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.
Guan Maw was speaking at a meeting with ethnic Chin exiles living in the United
States, after prolonged military attacks on Kachin rebel bases.
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.
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.
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
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
“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
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
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
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
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
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
"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.
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
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
“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
"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.
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.
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
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
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.
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
“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.”
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
“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
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
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
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
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
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
“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
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
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.
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
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.
history, this has been the only effective method to deliver change,” he said.
meeting, the third between the NLD and the 88 Generation Open Society movement
on constitutional reform, agreed that the education campaign must begin within
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.”
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
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.
Opposition MPs will raise
questions regarding corruption in the judicial system in the next parliamentary
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.
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.
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.
stands top in the corruption and bribery cases, followed by Mandalay. The
commercial hubs see more corruption cases,” said Thura U Aung Ko.
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.
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.
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
“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.
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.
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.
Tin passed away at Rangoon General Hospital on Monday, 21 April, from kidney
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.
funeral ceremony is scheduled to run from 12 noon until 5pm.
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
book published by Win Tin after his release, A Human Hell, described sobering
details of the physical and psychological torture that political inmates were
being one of the closest-aides to party leader Suu Kyi, he was also known for
his straightforwardness in expressing disagreement with her.
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
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
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
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
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?
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
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
“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,”
Bo Kyi said he hoped the
current project would support the adoption of new legislation to assist former
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.”
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
“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
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
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
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
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.
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.
A dozen Myanmar workers caught travelling to
Singapore carrying fake graduate certificates are to be examined by an
employment service agency.
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
“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
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.
government has sued 16 Myanmar workers carrying fake graduate certificates in
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
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.
Rakhine /Rohingya/Communal Conflicts & International Response
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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.
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
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
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.
A total of 366 private bank branches have opened in
Myanmar since 2011 when the government initiated a series of political and
The Central Bank of
Myanmar is cooperating with World Bank and international organisations like
International Monetary Fund Organisations to modernise financial services in
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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
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:
Can you tell me about your experience of the interrogation and torture you
endured in prison?
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
Was the rice served in prison hard?
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.
U Win Tin, who do you consider responsible for the  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?
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.
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.
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?
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
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.
What about your experience U Win Tin? You had an operation while you were in
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.
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
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.
They played a major role in crushing political activists?
They all are responsible.
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?
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.
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
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.
But he released many political prisoners under his administration.
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.
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.
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
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.”
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
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.
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.
question, as outlined in the opening remarks, was to what extent the states and
regions in Burma are realizing the promises of Panglong:
and privileges fundamental in democratic countries
other promise: that representatives of the Frontier/Border Areas would be
responsible for the Frontier/Border affairs is not taken into consideration
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.
governments has ministers, but no ministries
the municipal department comes directly under the state/region government
and Education are directly under the union government
are mixed. For instance, small scale mines are under state/region, but large
scale mines are under union
servants are appointed by the union government
governments pass own budgets but must be approved at the union level financial
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)
incentive for raising of revenues by states/regions, as they are allowed to
apply for any deficits from the Union
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)
legislature has 25% members of parliaments (MPs) appointed by the military
state/region executive, called chief minister, comes from the state legislature
but is appointed by the President
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:
“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.
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.
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
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
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.
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.
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
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
(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
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
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.
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.