the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement in Yangon. The army reasoned its military action was only to protect national census enumerators in those areas. As a result of the offensive, more than 3,000 local population was displaced from their homes. This kind of Tatmadaw’s behaviour did not help the Ceasefire negotiation and severely damaged confidence-building measures.

Participation of civil society organizations and concerned citizens is crucial for peace making and building as shown in other countries’ experiences. When community based organizations and concerned citizens take matters into their hands, in other words take initiatives and ownership of the peace building at local level, peace work tends to work better and more effectively. The Committee of Concerned Citizens’ peace initiatives to mediate the Naxalites (Maoist rebels) and the Indian Government in Andhra Pradesh State in India, Dekha Ibrahim Abdi of Kenya (or Somalia) and the Shari’ah Courts’ contribution to dispute resolution in Mindanao of the Philippines are some obvious examples how civil organizations and concerned citizens can significantly contribute to peace making and building. Civil society actors such as human rights advocates, student activists, religious community, the media and women organizations have been a vital force in the movements of democratization and have the potential to play a crucial role in national reconciliation and peace building.

Historically, civil society in Myanmar has been weakened and lacked the ability to influence at decision making level. But, as Myanmar’s political reform has opened up some public space and civil society has speedily re-emerged. Many civil society organizations work closely with the grassroots on the most sensitive public issues and they have proven to be effective in mobilising people, raising public awareness, help shaping public opinions and promoting actions. They can certainly help citizens to become more familiar with the terms and concepts of the Peace Agreement and provide vital links in the transition to and sustainability of post-war democracy. Civil society actors can help advance the notion that that national peace-making is intimately related to everyday life of all citizens. When civil society actors take pro-active role in peace building they also become an effective monitoring mechanism to ensure the government upholds its commitment to achieve genuine national reconciliation.

Trust building will requires improving governance. More than sixty years of civil war have taken a severe toll on administrative institutions which will need reform and strengthening to meet the needs and challenges of peace building. Political dialogues must be unconditional and include systematically and robustly dealing with human rights violations. Ceasefire agreements and peace accords alone will not necessarily bring about national reconciliation unless civil society organisations and concerned citizens are able to actively participate in the decision making and strategic planning for the peace process. However, not all civil society organisations will necessarily make positive contribution to the peace process. Potential spoilers to the peace process will always take the advantage of the fragile political situation and they need to be weeded out of the process.

So far, both the government and armed ethnic groups have only selectively or cautiously related to civil society initiatives, thus failing to capitalise on existing potential for conflict resolutions. Participation of women, as victims of the violent conflicts, in the peace process is also crucial to help prevent future violence and conflicts. To ensure the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement is fruitful and bring about true National Reconciliation, civil society actors from all sectors must be empowered and invited to take more pro-active role in the peace process.

(Sai Oo is a researcher at Pyidaungsu Institute for Peace and Dialogue. He holds a PhD in Community Education and Civil Society from University of Technology, Sydney (UTS). Opinions here expressed are his own and do not necessarily represent the Institute.)

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Channelling Diversity into Democracy: Myanmar's Unfolding Nemesis – By Mike Joseph
Salem News - 22 April 2014

Myanmar like India could safeguard the interest of minorities by launching government facilitated schemes for their economic and social up gradation.

KUALA LAMPUR - Ethnic strife in Myanmar has brought out a face of Buddhism which was never known to the world. While Buddha set out an example of compassion for others, the exact opposite is being followed in present day Myanmar. Since the last two decades, the talking point for the international community about Myanmar has been the repression of civil liberties, human rights violations and the tribulations under the authoritarian regime which are pushing ethnic issues somewhat out of focus. At a challenging crossroad on its way to democracy, the gravest challenge that the country faces today in the process of nation-building is integrating the ethnic minorities of the country into the mainstream.

The failure to manage Myanmar’s diversity has resulted in ethnic conflicts, some of them started even before independence, hence making it the longest civil war in the world. One such conflict is of the Rohingya community who have been the victims of violence and institutionalized discrimination in Myanmar. Today the country has become a hotpot of ethnic violence, extremism and insurgency. Ethnic groups with a small population and low exposure to development ultimately tend to suffer from an identity crisis because of the constant suppression.

Ethnic identity has both objective and subjective connotations. Objectively it is – primordial affinities and attachments and subjectively it is – an activated primordial consciousness. In the case of Myanmar, Ethnic organizations remain deeply sensitive to the Buddhist population and social exclusion is carried out for every other ethnic minority. The primary grievance of the ethnic minorities is their disenfranchisement from the political process of the country making them absolutely excluded from the mainstream. This in turn results in their social and economical exclusion. In Myanmar, during the military rule, they were also repressed culturally, religiously and socially which further marginalized them. The ethnic minorities now dwell in abject poverty with barely any means of formal employment or identity.

Speaking globally, Myanmar is not the only country which is marked by variation in ethnicity. The country could learn from successes in India in terms of accommodating ethnicity in democracy and turning the nation into a land of equality for each ethnic group. Many ethnic nationalities exist in India and in a broader picture; India not could only help Myanmar to establish a democratic process, but can also help to look at the question of various ethnic nationalities in a national set-up. India presents a fascinating picture of assimilation of multi-ethnic groups in its mainstream at different points of time be it racial, social, occupational, or religious, and still remain stable. The incorporation of minority never disturbed its existing internal social order nor did it ever prevent any new group from join it. It allowed all incoming groups to preserve their own specialties and indigenous culture and still be a part of the larger culture.

Despite enormous pressures, India has been remarkably successful in accommodating cultural diversity and managing ethnic conflict through democratic institutions. Religious harmony, not mere tolerance, is the bedrock of India’s secularism. Enshrined in the Indian Constitution therefore, are several rights that are intended to protect the interests of all citizens, including religious minorities. It is also the solemn duty of the Government to make every possible effort to protect and promote secular values and provide equality of opportunity to all ethnic minorities.

Myanmar like India could safeguard the interest of minorities by launching government facilitated schemes for their economic and social up gradation. The government should incorporate bodies such as the National Commission for Minorities and the State Commissions in India, setting up a regulatory body helps in bringing into focus the responsibility of majority communities to ensure that the rights of minorities are secured. To maintain communal harmony, both majority communities and minorities have to work together to create an atmosphere of acceptance and harmony, which is absent in the case of Myanmar.

This success has been the product of India’s federal system, which has succeeded to keep cultural and ethnic peace. State autonomy and statehood for territorially based regional/linguistic identities remains the most comprehensive method of political recognition of identity in India, and key to India’s plural-cultural federalization.

Myanmar’s ethnic conflict is the world’s longest running conflict and has had an estimated 600,000 casualties so far and there seems to be no quick fix solution to this long-drawn conflict. Myanmar can definitely learn from surrounding Countries on the concept of ethnic incorporation. Reports of some positive developments by the civilian government are surfacing every now and then. With greater involvement of a trusted leader, like Aung San Suu Kyi in the government’s approach towards solving the ethnic issue and President Thein Sein showing signs of reaching a compromise with the ethnic armies through dialogue, the prima-facie situation seems to be improving in Myanmar for good.

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This Is Where the Real Work in Myanmar Begins - By Erin Murphy
Huffington Post (Blogs) - 22 April 2014

The trajectory of Myanmar's transition from authoritarian rule toward democratization appears to be stalling. Recent violence in Rakhine State and ominous statements from high levels of the government and military on religious and political issues are legitimate concerns, however, it is too soon to deem this the end of a fledgling democratic transition. Myanmar is not returning to its former despotic ways but it is at a crossroads in addressing its most difficult and deeply entrenched issue: national reconciliation. Setbacks should be expected in any developing democracy and accordingly, the global community must not prematurely proclaim that all is lost and abandon the economic and political progress made thus far. Rather, along with the government, political opposition, and civil society, it should build on those advances and take advantage of newfound openness to aid, assistance, and capacity building programs to prevent backsliding and instability.

Myanmar has been has been in the prolonged throes of war since World War II and its subsequent independence in 1948. Decades of conflict and military rule resulted in local populations being subjected to land grabs, questionable labour practices, environmental degradation, and a variety of other human rights abuses. The then-ruling junta in the 1990s forged ceasefire agreements with more than a dozen armed ethnic groups halting the civil war, but failing to reach a broader political solution. Mistrust became firmly entrenched.

Today's government, populated with many generals from the former ruling junta, has defied expectations on national reconciliation and both the executive and legislative branches are committed to seeking resolution. The Thein Sein-led government since 2011 has made significant inroads towards a durable peace and a political dialogue with armed political activists and ethnic groups. Ethnic nationalities, working to overcome mistrust, have also actively participated in the negotiations. While these groups may not see exactly the same path forward, there is a strong commitment from all sides to see this process through, even if it takes decades. And that should be celebrated and further supported.

However, there is one glaring piece missing from this dialogue--the fury and violence in Myanmar targeting one of the world's least wanted people, the Rohingya. Muslims of all ethnicities are currently being harassed in Myanmar but the Rohingya ethnic group bear the brunt. Myanmar is the epicentre of the problem, but neighbouring Thailand, Indonesia, Malaysia, and Bangladesh--each dealing with their own set of ethnic minority issues--are not helping either. The Rohingya there are housed in dilapidated facilities and there are reports of mistreatment. Beach-going tourists in 2009 caught Thai security forces beating then towing Rohingya refugees in rowboats out to sea. Indonesia and Bangladesh continue to threaten to send refugees back to Myanmar and have limited aid agencies' efforts to assist the displaced population.

But Myanmar is where the core of this issue must be addressed. One hallmark of a dictatorship is its ability to forcibly quell ethnic and religious tensions. As a country opens, a depressingly common characteristic is that newfound freedoms bring with it the liberty to vent repressed feelings of hatred long unspoken within communities where members of these groups lived side by side in peace for decades. The hopeful and inspirational political transformation in Myanmar has unleashed such sentiments, potentially threatening the progress civil society leaders and international governments have invested so much in promoting. Myanmar has the tools to prevent a massacre, de-escalate tensions, and forge a long-term solution to the divisive citizenship issue. The international community must be there to assist and see them through this effort.

First, Myanmar's political and civil society leaders must show leadership and preach tolerance and an end of violence. There has to be a champion to stand up against the type of violence engulfing the west of the country. Unfortunately, the pillars of Myanmar's prodemocracy movement have remained silent, sided with restrictive policies, or publicly used racial affronts, dispelling hope of in-country support. Additionally, police and military officers called into protect the Rohingya--and aid and NGO workers--should undergo sensitivity training and learn appropriate techniques to stop violence and turn instigators over to the courts.

The next step is improving and clarifying the legal system--which derives from six different governing regimes dating back to the 1800s--enhancing civil rights and improving its record keeping system. The law must be written to protect all people in Myanmar, regardless of race, religion, gender, and sexuality. Tied to this, Myanmar must establish a functioning immigration system--predicated on basic human rights, due process, and rule of law--that can determine birthplace, legality of immigration status, and provide a system to process people accordingly.

New investors--and newly engaging foreign governments--could bring much more to bear beyond investment and assistance dollars. They have a chance to offer first-hand experience with these issues and share lessons learned in overcoming such challenging workplace and governance issues. Their investments should also impose and enforce non-discrimination policies and seek zero tolerance of discriminatory behaviour. Additionally for the Myanmar government, appropriately addressing violence will bring in new investors as recent reports have had a chilling effect on companies concerned with risk mitigation.

If anyone thought that Myanmar's transformation was going to progress perfectly, they were deceiving themselves. Myanmar has come a long way, but it will not be able to continue its remarkable transition if it fails to protect human rights and ensure rule of law for all of its people or if the international community gives up. There are difficult days ahead to be sure. Myanmar is struggling with ethno-racial and religious tensions that even the most developed countries, including the U.S., still grapple with. Now is not the time to declare the country a loss. The work that could ultimately bring peace and stability to Myanmar is beginning now.

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Previous Headlines

18-22/04/2014

News – Ethnic nationalities/Border conflict/ Ethnic Armies

General Gun Maw Visits The Lincoln Memorial, Meets Local Communities - KNL - 21 April 2014

Why conflict continues in Kachin State - Eleven News Media - 21 April 2014

Ethnic Groups And Advocates Demand Investigation Into Burma Army’s Systematic Use Of Rape, Sexual Violence - Karen News - 22 April 2014

Draft Constitution likely to be unveiled after nationwide ceasefire - Eleven News Media - 21 April 2014

Aid shortage hits Kachin refugees - DVB - 19 April 2014

Ethnic groups to conduct survey over census blunders - Eleven News Media - 18 April 2014

Fighting Flares in Kachin State - RFA - 18 April 2014

Golden Jubilee of Shan State Army founding to be held at SSA HQ - S.H.A.N. - 18 April 2014

News – Government / Political Parties

Senior NLD members accept invitation to visit China - Mizzima - 21 April 2014

Aung San Suu Kyi set to visit Nepal - the Himalayan Times - 21 April 2014

Ahead of by-elections, commission offices to open locally - Chinland Guardian - 21 April 2014

Draft report to settle Yangon land-seizure disputes - Eleven News Media - 19 April 2014

News – General& International

Pegu police prohibit constitution protest - DVB - 22 April 2014

Activists Reach Halfway Mark in March to Myitsone - Irrawaddy - 22 April 2014

Whirlwind wipes out homes near Inle Lake - DVB - 22 April 2014

Plough protestors charged with sedition - DVB - 22 April 2014

Farmers face fresh eviction demands from Tatmadaw - Mizzima - 21 April 2014

Proponents for charter change to hold talks with political groups - Eleven News Media - 20 April 2014

Civil orgs plan counter IRI survey - Eleven News Media - 21 April 2014

Meiktila IDPs face water shortages, sanitation issues - DVB - 21 April 2014

News – Rakhine /Rohingya/Communal Conflicts & International Response

Kolkata's Rohingya link worries security forces - Times of India - 22 April 2014

Burma's Racism Will Scar Asean Region, Warns Thai Academic - Phuketwan - 22 April 2014

Myanmar’s Rohingya face a humanitarian crisis - Al Jazeera/The Nation - 22 April 2014

Some Foreign Aid Groups Return to Sittwe After Riots - Irrawaddy - 21 April 2014

News – Business / Economy / Industry

Govt to Spend $486 Million to Boost Tourism - Irrawaddy - 22 April 2104

Myanmar’s telecom dividend - Bangkok Post - 21 April 2014

Large-scale copper mining at Sabeitaung, Kyaysintaung project - Eleven News Media - 20 April 2014

Amid Construction Boom, Burma Starts to Build Disaster Resilience - Irrawaddy - 21 April 2014

US$100 million revenue per year expected from controversial Letpadaungtaung Project - Eleven News Media -19 April 2014

NESDB sounds alarm over Dawei project - Bangkok Post - 19 April 2014

Myanmar's border trade hits over 4 bln USD in 2013-14 FY - Xinhua/Global Times - 19 April 2014

Myanmar gets $4 bn foreign investment - IANS Live - 18 April 2014

Analysis / Opinion

Myanmar’s Military: Back to the Barracks? - ICG - 22 April 2014

In Democratizing, Can Naypyidaw Follow Jakarta’s Lead? - By Saw Yan Naing  - Irrawaddy - 22 April 2014

Commentary: Win Tin’s Lessons for Burma - By Kyaw Zwa Moe - Irrawaddy - 22 April 2014

My Prison Life With U Win Tin - By Zin Linn - Irrawaddy - 22 April 2014

Opinion: Win Tin: Burma’s Revolutionary Journalist - By Aung Zaw  - Irrawaddy - 21 April 2014

Opinion: ‘Beyond the itch’ – By Manny Maung - Mizzima - 20 April 2014

Not There Yet: Burma’s Fragile Ecosystems Show Challenges for Continued Progress - By Tim Kovach - New Security Beat - 21 April 2014

Burma’s emerging rich - By Banyol Kong Janoi - DVB - 21 April 2014

The ‘Rohingya’ Identity – Further Thoughts - By Derek Tonkin - Narinjara - 19 April 2014

Analysis: Amid peace talks, health cooperation in Karen State sends positive signal- By Alex Bookbinder - DVB -18 April 2014

Editorial: A price too high - Saudi Gazette - 18 April 2014

Feature: Forgotten, but Not Gone - By Yan Pai - Irrawaddy - 18 April 2014

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